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The dog days of summer are perfect for whipping up doggone good treats for the two- and four-legged cuties in your backyard. These snacks are easy to make and will add fun to your next cookout on the deck.

Doggy buns

Ordinary fare like hot dogs rise to meet the occasion in these cute dog-faced buns, from Wonderful DIY. These are a snap to make, especially with a bread machine. All you need is dough, cooked black beans, and sandwich fillings of your choice.

Shape bread dough into hotdog-sized buns. With a knife, make two cuts near the round end of each bun to create dog ears (should look something like a 1970s telephone in profile). Press in three beans for the eyes and nose. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. When cool, slice open and stuff. If your kids turn up their noses at these, it will be to take bigger bites!

Chocolate puppy cupcakes

We found these adorable cupcakes, complete with floppy ears, at CupcakePedia. No time to bake these from scratch? No worries, because we think you can get this homemade look from all prepared items. Whether you buy or bake, you’ll need chocolate cupcakes, chocolate icing, Nutter Butter cookies, vanilla wafers, M&Ms, and icing in a couple of colors in cake-decorating tubes.

Nutter Butter cookies are ears, icing makes big puppy eyes, and a vanilla wafer becomes a muzzle to hold a grin and M&M nose. Walk these cupcakes on a short leash to the picnic table, or they may run off before you get there.

Doggy ice treats

Pricey doggie ice cream hit the market a few years ago, but you can make your own for less with this recipe from Desert Living Today, with ingredients on hand. Your kids will love serving up frosty goodies to Fido next time he’s melting down, especially if they help make them.

Swirl together yogurt, peanut butter, ripe bananas, honey, and water in your blender, and pour into ice cube trays or cupcake pan to freeze. Garnish with dog favorites like grated cheese. If you make these often, add to the fun by using a pan with dog bone shaped molds.

The dog days of summer come but once a year and your kids will never be this age again, so don’t forget to paws, er pause, to snap some photos of your kids and dogs cooling off with these cute canine-themed treats.

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What are your favorite family summer traditions? Going to a family reunion or spending a weekend at a campsite are old favorites. But despite activities like these, the dog days of summer can drag on, especially for little kids. They can easily become bored, and the lament for “something to do” soon follows.

New family summer traditions to the rescue! And that can include taking a unique summer family photo every year.

Kick off some ideas for new traditions by scanning this great list of family traditions from Parents. Ideas include holding your own family Olympics, creating an outdoor chalk mural, or hosting an outdoor movie night for friends and neighbors. Creative ideas for preschoolers include inventing your own summer holiday, such as the summer solstice, the first day the thermometer climbs to 100, or — especially for the little ones — Backwards Day. Backwards Day is a date like the 11th that reads the same forward and backward. Celebrate with eggs sunny side down and wearing clothes backwards, and whatever else you come up with.

Create a classic family photo

Whether you’re adopting new traditions like these or stopping at the same scenic spot your family visits every year, consider snapping a family photo as a new tradition. For fun, come up an unexpected element in the shot like having everybody wear funny glasses. Repeat next year, maybe with a variation; for example, instead of lining up like soldiers in front of scenic view, wear fake moustaches one year, and silly hats the next.

Other variations on this idea:

  • Photograph the whole family wearing the same color or same style outfits.
  • Have everybody strike a funny pose.
  • Shoot from an unusual angle or perspective. For example, celebrate Backward Day with a shot of everybody taken from the back.
  • Take the shot at the exact same time, date, and location every year.

Repeat over the years, and you’ll soon have a unique photo series that will become a true family classic and jog memories of fun times for years to come.

 

 

 

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These last summer days can be slow, making a perfect opportunity to put kindness in focus, especially with kids in the mix. Researchers in Canada have found that being intentionally kind can lead to happier, more accepting children who are also more popular among their peers. What’s more, intentional acts of kindness are a beautiful way to build family bonds while teaching children important lessons of empathy and altruism.

 

Take peek at these 22 kid-tested acts of kindness over at Kids Stuff World and surprise your neighbors and strangers with gentle gestures like these this summer:

  • Pay for the drive-thru order or coffee for the person behind you.
  • Send dessert to another family at a restaurant.
  • Find a parking meter that’s nearly expired and add change.

 

By modeling kindness as part of everyday life, you can quickly show your kids that even the smallest acts of kindness can lead to feel-good rewards for both givers and receivers.

 

Here are a few suggestions of our own:

  • So many little ones love to see the garbage collector arrive on the street. Leave a small cooler with drinks near the cans as a refreshment and sign of gratitude.
  • Collect change for a cause. Get a big Mason jar and fill it up all summer. When the jar is full, take the money and donate to a local charity, or buy grocery gift cards to give to someone without a home.
  • With the kids’ input, write affirmations and feel-good quotes on sticky notes, and place them around town for others to find. Put a note on your neighbor’s car window, leave one at a restaurant for the server to find, or simply hand a happy note to a passerby.
  • Bonds between the generations can be a source of happiness for old and young alike. Consider taking your youngsters to a senior center to work on a project or play a game. The joy a child brings to often-isolated seniors will bring happiness to all.

Need more ideas? Coffee Cups and Crayons has free Summer Kindness Calendars you can download, packed with daily suggestions just for kids. Once your little ones see how the kindness game is played, they are sure to bust out with some ideas of their own.

We’d love to hear how you spread kindness around your world this summer.

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While nothing compares to a family portrait or special occasion photographed by a pro, it’s also true that nothing compares to the photos of your family you take yourself.  We hope that includes turning the camera on you.  Too often, mom or dad is left out of the picture because they’re taking it.

Here are a few tips to help you put yourself in the picture as you also capture more everyday moments in your family’s life.  If you want to jazz up some of those takes in front of the camera, we have some neat ideas for that.

Moments and milestones

Photographing milestones is wonderful, but don’t stop there. Whether it’s the entire gang piled on the couch for movie night or a random stop for ice cream, instead of being forgotten, these unremarkable moments can become among your most cherished over the years. Revisiting them is like popping open a time capsule-a way to travel back to the exact way the kitchen light backlit your daughter’s curls (and your own unbelievable hairstyle) or that quirky diner where your son’s stubborn tooth finally let loose.

