Our Favorite Story Time

Do you listen to podcasts? Do your kids listen? I have found such great learning experiences with many podcasts, I talk about some in this blog post and how we use them in our homeschool. That particular blog was written before I stumbled across the podcast I will be talking about today.

Circle Round Podcast. Great for adults who love to listen to stories and great for kids to build Theory of Mind as well as something everyone can agree on!

I am always on the search for podcasts. I have a few favorites, but I am always hoping to find something fun and interesting that I/we can learn something from. I have my just-for-mommy podcasts and I have some that I will gladly play for the girls any time they ask.

We listen while playing in a sensory bin, instead of me reading out loud at bedtime, in the car, while I make dinner, on no-tv days where they are getting too worked up, while they play outside, or even while they take a bubble bath!

With Circle Round, my girls have been asking for episodes by name! I surprise them every Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday if I haven’t been online much on Tuesday) with the newest installment. I always get a little bit giddy when it shows up in my RSS feed.

Personally, I love folktales and stories. I love being transported to a world where I need to think and ponder the events, to get out of my own head. I have yet to find the perfect just-for-mommy version of this, so I just love how Circle Round is not just a kids podcast. It really does rope in the grown ups as well!

I also love that at the beginning of each podcast, they say where the story is told. We have had to look at our world map to see where Thailand, Sweden, Nigeria, and Asia are located and I explain that people live there who have had the story told to them by their great grandparents (It is hard to explain generations to 4 and 6 year olds who have no concept of what day it is let alone the concept of time!).

Bug’s favorite story so far is called Onions and Garlic. She loves the actors’ intonation and silliness. This has been the go-to when we get in the car and I ask : Story or Music? and they respond with: STORY! 9 out of 10 times. I will then ask which story. Sometimes they want to listen to Stella And The Dragon, or The Princess In The Mirror. The Rice Cakes And The Oni sparked her curiosity to learn about mythical beasts and we went to find a book on mythical beasts at our local used book store. We learned about how it is mean to make fun of people in The Barber’s Secret, and we heard a folk tale about Why The Ocean Is Salty.

There are so many things to learn while listening to this great podcast. My girls ask a LOT of questions…why did she do that? Why is he talking like that? Why isn’t he happy? They are learning to think and question the world around them.

This is what Theory Of Mind is.

Theory Of Mind is how someone thinks and responds to other people’s thoughts. It is “the idea that each child develops an understanding of their own thoughts, desires, and beliefs—and can recognize that other people have their own thoughts, desires, and beliefs”.

Story telling is so important for building this skill. Asking questions is important for them to be able to understand other people having different ideas in a situation.

I know at leas, or especially, with Six, I can tire easily from all the “why” questions she throws at me all day every day. But I take a deep breath and remember that she truly does not know. She is still trying to understand the world around her and asking why to every.single.thing is her way of learning.

Bug is still learning that she can ask questions. When she starts asking, boy, she just won’t stop! Building Theory Of Mind in kids with autism can be a challenge. People with autism can sometimes not understand that other people around them have their own plans, thoughts, points of view, beliefs, and emotions. I am certainly no expert in how to help everyone with that difficulty, but every single article I have read of Theory of Mind, has said that reading stories can really build that skill.

I love that Circle Round was created for kids but is engaging for the grown ups as well. I love that it makes us all thinks and ask questions and maybe even learn a lesson in among the tale.

Not only do they produce a podcast every Tuesday, they also have coloring pages* for each of their stories available here. So for those of you homeschoolers out there, having your kiddo color one of these pages before/during/after listening to the podcast, can count for Social Studies and Art!

I hope that by sharing this podcast with you, I have helped build the desire to listen and learn. I wish for all of you to be as excited about this podcast as we are every week. Keep answering all the Whys, keep telling stories, and keep the spark to learn alive.

 

*If you do a coloring page and have an Instagram account, tag #CircleRound so they can see your artwork!

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Have A Whale Of A Time! A Review.

Fun fact: the phrase “a whale of a time” was coined around 1910 and of course means a great deal of fun. Not relevant to the review, but just another wrinkle for you!

Math is hard. I am not a math person. My dad and Hubby have math brains, Auntie Fred has a masters in physics, and I am over here drawing pictures to figure out how to triple a recipe. Cooking math is as hard as I get. Even percentages throw me, I have to break out the calculator (the one every math teacher growing up said I wouldn’t always have with me to do math problems) to figure out how much something will be on sale at the store.

So when we started homeschooling, Hubby and I agreed he would do math. Well that hasn’t always worked out with his work schedule, so I have had to face my stress-inducing subject and learn how to teach Bug math. Hubby still does a lot of math games and such with her, but we have very different teaching methods and strengths. Hes plays with hundred blocks, I play with Mobi.

We were actually sent the Mobi original by an out-of-state relative who lives less than a mile away from the best toy store I have ever seen. I had no idea what it was when I opened up the box and saw a whale. I thought it was a stuffed animal at first! I opened it up and saw it was a game much like Bananagrams and was instantly hooked!

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Playing with Mobi original was a weekly occurrence through our first year of homeschooling.

Then. Mobi came out with a new game…MobiKids. I was so excited! And after a lot of searching local stores and finding nothing, Hubby surprised me and bought MobiKids!! Now we have both! One can go in our to-go bag and one can stay in the house!

Now that we have both, I wanted to share the differences between the original Mobi and MobiKids. So for those of you reading who are not sure which version would be right for you and your kiddo, you can make an informed decision.

First, price. I was gifted the original, but it is $20 on Amazon. Also found on Amazon is the MobiKids for $17. Both are prime as well. If you are lucky enough to live near a toy store, you will most likely be able to find the original. MobiKids was just recently released in August of this year (2017), so it hasn’t made all the rounds yet.

