Christmas 2020 Bucket List

Enjoying some hot cocoa

Christmas time is my absolute very favorite time of the year.  I literally plan for it all year long.  I love the traditions we do every year, and the new ones that we occasionally pick up as well.  This year is going to look a little different than our norm, but I’m trying to find ways to keep our household festive and continue to build memories with our kids.  So we decided to sit down with the kids and brainstorm some ideas for a Christmas bucket list.  These are all the fun things that we want to do all month long to celebrate and these ideas don’t require group gatherings or a lot of public outings.  Remember the kids helped me so some of the ideas are a little silly, but hey why not?!

  1. Drink Hot Cocoa with Marshmallows
  2. Wrap presents as a family
  3. Christmas crafts (see Pinterest for a gazillion ideas)
  4. Decorate the Christmas Tree
  5. Decorate the yard
  6. Pictures with Santa (Bass Pro Shop did an amazing job of socially distanced photos with Santa- plexiglass barrier and everything)
  7. Daddy dress up as Santa and give the kids a present (the kids obviously thought this one up)
  8. Grinch movie night with green popcorn (or mix in some green m&m’s)
  9. Play in the snow (We live in Texas so wishful thinking)
  10. Build a snowman
  11. Make ornaments
  12. Eat Christmas themed food (Owen requested a snowflake shaped poptart)
  13. Bake and Leave Santa cookies
  14. Make Gingerbread houses
  15. Sing Christmas songs together
  16. Snowball fight (again we live in Texas so this may be a cotton ball fight)
  17. Tell Christmas stories
  18. Make a fire in the fireplace
  19. Make gifts for friends
  20. Drop of some toys at a Blue Santa donation site
  21. Send donations to an orphanage
  22. Watch a Charlie Brown Christmas
  23. Drive around look at Christmas lights
  24. Write letters to Santa
  25. Read Christmas books
  26. Send Christmas cards (the kids really enjoyed helping me put on the address labels and stickers)
  27. Make Reindeer food and leave out for Santa’s reindeer on Christmas Eve
  28. Make Gingerbread house ornaments out of terra cotta pots
  29. Read Elf on the Shelf and wait for our Elf to do lots of fun things all month long
  30. Watch the movie Elf. 

I hope that our list has inspired you to make time to do some special things as a family this holiday season.  2020 has been quite the year to navigate through but we hope each of you still manage to find joy in the small things and remember there’s always reason to celebrate. 

Surviving Parenting During the Pandemic

This whole parenting during a pandemic thing is getting pretty old. It’s been about four months of us not really going out in public or seeing our friends besides an occasional outdoor visit. The kids haven’t seen their friends in person in months. We are all feeling the stress of life not being normal. As a mom, I often feel that I am failing. I get irritated and impatient with the kids at times. The house is a mess. I have guilt for when I have to work. I worry that I’m not spending enough time with the kids when at the same time just wishing I had 5 minutes to myself. Any of this feel familiar? Well I’m here to tell you that you are not failing. We are all trying our best to do what is best for our families and it’s not always a pretty picture.

I’ve heard the saying “we are all in the same boat” when it comes to this whole pandemic situation, but recently someone pointed out the flaw in this phrase. We are not in fact all in the same “boat.” We are all in the same storm, but not all in the same boat. Some of us are sailing along more or less perfectly fine in a yacht while others are trying desperately to keep their canoe from sinking because it has a hole in it and somewhere along the way we have lost the paddles. Each of us are in different situations and no two situations are exactly the same.

We are all trying. Trying to make it through this odd and stressful situation while trying to maintain an ounce of sanity. The thought of homeschooling/ virtual learning with 3 children all in 3 different grade levels is exhausting just to think about. I’ve been trying to do some “school time” each day with my kids just so when we start the process in August it’s not a complete and utter shock to them. Just the other day while trying to simultaneously work with all 3 kids on different activities I absolutely lost it with the dog. I was already under a lot of stress that day and trying to homeschool was not going well. The dogs have been inside a lot more lately since it’s super hot outside here in Texas. They generally aren’t allowed upstairs but our dog Homer doesn’t really abide by those rules. It was too quiet and I hadn’t seen him in a while. I peeked my head outside of our homeschool room and there before my eyes, the children’s beloved Olaf stuffed life size doll was being violated by my dog. Not only had he humped the poor stuffed animal, he had also peed ALL Over it! I was livid. Now I had to not only stop what I was doing with homeschooling, but had to go do yet another load of laundry. I yelled at Homer so bad that he took off down the stairs and hid from me for the next hour. I definitely lost my temper and was pretty loud as I chased him away from Olaf. Moments later I got a horrifying text from my husband who works from home. “I’m on a call and we can all hear you yelling.”

