Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mommy tips: Managing the "school artwork" overload....

Kids have been back in school for almost two weeks and the "school artwork" overload has already started. Every Friday, the infamous "blue folder" comes loaded with a bunch of "cute" (and some not so cute!) drawings, tests, papers, projects, etc... you get the point...I think my fridge cannot take any more pins and magnets to hold the art masterpieces my rascals have created...even the cats have found new toys in the papers that are low on the art display! ;)
So...because I'm not an overly sentimental mother who is attached to every little paper my child lays hands on, I started doing intense research as to how I can throw away get rid of all these projects without feeling guilty.  Let's face it, there's only so many storage bins my garage can handle and I'll probably never look at those again; most of those bins have their fate written all over them, that being "you're out on the next move!"; at least that's the case in our family.
My husband has always claimed he is a "minimalist" and time and time again he has proven this to be true by throwing away unopened boxes and bins that have sat in the attic or the garage without ever even being thought of.  I think somehow his "minimalistic" approach to life has rubbed off on me and I have come to the conclusion that some things just make clutter and have made it a point to de-clutter my life and my living space itself.
I acknowledge there will be many parents who will disagree with me on this one, but I am also sure that many will silently agree with my thoughts on the school project overload that many of us experience.  If you have a pre-schooler or an elementary aged child, I am sure you are familiar with many of these projects that probably make up half your home gallery collection.  Here are some of the most popular, just to name a few: name made out of pasta noodles, hand stamp with eyes and mouth painted on it, pipe cleaner butterfly, any animal made with clothespins, a tree made with little balls of tissue paper, leaf prints, etc.. I'm sure there are so many more and I could probably blog all night if I kept thinking about this list...
So, back to my point... I already said I'm not OVERLY sentimental, but I am after all SOMEWHAT sentimental and that is why I love Artkive, a cute little smartphone app that provides a "clutter free way to save and enjoy my child's artwork".  With this app, not only am I able to save pictures of my kids' school projects, but I can also arrange them by grade, age, year, etc and I can even share "artkives" with friends and family members.  The app is so wonderful that it even offers the option of creating books with your kid's art collection, so for those parents who don't want to entirely do away with the tangible stuff, you can have a book printed with your favorite projects. I just love it so much, even my kids love it...they come home and say "mom, take a picture of this one and put it on the Artkive" and they are now the ones who get rid of the clutter without remorse.  Also, keep in mind that because you're actually uploading the images of your kid's work, the pictures do not take up memory on your phone or tablet.

I strongly recommend this *free* app to all those moms who are looking to organize their kids' artwork in a more modern and technological fashion. I have loved this find so much that I wanted to share it with some of my fellow moms!

Happy blogging! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to School Week: Shoes, backpacks and such...

Today's post will not be about psychological advice or behavior analysis, but rather about some practical aspects of school.  By practical I mean shoes, backpacks and such because getting the kids physically and aesthetically ready for school is just as important as the other stuff! :)
So many parents are lucky to be able to send their kids to school in a set uniform; and I say lucky because I personally LOVE uniforms but if you don't, that's ok too... there are styles for all tastes.. right?
My girls' school is rather strict when it comes to uniforms including shoes, socks, etc and I'm ok with that but I would be lying if I said I didn't spend hours researching about shoes, backpacks and such! And because I always like to share the wealth of knowledge I acquire from countless hours on the internet, I want to talk about what shoes and backpacks have worked best for us!
(Disclaimer: NONE of these companies PAY me anything to post about them, nor do I own stock so every recommendation comes from the heart and it is not financially motivated at all!)

Shoes: Most schools suggest that girls wear Mary Jane style shoes; some ask for black and some ask for blue.  Despite the general belief that "Stride Rites" are durable shoes, I will say that the quality of such brand has disappointed me terribly throughout the years, so I present to you the Ked Ella Mary Jane Sneaker, which is an awesome shoe made out of leather that features a white rubber non-marking sole; this shoe is pretty, durable and affordable.  It also comes in other colors and it is one of the best finds I have ever come across.  The down side?  It only goes up to size 12 for toddlers so this is not an option for older kids..... These shoes can be found on Amazon and several other websites. 


