Every year I’ve tried to do a little something handmade for Christmas. The kids have caught the bug and love to make things for people. Sometimes the results are questionable … but I’ve found that I can really impact the quality of the product by providing good materials. In fact, if you just give them good supplies and no guidance you sometimes get some really creative things.
The theory is – if they can string pasta on yarn, they can string pretty beads on a nice chord. Understandably this is a choking hazard for little little kids but if you can trust them to not eat the goods, you can give them good things to work with.
I started with Oriental Trading Company online looking for some cool bits and pieces for them to create into gifts for teachers and friends. Oriental Trading is my go-to, not just because they sponsored this post but because the prices are fantastic for the quality AND it isn’t the ‘same old stuff’ you find in the craft area of WalMart or Joanns. By virtue of being online, they can have a million things for Christmas or charms for any hobby where a store has to limit what is on the shelves. Niamh actually helped some this year and selected a cute bunch of snowflake charms, a winter mix of charms, and a solid style bracelet. I supplemented with a specialized ‘teacher pack’ and per Zoe request something ‘with a dog and best friend’.
It all arrived and the kids could not contain themselves. I had to hold them back from instant creation because we were about to eat Thanksgiving dinner and that is NOT the time to bust out the beads. When things mellowed out the got to the organizing side of things, sorting out all the different things into our ‘upcycled’ craft organizer – egg crates.
The rest I left up to them. Niamh went classic with an arrangement of charms on a bracelet, she even made a custom on for her snow hating teacher.
Fiona went a totally different way and used almost all large beads and then put the whole thing on a necklace and it looks pretty cool like a big pendant.
Niamh actually did way more on the bracelet, adding spacer beads etc but just in case her teacher is reading I’ll keep some details a surprise for Christmas!
I love that they feel confident that people will love what they create, I love helping build that confidence by giving them the tools to actually make quality things. And by ‘make’ I mean like how I ‘make’ a cake from a nice packaged box and some eggs and water – There is no way I can make as good from scratch in as little time with as consistent results.
One of the groups I’m really happy to be a part of is our local Moms club. It has evolved over the years and so has my interaction with it. At one point I was ‘that mom’ with 3 kids under 5 and now I’m a different ‘that mom’ with 3 small people I keep track of but don’t have to manually operate (much). Regardless, if you are home with kids and need some friends to talk diapers with, or, your kids are in school and you need a reason to have coffee with friends – look into a MOMS club near you.
The current president had a fabulous idea for getting the word out locally. She got our club a booth at one of the Art in the Park farmer’s markets. We didn’t sell anything, we actually made our space into a mini kid zone because markets can be really frustrating with kids in tow. For one of the dates I was able to ask our favorite internet source for crafts and fun stuff; Oriental Trading, to provide some activities. In return, they get this lovely post and our honest playtesting results.
I let the Prez go crazy with the catalog and she choose the theme of superhero (that is one of the pregrouped themes on the site for). Once you pick a theme things are so easy to pull together and with one hand feeding a toddler, she clicked and clicked a cart full of superhero items in no time.
The day of the event was perfect. I stopped by to help and kids were decorating masks and playing superhero. She made use of the bookmarks in a rather unique way – she printed out the club info onto cardstock the same size and shape and tied them together to hand out to moms. I know at least 2 ladies joined and plenty of fun was had by all.
Thank you, Oriental Trading Company for partnering with kids and parents and bloggers like me!
When we started this semi-impulsive move I looked ahead and saw that there were absolutely 2 birthday’s that would be quite in the thick of things and decided I HAD to give myself a break from doing ‘too much’ for the birthdays. However, Fiona and Zoe’s birthday shouldn’t really suffer too much from our move so I tried to find a compromise. Here is what I did.
#1. Since their birthdays are just 2 weeks apart, we found a weekend (the only free weekend day) in between and put their party on ONE day.
#2. We decided to use our new YMCA as the venue since they offered decent party packages and did have our date available so in a nod to the two kids, we actually booked 2 parties
- Zoe turning 7 had more options based on age so we booked her a 3 hour party that included 1h of swimming, 1h of the bounce house, and 1h in the party room.
- Fiona turning 5 had fewer options and to stagger the starts we just booked her a 2 hour party with 1h in the bounce house and 1h in the party room.
- The staggered start meant we could greet each party of kids independently and they moved together as a group and we finished all together in the party room for 2 cakes.
#3. I gave myself a ‘pass’ on making all my decorations and running around to 3 different stores went to Oriental Trading and just clicked around until I had a party in a box. *because of my ongoing relationship with them, Oriental Trading treated me to this build your own birthday party in a box and in return I’m telling you all about it!
