The Versatility of Plastic Easter Eggs

Usually the activities and play I do with my kids is mix of seasonal/theme-based stuff and just completely random stuff driven by their interests and curiosities. Every time the Easter season comes around, I get so darn pumped because honestly, those cheapo plastic Easter eggs you can find virtually anywhere are the most versatile “themed” play and learning tools you could ever imagine. It’s actually hilarious how much you can do with those things, and I love it because you can buy bulk cheap…so I have no problem writing all over a set and not worrying that I wasted them on just one closed-ended activity. I’m going to outline four general ways we get days and months and hours of use out of our plastic Easter eggs. And the kids NEVER. GET. BORED.

Egg hunts. I will set up egg hunts indoors or outdoors all Easter season long. You can theme an egg hunt around anything and everything. And the boys love the hunt. We’ve done egg hunts to find categories of things, and at the end they have to count how many of each category they have and which category has more, less, the most, the least, etc. I’ve stuffed plastic eggs and scattered them around with anything and everything from rocks, to letters, to numbers, to snacks, to little folded pieces of paper with pictures or drawings on them, to clues to a riddle, treasure hunt, or surprise. The best part is, I never tell them what I stuffed them with – there’s so much fun in the mysteriousness of it at first, and watching them open each egg and look for patterns to try and figure out what we can talk about with all the things inside. When we do these hunts outside, I always have the golden rule too – you have to go and get just ONE egg at a time, bring it to the blanket, empty it, then go back out for another. The rationale? More running burns more energy for them and stretches the activity out to take more time. Genius. A favorite of mine from last Spring is the one I did where we were working on beginning sound discrimination. Inside each egg was an item or picture of something that began with /r/ or /n/. They looked at the picture or item, said what it was, then had to think did, “Did it sound like /r/ rorcket or /n/ narwhal, and sort the pictures and items accordingly. The boys even love being the ones to set up a hunt for mom and dad, and they are the cutest little replicators!

Sensory tools. By this point, if you’ve been following my blog, you already know how big of a fan I am of sensory bins and sensory play. The EASIEST way to spice up an Easter themed sensory bin is throwing a handful of plastic eggs in there and an old empty egg carton. The boys have a blast turning the eggs into scoops, having egg stacking contests, burying them in the rice, hiding other things in them, building rice maracas (and promptly seeing how high they can drop them into the bin and get them to burst), I could go on and on. Seriously, so easy, and they usually get upset when I have to put them away after Easter has come and gone…I’m usually tearing them out of their hands come June because I’m like “Come on now Easter was a few months ago it’s time for them to go!”

Egg matching. There are SO many different egg matching activities you can create, and this is where their cheapness comes in so handy. Because they’re so cheap, I use permanent marker to make lots of activities for the boys to do simply by matching. I have no problem marking up a bunch of plastic eggs with permanent marker because I can just go buy more if I need them without worrying about breaking the bank. And most of the time I’ll do mismatched colors (top half of egg one color, bottom half a different color) so that the visual discrimination is easier AND so they don’t take the easy way out and just find the matches by matching colors. Some of the things we’ve done for egg matching are: upper/lowercase letter match, letter/number/shape formation, shape match, number to quantity correspondence, math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), onset/rimes, rhyming pairs, color matching, phonograms (word parts/word families), beginning sounds, ending sounds, middle sounds, digraphs, blends, prefixes, suffixes, endings, lines matching (pre-writing), building two-digit numbers, compound words, multisyllabic words/two-syllable words, emotion identification….you get the picture. I’m so curious, too. If you have other ways you’ve designed egg matching activities using plastic Easter eggs, drop them in the comments below!

Hide and seek/memory eggs. When you take the eggs apart, they become a perfect way to play hide and seek or memory games with your littles. You can hide ANYTHING underneath that will fit (and think anything similar to egg matching concepts listed above) as a way to build suspense and create excitement, and nurture a game-like environment when doing activities.

So, in case you needed any incentive…whip out those plastic eggs NOW. I promise you’ll be sick of them by the time you have to put them away!

Executive Functioning and Toddlers

(Photo Credit: Skills on the Hill Pediatric Therapy)

Believe it or not, by the time kids get school in kindergarten, A LOT is expected of them (maybe even earlier if their pre-school is super structured!). Kids go from parents helping them with daily functioning skills like dressing, eating, cleaning to teachers expecting them to do each of these things independently. And for many, it can be overwhelming. That’s because during the preschool years we see the earliest onset of the development of executive functioning skills, which are a set of skills that underlie the ability to plan ahead and meet goals, have self-control, follow multi-step directions, regulate emotions, understand the feelings of others, and stay focused despite environmental distractions. It’s kind of like telling a kid in a candy shop to walk in through the front door and immediately proceed through the store all the way to the back door and walk out without touching or doing anything, or asking a child to pick out a birthday gift for a sibling when they aren’t able to get anything for themselves -normal things that an adult is able to do, but a different story for toddlers altogether. It’s HARD for preschoolers, and each kiddo will develop the appropriate skills on their own time – some developing earlier than others (and that’s ok…it’s not a race!).

The good news is there a lots of things you can do to encourage the development of executive functioning skills with your toddler, and those things include both daily routines and habits as well as play based activities designed to target the brain’s cognitive ability to take information in, hold onto it, and process it to complete a task successfully.

In terms of daily routines and habits, there’s some simple things you can do to get the ball rolling. Use a hierarchical approach to giving directions, and gently transition to more complicated directions over time: start with one direction with minimal language at a time for little toddlers (1 and 2 years old) and include hand gestures or visuals. For example, you might point to your child’s shoes and say “Go get shoes”. As your toddler gets older, make your directions more complex and less scaffolded by adding steps (Go get shoes -> Get your shoes and your jacket -> Get your shoes, jacket, and mask) and language (Go get shoes -> First get your shoes, then get your jacket -> First get your shoes by the door, then get your jacket hanging on the hook, and finally put your hat on your head). Declutter spaces and areas where your child will complete daily functioning skills. If your goal is for your child to get ready to leave in the morning by himself, declutter the space where he would do so. Instead of having a bin of all the child’s shoes, jackets, supplies (etc.), just have the one pair of shoes, jacket, and hat you want him to be wearing. If your goal is for your child to dress himself, lay out the outfit the night before (let him pick!), so that when he wakes up he knows exactly what to do.

At school, early elementary teachers use LOTS of visuals, including pictures of things or directions, and visual schedules or checklists to help kids remember routines. You don’t need to turn your house into a school or a classroom, but you can create visuals through purposeful object placement. Laying your child’s clothes out the night before serves as a visual reminder in itself because your child will know what to do when he wakes up and sees his outfit there. If you want your child to get in the habit of washing their hands after using the bathroom, keep the soap visible, maybe even on the back of the toilet. Visual reminders help cue kids to what comes next, eventually habituating the routine or procedure so that it comes naturally and without much thought. Mnemonics or rhymes can help too, if your child has the sophisticated language capabilities to understand them.

A while back I went to a professional development on how to support the development of executive functioning in preschool, and it was loaded with fun games and activities that kids could do. I weeded through a lot of them and pulled out some fan favorites of Luca’s, which tend to be the ones I present to him as a ‘challenge’. What I love about the challenges we do is that room for differentiation. There’s endless ways of making these ‘challenges’ either easier or harder depending on the needs and capabilities of your child.

Up first is the lego challenge, and it’s simple: grab four different colored lego bricks and make a tower for you and a tower for your kid (both towers should have the same colors). The challenge? Build your tower and have your child try to create the same tower with his bricks – same color order and structure. You can vary the difficulty of this task by using more or less bricks, by changing the way you stack them (one directly on top of the other, or steps-style, or zig-zag style), or by limiting the visual model you show him – try showing him your tower for 30 seconds, then hiding it behind your back and having him recreate it – then have him check his work. This requires him to notice the colors needed, the order of the colors, and how the bricks need to be placed. It’s a lot of information to hold on to at once and requires his brain to manipulate that information successfully to complete the task.