He had left his office door open to better circulate the air in the room. Not only was he on a zoom call, he was in a zoom call presenting in front of a bunch of other directors. I felt so embarrassed. I blame the dog.

So, just incase you were feeling like a terrible parent, we are all in this together. We all make mistakes and fail from time to time, but that does not make us failures. Remember, you are trying and that’s what counts. And also remember, that people who are not in your house may be able to hear you, so don’t embarrass yourself like me.

Our beloved Olaf after his journey through the washing machine and dryer.

Kid Friendly Volunteer Opportunities for the Holidays

With the holidays just around the corner, our family is always looking for ways to volunteer and serve in the community.  We have 3 children ages 6, 4, and 3 which can make it difficult to find things that all of us can participate in.  We are trying to teach our children the importance of helping others and to have a servant’s heart.  I’ve compiled a list below that will hopefully give you and your family some inspiration to volunteer and serve your community this holiday season and to teach your children the importance of helping others.

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child is a part of the Samaritan’s Purse ministry.  Every year during November they collect shoe boxes filled with toys and other items such as toiletries, socks, etc… for children in other countries.  The recipients of the boxes receive them for Christmas. For many of these children, these are the first and only Christmas gifts they have ever received.  Every year, each of my children pack a box.  We visit stores such as The Dollar Tree and Five Below to pick out some special gifts to include in the boxes.  We like to include coloring books, dolls, racecars, and other fun toys in the boxes.  My children really enjoy getting to go shopping for their shoe box child.  There are drop off locations all over the place so if you are interested in checking out their site, here’s the link.

Food Pantry Collection

Collecting and Delivering Food items to your local food pantry is always an easy way to volunteer.  Some food pantries may have age limits for actually volunteering but there’s no age requirement for going door to door in your neighborhood to collect items.  This year I will also be taking my 3 little ones to the grocery store to help pick out and purchase the items we will be donating.  When we do the dropping off of the items, the kids can help carry in what we’ve collected and purchased.

Nursing Home Visits

Have your children make Christmas cards and deliver them to a nursing home or hospital.  Nursing homes can be a very lonely place for some people, especially during the holiday season.  One thing that I’ve learned from volunteering with the elderly is that most of them love children.  This Christmas we will be delivering some Christmas cards and just visiting with the residents. 

Homeless Bags

We live near Austin, Texas which at the moment has a very large homeless population. The closer you get to downtown, the more likely you are to see many homeless people standing on the street corners.  Having Pre-made bags in your car that you can give out while driving by or sitting at a stop light is an easy way to make a large impact. Have your child help pack freezer bags or small totes with items such as fresh fruit, snacks, water bottles, and some hygiene items such as hand sanitizer, toiletries, a new pair of socks, etc…

First Responder Treats

Take your first responders some treats! Have your children help bake some cookies or make some other treats that you can drop off at the local fire or police department.  You may want to check the station’s policies beforehand If you are making something homemade.  Otherwise, send them a basket of pre-packaged snacks and goodies. 

Speech Delay and Early Intervention


Back in February of this year when our youngest was two years old, we came to the realization that he was experiencing some hearing loss and was in need of ear tubes.  He had the procedure done in early March and has since passed his hearing test. We’ve seen quite an improvement in his speech, but still felt like he was behind where he should be.  

We started looking into  our options as far as speech services were concerned.  Having been in public schools as a teacher, I vaguely remember some 3 year old children coming to our campus for speech services.  I contacted our local school district to see if they offered speech services for 3 year olds. I was delighted when finding out that they do service 3 and 4 year olds as long as they qualify.  I was told beforehand that the process would probably take a few months, so one month before Charlie turned 3 we had him tested for a speech delay with the school district. We were told that he would most likely be qualified to receive services based on their assessments but it would be a few months before the admission process was complete.  

We started the process at the end of last school year in May.  He was evaluated for about an hour (mostly through play) by the school speech therapist .  They determined that he had a speech delay. He was very difficult to understand and his communication skills were lacking.  We were told that we would be contacted at the beginning of the next school year to set up his ARD (which is the official meeting to determine what services he will be receiving.) Since we knew the process of getting him serviced through the school district would be a long one, we went ahead and enrolled him in private speech therapy over the summer until he was able to start with the school.  From the time we started the process until he was actually enrolled was a 5 month span.  

