Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Kid-friendly* Satay

This satay is really easy, really yummy & very mild - no spices at all really. It's made with ingredients that I have on hand and, best of all, I cook it in the slow-cooker - so it's super-convenient :)

Beef stay with green beans, spinach & cauliflower
Kid-friendly slow-cooker satay
1 kg diced beef (eg. chuck steak) or chicken (eg. diced thigh fillets or drumsticks)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup peanut butter
1 400g can coconut cream
4 tbs fish sauce
4 tbs soy sauce
3 tbs lemon juice
chopped vegies (eg. spinach, cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, carrot)

Heat the slow cooker. Add a little oil, then the garlic, onions and peanut butter. Wait until the heat melts the peanut butter, then stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce and lemon juice. Once the sauce is combined, add the meat and vegies. Leave it to cook for a long time on low (length of time will vary, depending on your slow-cooker - mine takes 4-6 hours). Serve with rice.

* unless, of course, your child is allergic to peanuts... ;)

Organising kids' clothes

Mr Sociable likes to choose his own clothes. I'm ok with that. I don't mind that his pants are consistently back-to-front and his shoes are on the wrong feet. He likes them that way. That's ok. Thankfully, he has grown out of the sheriff hat and fairy skirt phase.

Mr Sociable age 2 - yes, he wore this in public!
To help Mr Sociable choose weather-appropriate clothes, I label his drawers. Mr Sociable's  clothes are divided into:
1. "Hot Days" (shorts and t-shirts)
2. "Cold Days" (long-sleeve t-shirts and long pants)
3. Jumpers
4. PJs
5. Underwear
6. Hats/swimmers (which isn't labelled - because he never gets these ones out!).

Excuse the drawings - I am not an artist!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

"Mummy, when are you going to...?" (routines)

I am a planner. I like to know what we are going to do each day and generally have a plan for the upcoming week. I spend time thinking about activities to do with the kids, people that I would like to catch up with, jobs that need to be done, Playtime activities to prepare, etc.  I book things in on the calendar & write to-do lists.

Mummy's calendar & Mr Sociable's weekly plan
It shouldn't have been a great surprise to me to discover that Mr Sociable also likes to know what is going to happen. He likes to know where we are going to go each day, who we are going to see, what we are going to do and when it will all happen. A few months ago, I started to notice the constant drone of "Mummy, when are you going to play with me?" I realised that our days were unpredictable for Mr Sociable - a seemingly endless stream of activities, meals, jobs, outings, and rest-periods. Although I had a plan in my head, he (obviously) didn't know what that was! I also realised that without a planned routine for the day, I tend to focus on getting things done (being quite organised and task-oriented by nature). Without scheduled "play with kids" time, it was easy to keep saying "I'll just finish this washing..., I'll just finish vacuuming..., I'll just finish writing this email...".

Playing with Mummy
I chatted with one of my friends who has walked this road before, and then started thinking through changes that needed to happen to our days/weeks. I introduced "room time", followed by "playing with Mummy time". As I mentioned in a previous post, Mr Sociable found room time hard at first. Knowing that he would get Mummy's attention straight after room time really helped him to adjust. Now, he loves room time (and so do I!)

A lego creation Mr Sociable made in Room Time
Next, we started "learning with Mummy time" (which we do while Mr Fun is asleep). Mr Sociable loves the one-on-one attention! We learn about numbers and letters - usually through games and songs. I am teaching him to write his name and to complete mazes. The purpose of "learning with Mummy time" is to teach Mr Sociable to sit and focus his attention on one task. He has a lot of choice in play activities that he does at other times in the day - so this is one time that he needs to sit and complete games and activities that I choose.

This may all sound a bit rigid, but it's actually pretty flexible!! Although I do have a set sequence of activities, we don't have a set time (eg. Mr Fun goes to bed somewhere between 10am and 11:30am, depending on how the morning is going). I have just finished making a set of timetable cards that I can display. Today, we used them for the first time & it was helpful for Mr Sociable to be able to see where we were up to & what was coming next. The nice thing about using cards is that they can be changed during the day if necessary (eg. swap out "park" for "inside play" if it starts to rain), or you can add them as the day goes on (eg. only plan until lunchtime, then decide what you will do in the afternoon). 