Up next is the popsicle stick challenge. Create shapes or figures or designs or letters or numbers or words with popsicle sticks. Have your child watch you create yours first, then encourage him to create the same. He may attack it differently than the order in which you built, but that’s ok – he’ll work towards efficiency and strategy the more his brain develops (you might see him start with trial and error to recreate your figure but as he gets older and starts to understand you’ll see him go in a certain order, etc.). You can make it even harder by creating the partial figure for him, and then asking him to complete it. There’s a lot of visual-spatial reasoning in this one if you do the partial figure activity, so he’s essentially exercising multiple parts of his brain at once!

Last is the cup stacking challenge. I like to embed a little numeracy in this one by using numbers on my set and dots on his set. We start with 6, and I arrange the cups in any stack or order I choose. He has to mimic my creation, but instead of just matching my stack, he has to make sure the dots on his cups correspond to the numbers on my cups. This is hard for him! Usually I prompt him during this one with things like “Ok, let’s start with the bottom row first. What’s the first cup? Ok now that you have the first cup, which number goes to the right of that cup?” Over time, hopefully I can make trickier combinations and use less prompting, and he’ll start to problem solve the stack on his own!

There are also lots books, crafts, projects, and activities that help to promote the development of executive functioning skills. Basically, anything that requires strategy, multiple steps and limiting distractions is something that’s going to need a child to call on executive functioning: puzzles, ‘Where’s Waldo?’ activities or seek and find books (remember Highlights?!), freeze dance games, kid yoga (lots of executive functioning to figure out how to re-create poses and maintain balance!), board games, creating structures like block castles or marble runs, doing crafts that require multiple steps with multiple materials. The list is endless. And remember, to grow, kids often need to experience challenge, so never be afraid of the challenge!

I am racist. And I am anti-racist, too.

It actually makes me sick to my stomach to write that three word sentence. I am racist. The same way I’ve been sick to my stomach thinking about whether or not I need to “go there” on this platform. But that’s my privilege, and I’m working on it. I recognize that I may lose followers over this, and I also recognize that my definition of racism may be different than yours. And I also haven’t ‘held’ this definition of ‘racism’ and ‘being racist’ all my life. Actually not until recently, and that’s the sickening irony of it. In fact, if you asked me if I was ‘racist’ a year or so ago, I would have replied no, without a doubt. If you called me racist a year or so ago, I would have probably gotten defensive and angry. Because I am white, never have I ever had to truly worry about understanding racism. Because I am white, never have I ever had to truly worry about my own safety doing completely mundane things. Because I am white, never have I ever had to face the fact that my life is opportunistically and systemically different in a lesser sense than those who have skin different than mine. Because I am white, I am sitting here worrying about losing followers or “going there”…small potatoes compared to those who are worried about losing their life simply because of the color of their skin.

I’ve been working on myself over this past year, doing what I can to understand my privilege, doing what I can to understand and reflect on my life experiences thus far, and most importantly doing what I can to empathize with (I could never say “understand” – I am white – I will never understand what it’s like to be a person of color) and become an ally for people of color as they continue to face unfathomable inequities, injustices, and racism – institutional, systemic, covert, and overt, and everything in between.

I’m not here to preach. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on this matter and determine where we stand. But I do feel a responsibility to share where I stand, given the public nature of this platform as well as as the public nature of my profession. (Please note, this is not about politics. Groups, people, parties, organizations, and camps aside, this is social justice.)

Here are my most pivotal realizations of the past year — I know there will be more to come.

  1. I have reaped the benefits of being white in our society since my creation. And with that whiteness has come a life full of privilege, most of the time unbeknownst to me or unrecognized by me. While I like to think that my opportunities and successes in life were a result of my own hard work, I also recognize that my peers of color had to work that much harder to achieve the same level of opportunity and success as me simply because they started on a different playing field. I had a head start from birth, simply because of the color of my skin.
  2. I am filled with implicit biases, and I always will be. It is not about being a perfect person, it is about continuously acknowledging and being open to recognizing my own biases, and making decisions accordingly. In fact, some of those implicit biases probably show in this post, without me even realizing it. It is on me to call myself out or in when I have done or said something biased, and it is on you to call me out or in when I have done or said something biased.
  3. I have done, said, witnessed, and engaged in biased/racist things in my past. See the thing is, I can count on one hand the number of times someone has called me out on doing, saying, witnessing, or engaging in something biased or racist. But for each of those times I’ve actually been called out, I’ve probably done, said, witnessed, or engaged in biased/racist things a thousand more times. And more importantly, I am grateful for the times I actually have been called out because it forced me to grow and reflect.
  4. It’s not about intent. In the few instances I mentioned above when someone actually called me out, I cringe thinking about the follow-up conversations I’ve had with the people who called me out. In all cases, I apologized for the offense but unintentionally justified it by trying to explain it away saying it was never my intention to cause offense or harm. Intention doesn’t justify an action, it doesn’t explain it either. I have coached myself to not default to ‘intention’ when someone calls me out. Instead, I now say, “Please tell me more about what you noticed, I need to learn from it.”
  5. Calling in is easier for me right now than calling out. I’ve always been the type to avoid conflict. I don’t like it. So if someone else said or did something that was offensive to me or to others, especially in regards to minority groups (age, class, sex, gender, race, religion, etc.), I would either freeze (not know what to do), ignore it, or remove/avoid it. Now, I realize that doesn’t cut it. Calling in has been my middle ground. Calling in, or when you seek conversation and an opportunity for growth and discussion with an individual who has said something hurtful or oppressive, fits my personality because it can be done in private, has an inquiry approach, with the end result usually being educational and reflective. I find that many people respond well to being called in. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of times when calling out, or letting someone know their comment was hurtful or oppressive right then and there regardless of setting, are warranted and needed. I hope to get to the point where I feel confident and comfortable doing that when it is needed. But I am honest, and I am not there quite yet.
  6. I am committed to being an ally. An ally is someone who uses their privilege to advocate on behalf of someone else or another group who doesn’t hold that same privilege. I don’t feel confident on all stages and in all walks of life. But my role and my work as an educator and as a mom has been my vehicle to allyship. And it is in this arena I feel like I can currently make the biggest difference, so that’s where my efforts lie.
  7. This is a lifelong journey. I won’t all of a sudden be “not racist”. There is no such thing. So rather than fending off or denying my bias (and more specifically my racism), I will work to recognize it actively each and every day, to educate myself on it, to advocate for others, to do what I believe in, and to share that journey with you, if you’re choosing to be here for it.

If you’re interested in understanding my perspective a bit more, there have been three texts that have been revolutionary in my journey. I encourage you to read them, too:

I’m humbled if you decide to stick around despite my vulnerabilities. I’m ok if you decide I am not for you. I’m even more humbled if you completely disagree with me and everything I said, and still decide to stick around. ❀

Sensory Play, Explained

I do a lot of posts on Instagram or on my Instagram stories about sensory play and sensory-focused activities I do with my kids. And there’s so much all over the internet…it’s a widely used play activity in the developmental realm of babies and toddlers. But over the years I’ve noticed that much of the sensory play I see on the internet really has to do with tactile sensory play, which isn’t the only type. If you’re interested in knowing more about what sensory play is, and what it helps to develop and facilitate with your baby or toddler, then this post is for you.

