Valentine Heart Crayons

I saw this little nugget of truth the other day on Pinterest; who else can relate to this?

broken crayons

My 7th grader, who no longer has any use for crayons having graduated to Faber-Castell manga pens and markers, has a crayon collection dating back to nursery school.  Heaven forbid I should throw them away, because, you know, if the Crayola factory blew up and there was a worldwide crayon shortage, he’d be the man.  Crayon apocalypse not withstanding, I decided I needed them for this post.  This is a quick and easy craft that melts down old crayons to make new ones, in this case heart-shaped ones for Valentine’s Day.  A couple of these in a treat bag are a cute alternative to candy for the class Valentine’s Day party.  My son intends to give these to his younger cousins (but I think he might keep one for himself).

I used a silicone baking pan as a mold.  Get the crayons ready by removing the paper and breaking them up into small pieces.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

instamag3Fill the mold as shown and place in preheated oven for approximately 22 – 25 minutes, checking to see when they’ve melted all the way through; I used a toothpick to swirl the colors.

melted befoe and after

Let them cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then put them in the freezer for another 5 to 10 minutes. When the crayons have cooled, carefully peel them out of the mold.

instamag

The crayons are easy for little hands to hold, and the swirled colors look great on paper!

v heart crayons

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day craft?  Let me know in the comments!

heart crayon final

All crayon photos courtesy of mommeetsblog.com

This craft was featured on inspirationdiy.com!  Check out this site for more great craft ideas or submit your own favorite craft here.

How Do You Handle Your Kid’s Middle School Crush?

broken heartWith Old Man Winter forcing yet another snow day today, my 7th grader will miss out on all the middle school drama surrounding Valentine’s Day. He’s been able to stay on the periphery of most of the angst, managing to move on from his own recent crush unscathed. Others have not been so lucky, like his friend who recently asked the girl he’s been pining over for months out on a ‘date'; she turned him down and he’s devastated, explaining his friend’s inability to finish that week’s Spanish homework!

While I’m happy my son feels comfortable enough to share his crushes and news of the latest adolescent happenings, I feel that 7th grade is too young for traditional ‘dating’, although I hear through multiple sources that this does happen.  I’m fine with him heading out in a boy/girl group to the pizza shop after school for an hour – it’s a way for the kids to socialize in a fairly controlled setting with a defined start and end time – but one-on-one dating or boy/girl groups at someone’s home unsupervised after school is off the table at this age.

Crushes are just fine for now – it’s a way to explore feelings and learn how to deal with them, both the happiness and the disappointment.  Learning to deal with rejection can be a fact of life at this age just as much as a growth spurt or a deepening voice.  How do you deal with your kid’s middle school crush? Through the fog and haze of middle age, I’ve been trying to remember how I felt during middle school; here are some do’s and don’ts I’ve been employing to deal with this sensitive subject:

Do:

Keep the channels of communication open.  Teach your child to be respectful of his/her own body, and let them know that even though it’s natural to be curious, feeling pressure to do something (especially if it makes them feel uncomfortable) doesn’t mean they have to act on it.  If a crush isn’t mutual, let them know it’s okay to politely refuse the other person’s unwanted attention.  And conversely, to graciously accept the fact if they are on the unrequited end of the crush.  It’s a painful lesson, but can save a whole lot of heartache if it’s learned early on.  Keep an eye (and ear) out for any behavior changes arising from a crush – learning how to keep a crush in perspective and not let it affect school work, friendships and family life is also important.

Don’t:

Don’t belittle or trivialize your child’s feelings – even though as adults we already know that this too shall pass, remember that they certainly don’t feel that way!  And nothing will close down those channels of communication faster than your child feeling that Mom or Dad can’t possibly understand what they’re going through.  Don’t ever, ever, mention a crush’s name outside the ‘circle of trust’ (mainly, that’s me) you’ve developed with your child. Discussing the identity of a crush with other parents is a tremendous no-no.  I’ve been on the receiving end of such information from parents with their kid standing right there – it’s embarrassing for me, so I can just imagine how the poor kid must feel.  You might think it’s cute, but I can guarantee you your kid does not – keep it zipped.  I know if my son doesn’t feel safe telling me about the little things, he won’t come to me with the big things – and right now, everything is a big thing!

