{Raising Tadpoles: The Perfect Family Pet!}

As all kids do, our little peas have been asking more and more lately about getting a pet.

Clearly, there are both pros and cons to having kids and pets. There are many benefits to kids having pets, like teaching them responsibility and all about the circle of life, etc. They can be a source of comfort to your kids. And they can provide endless entertainment for children.

But Daddy Pea and I are just not really into the idea. I don't know why exactly, as we both grew up with pets, but neither of us really likes the idea of having an animal in our house. It's extra cleaning, an extra 'person' to take care of, and - the biggest one for us - a hindrance when it comes to travel (which we do quite a lot of). Really, we barely manage to function smoothly enough to take care of all the responsibilities we've already got. Throwing another one into the mix really wouldn't be wise. And we are seemingly incapable of keeping houseplants alive, so how could we take on a pet?

However, the idea of having a pet for the kids to learn about and get enjoyment from is certainly appealing - at least for a short time. So we decided to try out some temporary 'pets'. When we were visiting the grandparents at their new home, recently, we happened to notice that there were millions of tadpoles swimming in the pond!

Right away they got me thinking: Watching tadpoles grow into frogs = learning about the circle of life; caring for tadpoles = learning responsibility; watching tadpoles wiggle and grow = fun for the kids; tadpoles grow into frogs that get returned to the pond = temporary-basis-only pets. All in all - tadpoles seemed like the perfect pet for our family!

So I did a bit of research and found that tadpoles grow into frogs in about 6 weeks - perfect, since we had about 8 weeks until we go on summer holidays. I found out what they eat (frozen lettuce), what kind of water they need (pond water, or if not, then tap water that has been left sitting outside for a week to evaporate any chlorine from it), and what else they need (rocks to hide under and to sit on when they become frogs; a bowl or bucket of some kind to contain the water; something to cover the container when they are almost ready to hop; a change of water once or twice a week - by pouring half out and refilling it, preferably with new pond water; and feeding every 2-3 days).

So, we went back to the pond with a bucket and some empty water bottles to gather some pond water and a few tadpoles. I picked up a lettuce and popped it in the freezer. I bought an old fishbowl from a colleague for $5. We brought home a ton of books from the library about how tadpoles grow into frogs, and even a video to watch. We got our new pets set up on our upstairs balcony, away from any animals or birds that might try to get to get them, and close to where the kids often play. We've brought them in a few nights when the temperature became quite cool, but mostly they are outside all the time.

And now we wait. And wait.

It's been about 3 weeks now, and so far there is no visible change at all, except that they are now bigger tadpoles! But the girls and I have been having fun watching them wiggle, dropping in tiny bits of frozen lettuce, watching their mouths gaping open and shut, and changing the water. (We did lose a few, one that got caught between the rocks during a water change, and a couple of others that just didn't grow.) We've noted how if you look closely, you can see that their body shape is sort of frog-like - with bulgy eye parts, wide mouths, and bellies that hang down. We're actually really enjoying our new pets! (Except for Daddy Pea, who is a bit grossed out by them!).

In the meantime, I asked some of my blogger friends about their thoughts on kids and pets. Here's what they had to say:

When I was growing up (central Austin) we had chickens, geese and rabbits. It was so much fun as a kid to go out in the morning and feed the animals and collect the eggs. I think it teaches responsibility. (I am just going to add that my daughter fed all of her broccoli to the dog at dinner tonight - downside) - Kristin @ Sense of Wonder

Having pets have taught my girls responsibility, respect, and compassion. It's also sparked an interest in learning about all sorts of animals. The only downside is having to find someone to take care of all those creatures while you travel! - Terri @ Creative Family Fun

After owning 4 cats, 8 hermit crabs, a giant african millipede and turtles, I have determined (empirically) that the snails we have now are, hands down, the best pets we've ever owned. - Patricia @ Critters and Crayons

I think they are great tools for kids to learn responsibilities and caring. - Valerie @ Glittering Muffins

We have a cat, a guineapig and a toddler. We'd have a lot more animals if Hublet didn't keep me under control (I'm a bit addicted to animals). I think it's really great to introduce kids to animals at a young age, although there are risks, particularly to the animal if you don't do it properly.  - Ray @ Taming the Goblin

