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Showing posts with label twins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label twins. Show all posts
Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

The Chubby Cheeks One is four, and a reluctant writer. In fact, he's a reluctant artist too and is just the sort of kid that would rather be playing active games than sitting practising early learning skills like holding a pencil, using scissors or learning to write his name. It's not that he doesn't enjoy school (he loves it) - he knows his 'wetters' [sic], loves books, singing and many of the other activities at pre-school. He just does not particularly enjoy trying to write. Apparently, it's not just with me either. His pre-school teacher has made a few comments about his refusal to participate in these types of activities (he often politely tells her "I just can't do it") and it's something she would like us to work on with him.

I'm sure that some of it is just that innate competitive boy thing... if it's something I'm not instantly good at, I don't want to know!!! I am very familiar with this attitude from dealing with the Big One (soon to be 8... eeek!) who is very motivated by instant success and is not good at persevering with activities that take practise to master. He will never be a musician for this reason!

But we have been trying to encourage our youngest to be more interested in learning penmanship, and I thought I would share some of the better resources we have come across.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/www.freedigitalphotos.net 

I purchased some of the Kumon series of workbooks aimed at preschoolers on the recommendation of a friend. I was a little skeptical as to whether my boys would be interested at all in something so 'school-like' and traditional, but was actually pleasantly surprised. The "My First Book of Tracing" workbook (click on the picture below for more information) was higher quality than I was expecting. In fact, the first thing the Chubby Cheeks One said was: "I'm not supposed to draw on books, just paper". The workbook pages are thick with colorful illustrations and very different to the worksheets he is familiar with from school. The activities themselves start out very easy and I was initially concerned that the level was not going to be challenging enough. However, the instant successes from the 'easy' early pages really gave my little one a confidence boost so that he was keen to continue. In fact, I had to rein him in a little or he would have raced through the whole book in one go! The activities become harder and more complex as the book goes on and do require greater concentration and dexterity. Overall, I was very pleased with this activity book and have ordered others since. They are particularly useful as a short 5-10 minute quiet activity.

To assist with his pen holding, I bought some pencils with a triangular shaped body to help him develop the correct grip.

Him Indoors loves his technology & gadgets and this is something that all three of my boys have inherited along with their Y-chromosome! Getting to use Daddy's iPad is a rare treat in our house and one that we have not encouraged. I worry that the kids have too much screen time as it is, without adding another source! However, now that the twins are 4, I wondered whether they might find the prospect of being able to use Daddy's iPad a motivation to practise their writing skills! First things, first. An iPad is an expensive 'toy' and like all kids, ours are known for their occasional clumsiness! So we invested in a protective case for the device. There are many cases designed with kids in mind, but we chose the M-Edge Supershell Case. We chose this one over the rest because of several reasons. Firstly, the design of this case allows access to all the ports without removing it, so you can use headphones with it on (something I was keen to have for when travelling)! You can also easily adjust the volume buttons through the foam. The foam itself is dense and protective, fitting very snugly. However, it isn't so bulky or cumbersome that an adult wouldn't want to use it too. Click on the image below for more information.

We also invested in chunky stylus with a triangular shape like the pencils above. While not cheap, I felt it was worth the investment as practising using a 'pen' was the point of the activity rather than just a fingertip. Again, click on the image to find out more.

With the hardware sorted, we were able to download a couple of 'games' for the boys to try. I used the very useful website, Commonsense Media, to lookup apps with good reviews. You can search for games by device (iPad, Kindle, iPhone etc...), by age, and by skill or topic. You can then read reviews and decide which one you like before downloading. Very handy! Click here for their app search!

My kids' favourite app for tracing has got to be the Little Writer app by Alligator Apps (Innovative Mobile Apps Ltd). The music is appealing but not grating. The game encourages the kids to trace the letters by following a trail of themed dots (so if the background is the ocean, they follow fish)! The activities include writing uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and shapes. But the game the boys enjoy the most is the one where they get to write basic words. If they trace the letters C-A-T carefully and correctly, they are rewarded with a picture of a cat! The only thing I wish it would do in this activity is sound out the letters phonically (rather than by name) as they are writing them so that the kids can start to make the connection between the sound a letter makes and the word being written. However, for the purpose of practising using a pen and writing letters this app is great and my little ones love it!