Sensory Play, Defined

Sensory play is exactly what it sounds like: play-based time designed to stimulate a child’s senses. This means sensory play is loosely descriptive of any activity or experience in which a child explores through touch, smell, taste, sound, and sight. And in the case of many sensory play activities, tables, or centers you might see in a classroom, daycare, or on the gram, the play component refers to a mostly unstructured, open-ended experience driven by the curiosity of the child. Yes, there are many crafts or structured activities with a sensory component or a sensory focus. But sensory play itself is usually child-centered, unstructured, and open-ended, allowing the child to explore given materials in ways that peak their curiosity and makes sense to them.

Even though we tend to see tactile sensory play (touch: water tables, play doh, slime, kinetic sand, foam, shaving cream, ice, etc.), there are actually many other types or characteristics of sensory play as well. If you want to know the fancy terms, sensory play also includes vestibular sensory play (gross motor including balance and movement), proprioception sensory play (coordination actions like pushing and pulling and developing spatial awareness), auditory sensory play (bang those pots and pans all you want, girlfriend!), visual sensory play (using toys or activities with high contrast, visual tracking of objects as they move, etc.), and olfactory and taste sensory play (think exploring flowers through smell or allowing kids to use edible materials for play). If you’re interested in reading more about these lesser known types of sensory play, this website is a great resource.

Sensory Play vs. Sensory-Focused

I alluded to this a bit already, but sensory play is actually quite different from sensory-focused activities. In this sense, we want to be sure we are thinking of sensory play as child-centered…meaning we are thoughtful in the choice of materials we provide for kids to play with, but we do not dictate WHAT the child does with those materials and we do not impose our own ideas for how the child should play with those materials. (And we even let them pick their own materials if they desire.) You might have an idea of what your child might actually do with the materials you provide, but the beauty of it is often they end up doing something entirely different using their imagination and idea of pretend play, as well as initiate their own self-exploration of the materials. An example of sensory play would be putting out kinetic sand with various digging tools and loose parts and allowing children to explore freely and talk about what they are doing either with you, peers, or a sibling. An example of a sensory-focused activity might be having a child practice letter formation in a sand tray or using colored feathers to create a wreath. In our stay-at-home days, we have a dedicated time for sensory play, and we have a separate dedicated time for a craft of the day, which is usually sensory-focused or has a sensory component.

Fostering Independence and Language Development

There are LOTS of benefits to sensory play. Brain development and cognition, fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving skills…I could go on and on. But I want to focus on two that I think are most realistic for parents to be thinking about. First, sensory play time, if it’s a part of your structured daily schedule, can allow you to disengage from direct play/supervision with your child which actually gives you time back and allows them to work on independent play skills. Obviously, it’s important to actively supervise because any time there are small parts involved, from a safety perspective, you want to be there in case something gets eaten that’s not supposed to get eaten (etc.). But, if you are able to set ground rules with older toddlers like 1) no eating and 2) stays on the table/on the tray, then you can work towards giving yourself mama time while the kids are engaging in sensory play. These are our two rules, and my almost 5yo is able to follow this – I can be in a different room and trust that he is safe. My almost 3yo still needs active supervision from a distance – maybe I’m on the couch “reading a book” but I’m still actively listening and watching in order to jump in when I need to. My 1yo needs direct, close-proximity supervision because of her desire to explore with taste. I do believe it is really important to encourage independent play, and this is a great way to do so.

Second, sensory play time is a huge opportunity for language development, whether it’s through pretend play with the materials provided or peer-to-peer interaction if you’re lucky enough to have siblings to engage in sensory play together. If you want to encourage language development during sensory play as an active participant yourself, you’ll want to model and introduce new vocabulary (“Wow, this sand is so rough and bumpy. It feels kind of like sandpaper. It is not smooth and soft like playdoh!”), and model how to have a conversation without giving direct orders (“Wow, I can put my sand in this sand castle mold and fill it up. When I turn it over it comes out of the mold in the shape of a castle! What do you notice happens when you use the starfish mold?”). If you want to encourage social language development through peer-to-peer interaction and pretend play, you’ll want to model and introduce social norms like turn taking (“Hmm, there’s only one large shovel today. Have you talked about who will go first?”), how to solve a problem with words (“Dom, you’ve been using the shovel for a really long time, I think it’s my turn now. Could I please have a turn?”), and how to decide on what you’d like to do together (“Luca, what could we do with our shovel and playdoh today? Do you have any ideas? Maybe we could make a fort for our critters?”).

Don’t Stress the Mess

Here’s the biggie that got me when I started doing sensory play: It. is. messy. And our materials might not look the same at the end of a sensory play session as they did at the beginning of a sensory play session, so we have to be prepared for that and accept it. This can be hard for me, and I’ve worked on letting it go. But, I used to be that type that would put out play doh and literally only allow my kid to open one color at a time so he didn’t mix colors. Or if I put out kinetic sand in two different colors – one tray for each kid – I’d be strict about only playing with the tray that’s theirs and not mixing the colors. Or only allowing them to play with the things I purposely placed out (when they asked me if they could go get their matchbox cars to see if they could create jumps and tracks in the clay…I said no). I realized though, that I was limiting their play in doing this, and also limiting their exploration (how would they ever know what happens when you mix two colors, or learn that if we put all colors together we get brown?). This was a hard pill for me to swallow, being the anal retentive perfectionist I am.

But I also found ways around it! So if you’re anal retentive like me, here’s some tips.

  1. Keep two bins/baskets of sensory materials – the ones you’d like to keep intact, and the ones that are getting older and deemed ok for mixing and messing. I did the rainbow foam in this activity because it was nearing the end of its life – it was getting too dried out to continue to play with, so I didn’t care if they mixed it together (which they did!) because I knew this was the last play before the garbage.
  2. Keep the good bins stored. If you want kids to have access to sensory materials on their own, then give them access to the mixing and messing bins while the good bens are stored somewhere else entirely.
  3. Rotate single items at a time from the good bin to the mixing and messing bin. Notice they’re getting short on rainbow rice? Grab SOME of that good stuff from the new bin and add it to the old bin, rather than tossing all and therefore replacing it all. Do it slowly and in spurts rather than all at once.

Sensory Play, In Conclusion

Social media sites are FILLED with bloggers and experts and individuals sharing their sensory play ideas and experiences and documenting them in a way to be helpful to us as consumers, so that we have ideas to replicate for our own children even if we aren’t considered experts. Pinterest and Instagram have endless ideas, and they come in really handy. I just want to remind you that you can make the ‘prettiest’ sensory play station for your children, but it won’t stay pretty, and that’s how it should be. And heck, you don’t need to put so much pressure on yourself to even make it look pretty in the beginning if you don’t want to. After all, sensory play is messy, sensory play is chaotic, sensory play is unscripted. It’s supposed to be that way. So while it’s fun to set out materials in an engaging and enticing way, we need to let go of the expectations that they will actually stay that way, and also let go of the expectation that they need to be that way from the get-go. Some days I just put the play doh out, other days I make elaborate set-ups. Both ways are equally appropriate, and will yield the same experiences.

The Great Debate: The Science of Reading and Where I Stand

(And what you can do to support your child in their journey of learning to read)

I’ve held off on writing on this topic for a WHILE, because once you get into it, the opinions and criticisms and arguments come fast and furiously, even if it’s unwarranted or unwanted. I’m a pretty rational person, even when it comes to controversial topics, which means if someone’s perspectives, beliefs, values, or philosophies are different from my own…rather than trying to argue and prove my point, I try to listen, learn, empathize, and understand. And when I listen, learn, empathize, and understand, sometimes my opinion stays the same, sometimes my opinion changes, and sometimes my opinion just adapts or evolves. None of these outcomes are bad scenarios, in fact, I’d argue, we learn a heck of a lot more when we fill our circle with those who are DIFFERENT from us than those who are the same.

