Miss A.J. shares another awesome process art idea from Fun Van. Grab your supplies and join us creating unique and beautiful marbled artwork with your kids.
We are giving away sets of Kwik Stix to a few lucky winners!
We are doing a referral giveaway! If you refer someone, and they attend the upcoming Fun Van session (March 9th- May 22nd), your name will be entered into a drawing for a Kwik Stix set. The new attendee must attend the first week of classes and put your name in the referral space on the registration form. Every new person you refer puts an entry in the drawing! The contest ends on 3/13/20. the winner will be announced on FB on 3/16/20. Good luck!
Happy New Year’s from the Fun Van team! We are so excited to start another year with all of our wonderful families. Now that the holidays are over and life is probably back to some sort of normal routine, we wanted to give our parents a couple of tips to help kick off a fantastic new year. Below are 3 ideas to help you harness the excitement of a new year.
Young children are still learning the concept of time, so the term “New Year” may not mean much to them, however, the beginning of the year is an excellent time to put in place new systems and strategies to ensure success for the entire year.
Practice Gratitude- One of our favorite traditions in my family is having a gratitude jar. Throughout the year we write down things that we are thankful for and place them in a jar along with the date. This could be something as big as getting a promotion, to something as little as getting to sleep in a little later. On New Year’s Eve we dump out the entire jar and take turns reading through all of the awesome things that have happened during the year. It’s so much fun to read through and remember all of the good things that happened to us. For younger children, consider letting them draw a picture of what they are thankful for and then write their thoughts under the picture.
Set Goals- As you know, setting resolutions is a major part of preparing for the New Year for most people. Although you may have your own feelings about the overall effectiveness of resolutions, this is the perfect time to sit down with your children and talk about what a resolution is, and why we set them. You can talk about goals, if the concept of a resolution seems too big for your child to understand. Then have some fun letting your child set their own goals for the year. Mrs. Ashley shared that her daughter’s goals from last year were to learn how to ride a bike and pump on the swings. By setting goals with your child you are getting an insight into what skills are important to them, as well as how to help motivate them to accomplish their goals. Goal setting is an essential part of being a responsible adult, and it’s never too early to give your child opportunities to practice this skill. Plan out a reward for your child once they hit their goal and a way to keep track of their progress. Make sure they set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time- Based). Learning how to drive a car at 5 is not a SMART goal (not attainable or relevant), but learning how to ride a bike before their 6th birthday could be a better goal.
Create a Time Capsule- The beginning of a new decade is the prime time to create a time capsule. Grab an old recycled metal can or even a plastic box with a lid and ask your children to collect a couple of items that they think people years from now would find interesting. It’s really fun to see your children’s ideas of what makes an item meaningful. Write a note to the lucky person who will find your time capsule and include things like what it is like to be a child in the year 2020. Talk about what your children like to do, eat, wear, anything goes. You can even enclose a few photos (in a sealed plastic bag to protect them). Then find a good place to hid or bury your time capsule. If you choose to use somewhere other than your personal property make sure you obtain permission to leave or bury something there. One of my friends chose to leave their family’s time capsule at the vacation home they visit every year. Then make a note of where the time capsule is and set an alarm on your phone to retrieve it at the designated time. You can choose any given amount of time. I suggest two or more years for the nostalgia.
I love the hope and anticipation a new year brings and getting to share that with children is even better. Do you and your family have any traditions or activities that your do to kick off the new year? Share your comments below!
Can you believe that it is almost the holiday season? It seems like time flies when you are raising little ones. Here at Fun Van we often have parents ask where we get our toys and which toys we like the most for different age groups. Since the season of gift giving is upon us, we thought we would create a gift guide of a few of our favorite things and where you can grab them. We found all of these on Amazon (not sponsored). Happy Shopping!
Magna Tiles: Ages 3 and up
Great for open ended play, building, science concepts like magnets and physics, pricier than other brands but also more durable with stronger magnets for sturdier creations.
Mini Squpz: Recommended for Ages 5-10 but suitable for younger ages with adult supervision
These stick to any smooth surfaces like high chairs, windows, bathtubs and more. Great for tactile sensations, fine motor skill development and easily portable. Also dishwasher safe.
Magna Doodle: Ages 3 and up
The perfect toy for mess free writing and drawing. Kids love the easy erase feature and our teachers recommend it for car and plane rides.
RAINBOW TOYFROG Spinning Toy for Baby- 12 months and up
This is a crowd favorite among Fun Van participants. This simple toy helps children practice fine motor skills. Children love to watch the pieces spin and fit together.
Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor Kit for Kids, Medical Toy, 19 Pieces, Blue, Ages 3+
Ideal for pretend play and social-emotional development. Children also get fine motor development practice, as they must use this skill to grasp and maneuver the medical toys. We recommend pairing this toy with baby dolls or stuffed animals so you or ill-fated younger siblings don’t become the patient.