So, the original Mobi served us well for our first year homeschooling. We played many different games with the tiles, none of which were probably intended when it was created, but we have never played any game how it is intended! We used flat marbles to represent the numbers, we played a similar game to find the sound (which we play often with our Word-A-Melon); find the number. I would pick a number tile out of Mobi and tell the girls to find two of something, or something with five or more stripes, or something that had four legs (usually our kitty).

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The original Mobi was great. Then we got MobiKids. The tiles are brighter colors, it comes with an activity booklet that I got lots of ideas from, and there are less math symbol tiles. There is only addition, subtraction and equal signs; Original Mobi has multiplication and division symbols as well.

MobiKids was an instant hit solely because of the colors! My girls love bright colors so they were so excited to start playing. We took it outside and played on our picnic blanket in the sun. We lined up the numbers 1-10, Bug HAD to find all the equal signs and put them in a line, Six was super confused because the 6 and 9 tiles are interchangeable and she couldn’t wrap her little brain around that concept (she’s four, we give her a break).

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We came inside and found our shape blocks and found the number of sides they each had and put the number tile with them. We counted how many legs their toys had, and we had to line up more equal signs.

Overall, the MobiKids is a much better fit for us. And I love the Mobi games in the little booklet. I would definitely recommend Mobi original or kids for any homeschooler. There are so many ways to adapt and play to fit your needs and it makes math fun which, to me, is very important.

We will continue to use MobiKids in our homeschool and keep Mobioriginal in our to-go bag for when we are out and about and have a moment to play a game. These are really great games as well because they don’t take up a ton of room. Board games are one of my most frustrating things to organize and with pouch games we can just throw them in a basket. Or if you want to be silly, like we are, you can get a fruit stand for all your pouch games!

I hope you will check out Mobi games and find one that will work for you! They are really great resources and fun, interactive, hands-on learning tools!

Homeschooling On A Budget

Homeschooling can be expensive. Curriculums and games and toys and supplies can all cost a pretty penny. But I am here to help you if you don’t want to spend a fortune on homeschooling and still be successful.

Through our charter we have a budget for the year. This budget covers on-site classes, curriculums, games, toys, supplies, and even local classes. If the item is non-consumable (teachers guides, toys that aren’t made, books, etc) we have to return it to the charter eventually; if we ever leave the school or we no longer have a need for it. BUT I am a weirdo and don’t want to give things back. This is probably one of the main reasons we have so much stuff because I become attached to all our stuff and never want to get rid of it. But I digress.

So, because I want to keep the things we have our eye on, we buy them ourselves.

There are a few things we do get through our budget: printer paper and ink, gymnastics classes once a week, two on-site classes a semester and curriculums we don’t actually use but we get to keep our CT happy.

Most of the things we use on a daily basis, however, we bought or were gifted to us. So I would like to share some tips to not break the bank as well as some of our most-used, favorite homeschool must-haves.

First up: homeschooling on a budget.

  1. Shop around. Walmart, the Dollar Store, and even Target and Costco have workbooks, and of course school supplies. I was shocked when I went to our local Dollar Store for buckets and found half an aisle of beginning writing paper, workbooks, flash cards, calenders, and learning supplies.
  2. Yard Sales, curriculum shares/swaps, craigslist, and sales/clearance. I have found so many amazing toys and learning resources at yard sales, and have been fortunate (and unlucky) to live in a town that has lost a few awesome toy and school supply stores. So when they went out of business, I jumped on a ton of sale and clearance items that cost over half off of original prices!
  3. Share. Do you know any homeschoolers in your area? Maybe they have a kiddo a little older than yours? Ask if they have any unused or lightly used curriculums if you are going the curriculum route. Ask what their favorite homeschool resources are and ask to borrow them.
  4. Library! If you are not following a curriculum and are going more in the delight-directed homeschool route (aka unschooling), the library is an awesome place for resources. Our library had videos, CDs, books on tape and so much more besides books as well as some free classes and events.
  5. DIY. Getting an all-in-one curriculum sounds so nice, and there are some great ones out there! But if you are anything like us, a full-blown curriculum just doesn’t work for you. That isn’t the end of the world! There are still tons of stuff you can do to keep up learning! Podcasts, Youtube, the library, field trips, games, and so many more. One of my favorite bloggers Jill Krause has recently embarked on a homeschooling journey with two of her four kids and she has a fantastic idea for getting homeschooling done in a fun way! You can check that out here.
  6. Wish Lists. I am a HUGE fan of Amazon wish lists. I’m not going to lie, I abuse the wish list button a lot. I have so many wish lists for so many different things. But it has been really great for birthdays and Christmas. My family is awesome at asking what we would like or what we already have, so I create a wish list each birthday/Christmas and share it with them. My mom will usually take the items on my list as suggestions and get a ton of similar items, whereas my sister and aunt stick to the list. Either way is great, we are getting toys and games and books that will support us in our homeschool journey because our family wants us to be successful.

Next: homeschool must-haves

  1. A Laminator. You may think this is a frivolous purchase, but let me tell you something: this is my most used homeschool-related gadget. I use this thing so much sometimes I have to turn it off to let it cool down because I have been using it all day. You can make worksheets reusable to be used with a white-board marker, you can make your own books or photo albums, you can preserve artwork (I have many subject dividers in my homeschool binder that are the girls’ artwork), you can do so many things with a simple laminator. We got ours on sale for under $25!
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    Hey! Laminating another favorite!
  2. Bananagrams. I genuinely love all the Bananagrams products. We started with the original banana and it was great, but then we were given the My First banana, and Word-A-Melon and they have changed our homeschool days. We use one or both of these games DAILY. I’m not kidding, they are amazing! The original and My First bananas are $15 on the Bananagrams website or at Target!
  3. Rory’s Story Cubes. I go into depth about how we use these in my blog post, but in a nutshell; use to build imagination, a speech building game or to practice writing! There are MANY different packs/themes you can find, all of which I want desperately! But the original 3 packs can be found at Target for $8 each! We loved them so much I gifted one pack each to our Speech therapist and resource teacher at our charter.

