Browsing Category: Tips and Tricks

Day 15: Read the book…see the play

This year, the boy is learning about various genres in literature. He is reading a quality book in a specific genre and then completeing extension activitives about the book and the facets of the genre. So far, this has been a really fun way to grow his literary habits and for the two of us to dig deep into various types of books.

A few weeks ago we wrapped up our study on Adventure books. Being a boy, Isaac is all about the adventure story. One of the books he read during this time was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Over the summer when I was planning for the upcoming school year, I noticed that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was playing at a local theater company.


Last Friday the children and I took school on the road and set out to enjoy this production. Isaac loved seeing the pages of a book he had read and studied come to life on the stage. Ironically, he became terribly involved in the suspense and got upset when he thought danger had taken the life of Tom.

Being the compassionate mother that I am, I leaned over and said, “Dude, you have read the book. You know what happens.”

Mom of the Year over here.

Taking children to see a play based on a book they have read is a great way to ignite a love for reading and for literature. When the story becomes alive on the stage, suddenly loved characters of a book are real and interactive. The places that were once only residing in a child’s imagination are suddenly right before their eyes.

Plays are a great way to encourage a love for books and for the wonder they hold.

Day 3: Set the Example (31 Days towards a love of reading)

One of the most humbling aspects of being a parent is when you hear your words come out of your child’s mouth.

And those words are not pretty.

These words are not the standard off-limit four letter words. They are not swear words. Rather they are words of impatience, grumpiness and frustration. Ugh.

Such times leaving me running for my copy of “Power of a Postive Mom” and attempting my best impersonation of June Cleaver’s even tones.

These times also remind me that little ones are constantly watching my actions and words so they can follow my lead.

Fortunately, children do not merely hone in on our negative traits and copy them for all the world to see. They also pick up on our positive qualities, which can be a significant key to getting children to love reading. One of the best ways to get kids interested in books is to set the example.

Here is my nightstand

Obviously I have yet to embrace the e-reader)

OObviously we love us a good book around here.

Because we are both avid readers, our children see us quite often with a book of some sort in our hands. The husband is particularly good about telling the kids about what he is reading. He pulls out something interesting to share with them from his book. Regardless of the genre of book (business to science fiction…and everything in between), both children become really interested in the fact shared.

Set the reading example for your children. Turn off the TV, stop cleaning up the kitchen for the 7th time that day (have I mentioned that my seven year old somehow managed to have the world’s worst apple juice spill with only a 1/4 cup of juice the other morning? It was on the wall, the window, the baseboards and the floor. Sigh.) and sit down to read. Do not wait for little ones to be tucked in for the evening. Read now while they are awake and happily playing (even if “happily playing” only lasts about five minutes as it does in my house some days).

You will all be inspired.


This is a part of a “31 Series” hosted by The Nester 

Surviving Summer: Vacation

Want to know what word needs to be scrubbed from the vocabulary of every American?


I question how one can say that word without:


A. Assuming they are being filmed for a reality show that involves either housewives or bachelors


B. living under the assumption that they are fifteen years old


The husband and I attempted years ago to bring the term “holiday” into the spotlight here in the good ol USA as people refer to their vacations. No one really picked up on it so it remains more of a European term rather than an American one. We still have high hopes for the word though, wishing fervently that it would gain (and surpass) the popularity of “vacay.”

Speaking of vacation, we recently went on one with our family.

We packed up the family station wagon and set our sights on the beach. We live in a state that is home to (part of) the gulf, so beach-going is not terribly difficult for us. The grandparents just happened to be vacationing in our fine state and we are not ones to turn down a vacation with them.

Especially a vacation that involves two other adults to help with the entertaining of the children.

Our vacation went swimmingly. The children loved the ocean. Our accommodations were wonderful for a group of six. I drank coffee on a balcony overlooking the bay every morning, while chatting with my mom and reading. We dined on seafood every night.

Here are a few summer vacation tips from our family to yours:


1. Plan…but do not over plan.


Our schedule for the week looked a bit like this: Get up. Eat a lazy breakfast. Go to the beach. Return home for lunch. Nap. Get dressed. Go out for dinner and fun. Return home for ice cream.