Melissa & Doug Magnetic Dress-Up Set Ages 3 and up
Great for imaginative play, fostering diversity, science concept of magnetism and social emotional development. We also love that there are tons of options for different types of dolls
Top Bright Wooden Race Track Car Ramp Racer With 4 Mini Cars Ages 1 and up
Simple toy that teaches scientific concepts, turn-taking, fine motor skills, and language development. We love watching the children light up with excitement as they anticipate which car is going to win.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Town & Vehicles Play Set 40 Pieces includes Play mat Ages 3 and up but suitable for younger ages with supervision
This wooden play-set is great for stimulating imaginative play, building vocabulary, and making real world connections. A durable toy that lets kids enjoy creating their own city with buildings, vehicles, and workers to match, including a fireman, mail carrier, farmer, animals, and more!
It’s 5:15 am and my alarm is blasting the soundtrack to Guardians of The Galaxy. There’s something about waking up to Redbone that makes the morning a little more manageable. I run through the list of things that must be accomplished today and decide on the appropriate outfit that will allow me to both wrangle toddlers, but look polished and put together, and yet not be upset if paint somehow ends up on the back of my pants. It’s a delicate balance for sure.
Once dressed, I head to the bathroom and catch my reflection in the mirror. “Decent”, I think as I wash off last night’s sleep and decide to skip make-up because it’s just going to get wiped off or sneezed on at some point today. I settle for SPF moisturizer and mascara and call it good. All at once I am taken back to years of prepping in the mirror getting ready for volleyball games or putting on stage makeup for theater performances. Where did that girl go? When did I forget what it felt like to have the rush of excitement wash over me as I challenged my physical and mental capabilities? At one point I used to look in the mirror and see all of the possibilities, now I just see all of the problems. My thoughts are interrupted by rustling on the baby monitor and I see my little girl perk up from her sleep. Back to reality I think and I flip off the bathroom light, leaving the past me stuck in the mirror.
With a long stretch and a sleepy smile my toddler rolls over and catches me staring at her in her crib. She springs up and grabs all of the lovies that slumbered with her last night. A baby doll, a mermaid and her chicken Wubanub find their way tossed over the crib railing and onto the floor; her way of saying she’s ready to get up. I pick her up and snuggle her close. She melts into my arms and squeezes my neck tight. Her warmth washes over me and I whisper a quick “thank you” to the heavens for letting me be her mama. And just like that the moment is over. She wiggles out of my arms, ready to embrace the day. Since the day she was born, my daughter has always woken up with a smile, excited to see what the day holds for her. I envy that about her. Already at one and a half, she greets each morning full of joy about the potential and possibilities the day holds.
I have forgotten how to do that. How to be excited about each day, instead of dreading the tasks to be done or longing for the next weekend, vacation or paycheck. Parenting does that to us. We slowly start handing over little pieces of who we are in order to better predict the needs of the children we are raising, in turn forgetting what make us excited, inspired, or really just us.
When I first became a mom, I struggled with the loss of who I once was before children. I used to do it all. I played sports, wrote poetry, excelled in school, volunteered with the youth in my church, did theater, went on trips and held down multiple jobs. If you asked me what I was passionate about, or what made my heart race, I didn’t have to think twice before answering. But now, I have no idea. I love being a mother, and I love my daughter. I have wanted to be a mom since I was a toddler myself. But, I didn’t realize how much of me I would forget once that happened.
I see the same thing with the parents in the classes I teach during the week. Last week we played a simple game where parents chose a scrabble tile out of bag and used the letter they pulled to list qualities they liked about themselves. To say it was challenging would be an understatement. Every parent struggled to list off things they liked about themselves, or they were proud of, or were good at. The truth is, I know each parent has talents, passions and accomplishments. As I think back to all of the parents and caregivers I have had the opportunity to teach, I am reminded of all of the amazing talents they have shared with us. A mom with a knack for painting rooms, a grandma who is a rock star belly dancer, another grandmother who sewed pillowcases that held a book, a dad with a passion for rock climbing, a mom with a knack for organizing play groups and social events, and so many more.
The magic of who we were is still there. It just gets forgotten somehow between the mess and the mundane, between the Mondays and motherhood. Maybe the real trick is not forgetting who we were to make room for our children’s needs. Maybe instead, it’s remembering who we are and passing those lessons on to our little ones. Lessons like choosing to show up for sports practice because you committed to being a part of a team, even if the coach doesn’t play you. Or, learning how to determine if bread dough is ready to be kneaded, or how to stretch just a little more to reach the next foothold in the rock wall. It’s easy to forget, it’s harder to remember. Harder to remember to choose to try something new, or make time to invest in your own hobby. We give ourselves excuses that we don’t have time, or that it costs too much money, or who would watch the kids if we invested in the passions that make us unique and fired up for life. I think it’s time for us to remember that those very things are the things that we get to pass on to our children. We get to show them what it looks like to follow our dreams, to try something new, to not be perfect, to be uncomfortable, and to be deliriously happy when we reach a goal. Maybe that looks like pulling out your old band instrument, or having a theatrical reading of The Three Little Pigs. Maybe that’s asking someone to watch your kids so you can go on a run, or choosing to knit instead of watching Netflix after the kids are in bed. Our children are so lucky that we each bring our own set of talents to the parenting arena. It’s time that we look in the mirror and force ourselves to see possibilities, to see hope, wonder and amazement at all that lays before us.