  4. Mobi. I plan to do a review of Mobi Kids if I ever get my hands on one! But for now I will tell you about the original Mobi. This is another zipper-pouch game (we have a thing for pouch games apparently!), that is full of number tiles and math symbols. Think Bananagrams for math equations. There are so many uses for this game and not just as it is intended to be used. This is an ongoing theme in our homeschool, I don’t think we use many things as they were intended. But, this is a wonderful math skills game!20170324_183533-1
  5. Chapter books for reading out loud and Level Readers. We are raising readers in this household. My girls LOVE reading/looking through books/being read to. We have found bunches of children’s books, chapter books and level readers at yard sales, used book stores and curriculum swaps. They can be up to $5 at our local (tiny) toy store, or Target, but if you find clearance books they can be $2-3, or at used book stores for $1-2. Shop around! Chapter books such as The BFG or The Phantom Tollbooth are great for reading out loud. We read a LOT, we usually get through one chapter book a week. I have noticed a significant difference in both girls’ language since we started reading together last year.

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    Our last used book store haul!
  6. A basic all-in-one workbook (Brainquest or Scholastic brands can be found at Costco and Target). For us, we don’t follow one curriculum. I am currently in the middle of writing my own all-in-one lesson plan/curriculum I hope to publish someday soon. But for now, I jump around from book to book of the curriculums we bought through our charter. However, I have returned more often than not to the $15 Scholastic workbook Gwama got us at Costco (we don’t have a membership). It is really straightforward and laid out well. Because of Bug’s hatred of worksheets though, we don’t usually finish or use the worksheets, but I use them to play a game off of: let’s spell this word, let’s do this math problem etc.
  7. Internet + Printer; if you have access to the internet and a printer, you can do anything! I have Googled what 1st graders are taught or are expected to know at the end of the year and have based our learning off those guidelines. I have printed off worksheets and games and made our own Velcro game binder. I have found board games and their rules that I have printed and laminated then 3-hole punched and put in our binder.

These must-haves truly got us through our first year of homeschool. We made them a bigger part of this year’s homeschool after seeing how well they worked for Bug last year.

I was not paid for any of my reviews, I genuinely love using these products, and we love how versatile they can be. If you can think outside the box, you can think of some fun games to play, adding some fun to your daily homeschool!

I wish you luck on your homeschool journey. Please know, though, that just because someone is doing something, doesn’t mean you have to. That is the beauty of homeschooling, you do what works for you and your kiddo and family. Don’t let anyone tell you you are doing it wrong; if you are moving forward, if your kids are learning, then you are doing a great job.

 

Tell Me A Story. A Review.

Story cubes. A mystical game I learned about 3 weeks into our first year of homeschooling last year. As soon as I saw them I knew we needed them and I wished I had had them when I was in school. They would’ve made my short stories much more interesting I think.

There are a surprising number of companies that have a story cube product, but none have compared to Rory’s Story Cubes. This company is brilliant. When I bought our first two collections at Target ($8 each!) I had no idea we would become so addicted to adding to our collection.

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We have bought or been gifted by family: The original 9 story cubes in regular and jumbo size (aka Max), Voyages (9 cubes), Actions (9 cubes), Prehistoria (3 cubes), Enchanted (3 cubes), Clues (3 cubes), and probably my favorite Looney Toons (9 cubes).

One day we will own the rest. Maybe even all of their Storyworlds! But for sure the Mixes.

They are so fun and come in great carrying cases (if you get the packs with more than 3 dice) so they are portable and small (unless you get the Story Cubes Max) so it can fit easily in a purse or a backpack. We have taken them on our mommy-Bug doughnut dates at our local coffee shop where we have just rolled and came up with fun stories without worrying about writing it down or anything.

For us, we don’t use every single dice every single time. We have actually never used all nine dice ever. It is just too much right now. But that is the beauty of games like this, you can adapt it to fit your needs. And Bug’s needs mean using no more than four, but usually three at a time.

You can mix and match too. I personally love the stories that come from using 1 Prehistoric dice, 1 Enchanted dice, and 1 Action dice. We have had dinosaurs tripping over a glass slipper and volcanoes jumping on little old witches.

We are silly and I love it.

Right now we use story cubes for many things in our homeschool:

  1. Speech practice. The cubes have no words on them so we have to come up with a word for it. We can talk about what it looks like, what letter sound does it start with, what it can do.
  2. Imagination. Believe it or not, imaginative play actually had to be taught to Bug. But once she understood that she could be silly and use her imagination, she has not stopped. Using the cubes has kept her on her toes.
  3. Drawing/writing practice. With the way we are doing things now, Bug isn’t writing anything (this will be its own blog post soon), so when she creates a story I write it down. She is seeing that her thoughts and ideas are valid and real when we read it back together. Then she can draw a picture or tell me what to draw. Before her writing-ban, I had her help me write down a word or simple sentence from her story.
  4. Sharing. This may seem like a crazy way to do things, but when we get Six involved she always wants her own turn. BUT, I was losing the other’s interest if I had them take turns doing their own story. So, instead, we roll however many dice we picked out and each of them takes a turn telling me part of the story with every other dice. They still get to do their own stories, just on the days where each parent has a Jellybean each!

We have done a few themed-days where we have used a certain set of story cubes. we have had princess day where we only used the Enchanted set of three dice. We have had a Looney Toons day where we watched Looney Toons and made up a ton of our own stories. My personal favorite has to be dinosaur day (which included dino-foot painting and a dino bubble bath as well as rice krispy dino eggs for dessert!).

We have also gifted a set to our amazing Resource teacher at our charter as well as our speech therapist team at the charter, too. They are amazing teachers and thought they would love them as much as I do. Hopefully they do!