- The girls agreed on the emoji theme and that is pretty in right now so it was an easy enough shopping trip. There is even an emoji category at Oriental Trading in the party theme section. I had to cover the standards;
- Table wear; plates, cups, napkins
- treat bag and filling
- some decor to fill up the impersonal (yet nice) room
- a craft to have something to do while food is served etc
I had to be a little creative in some ways and in others there was a super obvious and easy choice but here is the party fresh out of the shipping box (a box I have reused and packed a bunch of family pictures in);
The EASY part was treat bag! First I saw the cellophane bags (bottom right) and then I found the face bag (top right) and I just got both. I hedged my bets about size and quality and in the end I actually used both. The face bags have a narrow top but are otherwise really cute and easy to fill. I put Boom Chicka Pop, the most awesome popcorn, into the cellophane bags and that gave me some nice bulk. The other goodie bag fillings were also pretty easy to hunt up – the emoji stickers, stampers, and pins were all on the theme and good value.
Second most easy were the craft. There are emoji scratch off crafts front and center on the site. They really don’t create anything grand but kids really love scratching off the black to make the design and each packet comes complete for the craft so it was just hand one per kid and let them do what they do.
The Harder part was table wear. Napkins and cups, no problem. No easy options for plates? I searched emoji and smile and nada in the plate family but then I saw these ninja plates and figured they would work just fine. I ended up just using some leftover paper plates for the dinner plate so it was all fine and looked festive. **going back today for links I see they have a dinner plate now! Must have been sold out, but no cake plate so my ninja pick is still a good tip if you are doing an emoji them birthday**
The Hardest part was decor. I didn’t need balloons because filling a balloon you purchase elsewhere is nearly impossible so I just buy them here. In the end, I got the plain yellow pennant banner and my sharpie and I decorated while we watched some TV the night before. Let me tell you, a 200f banner is REALLY long. It did make the room look emoji theme with only 1 decoration so that is a big impact. I ended up cutting it so I had a big one on the wall and a small one to decorate the serving table.
Overall a party in a box + a venue I didn’t need to clean made it a very fun and pretty easy party. There were questions of service and organization on the part of the Y, but, I’m working on that. Let’s just say you can’t expect much from teen party assistants….
It is not a secret that Oriental Trading is an easy one stop party shop but now there is proof that in 20min of shopping and a few minutes of assembly you can have a nearly Pinterest worthy party with nearly no effort.
I’m not sure I’ll be stacking parties like this again, it was a whirlwind, but give the time we have it was the best we could do and everyone had a good time so that is what counts.
In my family and friends group, there are quite a few teachers. Miss Math and I talk regularly and I get the teacher POV on things and I routinely go to the school board and PTO meeting. My grandfather was a teacher for 30 years in some of the rough inner city areas (by choice) and my aunt is a teacher for the deaf. The college I attended had a teaching specialty so countless friends were studying education all around me constantly. Can’t help but pick up a little second-hand teacher from all that exposure..
Before I had kids I basically had teacher side knowledge of the ‘job’ of teaching. However, I did not know just how much each teacher really does for each child until I was on the parent side of things. I know how my 3 can be learning a new things or just managing them all day from activity to activity. The fact that teachers do that x20 or more is amazing, fantastic, unimaginable!
I mentioned that I go to our local school board meetings, I have gone to nearly everyone for a year, and I see that we have a real situation in our town with money. One may think that there is fluff in the budget, that there are fat administration salaries or waste somewhere… From what I have observed in ours there really really isn’t but every year there are cuts that have to be made. This year 10 teachers lost their job as well as quite a few support jobs because the budget just didn’t stretch. This is why I personally went to the legislature to talk about why we need more funding. Despite all that, it is a high achieving, high test score area and that is mostly because the teachers are really dedicated.
This is a long way to go to say that when Oriental Trading Company offered me product credit in return for a post about Teacher Appreciation Week I could not say yes fast enough. I asked at our last PTO what teachers would want and the #1 thing I heard was “fidgets”.
What is a fidget? Well, according to my kids, they are a small thing you can hold and move around in your hands (not play with) so you are not tempted to touch other people and are able to focus on the teacher. According to the teacher, it is a tool that some kids need all the time but most kids need some of the time and having a supply of little things would make their life easier.
Say no more, to Oriental Trading Company I go! I was quite surprised when they actually had a section dedicated to fidgets already. The other thing the teacher asked was that it not be ‘annoying’ so I reviewed the list with a critical eye and took some of their suggestions but also went out on my own a bit. I got stress balls, large braided beads (very tactile and not bouncy), erasers shaped like brains, bean bags… I used every cent to the best of my ability. I must have done it right because when I got the box and asked my kids what they thought I got for the teachers they yelled “Fidgets!!!” (and then all picked one to keep and they really do love them)
These are things that are useful but not in any budget at all. They come out of teachers pockets most of the time and I am very glad that I could facilitate this gift to my teachers and hopefully inspire you to do something similar for yours. We have all read the ‘please don’t give us mugs’ lists by teachers around the holiday/end of year gift giving season so if you ARE looking for something to give your elementary school teacher, I have it on good authority that fidgets are a good option. When I brought them into school it was a happy day and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Thank you, Oriental Trading Company for helping me show our teachers that they are appreciated!