We had a plan but we were not running from activity to activity. There are some vacations where the husband and I attempt to fill every moment (NYC in the fall). However, kids (and parents) need some downtime. Allow for rest and relaxation. No one is having fun when the little people are crying and the big people are frustrated because so much “Fun” was crammed into one day.


2. Set expectations.

On this particular vacation, our children slept on air mattresses. Although we were in a very large condo, there were only two King-sized beds. The children each had their own air mattress. Before we left, I let them know exactly what their sleeping arrangements would be. They brought some special bedding and a fun stuffed animal. When we arrived at our destination, they helped choose the location for their air mattress and help set up their own little space. Doing all this set their expectations about where they would be sleeping (essentially on the floor). Because of this advance preparation, we had no sleep issues all week. When kids know what to expect, they are better able to acclimate to their new surroundings.


3. Pack accordingly.


My favorite packing tip for kids is to put their whole outfit (shorts, shirt, underwear, socks, bow) in a large ziploc bag and label the bag. This allows the child to know exactly what they need to wear each day and how to find it without assistance. At the end of the day, all the dirty clothes can be put back in the bag and repacked.

We also had each of the kids pack an “entertainment” bag. This one is filled with coloring books, reading books, small toys and other fun trinkets. This is the bag that entertains them in the car as well as at the hotel.


4. Avoid assumptions.

Sometimes when vacationing with kids, we assume we can only do “kid things.” Give kiddos more credit than that and plan to do some things on vacation that are interesting to adults as well. We had a museum day where we visited three museums. Visiting museums is a pretty common activity for our kiddos. However, one of these museums had the “Bodies Revealed” show on display. Originally I thought it might be too much for our kids. What 6 and 5 year old really want to look at dissected bodies on vacation?

Apparently, ours.

They enjoyed the exhibit much more than I felt like they might. I do have to say that both of them thought that the bodies were fake and never realized they were actual people. Evelyn was fascinated by the the “smoker’s lung” while Isaac walked around independently reading about the various body parts/systems (We learned a lot of anatomy this past year in school, which is likely why it was all very interesting to him.). Do not assume one can only do kid-friendly things on vacation. Have your whole family step out of the box and try something a bit new or different.


Tips for Establishing Quiet Time in the Home

There is a sacred time that occurs here at casa de phillips on most days between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 pm.

We call it Quiet Time and it is glorious.

Many of you may be scratching your heads and thinking, “Aren’t their kids starting to get a bit old for naps?”

The answer to that question, my friends, is “Yes and No.”

Allow me to explain.

Most homes in suburbia are quiet around 5:30am. Rooms are still dark. The only sounds that can be heard are the soft ins and outs of breathing as family members continue to slumber.

Here at casa de phillips, around 5:30am the pace is a bit more…interesting.

Usually one can find someone attempting to hide a light while he/she plays covertly in their room.

A little girl might be spied with dress up clothes already put on over her pajamas.

The mother of the household is gone during that time, working off that peppermint mocha at the gym while the father of the household is getting ready to head into work.

Although the children of casa de phillips are supposed to stay in bed, asleep, with lights off until at the very earliest 6 am, there are days when that does not happen. I cannot really blame these two early birds, as they are the off-spring of two early birds themselves. Because of our early wake-up time, a time of quiet in the afternoon is essential.

During the quiet time, the boy often reads and does independent school work. He also uses that time to create his newest invention (the latest is a recreation of Bowser’s Castle crafted from discarded boxes that is as tall as he is).  The girl reads and usually naps for about 45 minutes or so. I have talked to other mothers, with children much older than mine, who also have a daily quiet time in their homes. It restores balance, creates a time of peace mid-day and helps mom gather her wits before the evening routine settles in.

isaac with his Mario that he made a few weeks ago during quiet time


I have had parents ask me how in the world I am able to get my two kiddos to observe quiet time. Because it has always been a part of our day from the beginning, the observation of this time is fairly easy. However, there are some basic tips that can help any household create a downtime for kiddos and parents during the day.


Provide Guidelines

If a house has not had a quiet time and wants to create one, parents must provide guidelines for children in order for them to understand what they need to do (and not do) during this time. In our house, Evelyn must be in bed during quiet time because she still needs to fall asleep most days. Her brother, however, is allowed to play quietly in his room once his school work/reading have been finished. These guidelines allow the children to understand what is expected of them during quiet time. They know they are allowed to leave their rooms to use the restroom, but must quickly return until quiet time is over.