One of the things we have been asked to work on with our twins is getting them to write their names independently. The Shouty One has pretty much mastered this and can independently write his name correctly. We are still working on it with the Chubby Cheeks One and I was delighted to find a free resource online that allowed you to create and print your own traceable worksheets. At www.kidzone.ws you can select whether you want block, script or cursive font and input the text you want the child to practise writing... once submitted a custom printable is created! So easy!

How do you encourage your reluctant writer?!

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Posted by Mama Max - - 1 comments

I live in a house of 3 boys (four if you count long-suffering Him Indoors).  There are many upsides of being surrounded by all this masculinity and I love being a Mum of boys... however, one of the things that has been slowly building ever since my youngest two (recently turned 4-years old twins, the Shouty One & Chubby Cheeks One) potty trained last year is my realization that boys stink.  There is no ignoring the fact.  They pong and I'm not just talking about the whiffy socks and smelly toes that goes along with their age & gender!  

Those of you with a delicate constitution may wish to stop reading now, because I am referring to the rather gruesome reality that is their bathroom.  I have an ongoing daily battle with our downstairs bathroom (the one the boys use most frequently) which invariably stinks like a bus depot in the early hours of a Saturday morning.  I clean that toilet and floor daily with a bathroom cleaner and bleach.  I've bought extra mats so that these get changed out daily too.  And yet, the malodorous stench is only temporarily held at bay.

It was really getting me down.  Even to the point where I would beseech my newly independent little men to go back to sitting down for a pee, just to minimize the hose pipe effect (not that this made much difference)!  My husband even worried that we had a leak around the base of the toilet until I explained to him that the recurrent puddles on the floor were simply the result of the boys' bad aim.  Sigh.

Renton in the worst toilet in Scotland - from the film Trainspotting.

Whilst we weren't quite ready to accept the title of 'Worst toilet in Texas' à la the film Trainspotting I needed to sort the situation out.  The real problem was that the smell was deep into the porous surfaces in the bathroom... the grout around the tiles and the sealant at the base of the toilet bowl.  So all the surface scrubbing and cleaning wasn't getting rid of the miasma!

The solution was easier than I anticipated.  Pet stain & odor remover.  Simple.

We sadly don't have pets at the moment as the mobile expat lifestyle isn't very easy for them, but several years ago we had a very elderly cat called Tabitha who came to spend her golden years living with us when my in-laws emigrated. Such a sweet little thing, but at the ripe old age of 21 she started to lose control of her bodily functions (sad, but it happens to the best of us). I therefore became very familiar with certain pet cleaning products... and while I would hesitate before calling my kiddos little animals, how different could it be?

I sprayed the solution (containing enzymes that actually consume the odor-causing bacteria) around the base of the toilet, onto the grout around the floor tiles, along the baseboards, and even on the wipe clean paintwork (you can even use it on carpets and upholstery).  Allowed it to do it's magic for a few minutes and then wiped it up.  Easy and perfect.  Even days later, the lingering trace of urine that had plagued our bathroom has gone, leaving it fresh smelling and far more pleasant to use!

It hasn't cured my boys' lack of aim or stopped me having to clean up their messes EVERY SINGLE day, but it has got rid of the embarrassing whiff that had me cringing every time a visitor used our bathroom!

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Posted by Mama Max - - 12 comments

My twin sons turned 4 last week, and I decided to throw them a party that would appeal to them, their friends, and their big brother too! I settled on a Knights & Princesses theme as both the Shouty One & the Chubby Cheeks one are very keen on playing castles & knights. I also thought this theme lent itself to a 'joint' party for twins! I simply asked the boys to choose a colour for their arms... so the Shouty One became the Red Knight & his brother the Blue Knight! Furthermore, the theme could include other medieval characters for those children who'd prefer to be a Princess or Wizard!

