Thursday, November 9, 2017

How to Foster a Love for Reading in the Toddler Years

This post was written in exchange for books from Kate's Growing Readers & Usborne Books; however, all opinions are my own. 

As a teacher, a question I hear time and time again from parents is, "How can I help my child to enjoy reading"? While I do not claim to have all of the answers (not even close), I do know that engaging with texts from a young age is certainly a good starting place for setting your child up for a future relationship with them. That being said, I thought I would take a moment to share with you all today some things that I am working hard to do with my little (as a mama and teacher) to set the stage for what I hope is a lifelong love for reading. 

1. Make books accessible. We keep books in multiple locations. Asher can access them in his room, in the living room and even the car, for that matter. It is important to me that he is able to select texts at his leisure without having to wait for mom or dad to get them for him. You wouldn't believe how much it makes my mama heart flutter when I walk in a room to see he has picked out a book himself, and he is joyfully reading along in his own little way.

2. Read frequently throughout the day. While we certainly have those routine times of the day where we always read, like bedtime, we also try to find other times throughout our day to make reading a priority. For instance, in the summer, we took time each afternoon to head out to our front porch and read a few books in the sunshine. Now that it's a bit cooler, we enjoy simply lying down together on the rug or snuggling up in Asher's rocking chair throughout the day to indulge in a few stories together. I imagine as we get ready to put up our Christmas tree here in just a few short weeks,  that will provide us with another cozy locale for a few daily delights as well. Research has shown time and time again that the absolute best way to foster reading skills is by reading. Fancy that - the more you read, the stronger reader you become!

3. Don't force it. I think this goes back to really being authentic with your child's reading experiences. As adults, we generally don't continue reading a book if it isn't "fun" anymore. The same should and can be modeled for kids. It is okay to abandon a book if it has moved from being enjoyable to a drag - or in a toddler's case - a kicking, screaming arm wrestling match. If you have to abandon a book midway through - it is what it is. At the end of the day, I want him to remember his experience reading being a joyful one and not one where he felt forced to participate. 

4. Let them choose.  Even our littlest friends are capable of beginning to make choices. I want Asher to be able to be invested in our reading ventures, and one of the ways I make that happen is by giving him a choice in books to read. I will often present him with 2-3 books at a time and ask him to pick one (he will generally just grab or point at this stage), and then the one he selects is the one we will dive into. Not only is this giving us the chance to read something that interests him, but shows him that he has a voice and opinion, and it matters. To take this point a bit further, I love it even more when Asher actually picks out a book himself and brings it over to me to read at any given point throughout the day. Whenever possible, I make it a point to stop what I am doing to be present in that moment to continue to ignite that desire he is demonstrating.

5. Read a variety of texts. I recently heard that as parents we should do our best to read one favorite, one familiar and one new book with our kids each day. This makes a lot of sense to me, as I know that those familiar reads bring comfort and confidence, while those new texts present an opportunity for new content and new vocabulary. So as much as possible, I work to do this throughout our day. We have our favorites - which are basically books about anything with wheels at this point. We have a particular love for buses, so Usborne's Baby's Very First Bus Book, which even comes with spinning wheels I may add, is a huge hit right now. We also have a variety of familiar books, many being those classically told children's stories. And then finally, we take a trip to the library every other week or so to pick out our new books. The neat thing about the library is there is an incredible array of texts at your fingertips for free! And I don't know about you, but I remember going to the library as a kid and just being overjoyed with the possibilities in store. Right now, we currently are just overjoyed by pulling as many books as possible off of the shelves...but hey we've got to start somewhere.

6. Get them involved in the text alongside you. We are huge fans of interactive texts around here. If it has flaps, doors and textures - sign us up. One of our recent favorites is Usborne's All Better book, where there are a variety of animal favorites that seem to keep getting hurt. It teaches kids the routine of "clean it, kiss it and bandage it" while actually providing these adorable reusable bandages for them to stick on each animal's ouchie. I mean, seriously, does it get any cuter? Books such as these gives kids at this age a very concrete way of getting involved. Plus, it gives them an opportunity to hone in on those fine motor skills. But let's be honest, books don't even have to have all of these bells and whistles to get your child involved. Have your child turn the pages for you, or when they are able maybe they are in charge of reciting a specific part. Whatever it may be, make them an active participant in the experience as much as you can.

