My Own Map

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Learning to draw things from a bird’s eye view is a crucial step for kids as they start to understand and read maps. This was a fun activity (with a treat at the end!) to help Travis visualize our home as if he were poised up above.

I told him we were each going to draw the other person a map with a hunt through the house, starting at one point and following a path to end at another. Dessert (the always-vegan Oreo cookie!) would be waiting at the end.

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It was fascinating to see how Travis pictured things, including attention to detail like his coiled stuffed snake on top of our living room couch, or the arched doorway between the hall and kitchen.

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He was proud to make the staircase look like “stepping stones”. My surprise cookies were at the top of the stairs.

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Then it was his turn to navigate my map, which proved to be an interesting lesson in how he interpreted my drawing. “Is that the couch or table?” he asked, for example, before finding his way.

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X marked the spot and he found his sweet reward.

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Griddled Banana Bread with Maple Syrup

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Here’s an adaptation from a recipe in Country Living, perfect for these first few cozy mornings that feel like fall. For a more classic taste, use cinnamon instead of the nutmeg and cloves.

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  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 2 Ener-G eggs
  • 1/3 cup vanilla non-dairy yogurt
  • 3 mashed ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the brown sugar and butter; beat for about 2 minutes at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the Ener-g eggs, followed by the vanilla yogurt, bananas, and vanilla extract, beating after each addition.
  3. Slowly add the flour mixture, beating at slow speed until just combined. Spoon the batter into a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 65 minutes. Cool completely, then transfer to a cutting board (or refrigerate overnight).
  5. Cut the loaf into 1/2-inch thick slices. Melt additional Earth Balance butter to taste in the bottom of a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Add the banana bread slices in batches, cooking for about 3 minutes on each side.
  6. Serve with warm maple syrup!

The kids helped prepare this as a birthday breakfast-in-bed surprise; it’s definitely a recipe with a special occasion feel to it.

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Leafy Green Pumpkins

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When you think of pumpkins and fall d├ęcor, the color orange likely comes to mind. But this beautiful, more subtly-shaded pumpkin decoration feels just right as summer gives way to fall, when the world is still mostly green and hasn’t yet turned to autumn’s vivid oranges, yellows, and reds.

Travis has been very into ferns lately, so as soon as I spotted this front-porch pumpkin idea in Country Living, I knew he’d love it, too. First up was a fern hunt! We did a family nature walk and were careful to take only a few fern tips here and there, leaving most of nature undisturbed.

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What a beautiful fern glen we stumbled upon!

Make the next stop your local farm or farmer’s market, because the best background for these ferns will be white, not a standard orange. Fun fact: these pumpkins are called Snowball or Ghost Pumpkins.

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All we needed to do was glue down the ferns with clear tacky glue, applying a few strips to each. A green Hubbard squash added height and fit the color palette perfectly, to complete the ensemble.

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How do you decorate your porch in early fall? Please share in the comments!

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Sandwich Roll-Ups

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One of the biggest changes for Veronika this fall is that she now eats lunch at school. We love these rolled sandwiches for two reasons. A) kids can help put them together, which lets them take ownership of packed lunches and B) they’re just the right size for small hands!

To start, trim the crusts from whole wheat bread, then use a rolling pin to flatten out and stretch each piece slightly. Veronika loves this part!

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Next, spread the bread with a sticky spread of choice. We tried both lemon hummus and vegan cream cheese, both of which were declared yummy.

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Top with your filling of choice. We made a veggie version with shredded carrots and chopped baby spinach on the first day…

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…and filled them with tofurkey, vegan cheese, and olives on the second.


Thanks to Veronika’s latest issue of High Five magazine for suggestion this perfect lunch treat.

Balloon School Send-Off

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Help your kids soar up, up, and away into the new school year with this picture-perfect backdrop for first day of school pix. I spotted the idea in Parents magazine, and instantly knew we needed balloons in green (the school color!) to start the year off on a high note.

Bonus points: if you start the day blowing up balloons, it means that any back-to-school grumbles will instantly turn to glee! I then arranged the balloons in an arc against our garage door, attaching with painter’s tape.

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All your kids need to do is stand under the arch and smile big. Wishing all families out there a safe, healthy, and fantastic school year ahead.

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Dessert Map

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Maps were a big topic in Travis’s First Grade classroom last year, so as he transitions off to Second Grade, we decided to put a delicious endnote on the curriculum. This cookie dough map not only offered a little late summer learning, but made for a delicious dessert, too!

To start, prepare the dough from two boxes of chocolate chip cookie mix. You can also use refrigerated dough from the store or your favorite homemade recipe. Either way, it’s a great excuse to bake together!

Travis helped press the first batch of dough down onto the a baking sheet as a giant island.

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He then used the second batch of dough to make topographical features, constructing mounds that could be mountains or hills and adding smaller cookie “islands” along the rim of the sheet. Bake according to package directions.