Today's day plan
Here was our routine today (which is a pretty normal non-preschool day):
* Wake up
* TV (usually while Daddy gets ready for work & Mummy gets a caffeine hit)
* Breakfast
* Room-time
* Play with Mummy (both boys together)
* Morning tea
* Learning Time with Mummy (Mr Sociable), Mr Fun to bed
* Mr Sociable to bed
* Lunch
* Walk to library
* Outside play
* TV (while Mummy cooks dinner)
* Dinner
* Bath
* Bedtime routine

I have made other cards too:
* swimming
* park
* inside play
* craft
* cooking
* jobs
* preschool
* Playtime
* church
* reading
* as well as some blank ones to write on with whiteboard marker for other activities

Now that we have a functioning morning routine, my next plan is to make a regular "jobs" time in the day (when the kids can "help" with tasks like sweeping). I think that may be a couple of weeks away yet... :)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Washing baskets, your days are numbered!

My kids love to play in the washing baskets.
Mr Sociable @ 7 months
Mr Fun @ 5 months
Mr Sociable playing "rescue" with friends in our garage
Mr Fun @ 10 months
Unfortunately, washing baskets were not made for this kind of play. They don't last very long in our house!

Yes, I do have a lot of baskets...
So, as they break, I am replacing them with IKEA bags.
The bags fit about the same amount as a washing basket (1 load of washing). They pack up small. They are easy to carry. They are durable (and not so tempting for the kids to play with).

2 IKEA bags folded up under my laundry sink
What will my kids play with?

Boxes ;)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Learning to love Room Time

When Mr Sociable was a baby, we spent lots of time together - singing, reading books, playing games, cuddling. When I hung out the washing, he would watch me from the rocker (while I sang!). When I cooked dinner, he would be in the baby sling or watching me from the Jolly Jumper. As he grew, we continued these patterns - he followed me wherever I went, constantly chatting about the things we were seeing and doing. He didn't like the playpen very much, so I hardly ever used it. He didn't like playing by himself (no matter how much I encouraged him to do so) and I eventually just accepted that he would just be like that - a sociable kid who always wanted to be around others.

When I was pregnant with Mr Fun, I started to worry about how I was going to juggle two. People assured me that Mr Sociable would just get the hang of playing by himself after the baby was born. He didn't ;) Then, a few months ago I read this post and started to think about how nice "room time" would be. I couldn't imagine doing it with Mr Sociable though! A couple of months later, I asked one of my other friends about her routine (including Room Time) for her son. She suggested having some special "Room Time" toys.

One of our favourite Room Time toys - the "Build It" range from ELC
I decided that Room Time would be straight after breakfast on our "at home" days. The first day, I set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes and gave Mr Sociable some toys to play with. He called out/came out of his room about 5 times in that 20 minutes (asking whether his time was up yet)! But I was determined to keep trying and, after 2 weeks, he was able to happily play in his room for 20 mins. Then one morning, he shocked me by asking if he could leave the table to go upstairs for Room Time!

Lego - Mr Sociable likes to make crazy super robot trucks
It's been a couple of months now and Mr Sociable will happily play in his room for 45 mins. He actually asks to have Room Time every day (even before preschool/playgroup/church) - so I do sometimes shorten the time - but we are also arriving a bit later at preschool these days!

Room Time has been a great addition to our family routine. I've also started to do "Playpen Time"with Mr Fun (for 10-20mins) - hoping to start good habits early. I use Mr Sociable's Room Time to get some morning things done (put on a load of washing, stack the dishwasher, get dressed, etc). But the greatest benefit is that Mr Sociable has learnt that he actually enjoys playing on his own. Although his preference is to have others to play with, he is now able to play by himself too.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Early learning about numbers #2

Yesterday we went on a number hunt as we walked up to a local shop. We looked at the numbers on the mailboxes/houses/bins. Mr Sociable ran from house to house - excited to see which number would be next. This was a fun, impromptu activity for practising number recognition.

Bin night was a couple of days ago. I take comfort that we have other
neighbours who are laid-back (erm.... slack) about bringing in bins!
I asked Mr Sociable to find particular boxes in this set -
point to the 10, point to the 3, etc

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Quick tip - kids' activity books

A few months ago, I bought a "preschool learning" activity book for Mr Sociable (because I wanted to use my A&R voucher before they closed down!). It's been sitting in my cupboard for months, not being used. There was something too wasteful about using that $12.95 coloured activity book - each page would only be written on once, then put in the recycling. I couldn't do it!