If you’re in elementary education, then you’ve probably heard of the science of reading by now, and you most definitely have heard of ‘the reading wars’. And if you’re a parent of a child in elementary school, then you may have heard this too. If you’re a parent of a child who is struggling to learn to read, then you most definitely may have heard of this either in your own research or in your meetings with your child’s teachers and school personnel. So let me explain…

The Reading Wars: Defined

There are two ‘camps’ of reading experts out there right now, both backed by lots of studies and lots of research. Both camps also continuously attempt to discredit or disprove the other camp in an effort to promote their own as THE answer to teaching all children to read. So let’s meet the players:

On one side of the reading wars, we have those who support the whole language approach to learning to read. The whole language approach operates under the assumption that we learn to read and write best by engaging in language. In other words, we learn whole words by encountering them in context rather than understanding them in isolation.

On the other side of the reading wars, we have those who support the systematic phonics approach to learning to read. This camp operates under the assumption that direct, explicit, and systematic instruction in letter-to-sound correspondences is the best way to teach children to read. In other words, we learn to read by sounding words out, free from any supplemental information like context or pictures.

As with many debates, there’s also usually a player in the middle, and in this case, there is. Right smack in the middle lies the balanced literacy approach to learning to read. Balanced literacy pulls philosophies both from whole language and systematic phonics. In other words, those who support balanced literacy would agree that YES, it is important to teach kids letter-to-sound correspondences so they can ‘sound out’ words, but YES it is ALSO important to teach kids how context can help one learn to read as well.

Here’s a visual to illustrate these approaches, taken from a McGraw Hill publication, and chosen simply for the sake of simplicity:

My Beliefs, My Perspective, My Philosophy (Criticism Welcome!)

Ok, so, now that you have a basic understanding of the reading wars…which is now in its third decade or so…I’m going to share where my beliefs fall. First, you should know that my undergraduate and post-graduate education, work, and research would probably fall within the balanced literacy approach. Makes sense, because I’m typically a middle-of-the-road person…lines up best with the rational side of me – I’m able to see the strengths of both sides of an argument and come up with a compromise somewhere in the middle. And in most of my career so far, I’ve seen the biggest positive effects on kids with the balanced literacy approach.

BUT, in my work as a literacy specialist, I’ve had a relative re-awakening in the past few years. Maybe I’m late to this party, and there are probably loads of experts out there who have already realized this, and are a lot smarter and more impactful than me. My re-awakening, you ask? All players in the reading wars are right, and all players in the reading wars are wrong.

Let me be clear…

I DO think kids need direct, systematic, and explicit instruction in phonics.

I DO think kids need regular and easy access to trade books.

I DO think kids need to be taught to sound words out AND to use context to help.

I DO think kids need to self-monitor their reading and learn how they, themselves, can determine if they got a word wrong while reading.

I DO think kids need to know what to do to fix a word they realize they got wrong (called self-correcting), and I DO think there are various strategies to do this including BUT NOT LIMITED TO sounding out, looking at the picture, thinking about what sounds right, etc.

In fact, I think learning to read is so specific and individualized to the child who’s in front of you, that you can’t slap on a philosophy that is one size fits all and expect it to reach every single child. Where I disagree with the visual I included above is the part of the visual that says, “best for…”, because I think that statement compartmentalizes kids into labels that attempt to describe how they learn holistically, when learning in general and learning to read is much, MUCH more complicated than that.

In short, the best approach (IN MY OPINION) to teaching a child to read and write is to treat that individual as their own person with strengths and weaknesses, and how their strengths and weaknesses play off of one another (or don’t play off of one another). There are and will be students who need the phonics-based approach, and there are and will be kids who can learn to read and write with the whole language approach. And there are and will be kids who learn to read and write with the balanced literacy approach. But I feel strongly that teaching kids to read and write is more a concoction of different approaches based off of what that student is showing you they already do/know. The way I teach student A to read and write is 1000% different from the way I teach student B to read and write. In fact, I think I’d be hard pressed to find any two students in my career that I have taught to read and write in the exact same way.

So, as a parent, what can you do to support your child?

  1. Read often. Read with them, read to them, and create a general positive atmosphere and mood around reading. Talk to them about what they read. Have conversations about books. Instill a love of reading as best you can, and don’t force it.
  2. Notice how they read. Do they read accurately? Fluently? With expression and intonation? If not, try modeling for them. Show them (without telling them explicitly) how you read when you read accurately/fluently/with expression and intonation.
  3. Encourage and coach them. Don’t tell them a word when they are stuck, but don’t necessarily let it go either. Ask them to try a strategy (you don’t even have to know the strategies!) that might help, and if they aren’t sure what you mean by ‘strategy’, prompt them to think about what their teacher has been teaching them. Sometimes, even just telling them, “Go back and try that again,” is enough to solve the problem. And don’t get mad at them. If your child is frustrated, or you are frustrated, it’s time to put the book away, or change to a different book altogether.
  4. Be the parent, not the teacher. (Harsh, I know, I’m sorry!….and even I struggle with this one, for the record.) It’s easy to hop on Google and start researching and looking for ways you can help – we all want the best for our children and will do whatever we can to help them succeed. I’ve seen many instances of this where a parent has the best intentions, but they end up counteracting what we are trying to teach in school, and the child just ends up very confused. It’s even easier to begin ‘teaching’ your child to read the way you were taught to read (“Just sound it out!” or “Here’s some flashcards, memorize these words!”), but (1) your child isn’t you and (2) best practices in education and instruction have changed light years since we were in school.
  5. Avoid comparisons. Avoid comparisons to siblings, friends, or peers. It’s not that comparing is bad, it’s just that it can get you down a rabbit hole, and most of the time that rabbit hole is negative space. If you find yourself subconsciously comparing often, remind yourself that all children are different, all children learn at different paces, and all children learn in different ways.
  6. Question and advocate. If your child is struggling or begins to struggle, it is ok to question your child’s teacher(s) or advocate when you think you’re not being heard or your child’s needs aren’t being met. Ask what methods your teacher/school is using, ask if there are opportunities to try other methods or strategies out. Ask if your child has received targeted small-group or individual instruction to address his or her challenges and weaknesses. Advocate for assessments to determine your child’s strengths and weaknesses if the teachers haven’t already (hint: all good teachers should be able to tell you your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and have data to prove it). And don’t become complacent – trust your gut, and get second opinions from professionals (not other parents!) if something doesn’t seem right, or you aren’t seeing progress.

Dear Katie: A Letter to Pandemic Me

We’re heading into the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, of COVID-19, of the pandemic – what seems like the end of life as we knew it. I was newly post-partum, heading back to work, and all of a sudden the world shut down and people were dying. The fear was real, and for my newly post-partum self, the emotions were visceral. In the beginning, we laughed it off, not really knowing or understanding the reality of it and the long journey that was just beginning. Some days were great, and I was able to find the silver linings easily – more time at home, more time with the kids, a comfortable house, sweat pants every day, curbside delivery, and Dine In CT. Some days were hell – WFH while caring for 3 under 4, a hubs who at times might not have understood I needed space, and the literal prison of not being able to leave my house or my yard, never mind the moments I CRAVED separation from the very beings who carry my heart outside of my body. And then the weeks turned into months and the humor turned more to normalcy, some days we were sane and some days we were not. Don’t get me wrong – we were fortunate then and we are fortunate now, and there are many others who have had it way worse than us. But if I were to go back and tell my pandemic self all the things I I realize now, this is what I would say:

Dear Katie,

Let. it. go. That load of laundry that sat wet in the washer overnight? Run it again. It’s not worth coming down on yourself for that. One musty load is a heck of a lot better than the MOUNTAINS of clean laundry that now sit in the hamper unfolded for days at a time (mostly till the kids run out of clean clothes to wear and we realize we have to get ‘er done). The fact that your husband can’t seem to find the hamper, and most of his clothes end up on the ground right next to it rather than inside of it? Leave it alone. Who cares, no one’s coming to the house these days anyway. The bruises put the Playmobil away the wrong way? They’re just going to play with it again tomorrow. If you fix it now, it just gets messed up again the next time around. At least they’re playing, and at least they’re attempting to clean up after themselves. One day you’ll realize these things really weren’t the end of the world, and your house was more than liveable, even when you thought you couldn’t go another day living in the mess.