Insurance will sometimes cover speech services, but some may not.  Even with insurance, services were about $40 a session twice a week.  As you can imagine, that can add up pretty quickly. Over the summer we received about a 10 page report going over the results of the initial evaluation with the school district.  We were finally scheduled an ARD at the end of September and he was able to start receiving services the very next day.  

At first I just assumed that Charlie would be receiving walk on services.  That is where depending on his needs he would go to the school for one or two thirty minute sessions each week.  I was unaware that there was another option for him which the specialists recommended. It’s called PALS which stands for Preschoolers Acquiring Language skills.  This program is 5 days a week for two hours each day. The best part of this program is that it’s absolutely free. Not only are we saving close to $400 a month by not paying for private speech services, he’s receiving not just one hour total a week, but 10.  I was told the walk on program is more for not being able to produce certain sounds or for omitting certain sounds in words. The program Charlie qualified for is the one that focuses on language and building vocabulary.  

He’s been in the program for a whole two weeks now.  It was a tough transition at first because he’s not used to being in school everyday but he’s adjusting well.  I’ve already seen improvements with his communication skills and he is attempting to speak more.  

Charlie doesn’t start kindergarten for another couple of years, but we are trying really hard to get him all caught up with his speech so it’s not a bigger problem later.  He’s a very bright, and funny little guy, but we just knew he needed a little extra help. If you have a child that you think might be struggling with speech, I highly encourage you to check out what resources are available through your local school district.  You might be surprised what services they have available to those who qualify. Early intervention is so important in these crucial years of development. You are your child’s biggest advocate so don’t be afraid to seek out professional help for your child. It will help them be successful in the long run. 

The Preschool Box has a New Look

Start the new school year off with a newly upgraded Preschool Box subscription! Our team has been working hard the past three months to take everything that we have learned over the past two years and make it better. The activities, crafts and games have all been assessed and updated using feedback from our loving customers and the Parent Guide is getting a gigantic makeover with clear instructions, big how-to pictures and workbook pages for your little one.

Check out our update in the video below to get a sneak peek at what’s coming!

New Preschool Box Reveal!!

Posted by The Preschool Box on Sunday, August 11, 2019
Check out our Facebook Live video going over the new stuff coming to The Preschool Box!

If you are ready to get back into school-mode sign up now using coupon code “BACKTOSCHOOL19” to get $5 off your first order, we hope you love it!

Speech Delay and Ear Tubes

Speech Delay and Ear Tubes

This past week I feel like I have gone from knowing virtually nothing about ear tubes, to gettinga crash course, and now we are scheduled for Charlie to get them this coming Friday.  For the last several months, we have been concerned that Charlie is speech delayed.  Compared to our other children at his age, we know there is a pretty significant difference in vocabulary and clarity of speech.  He is the third child, so I have always attributed the slight delay to the fact that maybe he hasn’t had as much one on one attention as the other two.

At two and a half years most of his speech is not well understood by other adults.  He is starting to put together a few words every now and then.  He likes to yell at the dogs “No, Homer, get down!” Most of what he says wouldn’t be understood by most, but I can still tell what he’s attempting to say.

Recently at his last well check, we discussed the speech concerns with his pediatrician.  After looking back at his charts, it came to our realization that he has had 3 ear infections in the last 6 months and had fluid in his ears at several other visits.  After a follow up appointment with an ENT, we decided that ear tubes would be the best solution to help relieve the fluid that is still present in his ears.

While at the ENT, the doctor suggested doing a hearing test on Charlie.  This means that we had to sit in a very small room with two speakers while they played different sounds out of the different speakers and watched to see if he would react to the sounds by looking at the appropriate speaker. Charlie was not having it and ended up screaming for most of the process but they were able to get enough results to determine that he has “temporary hearing loss.”

As a parent, I try to look back and see what I may have missed. How long has he had fluid in his ears? Has he really not been able to hear well his entire life? While feeling a bit anxious about the whole tubes thing, I am feeling pretty hopeful and excited to see how the tubes might improve his hearing and his speech.

As a kindergarten teacher, I often had to screen kids to see if they would be candidates for speech therapy at the school and as far as I am aware, Charlie could be eligible for speech therapy at public school as early as three.  If so, I am a total supporter of early intervention but I’m curious to see the potential improvements after tubes and then we can evaluate the need for speech therapy.

