This post is sponsored by Smartick. All opinions are my own.
When I taught middle school, I taught the same students in both 7th and 8th grades. Every year, in August, I had to cover and review with my eighth graders basically everything I had taught them the previous year. It made for a boring first two months of school because the kids felt like they had already learned the material (they had), and I felt like I had already taught it (I definitely had). The summer slide is real, friends, and if we aren't actively seeking to push our kids and practice learned skills with them, they will forget those skills.
I'm not saying we need to sit and do lessons for an hour a day, but we do need to make sure that we are regularly reviewing skills they already have. Caleb is in preschool, which means he's not needing to retain copious amounts of knowledge. But we have been making sure we continue to practice the skills that he mastered last school year.
We have been using a couple of things to help us keep those skills honed. In Caleb's case, it has been mostly letter recognition and practice in writing his letters. But there are also skills like logic and reasoning that he gets on a regular basis when he's in school and he might not be getting as regularly at home. So what are we using? A couple of different things!
Smartick is a leading online math program for children ages 4-14. It consists of daily 15-minute sessions and can help your child master the math foundations, develop critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Smartick has collaborated with the MIT G-Lab, published by Harvard Business Review, and has been spotlighted as an Apple app favorite. Harvard research shows that children are more likely to forget their math skills, as opposed to reading, over the summer - learning loss isn't a joke! You can get a better scope of the program and register for their free 15-day trial at www.smartickmethod.com.
Caleb has been doing his lessons daily and he calls it his "work". He likes that I let him do his lessons on the iPad, and he is excited to complete them. Once he completes his lesson, I get an e-mail that tells me how he did on that day's lesson, what his speed was, and how many he answered correctly/incorrectly so we know if we need to work a little harder on anything in particular.
Want to try Smartick out? The awesome people over at Smartick have graciously offered you - my readers - a 25% discount on your first subscription. If you're new to Smartick, use this link to register and redeem your discount. If you have already signed up, apply the code: ToddlerandTopknot directly to your account from the Parent Page. Still have questions? You can reach out to them directly via e-mail or phone: email@example.com / 617-903-8842
Kindergarten Tool Kit
The Comprehensive Kindergarten Toolkit helps build a basic foundation of reading, writing and math skills as your child prepares to enter Kindergarten. The lessons are simple and written in a way that any parent can be a "teacher" to their child. The Toolkit comes with a booklet that contains lessons and information on teaching your child those lessons. It focuses on 10 main Kindergarten goals. It comes with four sets of flashcards (Upper and lower case letters, numbers 1-20, 25 Kindergarten sight words, and 10 colors and shapes). It also includes a whiteboard, pen and eraser, and a piece of sidewalk chalk. We have been using the letters, shapes and color cards mainly, but my goal is to start working on some of the sight words in the last few weeks of summer.
Magic Sketch Boogie Board
The Magic Sketch Boogie Board is an e-writer. This particular model has inserts with pages that can be traced, and some of those pages include letter practice. Whenever we have an outing, I pack the Boogie Board in my bag - it's lightweight, compact, and keeps him entertained. He doesn't always have to use the letter practice pages - there are coloring pages, mazes, and a few other sheets. It doesn't make noise, it's got a replaceable coin-cell battery that lasts for 5 years (yay for one less device charger!), and it's durable.
Sometimes I will model a word for him and he can copy it. Other times we dictate letters to him and ask him to write them, or we write the letters and ask him to identify them.
The Big Fun Preschool Workbook
I've shared this workbook before in my stories, and it's been a big hit. It's got activities for fine motor skills, for letter practice, and all kinds of stuff. It's done in a way where Caleb doesn't feel like he's "working" and that's always a good thing, right?
At the end of the day, I always try to make it fun. When we drive, I point out letters and numbers and ask him to name them. I'll have him count the number of grapes I serve him, and draw the number in the air. Magnatiles and STEM-based toys are always great (LEGOs count!), and anything that helps him learn a little about science (like the Melissa and Doug Magnetic Puzzle pictured above). If you're interested in some more toys that can be helpful for practicing some of those preschool concepts, check out my recommendations here.