Technology to the rescue

First, start by putting yourself in the picture with a selfie stick or tripod. Mini-desktop tripods run under $10.  Use your camera’s shutter-release timer or purchase a remote. Someday, your kids will love seeing how you looked with them in your 20s, 30s and beyond. So will you. We promise.

Put a child in charge

Want to add a spontaneous feeling to your shots? Hand off the shutter release to your child and see what you get.

Stage it and set an interval timer

One option to capture more ordinary moments is to set up a shot in advance, such as reading a story to your kids in bed. If you’re into photography, put your camera on a tripod and preset focus and lighting. Go candid by using an interval timer to take lots of shots, say one every 15 seconds.

Make it unique with creative staging

Impromptu shots are great, but here are some ideas for family photos inspired by The Huffington Post to bump up the fun and interest:

  • Dress-alikes: Bare your chests to reveal your superhero undershirts.
  • Best feet forward: Shoot only the family’s lower legs as they walk or dip toes into the pool. Or shot other parts: hands together, backs of heads, etc.
  • New perspective: Take photos from the level of your preschooler’s eyes, or shoot directly downward onto little ones’ heads.
  • Ready, set, go: Have the entire family jump into the air — click! Swing kids from arms, leap into the pool, or everybody toss beach balls into the air at the same time.
  • Silly faces: Uncover real smiles by first making some silly faces. We love those silly face shots, too!

Even if the scene is as simple as your family around the breakfast table, the wonderful interior life of your family is yours alone to capture — unique moments as beautiful as they are ordinary, precious experiences that inevitably fade away.  At Teddy Bear Portraits, we know that memories matter and take pride in our lifetime guarantee, so while the memories may fade, your treasured portraits of your children won’t!

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Summer fun for little adventurers may include trips to theme parks or time at summer camp, but these are not for everyday or every budget. In between trips to your local pool, park, library, and play dates, what to do to keep little ones entertained without breaking the bank? Here are some ideas for nearly free activities, inspired by care.com and PBS.

  1. Water - Cool off kiddos with wading pools and sprinklers. For toddlers, provide containers of various sizes to let them play at filling and pouring. Wet sponges make toss toys, and other household objects let them explore what floats. Supervise kids at all times around pools or water containers.
  2. Ice block sleds – Make a cool sled by wrapping a towel around a block of ice and have kids race down the hill!
  3. Dance party – Clear some space in a room and crank up the wiggles and giggles. Most toddlers respond to an upbeat tune; help by encouraging them to march, clap, tap, and bounce. Make a rhythm shaker from a handful of dried peas inside a plastic egg, glued shut.
  4. Pudding painting – Add food coloring to pudding mix and use it to finger-paint. Cleanup includes licking the paintbrushes. Definitely an outdoor project!
  5. Cars, trains, and buses – It’s all about the journey, especially when you’re five. Hop on a bus and head to the airport to watch planes take off.
  6. Tour local businesses – Lift the curtain and see what goes on at the factories, farms, and restaurants near you. Many offer tours or welcome small groups.
  7. Pirate for a day – Ahoy, matey! Turn your deck into a pirate ship with sails made of sheets and portholes cut from cardboard. Foam board makes a ship’s wheel. Dress the part, plan a treasure hunt, and talk like a pirate.
  8. Hiking / scavenger hunt – Put together a photomontage of items to find, lace up the walking shoes, and discover what’s ordinary or not in your area.
  9. Free days – Mark your calendar and take advantage of free or reduced rate days at museums, zoos, other cultural institutions, and theme parks.
  10. Retailer events – Many big-name retailers offer demos, events, and classes tailored to kids as young as three. Bookstores have storytimes, and craft stores offer art classes. Some home improvement stores even have project workshops for kids.

Find kid-friendly freebies near you — and make the most out of this summer with your kids!

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Summer is the season for movie blockbusters. Big screens in cool theaters light up with superheros, scary disasters and sweet animations. But first-run movies can be budget-busters too, so check out this mix of live-action and animated favorites for low-cost family nights at home.

Use an affordable, portable LED projector to create your own backyard movie theater under the stars, or stay in your living room and snuggle on the sofa as you munch on a big bowl of popcorn.

  1. Dumbo (1941) 3+   
    Circus elephants are soon to be a thing of the past, but this timeless Disney feel-good film teaches kids to celebrate differences.

 

  1. The Tale of Despereaux (2008) 4+
    Adapted from the award-winning novel, this animated jewel features three unlikely heroes in a tale of bravery, forgiveness and redemption.
  2. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) 5+
    Beautifully animated fantasy about friendship by the iconic Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

 

  1. The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) 5+
    A lovable live-action tale about a cat and a dog whose friendship endures through thick and thin.

 

  1. Babe (1995) 5+
    Not since Charlotte’s Web has a pig been so lovable, beating the odds by working as a sheepdog.
  2. T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 5+
    Another timeless masterpiece, recently updated so police guns are replaced with less-frightening walkie-talkies. Viewers big and small will be forever touched by Elliott’s friendship with a little homesick alien.
  3. Finding Nemo (2003) 6+
    A boatload of critters inhabits the breathtaking seascape of the Great Barrier Reef as little Nemo is lost, then finds his way home with the help of loveable Dory.

 

  1. The Secret of Kells (2009) 6+
    In 8th century Ireland, a forest sprite befriends a young boy to protect the Book of Kells from Viking invaders.

 

  1. The Parent Trap (1961 / 1999) 6+
    The adventure begins when twins separated at birth discover each other at summer camp. Compare the original campy 1961 version with the 1999 remake to see how times have changed.

 

  1. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) 7+ 
    An goofy dad-inventor accidentally shrinks the kids and throws them out with the trash. Like jungle explorers, the kids must navigate backyard obstacles and scary creatures to find their way back home.

 

  1. A Cat in Paris (2010) 8+
    Here’s a beautifully drawn movie that draws you into the “city of light.” The action-packed animation follows a cat who leads a double life, as a pampered pet and a cat burglar’s trusty sidekick.
  2. Whale Rider (2002) 8+  
    Set and filmed in New Zealand, a young Maori girl fights tradition and family to fulfill her destiny in this gorgeous coming-of-age film.
  3. Gidget (1959) 9+
    In this retro classic, a diminutive girl the kids call Gidget (for girl midget) learns to surf and falls in love with a boy called Moondoggie.
  4. Secondhand Lions (2003) 9+
    A shy boy is left to spend the summer in Texas in with two eccentric great-uncles in this touching story that raises questions about what it means to grow up and to grow old.