We will continue to add to our collection slowly but surely. We love Rory’s story cubes and share our love with anyone who will listen to me talk about homeschooling! They are a fun and sneakily educational game that is one of our must-haves for homeschooling, along with a laminator or any of the Bananagrams games (find reviews for FOUR of their amazing products here, here, here or here!)

I sincerely hope you will check out Rory’s Story Cubes products and love them as much as we do!

Welcome To The (Banana) Party!! A Review

This review took much too long to do! But in my defense I don’t have parties, so I had to badger Uncle C to come over and play Bananagrams Party Edition so I could do a proper review. That’s a lie, I offered him veggie pot pies and cookies, Hubby suggested video games till 3 am and he came right over. An introvert nerd party.

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Hubby looking up a word. Homeschool table a mess. Fun game.

The wonderful folks at Bananagrams were kind enough to send me the Party Edition a few months ago. I have actually been rotating the Party banana with the WildTiles, Original and My First bananas in our homeschool, but you can see how we use those here. For this review I wanted to use the game as it was intended! I know, it’s a crazy idea, stay with me!

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We ate some yummy food, sent the girls to bed and took over the homeschool table. After reading the rules and instructions, we decided, since there was only three of us and because we were playing for the first time, that we wouldn’t use all the party tiles. We ended up using six of the fourteen party tiles and that was perfect for the first time with three players.

We spilled out all the letter tiles and Uncle C arranged them into a perfect square while we were reading the instructions. We picked our 21 starting tiles and called out SPLIT to start.

Party Cube
Party Cube

We quickly tried to make a grid with our letters. Amazingly I finished first and yelled PEEL a little to loudly. We grabbed another tile each and I had picked a party tile. Right off the bat! I happened to pick the pouch head tile and gifted it to Uncle C. For the rest of the game he got to wear the banana pouch on his head; he even forgot about it and we waited to see how long it would take him after our game was finished to realize it was still there. 23 minutes!

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Pouch Head

 

Even with taking pictures, I got PEEL again and grabbed another party tile! I gave it to Hubby…it was a Switcheroo. I should not have played it on him. He left me with an X, Z and W!

Hardest letters ever!
X, Z and W?!

I ended up DUMPing the X, Z and W tiles but in exchange I had to pick 3 tiles per tile I put back. Ended up working great, honestly. Even with nine extra tiles I still got PEEL before the guys did on that round!

 

After saying PEEL, Hubby got a party tile and gifted it to me. It was the Single-Handed. It doesn’t sound like much of a challenge till you are racing to make a word grid first! With one hand behind my back I rearranged my tiles but Uncle C beat me to PEEL.

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I started over there!

We played for a good 2 hours. We did take a cookie break somewhere in there. But we ended up playing three games total. It is a really fun and silly game, especially when Hubby and I both played a party tile on Uncle C at the same time! He turned into a Thumb-less Flamingo and it was hilarious. No picture of that due to the amount of laughter that was going on.

We keep the Party Edition on top of our bookshelf now, where Uncle C charges his phone when he is over. We have played almost every time he has been over except a couple times where we have decided to try Word-A-Melon (following the actual rules…this won’t turn into a habit I promise) or the Original Bananagrams if one of the Jellybeans have used the other banana as a baby and cannot be found (happens more than you’d think!).

Next time we play I will take some better-lit pictures…especially if the Flamingo party tile is played because that was hysterical. Uncle C has the same balance Six has and it made me laugh a lot! Poor Uncle C, I’ll have to make him more cookies for laughing WITH him so much during this game.

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My vote is to check out all of Bananagrams’ products and find one that fits you best! I personally LOVE all the Bananagrams products we own; we use them daily in our homeschool as well as when our power goes out or Uncle C visits, or when Auntie Fred is visiting and staying at our parents’ house. They are portable, easy to play with and laugh-inducing.

A laminator and a Bananagrams banana are a homeschool must! Use it as it is intended or not, they are a great addition to a homeschool or a word-loving family. Have a Party!!

Words and Fruit: A Review

It’s no secret that this family loves Bananagrams games, kind of obsessively. Well they have done it again.

Bananagrams just came out with an amazing new game, that they were kind enough to send us. Word-A-Melon. It is another amazing game and learning resource. And of course I didn’t use it as they probably intended.

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Firstly though, guys. The packaging and container. Is so stinking cute. They really got this so right. When you first open that zipper, and open the little flap, there is rind! Ha! it made me giggle. The rind has the instructions on it and ideas of how you could play with it.

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Rind!

Opening this game up with my girls was like Christmas morning for all of us. We don’t get a lot of large mail like this, so when “the ups man” dropped it off I had already turned giddy and the girls were hot on my tail watching me open the box. I sat on the floor with them and we inspected the pouch and talked about what it looked like. They insisted it had to be named Walter, after a cake that Yolanda of How To Cake It makes, one of our favorite cake videos ever of hers.

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We opened up the pouch, had a giggle about the rind, then pulled out the “jaw” as we have started calling it….we have watched too many shark videos, but I will give my girls credit for this one because it is kind of the same shape as a set of jaws!

I took a few minutes to set it up how the instructions say to, and kind of playing around with the concept while the girls and I talked about the seeds, the letter tiles, and how they aren’t real seeds but are supposed to look like them, and how now they want to plant a “watermaymow”. Then they found the dice and they were so confused by it! It was actually pretty cute to see them go from confused to giggling about it. The dice has 3 numbers on it, two 3’s, two 4’s and two 5’s, they are used to the traditional D6 with 1-6.

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Okay Okay, I will explain how to “actually” use this awesome fruit. So, the way Bananagrams suggests you play is this. You put all the seeds (letter tiles) face down in the circles, you roll the dice and you flip over that many seeds then create a word using those letters. So if you roll a four on the dice, then flip over four seeds. If you can only make a 3 letter word, then take the letters you used and flip over the unused letter seed. One word per turn! Whoever has the most seeds at the end of the game is the winner!

