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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!

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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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photobooth

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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Children's Book Week

A love of reading is a lifelong gift for every child and the heart of the national celebration Children’s Book Week. For nearly a century, this annual literacy initiative has celebrated the joy of reading and connected young readers to the best of children’s literature.

Annual festivities include book-related parties and events, “coast to coast, cover to cover.” Here are five ways you can be a part of this year’s celebration.

#1 Become a Book Week Champion

Celebrate Children’s Book Week at home or in school. Order a free commemorative poster by Grace Lee, and download the official printable bookmark by Raúl Colón.

Use the digital toolkit to spread the word with badges, posts and tweets for your social media sites.

Check the official website for a growing list of national and local events.  Keep your eyes open for activities at your local library, schools, and bookstores.

Are books out of your reach? Try Imagination Library, a great free early literacy program that mails children nationwide (from birth until age 5) a new age-appropriate book every month to promote a passion for reading and learning.  Selections include classics like The Little Engine That Could and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Each book targets child developmental milestones like visual stimulation, repetition, colors and letters, depending on age. You can enroll your child and connect with local affiliates of the program here.

#2 Take a picture

Take a photo of your child with their favorite book.  Have the kids dress up as their favorite character for the picture, or snuggling with a parent while reading together.  Share your favorites on our page!

#3 Especially for educators

Teachers will find loads of fun ideas for kids of all ages here.  Suggestions include dress-up parties, a community read-along, scavenger hunts, puzzles, puppet parties, bilingual story hour and chain stories — to name just a few!

#4 Make kids’ voices count

Dubbed “the Academy Awards” of children’s reading, the Children’s Choice Book Awards invites kids to read the nominated books and vote for their favorites.  Voting is open now and ends May 3, 2015.  Help kids vote online or download free printable ballots to hold an election at your home or school. Winners will be announced in New York City on May 4.

#5 Share the joy

Help kids celebrate the joy of reading by sharing books all week long. Hold a book exchange to bring the excitement of fresh material into little hands. Have kids donate books to a hospital or family shelter. Organize a fundraising event to buy books for a library, daycare or school. Volunteer to read aloud at a nursing home and take the little ones.

Make May 4 -10 a week to remember. Sit down with a child, read together, talk together, learn together. As Maurice Sendak says, “There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.”

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Mother's Day Blog Post Card

Here’s a fun 3D card design from Better Homes and Gardens preschoolers can make to help mother celebrate her day. She’s sure to display and enjoy these cards for months to come as they capture the innocence of her fast-changing babies, even if they are well past babyhood.

These cards use a simple flower design with a sweet standout: colorful cupcake liners form the flower petals, with the face of a child in the center of each flower. Kids love the 3D effect that the liners create and have fun planting their own images in unexpected places. And this is another great way to use wallets or minis from your Pack O’ Photos.

This easy project uses items you have on hand:

  • Card stock or construction paper, including green for leaves and stems
  • Cupcake liners – keep it simple or go crazy with colorful prints, foils, laser-cut patterns, minis and scalloped edges
  • Portraits of each child, in a size that can be trimmed to fit the base of a cupcake liner
  • Scissors and glue or drawing materials

Jump in and help the littlest ones with this craft, especially with cutting.

  1. Cut the cardstock into rectangles to serve as the card background.
  2. Have kids draw and cut out flower stems and leaves, and glue in place. Or they can simply draw these on the card. They may want to leave space to write something to mom.
  3. Trim the portraits into circles to fit in the base of the cupcake liner.
  4. Glue portraits in the cupcake liners, then glue the liners on the top of the stems on the card to create the flowers.
  5. Add a note of love to Mom.

Variations include layering cupcake liners in different colors, cutting edges into petal shapes, or whatever ideas your kids come up with. You could also use craft felt for the flower parts.

Each child or member of the family could make a card for mom, which she could then display as a bouquet using card stands in a vase.

What to do with all of those leftover cupcake liners? Your kids may have some ideas! Cupcakes go especially well with cards, so don’t forget to wrap up a few for mom.

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Mother's Day Blog Post Vase

Tulips, lilacs, iris, peonies . . . A fast succession of May flowers in the garden is perfectly timed to celebrate Mother’s Day. Make a home for the beautiful blossoms with this easy craft for mom that is personalized with kids’ portraits!

Add a picture window and a vibrant splash of color with this craft from HomeStories: A to Z to transform a common mason jar into a colorful vase for all the moms who deserve appreciation this time of year: from aunts to teachers, neighbors to grandmothers–and you, of course!

What you’ll need:

  • Empty Mason jar
  • Non-toxic paint in bright spring color
  • Small paint brush
  • Painter’s tape
  • Photo of child. Teddy Bear Portrait’s wallet-sized portraits are perfect for this!
  • Clear top-coat spray finish for sealing

To make the vase:

  1. Have kids choose the portraits they want to feature.
  2. Measure the portrait and use painter’s tape to block out a slightly smaller “window” on the outside of the jar for the portrait to show through. Or if you have other removable adhesive material such as stickers or shelf liner, use this and cut a fancy edge with decorative-edge scissors if you have them.
  3. Paint the outside of the jar. Carefully remove the tape before the paint dries.
  4. After the paint is dry, distress the embossing on the jar by scraping off some of the paint. Use a blunt-edged tool or sandpaper.
  5. In a ventilated area away from kids, spray the jar with a clear finish. Let dry.
  6. Tape the portrait to the inside of the jar so it shows through the “window.”
  7. Protect the portrait from water damage by inserting a cup in the jar to hold water for flowers. This vase also makes a great lumière when lit by an electric candle.