Make your own summer movie tradition

What better time than the long days of summer to create a new family tradition? Back in the day, movies like The Wizard of Oz played only once a year on the small screen and it was a real family event. Make your special summer movie an event too. Select one movie to watch together every summer, and create shared memories that will last throughout the year, and for lifetime!

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Drive in movie

Here’s a party idea rated PG, for Perfectly Great. This fun drive-in movie idea is bound to be a hit anytime this summer you’ve got little kids to entertain, whether it’s your own tribe or every preschooler on the block.

Drive-in movies are a blast from the past, but with just a few spare boxes, the fun of a night in front of the big screen can come alive right in your backyard or living room.

How to make cardboard-box cars

The fun starts with kids making their own cars. You’ll need a kid-sized cardboard box for each moviegoer, so park these in your garage in advance. For ideas, take a glance at this visual how-to from wegotkidz. Keep it simple or go all-out with details like window frames and doors.

After you create the car bodies, supply kids with craft supplies and disposable dinnerware so they can customize. Maybe someone wants to make a Batmobile, a racecar or an ambulance? Here are a few tips for going the extra mile.

  • Headlights and backlights – Paper cups, cupcake liners, small plastic containers, small colored paper plates.
  • Wheels and steering wheels – Big paper plates, rimmed plastic platters.
  • Décor – Racing stripes, car numbers, vanity license plate in child’s name, fancy hubcaps — let little imaginations soar!
  • Radiator grill – Go cartoony by drawing smiles and teeth. Or for the realist, affix a small baking cooling rack.
  • Door handle – Loop of pipe cleaner or piece of rope.
  • Car key – Real key on fob, poked in place on dashboard formed from box top panel folded in.
  • Antenna – Pinwheel, magic wand.
  • Upholstery – pillows, cushions, kiddie backrest.

 

Your kids are a few years away from getting behind the wheel, but why not give them a license of their own to play with in the meantime? Take turns taking each child’s photo, and while they’re decorating their cars, add it to a license (Pinterest has tons of free printables) and print! You can use cardstock or an index card to make it more durable.

Assemble with glue or poke holes through cardboard and use twist-ties to hold pieces together more durably.

Create a concessions stand on a pretty tray. Line up classic candies like M&M’s, bags of popcorn, or whatever snacks you choose to keep your little customers happy throughout the show.

To show the film, look into affordable HDMI or LED mini home theater projectors that connect to your smartphone or computer, or use your TV.

Make it Picture Perfect!

Kids come home with the same goodies party after party…make yours memorable by sending them home with a photo favor! Grab your camera (or smartphone) and take a picture of each child with their customized car. While they’re watching the movie, print and add each photo to a frame for kids to take home. Did the movie end early? You can have kids decorate their frames with stickers or even glue toy cars around the border!

Drive-ins are an old tradition — easily reinvented to make your next kids’ birthday party, slumber party, or anytime more like a fun outing.

If you host this party, please snap and share a few photos of your “parking lot”! We’d love to see your kids’ creations on our Facebook page.

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Your kids may already be in preschool, but here’s a wonderful photo project to start anytime or pass along to others (especially when a new baby joins the family). The idea is simple, but the results can be stunning and make a keepsake worth framing, sharing, and revisiting over a lifetime.

We spotted this idea at Making it Lovely, from mom and blogger Nichole Balch, who is capturing three fast-growing lovelies of her own through photography.

Simply photograph your child in the same location at regular intervals —monthly or annually. If you take monthly shots over the years, you can then put together a fascinating composite photo or album showing how your child has changed.

For preschoolers, you might put together a photo essay with a theme like “A Year in the Life of . . .” starting with your child’s next birthday.

Here are some tips and ideas to play with:

  • Keep staging consistent; for example, use the same room with the same background, lighting, and props, and dress your child in a similar shade of clothing. By making some elements the same, you place the visual emphasis on what is most important and what has changed — your child.
  • Switch things up with a pattern; for example, use increasingly bigger chairs as your child grows but in the same room, dress your child in outfits representing new interests (like sports), park a vase in the same spot but with different flowers, or capture a new pose or a different facial expression. (Okay, expect a new pose and expression every time, planned or not! That’s part of the fun.)
  • A background element such as a tree in the background could also add an element of interest as it also grows and changes with the seasons.
  • Snap a bunch of shots every time so you can pick and choose. You might uncover various themes as you edit the collection, such as your child laughing over the years or being pensive, or a growing shadow on the wall telling the passage of time.
  • Make timing easy for you – Pick an occasion to remind you to snap the shot such as the first of every month, New Year’s Day, or your child’s birthday.

Have you started a project like this? We’d love to hear from you, so be sure to join us over on Facebook.

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Have you heard of the “summer slide?” No, we don’t mean the one at your local water park. It’s when kids take the summer off and lose some of the year’s gains in reading. And when a child’s progress has been hard-won, just taking a couple of months off could become a real setback.

Thankfully, it’s easy to turn a potential backslide into fast-forward by making reading part of your kids’ summertime activities. Just keep reading on your radar. One way to engage kids is by making weekly treks to the library for new fun books and reading programs. And if you do some online sleuthing, you’ll find several reading contests to get kids fired up; for example, here’s a challenge from Barnes & Noble where kids can earn a free book.

How to foster a love of reading

Most of us read out loud to our kids when they’re tiny but taper off as they become capable readers themselves. Turns out, reading out loud to your kids throughout elementary school is associated with developing a love of reading and increased reading frequency. While the research can’t chalk it all up to reading aloud, if you’re in the habit of doing so, keep it up throughout grade school.