Stop spending. It’s a pandemic and the world is shut down. Instead of buying 34059845098 new sweatshirts and sweat suits so that you can look like a scrub in style, save that money for things that will suit your family more. You aren’t seeing anyone anyway, and the few people you do see could care less what you look like. They just want you to be their wife and their mom. Plus, that temporary happiness you get from rocking a new sweatshirt is a lot less valuable than the long term wealth you gain from having more for your family down the road, even if it means less for you right now.

It’s ok to struggle. You will question your own mental health many days. You will wonder if you need to seek professional help, but never actually take the initiative to get it. You will experience middle of the night wakes with a racing heart and a racing mind, mostly as a result of the work/home stress and anxiety. And it will be an anxiety you aren’t used to, one you haven’t experienced before. One that triggers migraines and forces you to call out of work because you just can’t work up the courage to face the world that day, to do your job that day, to show up for your kids that day. And you know what? It’s ok. This is the hidden side of life. You’ll dig yourself out of it each time, and you’ll figure out a way to keep moving forward. You’ll find yourself again one day, and you’ll find ways to manifest that crippling stress and anxiety into something good.

Take care of yourself. And when you do take care of yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re selfish, or you’re less of a mom, or you’re less of a wife, or you’re less of a professional, or you’re less of a woman. And stop looking to social media or pop culture to figure out what it means to take care of yourself. If taking care of yourself means eating cookies and candy, do it. If taking care of yourself means finding time to exercise again, do it. If taking care of yourself means letting go of the expectations society has set for you or if taking care of yourself means embracing the expectations society has set for you, do it. If taking care of yourself means saying yes more or if taking care of yourself means saying no more, do it. And don’t feel badly about it. And definitely don’t apologize for it. Those littles who need you most will get a better you if you start taking care of yourself. You’ll be better for yourself and you’ll be better for them. It’s a win-win.

Be more present and practice patience. Stop thinking that things will go back to normal tomorrow. Don’t plan any parties or book any vacations. When you look up the definition of pandemic, believe it. But don’t let it consume you. Take things a day at a time, and work on managing the present moment in a way that helps you all survive that moment, or better yet, be happy or content in that moment. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and do a craft even if your two year old can’t handle it, or play a board game as a family even if turn taking is hard. Live in the moment, stop thinking about the past or the future.

Show your teammate you care. Your number 1, your ride or die…he always shows up. Remember that. He puts up with your moods, your anal retentiveness, your stubbornness, and your princess requests. Go out of your way to make sure he knows how much you appreciate him and how much you value his teamwork. Stop comparing how much you do to how much he does. It’s not a competition, you’re on the same team, and you help each other out.

Play. Play with your kids, play like your kids, play like an adult. Do things that bring you joy, indulge in more wine, be silly, dance like a goofball. Now is a better time than any to literally dance like no one is watching – because literally no one is watching. And stop feeling guilty if you played more than you should have. Who cares if you’re 33 and have a hangover, or who cares if you have work in the morning. Because literally the world is at a stand still and we are living a new normal one moment at a time.

Accept yourself for all of you, and don’t feel guilty, shameful, or worthless because of it. You are you and no one and no thing can take that away from you. Live your life the way you want to live it, and stop putting pressure on yourself in comparison to others. Your hair’s falling out because it’s postpartum 3 and it’s the worst yet? Flaunt it. You have a pouch for a belly because your skin just won’t go back to normal anymore? Be proud of it. You can’t get that extra work done at night or on the weekends because your family needs you more? The world goes on. And don’t judge anyone else who may be doing things differently than you, or worse, don’t feel less adequate by what others are able to do that you can’t.

Enjoy the snuggles. The lazy mornings laying in bed. The pillows being thrown in piles for the world’s biggest “the floor is lava” game. The leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The flat yard with the swingset. The dog who follows you and the kids around all day, just like the 6th family member he is. Pick up the phone calls and facetimes from family and friends. Ask others how they are doing and listen to what they say before moving on to the real reason you called. Be thoughtful. Say I love you. Accept criticism with grace and make an effort to make change. Grow instead of staying status quo.

You got this, I can’t wait to see who you’ve become on the other side, because if it doesn’t seem it now, I know you’ll be someone you’re proud of, someone you’re inspired by, and someone you’re empowered from.

Your same self,

Katie

Process Over Product, People!

The bruises and I set out to do some fun salt painting this weekend. I was originally inspired by an amazing Instagram account I follow called @mothercould. The mama behind the handle, Myriam, has amazing, easy ideas for kids and also is just downright real and authentic. All we needed was permanent marker, watercolor paper, glue, salt, food coloring, and medicine droppers. We had everything except watercolor paper, so I opted for paper plates instead (I’m a big advocate for using what you have!) and I didn’t bother trying to dig through our junk drawers for a permanent marker, so I just went with a black Mr. Sketch. We were aiming for a product like the one below, except I was substituting name practice instead of flowers – starting to get the little bruise into name recognition and learning the letters that make up his name.

The inspiration by @mothercould

In hindsight, I went wrong in two places: definitely should have used watercolor paper…the watercolors didn’t really absorb into the salt or paper plate and I definitely should have used permanent marker…the black washable ink was overpowering because it bled. But do you think the bruises mentioned…even once…that their “salt paint” wasn’t working? NOPE. Because the product didn’t matter to them. They were in it for the process, contrary to what my little mama heart might have desired. This was a weight lifting off my shoulders, fellow mamas, because it was all I needed to make the excuse to let go of expectations, perfection, and the pressure to produce these amazing projects. I’ll say it again: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE PRODUCT, IT’S ABOUT THE PROCESS! Sure, sometimes I’ll end up with beautiful, silly, authentic, save-worthy products that I’ll pull out when they’re 21 and moving out, but most of the time I won’t and that’s ok.

I’m veering from the beaten path a little bit and contradicting what I’ve previously posted about using models (I still believe in models too though!). Because this time, I didn’t show the bruises a model of what their project “should” look like at the end. And let me tell you, letting go of my expectations for a product let me live in the moment of their process. I watched them carefully and delicately fill up their medicine droppers with vibrant colors, only to meticulously drop a single drop down on to their salt until their dropper was all out of colored water. Then they’d go back, choose another color, and repeat this process again another 100 times. They worked in silence, carefully attending to each move they were making, occasionally breaking their concentration to shout, “Look it’s tie dye!” or “It’s turning geen Mommy, it’s turning geen!”

And finally when their attention span drew them away from the medicine droppers and the salt paintings in front of them, they asked, “Mommy, can we just be scientists?” Puzzled, I said “Sure, how are you going to do that?” And they proceeded to move the salt paintings to a different table and just started filling up their medicine droppers with colors and mixing them in bowls, trying to ‘discover’ (their words, not mine) all the colors they could make. And then they dropped the medicine droppers in favor of just dumping the whole cups into the bowls, and slowly but surely ended up with one big bowl filled with brown water. They BEAMED.

