Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Smarty Pants Snacks - Oat Bran Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

My daughter, like grade 3's across the country, is writing the EQAO exams this week. That means that every day for the next 4 days she will spend the morning and afternoon sitting at her desk writing standardized tests. Sounds fun, doesn't it!

While they are writing the tests they are allowed to nibble on healthy snacks. Getting her to eat fruit and vegetables isn't a problem, she often takes a container of veggies with hummus as her lunch. The problem getting carbs into this child (is she really mine?).

The one thing I can count on to get her eating 'bread' is banana muffins with a few chocolate chips thrown in for good measure. This recipe was adapted from the Milk Calendar from a few years ago.

Here's hoping that the goodness of these muffins will help her concentrate and the chocolaty addition will give her the motivation to keep on going.

Oat Bran Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins


  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1 cup (250 mL) Milk
  • 1 cup (250 mL) mashed ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose or
  • whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup (250 mL) oat bran
  • 2/3 cup (160 mL) chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder


Preheat oven to 400 °F (200 °C). 
Lightly butter or spray 12 nonstick muffin pans. I use cupcake wrappers to ease in cleaning my pans.
In bowl, combine egg, milk, bananas, sugar, oil and vanilla extract; mix well. 
In another bowl, mix together flour, oat bran, chocolate chips, baking soda and baking powder.
Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture, only until combined. 
Spoon into prepared muffin pan. 
Bake for 20 to 25 min or until tops are firm to the touch.

NOTE:  I almost always make mine mini-muffins because the kids can have a small snack or grab two for a larger snack.  If you go this route, bake them for 10 - 12 minutes.

Monday, May 27, 2013

8 Awesome Summer Backyard Activites!

This summer you can turn your backyard into the hot spot for your kids, their friends and all your neighbours.   Try a different one of these activities each week or put them all together for a backyard carnival.


Tic Tac Toss:

An old sheet or tarp can be transformed into a giant tic-tac-toe board.  With Frisbees as your markers, the game just got taken to a whole new level of fun!

Tic Tac Toss - backyard fun
Image & Idea:

This is a great game because you can use beanbags for younger kids and Frisbees for the older ones.  Frisbees will increase the challenge.

Materials Needed:

  • Large sheet or tarp
  • Duct Tape
  • 8 bean bags or Frisbees - you need 4 of each of two colours


The instructions for a making your own Tic-Tac-Toss game are very simple and don't really need explaining.  But for check out some tips for playing over at

Backyard Twister:

Every kid likes to play Twister.  There's something about getting all tangled up with your friends that is exciting for kids.  But why keep the fun indoors?  Let your lawn be your canvas!

Spray Paint Twister - Backyard Fun
Image & Idea: Eucharisteo

Materials Needed:

  • Spray paint in Green, Blue, Yellow & Red
  • Circle template cut out of cardboard
  • Spinner - either from the original twister game or homemade


This is your classic game of Twister and Eucharisteo's photo is very self explanatory but she does have a great method for making her circles and keeping them lined up perfectly that you might want to check out. Need to make your own spinner?  The DIY Showoff has a great pictorial for you.

Bean Bag Toss:

Transform inexpensive colourful bowls from the dollar store into a fun bean bag toss.  Simply line them up, give them a point value and you've got yourself a great carnival type game!

Bean Bag Toss - Backyard Fun
Image & Idea: One More Moore

Materials Needed:

  • 5 Large Plastic bowls in various colours
  • 5 bean bags
  • Cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Markers (optional)
  • tape


I'm sure you've all tried the bean bag toss at some point in your life and know how to play.  One More Moore's point values are so cute and definitely worth aspiring to.

Soccer Croquet:

This game is a combination of soccer and croquet and is made by re-using old pool noodles (remember this fun idea for pool noodles).  With a wide open space the kids can practice their dribbling skills, run races, and have a jolly good time mixing two of England's favourite pastimes.