Setting the scene
We are very fortunate to have a large backyard with room for the kids to play, so despite the high heat & humidity here in Texas, I thought it would be fun to create a medieval castle and jousting pavilion for the kids to party in!  This sounds far harder than it really is!  I simply recycled cardboard boxes (I was also generously given a large sheet of cardboard by the warehouse people at a local store... it's worth asking) and cut them into the shape of castle walls with battlements.  I did contemplate painting the cardboard to resemble stone walls, but struck gold with this fab roll of wall decor used to create a castle effect for parties indoors.  It is 30' long and 4' wide and was ample to cover the castle I made.  I simply stuck it on the cardboard before cutting out my panels.  I created the effect of windows by sticking on short strips of black duct tape.  A few medieval shields cut-outs stuck on and some pennant flags and the castle was complete.  To assemble in the garden, I used garden canes taped onto the panels and pushed into the lawn for stability.

To create a medieval jousting pavilion, or tent, I simply added some decorations to an existing garden canopy/gazebo that we have.  I used sticky tape to attach alternating sheets of red & blue paper (just normal letter sized craft paper) to the inside edge of the canopy... this resembled the pelmets on a knight's pavilion tent at a medieval joust.  I then taped lengths of coordinating ribbon to each of the corners.

I put the kids' party table under this pavilion and simply used paper tablecloths to cover it.

Party food
The party was a mid-afternoon occasion and so I provided a light buffet of finger food that would appeal to kids & adults alike.  I kept to known crowd-pleasers rather than trying to recreate a medieval feast (no roasted peacock washed down with mead!)... so provided finger sandwiches, homemade scotch eggs (a favourite with the grown ups), cocktail sausages, fruit & veggies, chips & dips & goldfish crackers.  However, I was delighted to stumble across these delicious Pepperidge Farm Chessman shortbread cookies in my local store, which coordinated perfectly with the theme!

I also created medieval looking serving platters from over-sized, rectangular 'gold' paper plates, adorned with adhesive-backed craft gems.  These were only on the serving trays (not the kids' plates... for which I used plain gold paper plates) and I ensured that caution was exercised when allowing the children to help themselves to food... the jumbo gems, while fairly obvious, could potentially pose a choking hazard with smaller children.

I created a dressing up station for the children to select their chosen themed costume at the start of the party.
I spotted a great tutorial for making simple knights' tabbards from felt on pinterest and made up a selection of red & blue tabbards for the kids to choose from.  I also made some very simple princess capes, also from felt, that could be selected as an alternative.  I bought some brilliant party hats by Meri Meri to finish off the outfits.  These are designed as party hats, rather than costume hats, so they are quite small, but I thought they looked adorable set at a jaunty angle!

To complete their outfits, the children could choose to decorate a knights' shield or princess wand.  I bought craft kits for this activity and they were a huge success.

No party is complete without some traditional party games... so we had two!  A round of the British favourite, pass-the-parcel, and a more locally-inspired pinata!  I bought a dragon shaped pinata that I then slightly adapted from the traditional design (where you hit it with a stick until it bursts... not such a great prospect with a lot of 3 and 4 year olds) into a pull string one.  See this tutorial here.  I filled the pinata with candy (obviously!) but also with some themed mini toys... plastic rings and little knights action figures.

The favourite party game (by far) was throwing wet sponges at the 'naughty' Daddies in the stocks!  I used some of the cardboard off-cuts from my castle to create a set of medieval stocks that I taped onto a hanging basket stand in our garden.  I simply painted wood-grain effect with brown poster paint, added a sign saying "Ye Olde Stocks", glued on some aluminum foil studs and cut out holes for head & hands. The kids LOVED throwing wet sponges at the Dads!  Lots of fun!

The Cake, treats & goody bags!