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Once the cookie cooled, it was time to add a few more geographical features. Chocolate sauce was perfect for oceans, rivers, and mountain lakes. Travis got a bit impish with this step, drowning his land in goopy syrup.

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He wanted to add chocolate sprinkles, too, which were more for fun than a specific geographical element. Perhaps they were plants or people on his island! Either way, it was time to dig in for the delicious result.

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Note: Because this cookie is likely to be much thicker than a standard cookie (thanks to all those mountains!), you may find that it doesn’t bake all the way through. You can also expect the mountains to spread down and out as the cookie bakes. As a result, we found that the most delicious part was our edges and low-lying islands, while the rest was really more for fun than for eating.

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Mail Truck Craft

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Veronika loves when the mail truck arrives each day, so we made this cute play version at home, thanks to a suggestion in her High Five magazine. Now she can be in charge of all the mail deliveries!

To start, cover an empty cereal box with white paper, gluing or taping as needed to hold in place.
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Next, I added a strip of blue duct tape for the windshield. Blue construction paper would also work for this part.
Add additional stripes with blue washi tape or markers. We used marker for details like headlights and wheels, but for real wheels, simply glue on old juice bottle caps!
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I purposefully left the back of the box with the flap open, so that Veronika could really insert mail and take it out again.
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We used index cards as letters, and she loved scribbling messages with crayon. Big brother Travis even ran over to write a few pieces of correspondence!
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Even more fun than writing out the mail, though, was chugging her mail truck around the room before making each “delivery”!
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Summer Outdoor Learning

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Expeditions into the great outdoors are the perfect opportunity to sneak in summer learning, helping to avoid the summer slide. With the last week of summer upon us, here are a few activities we enjoyed at the park!
Draw Your Environment
For a review of natural versus man-made, we sat down in the shade and Travis divided a piece of paper in half with a crayon. On one half, he drew things he could see that could be found in nature. The other half was for things that were man-made.
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Once he brainstormed a few answers, the nature side filled up with trees, grass, and flowers. Man-made items included park benches and picnic tables. Depending where you are, this list could be quite varied and interesting.
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Follow the Leader
Next it was time for verb review combined with gross motor skills! Pick a leader and everyone does whatever action the leader does, whether rock climbing…
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…or walking with an apple, Travis’s impish answer since he loved the apple trees around us. This game is also great practice for turn-taking, a soon-to-be-needed skill in the classroom
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Adjective Hunt
Now it was time to review a different part of speech: adjectives! We played “I Spy” using adjectives on our nature walk. “I spy something small and purple,” Travis tried out.
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You might even spy something exciting, like when the kids spotted a very cool insect.
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Measure Your Footprint
Finally, it was time for outdoor math. Head to a place where your child can leave a footprint in the sand, whether a park, beach, or lakeside. I traced the outline of Travis’s foot with a stick, then we chose a rock as our unit of measurement.
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His foot was 7 and 1/2 “rocks” long!
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What outdoor learning did your family enjoy this summer? Please share in the comments!

Silly Face Rice Cakes

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Kids love to eat food when it’s presented in the form of something else (think rainbows or boats), and it’s particularly fun to eat food that looks like… faces! Rice cakes are the perfect backdrop for this adorable snack idea from Veronika’s latest High Five magazine.

To start, spread rice cakes with your kids’ favorite sticky spread of choice, whether peanut butter or another nut or seed butter.

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Then raid the snack cabinet for tidbits that can turn into facial features! We had an assortment of o-shaped cereal (great for eyes, noses, or mouths), raisins, dried apricots, and pretzels. The pretzels in particular were great for spiky hair.

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The other big winner for hair was rainbow sprinkles!

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Don’t stop there: strawberry halves make adorable ears, blueberries are perfect for eyes, and chocolate chip noses would also be super cute. Veronika thought that eating up this yummy face was an absolute delight.

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Build a Mini Sprinkler

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With a gentle, less intense stream of water than most store-bought sprinklers, this DIY version is just right for toddlers!

To start, I first cut a pool noodle in half (save the remaining half for another use), then cut a 2-inch section off one end. Cut this small section into 6 strips. Stuff three of the strips into one end of the pool noodle to create a very secure seal; you’ll have to wedge them in quite firmly, and can add masking tape or duct tape to hold it all together.

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Next, poke a series of holes along the pool noodle, making sure they’re wide enough for water to shoot through. Now just head outside with bathing suits and sunshine and attach a hose to the open end of the pool noodle.

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Turn on the water gently and watch the water spurt forth!

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This turned out to be exactly the right gentle trickle for Veronika, who loved that she could dip her toes or fingers in and enjoy the cold spray without her whole body getting soaked.

Most likely, splashing in puddles once the hose is off will be half the fun!

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