Thursday, August 31, 2017

Setting Up the School Counseling Office

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

School starts next week and the counseling office is ready for visitors!

My role as a school counselor started partway through last school year so although I did what I could to make the space my own, I really didn't put too much time or energy into it until this summer. I reflected on the year and gave some thought to what was really needed in this space. I reflected on the things my students struggle with and what they are looking for when they visit me. I am so pleased with how this safe space has turned out. It has the perfect combination of peace and fun with some really great tools mixed in. Stay tuned for more posts about the therapeutic games I added to our mix as well as our new flexible seating!

Although I use books a lot in my social skills lunch groups, I find that I don't use them quite as often in individual meetings with students. I think one of the reasons is that neither the student or I think of them when we're meeting! Having student books hidden high on a bookshelf is impractical... we forget about them! As an educator, I love to see students inspired to spend time with books. There are so many good books out there that address the issues we work on so much in the counseling office. I hope that placing books in an accessible, eye-catching spot will encourage us to use these books more often. Classroom Organizer Book Storage Bins were exactly what I needed.

The same Book Storage Bins I'm using for student books are a perfect way to store our coloring sheets too. I have tons of coloring sheets and we use them all the time - some with inspirational quotes, verses, words of encouragement, or favorite animals and designs. They've been stored in file folders in a pile on the shelf. We all know where they are, but making them a little more visible really added to the look and feel of the space. They are welcoming and seeing them makes me want to spend a lot more time in our coloring corner!

I'm also using the Book Storage Bins to store the grown-up books and counseling worksheets on my desk. Even just that extra pop of color makes the space feel more welcoming!

Adding some wall decor this school year was important to me. I've had bare walls - which isn't awful - but it doesn't add anything special to the counseling office. I wanted something special for the walls and when I found these Jumbo What Can I Do Cutouts and these Jumbo How To Be A Friend Letter Cutouts, I knew they were exactly what I needed for this space!

Not only are these colorful, welcoming, and fun to look at, they are perfect to help us work through the issues we address most often in the counseling office. We now have tools, literally right in front of us, that can help us quickly come up with plans to address the hard times and get back to class, and life, more efficiently and effectively. We all benefit from some simple reminders about how to be a good friend and how to solve everyday problems in healthy ways. I received so much good feedback on these at our recent open house and can't wait to see how my students use them on a day-to-day basis once school starts back up next week!

All of these additions to the counseling office were available online through Learn365 by Oriental Trading. I'm always excited at the assortment, quality, and affordability of options there - and I never have to step foot in a store!

Next up... new counseling games and flexible seating! Stay tuned!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Party

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

My oldest daughter just turned seven and threw the most amazing Rainbow Unicorn birthday party to celebrate! This is actually the second time we've had a rainbow themed birthday. If you met her you wouldn't be surprised! Summer birthdays are always a little tricky because we love to plan outdoor shindigs. Thankfully the weather cooperated this year and even though we woke to chilly air and cloudy skies, we ended up with a hot summer day which was exactly what we hoped for.

We swam in rainbow pools with rainbow banners hung in the yard.

We decorated with rainbow balloons.

We served our favorite snacks in an assortment of rainbow colored bowls. Of course we even served up rainbow cookies and cake!

We created water bottle labels to go with our rainbow theme. If you've never done this before, it's such an easy way to add something special to your party. You can find a tutorial here. The rainbow birthday labels we used can be downloaded free from Catch My Party and the polka dots from Piggy Bank Parties. The stickers we used on the polka dot labels came from Oriental Trading.

We served up our foods on rainbow plates, with colorful plastic utensils. Aren't these rainbow straw cups the cutest? They were such a big hit with all of our guests!

My creative daughter loved customizing her cake picks by decorating clear picks with sharpies. She drew rainbows, flowers, hearts, sunshines, etc. and they added a fun personal touch.

We customized these colorful chevron party favor boxes with rainbow unicorn stickers which perfectly matched our theme, and we filled the boxes with an assortment of colorful treats!

I love ordering party favors and supplies from Oriental Trading because they come in sets of a dozen which tends to be perfect for parties. I'm always impressed with the number of options we have to choose from no matter what theme we decide upon. They are always fun and high quality. I prefer novelty toy favors over candies. After studying the website, we chose Rainbow Cake Necklaces, Rainbow Mechanical Pencils, Fish-Shaped Ring Toss Water Games, Rainbow Heart Rubber Bracelets, and Plush Tie-Dyed Dogs. The adorable dogs are my favorite and I started getting texts asking about where to buy these ring toss water games within an hour of the party ending!

Planning parties for my littles is one of my favorite things to do! My daughter has such fun participating and coming up with the plan she knows will be just perfect for her friends. This year was no exception. Our Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Party was a huge success and I'm looking forward to next year already.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

New Play Sets for Outdoor and Indoor Summer Fun

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

This summer has been the first in a long time that I've been free of out-of-the-home work so the kids skipped camp and we've been enjoying our summer off with lots of stay-at-home days!

I don't shy away from some extra screen time in the summer - tv, iPad, iPod, etc. are okay with me within reason, but getting outdoors and moving our bodies takes the priority. 

I pulled together a list of some of our favorite outdoor activities on the blog a couple of years ago which I encourage you to check out if you're looking for some new ideas.

We are so thankful to have a big yard and a refreshing pool but even with those treats, summer days can get monotonous so we were excited to get a few new play sets for the yard this year to add to the fun.

Here's what we chose...