7. Connect texts to real life. Whenever possible, work to connect what you and your child are reading together to their real life environment. For instance, if we are reading a story about "brushing teeth", I may grab Asher's toothpaste and toothbrush and show it to him simultaneously. If we are going to visit the zoo, then we may read a book about the animals we will see in the morning, have the experience, and then when we return we may review the book again to point out those we did see. Asher also absolutely loves those "first words" type books, because he constantly sees pictures that are familiar to him from his environment. One that we are loving right now is Usborne's My First Spanish Word Book. He can't get enough of pointing to the dog and saying "woof" or looking at the body parts and working together to locate them on his own body. Connecting texts to real life gives kids the opportunity to see from a young age what a powerful learning tool reading can be. 

8. Make it sound fun! So this one may come as a shock to you, but the more fun you have while reading with your toddler, the more fun they are likely to have as well. So don't be afraid to get a little goofy, get into character, and even sing through the book if you so choose. Not only are you modeling good reading habits then in general, but you are modeling the joy that can come alongside a great book. And that my friends, is contagious.

If you are interested in seeing any of the other texts that Usborne Books has to offer, I would encourage you to check out the site Kate's Growing Readers. Kate would be more than happy to chat with you as well to discuss your family's specific interests and needs and continue the conversation about developing life-long readers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

DIY School Bus Costume

My in-laws came to visit a few weeks back and brought us a variety of goodies from their kids' childhood. One of the things they brought over was one of those retro wooden Radioflyer wagons that they thought Asher would be able to use. Flash forward a week or two as I was trying to ponder what in the world we were going to do for a costume this year for our little man, and I remembered that we had this red treasure on wheels hanging out in our garage. If you have ever met our son, you know his love for buses. "Boos" as he calls them was one of his first words, and every time he sees them pass our house or on the streets he shouts out their name with glee. Seriously, just last week, a bus pulled up behind us at an intersection and this kid was a broken record of pointing and chanting it's name. That being said, I thought our new Radionflyer, combined with our child's obsession with school transportation just might work together to create this year's perfect costume.

To make the bus really was not difficult at all, honestly all it took was some cutting and gluing skills and a Friday "date" night for my husband and I to put it all together. Yes, we live on the edge with our dates these days.

Supplies included the following:

2 sheets of large yellow poster board (I bought the thickest stuff I could find at Hobby Lobby - I believe it was $9.99 a sheet - so use that 40% off coupon! We did have extra to use for another project in the future.)

3-5 sheets of red, black and white paper (Scrapbook paper, construction paper and computer paper would all work fine.)

Tape (We used packing tape.)

Liquid Glue

A cutting tool (I used my Silhouette Cameo to cut out the stop sign, circles and all the letters, and then I used my scrapbook slicing tool for all the windows and doors.)

All in all, it cost us a little under $20 total and a few hours of time to put the finished product together.

To help Asher "fit the part", we snagged a sweet little toddler backpack for him to wear - which also served the purpose of holding his water, snacks etc. as well. You could certainly even use it for the purpose of holding all of your little's "trick or treat" goodies.

So there you have it. Let's not forget to mention the fact that having our bus made toting around our toddler incredibly easy as well. He was riding in style, chanting "boos" along the way for all to hear. I am thinking we may have to "wear" our costume beyond the month of October.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pumpkin Nights - Twin Cities

This post was written in exchange for preview tickets to Pumpkin Nights; however, all opinions are more own. 