Create an activity box

Some children do not understand how to do “quiet.” If this is the case, provide a box of quiet activities for the child to enjoy during quiet time. This can include books, crayons, paper, soft toys and stuffed animals. Children have to be taught how to play quietly as it is natural for them to be loud and use their bodies in dynamic ways. Providing a focused tool that can be utilized during quiet time enables kids to successfully remain quiet during the set time. Remember to only allow the child access to the box during quiet time to keep it special.


Have a beginning and an end.


Sending kids to their rooms to “be quiet” for an indefinite amount of time will prove to be unsuccessful and frustrating. Let kids know when quiet time begins and when it will end. Provide a clock so the child can be in charge of knowing when quiet time is over (even very young kids can read the hour on a digital clock…both of mine have had clocks since around the age of three).


Plan for the “after”.

In our house, after quiet time is over we have snack. If the weather is nice, the kids go outside. Sometimes we also go on errands after quiet time, depending on our supper plan. After being still and peaceful for a set amount of time, children will need space to exert some energy. Allowing them to do so will also make for a more peaceful dinner and evening routine.


Be consistent.

When the children were little, I never let them miss a nap. We worked our entire schedule around their sleep patterns. This is not something that works for everyone, but it worked for us. Their sleep was important and we made it a priority. Now that they are big, we do not make a big deal to be home for a rest time everyday (nor does our schedule allow us to be home every afternoon). However, on days that we are home, quiet time is essential. We are consistent with our quiet time routine and let the kids know when there might be a change in the routine. Consistency allows kids to know what to expect and when to expect it.


Do you observe a quiet time with your children at home? If so, how do you go about doing it?


Date of the Month Club

Back in December, I hinted that the gift I was giving the husband for Christmas was going to be pretty awesome.


Because the husband is typically one of the first people to read any new blog posts, I could not disclose what this gift was until he actually opened it. After weeks and weeks of playing up the awesome factor of this gift, it finally came time for our little family of four to exchange Christmas presents.

Let it be noted: When one plays up a present for weeks on end with endless chatter about how great said present is going to be, one gets a bit nervous when the time of actually giving of that gift arrives.

Especially when one opens her present from the husband first and it is completely and totally wonderful.

However, the gift did not disappoint.

Behold: The Date of the Month Club

(Thanks, Pinterest!)

I gave the husband thirteen large white envelopes, each with a different month written on the outside (one was a “Bonus” date). Each month’s envelope contained a pre-planned, pre-paid date and everything needed for that date (that fits into an enevelope). Each date has a cute little title. Some dates are for out-of-the-house fun while others are ones we can do at home (Hey, paying a babysitter 13 times adds up!).

I wanted to give the husband the gift of time with this present: time for us to spend together (minus the children…there are no family dates planned!) and do something enjoyable. Each date is unique and most of them are not some of the standard things we typically do on date nights.

To find the inspiration for these dates, I used social media deal sites such as Groupon as well as looking at event calendars for our area. I made sure to mix up the dates so we were not really doing two similar things in a row.

I am really excited about digging in and enjoying these 13 dates and all I have planned for them. 2012 should be a fun year!



(Disclaimer: This picture was not taken the night the husband opened up his present. Rather, it was snapped by one of our children at another holiday celebration. However, I love it for many reasons: 1. I like to imagine this is how the husband felt when he opened his gift 2. It makes me laugh out loud every time I see it 3. I think it looks like us when we were in college. )

What gift did you give your spouse for Christmas?

I am sure Martha Stewart decorates with butcher paper

Friends, Thanksgiving Day is a mere week and a half away.

Now if you live in my area of suburbia, you miight not realize this little fact because we are in full Christmas explosion mode (likely because we are known as the “Christmas Capital” of our fine state). I love, love, love Christmas. However, I think I might even love Thanksgiving more. Therefore, Christmas explosion in early November is not my cup of tea. A few weeks ago (pre-Halloween, mind you), when I spied my first Christmas tree decoration on the streets of our town, I may/may not have yelled “It’s not Christmas, people!”.

My four year old may/may not yell “It’s not Christmas, people!” whenever we pass a decoration.