Since my kiddos are still working on basic words, I had to tweak the original guidelines to fit our needs.

So, first we decided to crack open a Highlights magazine. Bug is kind of obsessed with them, and you can tell that they are well loved. She picked her favorite (of the day) and turned to her favorite (of the day) page. we took turns flipping seeds and finding something in the picture that started with that letter/sound. It was great to work on letter sounds with Six as well!

Then after about a half hour of talking about all the silly things happening on the page and finding ten matches for the letters we flipped over, we tried another game. Similar to one we played with our My First Bananagrams that you can find here, we flipped over the seeds and went on a toy hunt around the living room to find toys that started with that sound.

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A cup, snail, bus and unicorn

They have played this particular letter sound game with the My First Bananagrams, so they wanted to do something different. So I kicked it up a notch and broke out one of our new flash cards. This game, I’m not going to lie, took a loooonnnnggg time. But they were enjoying it and were engaged and actually doing a great job. So I think the lesson learned was that mommy needs to work on patience!

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The girls chose the space flash cards, and I had the grand idea that we were going to spell out the names. So yes, we sounded out each of the five cards we picked out and spelled out the word using the seeds. I flipped all the seeds letter side up and that in and of itself turned into a game of what letter did I just flip over? What sound does it make? Then they found matches.

Then we finally got into the flash cards. I had them each pick two and I picked one. I even had to ask daddy to start dinner because it was taking a lot longer than I had anticipated. But it was a great learning experience for all of us.

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Word-A-Melon is an awesome game that has so many possibilities! I have a few other ideas that include the dreaded pencil and paper, half the letters flipped, learning names, and finding words in books we read.

I truly love Bananagrams and all their games, we have quite a few of them and have never been let down. I highly suggest you check them out, especially if you homeschool! They make a great learning game or just play for fun (and they don’t know they are learning!).  I will continue to collect their fruits and other games and can guarantee we will continue to love them!

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Our very favorites! Not included is the original Bananagrams, Party Edition, and Wild Tiles.

If you want to read more about other Bananagrams products I have loved and reviewed, check out My First Bananagrams here and the perfect date night game here.

 

 

Date Night Game For Two. A Review.

There are very few games that both my husband and I like, that are also great for our girls to play with as well. The girl’s don’t understand how to play Munchkin and that needs more than two people, we really dislike Monopoly even though I have an awesome I Love Lucy collectors edition Monopoly game, Clue needs more than two people, and Exploding Kittens just doesn’t seem like an awesome little kids game.

We love playing with Bananagrams though! It is an awesome game for my hubby and I to play together and awesome for the girls to play with and be able to learn from. I did a review for the My First Bananagrams here, and we still use them daily and have taken them with us on many occasions.

This is where ZipIt comes in. ZipIt is from the Bananagrams arsenal of games which, in my book, makes it automatically great. So when Bananagrams sent me a ZipIt game, I was so excited to do a review!

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I wanted to be able to use this game not only for my hubby and I to play, but for the girls in our homeschool as well. It didn’t take too long for me to come up with a few ways to use them not as their intended purpose.

This game is so addicting! It did take me watching the Bananagram’s youtube video on how it is played for me to fully understand, but I can be a little slow on the draw sometimes. If you have played the original Bananagrams then you are sure to love Zipit. It is a little more challenging, which makes it a bit more fun!

So what is this magical game I keep gushing about?! Fine, I’ll tell you!

It is a word game made of dice with letters on them instead of numbers. This is what makes the game a bit more challenging than the regular Bananagram game; you have to look on all sides of the dice to find the letter you need to complete a word! There are 24 dice so you and a partner split them evenly, roll them all up and try to beat the other by forming a word grid using all your dice before they do! Then you are able to keep score with the two zippers on the sides of the carrying case.

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The yellow zippered side is winning…that would be my hubby!

I have won three games out of the dozens my hubby and I have played. His brain is just so much faster than mine is at coming up with words. I do credit that to him having a job outside the house. I argue with an almost 4 year old all day, my word arsenal is not up to par to talking with adults any longer let alone a fast-paced word game! That doesn’t stop me from having fun playing though! I still want to play even though I will most likely be beaten!

We have even made our weekly dates include ZipIt. Yes we have weekly dates, and yes 99% of the time they do not involve leaving the house because babysitter. So for this particular one we broke out the frozen Girl Scout Thin Mints and went outside on the table that is still set up from our bubble art, put down a quilt that my great great grandma made, made our respective drinks (yes that is a Fallout mug–I married a nerd), and played till it got too chilly! And of course I lost again. I will keep playing till I loose no longer! And then I will play some more.

We have played on the rug while the girls color or look at books as well. I feel it is a good thing for them to see mommy and daddy playing together so they know how to act when they play a game, and also if they come over to watch we will sound out our words for them after the round so they can know what the heck we are doing!

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See the numbers on the side there? That is the score card! the zipper keeps track of the score…ZipIt!

My hubby and I have played this game a LOT since we received it. It will for sure be a game I share about and play with others when given the opportunity (read: when I get to hang out with other adults in a non-meeting setting!). It is easy to pick up and easy to get addicted to! I am someone who loves Scrabble and Bookworm and word puzzles so this is just a great game to me.

There are also alternate rules included, or think up your own! We have a no proper noun rule, as in Scrabble, but not a no two letter word rule as we do follow in Scrabble; you totally could though. One alternate rule play I would love to do but could guarantee would end horribly is a Palindrome ZipIt! Where you can earn an extra two points for playing a palindrome word OR kick it up a notch and only play palindromes! That would be so hard for me, but sounds like a lot of fun! Or try long word, rhyming, only four letter words, or just words that start with G. There are so many ways to play to keep it fun and exciting!