We never keep Asher up past his bedtime. We are generally very firm with his 6:30pm deadline as there is usually some significant eye rubbing, arms flailing and next day repercussions if not. But when the opportunity arose for us to attend Pumpkin Nights - Twin Cities, we felt like that it was an opportunity that called upon us to be "rebels" for the evening so that he could attend. I'll admit, while the next day was a little rough, the awe on our little man's face and the continuous "wows" that came out of his mouth made it more than worth it.

Pumpkin Nights is an outdoor festival that engages you on a half-mile trail through over 3,000 hand-carved synthetic and 1,000 fresh pumpkins put together in a variety of ways and displays to create an incredible one of a kind experience. We have seriously never seen anything like it. Last year was the first year it opened in the Twin Cities, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to attend this year for their return.

The pumpkin displays are created to portray a variety of different settings or worlds that you enter as you walk the course. You will find everything from the "Great Pumpkin Reef" to the space themed "Pumpkin Galaxy" to our personal favorite (pictured immediately below), "Dia de los Muertos". 

In addition to all of the lighted pumpkin wonder, there are also a variety of other activities for families including pumpkin carving demonstrations, various performers, a Halloween-themed bike course (we will catch that one next year), movie screenings and a variety of food and drink options so you can indulge while you walk. Costumes are also encouraged- so it is a great way for your kids (or you for that matter) to enjoy them more than once! We didn't have our act together well enough yet when we went to deck Asher out in his costume for this year (we are last minute DIY people), but we did deck him out in some festive jammies for the event. 

I have never seen such wonder and amazement on our little guy's face. He is just starting to figure out walking and insisted on walking nearly the entire course so he could point out and really investigate everything himself. By the time we left it was nearly 2 hours past his bedtime, and he was still rearin' and ready to go. The only time he actually got upset was when it was time to leave.

Pumpkin Nights - Twin Cities runs through this Sunday, October 29th. If you haven't yet had the chance to experience this local adventure with your family and friends, we would highly recommend it (as you can see it's been "toddler approved"). Ticket information and other details can be found through the Pumpkin Nights website.

Because we loved it so much (and we think your family would love it too), I am also hosting a giveaway for a Family 4-Pack of tickets (a $64 value) to attend the event on one of the remaining days this coming weekend (Oct. 27-29th). All you need to do to enter is follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter below! Giveaway will run through Thursday, October 26th at 11:59pm, and the winner will be notified by 8:00am the following morning with a code to enter on the website to obtain your free tickets (so please be sure to use an email address the you check regularly).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 20, 2017

Raising a Boy in this World

This post was written in exchange for a tee from Simple Little Apparel; however, all opinions are more own. 

I gotta admit that when we found out we were having a boy, I was bound and determined that I would ensure that he had equal part truck to doll ratio in his toy box and that he would have other colors besides blue in his closet. I wanted to be sure that he had books to read on a variety of topics, that he was able to explore his own interests (and not what I or the world dictated they would be) and that most importantly, he would learn to love the Lord and love on others the way God calls us to.

Flash forward, I now have an incredible and spirited, 17 month old (say what?) who is coming into his own and showing us all what he is made of. He is demonstrating his own unique interests and "free" will and along with that it is encouraging and challenging us as his parents at the same time to truly think long and hard about what it means to raise a little boy in this world.

You see, despite all of my option giving, Asher still seems drawn to many stereotypical "boy" things. I'll admit, it actually surprised me how many of these things he was drawn to automatically without (known) influence from us or the outside world. Our little man loves seeing how things work. He loves building creations out of legos. He loves "vrooming" around with his toy cars and watching the garbage trucks pass our house each week. He loves pointing out daddy's tools in the garage, and loves reading the same book about construction machines each night when given the choice. From a worldly perspective, he is "all boy".

But just like the stereotypical comment "you throw like a girl" and other similar ones referencing females, the mentality we've all heard time and again that "boys will be boys", just doesn't sit well with me. Using these statements first, imply that "all" of a certain gender act or are expected to behave a certain way. And second, when thinking specifically of this "boys will be boys" mentality, it appears that it can all too often serve as an excuse for misbehavior, claiming that it is simply just "typical" behavior for males. While even at his young age my son may enjoy doing many typical "male things", I am also doing my best to be conscious of the fact that we are not letting him get away with behavior that we may not otherwise had he been a girl, because "boys will be boys".