As we approach the upcoming procedure, I’m hopeful for a positive outcome.  I admit I will miss the cute way he says certain words and phrases, but excited for him to be able to hear more clearly.

Board Games that Teach Fundamental Preschool Skills

Board Games that Teach Fundamental Preschool Skills

Candy Land

We purchased this game for my kids a couple of years ago.  I had this same game as a kid and thought my children’s childhood wouldn’t be complete without it.  This game is so simple and easy to learn that even my two year old will join in on occasion.  First off, this game is great for teaching colors.  If you’ve never played before, the rules are simple. Each player has a character that moves along the path of the game board.  Each turn, a player draws a card and has to move to that next color on the board.  Today as I was playing with my three and five year old, I had them count the squares as they moved on each of their turns.  For each turn, they would typically end up counting anywhere between 1-10 spaces.  On one of my son’s turns, he drew a special card and ended up getting to move 40 spaces.  That was great practice for both of my kiddos.  Usually my 3 year old is able to count to 14 before starting to say random numbers out of order.  We are currently working on getting her to count to 20 independently and consistently.  This game made for great practice.

 

Hi Ho Cherry Oh

We purchased this game for my kids around the same time as Candy Land.  I’m pretty sure Wal Mart was having a sale so they were only like $5 each which is a great price.  If you’ve never played this game before, it is also super simple, but fun for preschoolers.  Each player has their own cherry tree and cherries they put on it.  You spin the spinner and depending on the picture you land on, you get to either put cherries on your tree or take some off.  This game is a great way to practice counting as well as addition and subtraction.  You can also ask your preschooler questions such as “Who has more cherries on their tree?” “Who has the least amount of cherries on their tree?”

Pop the Pig

Ok, so this one isn’t technically a board game, but my two year old loves this game.  He mainly loves to carry the pig around and just feed him the little hamburgers, but there are many math concepts to be practiced in this game.  For this game, you roll the dice that has a color on each side.  There are green, red, and purple hamburgers and on the bottom of each one is a number 1-3.  Each player rolls the dice and then have to pick a hamburger of the

corresponding color they roll.  If they roll a multicolor side, then they can pick any color.  Once they pick up one of the hamburgers, you flip it over and see what number is on the back.  The player then feeds the hamburger to the pig and has to click down the pig’s head the number of times the hamburger said.  Once the pig’s stomach is full, the pig will “pop.” This game is great for number recognition, and counting.  It’s also great for color practice.

 

There are so many fun preschool games that have ample opportunities to practice important reading and math skills. I’m always looking for ways to incorporate learning into our everyday activities and games are a great way to do it.

3 Fun Math Preschool Activities

3 Fun Math Preschool Activities

The Preschool Box is full of fun hands on activities for preschoolers.  The main focus of the box is to teach fundamental reading and math skills that will better prepare preschoolers for kindergarten.  The preschool activities included are meant to be done with as much or as little parent assistance as needed.  The skills introduced in each box build on previous skills taught in earlier boxes.  I wanted to share some of the fun, hands on activities that are included in some of the boxes.  The great thing about these activities are that you can reuse the materials to teach and practice other skills as well.

 

Sorting

Included in the first box is a sorting mat with a bag full of different fun, colorful materials for kids to sort.  For the first part of the activity they are supposed to sort the red items on one half of the sorting mat and the blue items on the other half.  Next, they are supposed to sort the yellow and green objects.  On the back side of the sorting mat are four different boxes in which the objects can be sorted into four different sections- one for yellow, blue, green, and red. The bags include a few other colored objects which can be sorted on the mat as well.  This activity not only teaches colors, but also how to sort. The objects can be sorted by size, texture, and shape.  My kids really enjoyed just playing with the different objects, because who doesn’t love feathers, and glitter balls?! The mats come laminated so they will last for many uses.  You can have your child find different colored objects around the house to sort on the mat or even use colorful cereal like fruit loops.

 

Counting Cups

One of the fun ways that we teach number recognition and counting to 5 is in the first box with our counting cups.  For this activity you will find 5 plastic cups labeled 1-5 and a bag of small pom pom balls.  For this activity you will have your child count the correct number of pom pom balls into the correctly labeled cup.  For cup 1, we put 1 ball.  In cup 2, we put 2 balls.  My kids really liked this activity because for some reason putting small balls into cups is very entertaining.  I did have to remind my 2 and 3 year olds to count as they put the balls in.  This activity can be used for color practice and sorting as well.  You can create this activity on your own by simply getting a piece of paper, drawing 5 circles and labeling each one with a number 1-5.  Pick some small objects you have around the house such as beads, cheerios, or anything else small that will fit into the circles.