I was also very determined to create ways to use ZipIt so that our girls would be able to use it as well. It wasn’t as hard as I originally thought it would be. It is almost exactly like Bananagrams except a lot less pieces. So we tried using the ZipIt pieces with some of our tried and true Bananagrams games: flash cards, say it/build it/ make it worksheet, spelling out words from books. All of those ideas worked great! But I wanted something new and different.

I actually got the idea from the Bananagrams Facebook page, they had shared a picture of someone using Bananagrams tiles in a way to teach letter sounds and words and I jumped on that! It was an awesome idea so I adapted it to fit our needs.

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Letter sounds, beginning sounds, double sounds, simple words. These things are versatile and awesome!

We worked really hard on this game! We collected a few things from the toy boxes and I just kind of went with what they were trying to describe that thing as. The Mr. Brown book is a big deal here, both girls can read most of the words and they LOVE making the sounds, so the -oo sound in moo was the first thing they wanted to try to make. They found two O’s and we practiced making that sound and giggled at how our lips looked making it! The egg is green so we found the G sound in the bag. Boot starts with a B sound, and so on.

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Six making the words BUS

ZipIt is a game I would highly suggest you check out! It is awesome for both adults and kids! I found a few good ways to use them that were not their intended purpose, as well as a few rules to play by when my hubby and I play as it was intended to be played.

Versatile, easy, fun, compact, and addicting! I would suggest these to any word-lover you know!

A Review. Happy Face.

For five years we have struggles with eating issues. Five long years of eating very little variety and not trying new foods. Bug is a headstrong, picky eater just like her daddy…but worse. I wish I knew why she had such a problem with so many foods. We eat an already restricted (mostly) plant-based diet, for a variety of reasons, so Bug’s even smaller variety of foods she will eat is just plain stressful. Meals with her are very difficult, mainly because we try to make a meal everyone will eat and since we apparently have to eat every single night, we repeat a LOT. I mean a LOT.

Bug is a lacto-vegetarian, my husband is also a very picky eater, Six and I are plant based and love eating a variety of foods and no one can agree on one meal. See our problem? So lunches turn into an everybody gets foods they want meal and dinners are we all eat variations of the same thing. It has take a long time to get to where we are today, even with my husband! (Who, if you remember from this blog post, refuses to let me keep peas near his food in the freezer).

In my solo research about feeding issues, I came across an awesome resource: the ezpz happy mat. I have unfortunately never had the chance to buy one, but in my viewing of their website, I found the link to a Dawn Winkelmann on Facebook. I immediately liked her page and scrolled through a lot of old posts and even took notes! More recently I discovered that she and Jamie the Baby Guy do monthly Facebook lives about feeding disorders. This month’s was about swallowing and I took a lot of notes, as usual. I learn so much from their videos, I highly recommend you check them out (links below).

So when I started to talk to Ms Dawn a bit more and discovered she had a book that she had written for and with the ezpz brand, I asked her about it and she was kind enough to send me a copy for a review. I am not sponsored by Ms Dawn or ezpz, I just really love what they do and the products they have available and want to share that with you!

When I received this book I was so happy, of course I noticed the cover first, but I do think the cover is the cutest part of this book! The front cover is of many Happy Mats filled with food, and the back cover is the same mats..just what is left after the eating of them! What a cute idea!

So what is the ezpz mat? It is a mat that doubles as the placemat and the plate as well as suctions to the table so there cannot be bowls thrown or dropped! I have seen it in use and highly recommend this if you have a messy kiddo! And from the description from the ezpz website: “The Happy Mat is made from 100% food-grade silicone that is BPA, BPS, PVC, latex and phthalate free.” (links below).

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Taken from the ezpz website:  http://www.ezpzfun.com/happy-mat-in-pewter/

I do believe that my not having a mat will make this review helpful for many more people though, because as I have been unable to buy certain things at times, I have learned to adapt and as much as I suggest you get one of these mats, because they are extremely useful and fun, if you are unable to, I have alternate ideas for you: like the not as awesome $0.75 divided plated from Target…that is what I use in the coming pictures.

Again, I love the cover of this book Making Mealtime ezpz: Fun Ways To Fill The Happy Mat.

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Credit to the ezpz website for this picture: http://www.ezpzfun.com/making-mealtime-ezpz-fun-ways-to-fill-the-happy-mat/

When I opened the book, the second page had a large visual of the Happy Mat and how much each indent holds. I loved this because I could measure out the foods I put in small cups or on our plates if I needed to. And also, for those of you with the Happy Mat, you know how much your kiddo has had!

The shopping list for every Happy Mat meal in the book is in the front of the book! Take it shopping with you! I loved this, so you don’t have to go through every page and write down what you need to go buy. Front of the book! There are some recipes included, but there are so many Happy Mats that don’t require a full-blown recipe, which can be so useful for those of us with other food restrictions or just no time to make ten recipes for one meal, ya know?

There are tips and ideas on almost every single page! Whys and hows are also in there for if you are wondering how to make that princess wand, or why playing with food can be a good thing.

Other incredibly helpful information in this book includes: feeding and swallowing skills for a two year old, clean 15/dirty dozen list, superstar foods, and protein foods. I love the page of examples of encouraging expressions. Sometimes it can be hard in the moment to think of things to say other than good job, so it is a very valuable cheat sheet that I have had open to when we do mealtimes. There is also a list of tips for picky eaters. My first thought when I saw the heading of that page was “I will have read all these before” because I have had about five years of googling this type of stuff, but I was wrong! There was a lot of awesome info on this page!

I also loved the tips to have your kid(s) help out in the kitchen! I am very much a control addict and it has been hard for me to come up with things I feel comfortable with my girls doing in the kitchen, especially since Bug is just starting to understand what danger is. So when I turned to this page I was so happy! Things I had never tried before, or thought of that didn’t seem too overwhelming or messy!