Soccer Croquet - Backyard Fun
Image & Idea: Inner Child Fun

Materials Needed:

  • Pool Noodles
  • Exacto Knife or scissors for cutting pool noodles
  • Garden stakes
  • Ball(s)


Valerie at Inner Child Fun explains how to stake the pool noodles so that they will stay and has some fun variations for play.

Balloon Chopsticks:

The kids will be challenged by this game at first as they try to pick up as many balloons as possible and put them in the baskets using only pool noodles but eventually they'll learn that with teamwork the whole thing gets a lot easier.

Image & Idea:

Materials Needed:

  • Pool Noodles - cut in half
  • Balloons
  • Laundry Baskets


The object of the game is to get as many balloons in the basket within an allotted amount of time.  See the simple lesson kids will learn at

Water Balloon Pinatas:

When the weather turns hot and the kids need to cool off, here's a fun alternative to the sprinkler and works wonders if you don't have a pool.  What kid doesn't like a pinata and these ones are filled with water!

Image & Idea: Scrap Happy Heather

Materials Needed:

  • Balloons
  • String
  • Water
  • Bat or stick for breaking balloons


Basically you need to fill your balloons and hang them from somewhere that the kids can reach them.  But, that being said, Heather at Scrap Happy Heather has some good tips about the amount of water to use and how best to secure those balloons.

Giant Kerplunk Game:

Okay, this one takes a bit more skill to make and costs a bit more too but once you've done it, you'll have it forever.  What a great addition to a cottage.

Image & Idea: This Old House

Materials Needed:

  • ½-inch birch-veneer plywood
  • 2x4 for the legs
  • 4-foot welded-wire garden fencing
  • 2-foot bamboo plant stakes You'll need at least 90
  • Plastic pit balls - Get about 100 (available at major toy stores)
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Stain-blocking white primer Spray paint in three colors
  • ⅞-inch wood screws
  • 2 ½-inch trim-head screws
  • Wood glue
  • Wood filler
  • Painter's tape


I can't begin to tell you how to make this but lucky for us This Old House has a video instruction for those of you who want to take on the challenge.  Just making it might be your fun summer activity!

Snack Toss:

Lastly we'll get back to something super easy, super silly, and bound to be a hit if you pull this out of your back pocket when the kids say they're bored.  

Image & Idea:

Materials Needed:

  • Shower caps
  • Shaving cream (alternatively - whipped cream from a can)
  • Cheesies 


Teams must put on a shower cap, apply the shaving cream and then toss cheesies at their teammate.  The team with the most cheesies sticking to their cap is the winner!  Scared the kids might eat the cheesies with shaving cream on them, substitute whipped cream for shaving cream!

I hope you and your family have some fun with these ideas this summer.  I know we will!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Win a Breakfast for your Family with Author Ted Staunton

Reading is one of my family's favourite pastimes. What could be better than meeting an author, hearing him tell his own stories and enjoying a delicious breakfast at the same time?

On Saturday, June 8th, Smucker’s and children’s author Ted Staunton, author of Puddleman and theMorgan series of books, will be hosting an exclusive Bookworm Breakfast event for a few lucky Toronto families at a local Toronto Library. The event will include storytelling, singing, tips on how to encourage reading, and interactive recipes that will thrill your children’s tummies and their imaginations. All guests will walk away with goodie bag to keep the kids reading all summer long!

One of my lucky readers (and their family) can join in on the fun. Enter the contest below and if you are chosen as the winner, you will receive your invitation to attend the Bookworm Breakfast in Toronto.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Yeehaw Cowboy Roundup Game - It's a Western Cowboy Party

Your cowboys and cowgirls will have a great time as they ride their horses and gather items a cowboy needs.  It's a fun party game - rodeo style!

It's a Western Party - Cowboy Round-up Game

Materials Needed:

  • Horses (learn how to make them here)
  • Cowboy items to collect - i.e. bundles of hay, sticks for bonfire, bandanas

Note: If all the kids are playing the game at one time, you will need a horse for each child as well as one of each item to collect for each child.  Alternatively you can have the children ride in turns or in pairs if you don't  have enough horses for them all.

