Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fun city activity - crayon rubbings!

My friend and fellow New Yorker J.J. likes to make crayon rubbings with his kids. It's fun, practically free, and the big city is loaded with stuff to rub (if you know what I mean). Here's an action shot of one of his little individuals grabbing an impression of a Central Park sewer grate. The finished product, suitably framed, is at top.  

J.J. says: Just buy a big roll of paper and the biggest crayons you can find and head out for the day. Bring a broom or large paint brush to sweep off your subject matter and be prepared to share – all kinds if people will stop and want to make a rubbing, too.

With the leftover paper J.J. & kids hang big sheets on the wall for rainy day murals.

I told J.J. my kids would draw all over the wall if I hung a piece of paper on it, and he said if you limit the media to crayons & washable markers, clean-up is minimal. 

I’m totally inspired – aren’t you?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

17 great back-to-school rituals

Not ready to go back to school yet? Me neither! But in many parts of the country school starts in mid-August, so it really is that time.

We don’t make a huge deal out of the first day of school – that would make our kids nervous. But we do like to mark the occasion with a few simple rituals that get everybody feeling excited and positive about school.

1. Snap a first day of school picture. Get ‘em posed with their backpacks and click! And if you miss the shot on the big day, don’t sweat it. Try again on day two, or even later that week.

TIP: It’s fun to take the photos every year in the same place, if you can. Then you can look back at them and see your kids grow magically before your eyes.

2. Go clothes shopping. New clothes add to the excitement, and let’s face it – those summer t-shirts are looking a bit ratty. Make a list so kids know what they’re getting and won’t nag for more than the budget will allow.

TIP: Just so you know, we have started school many times without buying anything new. So while it’s nice to have new stuff, the world won’t grind to a halt if you don’t make it to Target in time. Just sayin’.

3. Have a date with your kids. Schedule some special time with each kid before the first day of school. I like to take the kids clothes shopping individually (which is easier, anyway), then stop for ice cream or lunch. It’s a nice time to connect and chit-chat about school a little.

4. Read books about school. We read a few, fun books about school in August – just cheerful reminders that school is fun and interesting. Here are a few of our favorite back-to-school books for kids Pre-K to 2ndgrade.

5. Label clothes. What we do is wait until a teacher mentions politely that we really should label our kids’ clothes and then we hastily scribble on the tags of their shirts with a sharpie. But don’t be like us! Be better than us! There are oodles of places on the Internet that will print cute stick-on labels for just a few bucks. Google it.

6. Get a new lunch box and backpack. Iron Man was totally IN last year but he is totally OUT this year. So a new lunch box and backpack are in order. Or at least a new lunchbox, because last year’s is gross.

TIP: See the tip above about starting school without new clothes. We have totally started school with last year’s lunchboxes and backpacks, just for the record.

7. Shop for school supplies. Let your kid carry the list and check things off.

8. Get haircuts. We get haircuts a couple of weeks before the first day of school and not too short, either! We like to look tiptop, but no summer buzzcuts for us on the first day of school.

9. Have a class get-together. Some parents go all-out and host a class party with decorations, cake and everything! I applaud those folks, but we just send out an email to other class families and invite everyone to a playground. Bring a snack to share. Skip the peanuts.

10. Write the kids a back-to-school note. Make or buy a card and give it to them as a surprise the night before school. Tell them to have fun at school and tuck in a sticker or two for emphasis. 

11. Let the kids pick lunch goodies. Shop with the kids for those miniature things they like in their lunchboxes - tiny boxes of pretzels, wee bags of baby carrots and microscopic yogurts. Splurge on some lunchtime accessories, like colored plastic spoons, a bento box or, what the heck, name-brand Ziploc bags. Go crazy.

12. Make lunch special. Cut their sandwiches with a cookie cutter, use fluffy-ended toothpicks and give them a treat. Some schools prohibit sweets, so give them “banana bread” or a “granola bar,” which are just cake and cookies in disguise. Tuck in a fun, non-food item like a paper tattoo or a little note.   

13. Welcome the back-to-school fairy! Tuck a small goody bag under their pillows from the back-to-school fairy. Some new markers and a coloring or puzzle book, a treat, stickers – fairies are nuts about stickers. 