In the back of the book are the tools you will need to complete the Happy Mats from the book. Most of which I bet you already have, how easy!

The pages of this book are thick and durable, probably because they know books in the kitchen get messy and needed to be durable! I love it. I haven’t been afraid to keep it open at dinner (to the encouraging expressions page) in fear that food would be splattered onto it.

I decided to try out three of the Happy Mat meals for Miss Bug. I did change them up a bit because we are going at a snail’s pace with introducing foods to her and the three mats I chose had many things we hadn’t introduced yet so I altered them, and used our divided plates. I introduced these over a few days, not in the same day to overwhelm her. I do intend to get through all the mats in this book! I may need to look into getting a Happy Mat though, I think that we would get a LOT of use out of it!

We chose to do the Fiesta Fiesta Mat, chips and dips! The Mat they have looks awesome with three dips and chips as well as lime and carrots around the edges. I chose to introduce salsa to this plate. She has tried carrots before, but we have found she gets a bit overwhelmed when too many new items are introduced, so I chose one. She ended up having daddy share most of the salsa by feeding him chips with the salsa and tried a tiny touch to the tongue amount and she said it was too spicy. She loved her some sour cream though. She would drink sour cream and ketchup (not together….although maybe together…) if we let her!

 

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Fiesta Fiesta adaptation. Tofutti sour cream, locally made tortilla chips and my husband’s favorite salsa, also locally made (he would drink this stuff!)

My favorite Happy mat in the book had to be the Bugs and Butterflies Mat. Six would love everything on this mat! Sadly, Bug would not. And Six had eaten one of the foods that I had been saving for this mat. So I decided to recreate the caterpillar sammy and a fruity butterfly. Again, I didn’t want her to stress out if I introduced too  many items. She has a tendency to think that if I put 4-5 pieces of a food in front of her that she has to eat it all when I am just trying to get her to lick it at the most right now. So I had to resist making all the adorable foods from this mat and made the caterpillar, which is comfortable to her and added the butterfly which is two foods she doesn’t normally eat and one she hasn’t been introduced to in many weeks. She ate every piece of the caterpillar except the head, she said it was icky even after I removed the raisins. But she licked the apple and said it tasted like juice so I asked if she would nibble it, she said no. I asked if I could have a taste and she fed me a piece of the apple. I asked again if she would like to try a nibble and she said no. I asked if she would lick it again and she did. So that is progress. Words, no meltdowns, two licks. Go Bug!

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A very messy caterpillar with raisin eyes and cheerio antenna, with an apple and carrot butterfly

The third Mat I tried Was the Queen Bean Mat. We have been introducing rice to Bug for months and I thought this would be perfectly fun. It was, she was giggling and said “look! mom. It smiley happy!” and indeed it was, however it was not enough to get her to try rice….again. We have been asking her to try rice when we have it for dinner, which is often, and each time she has only gotten as far as to smell it and then says “bleh” or “icky” or “that so gross” and even “that’s disgusting!” (scripting from a show). Six and I both had Queen Bean plates for lunch and it wasn’t enough to get Bug to want to try it. She almost didn’t eat the rest of the food, that I knows she loves, because there was rice on the plate, but I was able to talk her through it. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get her to tell me any inkling of why she thinks rice is gross. But we will keep trying. One day she may just start eating it by the handful! Wishful thinking. But, this plate was adorable…it’s even cuter in the book!

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Queen Bean Happy Mat meal.

There were many resources throughout the book as well. Websites to check out for more feeding tips as well as info on nutritional guidelines.

I really enjoyed going through this book! I loved the details and the simplicity of the Mats as well as the variety. I so wish my Bug would be willing to try even a tenth of what was in this wonderful book, but we will hopefully get there one day. We will keep chugging along. I would be extremely interested in a book that was solely about tips to try with your picky eater as well as ways to introduce foods as they do in feeding therapies and programs.

I do highly recommend getting a Happy Mat for your picky or messy eater, I have seen them in action and love them and what the company is doing. They are a great tool in your kitchen!

Coming away from this, I think that the most useful ezpz product we could use is their micromat. It is a bit smaller than a crayon, but looks just like the happy mat. It is the size that you can introduce new foods with, and I find this both adorable and very useful! Right now we introduce new foods on her plate and she has to kiss or lick it goodbye, but I think if it was on a tiny smiley face she would be more inclined to try it. But their Flower Mat, Happy Mat and Micromat will for sure be on our wishlist!

Thank you Dawn for the opportunity to share your book! I do believe it is extremely useful and important to share knowledge so that others can benefit and that is what this book does! It lays everything out sweet and simple. This will be a staple in my kitchen!

 

If you want to check out Ms Dawn on social media here are those links, she does Facebook Lives with other Facebook pages on feeding issues so be sure to keep her on your notifications and see first!:

http://www.facebook.com/Ms.DawnSLP/

https://www.facebook.com/SpectrumSpeech/

On Instagram @spectrumspeech

And her website www.spectrumspeech.com/

For Dawn’s book, her wonderful and informative blog, and ezpz products:

ezpzfun.com

A wonderful resource I found previously, and is also in to book, is  www.feedingmatters.org/ It is a wonderful resource to find feeding services near you as well as continuing education courses for professionals. As a side note, my sister is a certified plant based dietitian who I have sent this link to and she will be doing a few of the courses near her. This site also has a questionnaire to determine if your child has a feeding disorder.

For Jamie and Dawn’s monthly live chat, follow Dawn and Jamie and they will have updates as to when that will be each month and what topic they will be discussing. Dawn always brings an awesome arsenal of feeding tools and toys, and Jamie is the perfect co host because he is an actual picky eater so seeing things happen in real life helps, and they make things fun and interesting! So check him out as well if you haven’t already: www.facebook.com/TheBabyGuyNYC/

I know feeding issues can be trying and stressful, but progress is progress no matter how slow. And if we can find something or someone that helps us on that journey, then we need to share that so others can have a chance to succeed! You have to keep thinking it will get better or it never will, keep trying! Don’t give up.