Quickly they started to realize they couldn’t make the water ‘unbrown’, and their experiment was over. Cue the meltdowns. How dare their science experiment be over when they weren’t ready for it to be over? Despite the monumental tantrum the abrupt end to their science experiment caused, we’ve now ‘been scientists’ – doing the exact same thing – two more times. And I’m literally seeing their brains work together in front of me. “Why don’t we just mix three colors and maybe we’ll get purple?” (Nope, still brown.) “Hmm, maybe we should try three other colors?” (Nope, still brown.) “Maybe we should just try two colors?” (Well it’s not purple, but it’s orange! Red and yellow make orange Mommy!)

Here’s the evolution in photos:

So. Let’s recap. We went from @mothercould inspired salt paintings, to salt painting duds, to science experiments, and there was never a single mention of how their salt paintings came out (or didn’t come out for that matter). In fact, they ended up in the trash. But instead of some pretty paper plate crafts to hang on the art wall, we ended up with some new brain synapses, a heck of a lot of fun, and some memories we’ll look back on…remembering the day they first realized they were scientists. Worth it, my friends, worth it.

Pre-School Quarantine: (Winter-Themed) Easy & Independent Learning Activities for a Week

Pre-School Quarantine: (Winter-Themed) Easy & Independent Learning Activities for a Week

For those following me on insta (@bruisesbowsandbooks), you may have seen my stories last week: Luca’s pre-school class was quarantined. So while Tessa, Dominic, and I still had to get up and go to school and work every day, Luca was resigned to life at home with Daddy, while he had one of the busiest work weeks of the year. The day he got quarantined, I told hubs I was going to leave things for Luca to do each day just to keep his brain active. Hubs had one stipulation: “I have a sh*t ton of work this week so I can’t be doing stuff with him all day long.” Noted.

I made it my goal to leave activities each day that Luca would be able to do entirely on his own, and that he wouldn’t need many instructions for. I wanted him to be able to look at the set-up, and know exactly what to do, so he could navigate from activity to activity while hubs worked in the other room. The activities were a combination of open-ended play based activities, dramatic play, literacy, math, sensory, and arts and crafts with a winter theme if I could manage it. Rather than write about each one, I figured I’d just post a photo list below.

Snow globe: Glue, construction paper for base and sphere, scissors, pulled apart cotton balls, and printed photo of your little in snow gear. Cut out photo, glue to sphere, decorate with cotton, attach base to sphere. Done!

Upper and lowercase letter match: Took the puzzle pieces from an uppercase alphabet puzzle we have and a lower case alphabet puzzle we have and laid them out in the correct direction. Little just matches upper to lower in the center of the table.

Sticker math: Separate paper into boxes, label each box with a number. Little practices counting and 1:1 correspondence by placing the number of stickers noted in each box. Spin it wintery by using winter themed stickers. (He only made it through 5 all week…it was definitely the least preferred activity but that’s ok. It’s actually still up right now if he ever wants to come back to it!)

Invitation to read: If you’re familiar with breakfast invitations (dayswithgrey) or play invitations, simply displaying books in a new and novel way can be very enticing for little readers, inviting them in to read the moment they lay eyes on the featured books.

Hot chocolate stand: I wish I remembered to take some before pictures, but this was a fan favorite this week and was the EASIEST thing ever! I set out squares of different colored brown paper, leftover pulled apart cotton balls from the snow globe and white pom poms, old plastic cups, and old straws. Crumple up the brown paper squares to fill the cup, add cotton balls and pom poms for marshmallows, top with a straw, and serve to all your furry and fluffy friends. Create a sign for your stand with bubble letters and dot markers.

Snowman: Blue paper, pulled apart cotton balls, 2 googly eyes, black beads, red pom poms, pipe cleaners, white crayon, and glue. The key to independence is leaving out only the needed materials and not any extras. Hubs said he came into the room to find Luca quietly working on this one all by himself.

Fingerprint lights: So simple – little uses his finger to make lights along the strand. I just spiced it up a bit by adding letters in a pattern to build in a literacy and math experience, and get him going on a simple beginners code activity. Every letter of the alphabet is coded at the top, telling him what color each letter needs to be. He can identify the pattern either by color (red, blue, red, blue) or by letter (a, b, a, b).

Illustrating a poem or book: Adding illustrations to a poem or book is a great pre-writing activity. It helps build concepts about print (pictures match words) and gives your little ownership in creating/writing.

Ice fishing: Cover box in white paper, cut hole in the top. Crumple blue paper and put in the box for water. Cut out paper fish and tape paper clip onto each one. Write a letter (upper or lower) on each fish. Build fish buckets out of playmags or just use smaller boxes. Create fishing pole (we have some play ones…) by attaching string to a stick and putting a magnet on the end of the string. Fish for letters, match fish to correct color box, and when finished, count all the fish you caught! Bonus – match the uppercase letter fish to lowercase letter fish! Literacy, numeracy, and sensory all in one. The little bruise got a kick out of this one too!

Winter wonderland sensory station: Sensory bin, fake snow (we use Be Amazing! Super Snow Powder: just add water and it grows to 100x its size) or anything that can double as snow (cotton, white rice, white beans, quinoa…), scoopers and spoons, loose parts, old cookie sheet with thin frozen layer of water (literally put mine outside the night before to freeze). Throw it all together and you’ve got the sweetest winter wonderland, with its own ice rink and everything. We still have this set up, and we’re going on day 5. It’s a HUGE hit!

Iceberg jumps or ice skating: Draw some footprints on some paper plates and spread out on the floor for iceberg jumps. Or, grab two – one for each foot – and they double as perfect indoor ice skates! Love this one because it keeps your little moving and active even if you don’t make it outside to play.

Igloo build: I didn’t get any photos of this one, but I just put out our Crazy Forts builders and some white bed sheets. Build a crazy fort, top with white bed sheets for your very own igloo.

As I posted on my insta stories throughout the week last week, I got a ton of feedback on my DMs. Lots of friends commenting on how amazing it was, lots of friends feeling guilty or overwhelmed, and lots and lots of questions…Where do you get your ideas? What materials do you need? Do you buy everything you need? At what age should I be doing this with my kid? How often do you do this? How do you prep everything or how do you find time to prep everything? I’m going to answer one of these questions per night on my stories this week, so head over to Instagram and follow @bruisesbowsandbooks if you haven’t already.

I did want to answer the ones about materials on here. I never ever buy materials for each individual project. Instead, when Luca was two, I started building a bulk stock of random supplies and materials that I keep in storage. A lot of these materials were gifted over time to the boys in their Snow Day Boxes that Santa brings every year (see my previous post called “The Snow Day Box“). When I get ideas for a project, I’m always thinking about what we already have or have lying around the house that we could use. Very rarely have I thought of something and haven’t had what I needed on hand – and if I did, then I just didn’t do that project. To help, I created a list on Amazon linked here of most of the supplies and materials I have on hand and in storage. Head on over and add them to your cart…you’re welcome!!

Right from Terrible Twos to My Little Threenager

The middle child. The younger and far more spicier bruise.

HOLY MIDDLE CHILD!

No seriously, I don’t know if it’s just a stereotype or some funny joke that people make but our middle child is the epitome of MIDDLE CHILD. And I’m tired. Like I can’t fight the exhaustion any longer. And when his daycare provider starts asking me questions about his ability to listen, attention span, you know, all the things I’m frustrated with at home, I get that pit in my stomach like oh gosh here we go he is that child.

A few nights ago we started weaning him off the pacifier. And he was addicted so we fully anticipated it’d be hard. We used the “snip the tip” trick. If you don’t know, now you know. Our pedi recommended it when the oldest bruise was having trouble weaning from his…after we had tried both cold turkey and the binky fairy. And it was a miracle. But we also weaned the oldest at just over 2 years old, and Dominic is closer to 3 years old right now (I know, I know, we’ve been lazy about it but ehh who cares!). He’s only been using it at night/naps since turning 1, but still he was addicted.