Happy learning, friends!
I often get asked how I do everything that I do, and the truth is that while it may seem like I do a lot, I have developed some pretty decent time management skills in the last few years. I like to produce, but I also like to be able to enjoy myself and my family. I have also learned that there are things I should put importance on, and there are others that I’m not really all that concerned about. Here are some of the things that I don’t do as a mother that allow me to seem like I “do it all.”
1. I don't do it all.
Whether it’s my husband, my parents, my in-laws, a babysitter, or housekeeper, I use the resources that are available to me so that I don’t get overwhelmed. It’s really easy to get caught up in saying, “I have to be the one to keep my house perfectly clean,” and “I have to be with the kids 24/7.” But in coming to the realization that I CANNOT physically do it all, I learned to ask for help. Sometimes that means it’s asking my husband to take care of dinner, or asking our parents to watch the kids so that I can go get some errands done.
2. I don't stress over what my kids eat.
I don’t really stress over what my kids eat. In the first year of life with both of my kids, I stressed over them consuming enough milk and gaining enough weight. But past that, I stopped stressing. Suer, I try to limit sugar, and I don’t give them sugary drinks at home, and I definitely try to push the healthier stuff, but I don’t stress it if they do or don’t have something. Some days that means that they snack and graze all day; other days that means that they have three really hearty well-balanced meals. And still other days, that looks like the drive-through of Pollo Tropical or some frozen meals heated up in the oven. I’ve come to understand the kids go through phases, and that not every day is going to be full of perfectly balanced nutritious meals. If Caleb wants microwaveable macaroni and cheese, then guess what? That’s what’s for dinner. If Chloe tosses her lunch on the floor and feeds it to the dog, then she might just be getting a pouch for lunch. And again, I’m not going to stress it. One of our friends, whose mom has three kids told us one time, “By the time they turn 18, they’ll have eaten a well-balanced diet.” So Eddie and I try to remember that whenever the kids are giving us a hard time over what we’re feeding them. At the end of the day, they’re just like us, and some days they might just not be hungry. Other days, they may really just want a certain kind of food, and that’s OK, too! They’re allowed to have likes and dislikes just like we do.
3. I don’t buy into the more is more mentality.
There are a lot of sources out there telling us that we need ALL THE THINGS for our kids. More toys, more clothes, more gadgets, more STUFF. But I have become a big believer in the fact that kids don’t need as many things as we think they do. For the most part, they’re happy with a couple of toys that they really like. The best thing for them is going outside, playing, using their imaginations, and being kids. I will not be on the hunt for the most popular toy this Christmas, because I know that is not what is going to make my kid happy. One perfect example was for Caleb’s birthday this year. We decided that since we were surprising him with the Disney Cruise, and his birthday is so close to Christmas, that we were going to forgo buying him a gift. The day of his birthday, I woke up with a little guilt that he had nothing to open. But you know what? He never asked for anything except for the waiters to sing him Happy Birthday. And the day we got off the ship, he THANKED us for taking him on the cruise.
4. I don’t let my coffee get cold.
I also get dressed every morning, and do my hair when I need to. I take care of myself, because I need to be able to take care of them. If that means that they are strapped into the high chair or watching TV for an extra five minutes in the morning so I can drink my coffee hot, then so be it. But I make the time in the morning to do that one thing for myself.
5. I don’t spend all day entertaining my kids.
I sit on the floor and play with Chloe for a little bit each day - time I dedicate just to her. Or I spend some time with Caleb outside or coloring or reading. But I’m a huge proponent of independent play. I want my kids to be able to entertain themselves and each other. They have a pretty free range of the main area of the house, and there are toys for them to play with, so there’s no reason why they should need to be entertained constantly. I’ve always got an eye or ear on them, but if I’m making dinner, or replying to e-mails, or folding laundry, you can bet that they are playing independently.