But, then I had an idea... I used a craft knife to cut the pages out & laminated them. Not every page, but lots of them. We now have laminated letter-tracing, number tracing, dot-to-dot, shape-matching, mazes, etc. Although this may seem like a lot of effort (and plastic), I now have a learning resource that Mr Sociable can use over and over, then pass on to younger siblings/friends.

The great advantage of using the book this way is that Mr Sociable can now gain mastery over activities and actually enjoy them (whiteboard markers are always fun!). This morning I showed him how to do a maze. I rubbed it out and he did it again. I went outside to do the washing while he completed the maze again (at his request!).

Completing the maze independently
It always surprises me that kids are happy to keep doing the same activity - but I think they enjoy the feeling of success that comes with knowing what to do. I am hoping that as he learns to do more of these activities, that he will be able to sit and "work" at the table independently while I cook dinner etc.

Practising tracing 'A' - we did this activity together

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Chocolate & Zucchini Muffins

I have posted before about my love of muffins. They are great for hiding fruit/veg, but look just like cake! Today I made a variation on my standard muffin recipe to create Chocolate & Zucchini muffins. Surprisingly delicious!

Chocolate & Zucchini Muffins
1/2 cup oil (I usually use rice bran oil)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract.
4 grated zucchini
2 cups of wholemeal SR Flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
dash of milk to combine

Mix oil, eggs and vanilla. Add flour, sugar, zucchini and cocoa. Mix lightly, then add some milk to combine. Mixture should not be dry, but should still be sticky (rather than runny). Scoop the mixture into muffin trays (makes 18 kid-sized muffins, or 12 large muffins). Bake at 180 degrees (or 160 fan-forced) for 25 mins, or until cooked (they should spring back when lightly pressed).

I love... pancakes

Today, I have no bread and no car. I knew last night that we had finished the bread and I meant to cook some in the breadmaker, but forgot. So we are having pancakes for breakfast! Everyone in our house loves pancakes (that's what we call them - but really, they have the consistency of pikelets). They are quick and easy to make, but still feel like a "special" breakfast (so I'm kind of glad I forgot to make bread...).

We have pancakes quite a lot, so here's what I've learned:
1. Use a good non-stick pan. I actually have a special non-stick pan reserved only for pancakes and eggs - I have found that cooking meat in the same pan wrecks the surface & causes the pancakes to stick.
2. Use low heat to cook. Because my pancakes are a bit thicker than most, cooking on low heat ensures that they are cooked all the way through, without burning on the outside.

Saturday morning pancakes
Lohtown Sweet* Pancakes
2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Mix ingredients. Scoop out blobs onto a non-stick frypan & cook until small bubbles appear on the top surface.

Small bubbles on the top-side - ready to turn
Turn over to cook the other side. Put cooked pancakes onto a cooling rack. Serve with honey, jam, sugar/lemon, or vegemite (which my kids like!).

* I looked at some recipes on Taste this morning & realised that I use a more sugar than others do. The pancakes are quite sweet - nice to eat, even without a topping.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Learning to let go of the small stuff

I used to be very particular about the way my washing was hung on the line. It was so pleasing to my sense of order to see the washing all lined up neatly. Then I got married. Franky did not have the same concern about how the washing was hung up. I tried to accept this as one of those areas of grace in our marriage. If Franky was offering to help hang out the washing, surely I could overlook the fact that he didn't group the clothing (and hung the t-shirts by the shoulders).

Neatly hung kids' washing - bibs together, nappies together, pyjamas together, etc
After a few years, we had a baby. There were seemingly endless loads of washing to do - nappies, wraps, sheets, clothes, towels. The fact that the washing was clean and on the line was an achievement in itself! Now don't get me wrong, there is still a certain way I like things hung on the line. I like to group the clothes by person and type so that they are already sorted and quicker to put away (eg. all of Mr Fun's clothes go together & are sorted into nappies, pants, shirts, singlets, etc). But even though I like things done a certain way, I'm working at smiling and graciously saying "thank you" when others offer to hang up the clothes, rather than giving them "suggestions" about how it could be done more efficiently ;)

Lately, I've had to let go of another area as Mr Sociable has been offering to stack the dishwasher. He doesn't do it the way I would (the "right way" ;)), but he is keen to help and I want to encourage that. So I stand back, making only the occasional suggestion, and praise his efforts.  

