{Strawberry Shortcake Outdoor Salon Imaginary Play}

Summer may be officially over for us, but it's still as hot as can be!

Today in Strawberryland, Apple Dumplin's been visiting Lemon Meringue's outdoor salon in the shade of the summer lilac trees.

Foot bath with raspberry bubbles.

Towel off.

Pink polish (sssshhhh, don't tell Daddy Pea!).

A little lotion.

And then Apple Dumplin' does Lemon's toes, too.

What are your kids playing outdoors these days?


{Review & Giveaway: Personalized Household Binder by I Heart Organizing}

I love to organize and make lists! Unfortunately, I'm not very good at staying organized when the realities of our busy lives set in. Long work days for two teacher parents, two small children, preschool drop-offs and pick-ups to arrange, meal planning and preparations, multiple caretakers coming and going,... it all gets a bit crazy once the school year starts!

That's why I was so excited when I came across the Household Binder at IHeartOrganizing!

With the Household Binder I hope I can finally organize our family and maintain organization to make for a smoother school year for us this year.

The Household Binder comes with:

* Binder Coversheet w/Spine (with your choice of super cute and colourful design)

* 12 Month Calendar

* Daily Goals 

* Week at a Glance Calendar

* Task Checklist

* Family Outings Idea List

* Monthly Finance Checklist
* Monthly Budget Worksheets

* Home Maintenance Checklist
* Home To Do Checklist
* Cleaning Checklist
* Automotive Maintenance Log
* Important Home Information Worksheets

* Travel Checklist
* Babysitter Notes
* Pet Sitter Notes
* Contacts

* Shopping List
* Meal Planning Calendar
* Freezer Inventory
* Fridge Inventory
* Pantry Inventory

* Blog To Do Checklist
* Password Log

* Important Dates Chart
* Gift Giving Budget Tracker
* Party Planning Checklist

* Media Inventory 
* Library System Tracker

The binder is a downloadable PDF, so you just print it off and pop it in a binder to keep in your kitchen for quick and easy access. You can print off as many copies of pages as you like, or only print the pages that you want. I even chose to laminate some pages for easy write-and-wipe reusing.

I love the cute, colourful designs (and did I mention that it's personalized? You choose the design and then they put your family members' names on it - on the cover and also on the relevant pages inside.) The pages that are my favourites for our family's needs are:

  • * the password log - no more trying out 5 different passwords before coming to the right one! (I don't recommend keeping this page in the binder, though - instead, hide it in a secure spot -- maybe taped to the underside of your desk or inside of a cupboard)
  • * the finance checklist - for keeping track of bills to be paid each month (we so need this!)
  • * the home to-do checklist - to keep our never-ending list of household tasks in one place
  • * the party planner - I expect I will use this one A LOT! I always make pages of lists for party planning then wish I had kept them to remember the next time! This is one I am definitely laminating.
  • * the travel checklist - this is sorted into items 'to pack' and items 'to do'. I recommend writing in a few basics (you'll always need to pack your toothbrush and pyjamas and you'll always need to take out the garbage before you leave), then laminating the page. That way, you have your basics always on there and can add other items specific to a particular trip.
  • * the babysitter notes - again, I recommend filling in some of the items (like notes about each kid) then laminating it for re-use each time you go out
  • * the meal planning calendar and associated shopping list - I love how they are related and the shopping list has a place to write the meals that you have planned for the week.
  • * and for me: the blog ideas list - great to jot down ideas when I don't have the computer on.

Negatives? Well, I think it is a little bit pricey when you consider the printing costs. But I look at it as an investment in the family's happiness. A better organized family = a smoother functioning family = happier and less-stressed parents = happier kids! And with better organization, there's less time wasted on trying to find/remember/decide things, making more time to play and have fun together as a family! Definitely worthwhile!

(There are also lots of options to buy single pages rather than the full binder - check out the I Heart Organizing Etsy shop. And check out the free printables available at IHeartOrganizing too!)

*ADDITION: I Heart Organizing would like to offer up a free downloadable Household Binder for one lucky Mama Pea Pod reader! To enter, leave a comment below stating which style of cover you would choose (you can see the choices here). Open internationally. Contest closes Sept. 8th, 2012. 


Please note: This is a sponsored post. In exchange for writing a review of this product, I received a free downloadable PDF of the Personalized Household Binder. However, I strive to provide a balanced review for my readers and all opinions expressed in this review are my own, true opinions.

{Outdoor Play Party: Awesome Nature}

Hi folks, I know I haven't been around much lately, but we're back at school now and things are crazy and hectic. Between my full-time teaching job, additional department head responsibilities and homeschooling Princess Pea for Kindergarten on the side, I'm not sure when I'll be able to pop in next, so I'm putting blogging on hold for a bit. So I'm very sad to announce that this will be my last Outdoor Play Party for a while. However, the party will continue over at my cohosts' blogs (and watch for a new cohost next edition, too!). I encourage you to follow all of their blogs so that you can keep up to date with when new editions of the Outdoor Play Party are posted. I do hope that you will all still participate. I think that by sharing in this forum here, we are all doing our part to promote the importance of outdoor play for kids - too often overlooked in our busy, highly-scheduled society these days!