I love what author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie shares in her TED Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story". She states that "the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete". That being said, yes, I am a woman, and yes, I probably couldn't pitch an effective ball to save my life. But that doesn't mean that if I worked at it and desired to do it, that would be the case. My little one is a boy, and he does love to knock down towers and be a little mischievous some times. But that doesn't mean that he also isn't capable of being kind and compassionate and of taking the time to think about how the decisions he makes may affect himself and others as he grows older.

As many of you know, I am a teacher. In opening up a discussion on this topic with students, be it little ones or those at the college level, I like to share a few nursery rhymes. You may have heard this first nursery rhyme growing up as a kid. I know I did. It goes like this:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of.
Robert Southey (1820)

But what I didn't know until recently, and many others may not either, is that it was actually rewritten over a 100 years later by a woman named Elaine Laron in 1974. The new version goes like this:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Love and care
And skin and hair
That's what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Care and love
And (see above),
That's what little girls are made of.

Again, it's not that I don't believe that there isn't some truth to the first version. But I do believe it is important that we don't put our children in boxes because of their gender. That being said, I am not oblivious to the fact that the world often already does this for them. And I am also not oblivious to the fact that there are inherent differences between us as males and females. But it is my goal as a parent to ensure that my child grows into the individual God has intended for him to be, and in order to do so he must not only have self-awareness but awareness of this world's underlying assumptions and expectations so that he can determine how to navigate them effectively. It is my goal that he knows that while sometimes we may make mistakes and even do things we aren't proud of, that these experiences teach us and we can (and should) grow from them. They are not something that we can simply brush off because society tells us because we are a man or a woman we can do so. It is my goal, above all, to raise a boy who becomes a man of integrity. A boy who will show the world just how smart, kind and generous boys can be.

You can get your own sweet little "Boys will be.." tee by heading over to Simple Little Apparel. They have an assortment of other adorable tees for little ones to check out as well.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Twistshake Giveaway

For those of you that follow along with my Instagram, you know our love for our Twistshake sippy cups in our house. Why are they any different from every other other cup on the market you may ask?  

They are unique in that the way they are designed allows for infusing delicious fruit flavors into your child's water. There is a special additional "fruit mixer" cap that goes into between the mouthpiece and actual cup that enables you to add and shake whatever fruit you desire for your babe to make a flavorful thirst quencher without all of the sugar of juice! We've mixed everything from strawberries in the summer to apples in the fall to ensure this little guy gets a taste of all of the delicious flavors of the season. 

Twistshake's sippy cups come in a variety of sizes for babes just starting our with a sippy to those in need of a "bigger kid" type cup. If you little is not yet ready for a sippy, they also have an innovative bottle line in a variety of fun colors. And if your little is still addicted to their paci like mine is {insert hands covering eyes here}, they also have pacifiers created with healthy tooth development in mind. And as a health conscious mama, I think it's important to add that all of their products are free from BPA, BPS and BPF. 

Because we love our Twistshake goodies so much, we've partnered with them to offer all of my blog followers a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a sippy cup, bottle or pacifier pack of his/her choice from the Twistshake collection. On top of that, all of my blog followers can also use this exclusive code: kristahapp20 to get 20% Twistshake's entire collection. So really - everyone is a winner! The giveaway ends on Wednesday, October 11th at 11:59pm, and the winner will be contacted the following day.  Enter by following the instructions on the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

JORD Wood Watch Giveaway

This post was written in exchange for a wood watch from JORD; however, all opinions are my own.

My husband works hard. He is our provider. He is an incredible father and shoulder to lean on. He is hands down Asher and my best friend and our number one cheerleader.