Then there are the Cienta shoes, which are European made canvas style Mary Janes that come in many different colors.  These do come in larger sizes so they are perfect for older kids.  Olivia has had these for the past two years and claims they are the most "comfortable shoes ever!" They feature an inner removable sole which can be washed or changed if desired.  These are super affordable and perfect for uniforms or play clothes... I LOVE these! They can also be purchased on Amazon, Zappos and several other websites.





For those kids that don't have to wear uniform shoes, I strongly recommend any shoe from Chooze Shoes.  I came across this shop on our recent trip to Panama; they had a huge store at one of the local malls and I simply LOVED what I saw.  These shoes are "mismatched on purpose" and they make for the cutes footwear any kid (and mom!) can have. I really love their designs and I especially like the fact that they are comfortable, durable and washable.  Their website also sells shoes for babies and adults and their Fall collection is to die for.  Please check out their site, I promise you will not be disappointed! :)



Now on the the backpacks!  For years I have heard recommendations about Pottery Barn backpacks but I will be honest and say that I always thought they were pricey compared to other options. This year I decided to give them a try and ordered two personalized navy blue backpacks (our school doesn't allow any other color/design backpack, so navy blue it was!).  I have to say that I absolutely LOVE the quality of these backpacks but I think their dimensions are bad.  I made the mistake of ordering the "small" backpack and it turned out to be TINY!! Almost $80 later, the girls will NOT be using these backpacks for school since nothing fits in there.  So if you do go for the Pottery Barn kind, make sure you get something size Large or even bigger.  Both the "mini" and "small" are useless for school aged kids. 


Another option is the backpack line from Personal Creations, they are absolutely adorable and such great quality too.  This website offers and incredible selection as well as matching lunch boxes, all which could be personalized.  Their customer service is incredible and I strongly recommend all of their school items. 


For moms of girls (and I totally realize that most of my recommendations on this post have been geared towards girls!), I also recommend several Etsy sellers that have the most adorable hair bows and accessories.  I particularly like the following two Etsy shops that offer tons of uniform color bows, some of them even have plaid bows that perfectly matched the girls' uniforms.  Please be sure to visit them on Etsy
And with this post I end my "Back to School" week series.  I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts and advice during these few days and I look forward to posting more fun stuff in the weeks to come.  

Congratulations to all local kids on surviving their first week back and good luck to all those who will be starting in the weeks to come! 

Happy Blogging! ;)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to School Week: Talking to your children

On this 4th day of our "Back to School" series, I will talk about conversation starters and creative methods to talk to children.
In my initial post this week, I mentioned how important it is to talk to children in an effort to better understand them and to validate their feelings, but how CAN WE talk to children?  What can we ask that will prompt them to reveal themselves to us?  How can we earn their trust?
Even though talking to children sounds like an easy task, sometimes as parents we are surprised by how difficult it can be to find proper conversation starters and engage children in productive talks.
I often struggle to find ideas that will keep my children interested and deep in conversation.  Let's take the first day of school as an example; I went to pick up my kids from school and naturally the first thing that came out of my mouth was "how was your first day?"...they quickly replied in unison "fine!"...and I said "just fine?" and followed it by another question "what did you on your first day?"...they looked at me and said "nothing!"... I know my children didn't spend 8 hours of their day doing "nothing" but how could I respond to that? The conversation was naturally short and the few things they DID tell me about their day I literally had to pry out of them... not fun!

A few months I came across a great website called "Creative with Kids", it focuses on what they call "joyful parenting for real people"... I REALLY like their concept and my favorite part is a section about "Connecting with Kids" where several activities for prompting kids to communicate are described in depth.  But in addition to their wonderful website, the writers also have several ebooks that are so helpful when it comes to conversing with children; I particularly love one that is called "Conversation Starters: Listening Now so Kids Keep Talking Later"; I have enjoyed reading this little book so much and have been able to have so many fruitful conversations with my children.
So because I loved this book (and website) so much, I have decided to share some of my favorite conversation starters with you.  Here are just a few of the questions I have gathered from the ebook:
  1. Tell me about your friends? What makes them your friends?
  2. When/how will you know that you are a grown up?
  3. If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?
  4. What is the most important quality a person can have?
  5. Tell me about someone who is not your friend, why?
  6. What is something that makes you smile?
  7. What is something that makes you worry?
  8. What is the first memory you have?
  9. Ask me something you have always wanted to know.
  10. Name three things about yourself that you like and one that you don’t.
Of course most of these questions can be adjusted to fit your child's age and maturity level and there are TONS more on that little book. 