Three books to top a summer list

Need ideas? Here are three to jump-start a preschool summer reading list:

  • Ten Rules of Being a Superhero by Deb Pilutti, Henry Holt, 2014, ages 4-7. Anyone can be a superhero with these ten important rules! Follow the adventures of Lava Boy and his toy, Captain Magma, as they save the day with a handful of principles, from being brave to having good manners.
  • Maisy Learns to Swim by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press, 2013, ages 2-5. Will your kids be learning to swim this summer? Help them get their sea legs by joining Maisy the Mouse as she learns to blow bubbles and use the kickboard.
  • The Night Before Summer Vacation by Natasha Wing, Grosset & Dunlap, 2002, ages 4-8. ’Twas the night before summer vacation, and all through the house, everybody was busy packing — except for the sleepy mouse? This book builds anticipation for a trip while playing on the classic Christmas poem beloved by kids, and we’re sure Ms. Wing did a better job than we did here!

Do your kids have favorite summer books you’d like to share? Please post your recommendations on our Facebook page.

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As summer swings into gear, kids are having a blast, finally doing all they’ve dreamed of for months:  swimming, hiking, camping, picnicking, playing sports, and going to parks and events. It all adds up to more time outdoors.

Time under the sun makes for healthy children. But as kids shift from being mostly indoors to outdoors, new safety issues pop up. As kids grow and start new activities like swimming, you may run into risks that are new to you as a parent.

PBS posted a great list of summer safety tips. Here are the main take-aways and some extra tips to help keep you and your kids safe and strong all summer long.

  1. Sun protection
  • Avoid or limit exposure during peak hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
  • Seek shade or make your own with wide-brimmed hats, umbrellas, shade cloths, sunglasses, and clothing with good coverage.
  • Use sunscreen! The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Association of Dermatology suggest UVA/UVB protective with SPF 30 or higher, even on cloudy days. Apply 30 minutes in advance; reapply every 2 hours if swimming or sweating.
  1. Hydration
  • Little kids may become dehydrated without knowing they are thirsty. Provide fluids before, during, and after outdoor activities, especially in heat. Fruit and popsicles (you can make your own with fruit juice) are also a great way to stay hydrated! Dehydration and heat stroke can be very serious.
  1. Outdoor foods and grilling
  • Keep children away from hot grills and campfires.
  • Undercooked meat, especially burgers and chicken, is a risk. Use a meat thermometer to ensure thorough cooking, and hold at hot temps.
  • Don’t leave out foods like potato and macaroni salad, deviled eggs, etc.
  • Chill leftovers promptly. Toss anything with total outdoor time of 4 hours.
  1. Ticks and poison plants
  • Tick bites can be serious. Wear long sleeves and pants, apply insect repellant, and inspect thoroughly for critters when the day is done. Make sure to check family pets too!
  • Avoid overgrown paths.
  • Learn signs of tick-related illness and check symptoms with your doctor.
  • Learn to identify plants like poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Again, stay away from overgrown areas and wear protective clothing.
  1. Helmets
  • Are your kids on anything that has wheels? Then put their heads in helmets. And mom and dad, that includes you, too. Different sports require different protection, so get the right helmet.
  • Helmets must fit and be securely fastened.
  1. Streetwise
  • Summertime means more time going everywhere: getting out of parked cars, crossing streets, and going for walks. As you go on your next outing, review all the basics with kids, such as no running out from between parked cars, getting eye contact from drivers before you cross the street, and staying on the sidewalk.
  • Little tots should be holding your hand at all times.
  1. Stranger Danger
  • Teach kids which strangers are okay to talk to: police officers, firemen, teachers, etc. that can help them in an emergency.
  • Use a safe phrase that friends and family can use if they are picking up your kids unexpectedly, so that kids know it is okay to leave with them.
  • Avoid clothing and toys with your child’s name on it.
  • If your child can’t remember your phone number, make a beaded bracelet they can wear or make temporary tattoos, so an adult can contact you if your child is lost and found.
  1. Water safety
  • Water safety demands your full attention: all kids in the water should have 100% adult supervision at all times. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “touch supervision,” where each child is never more than an arm-length’s away from an adult.
  • Safety rules apply to everything that holds water: bathtubs, kiddie pools, toilets, mop buckets, ponds, streams, public pools, etc.
  1. Summer first aid kit
  • Summer poses different risks than other times of year, so stock your kit appropriately. For example, be ready for basic cuts and scrapes.
  • Keep a kit in your car and take with you on extended outings.
  • Don’t forget to restock.
  • Include physician and emergency contact numbers.

 

Have a safe and fun summer, everybody!

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Thanksgiving comes but once a year, but every day is a good day to give thanks. And New Years is not the only time to start a new habit. Make this summer one you and your kids will remember by starting a daily gratitude practice. It’s as easy as taking a photo a day of a sunny moment in your lives.

Most kids learn to say, “thank you,” early on, but developing a real attitude of gratitude takes more. Kids need to see gratitude in action, learn to notice and appreciate unexpected things, and feel the good feelings that result. When they see you marvel over the beauty of a reflection in a puddle or take time to point out a shell on the beach, your attitude rubs off.

A fun way to grow gratitude in your kids this summer is using photography. It’s as simple as taking a snapshot a day. You’ll find ideas, inspiration and stories at 365 Grateful, a project that has opened the gratitude pathway for many.

So, why not pack up the kids, the cameras, and go hunting for “gratefuls” this summer? You could start with something simple and fun like, “Can you find three blue things to be grateful for today? Let’s take their pictures. And tomorrow, we’ll do yellow.”

In addition to photography, you’ll find other ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in the free 10 Grateful Projects ebook. Here are a few:

  • Have kids make a gratitude painting to give to someone they appreciate.
  • Cover your dinner table with drawing paper, break out the crayons and markers, and have each person in the family draw or write what they are grateful for.
  • Make or buy a pinboard to hang in the hallway (or for little kids, have them use magnetic letters on the fridge) to save photographs and mementos from places or things they enjoyed. As the space fills with memories they are grateful for, refresh and move older pieces to a folder or plastic storage bin. At the end of the month or year, your family can open up the container and remember all that they were thankful for!

Consider sharing and tagging your photos with #365grateful on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any of your other favorite platforms.

This project is a fun way to focus kids on all that is great in their world. If committing to 365 days is too much, start smaller with focus on every week or maybe a 31-day July journal?

People report that the practice of gratitude adds to their happiness. Even spending 20 minutes outside can boost positivity and refresh your perspective. What a great seed to plant as you enjoy summertime with your little ones!