Pets are part of family life and childhood memories (we had pets as children). The kids get used to animals, learn about respect and having to look after them. We chose cats as the happy medium of "cuddling & playing" (ours are VERY sweet and very playful - lucky!) and independence (e.g., no dog walking which is a chore, and holidays the neighbours look after them). We did have chickens, but I gave them away when I had Pip Squeak - as it was "too much for me" and it was useful to have more garden for the children. So I guess it is all about WHAT PET you choose.. before you can talk about the pros and cons (e.g., a horse would be very labour intensive and expensive... and to me a goldfish is boring!)  - Maggy @ Red Ted Art

We have a new puppy arriving in July and we are super excited. I grew up with dogs, cats, fish and hamsters. I cannot wait for my girls to experience the unconditional love (and hard work) a pet can bring to a family. - Jen @ Kitchen Counter Chronicles

We have a fish (beta) due to my allergies and my girls tell me it's boring! They so want a dog but I just can't. - Bernadette @ Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas

Don't be a clean freak or you will need a straight jacket. We have 1 bird, 1 cat indoors, 2 cats outdoors, 1 turtle, 2 fish... they want a dog because ours passed a few years ago. ACK! - Lora 

Positives: My children have a very good relationship with the dog, understand animals and the care that they need. Our dog is a friend, a playmate and a hot water bottle. Negatives: Picking up poo, having to shut her away if friends' children are scared/allergic, needing to arrange kennels, etc., when on holiday or out all day. On the best days, it's heaven. On the worst, it feels like herding cats!! - Kelly Innes @ Domestic Goddesque

We have backyard chickens, and I LOVE them for little kids- not much work, and you don't feel badly if you don't play with them every day, but they have a lot of personality. - Katey McGill @ Having Fun at Home

Our cats have been a wonderful addition to our family and beneficial to our daughter. She connects well with animals more easily than people, and it's wonderful to see her so readily express her love, care, and affection towards them. I think the only negative with pets is going on vacation. It's not easy to take cats on a vacation, and we miss them while we are gone. Then you have to arrange for care in your absence, too.  - Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam

My 5yr old loves our cat. She's learning about taking care of someone else, and often thinks about the cat's feelings - wondering if the cat will be lonely if we go out for the day. The cat seems to know it's my youngest who loves her most in the family and will always pick her bed to sleep on at night, which my daughter just loves. - Cathy @ Nurturestore

With T and J being so young, it's been easy to teach them about gentle hands and kind hugs with our dog. She adores both of them (they give her food, what dog wouldn't?) and she will follow them everywhere. As they get older both of them will have responsibility for her food and water as well as helping on her walks to teach responsibility. We're getting J some fish for his birthday this year - a tropical tank for our lounge as he loves the one at my parents. He will help us feed them and look after them as well as learn about living things with them. As they get older they will be joined with guinea pigs out in the garden, stick insects. Oh, and we already have African Giant Land Snails, but those are mine! - Cerys @ Rainy Day Mum

I love kids and I love other people's pets... as long as I don't have to take care of them, feed them, or deal with their messes. :) I can barely handle taking care of myself and my own kids. I am also allergic to most pets (except goldfish :)), so we won't have any probably ever... but we spend a lot of time visiting local dog parks and visiting all the neighborhood pets because my kids love animals. - Kristina Buskirk @ Toddler Approved 

We have a cat. After years of begging, DH gave in and agreed to it (I grew up with cats). We've had her for 5 months and I can't figure a way to get my 2 younger girls (age 3 & 5) to stop squeezing the life out of her. They fight over holding her (which she hates) and end up pulling her in 2 different directions. Yesterday DH said he thinks it's time to get rid of her. I thought the excitement of having a pet would calm down a bit, but it hasn't. They seem to love her to pieces, but don't understand why she runs when they enter the room. - Brooke Holt @ Let Kids Create

We have pet worms in a compost box. I love that I don't have to worry about their pooping. - Deirdre @ JDaniel4'sMom

We have a dog that we love dearly and he is my daughter's companion when she plays outside. - Maria Bridwell @ Mama Mia's Heart 2 Heart

Pets share love, laughter, grief with your kids (and you) and they will never judge you for who you are or for what you do. - Angelique @ AngeliqueFelix.com

I grew up with all sorts of animals in our house a dog, two cats, a bird and a turtle and now in our house over the course of 19 years of parenting and teaching we've taken care of two cats, a turtle, hamsters, hermit crabs and lots and lots of fish. Although I'm the first to admit it, they are a lot of work and expense, I think it's something all children should experience. I think it helps them to understand animals, responsibility, compassion, love and also about life and death. - Kim @ The Educators Spin On It

I wish we could have pets but we have allergies. My son asked me last night, when I'm a grownup, can I get a pet by myself. I want a pet that I can play with. I felt so bad. - A Little Journal

{Ocean Waves in a Bottle & Sun Scholars Giveaway!}

child testing how waves work with DIY ocean in a bottle

Princess Pea is turning 5 next month - ack! (Slow down, slow down!) The debate about the best time to begin your child in school is raging, both on the internet (read here and here) and in my head, but I have come to a decision that I believe is the best for Princess Pea and our family.