Also, I strongly recommend the "Q&A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal", which is an amazing 3-year journal that will prompt your kid to answer a daily question for 3 consecutive years; the book has 365 questions (one per day) and it is designed to be a "time capsule" where kids deposit their daily thoughts and can relive them every year by answering the same question on any given day.  It truly is one of the most highlights of our day with the kids! :)

I will end this post by encouraging all parents to TALK WITH their children rather than AT their children. Kids enjoy being heard and understood and daily conversations foster long term communication and healthy relationships.  Also, talking to children during the first week of school is incredibly important to understand their expectations and disposition for a successful school year! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School Week: Getting to know your child's teacher

Today's post for our "Back to School" special series is all about getting to know your child's teacher and the importance of developing good communication with every educator that somehow touches your child's life.

School is usually one of the first places in which a child's behavior and education success are shaped and teachers are carriers of positive or negative messages that will help or hurt your child's development.  Whether we like it or not, some kids spend more times with their teachers than they spend with their parents and that is why getting to know your child's teacher should be one of your main priorities.....
Let's face it, not all teachers are great; some are amazing but some of them are people who we would never befriend if it wasn't because we HAVE to but we always have to make the best of it. As parents we must put our best effort forth into fostering a positive relationship with our children's teachers and in order to do that we have to know what questions to ask and what expectations to have.
Generally speaking, we have been lucky with the teachers the girls have had; with the exception of a couple, most of them have been friendly and extremely dedicated to our children's success; also having a sister who is a teacher I know first hand that it is an overly demanding and exhausting job so we must always be careful when judging a teacher's decision on any given circumstance.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, getting involved in your child's school is one of the keys to a successful school year; most teachers appreciate parents who are willing to help and participate in school activities as well as parents who are involved in their child's academic achievements and progress.  It is very evident when a parent is involved in homework, school project and such and it helps teachers to know that the expectations at home are consistent with those at school.

The following are some of the questions that parents should ask teachers in an effort to get to know them better and help children achieve all academic goals throughout the year. No matter how young or old your child is, getting to know their teachers is THE MOST important thing you can do as a parent when it comes to school success! :)
  • What are your academic standards?
  • How do you respond to a child struggling in class?
  • What are the most complex ideas my child needs to understand?
  • What can I do to support literacy at home?
  • What kind of questions should I ask my child on a daily basis?
  • How do you personalize learning in the classroom?
  • What is the daily schedule and routine?
  • How is academic progress measured in your class?
  • What learning models to plan to use this year?
  • What should I NOT do at home?
  • How is behavior rewarded/punished in the classroom?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you? Phone? Email?
  • How often are parent-teacher conferences held throughout the year?
  • What are the classroom rules?
I am sure most teachers will be willing to answer these questions  and I am also sure that their responses will help all parents have a better understanding of the expectations for the year and to have peace of mind.  NEVER be afraid of asking questions and DON'T be shy when getting to know your child's teacher. Keep in mind that a teacher becomes part of the family and he/she is an integral part of your child's success.  
Also, don't be timid when setting expectations or demands for the teacher; keep in mind that ultimately YOU are the main authority in your child's life.  

Happy Blogging! :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School Week: Healthy Lunch ideas

GIVEAWAY:  I will giveaway ONE 3-month membership to MOMables to a lucky reader!  Please comment on this post to participate in this amazing raffle.  I guarantee you will love this service so much!