Blog-Gratitude

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It’s almost time to light up the night with fireworks for our nation’s birthday party, so here are two ways to kick off the Fourth. First is a craft that lets kids set off some fireworks of their own, no matter how young they are. The second is a fun way to serve refreshments while you’re all waiting for the big fireworks show to begin.

Straw fireworks painting

Fireworks

We love repurposing objects, and this project from Crafty Morning turns a handful of straws into a stamp for painting. So rather than pitching all those bendy straws, just give them a good rinse and save up (or grab a new package).

What you’ll need:

  • 7 bendy straws for each child
  • Tape to hold straws together (shipping, duct, cellophane all work!)
  • Paint (red and blue if you’re feeling extra patriotic!), with optional glitter
  • White paper or deep blue/black for night sky

To make the fireworks stamp: stretch out 7 straws to maximum length. Bend each to form a right angle. Have a piece of tape at hand, long enough to wrap around the bundle of straws. Gather the straws together, splaying the short ends outward like spokes, and tape the bundle together behind the bend. Add another wrap or two of tape on the long part, the handle. If you make several stamps, you could cut some to shorter lengths to add variety to the firework “explosion” size.

To paint: Have kids dip the stamp into the blue paint and make multiple stamps on the paper. They may need to hold the stamp in place and press down on each straw. Repeat with red paint, offset or over the blue. Sprinkle on glitter for extra bang!

Glow-in-the-dark drinks

DrinksThis bright idea for drinks is perfect for a hot summer evening under the stars or fireworks — fun for guests of every age. And it’s so simple. You need glowsticks, opaque plastic cups in patriotic colors, and smaller clear cups to fit inside the opaque.

  1. Activate a glowstick and bend to fit in the bottom of an opaque cup.
  2. Insert a clear plastic cup on top and fill with beverage.
  3. Serve up some wows!

 Stay Safe!

Kids love sparklers-they’re perfect for pint-sized fingers! But did you know sparklers can heat up to 1,200 degrees? That’s hot enough to melt glass! You should practice the same safety you would around fireworks, and make sure kids are supervised. Here are a few tips for fireworks and sparklers so that everyone can have a blast!

  • Don’t wear loose clothing (and make sure kids wear closed-toe shoes in case a sparkler or two drops!)
  • Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher ready
  • If the firework/sparkler doesn’t light, don’t try to relight it! Put it in water and dispose of it safely.

For kids, try using a DIY sparkler guard! Poke a hole in the bottom of a plastic cup (Red solo cups work perfectly!) and stick the metal handle through so the burning end stays outside (you can even bend the metal handle so it makes it impossible to fall through).

Have a great & safe Fourth of July, everybody!

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Growth Chart Blog Post

How fast they grow! Even if you just use the edge of a bedroom door to track their growth with a quick pencil line, this adorable craft brings Jack and the Beanstalk to life and measures up your little ones as they head skyward!

Our inspiration comes from No Time for Flashcards, and the credit goes to this blogger’s own little green bean (her son). In this easy craft project, you’ll make a giant beanstalk, then post snapshots of your kids in fun poses to mark their heights.

Grow the beanstalk

  1. Get some heavy paper or poster board, enough to make a beanstalk that’s several feet tall. Tape or paste together the paper as needed to make one tall piece.

 

  1. Draw a giant beanstalk on the paper. A wide vertical line with fat leaves will do just fine.

 

  1. Get kids busy decorating the beanstalk. If you didn’t use green paper, turn it into a painting project! Show them how to make this masterpiece even more magical and throw in a lesson on colors-how does mixing the blue and yellow change the color green?

 

  1. Trim out the beanstalk and mount to a wall or door.

Climbers, strike your poses

  1. Take snapshots of kids in fun climbing poses. They might scout the horizon for the giant; dangle from one finger, or jump up to grab the next leaf. No time for candid shots? Use a portrait from Teddy Bear Portraits! It’s a great way to track the kids’ milestones as they get older!

 

  1. Print photos and glue backing to strengthen, if needed.

 

  1. Trim out the child’s body from each photo.

 

Measure up your Jacks and Jills

Attach the photos to the beanstalk to mark each child’s height. You could glue a clothespin to the back of each photo to reuse the same photo each time you measure. For more photo fun, use new shots every time — and capture all the ways they change. Measure at regular intervals, such as at the beginning and end of summer, birthdays, and holidays.Growth Chart Blog Post 2

Want a change of scenery? Check out Teddy Bear Portraits’ Jungle Fun or Royal Castle growth charts! You can use the same photo idea to have your child swing on the trees with the monkeys or climb to the top of the castle, and it’s already personalized with your child’s name and portrait!

 

In the end, Jack made out very well from his trips up the beanstalk. We’re sure your little ones will get a laugh out of climbing these charts, too!

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This Father’s Day, show Dad all the reasons you love him with a picture…it’s worth a thousand words! After all, he tells the funniest jokes, pushes you the highest on the swing set and makes the thickest milkshakes with all your favorite add-ins — among a thousand other things!

This cute DIY photo collage from Positively Splendid is fun for you and kids to make. It gives each child/member of the family the chance to tell dad just why he’s #1–all wrapped into a frameable 5×7! No card can compete with something this personal, and photos of the kids (being super cute!) turn up extra smiles.

A quick how-to

Making this project is as easy as providing kids with signs and helping them write why Dad is their hero. Positively Splendid provides free printables to download that you can use for any occasion or family member!

Snap a photo of each child holding a message sign, and put the final composition together using your favorite online image editor or app, like Pixlr or Picasa. If you need help, check out the Positively Splendid post. It walks you through how to use the software and makes it super easy regardless of how many kids you want to include!

Make your own chalkboard bubbles

Chalkboard bubble signs are a cute prop you can use not only in this project but also for décor, photo booths or any photo occasion. You can purchase these or make your own using foam core board and chalkboard paint. You’ll find more instructions on this Make and Takes blog.

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This is a quick and easy project that sends messages Dad will treasure twenty years from now, straight from the little messengers who make being a father the most important role in the world.

And don’t forget all the other fathers in your kids’ lives who do special things for them and would love a gift like this. Teachers, coaches, granddads, special neighbors . . . everyone appreciates knowing that what they do is seen and valued. And perhaps the best lesson of all, your kids will experience the joy of showing gratitude to everyone important in their lives.