So, before I go, I leave you with some pictures from a recent hike we took. We had a lovely vacation in Croatia, including visiting the Plitvicke lakes area for a couple of days. We were so impressed that Princess Pea hiked a full 4 hours on her own, without a complaint! 

And what a beautiful place for a hike! 

Our route

And you gotta love hiking in Europe - in addition to the incredible and varied natural scenery, at the end there's always ice cream and beer waiting! ;-)


{Back to School Quick Crafts and Blog Hop}

2 Quick Back to School Crafts!

It's back-to-school time for me, I'm afraid. So while I am busy getting back into the swing of things, I am leaving you with these two fun and simple back-to-school crafts we made last year at this time. 

I'd love to say that I'm one of those teachers who just can't wait to get back to school and meet all their new students, but really I could happily live the summertime life at home with my two peas indefinitely! I never get bored of summer.


1. {Back to School Crafts: Flower Pencil Toppers and Sparkly Rings}

The best part of back-to-school time is all the new school supplies [affiliate link], right? ;-) At least, I've always thought so. So last August when I followed this link to a YouTube video tutorial from Simple Kids' Crafts for making flower rings, we adapted them to make them into pencil toppers, too! 

[You'll need: pipe cleaners, glitter glue, pencils] [affiliate links]

Leave a couple of inches on the ends, and twist the pipe cleaner into loops to make flower petals (you can use a pencil to bend the loops around, or just do it by hand). Then twist the ends together and loop it round your finger. Twist to secure, making sure the pointy bits don't poke you. A dab of glitter glue makes them sparkle!

Then we just adapted them into pencil toppers too, by winding the ends around a pencil a few times. Because you know, writing is all the more fun if you've got a fancy, sparkly, flower topper on your pencil!

And there you have it - so easy and wouldn't they make great little gifts for new classmates or teachers?


2. {Back 2 School Craft in a Minute: Pencil Pot}

As I was getting my classroom set up I put together this pencil pot in, literally, a minute. I had a plain cardboard pencil pot (though you could just as easily use a can of some kind from the recycling box), and wrapped a couple of scrap ends of bulletin board borders around it. One around the top, another around the bottom, and taped them in place. Ta-dah! Done. Cute, no? I just love it! Think I'll have to make several more this year (and for the record, this one lasted through the whole school year in my classroom last year and is still in good enough condition to use this year, too!)


{Number Recognition Car Game}

As we were driving to the dentist's earlier this summer, just me and Princess Pea, we killed car travel boredom and practiced her number recognition by playing 'spot the number'.

We started with the number 4, since it was her 'last day of being 4'. She scanned all the houses we passed, looking for one that had a 4 in the house number. Once she found one, she started looking for a number 5, since she would be 5 the next day. Then, of course, we had to do all the numbers, so we went back to 1, then 2, etc. Each time she spotted the number she was looking for, she got so excited! (I love her enthusiasm!)

Sometimes she had to confirm first what the number looked like. It was interesting to hear her interpretations of what they look like. ("Is 8 the one that looks like a snowman?" "2 looks like a 5, but has a straight line on the bottom, and the 5 looks like an S, right Mama?")

She noted that the houses mostly had more than one number on them, which led to her discovery of how 2-digit numbers are written ("SIXty FOUR is a SIX and a FOUR!")

Far more fun and at least as effective as any worksheet! ;-)

What kinds of games do you play in the car with your kids?


{Picky Eaters: How To Encourage Your Child To Try Different Foods}

Is your child a picky eater? Or does he/she eat everything you put on a plate?

My kids lie somewhere in between. While they definitely don't eat a lot (I'm talking microscopic portions), they do eat a wide variety of foods. Some of their favourites might be deemed 'unusual' by others, and even just plain 'gross' by some of their peers. Adults are often quite surprised by what our girls do like to eat.

Some of their more interesting 'thumbs up' foods include octopus, shrimpsquid (they LOVE all three of these!), olives (at the age of 1 Princess Pea and her little friend once scoffed a whole bowl of them at an adult party before any of us noticed what they were up to!), curry (this was a particular favourite when they were babies - mild, of course - as you can see in the photo below), goat cheese (another baby favourite - Princess Pea ate it every day - though now she thinks it's 'stinky'), chicken liverpâté (another one they both go CRAZY for!), and gizzards (actually, any meat from any part of any animal - I've got a couple of true carnivores on my hands here!).

They also love fish, and especially broccoli (their absolute favourite food aside from sweets - preferably made by Daddy). Though these are not unusual foods for adults, many children seem to turn up their noses at them.

Of course, there are also things they dislike. Lots of things, actually. Sweet Pea can't stand eggs. Has never liked them. Princess Pea hates lasagne, sweet-and-sour sauce, capers, and sour cream. And, of course, as with most little children, they dislike various foods on certain days depending on whatever quirky reason they come up with that day. (Princess Pea is definitely the quirkier one in this regard.)