Today's post will be dedicated to "Healthy Lunch" ideas; I will discuss some resources that are available for moms when it comes to preparing and packing children's lunch and snacks.
In my previous post I mentioned how important it is for children to have balanced and healthy diets in order for their minds and bodies to work best!
As a very busy mom of two, I often struggle to come up with creative and healthy recipes for my daughters' lunches; it is not easy task to have to come up with 5 different things every week so that they don't get tired of eating the same thing every day.  When I do come up with awesome food ideas, I often struggle to find the time to execute those ideas! I'm sure many moms feel the same... I know so many friends who spend a great deal of times coming up with weekly meals plans, shopping lists, menu selection, etc.... I can't say I'm THAT organized when it comes to meal planning so I definitely could benefit from getting a little help in that department.
I was recently contacted by a fellow Latina blogger who is the creator of MOMables, a website designed to help parents with the challenge of making fresh and healthy school lunches that their kids will love.  When I first visited the website, I really liked what I saw... I mean...what could be wrong with a site that offers not only healthy lunch ideas, but also weekly menus and pre-made shopping lists? It is truly wonderful.
MOMables offers healthy recipes and easy to make school lunches that you can easily pack for your child every day.  Their subscription model allows you to receive weekly meal plans delivered directly to your inbox; they also offer allergy friendly recipes as well as grain free.
But if you're not sure about signing up for the service, you can also enjoy tons of free benefits including sample meals plans, free recipes and weekly lunch tips.  Go check it out..I promise you will not be disappointed...

In addition to MOMables, I have also want to share some packing ideas so I will talk about EasyLunchboxes, a product that I have been fortunate to try first hand. EasyLunchboxes is an environmentally friendly product that helps make packing so much easier; they are perfectly sized boxes with 3 compartments designed so that foods "don't touch". These boxes are dishwasher friendly, organized and convenient for school lunches.  I have loved packing the kids' lunches in these neat boxes, so please visit their website and see the wonderful products they offer.

As a bonus, here's one of the amazing recipes that MOMables provided this week (packed in an EasyLunchboxes container! Please try it out! My kids absolutely loved this one! :)

Tuna Avocado Salad Cucumber Cups (yum!)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to School Week: First Day Jitters

It's "Back to School" season which means a very busy time for all moms. This week I will be dedicating my blog to school and everything related to this wonderful but sometimes scary time. 
I will be running a series of blog posts that will touch on many important school related subjects, such as new teachers, new classes and even uniforms and backpacks.  I will be having a couple of giveaways and product reviews which might be interesting to many moms out there. 

Today's topic is "First Day Jitters"....whether your child has started school or will be starting in the next few weeks, I am sure your mind is consumed with back to school stuff so reading about it always helps and this is what the series is for.  This also applies for all homeschool moms and any parent who is involved in their kid's formation.  
We get anxious, excited and frenetic around this time; letting our children go can be so difficult sometimes.  This year I was in charge of taking "back to school" pictures for the yearbook and I was surprised when I saw many "veteran" middle school moms crying as much as kindergarten moms and then I realized that it never gets easier...moms are just a wreck when it comes to their kids...and it should be that way...
But that anxiety we feel is not even half as important as what our kids feel; no matter how old they are, our kids will always feel the "first day jitters" (and yes! I realize some kids are just "braver" than others, but they too get anxious even if it's not visible to us)


As parents, there are many things we can do to help with these jitters, which often last a week or so.  As kids adjust to their new classrooms, new teachers and even new classmates, parents tend to forget that transitions are never easy and kids need to have their feelings validated at all times, especially the little ones need some extra reassurance that everything will be fine and this is life experience that they must go through.  