It's a Western Party - Cowboy Round-up Game


  • Put out piles of each item in different areas around the yard.
  • Provide each child with a horse.
  • When you say 'go' the kids will ride off and collect each one of each item that is scattered in the yard.
  • As the children collect the items, they bring them back to the starting line and drop them off then continue to collect the next item.


If you don't have time to make horses for this game, pair up the kids and each can take a turn being the horse while the other is the cowboy riding on his back.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Long Weekends, Pools & Popsicles - I'd say that's A-peelin'

The long weekend in May always signifies the start of summer.  It is when most Canadians plant their gardens, open up their cottages, and break out the barbecues.  Our tradition for the last few years has been to head over to a friend's house for their first pool party of the summer.  We all bring something in terms of food and drink and after a trip to the zoo with my son's class on Friday I knew exactly what I had to bring.

Being at the zoo with grade 1's means that you're hanging out with monkeys all day.  As we walked through the zoo the kids kept spotting the Nestlé ice-cream vendors and more precisely what caught their eyes were the Peelin' Pops.  They are banana shaped frozen treats you peel and eat like a real banana. While we couldn't buy any while we were there as a school, I knew exactly what my own monkeys would want to bring to the pool party.

Fast Forward to Sunday - The sun was shining, the birds were singing, it was the perfect day for a pool party.  The kids are already monkeys so that part was easily taken care of.  After hours of swimming in the pool they were ready for another kind of refreshment.  Cue the Nestlé Peelin' Pops.

The kids thought they were fantastic.  Everyone knows that kids love to play with their food so being handed a treat that you are supposed to bite, peel, and eat was like a dream come true.  At first they thought that you just peeled the skin and threw it away like a real banana.  It was when they realised that the banana 'skin' was actually a banana flavoured gummy that they were allowed to eat that the shrieks of laughter rang out.

Each kid had their own technique for peeling and eating their Peelin' Pop.  Some ate the banana 'skin' first while others tackled the vanilla filling and saved the gummy for afterwards.  Either way, they all enjoyed their treat and had a blast eating them.

As a mom I was happy to be able to pick up a box of treats that contain no artificial colours and are low in fat.  I found that they were the perfect size for kids and priced at under $6 for 8 treats, Nestlé Peelin' Pops are an economical treat which are sure to become a summer staple.  From my monkeys to yours, I hope you have a great summer!

This post was generously sponsored by Nestle, but the opinions and images are my own. For more information, visit 

Make Your own Western Vests - It's a Western Cowboy Party

Every Cowboy needs a vest to look authentic.  These vests are super cute, inexpensive and fun to make.  It is a great activity for the kids and can be included in their loot to take home.

Materials Needed:

  • Large brown paper bags - lawn/leaf bags work if you can't find carrier bags.
  • Scissors
  • Markers
  • Embellishments (optional) - yarn, beads, stickers, glitter, aluminum foil, western themed stamps, etc.
  • Glue (optional) - only necessary if using embellishments
  • Imagination


  1. Cut off any handles on your bag.
  2. Cut a straight line directly up the middle of the front of your bag starting at the open end.  
  3. When you reach the bottom of the bag, cut out a round circle for the head.
  4. Cut out an arm hole on each side of the bag.
  5. Decorate your vest using markers and embellishments

Optional: You can cut 1 inch strips all along the bottom for a fringed look.

Once the vests are complete, provide each cowboy with a bandana and they are ready to take on the west!  Yee haw Cowboy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Panning for Gold - It's a Western Cowboy Party

The gold rush was an important time in history and every cowboy was looking for his little piece of the pie.  Your little cowboys will love sifting for gold and coins in this western themed activity.