Honestly, it’s been easy…he whined a little bit night one, but we told him his binky was getting smaller because he was getting bigger and offered him his favorite stuffed dino instead and eventually he went to sleep. And then he was fine at daycare and each night as I’ve snipped a little bit more off the 5,000 binkies he has, he’s been totally fine.

BUT let’s talk about awake time, because since the first snip, during awake times he’s been a monster. He’s always been our more emotional, loud, intense, mischievous, physical (any other adjectives I’m missing?) child but these past 5 days have been a whole new monster, a bigger one. Of course I love this monster with all my heart so please don’t take this post that way. I’m really wondering if this new monster was birthed out of the pacifier transition. Could it be?!

It’s this new monster that inspired me to write this post because it also got me thinking about terrible twos and threenagers. And I realized we’re probably in the heat of it because we have the best of both worlds colliding since he is turning three in a few months. I feel like we were lucky with Luca because he didn’t really give us a terrible two phase or a threenager phase. Maybe that’s just because he was the first child. But it’s got me thinking and I want some advice. Here are the things we are struggling with right now:

  • Voice volume: On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no voice and 10 being outdoor-voice-scream-as-if-you’re-in-trouble, he’s at a hard 10 most of the time.
  • Patience: If he asks for his water and I don’t give it to him before he’s done asking, it’s an immediate whine fest, which leads to the next one.
  • Whining: 24/7 whining to the point where he needs to be reminded to “speak like a big boy” or “ask nicely”…I’m at that point where I model for him what he should be saying/doing, and it often sounds like this: “Dominic, try saying ‘Mommy can I please have a snack?’ instead of ‘I WANNNNTTTTT SNACKKKKK NNNOOOWWWW!'”
  • Anger and Biting: The oldest bruise was long over the biting phase by now. But when Dominic is really, really, really angry – at his brother – he still bites, and he bites hard. We have had a handful of occasions where he has bitten Luca so hard that there is blood, and a full teeth circle bruise left over on Luca for weeks. The good news is he hasn’t done it to anyone other than Luca in a year, but I still worry so much about his anger management if, at his worst, it comes to this.
  • Listening: This one doesn’t make me lose my temper, instead it just makes me worry. Any time we give him a direction or ask a question, he definitely hears us, but doesn’t actually listen to us. We have to tell him to get his shoes from the bin 20 times, each time more aggressively and loudly before he actually gets his shoes. His daycare provider says he’s always the last one that everyone has to wait for during transitions (because, and I quote my daycare provide, “He’s usually still in the middle of the room dancing or jumping around.” Yup sounds about right). Or sometimes we will even tell him something, he’ll look at us and smile, and completely ignore (or do the opposite!) of what we just asked. It’s maniacal actually.

Before I go running to the pedi at our three year appointment with all of these concerns (that are probably just normal but when it’s your kid you worry way more right?), what’s your take? I want all the tips and tricks for everything above, because I can’t keep losing my patience any longer. Is this all related to the binky? Or some type of bigger developmental phase? (Usually I’m pretty good at understanding these phases, but this just seems kind of out of the blue.) And if it’s some bigger developmental change, what can I do that’s different from my usual lose-my-patience-then-lose-my-sh*t approach? Help a sister out because I need it!

Would You Rather, Mom Edition: A day with kids or a day without kids?

Name something better for a mom reset than time away without kids. Time AT HOME without kids. Seriously, time at my own house with zero kids around comes rarely, if at all. So when hubs offered to take the kids to Nana and Papa’s just to give me some time alone…at home… I just about burst. He rightfully instructed me to rest and relax and do all of the things I never get to do. But here’s the thing, I think the reason why time at home without kids is so appealing to me is because I can do all of the normal things that need to get done in a normal amount of time with a normal amount of sanity. Maybe a little rest and relaxation if I have time, but really that’s a bonus. To illustrate my point, here’s two normal days at home…one with kids around, one without kids around…which one would you pick?!

A Day With Kids

6:00am Wake up. Most likely to the bruises chanting, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” or “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Get kids up, bruises get their iPads in Mommy and Daddy’s bed while we hang there for as long as we can manage before the bow is too restless to sit still anymore…which is like five minutes. We’re lucky if one of us gets back to sleep. (And actually I feel like a 6am wake up call isn’t half bad…)

7:15am Breakfast. Brew the coffee, forget to add cream and sugar till an hour later while you fix kids’ breakfast (one wants waffles, one wants a bagel, so you make them fight it out because you aren’t making more than one thing…). Finally remember your coffee, take a sip and put it down somewhere you’ll never remember. You may or may not remember to have breakfast yourself.

7:45am Playtime. The bruises play independently in the playroom happily for a little bit while you frantically try and wash the dishes from breakfast, put away the dishes from the night before, clean up the counter, and maybe squeeze a load of laundry in the wash if you’re lucky. The bow sits at the kitchen counter watching you work, because, well, she can’t be trusted to play on her own without eating everything in sight. An hour into playtime you hear the bruises start arguing and scuffling ensues, so Mickey goes on the TV and you promptly leave whatever chores you are doing half done because they can’t go any longer unsupervised. So you grab your ice cold (not on purpose) coffee and plop yourself on the couch to actively supervise because Mickey isn’t doing the distraction trick. So much for chores.

9:30am Snack time. Even though you just finished breakfast, somehow someway the bruises are hungry and the bow is whining for her morning nap. So you give them the choice of goldfish or cheez its because, no, chips and gummies are not a good morning snack, and while they munch for two seconds you run the bow upstairs and throw her in her crib so you can take advantage of any free time to get back to chores while the bruises are occupied with snacks. Only thing is you don’t remember what chore you were doing so the wet laundry sits in the washer for another 3 hours before being turned over to the dryer, and the loads just keep stacking up. Meanwhile you frantically try and clean up the playroom that’s been destroyed – because when they play they don’t actually play they just take everything out and throw it around the room, creating a real-life landmine perfect for shoeless feet.

11:00am Outside time. At this point you probably kicked the kids outside because now instead of playing in the playroom they are running around the whole first floor throwing pillows at each other and wrestling, which is the key sign they need to get some energy out. So you pause the playroom cleanup, take 20 minutes to get everyone dressed to play outside in the freezing cold, and they run around happily playing while you freeze your a** off repeatedly asking “Hey does anyone want hot chocolate?!” in an effort to get them to come inside but no one seems to hear you. The baby monitor stops working because it’s too cold out or it lost signal, so you hear muffled crying while you’re outside letting you know the bow has woken up from her nap. Dang that was a short one. You were hoping her nap would take her to lunch time. Here’s your first bad mom moment of the day: You can’t get the boys in so you run inside as fast as you can leaving the boys unsupervised outside, grab the bow from her crib, throw her snowsuit on and grab a half defrosted bottle and get back outside as fast as you can hoping no one died or got kidnapped while you were inside. As soon as you get back outside the bruises tell you they’re cold and ask to go inside.

11:30am Lunch. You whip up whatever leftovers you have, and if you have none then its mac and cheese or PB & J or butter noodles, and you wait to make your own lunch because you KNOW they won’t eat much of theirs so you just resign yourself to the leftovers so that you don’t waste any food. You have about 2.7 bites of mac and cheese, 1 bite of PB & J, and maybe some leftover cut up apples, and hey, not so bad of a lunch after all.

