Birthday Parties in September Practical Parenting

I have an article in Practical Parenting this month all about throwing the perfect birthday party. To help put the article together, I was lucky enough to speak to Nicole Avery from "Planning With Kids" and Samantha Greig, co founder of "The Complete Kids Party".

I've thrown a few home parties in my time, but now I can't wait for the next one. I found so many great planning ideas from Nicole's birthday party planning ebook "Parties With Kids". I love Nic's ideas for food and party activities. Of course she has some lovely ideas over at her blog "Planning With Kids" too.

Samantha's company that she co-owns with Jacqui has so many gorgeous party must-haves on offer. It really is a one-stop party shop! Check these out

Gorgeous boy's party colour scheme

I love owls!

Sweet lolly jar and tag

  I want these gorgeous milk bottles for my new windowsill!

There are plenty more great ideas at "The Complete Kid's Party" website.

And if you'd like to check out my article for even more great ideas, it's available now!

Learning During the Holidays

I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS!!!!! I really, really do. I love just ordinary hanging around the house holidays, but I especially love the getting away kind.

These holidays we headed up to the Gold Coast to stay at the Sea World Resort for 2 nights and then went up even further to Port Douglas.

Fun at Sea World

My kids are at the perfect age for Sea World and we had a great time. The Resort wasn't as luxurious and beautiful as I would have hoped, but it is super kid-friendly and also super close to the park which came in very handy when we needed a break from all the fun.

Port Douglas is glorious and we spent almost every day at the beach and the pool. We also ran into some old friends up there which was a nice surprise.

Beautiful Port Douglas

What I love about the holidays is how slow and easy they can be. It's the perfect time to read, relax, reflect and learn. We learned a lot over the holidays ....

Ed learned
  • How to put his head under water and swim without floaties
  • "Big Bounce" is a fun, fun game (even by yourself)
  • Birthday money does eventually run out; and
  • He can put together big Lego kits all by himself

Em learned
  • How to take her earrings out for the first time
  • The buffet dinner was made for her
  • She really, really loves dolphins and wants to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up; and
  • Her Mum can become quite competitive when playing "Piggy in the Middle"
The dolphin that won Em's heart

I learned  ...
Interesting Crocodile facts like ....
  • Mother crocodiles only look after their young for around three months and if they haven't left the nest by then they may get eaten!!
  • Crocodiles can jump out of the water and bite boats!! (I didn't learn this first hand thankfully!)
  • They are always hunting and planning to eat the smallest thing they can see (this is when I held Ed tightly on my lap!!)

I also remembered some things I'd forgotten like .....

  • Scary rides make me scared!
  • I love having no schedule
  • The beach is the best
  • Good weather really makes me happy
  • Old friends can make you laugh and laugh and laugh
  • Mountains are peaceful
  • I hate hungry seagulls; and
  • I think my husband is just ace  
The beautiful Gold Coast beach, my 'ace' husband and my girl

And then I saw some things that I hadn't noticed before like .....
  • Ed can write quite a lot and is much better at sticking up for himself then he used to be and
  • Em is maturing and blossoming more and more everyday. She is turning into a lovely young lady.

All in all a very good time was had and I still feel that relaxed, happy, peaceful glow I felt just a few days into the trip. What could be better than spending uninterrupted time with my amazing family in paradise? Right now I say nothing!

Hope your holidays were just as good. Did you learn anything special?

5 Fun Ideas For Big Kids

With the holidays almost upon us here in Melbourne, I thought I would share 5 ideas to keep bigger kids busy.

1. Make a Fact Sheet

This is one of my daughter's favorite things to do and can be modified according to your child's age. It's simple really, I just give my girl a topic and she has to find 20 facts on that topic. When she was younger, it used to be just 10. She uses the computer and reference books to find her facts. Sometimes I'll be specific and say "I'd like you to find 10 facts from a book and 10 facts on the computer". I think it's important kids know how to research topics they're interested in and that they can use a variety of resources to find facts, not just trusty old Google! We tend to stick to places and animals. For a first timer, you could give them a few ideas eg. For an animal they could find where it lives, what it eats, it's predators are etc. We collect up all the fact sheets and keep them in a folder. This activity builds research skills, literacy skills, computer skills and gets kids thinking about the everyday world.
Em's first typed-up fact sheet

2. Do a Project

 This is similar to the fact sheet idea, but I choose a topic that is a little more general and I give Em specific questions that she has to find the answers to. It usually starts with a conversation about a topic she's interested in. We had an earthquake here in Melbourne just the other day, so she did a project on that. You can see her efforts below. This builds similar skills to the fact sheet, but it hones research skills slightly because it asks the child to find specific facts. It also really works a child's ability to read text and find meaning on it. This is a really important literacy skill.