Thus, when JORD reached out to me about a potential collaboration opportunity with their unique men's wood watch line, I could not have been more thrilled as I knew just the man who would love this well deserved gift.

When "Dada's" cool new watch arrived (in the most beautiful packaging may I add), little man and I set to work putting together a little "thank you" dinner to share with our favorite guy.

I typed up a short and sweet gift-themed note from Asher and I to set alongside the new wood wrist bling that read "We are so grateful for the TIME you invest in our family". Then I went about ordering Ryan's favorite take out and set it out with a bottle of red wine to finish it off.  Then it was time for the little guy and I to eagerly await his arrival home from work.

Needless to say, I think our main squeeze was pleasantly surprised. And it felt so good to give back to a man who gives so much to our family day-in and day-out. "Dada" even let Asher try the watch on (and I must admit we are grateful for the microfiber cloth that came with it to wipe off all of those tiny fingerprints). Who knows, maybe someday it is a piece that Ryan can even pass on to our little guy who is so blessed to learn about love and life from this incredible man of ours.

Interested in hosting a little "thank you" dinner of your own for your favorite guy?

I've teamed up with JORD for a giveaway in which one lucky follower can earn a $100 E Gift Code toward the watch of your choice. Not only that, but all entrants will automatically receive a $25 E Gift Code as well. So really - everyone's a winner!

I absolutely love the way the Conway Walnut & Jet Black watch looks on my man's arm. That being said, there is such a wide variety of wooden watch options to choose from to suit any man's style.

So are you ready to put an extra wide smile on that special guy's face? Enter the giveaway by clicking on the link below. The giveaway will close on October 15th at 11:59pm.  All gift codes must be redeemed by December 31st, 2017. Good luck!

Enter here: Giveaway

Watch Gift Ideas

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Our Toothbrushing Routine & Sing Along

Now that Asher finally has some teeth, we are trying to be more on the ball about ensuring those little food crushers get brushed each morning and evening. While he certainly enjoys licking off all of the toothpaste, the actual brushing part is kind of hit or miss, and actually brushing his "teeth" and not just whatever the toothbrush seems to come in contact with while in there is another feat all on its own.

Alas, while we have certainly not perfected the art yet, we are working toward ensuring it becomes a more solid routine for our little guy in his day. To help him become a toothbrushing whiz, there are a few things we have been implementing.

1. We do it each morning and night. Practice makes perfect better right? Night time is an easy one for us as its just incorporated into his bedtime routine. Mornings are still a little trickier depending on what we have going, on and because he is still nursing when he wakes up, but we usually try and do it right before or after breakfast.

2. We model toothbrushing for him. He loves to watch mommy and daddy brush their teeth. Often in the morning, one of us will brush our teeth while the other helps him do it so that we can do it together. He thinks this is just the bees knees.

3. We let him try it on his own. While this often consists of him just inhaling the toothpaste, he is able to move it back and forth a bit on his own now. And he loves to hold the brush under the running water afterwards and help to put it away. Slowly but surely in practicing these seemingly little things, it is helping him to build independence.

4. We read stories about it. I'm all about using books to reinforce concepts whenever possible. When we first introduced toothbrushing we read Asher the one pictured below (it comes in English as well and is called  "Brush!, Brush!, Brush!). We continue to read it here and there at night to point out all the important steps in the process.

5. We sing about it. When we first started setting up our toothbrushing routine with him, I knew wanted a song that we could sing each time he brushed to engage him. I wanted one that was easy to remember and that would help remind him of the basic steps.What's more, I wanted a song that could be sung in English or Spanish. All of those prereqs were hard to come by, so in all honesty, I gave up the hunt after a few days and just created my own on the fly - and it stuck.

And now for our toothbrushing sing along debut... (disregard our terribly tacky bathroom that has yet to receive some reno love.)

I typed up the lyrics in both English and Spanish as well here, if anyone wants to use it. And yes, if you do, you are obligated to send me your sing along debut as well ;) (but really..I'd love it!).

Happy brushing!