I have made forays into the world of cake pops before and considered making some for the party.  However, I was totally inspired when I spotted some JUMBO marshmallows in the supermarket... I've blogged before about "cheats'" cake pops that don't actually use cake at all!  They were the perfect shape for some Knight's Helmet pops... and because the marshmallow is lighter and fluffier than cake the larger size still worked!  I simply pushed the marshmallow onto the lollipop stick with a small amount of melted candy to secure (as you would when making cake pops).  Then I dipped them into some melted gray candy (I achieved this by mixing white and black Wilton Candy Melts), and while still wet I attached an oval shaped cut out of gray-tinted fondant icing.  I used silver dragees to be the bolts on either side of the 'visor' (attached with a tiny amount of melted candy) and then used a black candy writer pen to draw vertical lines on the visor for the grille.  The final touch was to attach a real craft feather (obviously not to be eaten) to the top, again while the candy was still wet.  Once dry, I printed and cut out some paper shields, used a hole punch to make small holes top & bottom and then slid the shield onto the lollipop stick.  A final dusting with some silver Wilton's Color Dust and they looked fabulous!  Furthermore, they tasted absolutely divine as you would expect with marshmallows & chocolate... a match made in heaven!

For the boys' cakes, I went down the tried and tested route I have used (and blogged about) before.  I made a cake and covered it in plain white fondant icing before 'painting' it with edible colors.  I made two castles for the boys to stay with the Knights theme.  I simply baked a square cake (using my very reliable and delicious chocolate vegan cake recipe), cut the corners off slightly and then covered it in fondant.  For the towers, I used empty toilet paper rolls, covered in foil and then a thin layer of fondant icing.  I attached these to the cake by slightly wetting the fondant and pressing them against the cake.  Once set, I painted the cake. For more details on using this technique click here.  Once the 'paint' was dry, I created a moat & drawbridge  on the cake board by sprinkling colored sugar (just add a few drops of food coloring to sugar, stir and allow to dry) onto some melted chocolate that I had thinly brushed onto the board.  I added a row of chocolate chips for the river bank, and a small square of fondant (painted brown) for the drawbridge.  The finishing touch for the castle turrets was to stick on some ice cream waffle cones (with a little black frosting).  The candles were attached to the cones with toothpicks and some melted chocolate.

As you can see below, the boys were delighted with their cakes!!

Finally, for goody bags that the children could take home along with their costumes and pinata spoils, I filled some very cute plastic medieval goblets with a few more treats.  The cups were quite small, but I managed to fit in a couple of themed finger puppets, a packet of gummy bears and a few lollipops.  A clear cello treat bag, tied with some gift ribbon at the top finished them off!

I hope you've found some inspiration & thanks for taking the time to visit my blog!

For the Kids Friday
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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

Silent Sunday

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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

My kids all went off to school today!!!! After 87 days of having them trailing me around like shadows, I honestly felt a bit bereft to be without them... saying that, I'm sure the feeling will pass! In fact, today was actually the twins' first day at proper school and so was actually a bit of a milestone for us! Cue lots of photos and the odd tearful moment (me, not them!).

It's going to be a bit of a culture shock managing 3 kids' school timetables rather just the Big One's and so I am on a mission to get organised! All 3 boys have come home with a folder full of notices, art work and class timetables today and my fridge and noticeboard are at full capacity... so I decided to create a streamlined magnetic display for the boys class information to maximize the noticeboard real estate!

You will need:
  • a clear plastic wallet for each child
  • sticky tape
  • small post-it notes (the tab divider ones work really well as they are clear on the bit that attaches to the page)
  • scissors
  • coloured paper & glue stick (optional)
  • a strip of magnetic tape (alternatively you could just use strong fridge magnets or pins on a normal noticeboard)

Firstly, bind all your wallets together along the hole punched edge using sticky tape.

Then you can cover this with a folded strip of coloured paper or card to neaten the edge.

Cut, peel and stick a length of magnetic tape to the covered edge of the wallets.

Using post-its or special sticky index tabs, create a tab for each of your kids on each of the wallets along the opposite edge from the covered magnetic side.

Slide in each child's timetable and then attach to your fridge door or magnetic noticeboards using the magnetic tape.  You can then simply use the tabs to locate the specific timetable you need at the time without having to cover your entire fridge door with paper!

How are you gearing up for the return to school?!!!
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