Just how did we manage to get our kids to eat and enjoy all these 'weird' things? Well, here's a few tips for encouraging your child to try eating different foods:
  • 1. Start early. Don't assume that babies won't like particular foods, especially those with strong flavours. As soon as they're old enough to eat a certain food, try it. My experience is that babies love strong flavours like goat cheese, curry, and garlic.
  • 2. Make meals fun and for the whole family. At our house, we eat our meals all together around the table, with no other distractions. It's a time for story-telling, language games, silliness, and enjoyment of our food and our company. Kids are more open to trying something new when they are in a positive, relaxed mood.
  • 3. Just because you don't like a food, doesn't mean your child won't - unless he/she hears you talking about how horrible it is! Then, chances are, your child will come to the same conclusion.
  • 4. Have your child develop an appreciation of food by commenting on it as you buy, prepare and eat it. From "oh, look what lovely peppers these are" at the veggie stand to talking about where milk comes from - your child will learn to appreciate the care that went into growing and preparing the food.
  • 5. Have your child help with food preparation. Even toddlers can help by 'making' the salad by turning the salad spinner or stirring the dressing. Kids are more likely to eat food that they helped to prepare.
  • 6. Take your child grocery shopping. Ok, so maybe not all the time, and preferably just one child at a time to save your sanity. But going with you to the market to help 'pick out' the food gives your child ownership of the meal and is another way that he/she will be more likely to eat it. Let your child choose which vegetables to buy for dinner that day, or to choose an unusual fruit he/she has never tried before. 
  • 7. Don't order from the kids' menu at restaurants. We almost always just order from the regular menu. Depending on how hungry they are, we either just get extra plates to share our meals with them, or order a regular appetizer (or half-portion entree if the restaurant will do it) for them to share together. (It's also usually a much healthier option than the kids' menu offers.)*

For more great tips from readers and other bloggers on how to encourage your child to eat all sorts of foods, click here and join the conversation!

What is the most unusual thing your child likes to eat? 

*As an interesting side observation, I've noticed that it's quite rare to see a kids' menu at restaurants in Europe, and kids in Europe I think tend to eat a wider range of 'adult' foods. Possible connection? My opinion is that if chicken nuggets and fries aren't ever on offer, kids are perfectly happy to eat salmon and lentils.


{Outdoor Play Party: The Benefits of Old-Fashioned Outdoor Play}

Old-school outdoor play! There's a lot to be said for it:

Swinging: Develops balance, coordination, spacial awareness & proprioception (knowing where your body parts are in space and what they're doing without seeing them), strengthens muscle development, and provides stress relief.

Hopscotch: Develops social skills - negotiating rules, taking turns; gross motor skills and agility; balance and coordination; counting and learning to read numerals.

Rolling down hills: (even small ones!): Develops spacial awareness and proprioception, balance, coordination, and gross motor skills, and aids sensory development.

Running, leaping, jumping over hurdles: Develops fitness, gross motor skills, coordination, and strength.

Not to mention, the exercise will help your kids grow healthy hearts and bodies, have reduced stress levels, and help them sleep better at night!

The last edition of the Outdoor Play Party brought us 39 ways to play outdoors. I loved the simplicity of Little Wonders' Days' Painting Sticks post - what a lovely, relaxing way to spend the day outdoors with your children!

 painted sticks via Little Wonders' Days

Link up your outdoor play posts below!
- Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome! (Any other types of posts will be deleted to ensure we keep this focused as a resource for outdoor play ideas.)
- Please just include a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play!
- Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.
- Each time we will feature an activity from the previous party. By contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished. 
Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week! The linky goes live every second Friday at 12:01 GMT+1.



{Hungry Caterpillar Buttoning Counting Practice: Time for Mama}

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Button Threading Game

by my creative friend, Nathalie

Nathalie guest-posted here at Mama Pea Pod about a year ago, with her I-Spy Animal Rainstick that she and her daughter, E, made together. Now she's back as part of the Time for Mama: Creative 'Playtime' for Moms series. This time, she has made the cutest game for E to practice buttoning and threading, to accompany one of my favourite books of all time!

E is two and a half years old, and has decided to start dressing herself. Of course, her favorite items have buttons on them, so I decided to help out a bit by making her a threading/buttoning activity.

There are lots of 'button snake' ideas around using a simple button-lace and felt squares, but E had started counting at the same time and as I was reading her "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle one night, I thought 'Why not combine the two activities?'

To make the tiny, thin caterpillar I used a thin strip of green felt with a red button sewn to it for the face. Then I made green felt circles with a wide enough opening so the button could come through easily, and on each circle I sewed the different fruits and food the caterpillar eats during the week (one apple, two pears, three plums, etc.).

As the circles are threaded, while the story is being read, the caterpillar gets bigger and bigger. I used different shades of green felt to give it the “Eric Carle” look, and I tried to make the food look as similar to the book as possible.

This is how it looks when all the pieces are in. A very chubby caterpillar who will now go in a cocoon to be transformed into a butterfly! 

I still haven’t made the butterfly, but in theory and according to the book, it will come out of the other end of the cocoon in two weeks!

This post is part of the Time for Mama series. Check out the other Time for Mama posts for more ideas for creative 'playtime' for moms!