 

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Graduation Gifts for Little Ones, Plus One to Start Now for High School

It’s graduation time, so roll out the red carpet — or at least head out for double-dippers with sprinkles to celebrate all the young scholars in your family. Your child has zoomed through yet another year of preschool, mastering challenges we can only imagine.

Every new graduate deserves their time in the spotlight! Celebrate with a special dinner, party, and gifts so the kids know how much everyone recognizes their accomplishments. Here are a few budget-friendly gift ideas for preschoolers, from Saving by Design:

  • Glow sticks, wrapped up with a special bow and message for the little superstar.
  • Kids’ books like The Night Before Kindergarten, with stories to help make moving up the grades a breeze.
  • A jigsaw puzzle with Smarties® Candies — because they’ve got all the pieces and smarts to go far!
  • A Teddy Bear, decked out in cap and gown of course.

Ultimately, the most treasured gifts become memories that can be cherished and reminisced for years to come.

Write annual school-end memory letters

This is a high-school graduation gift, but you’ll want to start now and invest a little time (and spare change). We love this idea, also from Saving by Design:

At the end of every school year write a letter to your child. Touch upon the highs and lows and big events that have happened. In the envelope with the letter, put $20 and present your child the box of letters at graduation. Not only will you be giving them a year of amazing memories, but you’ll be giving them $240 too!

Save other mementos like programs or ticket stubs from your child’s extracurriculars through the years and add them to the envelope too!

Top it off with a school portrait for each year, including your favorite shots by Teddy Bear Portraits, and how far they’ve come will be a joy for all to see.

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Dive Into Summer

Do your kids get antsy this time of year, waiting for summer fun to start? After all, there are sandcastles to build, soccer balls to chase, and sprinklers to race! What are your kids dreaming of doing?

As we countdown the weeks until summer, help kids channel their extra energy by focusing on their plans for summer fun. This Dive into Summer project invites kids to write or draw what they will do this summer. The result is perfect for a refrigerator door or bulletin board and brings each child’s summertime dreams front and center. Are they going to the beach, Disneyland, camping?  Taking swimming lessons? Visiting Nana?

In this project, you’ll take a photo, add a straw and goggles for snorkel gear, and have kids list their plans underneath or draw in cute “bubbles”. What ideas float up?

You can purchase the packet to make this display or do it yourself. If you DIY, you’ll need photo portraits of each child, poster board to serve as the background, construction paper, large colored straws, scissors, glue and lined notebook paper. Try out a Teddy Bear portrait to make a big splash with this project!

  1. Use a large portrait and trim out each child’s face.
  2. For each child, add the headline “Dive into summer” to a sheet of notebook paper — either draw or design yourself to print and glue. Kids who can write can do this themselves.
  3. Have kids write or list their summertime plans on the lined paper. Tiny kids can draw or glue on pictures.
  4. Cut poster board into an appropriate size to serve as the background for each child’s display.
  5. Cut giant waves from construction paper and glue to the board to make the watery background. Glue a portrait on each.
  6. Use the white paper to cut little and big circles as the bubbles. Have kids write or draw summer highlights on several of the big bubbles.
  7. Size and cut out swimming goggles from construction paper to fit the portrait faces. Have kids decorate. Glue goggles into place, and then glue on brightly colored straws as snorkels for a fun 3D touch.
  8. Add the notebook pages and bubbles for each child.
  9. Mount — and stand back for splashback!

 

We love the energy little kids have anticipating summer, and can’t wait for the season to start. What are you and your kids looking forward to? If your kids have some plans to share, we’d love to see them on Facebook.

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When we grow up...

Here’s a project to wrap up the school year that parents will love pulling out with their child in a few years… or even at high school graduation to revisit their dreams and best friends way back when.

What do your little ones want to be when they grow up?  A photo collage captures memories of every child in the class, each holding up a sign of what they want to be: a teacher, a vet, a police officer, or our favorite — everything!  Why not? When you’re a little kid, this question should skyrocket your imagination into possibilities: you can be anything you want to be.

Not knowing what you want to do — that’s okay, too, whether you’re four or thirty-four. “Everything” is a fine answer. Help kids who are stumped by the question to think of what they like to do, people they admire, or adventures they’d like to have.

This photo collage would also be adorable for a yearbook or as a memento for each family in your class.

How to pull it together

Take a photo of each child holding a “wannabe” sign, as well as the collage theme, “When we grow up,” as shown in the example. Use a collage-maker program to compose the final image. PicMonkey, Fotor, and PiZap are some to try, but you can also find Facebook and Smartphone apps to do the job.

Trace your child’s path

Consider taking this photo annually for your kids and create a series that captures how they change as they grow up.

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What did you want to be? Do you remember? It’s fun to think back to what you wanted to be at age six. If you’re not quite there, it’s never too late for an Rx from Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

So true! We’d love to see where your child and schoolmates are headed. If you put together this collage, please share all of little wannabes on our Facebook page.

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Do-it-all-Dads . . . just think of how many things today’s Dad does, seen and unseen. From work outside the home to everything inside and in between, the fathers in our lives deserve their day of recognition for all that they do.

Here’s a DIY shadow photo gift you and your kids can make to help celebrate dad’s special day. This photo project literally pulls an expression of love and appreciation out of the shadows — for special delivery straight into Dad’s heart. He can hang this photo at work or in the den for a quick glance anytime he needs a little reminder that yes, all he does is seen and appreciated. And it creates a lasting memory that will bring a smile long after the tired neckties and greeting cards have moved along.

How to make the shadow photo

This project has made its way onto pin boards, and we think this version by blogger Crafty Gator is especially sweet.  And if you don’t have a Cricut machine, take a quick look at this alternative by Discount Queens to get the idea.

This gift is fun for kids to make, and depending upon their age, they can also work on cutting letters and experiment with casting shadows. (Make sure they use kid-friendly scissors and are under adult supervision!)

  1. Using a good-sized piece of cardboard, poster board or heavy construction paper, cut out the letters and symbol to spell out a short message of love, such as “We [heart] Dad.” You can use dental floss and tape to suspend the inner parts of letterforms, e.g., the center shape in “D,” into cut out spaces, or simply leave out those pieces.