Here are some tips for the first week of school (and even beyond), which will help both parents and children during this period of transition:
  1. Make sure your child has a good night's sleep.  Quality sleep is essential for children's growth and development and it is important that we pass on the skill of good sleep to children as early as possible to allow them to get the best benefit from an early age.  Kids are in school for up to 8 hours and it is crucial that they are well rested so they can be productive and in good spirits throughout the day. 
  2. Prepare nutritious and healthy lunches and snacks.  Children need healthy foods because their bodies require the nutrients to grow. A child who is given healthy foods will receive a lifetime bonus of a stronger mind and body. A child who is deprived of healthy foods or given too many unhealthy foods can face decades of physical and mental health problems. A well-fed child is most likely to be in a better learning disposition during school hours. 
  3. Get to know your child's teachers well. Talk with your child's teacher about the expectations he or she has for you and your child.  Talk about the goals you both have for your child.  Ask your child's teacher what you can do at home to support your child's academic achievements. 
  4. Be an informed parent. Maintain communication with the school throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, review the school calendar, policies and procedures. Read all communications sent by the teacher and staff and ASK questions if you need more information. 
  5. Talk to your child! Talking to your child about his/her feelings and experiences of the first week of school is a pivotal factor in creating an open communication and fostering trust that will transcend during the whole school years.  Now is the time to strengthen that relationship with your child. 
  6. Validate your child's feelings. Understanding your child is just as important as loving her and validating your child's feelings makes her feel understood; it means you keeping your ego and desire to lecture in check. Validating your child's feelings also means that you don’t judge him or her. Instead, you simply acknowledge his or her feelings. This takes focus and discipline as parents.
  7. Get involved. Most schools offer parents the opportunity to get involved through volunteering or special events.  As parents, we should always strive to be part of our children's school life and get involved as much as possible.  Children feel important when their parents can attend special school events and other affairs, so plan ahead. 
Additionally, it is very important for children to feel comfortable with their school and surroundings.  Make sure you tour the school with your children and encourage them to develop strong relationships with teachers and other school staff members.  

Now as a bonus, here are some pictures of my girls on their first day of school.  Olivia is starting 2nd grade and my little Gaby is already in Kindergarten.  They had a great first day and we are looking forward to an amazing school year!  Good luck girls!  And good luck to all teachers and students and this back to school season! 


Tomorrow we will talk about lunch ideas and useful websites for meal planning. 

Happy blogging! ;)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Break: Week 10

This is IT! Summer break is officially OVER!!  I still can't believe 10 weeks went by SO fast!!! Even though our summer was jammed packed with fun activities and incredible adventures and the girls are SO ready for school, it's always bitter sweet to know that for the next 9 months it won't all be fun and games! :)
This week was great.. very low profile as we prepared for the "routine" that comes along with the beginning of the school year...
The girls spent a lot of time at home and really enjoyed it.
Class lists were posted so they both know what to expect tomorrow, but I'm sure there are still jitters and anxiety....

We got a new kitten...her name is Stella.. She was part of a rescue project sponsored by "Broward Cat Rescue", which is an incredible IG page that helps find homes to shelter cats.  We are so happy to have Stella here.. she is the sweetest kitty ever and makes our cat family so much better!  Here's her picture! :)


We spent some time at the beach since we couldn't let summer end without soaking in some sun by the ocean; the days were picture perfect so we couldn't let that one by! 


Here's a picture of Stella and our cat Abuelita, who surprisingly seems to have accepted her.  They were even grooming each other today, which was absolutely adorable! :) 


I took the girls to "Build-a-Bear", since they got a couple of gifts cards on their birthday and they really enjoyed making a MLP stuffed pet.  It was fun and all but I still think those things are completely overpriced...


And to finish off our summer we had a great weekend together. On Saturday we had a family backyard BBQ; it was fun to grill out in spite of the heat.  Yum! yum!


Finally today we attended Brock's 7th birthday party, which was a football themed bash that had all kinds of fun attractions; there were bumper carts, rock climbing, a DJ, balloon maker, face painter and much more... his parents even hired the UM mascot and cheerleaders to keep the crowd going.  It sure was fun to spend the afternoon at this fun party and the girls really enjoyed a nice time with their schools friends....
Here are some pictures of the party...


And with that, we say good bye to our 2014 summer break.  So many places were seen, memories made and time well spent.  I look forward to another wonderful school year and will forever cherish the great times that this summer brought...

To celebrate the first week of school, I will focus on special "Back to School" subjects and tips that can help moms have a smoother school season and easier transition into the routine.  Please be on the lookout for promotions and giveaways that will be great for this wonderful back to school season!

Happy Blogging! :)