(for example, when we passed the random grouping of polar bears that are perched by a log cabin on our Main Street she boldy made her proclamation. I love our suburb’s holiday decor, but the random polar bears always confuse me).

For now, Christmas is a topic not quite ready to be discussed by the residents of casa de phillips.

However, we are ready to discuss Thanksgiving.

As I make our family’s feast plans (once again we are hosting, something the husband and I love to do…because he likes to watch football on his own television and because I have control issues), I wanted to share some cute ideas for decorating the thanksgiving table.


1. Butcher Paper as a Table Cloth

Beautiful heriloom linen tableclothes are a thing of wonder. They also require washing before and after use and the need for an iron to get out wrinkles. Once the Thanksgiving meal is complete and leftovers are stored away, I am done with Turkey Day and outlining a strategy for Black Friday. Therefore, the idea of washing table linens is not my idea of a good time.

Enter: Butcher Paper

Last year, we covered vinyl (yes…vinyl!) tableclothes with brown butcher paper and scattered crayons around the table. Everyone had a great time drawing on the paper before, during and after dinner. No one panicked when food was spilled or gravy dribbled. After we all took a moment to admire everyone’s creations, we simply wadded up the paper and threw it away.

The vinyl tableclothes were stored for another year.


2. Paper Goods

Some of you are making a mental note to never attend a Thanksgiving feast at my house after reading we use both plastic table clothes and paper plates for our holiday celebrations.

Did you see the above note that I had to make my strategy plan for Black Friday? That leaves no time for doing load after load of dishes.

My favorite craft store of all time, Hobby Lobby, carries an excellent array of Thanksgiving holiday plates. One must know to go early, because the shelves will be cleared of these beauties weeks before Thanksgiving actually arrives.

One must also know if they shop for said plates with a four year old girl, she will really, really, really want the plates with the comical Turkey plastered on them while her mother is insistent on purchasing the decorative pretty plates (The Mom won in the end, because she was the one with the wallet and the cash.)


3. Remember the lighting

Our front room, where we will host Thanksgiving dinner, has no overhead lighting. We are unsure as to why this room is without lights, but do know it is a common thing in many of the homes in our neighborhood. Fortunately it has large bay windows that allows for the perfect amount of light during the day.

To enhance the lighting on the table, I use candles.

Remember how I mentioned paper goods and vinyl table clothes? Well those, a strong flame and eager arms passing food really do not make for a safe holiday environment. Last year, I used the battery-operated tealight candles. They worked great at projecting a faux-flame.

This year I might also attempt something like this:



And like this:

4. Remember the children

We do not have an official “kids table” at our Thanksgiving, mainly because there are only two children who will be present. I like to have some crafts set out for the kids to accomplish during the day. Last year I set them up on the desk in the school room.

A few Thanksgiving crafts I think the kids will work on include:

The Thanksgiving Tree

Turkey Trivia

Post-dinner, kids need something to occupy little hands as well. By then, I am comfortable with making the switch over the Christmas and letting them work on some Christmas related things.

(What those might be have yet to be determined. Potentially something easy scooped up at our local craft store…)


How do you make Thanksgiving a special holiday, while keeping things rela

A tale of 47 books

Currently I have 47 books checked out from our local public library.



At casa de phillips, we now have three library bags because one was just not cutting it. I am the mom who no one wants to be behind at the self check-out station because it takes me forever to scan our stack of treasures and DVDs. After I finish scanning, there is the whole business of having to distribute the mound of books between the three library bags in just the right way to ensure that the children can help me carry everything to the car.

The poor things look like their mama has never heard of child labor laws as they schlep large bags of books to the family station wagon while I use such encouraging words as “Come on! The bag is only twice your size! You can make it to the car!” to prod them along.

(By the way, does your local public library have the self scan station? Ours does and it is the library patrons only option for checking out books. I am not  a fan of the self check-out station, mainly because it seems to always malfunction while I attempt to scan. Perhaps I am overloading the system with my 47 books…)

As witnessed by the large amount of books we take out of the public library on a weekly basis, reading is an essential part of our daily life here at casa de phillips. All four of us love to read, love books and love the library.

Many parents want to know: How does one make such a love for the written word grow and flourish in children?


Put words everywhere.