And… because that box was free in return for this post (that I’m sure you can tell is full of only my own opinions) I will also be participating in the teacher breakfast next week too!
I should actually put that the other way around since the Birthday party was 3 days before Easter but either way I’m about a week past due to post about either so I’m not sweating the details. (This is a long post so settle down or hide in the bathroom)
Today I finished the thankyou cards, usually, I do them faster but I have been in a fight with my computer and phone and pictures talking nicely to each other but I finally got it done. I know I like my thank you collages, but, I now have proof that the kids (at least one) likes it too since when I was snapping pictures and asking each kid to pose with their birdhouse the two that have been guests before actually mentioned ‘knowing why I take so many pictures’. Anyway, this 9th birthday was a bit of a turn in the road for us in birthday planning because instead of a BIG party with MANY people invited this was a tiny party with very few invited because it was a sleepover. I like both styles, but, I’m glad we went small this time because I was able to do some cool things with them.
- First is something I think is pretty clever and not an absolute Pinterest thing (but inspired by) – I made envelopes that had each activity on a paper inside. I had the stack displayed on the table and it instantly drew in the kids. The first one was opened when everyone had arrived – it made a bunch of activities really feel like they had a ‘theme’ and it was so easy, I just wrote on plain printer paper and folded it into an envelope and numbered the envelopes. Took me about 5 minutes and very worth it
- Activity #1; We made our own pizza! This is the easiest thing ever if you even have the most basic knowledge of dough. I made enough dough for 2 full pizza’s and that was plenty for 6 personal pizza’s and 1 pretty big one (mine!). I suggest just buying a jar of pasta sauce pre-seasoned with basil and/or garlic, it is WAY better than the ‘pizza’ sauce they sell in the store. I made the dough in advance and they had the fun of shaping and adding sauce, cheese, and toppings. There were some very creative designs in the end.
- While the Pizza cooked the next envelope pointed them downstairs to decorate some bird houses. Paint and glitter stickers are a universal love of all and they happily created while I got the next batch of things ready.
- Everyone totally enjoyed their pizza, something about making it custom makes it taste better. Once the pizza was done we moved on to the very important cake portion of the event and as the sun was going down they devoured the rainbow cake.
- The setting sun was actually a closely noted thing for me because it was key for my next activity – we took a little drive to a local park and I broke out 100 glow sticks for their entertainment. You would think that 100 might be excessive but it was about perfect and it indulged all their creative building of things that glowed.
- Then a small road trip to bring one of our guests home, this was actually her first party altogether and a sleepover was totally pushing it with her parents. I hope they let her come to future parties because she had so much fun!
- Home again and another envelope. While they were reading it I actually pulled out a premade basket that was full of face masks, soda, snacks, and a movie. The note had a minor treasure hunt to find the basket and that was icing on the cake. They gladly tucked in to snacks and floats and I painted their faces with gack that they could peel off (peel off is more fun than wash off) while they watched Moana. It was a bit late but they were all good and ready for bed at 10:30 when they all brushed and crashed.
With just 2 extra kids I was able to have cozy mattresses for them made of our big pillows and our tot bed mattresses (those things come in handy so often). I also went to bed because I was beat too and as I read for a half hour I could hear some giggles but they all drifted off.
The next morning we had pancakes and hanging out until parents came and all declared it a total success.
The next two days were rather a low after the party high. Lars had a trip so he was gone, the overtired kids got in a cycle of arguments and not listening, and at a particularly low point, I listesd them for sale on Facebook. We managed to do the two things that were necessary for holiday prep; easter egg dyeing and Figoli decorating. They were bright points actually, surrounded by lots of breaks and deep breathing and attempting to keep it all together. My mom called me when I listed them for sale, knowing that I was probably at the end of the road, and I’m glad that I have a good mom. She isn’t close enough to come over and help but she is intouch enough to know when to call and what to say.
I created easter baskets in relative peace as the kids were put to bed, exhausted, and fell asleep well.
Our easter bunny tradition is to put puzzle pieces in each plastic egg that the easter bunny leaves with us. It is a fun way to fill the eggs that is not full of candy or some other thing that would be unequal unless egg finding is too closely supervised. I have well over 100 eggs so they get to find tons and then they are all combined to make the puzzle. This year I also added a few geode eggs, both in their baskets so they would figure out what they were before they found rocks in their hunt and dump them in the yard. I got the geodes from Oriental Trading ages ago and it was worth the wait to hear “I got a rock?!?” from Zoe as she opened eggs of candy and toys in her basket.
The day was bright and pretty and it was a very Easter rebirth type of day. They enjoyed the hunt and smashing geodes and doing the puzzle and friends came over and it was a very nice day. I suppose without the low the high does not feel as good… I just closed my eyes to the mess and decided to deal with it all on Monday and enjoyed the evening with everyone.
That is our birthday easter adventure weekend. It feels like a month ago given all that we have done since. I have posts coming out my ears so much is going on so get ready for some long reading over the next few weeks!