Summer Bucket List… Modified.

summer bucket list modified

I keep hearing from folks who have a summer bucket list.  And I’ve done that in the past.  It’s fun.  Especially if you have a cute picture (like this one from Lindsey over at Pen and Paint) to add your list to!  But what I’ve done in the past is try to think of all these amazingly outstanding things that honestly, end up being a lot of work… so I don’t do them.


This year, my summer bucket list is MODIFIED.  And so far, the kids are loving it!  It’s all about finding activities we already have that they haven’t done in a while, or using dollar store items to try something new and different.

Right at the end of the school year, we made glitter playdoh in two colors.  It still hasn’t lost its sparkle, or its excitement.  When it does, we’ll take a break for a couple weeks, and then make some in new colors!

I got dollar section Crayola bathtub soap/paint – that we’re going to use in our water table outside. (affiliate link, thank you!)


I got some little toy boats from Dollar Tree that will be another water table outside modification.

They also love it when I let them play in cheap shaving creme – which would be another fun outside water table activity – where it’s easy to hose them down when they are done!

They are still enjoying Gray’s new garden table (affiliate link, thank you!) that my parents got him for his birthday, so it hasn’t lost it’s novelty yet.  If you don’t have an outdoor activity table, this is one to consider because it can double as a sand/water play station, or they can simply pretend they are gardening!


I re-organized our kid movies and we’re going to watch a different movie that we already own each week as a family.

We’re discovering new recipes on Tasty Junior that we want to try.

My next big goal is to clean out/reorganize our activity closet – and I’m sure we’ll find all kinds of fun things we haven’t played with in a while.

The other day, Becca rediscovered her love of Castle Logix (affiliate link, thank you!), and has played it several times.  She even asked to move it to her room so she can play it in there!


Grayson is now big enough to enjoy our Animal Habitat Boxes, so I plan to pull those out – a new one every couple of weeks – and let him explore (and Becca can re-explore).

He is also big enough now to start building more complex train tracks, so I plan to play with him (and Becca) to make some of our family name tracks like we did with Becca last year.

mar 12 family names

We have a bunch of puzzles in the family room – my goal is for us to work one each week.

Yes, we’ll take a weekly trip to The DoSeum and Sea World, and a monthly trip to the zoo, but this summer isn’t going to be all about going places – it’s going to be about enjoying and exploring AT HOME.  I feel like our kids get so stuck on going places and doing things that they forget how much fun we can have at home!!  So while two days out of the week we’ll be going somewhere, I plan to have lots of fun at home the rest of the time!

I do plan to take one big, fun trip out and about – to have both kids paint at Painting With a Twist!  Did you know that they have “all ages” paintings that are perfect for kids?  Becca has loved painting there in the past, and I’m ready to take the plunge and let Grayson try it as well!  (I’m thinking I’ll get some adorable pics of him painting in his diaper…;)  Note that while each painter is a $35 fee, they frequently do drawings and giveaways on their Facebook page, so you should follow them to possibly earn your painting trip for FREE!

If you like this idea, but you’re just not sure where to start on activities without spending a ton of money buying stuff, you really should consider getting THIS BOOK – Raising Creative Kids (affiliate link, thank you!)– my friend Colleen has done a wonderful job of compiling ideas to get you AND your kids thinking creatively!  I plan to pull it out at least once a week and set up challenges for the kids!

I would also challenge you to go through closets, book shelves, and boxes in the attic – find things that you think your kids are done with… and recycle them!  Find new ways to entertain them with those activities.  Or if they are simply way too young for your kids, stick them in a box for your next local consignment sale and turn them into cash!  Your summer bucket list could MAKE you money instead of costing you money!

Just keep in mind that the summer shouldn’t be all about ONE thing.  It’s not all about sitting in front of the tv.  It’s not all about going somewhere new every day.  It’s not all about swimming every day.  It’s about BALANCE.  A good, wide variety of activities that don’t have to be expensive, or take you away from home.


Our Penguin Unit

Throughout this post there will be a variety of links.  Some will be to other websites or files for you to download.  All sources are credited where necessary.  There will also be affiliate links which will be denoted with (aff link).  When you choose to click on these links to purchase items, I make a tiny % of the sale profit off of that item.  That goes to helping keep this blog alive.  Thank you for your purchases.

So of course this blog post wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of back story.  I’ve said previously that I’m great about setting goals, but not so great about putting the nose to the grindstone and actually making them happen.  But this year that is going to change!  Because I’ve switched my focus from super long term objectives, so short term monthly objectives.  Especially when it comes to school at home.  Becca’s love for learning is voracious. She keeps me on my toes at all times.  She constantly is begging for more activities, more books, and asking more and more and yes, more! questions.  Since having her own dictionary and LOTS of other non-fiction reference books in her room the questions have backed off a little bit, but not entirely.  She just can’t learn enough, fast enough.