I label a lot of stuff, partly because I adore my label maker and partly because I wanted the children to understand the relationship between words and things. By placing words out in the open in one’s home, children encounter them every day. They see that letters  make words and that words have actual meaning. Putting words everywhere in the home…and this can be done decoratively…helps create an understanding of written text and can lead to a love of learning.


Read, read, and read some more

Read to your children everyday, rain or shine. Our family pediatrician recommends reading to children at least thirty minutes a day. When I read aloud to the kids, I allow myself a veto option. I am not a lover of mindless children’s books that are based on popular cartoon characters. I find these texts to be poorly written and boring. Instead I look for books that are humorous to both child and adult. Also, do not feel that children can only be read aloud from text made for their age group. Pull out a good chapter book and read it (slowly) together as a family. You will be surprised by the amount of interest shown by the children.


Complete extension activities.

Part of learning to love to read is being able to create a picture of the text in one’s head. Extension activities really make the written word come alive. After reading a fun book. recreate the storyline by putting on a family play (Added bonus: Retelling a story after listening to it is the best way to sharpen one’s reading comprehension skills….more so than any reading comp worksheet or activity book). Paint a picture about a favorite character. Cook a meal based on one someone dined upon in a book. Show children that the words and stories found in the pages of a book can very much be alive.


Read Yourself.

Let your children see you reading yourself. Set the example by showing them that you value the written word and enjoy taking time out of your day to sit quietly and read. Do not save your reading for after the kids are tucked safely into bed at night. Give yourself some grace and spend a few minutes during the day reading while the children play nearby.


Want a peek into my bookshelf for this month?

Here is what I plan on reading or am currently reading:


Grace for the Good Girl

Playful Learning


What are you reading this month?

Back to School: Give me FIVE! chore chart

As the school year is about to being, a lot of parents want to know how to get kids to complete chores without having to nag, harass, threaten, beg  or simply end up completing the chore themselves.

There is no simple solution for getting children to complete chores. Teaching responsibility to children requires patiences and perserverance. Such teaching is a process that takes a hefty amount of parenting time. However, this teaching does not have to make a parent want to pull their hair out as they remind a child to put their clothes in the laundry hamper for the seventh time that day. Learning chore responsibility can be a relatively simple (Note the word “relatively” used) process when parents approach the task with a plan. Many companies sell expensive chore charts that can be tiring and complicated to maintain.

Parents, step away from these. They are fun and useful for about a week.

They are anything but practical.

Instead, take an approach that asks of your child to “Give me FIVE!” and watch him/her soar as responsibility with chores is achieved.


Before making any sort of chore chart, first take these guidelines into consideration:


1. Make sure chores are age-appropriate. (kids as young as 3 years of age can have daily chores to tend to)

2. Make sure the child can complete chores independently (There is need for a child to do chores that require adult-assistance. This is not the place for such chores.)

3. Make sure chores can be completed in a timely manner.

4. Be consistent. (This is key to making a chore chart work.)


The “Give me FIVE!” method simply means outlining five chores/duties a child needs to complete in the morning and five chores/duties a child needs to complete in the evening. These chores migh include getting dressed, taking a shower, making a bed, unloading the dishwasher or helping a sibling. As long as the chores adhere to the guidelines above, they are fair game.

Using an outline of a hand, list the five chores the child needs to complete in the morning. A morning chart may look something like this:



Make a similar chart for the evening:


The “Give me FIVE” system allows parents to simply ask if a child can “give me five” with the understanding that if they can, they have completed all five chores. Having only five chores and a hand to represent these chores, allows children to remember what is asked of them and to accomplish it quickly and efficiently. Younger kids enjoy being able to actually give parents a high five when the chores are finished (which is really all the reward that needs to be given for such chores). Older children will appreciate the freedom to get their jobs done without nagging (although they might roll their eyes over a hand print chore chart). Parents will be glad to pass off the responsibility of completing these tasks to their children.

This school year, make morning and evening chores a simple task to accomplish. Vow to stop nagging and give children the reigns of responsibility.


Back-to-School: Establishing Stations in the Home

Summer can be such a freeing time for children and parents. No one has to worry about having their lunch money or signed permission slips. Moms can take a break from ensuring everyone has their backpacks, soccer cleats and math homework. Dads get a break from running carpool on the way to work.