Materials Needed:

  • Aluminum Pie Plates
  • Small shovels
  • Plastic gold coins
  • Small rocks (floral rocks work perfectly)
  • Drawstring or Ziploc sandwich bags
  • Sand
  • Sandbox or large bucket to hold sand (i.e. Rubbermaid container)

Prior to the party:
Cut small holes in each of the pie plates.  These holes should be big enough to let sand fall through but small enough to keep the plastic coins and rocks in the pie plate.


  1. Each cowboy is provided an aluminum pie plate(gold tray) and a shovel.
  2. Cowboys dig in the sand and put a shovelful of sand into their gold tray.
  3. The cowboys sift the sand over the sandbox in their gold tray to separate the sand from the treasure.
  4. Small rocks are put back into the sand and coins are stashed in each child's drawstring bag.


  • You don't want to hide chocolate coins in the sand because there is risk of them being contaminated but why not let your cowboys trade in their gold coins for a bag of chocolate coins at the local saloon?  If you pre-bag the chocolate coins each child will receive the same amount.
  • Want to take it a step further?  Let the kids 'shop' in the local saloon with their gold coins.  Purchase a few items from the dollar store, i.e. pencils, erasers, play dough, etc. and set them up with price tags as if it was the local mercantile.  Kids can 'purchase' loot bag items with their gold stash!  This is great if you have some older children at the party.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Yeehaw Simple Pool Noodle Horses - It's a Western Cowboy Party

No western cowboy party would be complete without horses.  I mean, who has heard of a cowboy without a horse? Living in the city horses are hard to come by.  How do we solve this problem?  Make them of course.

It's a Western Cowboy Party - Make your own Pool Noodle Horses

I originally saw this idea to make horses from pool noodles here.  I decided to try my hand at it and make a few modifications for our Cowboy Party.

Materials Needed:

  • Pool noodle
  • elastic band - * I used a thick one that comes on veggies because it was nice and strong. 
  • Twine, raffia, thin leather or string
  • Felt square - brown
  • Yarn
  • Googly Eyes - large size
  • Glue Gun with low temperature glue

It's a Western Cowboy Party - Make your own Pool Noodle Horses


  1. Fold the top portion of the pool noodle over to create the face of your horse.
  2. Secure the folded pool noodle with an elastic band.  
  3. Cut a long piece of your twine (approx. arms length) and tie it around the folded part of the pool noodle covering the elastic.  You can wrap it a few times and leave some long ends hanging to replicate reins.  
  4. Cut approximately 15 pieces of yarn for the mane.  They should be about 12" long each.
  5. Using the glue gun, put the glue on the yarn, allow it to cool for a moment or two then press them to the top of the horse's head.  I put another bit of glue just past the bend of the head to ensure the mane sat properly.
  6. Repeat step 5 with all your pieces of yarn, spreading them out so that the mane covers the head completely.
  7. Using the glue gun, put a dab of glue on each eye and allow it to cool a moment then press them onto the sides of the face.
  8. Cut a 1" x 8" piece of felt.  
  9. Fold the felt in half length-wise and cut a point at the non-folded end.
  10. Re-fold the felt in half width-wise and slip it between the folds of the pool noodle.  
  11. Secure the ears to the pool noodle by putting a dab of glue on each ear, allowing it to cool a moment then pressing the ear to the side of the pool noodle.  
NOTE: Whenever you are gluing anything to the noodle, put the glue on the item that you are going to add rather than directly on the noodle.  Allow it to slightly cool before attaching it to the noodle so the noodle doesn't melt.

It's a Western Cowboy Party - Make your own Pool Noodle Horses

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Infusing Play into Learning - Tower of Ten

When we include play in learning, kids defenses go down and their ability to concentrate and engage are increased.  The result is usually increased understanding and interest in the subject.  I witnessed this first hand this morning.

Tower of 10 - Infusing play into learning

My son is in grade 1 and every couple of weeks he comes home with a Math Bag.  Inside is a fun game to play with the family that reinforces some of that main concepts of grade 1 math.  Yesterday as he got off the bus he proudly showed me his Math Bag.