 

Let us know if you surprise mom by adding this vase on a tray with breakfast in bed — or perk up a teacher’s desk at preschool.   Either way, it’s a gift that’s sure to brighten a special lady’s day!

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Spring Crafts #20 Picture

After a long winter, the first signs of spring are always welcome! If you have children in tow, it’s a joy to see the season unfold through their eyes. Little hands simply must pick those first flowers (especially your neighbor’s), often for complete dissection, as all young children seem to become naturalists this time of year.
Here’s an activity to feed their curiosity and celebrate springtime in a project inspired by this lesson from Scholastic.

Find books with spring themes
Spend a few minutes in your stacks or at the library selecting books with springtime content. Here are some titles that focus on spring to get you started:

● Spring is Here! by Mary Packard – This book, from Scholastic Trade, explores the sights and sounds of the season through the eyes of a little girl.
● And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, Erin E. Stead – In this Booklist Editor’s Choice title, a boy and his dog plant a garden and await signs of spring.
● Everything Spring by Jill Esbaum – From National Geographic, this book uses photographic close-ups to explore spring, from buds to baby animals.
Focus story time on the new season
Read one or two books with the kids and focus on what happens in spring in contrast to winter. Ask them what they have noticed is new. You might explore why the days are getting longer, what plants need to grow and why springtime is a good time for animals to have their babies.
Make a “Signs of Spring” poster
Kids can now put together a poster showing the signs of spring as words, drawings, or clipped images. This can be a group or individual project.

1. Get a sheet of craft paper or poster board, large enough for all kids to participate. Label it “Signs of Spring”
2. Give kids drawing materials or magazines to cut from. They’ll also need age appropriate scissors and tape or glue.
3. Have kids make their signs of spring to add to the poster. Help them come up with ideas. For example, you might ask:
● What activities can they do in spring they couldn’t do in winter?
● Are they wearing different clothing from winter?
● Do they see any new colors outdoors?
● What is happening on the trees?
● What new sounds do they hear outdoors?
Have kids share their signs of spring as they add them to the poster. Display the complete piece on the wall or bulletin board.
This is also a great project to add to as the season progresses. Just remind your budding naturalists to be on the lookout for what’s new this spring!

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If you have a family with small children, you’re bound to have hundreds of great photos sitting in digital memory. Many of these are “keepers” you would love to pull together if only you had the time. Add to these a growing collection of videos of holidays, birthday parties, concerts, vacations, and sporting events. And as soon as kids start preschool, there’s a steady stream of artwork, including treasures that end up in folders or boxes.

So many memories to manage and share! New digital albums can help you keep it all together. One you might want to try is Keepy. It uses a Facebook-style timeline to create beautifully organized playlists of your child’s treasured moments.  For example, you could pull together highlights of your child’s year in preschool, or a series of school portraits, including your favorites from Teddy Bear Portraits.

Record the story behind any image or video.

Keepy is designed especially for families with growing kids. Simply organize photos and video into timelines, then capture more memories by adding a voice-over, such as the story behind a child’s art project. Keepy is private and you share your timeline with friends and family by invitation, using the best tool for them: email, the Keepy website or a smartphone. As an added bonus, you can use the app to archive your images to Dropbox for safekeeping.

A Two-Way Street

Not only can you share content, but anyone who sees it can easily respond by adding their own voice, video, or text comments — to give your little one a digital high-five! No matter how far away aunties and grandparents are, this app lets everyone share the excitement of a recital or cheer on a young artist in the making.  And kids will love checking in to see who’s commenting on their latest post.

A 2014 coolmomtechTM pick of the year, families on a budget can get started with the free basic option supporting 15 photos or videos per month. For unlimited use, the monthly and annual subscriptions are pleasantly affordable.

If you give it a try, please let us know what you think and how your kids like it.

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Learning the letters of the alphabet may seem basic, but kids have to do a mental double take to master both uppercase and lowercase letter forms. They may wonder how “big A” is the same as “little a” — how two different shapes mean the same thing. Thankfully, many of the shapes do relate, and you can help kids by pointing out these similarities.

To add some fun along the way, here’s a super-sized alphabet matching game and craft. This project comes from Filth Wizardry, a blog that shares “messy arts and crafts” tested by the author’s three active girls. This craft is not messy by our standards, but is room-sized fun!

Basically, you’ll create a matching game from uppercase and lowercase alphabets, and kids will have fun decorating the letters to their heart’s desire.