Well, that’s it – it may not be much, but that’s all I’ve got so far. Please feel free to share any suggestions or tips you have in the comments, and have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

Texts From The Edge Of Tweendom

With 2013 drawing to a close, my son is taking great delight in declaring 2014 ‘his year’.  It’s the year that the label of tween gets retired and he launches into full-blown teenager status.  I don’t know what he thinks is going to happen when he turns 13 – it’s not like he can start dating (not yet!!!!) or go to a bar or vote.

And he definitely can’t drive a car, as evidenced by the majority of texts exchanged between us.  Like I’d ever NOT pick him up, but it’s always nice to be asked. . . .

polite text editedAnd in a few short years when he gets his driver’s license this too will end, and I wonder what he’ll be asking me for then – but I hope I still get an occasional one of these. . . .

i love you text

Wishing everyone a happy and blessed 2014!

How Do You Handle the ‘Santa Situation’?

Santa clausWhen my son was younger I, like many other parents at this time of year, went to great lengths to weave the special magic that is Santa Claus – I supervised as he carefully wrote his painstakingly detailed letter to Santa, we waited dutifully in line at the mall so he could have his picture taken with the Big Guy, we thoughtfully left gingerbread cookies and milk for old St. Nick on Christmas Eve (and snacks for the reindeer, too!).  He believed wholly and unquestioningly in Santa, and as that belief was nurtured and grew year after year, I started suffering from what I call ‘Claus’-trophobia – a fear of the day when my son would question the existence of his beloved Santa Claus.

I was recently asked by FamilyCorner.com to write about this very subject – here are some points to consider when your child eventually asks you:  is Santa real?

Listen to their concerns: Lend an ear first before you begin any explanations.  Give them your undivided attention; if they come to the conclusion on their own, share with them the story about how you found out the truth about Santa when you were their age.  Kids are intuitive and sometimes know the answers to their own questions, and just need a sympathetic ear from parents.

Be prepared for their reaction: Some kids might take the news in stride, as I did when I found out the truth. My parents were a little sloppy in hiding the presents, so after finding way too many new toys under their bed one year the secret was out.  And I was okay with it.  As long as everything else stayed the same and I could still pretend that Santa was real even though I knew he wasn’t, things were cool.

Others may feel betrayed – as my son did when the curtain was pulled back on this part of his childhood.  To this day I still feel awful as I recall the hurt in his eyes as he incredulously accused, “you mean. . . you’ve been LYING to me all these years???”  Yes, that was a bad, ugly day.

And, some may cry. So. Many. Tears.  It can be a momentous event – having doubts, kids turn to their parents for confirmation of Santa’s existence, only to find out otherwise. Help kids feel better with an explanation that, although he’s not any one real person (but really mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, etc.), the symbolism of Santa Claus embodies the true spirit of Christmas – the joy of giving and putting others first.  Remind them how wonderful it feels to be with family and friends, the special traditions you share at this time of year, the significance of any religious customs in your family, and reassure them that there will still indeed be presents on Christmas morning!  Let them know that the Christmas spirit is very real, even if Santa Claus isn’t.

Enlist their help: This is a good time to let them know what an important role they can play in the preparations if they feel ready for it.  Now that they know “the truth,” they can help in making the holiday special for the younger members of the family. Recruit them to help shop, wrap presents and fill stockings. Have them help the younger kids with their letters to Santa. Asking them for their help in maintaining the tradition will add a positive new dimension to the experience.

A sympathetic ear and a positive outlook can help take the sting out of the big reveal.  After the shock wore off (and he was able to trust me again), my son began to enjoy taking a more grown-up role in the preparation and festivities of the Christmas season, and keeping the lie –  I mean, the magic – of Santa Claus alive for the little ones in our family (and the big ones, too!).