Tower of 10 - Infusing play into learning

Inside was a game called Tower of 10.  It is a basic game of addition but don't tell the kids that.  They had no idea that in playing this game they both did at least 40 addition problems.  True, the numbers could only add up to 12 at the most but the repetitive nature of the game allows kids to quickly master simple addition.

Tower of 10: - 2 players

Tower of 10 - Infusing play into learning

Materials Needed:

  • 2 dice for each player
  • 20 snap cubes or LEGO blocks


  1. Divide the cubes/blocks so that each player has a pile of 10.
  2. Each player rolls two dice.
  3. Add the numbers of the dice rolled. (i.e. 2 + 6 = 8, 6 + 4 = 10)
  4. Who has more?
  5. The person who has more takes a cube/block from their pile and uses it to build a tower.
  6. Continue until one person has built a 10 cube/block tower.

Alternate Play:

  • This time play who has less?  Follow instructions above but the player who's dice add up to the lowest number wins the cube/block for their tower.

Tower of 10 - Infusing play into learning

Looking for more ways to infuse fun play into learning?  Try some of these fun ideas using LEGO blocks to help your kids understand different math concepts.  Or break out the science fun this summer with these awesomely messy and explosive activities that are sure to excite the kids!

Monday, May 13, 2013

LEGO to the Rescue - LEGO Math Fun!

It is no secret that some kids get overwhelmed by math.  Trying to envision larger numbers, figure out greater than or less than, imagining perimeter, area, etc. can be daunting for kids who haven't had much real life experience with these concepts.  But what would happen if you brought LEGO into the equation?

First of all it is a 'toy' and we all know kids love toys.  Secondly, most people and schools already have a huge stash of it so it is therefore inexpensive.  Lastly, it comes in lots of sizes and colours which lends itself perfectly to matching, categorizing, etc.  

Obviously manipulatives aren't a new idea but taking something such as LEGO that the kids already enjoy working with can help eliminate some of the fear around these math concepts and instead make them exciting.  Give it a try!

Greater Than/Less Than:

This is a great tool for the visual learners.  By stacking the LEGO blocks indicated on the number cards a child can quickly understand the concept of greater than, less, than and equal to.

Image & Idea: One Perfect Day

Perimeter and Area:

Placing LEGO blocks on your graph paper is a great visual representation for kids.  The bright colours are more fun and engaging than the typical pencil drawn shapes.  No paper?  No problem.  Remember each dot on a LEGO piece is the equivalent of one square on graph paper so the grid is really built into the LEGO block.  Problem solved.

Image & Idea: E is for Explore

Addition & Subtraction:

LEGO pieces represent the numbers the children are trying to add and subtract.  The raised dots make it easy for them to keep track when counting.  You can make your own math sheets, print these free printable sheets or simply write the numbers on a sheet or the chalkboard and have kids show their work using LEGO.

Image & Idea: Inspiration Kindergarten


What a fun way to practice patterns.  Use LEGO blocks to form patterns that vary in size and colour.  As the kids get better at spotting the pattern throw in some AB or ABC patterns to see if they can figure it out.  Have the kids create their own patterns and explain them.

Image & Idea: The Tutor House


Fractions can challenge kids and all those pie charts can make a kid hungry.  Why not let them practice their fractions with LEGO blocks instead.  Simply stacking the LEGO blocks using different colours quickly helps children identify the fraction.

Image & Idea: E is for Explore


I love the way the Tutor House has described a way to explain multiplication using LEGO blocks.  It is so clear when the kids can visualize the numbers.  By adding LEGO blocks you increase the number you are multiplying by.  

Images & Idea: The Tutor House

They say that kids can lose up to 3 months of knowledge during their summer break that teachers need to re-teach when they begin school again in September.  Why not incorporate a little learning into your summer playtime and help keep their minds engaged.  They won't even know you're doing it.  Way easier than sneaking broccoli into their dinner!

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