I've mentioned before that we love her Hungarian preschool because it is 100% play-based. Although she moved to a new preschool when we moved house in February, her new one is of the same philosophy. She settled quickly and happily into her new class. We also love that as long as the weather is nice, they seem to spend pretty much the whole day playing outdoors.

On the other hand, she will eventually (probably in 1st grade) go to the private school where we work, which has a strong academic focus, even in the early childhood department and particularly in kindergarten. So entering in 1st grade might be a bit of a shock to her playful, little system. As well, the art and music programs at our school offer wonderful experiences to develop creativity and imagination of the kind that her preschool system is unable to provide, mainly due to lack of resources.

So the compromise we've (more or less) decided on is to keep her in her play-based preschool, while homeschooling her on the side in some of the skills that would be expected of her if she were at our kindergarten. That way, she will learn the skills, but still spend 95% of her day playing, creating, and  imagining, and will still spend lots of time playing outdoors (as opposed to two 20-minute blocks of outdoor play time).

So, with this plan in hand, I've decided to start a first 'unit of study' (gosh, it feels weird to say that in reference to my own little Princess Pea!) built around an ocean theme. We are planning an upcoming mermaid-themed birthday party, so there's lots of interest in under-the-sea life around here at the moment. I'm going to latch on to this current interest as a means to incorporate some of the kindergarten standards and benchmarks.

I'm still in the early planning stages, but my plan is to incorporate a little literacy, a little numeracy, a little science, a little art, a little music (yikes! not my strength at all!), and a whole lot of fun inquiry into this ocean theme.

I'll share more about my plans as they develop, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you a great resource. Whether you homeschool, summer school, or just want some ideas of fun, educational activities to do with your kids this summer (or any time, really), you might be interested in the Sun Scholars Summer Program, offered by Rachel over at Sun Scholars.

Rachel has been kind enough to share the program with me to try it out, and to also offer a free copy to one of you lucky Mama Pea Pod readers!

I've been going through the downloadable program, and the first thing I noticed is how well-planned and organized it is. Rachel has thought of everything! She has built a curriculum around weekly themes (including a 'beach' one that will tie in nicely with our ocean theme). Each weekly theme includes some hands-on activities in each of the subject areas - literacy, numeracy, the arts, science, etc., and is organized into daily activities that are printed on individual cards that you can print out, keep in a binder, and take out as you need each one. The curriculum is designed for multi-aged learners, so even if your kids are different ages, you can pick and choose which activities to do, or follow the suggested modifications for each different-aged child. The package comes with a handy list of supplies you'll need, to help you get organized in your planning, and many printable materials, too.

So, to introduce our ocean theme, we followed the instructions given to make ocean wave bottles. These are so cool! At first I thought about skipping the oil in the ingredients, but I'm so glad I didn't, as it really creates the wave effect, making the water roll, just as a real wave would out in the ocean. We had so much fun with these! We used some empty water bottles, a handful of sand from the sandbox, water, blue food colouring, some blue glitter, and some cooking oil. We also popped in a couple of shells, though you can't see them as it turns out.

young children making ocean in a bottle

We've also tried the squishy bags and the strawberry mice. We filled ziploc bags with shaving foam, a bit of glitter, and a few drops of red and yellow paint. As the girls squished them, the paints blended to make - surprise! - orange. While Sweet Pea squished and squashed and rustled the bag, enjoying the sensory play, Princess Pea attempted to write letters in the foam, through the bag. It was all fun and games, until she squished it a bit too hard and it squirted out and a spot hit her in the mouth - yucky! (Mummy's fault for not following all the instructions and taping up the end of the bag - oops!). Older kids could practice spelling words with them, too.

And when Daddy Pea brought home a big carton of strawberries for a treat, what better treat than making them into cute strawberry mice? These snacks are part of the unit built around the story, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie". I didn't have all the same items on hand as in the suggestions, so we improvised a bit. How cute and fun! A great way to get kids helping out in the kitchen. They could even use them to reenact the story or make up a play of their own before eating them up for their snack!