Em's Earthquake Project

3. Making a book.

We love making books at our house. This is a great activity for kids around 5-7 who are just starting to spell and write on their own. A great way to help it along is to put together a sheet of words that your child might use in their book but need help spelling. Ed just recently made a book about Mr Scribble, but needed help to write 'scribble'. I wrote out the words he needed first so he could work independently. This is great for spelling, writing, drawing and also planning how a story takes shape. It works on imagination and creativity and is a great self-esteem boost once it's finished. Start with just a few pages for really early writers. Ed's book was just 3 pages long for his first go.

4. Paint
Painting with bigger kids is loads of fun. I like to give them just a few colours - red, yellow, blue, black and white and allow them to mix their own colours in an egg carton. They can paint onto paper or canvas and you can either give them something to sketch and paint or allow them to use their own imagiantion and creativity. For extra experimentation, you can try powder paints. This means kids can experiment with the texture and consistecy of the paint as well as the colour. Experimentation and creative expression help with creativity, language, recall, problem solving and knowledge about the world.

5. Cubbies
It's easy to think that bigger kids are too old for pretend play, but children generally enjoy this sort of play until they're 10-12 years old and sometimes older. Bigger kids like details. They'll appreciate access to real food, torches, notebooks, lots of furry friends, dress ups, sleeping bags and pillows. And they'll also like having two or more cubby houses to move between. They great thing about bigger kids engaging in this sort of play is they can build their own houses and play around with size and shape on their own. They can also help to pack up too! Even for older ones, pretend play is great for self confidence, self esteem, problem solving, getting along, language skills, imagination and creativity.

What do your big kids like to do?

It's OK to Be Sad ....

As a generation of parents, I think we’re really bad at just letting things be. We want to step in, control a situation, make it better and right. I’m just as guilty as anyone else.

I wonder what this is doing to our kids.

We’re in make-do mode here at our house at the moment as we renovate our main kitchen and living area. It’s dusty and cold. The food isn’t up to scratch and we are surrounded by general chaos. But guess what, we’re all happy and ok.

Sure, there have been complaints about there not being enough food or space or cutlery or TV, but we’re managing and we’re all learning lessons.

It’s really got me thinking about how we try to make everything good for our kids all the time. We don’t like them being upset or uncomfortable. We are the generation of parents who have banned sports days because children get upset when they don’t come first. We give all kids trophies and medals for participating rather than recognizing those who excel. Hey, we even put a prize in every layer of pass the parcel so no-one gets upset when they miss out.

I wonder what this is doing to our kids, whether we’re actually doing more harm than good. Sure, in the short term they’re happy, but what about when they’re older? What happens when things don’t go their way? What happens when people around them get sick or even die? What happens when they don’t get that job the first time or they break their leg or they don’t have enough money to buy the car/house/holiday they really want? How will they cope when they haven’t learned the skills to deal with situations that don’t turn out the way they hoped?

Now, I’m not advocating purposely upsetting children or making things really tough for them or telling them to “just suck it up” when something upsets them. But I am talking about not manipulating and manufacturing everything to prevent them from getting upset. Instead of removing them from situations that might make them sad or angry, we should let them have these experiences and be there for them to pick up the pieces with love and empathy. We need to teach them to talk about things that upset them and deal with the feelings that arise. We should be honest with them and let them fail. 

They need to learn lessons like “things only hurt for a little while” and “all things pass” and “you don’t have to win/succeed every time and you’ll still be ok”. They also need to learn that sadness is a part of life. There are powerful lessons in suffering, as hard as they are.

Again, I’m not saying we should make our kids suffer because that would be wrong. I’m just saying that maybe we shouldn’t shield our kids so much from the things that can make them angry or upset.Maybe we should just stand back at let things be. Accept life the way it is, for us and for our kids.

We help our children develop skills to do all sorts of things. Surely giving them the skills to cope with anything life can throw at them is one of the most wonderful things we can do.

Ways with Playdough

 Here are some different things to add to playdough if you're tired of rollers and cookie cutters:
  • Patty pans, match sticks and plates for birthday parties
  • Wooden spoons, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, baking trays and a cardboard box to act as an oven for cooking
  • Plates and knives and forks for pretend eating
  • Very small branches from shrubs, gumnuts, seed pods, leaves and plastic animals to re-create farm or jungle scenes
 Playdough is a great activity to boost language skills and work on developing those fine motor muscles. Do it outside or in the kitchen or bathroom if you don't like the mess!