As August winds down, the whole family senses that the freedom of summer is fading. Swimsuits are traded for school uniforms and poolside picnics are swapped out for cafeteria brown bag lunches.

A great way to ensure the family enters the school year with an organized focus is establishing various stations in the home to help minimize chaos.


Breakfast Station


Although all moms want to believe that they are starting their child’s day off with a well-rounded, nutritious breakfast worthy of the pages of a cooking magazine, in reality every family has days when breakfast is a rushed, frantic affair. Creating a breakfast station that allows family members to grab a quick, healthy morning meal is a great way to help cut down on the morning rush.

Items to include in a breakfast station include:

  • Granola/cereal bars
  • Dry cereal
  • yogurt
  • fruit
  • granola
  • individual boxes of juice or milk


Snack Station


Many schools ask for students to bring at least one snack for the school day. Sometimes, this precious snack is not remembered until the family is rushing out the door. Having a snack station that is stored in the pantry or the fridge provides a way for kids to grab a snack as they head out for the day.

Items to include in a snack station:

  • string cheese
  • small carrots
  • peanut butter crackers (If peanuts are allowed)
  • granola bars
  • applesauce


Backpack Station


The backpack aisle at the local department store always looks so charming. However, those same backpacks are nothing but charming when littered around the living room floor of one’s home. Creating a backpack station establishes a place where kids can hang backpacks, put away shoes, keep outgoing papers and store items until they are needed for the next school day.

Items found in a backpack station:

  • Backpacks (obviously)
  • Coats/hats/gloves
  • Shoes
  • Outgoing papers (permission forms, signed homework, etc)
  • Extracurricular activities materials (soccer cleats, instrument, ballet bag)
  • Message board to remind family members of important dates/times


Homework Station


In a June Cleaver world, children rush in from a busy day at school and head straight up to their rooms to complete their homework. In reality, most kids work on homework in the kitchen while a parents cooks dinner. A homework station allows for all the needed school items to be in one handy place, creating an efficient workspace for students.

Items included in a homework station:

  • pencils
  • crayons
  • markers
  • erasers
  • glue
  • scissors
  • paper
  • dictionary/thesaurus
  • stapler/staples


Before the school year arrives, create stations within the home to cut down on the chaos and to provide an organized atmosphere for the family.

Summer Heat Buster: Go Camping!

In the current location of casa de phillips we are on our 27th consecuative day of 100+ degree temperatures.

There was a slighty possibility that on Tuesday of this week we might not hit the predicted 105 degrees due to cloud cover. People across our metro area were cheering the heat on, hoping that the record would not be broken by one day of 99 degrees (Why? you may ask….well if you have endured 24 days of hot weather one might as well keep going and attempt to break a record). Fortunately the clouds broke by late afternoon and we quickly soared above 100 degrees once again. By Saturday it will officially become the second hottest summer on record.


Attempting to burn off entertain energetic children in this heat requires the use of all my creative energies some days. I do not want the kids growing up thinking the only way to survive summers in our area is either by shopping or swimming.

I also do not want to be outside when it is 104 degrees and a level orange ozone alert.

The solution to our problem on Monday was to go camping.

In our front living room (*)

(One of the best decisions we have made with this house was to leave the front room relatively bare.  Technically, it is supposed to be a formal living room. Currently, it holds a piano and a reading spot. Other than that is an open space that the kids can transform into anything. )

To go camping at home, first instruct your campers to pack while the tent is being constructed. I reminded my campers that one can only bring so many things into the great outdoors (thus limiting the amount of excessive toys we had to put away at camps end).

Once camp is established, time to unpack and get cozy.

As night began to fall (created by me slowly choosing certain blinds to close in the room), we made a campfire.

Our grumbling stomachs told us it was time to eat something, so we roasted marshmallows.

The boy and I both love really roasted marshmallows, which I achieved over our gas burners.

We settled into the tent with our provisions and read several library books about camping.

Soon it was night time and everyone snuggled down in their sleeping bags. I had made these cute firefly jars earlier in the morning to serve as nightlights (TIP: I used washable paint so the jars could be repurposed)

Morning in the great outdoors came quickly, allowing everyone to play in the tent.

Happy Camping!

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