Other activities that have caught our eye include making a family tree, testing out sound energy with musical glasses, experimenting with colour-changing milk, and making a beach bucket cake!

If you're interested in finding out more about the Sun Scholars Summer Program, head on over to Rachel's blog, Sun Scholars. And if you'd like to enter to win a FREE copy of the summer program (in digital format for downloading), just leave a comment below telling me a fun activity that you plan to do with your kids this summer!

This giveaway will be open for a week, closing on June 2nd at 8pm, GMT+1. A winner will be selected through Random.org and will be announced here in a blog post. The chosen winner will have 48 hours to contact me to claim their prize, or a new winner will be selected. For additional entries, you may share this post on Twitter (tag @mamapeapod) or Google+. Be sure to come back to leave an additional comment for each entry to be counted.

Good luck and happy learning!



{Outdoor Play Party: Singing in the Rain}

Toddlers with umbrellas - there's really nothing cuter, is there?

Sweet Pea and I were playing inside the other day when it suddenly started to rain. Sweet Pea heard the rain and immediately jumped up. "I want to go outside! Need my umbrella!" and before I could even respond, she hurried off to the front hall cupboard and got out her new umbrella that the Easter Bunny brought her.

She put on her 'duck shoes' and off she ran - laughing and twirling her umbrella. It was one of those strange summer showers when it was still sunny at the same time. We looked for a rainbow, but didn't find one. Within about 2 minutes, the rain moved off of the deck, but it continued to rain on the grass. The sun shone down on her as she stood at the edge of the deck watching the rain fall just metres in front of her. Within 5 minutes the shower was all over, but she wasn't giving up that umbrella!

Toddlers and umbrellas - a perfect combination for fun outdoors!

This week we are welcoming a new cohost to our circle: Jen of Kitchen Counter Chronicles is a regular contributor to the Outdoor Play Party, and has been a bloggy friend since she wrote an outdoor play-themed guest post on Mama Pea Pod way back in July, and then interviewed me for her Kitchen Confidential series in September. Be sure to check out her party post, and while you're there, take a browse around her blog - there's lots of outdoor play and learning, as well as plenty of crafty stuff, and foodies will enjoy her family-friendly recipes, too.

So now, on with the party! If you missed the last party, be sure to check out the 48 ways to play outdoors that were linked up - I especially liked this Window Screen Printing post from Play, Create, Explore. If you're not already familiar with her blog, I highly recommend it - so many fun, messy, outdoor art experiences!

Join the party and link up your own outdoor play ideas below!

{Painting Nails}

Daddy Pea is not a fan of nail polish - especially on little girls. Princess Pea, on the other hand, thinks it's very glamorous and fancy.

In the summertime, I do paint her toenails in a very pale colour as an incentive for her to let me cut them (always a struggle!), but fingernails are out of the question.

So she's come up with her own alternative - painting her nails with paint!

She uses regular water-based, washable paint, and thinks it's fantastic! We like it because it washes off relatively easily (though it can be a bit hard to clean from around the cuticles). And she loves to sit and paint them herself.

As always, she turns it into imaginary play - she plays the role of Lemon (from Strawberry Shortcake), the salon owner, and the rest of us have to call to make salon appointments for her to do our nails. She checks her appointment book, and is always very busy! But somehow she manages to slot us in. ;-)

She even painted Grandad's nails!

{Imaginary Play Fairy Garden - Outdoor Play Party}

Making a Fairy Garden

for Imaginary Play

imaginary play making fairy garden castle

This week we made a fairy garden outdoors. We had an indoor fairyland in the winter, but now that summer is on the way and we are playing outdoors pretty much all day long these days, we wanted to have an outdoor set-up for imaginary play with our fairies.

So we got a big, plastic flowerpot (on casters for easy movability), and filled it with potting soil. I wanted to make it with soil so they could have the sensory experience of playing in the 'dirt', and because Sweet Pea loves to dig around and grab handfuls of soil from our other potted flowers that we don't necessarily want dug up! At least this one she's allowed to play with.

fairy flowers and toadstools in imaginary play garden

We planted some real flowers that Princess Pea picked out at the gardening shop, and we had a plastic castle from our sandbox that we put in. They don't show up well in the pictures, but we made some butterflies on stakes by glueing pre-cut foam butterfly shapes on each side of a craft stick (much like how we made our heart toothpick toppers).

fairies, flowers, toadstools, frog, stepping stone corks and dragon in imaginary play garden

We also made fake play flowers out of cut-up slices of pool noodles with pipe-cleaners stuck into the bottoms of them. And we added some corks for stepping stones/seats, some mushrooms (they're on wires for flower arrangements), and some figures - fairies, a dragon, and a frog.

imaginary play fairy garden with castle, fairies, flowers, dragon, stepping stones and toadstools

Finally, I found some cute garden stakes with chalkboard sides that the girls used to write welcome notes to entice the fairies to come and live there!