14. Make a special breakfast. In our house that might be bologna sandwiches and strawberries. I can usually pull off muffins made the night before, too. Pumpkin muffins always say “autumn” to me. Sniff.

15. Have a little “me” moment. After the kids get off to school, take a moment to let it soak in. Grab a cup of coffee with your spouse if you can, or just touch base on the phone. Can you believe how big they are? It really does seem like last week when they were born. Mark the occasion with a few tears. Go on, you deserve it.

16. Do something special right after school. Take the kids to your local bakery or pick up a special treat for the playground. In any case, make sure they get a snack after school because they may be too excited on the first day to eat their lunch.

17. Have a special family dinner, and invite a special guest. The night of the first day of school, we have a special family dinner and always invite a guest – an aunt, uncle or family friend. The kids get to pick the menu so it might be pizza or Chinese food. And, of course, dessert is the most important part! How about a cake with a school bus motif? You can do it! Send me a picture!

And remember, if things don’t go as planned on The Big Day, don’t sweat it. Keep cool, stay positive and remember a glass of wine is only twelve hours away.

Music by Gus Edwards. Lyrics by Will D. Cobb. (1907)

School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days
Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate
"I love you, so"
When we were a couple of kids

Nothing to do, Nellie Darling
Nothing to do you say
Let's take a trip on memory's ship
Back to the bygone days
Sail to the old village school house
Anchor outside the school door
Look in and see
There's you and there's me
A couple of kids once more

School days, school days
Dear old golden rule days
Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate
"I love you, so"
When we were a couple of kids

Thursday, August 2, 2012

12 great back-to-school books for young kids

In the weeks leading up to September, I like to read my kids a few cheerful books about school to get them back into the groove. A number of these are rather mainstream, but as you dig into the indie titles they tend to be more issues-oriented vs. lighthearted fun, and I like to keep it light when I'm getting the kids ready for that first week back.

Here are my top 12 for the younger set, Pre-K to 2nd grade:

By Richard Scary. (ages 3 and up)

Kids and grownups alike love Scary’s mischievous drawings and quirky tales featuring Huckle the Cat and Lowly the Worm (and a host of irresponsible adults having accidents with pickle cars and motorcycles). In the Great Big Schoolhouse we also learn the alphabet and other pertinent school-age lessons.

By Edith Baer. Illustrated by Steve Björkman. (ages 4 and up)

I love these simple rhymes about how kids around the world get to school: by ferry, trolley car and even by helicopter.

By Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Pat Schories. (ages 5-7)

Biscuit the puppy wants to go to school like everyone else, and sneaks in. Woof! Woof!

By Jamie Harper. (ages 3 and up)

Preschooler Miles has to get to school lickety split in his toy car, no matter what.

By H. A. Rey. (ages 5 and up)

It’s the first day of school, and George the curious monkey has been invited to Mr. Apple’s class to be a special helper. ‘Nuff said.

By Joseph Slate. Illustrated by Ashley Wolff. (ages 3 and up)

Miss Bindergarten readies her Kindergarten classroom for the first day of school in this fun alphabet book that kids will read over and over.

By Norman Bridwell. (ages 4 and up)

Clifford the Small Red Puppy’s hilarious misadventures at school.

By Carol Diggory Shields. Illustrated by Paul Meisei. (ages 3 and up)

Funny poems about hot topics like the morning rush to school (“Eight-Oh-Three”) and what’s on the school lunch menu (“Decisions”).

By Laura Numeroff. Illustrated by Felicia Bond. (ages 3 and up)

If you take a mouse to school, he'll ask you for your lunch box. When you give him your lunch box, he'll want a sandwich to go in it. Where will it all end?!

By Herman Parish. Illustrated by Lynn Sweat. (ages 3 and up)

Amelia Bedelia creates hilarious confusion with her literal take on everything in the classroom. Don’t ask her to “take a chair”!

By Astrid Lindgren. Illustrated by Michael Chesworth. (ages 5 and up)

“Pippi may be ready for school, but is school ready for Pippi?”

By Kelly S. DiPucchio. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. (ages 5 and up)

Grace runs for President in her school's mock election and a political career is launched. (This book has a slightly older theme, but I like it so much I snuck it in.)

That’s my list. What books get your kids excited about going back to school?