Have you had to face the “Santa Situation” with your kids yet?  How did you handle it?  Let me know in the comments!

family corner contributor badge

Help for Homework Hassles

keep calmNow that the holiday season is officially underway, homework is probably the last thing on any kid’s mind!   But with  the first quarter of the school year over and report cards distributed, this might be a good time to check in with your child and review how he or she is handling the workload.  Are they feeling overwhelmed?  How are they doing prioritizing tasks and juggling projects?  And the homework – do they need help in organizing assignments or just getting down to work?  The task of completing homework can sometimes be a battleground that affects both a child’s self-esteem and your relationship with your child.  Here are some tips from a piece I wrote for FamilyCorner.com about developing a homework routine for your child that can help take the hassle out of homework:

Expectations:  Examine the school’s homework expectations and guidelines, then discuss them and your own expectations with your child regarding  how long to spend on homework each evening and/or any goals for the upcoming semester.  Make sure the two of you are on the same page regarding these expectations.

Set up a calendar:   A visual aide like this can help with long-term planning and setting priorities.  Make note of assignment and project due dates as well as test dates.  Advise your child to get the phone numbers of his ‘homework buddies’ – two other students in his classes whom he can call in case of missed assignments or notes – and write these numbers on the calendar.

Concentration takes energy:  No one works well on an empty stomach.  Offer a healthy snack before they sit down to begin homework.

Set up a time and space for homework to happen:  For some kids, that means starting homework right after school; others may need a little time to unwind.  Agree on a start time and stick to it.  Set up a space that’s conducive for work, be it the desk in his room or the kitchen or dining room table.  This space should be away from distractions like the television or computer (unless it’s necessary to complete homework).  Stock the space with the necessary supplies (paper, pencils, pens, rulers, etc.) to complete homework with minimal interruptions.

Be the fly on the wall:  You don’t want to do their homework for them, but let them know you’re there if they need help (or a little encouragement!).

Packing up:  At the end of the homework session have your child neatly put away all papers, binders/folders and supplies into their backpack.  It’s better to do this the night before than the following morning when it’s more likely that something might be forgotten.

If they need extra help:  There is often a ‘homework help’ period available after school with a teacher or a peer tutor.  Check if this is available at your school or if something can be arranged if your child is having trouble managing the homework load.

Will your child be writing a book report over the school break?  Check out Tips to Help Your Child Write A Successful Book Report for some ideas to organize the process.

family corner contributor badge

Plugging in when your middle-schooler wants to cut the cord

I’m always looking for opportunities to stay involved in my son’s educational experience, which has gotten a little trickier since he moved up to middle school.  In elementary school, there were more ways for me to feel plugged in to his experience, as well as to engage with teachers and staff.   Now there are no more apple picking trips, family dance nights or in-class birthday/ Halloween/ Valentine’s Day/Thanksgiving  celebrations (that I’m allowed to attend, anyway).  The elementary school felt like an extension of home – my son would run up to me and give me a hug if he saw me in the hallway while dropping off books for the book fair or volunteering in the cafeteria on pizza Fridays.  Although I have a wonderful relationship with his teacher and staff at the middle school, sometimes I feel like an  interloper; kids I’ve known since they were in kindergarten look at me like an alien life form if they see me anywhere in the vicinity of the middle school.  I feel as though they think that the anti-bacterial dispensers stationed in the hallways should contain parent repellent instead of Purell.  And (sniffle) I’ve seen my son do a double-take if I show up unexpectedly in the hallway, like “uh, what’s she doing here?”

I found some great suggestions for staying actively involved in your child’s school while he or she is trying mightily to pretend that you don’t exist in  10 Tips for Middle School Parents via SchoolFamily.com:

  1. Get to know the teachers. It’s a good idea to meet each of your child’s teachers.  Ask about their expectations. Find out how much time your child should spend on homework each night. Find out whether there will be regularly scheduled tests and if so, when. Ask about the best way to get in touch if you have questions. If the teachers use email, be sure to get their addresses.
  2. Find a niche for yourself at your child’s school. Unlike in the lower grades, middle school classrooms don’t need extra adults on hand. But you can volunteer in other ways.  Serve as an adviser for an extracurricular activity such as the school paper, chess club, or science fair. Help out in the computer lab. Being in the school is a great way to get a feel for what goes on there.
  3. Do behind-the-scenes work. If you can’t be in school during the day, ask teachers and other school personnel to pass along some work that you can do on your own. Photocopy homework assignments; collect recyclables for a science or art project; serve on a parent-school advisory council; join your middle school PTO or PTA.
  4. Volunteer to chaperone school dances and drive kids to school sports competitions. You’ll meet other parents, school staff, and your child’s classmates.
  5. Go to school meetings and events. Attending concerts, plays, assemblies, meetings, and other activities is a good way to become familiar with your child’s school community.
  6. Find out about homework assignments and school tests. If your school has a website where teachers list homework assignments, get in the habit of checking it regularly. If not, contact your child’s teachers and ask them to alert you when there’s an important project or test coming up.
  7. Talk to your child about school. Ask specific questions to draw out your child. Ask “How do you think you did on the math test?” “Did Mr. Phipps say anything funny today?” “What games did you play in PE?”
  8. Give your child a quiet place to study and do homework. Find an area in your home that is free of distraction where your middle schooler can concentrate on homework. Be available to help if your child has a question.
  9. Check your child’s homework, but don’t do it for her. Offer to check math problems, proofread written papers, and look over spelling words. If you find a mistake, point it out to your child and help her figure out the correct answer.
  10. Post a family calendar in a central place. Write down important school dates, including parent meetings, due dates for projects, and tests. Encourage your middle schooler to add to the calendar and to check it daily. 
Middle school can be a confusing time for everyone, so  I’m all in favor of anything that keeps me in the loop in the most unobtrusive way possible.  I know it’s healthy and inevitable for our middle-schoolers to start asserting some independence but, whether they realize it or not, they need us now more than ever, right?  Someone validate me, please (I don’t think my middle-schooler is going to)!

plug in!

How do you check in with your middle-schooler and stay involved in the school scene?  All suggestions are welcome!

time for mom button

Photo courtesy of Mom Meets Blog

Tips for Playroom Organization

Many  happy hours have been whiled away in my son’s playroom, imagining and dreaming with little trains, planes and automobiles strewn in every corner.  It’s also been the site of a few mishaps – as cute as that little Mini Cooper is, stepping on it with a bare foot is a painful encounter!  After some trial and error, here are the organizing solutions that have worked best for me:

  • Before you embark on any organizing mission, if there is a closet in the playroom, clean it out.  That closet will become command central for your kids and their toys, and if they see it organized nicely and can find their toys easily, chances are (maybe) they’ll try to keep it that way.
  • Clear plastic shoe organizers hung on the back of a door or inside a closet door are great “garages” for little cars and other small toys.
  • For instant de-cluttering, make use of plastic storage bins or baskets that can be stored in the closet or under a bed.   Check out The Container Store or even dollar stores for colorful baskets in many sizes and shapes at reasonable prices.
  •  Make use of the vertical space in a room with wall shelves.  For a decorator look, paint the wall a funky accent color before you put up shelves.  I once painted a wall in the playroom fire-engine red and put up elfa shelves like these – they put the fun in functional.

  • Save those shoeboxes and the planet!  Have your kids color and decorate them for creative, homemade storage that can also be used to grace the shelves you just installed.  Nothing says “playroom” like a storage box with a big pair of jiggling googly eyes staring out at you.

  • Make use of double duty furniture.  When buying my son’s big boy bed, I made sure it was both comfy and had drawers for storage (his favorite place for stowing away Legos).  And that good old-fashioned toy chest?  Put a decorative pillow or cushion on the lid for extra seating.
  • Don’t overlook Ziploc plastic bags for labeling and organizing puzzle pieces and doll accessories (and more Legos).
  • Book cases are great for mixed use storage.  Add some baskets filled with toys alongside the books for a neat, organized look.
  • Repurpose what you have at home by thinking outside the box – in this case, tool boxes, old Tupperware, anything that’s not being used for its original purpose but still has storage capacity can be used to store dolls, action figures, whatever needs a home.

The idea is to mix and match the solutions that work for you.  Pay attention to how and when your kids play with and use their toys, and match your organizing solution to their usage.  If some toys are used every day, maybe an open basket on the floor where the toys are easily accessible (and can be put in a closet or rolled under the bed at the end of the day) is the right fit.  Perhaps other toys that are used more infrequently can go up on a shelf or in a closet.  And toys that aren’t used any longer and still in good condition can be donated to charity or, if your kids are older, check and see if their old preschool can make use of them.

Everyone is going to have a different take on organizing, but I’ve found that whatever works for you is the right solution.  Be creative, have fun, and happy organizing!