6. I don’t feel guilty about what I do or don’t do.
No explanation needed, no guilt. Sometimes I’ll have twinges of guilt over something, but for the most part, I don’t feel guilty about any of the above.
So there you go. Next time you find yourself wanting to ask, "How does she do it all?" Know that I really, truly don't. There are a lot of things I don't do, and that is what gives me the ability to do what I want to do. And always always always remember that social media can be deceiving! Anyone who looks like they do it all more than likely has a team/village/small army helping them appear that way!
I know I promised you guys this post almost 2 months ago already, but I finally got around to putting it in writing, and it was a lot more involved than I thought it would be! Our time on the Disney Magic for the Marvel Day at Sea sailing was amazing. These cruises bring a magic that only Disney can provide. We were on the ship for Caleb‘s birthday and the way that he was treated and made to feel really special was something that I would not trade for the entire world.
We had actually been on a Disney cruise a couple years back. Before Caleb turned one, we did a special sailing for New Year’s, but it was very short. It was a three night sailing and we only stopped at Castaway Cay. We had a great time, but we definitely felt like a longer amount of time was necessary to truly enjoy being on the Disney cruise - especially when it came to seeing characters. So when we saw this opportunity for a Marvel sailing, we jumped at the chance, since Caleb has an obsession with all things Marvel.
I’m going to break this up into two posts: the cruise and ship itself, and the Marvel Day At Sea - as I think that will be the easiest for you to follow. There are certain things that are given when it comes to cruising: your food is all included, entertainment is included, and there are different ports of call. As far as schedules go, getting information, and logistics, it works just like any other cruise ship. For questions on what to pack, head over to my post on packing for a Disney Cruise.
We were on the Disney Magic, which is the oldest and smallest of their fleet. The ship is easy to navigate, state rooms are all in one area and not completely spread apart, and it’s not too far to go from your state room to the dining room, or from the dining room to the theater. There is also plenty to do on the ship - they have an amazing kids club (Oceaneer Club) and that could take a post all on its own. It is very secure, and provides tons of opportunities for kids to go in either on their own or accompanied by their parents. I didn’t get to use the fitness center on the ship, but my husband did and said it was great. The adults only section of the ship is amazing and so relaxing from what I can tell (since I only walked through there). There are bars and areas to grab a drink all over the ship, and there is plenty of seating throughout as well. There are two main pool areas, a splash pad for little ones who are still in diapers, a waterslide, and the adults only pool. There are theaters, a nightclub, a several areas for dancing and people watching in the evenings.
The one thing that really stuck out to us the first time we cruised with Disney was how conducive the staterooms were to families. First of all, they have actual BATHTUBS. Not teeny tiny showers you’re trying to squeeze into or bathing your kids and struggling to not drop them. The bathrooms are also split up - one door for the toilet and a sink, and another for the bathtub and a sink. Two sinks! Definitely useful fo four people getting ready at the same time. Staterooms have plenty of storage - drawers, cabinets, and shelves, so you can put everyone’s things away. The bed is also raised high enough where you can store your luggage AND strollers underneath! You can request a pack n play for babies to sleep in (which we did), and they will also bring you a diaper genie.
One of the things I enjoyed on the ship was going to the movies. In the Walt Disney theater, you can watch movies that are still out in theaters. So while we were on the ship, we were able to watch Mary Poppins returns, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to watch yet.
As far as entertainment in the evenings, we only made it to two of the shows. Since my kids go to sleep relatively early, and are pretty miserable if they don’t get to sleep, I did not want to keep them up five nights and suffer the consequences. So we watched two of the shows in the theater, and we watched another on the closed circuit TV in our state room while the kids were asleep. On Pirate Night (in lieu of a formal night, they do Pirate Night, which is so nice to not have to dress up in formalwear with kids), they have an awesome deck party with a show with Mickey and Minnie and fireworks! The last night Caleb stayed up and Chloe went to the nursery - more on both of those later.