 

  1. Outdoors, have kids hold up the cutout–with backs toward the sun–to cast a shadow of the message and themselves onto the ground. Oops — do they need to flip the sign upside down?

 

  1. Take a photograph of the message, your kids’ shadows, plus their real legs and feet as they stand in the background.

 

  1. Print, frame, deliver, and wrap with a hug!

 

Kids’ love for Dad is front and center in this very creative piece.

Happy Father’s Day, everybody!

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Every birthday is a momentous milestone for kids. And as parents, we’re hoping to make it memorable, too. When you’re planning for the next big B-day, whatever venue or theme you choose, here are three bright ideas to make your party even more picture perfect.

Give props to the photo booth

While most grownups aren’t too keen on celebrating yet another birthday, photo booths give adults permission to act like kids again! Let the kids ham it up in for the camera too with a pint-size photo booth and props to match your party theme.

Frozen, Hogwarts, Horses, or Princess, you’ll find lots of free props-on-a-stick printables and inspiration on Pinterest.  Round up hats, scarves, aprons and other costume accessories for more dress-up fun. Designate a space with good natural light and a neutral backdrop, or go all out with this affordable and simple DIY photo booth setup. Depending on the age of the party-goers, you might have a photographer capture the silliness, or for a slightly older crowd, consider a camera setup with a tripod and remote shutter release. Either way, hilarity is sure to ensue when the kids “strike a pose.”

 

Dress up balloons with photos attached to streamers

Here’s another idea we love, one that easily translates into an annual family tradition.

Dress up the room with lots of bright and bouncy balloons with portraits of the birthday girl or boy tethered to the end of each orb.

  1. Gather together photos (think your child’s photos by Teddy Bear Portraits) of the birthday boy or girl at every age.
  2. Mount each on white cardstock and number by age. If you like, write a memory on the back of each photo related to that age.
  3. Get a helium balloon for every year, and tie a long ribbon to each. Connect a photo to each balloon using a clip or tape.
  4. For an extra element of surprise, hide them someplace unexpected, maybe gathered together in a room behind a closed door.

 

After the party, tuck away the photos until next year. Keep up the tradition going for each birthday party.  Imagine what the room will look like when your little one turns 20 — or 40!

Top off with personalized cookies

Now here’s something new, from Parker’s Crazy Cookies: cookies made to look like the guest of honor! These sweet treats put your little one’s face front and center.

Like these ideas? Share your photos with us on our Facebook page.

 

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“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
— Cynthia Ozick

As the school year comes to a close, many preschoolers wave goodbye to the grownups who have anchored their days for the better part of a year. These gurus of patience nurture dozens of little characters at once and teach them the developmental groundwork that touches their lives for decades to come.

So as kids prepare to step up to new classroom adventures, here’s a creative way to say thank you to those special teachers with just a handful of colorful sidewalk chalk, a big smile and the magic of photography.

Snap a living thank you card

Teachers get lots of trinkets that can quickly become desk clutter. Check out this crafty idea from Paging Fun Mums and make your child the star in a personalized thank-you card teachers will treasure.

First, stage the pose so you can scale the drawing to fit. After you figure out the shot, use colorful chalk to draw a giant flower pot and oversized message: “Thank you 4 helping me grow.” Pose your child in the drawing, and then take the photo from above by standing on something like a stepladder, truck bed or deck. Not too keen on putting kids on the sidewalk? Take this same idea and draw it on a whiteboard, chalkboard or use butcher paper taped to a wall.

Get creative and invite ideas from kids. They can lie down as stand-ins for the stem coming out of the pot, be the face in the flower bloom, or stand off to the side. How about adding the teacher’s name, perhaps as a label on the flowerpot?

When you’ve got the perfect photo, make it into a card, print or frame it and give your child the pleasure of presenting this adorable gift.

This simple project gives kids an opportunity to “grow gratitude” and have fun creating a uniquely personalized gift for the teachers they treasure.

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Ice Cream

Nothing says summer like ice cream.  Make a special end-of-school memory with this sweet project from The Educator’s Spin On It Each child creates their own “scoop” of ice cream and a giant cone to hold a scoop from every classmate. Our twist: Embellish each scoop with a photo! Each child will take home a truly sweet story of their school year…one that includes all of their pals! Top it off with a poem that says it all, “We’re like an ice cream, each of us unique.  But when we come together, our cone is complete.”

What you’ll need:

  • Construction paper in a variety of colors
  • Scissors and glue
  • Printable poems, one for each child, cut apart to glue. Use the printable for $1.99 or make your own.
  • Small portraits of each child in the class. This is another way to enjoy minis from your Teddy Bear Portraits Pack O’ Photos. You’ll need enough copies of each portrait for every child in the class.

Serve it up:

As needed, pre-cut and glue for very young kids.

  1. Cut out each portrait in a circle.

 

  1. To make the scoops, cut circles from the paper that are large enough to hold a portrait plus the child’s name. Size these to include a border so kids can glue the scoops together without covering up the photos. Use a different color for each child. They should all have the same number of scoops as children in the class.

 

  1. Cut out a big ice cream cone for each child. This may be several inches tall, large enough to scoop it high and hold the poem. Glue a poem onto each cone.
  2. Let each child add their portraits and names to their scoops. Jazz up those ice cream cones, too!
  3. Pile on the fun. When the scoops are ready, each child picks up one from each classmate and glues the scoops onto their cones. Stack ‘em high, spill ‘em over, make pyramids, rows or wrap them around.

 

Now that’s a cool treat . . .  and no worries about drips on the car seat on the way home!

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Whether you’re a regular on the sand or anchored more inland, kick off summer by celebrating World Oceans Day and help kids explore the vital role and wonder of our oceans.  After all, our oceans make up more than 70% of our planet!

The United Nations designated June 8th as an annual opportunity to honor and protect the beauty and bounty of our oceans. This year the theme is Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.  Events  are planned all over the world to raise awareness about how the health of the ocean impacts our lives, from climate change to food security.   Here are 3 ways kids can join in the celebration.

Have a photography contest.

World Oceans Day is hosting its second photography contest, which includes an open category for youth under age 16. Single-use waterproof film cameras are easy and affordable, or you can snap up a deal on an underwater digital camera for less than $100.