And the best part is that all the pieces except the real flowers are moveable, so they can create and recreate their fairy world as much as they like!

On to the Outdoor Play Party!
Did you see this post among the 42 ideas for outdoor play linked up last time? 


This and more great 'springy' ideas can be found at this Spring Carnival!

{Make a DIY Rainstick}

Making a DIY Rainstick

Making a DIY rainstick has been high on my 'fun and creative crafts I must do with the kids' list for a long time now, and I've been saving just the right tube for it ever since my friend Nathalie got inspired by this rainstick at The Imagination Tree and wrote a guest post for me about her attempts at it. But it never seems to get done. Well, now, at last we made our rainstick!

Considering how long I'd let it slide down our priority list of crafts, it turned out to be surprisingly fast and easy to do! We definitely took Nathalie's experience and advice into account. Like nailing at an angle instead of straight in. But in the end, we made it quite differently from Nathalie's.

We used a cardboard tube that had had glowsticks in it last summer. It's small but thick and hard - you definitely couldn't do this as well with a paper towel tube, it has to be hard and strong.

We nailed lots of nails in, then filled it with expired rice. I covered the end with lots of tape and even wrapped tape over the whole tube to cover any potential pointy nail heads.

Then we covered ours with homemade 'mod podge' (white glue mixed with water) and torn tissue paper strips. I was a bit concerned by the sogginess at first.

But once dry, it became hard and smooth.

And what a lovely sound it makes!


{The Carrot Seed - A Seed for Learning}

The Carrot Seed

A Seed for Learning

Princess Pea will soon be five (yikes!), and has been talking a lot about starting school (though she won't start until she's 6). So I've been bringing home books from school that go together as a theme that we can talk and learn about. We've been calling it 'school' - she loves to have 'school time' - it makes her feel like such a big kid! This is protected time for just her and me - Daddy Pea takes Sweet Pea to do something else, so we can have this time alone together. 

We've been having beautiful, summery weather lately, so Princess Pea and I have been making a habit a couple of times a week to sit in the garden and read and talk together after I get home from work. 

This week, we read about how plants grow.

We started by reading The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss [affiliate link]. (Thanks to Kristina at Toddler Approved for this Virtual Kids Book Club suggestion!)

Princess Pea was very interested in why the carrot isn't visible on the plant when it finally grows. We talked a lot about the parts of a plant - roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds - and how we can eat the different parts: carrots are roots, lettuces are leaves, peas are seeds, etc. We consulted a non-fiction book, The Seed by Christine Young [affiliate link], to see how the different parts of the plant grow and the life cycle of a plant. 

Then we reread a current fiction favourite, The Pea Blossom by Amy Lowry Poole [affiliate link], which tells the sweet story of a pea from the time it is in its pod to when it grows into a plant with pods and peas of its own, and how it inspires a sick little girl to get better.

Then we read another non-fiction book, Carrots by Gail Saunders-Smith [affiliate link]. In it, we see all the steps involved in how the carrot goes from seed to carrot to dinner. Princess Pea loves to help make dinner and after reading the book she really wanted to help cook some carrots for dinner. Unfortunately, we were out of carrots. So we had a cucumber instead. I taught her how to peel it by herself and she was so excited to be really helping!

Afterwards, we talked about who else likes to eat carrots - bunnies, of course! And we went on a bunny hunt in the garden! I had some bunny cut-outs left over from our Easter Egg Hunt party, so I hid them in the garden and she had to find them - all while hopping like a bunny! (I didn't realize it at the time, but this activity totally reminds me of the rabbit-themed Garden Hunt that Abbie from Greening Sam and Avery guest posted here on Mama Pea Pod last summer.)

Then we had a little treat - a marzipan carrot that the Easter Bunny had left!

Finally, I got her to pick the dandelions from the garden (a great way to do the weeding!) - which she used to form a letter C for carrot!

Want to join the Virtual Kids' Book Club, too?