12:00pm Play time. You kick the bruises out of the kitchen so you can clean up, sending them to mess up the playroom that you already cleaned up once all over again. And it’s only a matter of minutes till the two year old is whining and crying which is your signal for his nap time. You were hoping to make it to 1 but you don’t want to deal with 55 minutes of whining so you bring him up early.

12:05pm Nap time. The two year old takes his nap early, so the four year old asks for his “games” – code for his iPad. And while you know you shouldn’t give him technology again because he already watched his iPad and watched three episodes of Mickey this morning, you oblige in another bad mom moment because if you hand the baby off to husband you know it means you get to grab a shower. While you’re in the shower you promptly sit down on the floor of the shower and let the water run down your back for as long as you can manage because it’s your one minute of peace and quiet, and by gosh you’ll take that minute and turn it into 30 because 30 minute showers are where the rest and relaxation’s at. You get out of the shower and the middle bruise is still sleeping (Yay!), but it’s time to put the bow down for her second nap and the oldest bruise is saying he’s hungry again. Didn’t you just eat lunch ten minutes ago? You deliver and serve his snack bowl and water bottle while he continues to watch games because you know you can grab 15 more minutes to get dressed and brush your hair. No time for a blow dry or make up. You lay down because everyone is content and think you might steal a few minutes shutting your eyes or scrolling your phone but within 2 minutes the monitor is going off and the middle bruise is up, cranky in his true fashion, and whining for gummies and milk.

2:00pm (More) Technology time. Because the middle bruise saw the older bruise watching his games, he of course wants to watch games too. So rather than putting the iPads away and enjoying some tech-free family time, you don’t want to hear his tantrum anymore so you give them each another hour on technology. Tantrum averted, and you pry the iPads out of their hands an hour later, when the baby wakes up from her second nap.

3:00pm Family playtime. You muster up the energy to actually play with the kids because you know all they want is for you to play with them. You prepare yourself for a few hours of outside or indoor play depending on the weather…which means hide and seek when everyone hides in the same spot or peaks through their hands when counting, or pretend play with toys and you have to show your best pink power ranger moves. Good thing the bow is such a gem because she just sits and scoots along following every move the family makes. Sometimes she’s forgotten about and you have to run to the front yard to grab her because she’s sitting there all by herself eating dirt happy as a clam.

5:00pm You’re having fun with your kids for once but dinner calls so you wrangle everyone inside with a snack and more Mickey so you can buy some time to prep and cook dinner. The bow sits with you at the counter while you cook, and if you’re lucky the boys are spent so they aren’t at each other’s throats while watching Mickey. You remember you never turned that load of laundry over so you go downstairs to flip it real quick and spy the other ten hampers lined up and you realize you’ll be lucky if you get this all done before the hampers are full again.

6:00pm Dinner. And dinner means you made it because you drag dinner out to get you to 6:30 so that right after you can get everyone in the bath and in their pjs ready for bed.

7:00pm Bed time. If you time it all right (which happens once in a blue moon), you go dinner-bath-story-bed, and you get all the kids to bed on time. But you come downstairs and realize the playroom is a mess again and there are a few lone dishes still to be done. So you clean and wash dishes and flip the laundry one more time. Only nine more loads to go.

8:00pm Adult time. Lay down on one couch while hubs lays on the other, he watches football on the big screen while you watch Tik Tok on your phone. You have every intention of just checking social media for a few minutes before watching a show with hubs, but before you know it, it’s 10:00 and you’re still on Tik Tok. So you go up to bed, but you have trouble falling asleep because your eyes have been glued to a screen for the past 2 hours. And you remember there’s still nine loads of laundry waiting to be done downstairs, and you know you’ll get them all done tomorrow but they’ll sit in hampers unfolded until next weekend when it’s time for the new loads.

You go to sleep, get up, repeat, never really getting anything done effectively or efficiently, and the cycle just keeps going.

A Day Without Kids

7:30am Wake up. Holy hell you slept till 7:30! You don’t remember what it’s like to sleep in but you’re also anxious that you’ve already wasted so much of the day. You check the monitor out of habit and are reminded that the kids aren’t here, which makes you kind of sad, but remember you asked for this…or at least welcomed it. You lay in bed on your phone for a few minutes and then facetime the kids because even though they’ve only been gone a day you miss them like heck already.

8:30am Shower. To actually have time to take a shower and not worry about anything else while you are taking a shower is heavenly. You shave your legs and pluck your eyebrows for the first time in a month, and when you get out of the shower you wrap yourself in a robe and hop right back in bed, laying there for an hour because you don’t know what to do with all this time so it feels perfectly normal to do nothing at all but stare at the popcorn ceilings.

9:30am Breakfast. Because at this point you’re starving because usually everyone is eating at 7:15, but you’re pumped because you get to enjoy a hot cup of coffee IN ITS ENTIRETY while watching the Today Show. Savannah I see you!

10:30am Cleaning and laundry. You drag your butt off the couch and away from the Today Show to clean as much of the house as you possibly can, remember to flip the laundry every single time it’s needed – it’s like you and the washer and dryer have ESP because you’re gona kill it today and get everything done that normally doesn’t get done.

12:45pm Lunch time. Before you know it, it’s 3 hours later and you realize you haven’t eaten lunch. For once you make yourself a salad and aren’t resigned to the kids’ leftovers, but you eat quick because you still have the other half of the house to clean.

1:00pm Cleaning and laundry. You clean the other half of the house, and by some miracle all the loads of laundry are done so you have all ten hampers upstairs in the living room. You go on a folding spree while watching Dateline because who doesn’t watch Dateline when you have the TV to yourself? And two hours later you’ve watched an episode, folded all the laundry, and if you’re lucky, you’ve even managed to put it all away.

3:00pm Be sad and miss the kids. So far you’ve been busy all day trying to get things done so you haven’t had time to stop and think. But now that you have time to stop and think, you realize you miss the kids, start texting the husband, who’s clearly annoyed that you’re texting so much (you can tell by his one word responses) so you lay off and wait for the night time facetime. While you wait, the TV is mindlessly on in the background while you scroll through the picture reel on your phone looking at photos of your kids because you miss them so much.

5:00pm Dinner? Do you think about dinner yet? Who eats at 5 anyway? But you’re bored and you don’t really know what to do, but you also don’t feel like cooking so you make yourself some butter noodles (lol) and are done with dinner by 5:30pm.

5:45pm. Shut down the house downstairs (most likely forget to turn off a few lights but shh hubs isn’t home so he’ll never know) and head upstairs for the night. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the facetime call from the kids saying goodnight. And you’ll talk to them for an hour before the hubs softly says, “Ok I should probably get them to bed.” So you say goodbye, turn on 90 Day Fiance, and binge watch seven episodes in bed. You did remember to get yourself a glass of wine after the third episode, but you’re too lazy to bring it back downstairs so the empty glass sits on your nightstand all night long.

9:00pm You go to sleep, with the TV on, of course, because if you turn the TV off you’ll hear every noise in the house and be convinced a serial killer is downstairs and is moments away from coming for you. You wake up on and off all night because it’s freaking creepy sleeping alone in your house, but you make it through the night and when you wake up you can’t contain your excitement because the kids come home today and OMG you missed them so much you’ll tell hubs to never take them away again!

But seriously if you compare this to the day with kids, look how much more you still have to read!

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At least if it’s the day without kids you were able to stop reading ten paragraphs ago. πŸ™‚

So for real, which one would you pick? Kind of a trick question, maybe. Yeah it’s nice to have the occasional time without kids, and don’t get me wrong I’m super grateful I have a hubs who can recognize when he needs to give me my space and let me do me. But, I don’t think I would ever trade a day with kids for a day without kids on the reg? It’s this crazy beautiful life with kids I realize I love so much!

And on the afternoon of the second day by myself, I was able to crash on the couch!