 

Check back on Thursday to learn more about our feeding issues and progress!

 

My First (Bananagrams) Review

Bananagrams was kind enough to send me a My First Bananagrams to play with and there is so much to say! But first: for a homeschooler of young kids….these are SO much better than regular Bananagrams. Let me explain.

They were dropped off to me by a very distracted UPS driver on a Wednesday afternoon, I opened them immediately and my girls almost tackled me to get this super fun new game! But before they got to play with it, I wanted to check it out. So that night I opened it up, read the little tag and opened it up to find a little booklet. I was so excited to play with Bug and Six after reading through this booklet, but I had to wait till after breakfast.

Impatient mommy right here.

But I kept looking through the little booklet to find lots of interesting and fun ideas, I will get to them later, but they had a website on one of the pages saying to check it out for more ideas on how to play with the My First Bananagrams. I am always looking for new and fun ideas on how to play with the things we use often so I checked it out. much to my delight and surprise, there was a PDF download of worksheets to use with the My First. I downloaded the bundle immediately and loved what I saw.

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The stack of worksheets before they were laminated
There were ten pages in all,  including word searches and learn the alphabet, a vowel maze, fill in the blank and more! The next morning I printed out two copies of all ten pages, one for each of my kiddos. I hadn’t even had my breakfast yet and I was already warming up my laminator.

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It’s so sllllooooooowwwwwww!!!!!!
After I had the pages laminated, they were still warm, we sat down on the rug and got to exploring.

First, we dumped them all out and flipped them all over so we could see all the letters.

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Flip them over!
Then, we had to practice our names! Bug helped Six with some letter recognition, we said the letter sounds to see if they were the right letter for our name, and we counted the number of tiles in our names.

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Yea, I had them spell their nicknames 😉
After names, we pulled out one of the laminated sheets. We played the Learn The Alphabet page, but I did it differently than they suggest. I placed letter tiles on some but not all of the letters on the page and the girls, which turned into just Six towards the end, had to fill in the missing letters. I plan to use a similar “fill in the blank” with words when we get more into spelling.

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Fill in the blanks
When Bug was finished with her little break, I had her play the Counting and Color page, which counts as math if you are keeping track. She had to line up the tiles just so on each piece of fruit and I had her tell me the letter sound for each tile she placed on the page. Math and Language Arts.

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I am retiring the Original Bananagrams to the grown-up game box because the My First Bananagrams are so much better for little ones. The tiles are slightly bigger and ticker than the Original Bananagrams, making them a bit easier for little fingers to grab as well!

All the letters on the tiles are lowercase, which is a very good for beginner writers to learn because only 5% of letters are in uppercase, as well as uppercase letters being harder to write for some kiddos because they have many breaks in the process of writing them.

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The vowels are easy to identify because they are yellow. There are two letter Y tiles, one is yellow for the “sometimes”. There is also a Fill In The Vowel worksheet and a vowel maze. Vowel sounds can be tricky because of the two sounds they can make. The vowel colors reminded me very ,much of how our PECS core board was created, each type of word was a separate color; prepositions were purple, verbs were yellow etc. which made finding certain words quickly much easier.

Another awesome perk of the My First Bananagrams is that there are double letter tiles, or digraphs. Two letters that make one sound; ee, oo, wh, qu, etc. This makes it easier for younger kiddos to make a word and work on blending sounds.

There were mini game examples in the booklet as well, perfectly divided by Preschooler, Early Reader and Reader. Any of these games can be played in a group by adding “race to the finish”, but I do not have hurry-up-children, so races would end in tears. I plan to stick to the relaxed version.

The My First Bananagrams, as well as the original Bananagrams, are great for letter and word recognition, blending sounds and simply practicing sounds of the letters, using thinking skills, taking turns and sharing, and vowel identification along with many more I’m sure.

Along with the games and activities in the booklet and the download, I plan to continue using the My First Bananagrams to do our ‘regular’ activities that I have used the original Bananagrams with up till now. The read it/build it/write it page we use so often, spelling words from books, and practicing spelling words from flashcards are all very useful and fun, but I have more ideas!

I don’t know when we will be ready for some of my ideas, but they are there when I want to break them out:

Scrambled Words: make a few words with the tiles and scramble each word up individually, or for a challenge for older kiddos scramble up a few words into one pile of tiles and tell them how many words are there, or maybe what they start with to help them out if that is too challenging.

Word Sleuth: make a long word like caterpillar or centipede or because etc and have your kiddo find small words in the big word! This was my favorite warm up in 5th grade, but they didn’t use Bananagrams.

Fill In The Blanks: write a few words on a sheet of paper but leave out a few letters to have your kiddo fill them in! Pretty easy for readers I think, but we aren’t quite there yet.

Spell The Picture: have a picture or flashcard of something like a frog or a barn and have them spell out the word with the tiles.

Word Match Up: spell a word or five using tiles and have matching notecards or flashcards with the word on it, and they have to put the flash card with the correct word.

We received these Wednesday and the past four days have had this green bag somewhere strewn throughout our day. I feel this game would be a very worthy investment in a homeschool, or even a Speech therapy setting. I know we will be getting a lot of use out of them! And when they are ready you can always play the actual Bananagram game! I know my husband, a friend and I have played the Bananagram game with the My First as well as the original and had a blast. It is a great way to learn and have fun!

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@bananagrams

I have my eye on a few more games on their website: http://www.bananagrams.com/

For the printables: www.myfirstbananagrams.com

To see how we play with our Bananagrams, head over to my Facebook. The video was made before we got the My First Bananagrams, but it is transferable.