There are also characters available throughout the ship at different times of the day. Sometimes you need to make a line for them, other times they are dancing and interacting with passengers. There are also special character meet and greets that you book ahead of time online. They don’t cost extra, but they only allow a certain number of people to take part and it usually includes more than one character. We did this for the Marvel Day at Sea. But if you don’t get a coveted spot, show up early and ask if there is any way you can get in. We did this with Chloe and the princesses, and they asked us to wait a few minutes. Once the line went down completely, they let us in, and Chloe got to meet Cinderella, Bella, and Tiana.
Disney’s private island is nothing short of perfect. Even though it was January and the water was a little cold for our taste, we got down and enjoyed the beach and the island. Food is provided at two locations, there is a separate 21+ section on the island, and plenty of lounge chairs throughout. There is a splash pad for kids, and there is an outpost of the Oceaneer Club, called Scuttle’s Cove where you can drop off your kids and they will have activities for them. There are bars throughout the island as well. A couple of important notes. You get towels to use as you disembark from the ship. There is a shuttle, just like in the parking lot at Disney World. You can take the shuttle or you can walk. When you get off the shuttle at the beach, there are strollers, wagons, and wheelchairs available, free of charge, that will get you through the sand. We actually grabbed strollers for the kids (they were brand new BOB strollers), and a wagon for all of our stuff. We ended up grabbing a spot near the front part of the island, close to the food. But we did take a walk and explore a little more of the island, and it was relaxed throughout. We even got to see a wedding taking place!
The Oceaneer Club has some great activities for kids. At the beginning of the cruise, if you register your child for the Oceaneer Club, they will receive a Magic Band. This gives the cast members working in the Club your child’s location. They can only be signed out by adults who are on a pre-approved list, and the adults have to give a “secret word” that you designate when you register them. The Oceaneer Club is spread into two areas: the Club and the Lab. There are activities designated as “Open House,” which means you can go in with your child to one of the areas. The other area is secured and children who are not with an adult are kept in the secure side.
We left Chloe in the nursery one evening and they were great, as well. They get a similar Magic Band, but it is placed on their ankles. They have plenty of staff in the nursery and it is a welcoming space. They are clearly experienced because they whisked Chloe away from me and didn’t delay the goodbye, and she was perfectly fine. She actually fell asleep shortly after we left and when we picked her up, she was still asleep. (Tiny note: the nursery does have an additional cost, while the Oceaneer Club does not.)
Food & Dining
There are plenty of places to eat and grab a bite on the ship. Lumiere’s is open for breakfast and lunch if you would like to sit down to eat, and Cabanas is the buffet that is open for breakfast and lunch (and dinner, too, if I’m not mistaken!). There are also spots near the pool where you can grab a bite if the buffet isn’t open and you’re hungry.
Dinner is set up in such a way where you rotate to the different restaurants but your waitstaff follows you from one restaurant to the next, so every night you have the same waitstaff. This means they learn your likes and your dislikes, but you get to see a new environment. In the case of the Magic there are three main dining rooms: Animator’s Palate, Rapunzel’s Table, and Lumiere’s. The food was great - we thoroughly enjoyed everything and there was a lot of variety available for everyone in our party - from healthy options to rich, decadent ones. If there were any special requests, those were taken care of for us with ease, as well. If you really need something, and can’t find it, ask! Especially when it comes to food allergies or something for the kids, Disney knows how to get it done right!
I would pay over and over and over again for Disney’s service. We had exceptional service throughout - from our waitstaff to our cabin steward. Caleb befriended one of the entertainers at dinner one day, and we spotted him at a show the next night. After we went over and talked to him for a few minutes, and he found out it was Caleb’s birthday, he had a backpack full of goodies delivered to our stateroom for Caleb. It was such a nice touch and one that Caleb still talks about (he uses the backpack for school every day).
All in all, I’d say a Disney cruise is totally worth taking, and an experience the whole family will love. As a matter of fact, I might go check out next year’s sailings right now.