  1. Get a good-sized roll of paper, such as fax, masking, or newsprint, about 1 ft. wide. You may need a couple of dozen feet in length to fit in the full alphabet, depending on how wide you make the letters.
  2. Draw the uppercase letters on a continuous strip of paper. If you can, draw each letter as a large outline shape so young kids can easily color inside. Of course, coloring outside the lines is fair game, too!
  3. Draw the lowercase letters on another strip of paper, and then cut each letter apart. Or simply use separate sheets of paper or index cards for these.
  4. Next, you’ll tape the uppercase strip on the floor. First, cut the strip as needed to fit your floor and make a rectangle. Warn kids not to step on the paper or it may slip. You could also tape it to the wall or place on tables.
  5. Turn kids loose with crayons to decorate the letters.
  6. Ask kids to match the lowercase letters by placing them with the big letters. Have them decorate the little letters, too. The colors can match — or not.

This project would also work on a small scale, something like a board game.

Flash cards, sticky notes, magnets, blocks or other 3D letters, alphabet books and alphabet posters are all great tools to help kids learn their letters. Practicing lettering is a powerful exercise, so another take on this craft when kids are ready is to have them help draw the alphabets. Although small kids may not be ready to draw all the letters, especially in outline form (still a challenge for some of us) other styles of lettering will do just fine.

From A to Z, learning the letters can be a simple matter of “F” for fun and “g” for games. Eventually, kids get the idea. When it clicks, you may find they happily sing out letters of the alphabet as they spot big and little letters . . . everywhere!

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Spring is just around the corner and nicer weather means more outdoor time with kids. If you haven’t thought about introducing your preschoolers to photography yet, you may be missing out on lots of fun — it’s a portable activity that goes anywhere.

Today’s digital cameras for kids are inexpensive and childproof, with some designed for fingers as young as age three. These colorful cameras look like toys but pack a lot of power, often with video or filters for special effects.

Photography builds motor, visual, and creative skills — all as it opens small eyes to the wonders of the world. Digital cameras also give kids just the instant feedback they love, for a quick boost in confidence as they learn and improve.

How to get started

Start by teaching kids how to hold the camera. Kneel down to their level to look at the view screen with them. Show them how to click the shutter. If they have problems holding the camera still, rest it against a doorway, windowsill, or chair.

If kids need more help understanding the idea of framing a picture, use an empty picture frame, holding it up so they can see how to fit objects and views inside. For first shots, keep it simple. Flowers or favorite toys are good subjects. Review the shots with the child until they get the hang of it.

Time for photo adventures

After they master the basics, young photographers are soon ready to go on assignment. Take them on photo hunts for favorite colors, clouds, birds, people wearing baseball caps — you name it — or they do! Take cameras on outings like a visit to the zoo or to a grandparent’s house. Older kids might ask grandparents about objects that are special to them, such as something given to them by their own grandparents that they’d like to have photographed. The act of photography itself can open a door to family stories, all while making new memories with the youngest generation.

Be sure to find ways to use children’s photos: in crafts, framed and hung, as gifts, as cards, screensavers or in scrapbooks. Kids can use their photos to write stories, whether on paper or digital devices.   Encourage them to create a memory book that journals the world through their eyes at various ages, which they can share with their own children in years to come.

However kids’ photos are used and enjoyed, photography is a rewarding way for even very young children to explore their world and share their vision with others.

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Life runs more smoothly when everyone takes the time to put things away. Organizing is a skill every child needs to succeed and preschool is primetime to grow this habit. Why not make it a little fun? We even have some ideas for using your Teddy Bear Portraits Pack O’ Photos, too!

  1. Timed Game – Set a timer and see who can put the most items away in three minutes.
  2. Clutter Hunt – Get cute removable stickers or colored dots and mark items that have been out of place too long. Make it a game to find the clutter and put it away. Who can collect the most stickers?
  3. Fling Boogie – This fun idea originally comes from the queen of clean herself, Fly Lady. Not only can you tidy up, but get kids up and moving. Put on some upbeat music and dance through the rooms with kids, patrolling for out-of-place items. Find a preset number of things to go out — whether for trash, donation, or recycling, and use tubs or bags to organize what you collect. Celebrate with popcorn or another treat.
  4. Out with Old, in with New – This simple idea teaches kids to organize and Plan this activity before or after a birthday, holiday or start of school, when new items usually come into your house. Help kids find toys or clothing to donate, so they learn the idea of sharing unwanted things with others who may need them. The fun? Help them visualize making room for new and fun things and the smiles they’ll bring to another child.
  5. Personalize with Portraits – Your Pack o’ Photos from Teddy Bear Portraits are the perfect size for labeling places and items-think children’s storage! Kids have more fun putting something away in a personalized space, especially featuring their own image!
  • Coat hooks and lockers
  • Toy and storage bins, shelves and drawers
  • Special items such as an instrument case or sports bin

Cut portraits into circles or ovals and apply with removable adhesive. Laminate for use as a tie-on tags for things like coats and bookbags.

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is a worthy goal at any age. Tidying up is even more rewarding when storage places are customized for their content and labeled with a name or portrait.  Let us know how it works with your kids!

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