Dishwasher stacked by Mr Sociable
These lessons may seem trivial, but they are part of a wider picture of me learning not to get stressed about the small stuff. I love to be organised and for our house to be tidy - but that's pretty hard to maintain with little kids (especially when I want them to explore, create, play, etc). So I am learning to do what I can to keep the housework under control, but giving my time and energy to relationships first.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Amazing Adventures with Coloured Rice

Up until recently, I've only seen coloured rice in shakers. But this week, I've been inspired by some ideas posted in a preschool activities facebook group I belong to. So, Mr Sociable and I have been experimenting with rice-play and having lots of fun!

A shaker Mr Sociable made at Sunday School
We mixed the rice with some food colouring and a small squirt of hand gel in a snaplock bag (yes, we used snaplocks - sorry Glorya!). Apparently the gel helps the colour to spread more evenly and the rice to dry quicker.

Yesterday, we made a poster for Daddy.

I used clag clear gum to write the words. Mr Sociable sprinkled the rice over the words.

Today, we tried putting the rice through the sand/water wheel.

Then we made a garden.

The red is the driveway, green grass, a blue pool.
Adding stones as the pool edging. The yellow is the sandpit.
Flowers (foam shapes) in the garden, people in the pool and sandpit, bike in the driveway.
Very happy with his handiwork!
Once the colours were all mixed up, Mr Sociable had fun with a digger.


We had a treasure hunt.

Finally, Mr Sociable made a "pond" with stones, frogs and insects.

The verdict? Definite winner! Mr Sociable played rice for almost 2 hours today! We have left the mixed-up rice in the container, ready to use another day.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Sick people food (steeped chicken)

It's that time of year when all the little people share their tummy bugs with one another. So far, our kids are ok, but some of our friends have been sick. So, in honour of my sickly friends, here is a recipe for our favourite "sick people" food.
My husband first introduced me to steeped chicken. He normally makes it with ginger sauce & fried onions/garlic. Yum!! But that's not very sick-person friendly. So here is the plain version.

Plain Steeped Chicken
1 double chicken breast, cut into 2 halves

Boil a saucepan of water. Put the chicken in and boil for 2 mins with the lid on. Turn off the stove and leave it to cook in the hot water for 40mins. Take out the chicken and cut it into pieces.

Serve with plain rice, steamed vegies and oyster sauce (or just plain).

I hide vegies

I use my grater a lot. Grated carrot and zucchini goes into lots of our weekly meals (pasta sauce, lasagne, pizza sauce, vegie pies, burritos, hamburger patties, sausage rolls, chicken nuggets). I used to feel guilty about hiding vegies - like I wasn't being a "good" Mum, wasn't teaching my kids how to enjoy vegies. But, I have found that I am not alone. I've met and read about other Mums who are trying to give their kids a healthy diet - even if it involves a little bit of grating! I love the VegieSmugglers blog. I enjoyed reading Deceptively Delicious (although her system involved too much pureeing & freezing for me!). I still offer the "obvious" fruit/vegies, in the hope that one day Mr Fun will eat them. But, in the meantime, I know that he is still getting daily vegetable intake (although it looks more like a muffin or chicken nugget!).

My replacement grater (the old one finally packed it in, after a couple of years of daily use!

Are you a vegie hider?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mr Sociable's favourite: vegiefull burritos

Mr Sociable LOVES burritos. He would happily have them for dinner 3-4 nights a week (I make them about once a fortnight). I encourage his love of burritos, because they are really easy to make, they can be made ahead of time & they are very healthy (I make them without using packet mix and include lots of vegies). I often cook the meat and chop the salad vegies during the day, then put it in the fridge ready for dinner time. Leftovers make easy lunch wraps for Franky to take to work the next day, or the meat can be mixed with some peas/corn & served with rice (savory mince).

I wrapped this one a little too full! Only just managed to get it closed.
Lohtown Burritos
1 kg mince (I use kangaroo, but you could use beef or chicken)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 brown onion
3 carrots grated
3 tbs cumin
1 tsp stock powder (I use the Massells "chicken" stock)
(optional) 1 tin of plain beans, whatever you have - kidney, 3 bean mix, cannellini beans

Brown the onions and garlic in some oil. Brown the mince. Add the cumin, stock power and grated carrot (sometimes I add other vegies too, eg. grated zucchini or finely chopped spinach). Cook until the meat is thoroughly cooked and the vegies soft.

To make this delicious meat into burritos, you will need:
tortillas or lebanese bread
sauce (tomato or chilli sauce)
chopped salad vegies (eg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, grated carrot)

Ready to assemble - meat, tomato, cheese, cucumber, grated carrot, tortillas
Look at all that vegie goodness!
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