I used to stress out thinking that homeschool needed to look like me sitting down with her all day and actually doing instruction time.  All day.  Boy doesn’t THAT sound like a nightmare with a child who has SPD and has to move ALL. THE. TIME.  Except when she doesn’t because she needs to be wrapped tightly in a blanket and suck on her finger.  But then this fall I read a book that truly changed the way I think about homeschool.  I realized that what it looks like for somebody else isn’t going to be what it looks like for us.  And that is OK!  (Thanks again to Alicia Michelle from Your Vibrant Family for your encouragement and support every step of the way!  I believe I CAN do this homeschooling thing as long as I have to!  Which I not-so-secretly hope is not very long!!)

Anyway, I discovered that I can plan a STACK of activities for Becca and we can sit down and do them in an hour, or an hour and a half.  And then we are done.  I’m now realizing – that’s ok!  We go at her pace, I tell her what activities we’ll be doing, and she selects which order we do them in.  She gets to take breaks between them if she so desires, and play with learning games, engineering materials, etc.  (All of her breaks are STEAM breaks of some sort.)  When she is done, we take a STEAM break (want some STEAM activity ideas?)…  Then we get back at it.  All the while, Brother can play in his room on his own, and is perfectly content since it’s no more than an hour and a half time block.  (Yes, I am blessed!)

So back to those goals – I decided that it was time to do a thematic unit from start to finish.  And actually finish.  So I gave us two weeks.  Which was a perfect time frame.  She goes to Mother’s Day Out a couple days a week, and we often don’t do “school work” on those days, though sometimes we do.  Just depends.  I like having the flexibility to let her be three and a half, while also letting her brain be whatever age it happens to be that day.

learning about penguins

So the past couple of weeks we have been learning about penguins.  I first told her we were going to make a mystery picture to find out what we were learning about.  Granted, this took a little bit longer than her attention span, but I kept it exciting for her by asking her which block to color next, and we traded off who colored and who read the letter/number combos, and who found the right block to color.  We got to a certain point on it, and the light bulb came on!  “We’re gonna learn about penguins!  Like in my Magic Treehouse Book Eve of the Emperor Penguin!” (aff link)  She was so excited she was literally jumping up and down in her chair.

We sat together (she often sits in my lap while we do school) and talked about all she already knew about penguins (which was actually a good deal) and then we both came up with some questions we wanted to answer about them.  I wrote down what she dictated to me on one of the graphic organizers, and then we talked about another way to organize our thoughts – with flaps.

graphic organizers

She really enjoyed the flaps, which I cut from one file and attached onto another.  (Hey, teaching is all about getting creative, right?)  All of the files I used will be linked in a list below.  All were found on as freebie files.  Later in our study, we talked about how we can also organize our thoughts into a web format.  She decided that for her, she prefers flaps as her method of thought organization.  She especially liked having the definitions of the penguin vocabulary words behind a flap, so that she could easily just flip and see the one she wanted to see.

coming soon

You might have seen this picture if you follow my page on Facebook.  This was one of her favorite parts of the unit of study.  I modified her old Antarctic Habitat Box to be just rock salt and white rice (less messy), and she not only got to have free play time with the penguins and their blue activity tray (aka water), but she also used the penguins (want to get your own set? Click here – aff link) and her penguin word bank sheet to sort and classify them.  We pulled a few prey and predators from our ocean habitat box as well.  She enjoyed acting out the food chain in her habitat, pretending the penguin ate a fish, and then a leopard seal ate the penguin.  Morbid?  No.  Not at all.  She is fully immersed in how the animal kingdom functions.

penguin reference guide

Then, we took all of the worksheets we completed and compiled them into a book.  She drew her version of a penguin on white card stock paper for the cover, and I even stapled onto the back cover her story book that she dictated to me.  Not only does it serve as a mini-portfolio of her work, it’s also a great reference guide for her in the future.  She is so proud to have it on her bookshelf in her room.  (And she took it to Mother’s Day Out to show her teacher and coordinator!)  We also wrote on the back cover the title and author of the two reference books we used (Penguins by Emily Bone, and Nat Geo Kids Reader – Penguins aff link).  We also listed the YouTube video we watched to learn more about a crèche, and the fabulous online resource of the New England Aquarium, where we saw amazing penguin pictures (we found them when searching for “molting”) and learned more about penguins in captivity.  It was important to me that she start learning the importance of sighting her references when she does research.  We didn’t go into formal sighting rules, just listed them so they are credited and we could go back to them in the future.

And now, to give more credit where credit is due, here are the links to the files that I used from TPT.  Again, they were all freebies, so I can share them with you, but please realize that these are NOT my creations – each creator has a page within the file that gives her credit for her work.  And each of these files is WONDERFUL!  I’m so thankful for a resource like TPT to find fabulous content for our projects!