We are big fans of ladder ball but our old set broke, so we picked out this new one (with LED lights that are super cool for nighttime play) online from Oriental Trading. Ladder Ball is a great two player game in which players take turns tossing balls, connected to strings, and try to land them hanging on the horizontal ladder rungs. It takes some practice to get just the right toss but it's fun for kids and adults alike!

We also found some good old fashioned Lawn Darts because those are fun for all ages! Another great game for two players who take turns tossing their "darts" through the air and try to land them in their ring. This is tricky! I haven't figured out the special touch with these yet. They always bounce out of their ring when I throw them. My husband, on the other hand, has mastered it!

Bean bag toss games and some good whiffle ball never disappoint. I think we go through a whiffle ball and bat set each summer. My daughter is notorious for breaking balls when she hits to hard and my husband is notorious for breaking the bats when he hits too hard! This one is holding up so far this year and it's certainly gotten a lot of use!

Perhaps the highlight of the summer has been this Inflatable Water Slide! I'll be honest, the anxious mom in me cringed at the idea of it, but truly that has been so fun and we've avoided injury thus far!

New England summers always come with their fair share of thundering, rainy afternoons, so we thought it would be good to add a little something new to our indoor play sets as well. 

All kids love to play house - at least my two do! With this super cute, amazing quality play set from Melissa & Doug, they can play house, and help with chores all at once. 

My big girl is a big helper - she loves to help with housework. My one year old has recently started to look for chores she can do. She helps empty the dishwasher, throws every little crumb on the carpet into the trash, and puts away laundry without being asked (I find her Daddy's socks in her sock bin all the time!). Both of them adore this new set and it's been perfect for our days inside.

It's hard to believe we'll all be back to school in just a month's time! I'm glad we've had the opportunity to make a lot of fun memories this summer - both inside and out!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Road Trip Must-Haves

We received free product to facilitate this post. No other compensation was received. 
All opinions expressed are our own.

This summer, my husband and I did something we said we'd never do. We took two kids, one age 7 and one age 1 on a road trip! Don't get me wrong. We actually love road trips and have taken more than we can count. Before kids, we would leave for our trips late at night, stop for coffee, and drive through the night until we reached our destination. Who were we?! 

We road tripped (is that a verb?) twice with our first daughter and knew we'd have to start breaking up our trips into two days and staying overnight in a hotel. And then we flew to our destination once... and it was sooooo easy! And we said NEVER AGAIN will we do a road trip. 

And then we saw the outrageous price of airline tickets to our intended destination and planned a road trip again. 12 hours. With two kids. With a 16 month old. And we knew we were crazy. But WE DID IT! And actually, it went so well that we'd do it again for sure. 

We split our 12 hour trip into two days again and stayed overnight in a hotel in between. We made sure the hotel had cribs available and thankfully our daughter slept - probably even better than we did!

We packed well - and we packed a lot. I think my husband thought I was a little nuts for packing as much as I did but I was so intentional about making our travel time work. It's hard to occupy kids for 6 hours at home, in their house, with all their toys. I needed to find a way to do it in a car, with them strapped in, and confined. They did so well that we did not have to stop even ONCE on our first leg. We drove 6 hours with no stopping and only minimal fussing.  

The two things that saved our travel sanity were...


We went to the store and got all sorts of special snacks. I know my snack packing technique will make some of you cringe because I used approximately one million disposable zipper lock bags, but it worked like a charm. I promise that I actually use reusable snack bags during the school year but I don't have one million of them so I had to break all green-living rules to make this work. 

Each snack was separated into small serving sizes in the baggies. All those baggies were then packed into a large bag. And all the different large bags filled with small bags were packed into a small carry-on size suitcase which was stowed, unzipped, between the two car seats in the back seat. GENIUS. The 7 year old served up snacks to the whole family throughout the drive. 

New toys are a must for both road trips and plane rides. Their newness is intriguing and they don't tend to get bored quite as quickly. I surprised the girls with some new travel-friendly toys and activities that were perfect for the trip. Oriental Trading had a lot to choose from.

We love these Farm Friends Hand Puppets from Melissa & Doug. They are so cute, soft, and fun! They made for a lot of silly interactive play, especially with our youngest daughter. I'm pretty sure I sang "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" no less than 100 times during one particularly traffic-y part of our trip. Every time I stopped, she started baa-ing and we'd sing it again with our puppet friends dancing to the beat!

The Oomee cube (pictured on the left below) is a fantastic invention - a puzzle with pieces attached so nothing gets lost! It's rubbery so no one gets hurt when it's thrown. It's made of 100% food-grade silicone so it's safe for teething too. And of course it encourages shape learning. It's a win on all levels and was well loved by our toddler.

The Find It! Seek & Find Game, travel-sized Perplexus, and Extreme Dot to Dot book were enjoyed by our 7 year old. We also had crayons, colored pencils, and coloring books. 

Another big hit were Water Wow! books from Melissa & Doug. I've been eyeing these little books online and in stores for a couple of years. I finally took the plunge, purchased a few, and we're all hooked. I've purchased two more since this road trip for another vacation this summer. They are an amazing invention! Simply fill the little paint brush with water, and colors show up as you paint the cardboard pages of the book. When they dry, the color disappears, and you do it again! These are so fun. Both girls (and even I!) enjoyed them.

Our road trip was a huge success, but lest you think it was all hearts and butterflies, this is how it culminated...

Real life, my friends, this is real life. My boisterous toddler has, just since school got out in June, lost a fingernail, had eye surgery, and broke her leg. I won't list all the things she did during the months between her birth and then! She keeps us on our toes... even when she can't be on her own!

Thankfully these travel-friendly toys are not only perfect for carseat-confined kiddos, but ones who are confined in other ways as well!
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