P.S. If you plan on doing a lot of character photo opps, get the photo package. It's not cheap, but we ended up with over 75 photos on a USB. It would have cost us way more to get all the photos we would have wanted to get and we didn't have to stress over getting a good photo ourselves.
Disclaimer: I won the Doona in a giveaway. All opinions, however, are my own!
A little over a year ago, I posted about how excited I was to use certain products. Well, after nearly a year of use, I can certainly say that the Doona was worth the hype. It has been the single most useful item we have had for Chloe.
If you’re not familiar with the Doona, it is a car seat that converts to a stroller. Instead of a travel system where you pop the infant seat into a stroller with an attachment, this is all one piece. The handle bar moves and extends, wheels pop out of the bottom part of the car seat, and it becomes a very handy stroller.
It’s safe, it’s convenient, it saves precious real estate in your trunk. Need I say more? Chloe just turned one and we are still using it. We actually JUST got a new lightweight stroller for her because I feel like she would enjoy sitting up more. But really, we could keep using it for a while and she would still be fine. As a matter of fact, the height limit is 32” and the weight limit is 35 lbs. Chloe will outgrow it lengthwise before she does weight-wise (she is just over 29 inches and 19 pounds), but she still has a couple of inches before that happens.
Let’s talk pros and cons.
Price: The Doona rings in at $500.00. I know many would list this as a con, but I think it is well worth the price tag. Odds are, if you are considering this, you’re considering a travel system that clocks in at just as much or double this. Since we haven’t used anything else for Chloe up until now, I can tell you that the investment is well worth it.
Overall, way more pros than cons - and I can tell you that when I was in a rush at morning drop-off with Caleb, it was nice to just release the seat and go. Not having to take the extra step of opening the trunk was so helpful. Caleb only uses a stroller when we are doing something like Disney or something with really heavy walking, which is why this worked so well for us (we ended up just taking two strollers with us when we went to places like that, and it worked for us).
Clearly, this is a product I love. I will continue to recommend this product, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to use it!
Questions? Ask away in the comments below!
A couple of years ago, my friend Jenny Rose over at Princess Turned Mom shared an idea for Valentine's Day that really stuck with me. As an alternative to giving out chocolates and stuffed animals for Valentine's Day, why not give books? They last longer, and they won't give you or your kids cavities! Ever since I read that idea of hers, I decided I would implement it for my own kids for Valentine's Day.
With one week to go until Valentine's Day, I decided to compile a list of books we have enjoyed in our home and that I thought would be cute to give as Valentine's Day gifts.
In compiling the list, I reached out to the amazing people over at Books & Books. If you're in Miami and have never been, get yourself there ASAP. Books & Books is my favorite bookstore. It's local and it has a couple of locations in South Florida, but it has such an incredible variety of material. Plus, the staff there are true bibliophiles - they absolutely love books. I actually love this place so much that we had Caleb's baby shower at the Coral Gables location - it has the cutest cafe and courtyard space!
They sent me list of some of the books they currently have on their shelves, and there is something here for everyone. As a matter of fact, I may swing by there this weekend and pick up a couple of these (including a new read for myself!). If you're into this idea and have the spare time this weekend, head to your nearest Books & Books and pick up a copy of one of these, totally perfect for Valentine's Day!
Love You More
By: Gary Urda
Publisher: Little Bee Books
A Hug Is for Holding Me
By: Lisa Wheeler
Publisher: Abrams Appleseed
The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs
By: Mark Sperring
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
French Love Poems
Publisher: New Directions Publishing
Dumplin’ (of Netflix fame)
By: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
99 Percent Mine
By: Sally Thorne
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Don't have time to stop by and pick one of these up? Head to my Amazon List to see some other options that you can get via Prime, with more than enough time for Valentine's Day!
Love is a Tutu and Goodnight Miami are also available from Books & Books.
I'd love to hear if you do this for your children or loved ones and how it goes - so if you do it, use the hashtag, #chaptersnotchocolates so I can see your posts!