Penguin Mystery Picture Graph

Penguin Word Bank 

All About Penguins

Flip Flap Fun

Penguin Pre-Writing Fun

Did you like this post or find it helpful?  Please comment and feel free to share on social media!  I’d love to see how you’ve used these ideas to help your own students!  Follow my Facebook page here.  Check me out on Pinterest here.  And now also on Instagram!

Animal Play Boxes for Baby Bees

baby bees header

This entire week, enjoy posts for your Baby/Toddler Bees
(under age two)!  Come back each day for new and exciting ideas for your little ones!

In my never-ending saga of attempting to find sensory activities for Gray that he won’t harm himself with, I decided to try making him his own little habitat boxes like I’d made for Becca, except with toddler-friendly items inside.  For his birthday party, (which I will hopefully eventually blog about!) I purchased a set of large safari animals, that he had been really enjoying playing with.  And Becca had some large dinosaurs she never played with any more.  I thought there had to be some solution.  And there was.  Enter tissue paper and Easter grass.

dino playbox

I had some nice photo storage boxes I had bought at one point online for the specific purpose of doing some sort of sensory bins at some time or another… and decided this was the time.  I dumped a bag of green Easter grass (the paper kind) into one and put the three large dinosaurs in it.  Not only does he love digging through the grass, he loves the dinosaurs.  He makes the cutest “ROAR” and has had the dinosaurs fight each other a couple of times.  He’s 350% boy.

safari play box


So for the safari animals, I took some green and blue tissue paper and folded it over several times (so it makes a good crinkly noise) and taped it securely all the way around inside to the bottom of the box.  Then I added the animals.  He likes to make them jump up and down on the crunchy paper, and also marches them around on the hearth quite frequently.

Both of these boxes are stored up high, out of reach, and they are activities that he plays with independently from his sister.  She has her own activity boxes, but tends to want to play with whatever he has at the moment, so I store them in a special place and let him play with them when she’s in her room.  I think he not only enjoys the activity of the sounds and textures in the boxes, it’s fun to have a special activity to play with just Mommy.

Stop by tomorrow for my post about “The Reality of Toddler Sensory Play…” and come get ready to get messy!

Mini Habitat Boxes

mini habitat boxes


Every Tuesday this month, I have shared with you some ideas for various animal habitat boxes.  (Arctic/AntarcticFarmDinosaursOcean)  But what if you don’t have abundant space to store all of these habitats?  And what if you don’t have a million storage containers big enough for everything that I showed?

That’s where these MINI Habitat Boxes come in!  Simply using a small Ziploc box, or even a washed out lunchmeat container (hello, recycling and FREE!), you can make a fun habitat box.  Whether it’s a Serengeti refuge for just four safari animals, or a woodland retreat for five, these mini habitat boxes can provide just as much fun for your kids, while making it possible to have even more variety stored in a smaller amount of space!  You could also create two different mini boxes from the same Toob of animals so that siblings could have their own habitat boxes to play in.

Shown in these boxes are a combination of animals from a variety of Toobs that haven’t already been placed into sensory boxes.  I love it that we bought several Toobs and combined them all into one big bag so that when I want to make a box, I can just go and sift through and see what we have available.  You can find the animals shown above in these Toobs (affiliate links – thank you for your purchases!):

Safari Ltd Pets TOOB

Safari Ltd Big Cats TOOB

Safari Ltd Wild TOOB

Ocean Habitat

This month I’ve been talking on Tuesdays about our animal habitat boxes.  Hard to believe we’ve just got one more week in this series!  I hope you are enjoying the ideas I’ve been sharing.  If you’ve missed any of them, here are the links:

Arctic/Antarctic Habitats  –  Dinosaur Habitat  – Farm Habitat

So today is the Ocean!  Becca’s favorite habitat.  She is obsessed with learning more and more about the ocean.  She loves watching Octonauts on Disney Jr, reading ocean books, and of course, taking care of our tank of saltwater marine life.  She would live at Sea World if she could.

The best part about these habitat boxes for me is that they take about three minutes to throw together.  And for a Mommy who works from home, that three minute prep for an activity that will occupy her for 20+ minutes, is GOLDEN.  So here’s what you’ll need:

colored rice (I used the blue and green rice mix that we already had together from our Colored Rice Sensory tray activity – KEEP everything, Mommy.  Just throw it in a bag when your kiddo is “done” and pull it back out a couple months later.  Keep everything.)

a storage box

Safari Ltd Toob (here are a couple great options):
Safari Ltd Ocean TOOB

Safari Ltd Coral Reef TOOB

Safari Ltd Baby Sea Life TOOB

Extension – get this Toob and make it be a shark box! Safari Ltd Sharks TOOB

A different idea for your older child learning about the various levels of the ocean – color your rice black and purple and get this Toob: Safari Ltd. Deep Sea Creatures