Something to Make - Shakers

My children have had so much fun with these drink bottle shakers. I made them when Em was a baby. So that makes them about 8 years old. They have been in the baby toy basket, the toddler treasure chest and then made their way to the box of musical instruments. They have sure been used.

Here's how to make your own ...

Who can make this?
Anyone from aged 2 onwards

What do you need?
Plastic drink bottles
Something noisy to put inside.
Maybe even some stickers or paint to decorate

What to do? 
Collect up some well washed out plastic drink bottles. The smaller one in the photo is a great size for baby hands. It was made using a bottle collected from a flight back to Adelaide.
Put something noisy inside. This project is one exception to my not playing with food rule. Some great food things to use are lentils, rice, barley and dried beans. It's nice to use different colours and sizes to give different sights and sounds. If you don't like using food in play, you can always fill the bottles with sand, stones, gum nuts and seed pods. Collecting them up is a fun activity on it's own!!

If the shakers are going in a music box, it's great to decorate them with stickers or they can even be painted. Remember to play it safe though. Little children love to put things in their mouths so it's best not o decorate shakers little ones will use. Also, make sure those lids are screwed on tight!

Ways to Play with Aluminium Foil

Aluminium foil (or tin foil for all my US friends!) is relatively inexpensive and its shiny, foily qualities make it a great fun thing to include in play ideas.

We like to:

  • Cover blocks and boxes and containers in it to make rockets and robots and spacey play scenes. Building with blocks and creating fun scenarios builds on imagination, creativity, language skills and motor skills.

  • Roll it into balls to play with, building on motor skills and eye-hand co-ordination.
  • Cut it and tear it because it’s easy to work with and makes a great sound. This works motor skills again and it is also a great way to practice cutting skills. Tearing and crinkling is a great way to explore the senses too.
  • Paint onto it to give our paintings a different finish. Painting is a great fun art and craft activity that builds on spatial awareness, creativity, motor skills and knowledge of colours, shapes and patterns.
  • Wrap up presents for soft toy birthday parties. Foil folds easily and doesn’t necessarily require sticky tape. Playing party games builds on social skills like empathy, compassion, care and nurturing. Looking after and organizing toys is also a great opportunity to build on language skills.
  • Include it in collage crafts. Shiny foil makes a great body for a robot or a magical mermaids tail or bright, sparkly fishy scales. Cut out some squares for a robot or scales for a fish or a long mermaid's tail. Give your child the cut-outs, some glue, some paper to stick the shapes onto and some pens and textas to draw on and around the foil cutout. Crafting builds on motor skills, creativity, imagination, language and spatial awareness.

Have you used foil in your play?

I'm Back - With Something to Make on a Monday

I've finally made my way back to my little blog after a long break. More about that later, I want to get straight back into sharing my ideas ......

If you've read my blog before, you might remember this post about a blanket my boy Ed uses for his cars. This blanket gets a big work out keeping all sorts of friends cosy. It's a regular inclusion in pretend play.

Well, I've had a go at making some of my own. Have you ever tried crocheting? It’s fun and relaxing and easy. I’m a little too impatient to knit or do any of those lovely things, but crocheting, I can manage.

I had a crash course from my visiting mother-in-law a couple of years ago, but I couldn't remember much of it, so I've re-taught myself through online tutorials.

I did make a small mistake of going to Spotlight with Ed and so now I have this basket of wool and a long list of toys to make blankets for with specific details about which toy will like which colour.

I have just started this one for little “toadie”

Would you like to make a blanket for some little friend in your house?

Anyone can have a go from about 8 onwards

A crochet hook
Some wool
A little basic crochet know-how

To make a blanket like the ones I have, you just need to crochet a giant granny square. I read my first tutorial from some links the lovely Pip shared at "Meet me at Mike's". It's really helpful if you can see the techniques in action, so it's definitely worth watching some tutorials.

My mother-in-law found a great print-out instruction sheet at Squidoo and this has been really useful to have alongside me as I'm working.

The best thing I've found though is to find someone who can show you what to do. There's nothing like sharing a cup of tea and going through a little square step by step.

Hope your little one's have as much fun with their blankets as mine do.

By the way, "everyday play" is finally on facebook. Come and "like"me, please ...