Or how about hosting your own photo contest for your kids or their summer school class? Make a field trip out of it by taking kids to visit an aquarium or a tropical fish store and take photos with your smartphones. Print photos to make an ocean themed collage or get crafty and have kids make their own Finding Nemo  3D coral reef diorama.

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Do an experiment. 

Basic science is a great place to start preschoolers learning about the oceans. Why are our oceans salty? And what is the difference between saltwater and freshwater? Little eyes will pop open with surprise at this simple hands-on experiment of saltwater versus freshwater.

Take the Better Bag Challenge

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Most of us know plastic bags are not eco-friendly, but did you know Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year?! Plastic trash is carried into the ocean and harms sea animals of all kinds, especially birds and turtles. The problem is serious, but solvable. Take the Better Bag Challenge and commit to using reusable bags from here on out. Share the challenge and encourage others to stop using plastic bags too. For the plastic bags you have already, try reusing them or recycling them (you can often find recycling bins for plastic bags at the front of grocery stores).

Other ways to celebrate

Tell stories, read books, make art, get kids outdoors (anywhere they can appreciate and experience nature) — all of these activities connect kids to nature and encourage their wonder and appreciation of our remarkable, incredible oceans.

And check back on our blog in the coming weeks for tips on underwater photography!

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Cupcakes

We found this cute party idea over at A Cup of Jo.  Make these cute little toppers to delight everyone at the next kid’s birthday or classroom party on your calendar! Start with the small sugary classic everyone loves and top it off with something even sweeter: the darling face at the center of attention.

These portrait cupcake toppers add a simple surprise that becomes an easy keepsake to make for guests as a memento of that special day for the guest of honor.

Here’s how to make these cute cupcake toppers:

  1. Take some photos of the child or go through your collection and find an image that will work at cupcake size. Do you have your Teddy Bear wallet portraits? They’re great for this. You can either repeat the same portrait on every cupcake or use different shots.
  2. Make enough copies of the photo for every cupcake. If the photos are on lightweight paper, glue them to light cardstock as backing.
  3. Trim each portrait in a circle and glue a toothpick to the back. For tiny kids, you can use a popsicle stick.

When it’s party time, whip up your favorite batch of cupcakes and top off each one with the star of the day — looking delectable and adorable!

More ideas:

Make it a sweet repeat – If the child is five years old, you could also use photos at ages one, two, three, and four.  Everyone will be amazed to see how the little one has changed in such a short time.

Top it off with everyone – Celebrate everyone in the family or classroom by creating a topper for each.

Cupcakes are always a hit, but these toppers bump the cuteness quotient right off the charts. If you make them, please post on Facebook. We’d love to see!

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Cleaning

The bright sunshine and fresh air of springtime bring out the urge to purge and clean. It’s also prime time for small children to pick up this habit — and their rooms! When spaces are bright and organized, everyone feels good. And kids who pitch in on a job well done may be inspired to keep things tidy going forward.

Even very young preschoolers can help, especially when you inject fun and games into the cleanup. Here are some ideas inspired by an article at education.com, with a few suggestions of our own. We’d love to hear your ideas, too!

Short and sweet does it

Set up kids for success with short, doable tasks they can complete in a few minutes such as picking up toys or sorting books. Use a timer and challenge them see how much they can get done. When the bell rings, give them a treat!

Musical statues

Lift mood and spirits with some high-energy music. When the music stops, everyone freezes in place, no matter what they’re doing! Odd postures and wiggles make for lots of laughs.  Who can be a statue the longest?

Reading and sorting fun

Young readers can track down expired foods in the pantry and fridge. For more fun with letters, alphabetize the spice rack, movies and books. Take time with kids to explore their discoveries; for example, smell and taste the spices that go into their favorite muffins, or set aside a long-lost, newly found book to enjoy later. Kids can also sort socks, find missing mates and roll clothing to stash in drawers. Making labels is fun for older kids, especially if you have a label maker.

New storage

As quickly as kids develop, it’s often time to update storage for new activities and clothing. You might add open shelving, colorful plastic bins, or new play stations, perhaps a crafts or a game table. They’ll have fun stashing stuff in snazzy new places. Teach them to put like things together.

Follow the leader

Play follow the leader throughout the house, wiping down wall marks, fishing out dust bunnies, or swiping off dust. Take turns trading off the leader, doing a different job every five minutes. Get a colorful duster for each child.

Want to go beyond dusting or wiping walls? Make sure to keep kids away from the chemical cleaners like Windex and Fantastik. If you want to involve kids in heavier cleaning, try out natural products! You’d be surprised at what you can use as a substitute–many of which you can find already in your kitchen– like vinegar, salt and baking soda.

With a little imagination, you’ll all soon get the job done, and kids will be on their way to a great habit.  Besides, it’s spring: let all those dust bunnies out to play!

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Here’s a floral craft for little ones to celebrate springtime — just in time for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any day that could be made brighter with a handmade gift. This special bouquet keeps on giving, thanks to a sweet face tucked into the bunch.

This easy project uses cardboard/cardstock and plenty of popsicle sticks, so dig into your project stash! You’ll also need colorful non-toxic paint, brushes, glue, heavy-duty scissors and portraits of the kids. Teddy Bear Portraits Pack O’ Photos will do just fine!

  1. Glue portraits to cardstock

Glue each child’s portrait onto cardboard or heavy cardstock. When dry, cut out the child’s face in a circle or oval.

  1. Have kids paint the petals

Have kids paint one side of about eight craft sticks: these will be the flower petals and stem. Use a couple of colors for extra pop!

  1. Assemble the portrait flower

When everything is dry, set aside one craft stick to become the stem.

Cut half of the remaining craft sticks in half. Cut the other half a bit shorter (a half inch or so). These will form the flower petals, which you’ll glue to the back of the portrait.

With portrait face down, glue the craft sticks onto the back of the portrait in an alternating short-long pattern. Glue on the stem and long petals first. Allow to dry, then glue on the short petals in between the long ones. They’ll overlap.

When dry, this bouquet is ready for special delivery . . . and guaranteed to get a smile from mom, dad, grandma or a favorite teacher.

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