 

Pattern Necklaces

Most kids love crafts and pattern necklaces are definitely a win in our house.  Crafts beads are easy to come by.  You can find pony beads or other plastic beads at your local craft store.  This particular activity is introduced in one of the later boxes after the different types of patterns have all been introduced.  The first patterns we introduce are AB patterns.  An example of an AB pattern would be blue, red, blue, red.  An example of an ABB pattern would be green, red, red, green, red, red.  An example of an ABC pattern would be red, blue, yellow, red, blue, yellow.  Before creating a necklace, I would recommend reviewing the different types of patterns.  I let my kiddos pick the different kinds of patterns they wanted to make on their necklace.  They did some of the basic patterns but also created some patterns on their own, it was fun to watch their creativity unfold.  You can also have your child practice counting the beads and work on color recognition.

For other preschool activities check out our blog on Five Summer Preschool Activities.

Lunchbox Surprise

I remember as a kid I would often take my lunchbox to school. Pretty frequently I would receive a handwritten note from my parents on the napkin they put in my lunchbox. I was always really surprised and excited when they did.  Looking back, it was just a simple, sweet gesture that really didn’t take a whole lot of effort to do, but as a kid it would really make my day.

Now that Owen has been in school an entire two days, I have carried on the tradition and have included a note in his lunchbox everyday that he has chosen to take a lunch which has been both days.  He’s in kindergarten but can read pretty well on his own.  The first day of school when I picked him up he was sitting outside holding his note.  He was so tickled that I had written a little note.  The next day when I picked him up, he asked me why I had put another note in his lunchbox.  I asked him if he wanted me to stop and he said no.  The notes have just been short, one to two sentences that are quick and easy for him to read.  I have now set an expectation that there will be a note included in his lunchbox everyday so I was trying to think of ways to get creative.

I decided to ask each of his grandparents to write a handful of notes that I can rotate in his lunchbox the next couple of months.  I know that he is going to be so excited and tickled when he opens his lunchbox in the morning to find a letter from his Grandma.  I’ve included some of the cute notes that my mom came up with.

This is such a quick and easy thing to do and I have loved seeing the reaction of my little one coming home each day clutching his handwritten letter.  Consider trying it and seeing the excitement on your little one’s face! Get your family and friends involved too!

Kindergarten Blues

So it’s finally happening.  It’s been five years in the making but my little baby boy is going to kindergarten.  He is so incredibly excited for Thursday while I am planning on pretty much boohooing and moping around the house until I go pick him up at 2:45.

I used to be a kindergarten teacher before having children and never really understood why parents would be crying as they left their little ones with me on the first day of school. I always thought they should be excited to get a little free time to themselves.  I would always have a few parents that seemed even more upset about leaving than their children were to see them go.  But now… I’m that parent.  I’m that parent that is going to be sadly walking away from my son’s classroom after I drop him off, trying to keep myself composed until I can at least make it back to my car before completely losing it.

 

As the days have flown by before the big day, I reflect back on the past five years and wonder if he’s adequately prepared for such a big step.  Will he make friends? Will he like school? Will he listen to the teacher?  What if he gets lost? What if he can’t button his pants back after he uses the potty?  The mommy stress really does start to set in.  For all the questioning I do with myself, I am confident that he is academically prepared for kindergarten.  That’s one thing that I know I’ve done right.  He’s been reading since he was about 3 and has really developed a love for it.  I can rest easy the first few months of school knowing that he won’t struggle academically, but hopefully can put some of his focus on building friendships and gaining confidence socially.  School can be tough and I want it to be the best experience possible for him.

 

Tonight was Meet the Teacher and I’m pretty sure I signed up to volunteer for pretty much everything they had requested.  I even volunteered to be home room mom.  I’m not really sure how I’m going to pull that off running two businesses, doing volunteer work for Drive a Senior, being the teacher appreciation coordinator at my other two children’s school, oh yes… and still parenting the other two children I will have home with me most of the week, but a girl can dream.

 

To all the other parents sending off their babies to kindergarten or preschool this week for the first time… I feel for you.  I will be crying and sad all day Thursday so feel free to join in.  But come 2:45 when I see my sweet boy and get to hear all about how exciting his first day of school was, my heart will be smiling and I will wipe up my tears and join in his excitement about going back again the next day.