I am setting a challenge for the month of November and I would love for you to join me. Once a week I am going to challenge myself to choose an activity that I either used to love or would love to try and to just do it. Maybe I will have my daughter join me, maybe I won’t. But either way, I know I don’t want to forget who I was before children. I want to become a better version of me with children.
Comment below and share what you are willing or do this month to remember who you are and what inspires you!
Reading with young children is one of the most beneficial and developmentally enriching activities caregivers can do with their children. As caregivers ourselves, the Fun Van educators know that reading with young children can also feel repetitive when you are reading the same books over and over every day. Now that fall is in the air (theoretically), we want to share a few fun books for you to explore with your little ones!
My son loves reading The Crayons’ Book of Numbers with us. He gets especially excited shouting “oh no!” when the crayons are missing and “Hooray!!” when they are found. He loves it when we give each crayon a slightly different voice. It is a cute story that helps kids with color recognition and counting . -Miss Amber
My daughter just received The Very Noisy Farm Book as a gift and loves it! It’s a very simple story, but the animals have squishy heads that make their respective sounds when pushed. It’s been a great way to connect the animal names to their picture and to encourage mimicking animal sounds. – Miss A.J.
Apple Farmer Annie is a class favorite this session. The story walks readers through Annie’s adventures as an apple farmer during harvest season. Annie picks, sorts, bakes, and sells her apples and returns home to enjoy a break, with an apple of course! This book has a lot of practical applications such as making the recipes Annie makes, sorting apples by different characteristics and talking about where apples come from. – Miss Felicia and Miss Kat
Any book by Matthew Van Fleet is a winner in our house. My daughter learned her body parts reading the book, Heads. There are so many fun flaps and pull tabs to manipulate. – Miss Ashley
Margaret y Margarita is one of my favorite books to use in bilingual classrooms because it encourages children to learn both English and Spanish while also promoting inclusiveness. Children love this sweet story about making friends and it’s fun to see how the characters make their friendship work, even though the both speak different languages. -Miss Georgia
Well it’s officially August and that means BACK TO SCHOOL!! Whether your children have been in school since July (lucky you) or you are gearing up to send your little ones back in the next few weeks, here are some of my favorite tips for a successful back to school season!
- Practice, Practice, Practice– Run through the morning routine (complete with getting up early) a week or two before school starts. Practice having breakfast ready, getting dressed, and getting out the door by a set time. You can even do a few practice drives to school or walk to the bus stop. By running through the routine well before the first day you will be able to combat any school jitters, arguments about getting out of bed or wrong turns to a new school.
- Teach necessary skills- Before school starts make sure you are sending your children off prepared to do a few things for themselves. Teach them how to open milk cartons or juice boxes. Show them how to unbutton their uniform pants so they can use the restroom. Show them how to unzip backpacks, open lunch boxes, tie shoes, and point out who they can ask for help when they can’t remember or figure it out on their own. By learning these skills, children walk into school feeling confident and assured that they can make it through the day successfully.
- Positive vibes only– Watch what you say and how you say anything regarding school. We set the tone for how our children will embrace school and the work to come. Share with them your favorite memories from school, tell them what you are excited about for them, encourage them to tell you what they are excited about and speak kindly about their teacher and the staff of the school (even if you feel differently). Your children look to you to ensure that they can trust new people and new experiences. Let them know school is a great experience and that you are right there to walk with them through it.
- Have a (short) Goodbye ritual- Goodbyes are hard, but having a fun ritual can make leaving your little one a bit easier. Start a ritual of a secret hand shake, have a funny saying ( “So long King Kong”, “See you soon, Raccoon”), or give your child a bracelet or necklace for them to wear and kiss it on your way out so they have a special kiss to take with them throughout the day. Make it fun and make it quick. Long goodbyes are harder on everyone, so as much as you think you may be helping, you are just delaying the goodbye and making it worse. Get in, say goodbye, and get out. Short goodbyes make long hellos! *Check out the book The Kissing Hand for another sweet idea
- Expect Regression– The first few days or weeks sailed by smoothly, but all of a sudden little Jimmy is throwing fits, begging not to go back to school, pretending to be sick, and complaining that his teacher is so mean. What in the world is going on here? Once the novelty of a new school year wears off, the reality that school is here to stay hits some children hard. Listen to their woes and acknowledge their feelings, but stay consistent in routines and expectations. Show them the school calendar and ask them star events or days that get them excited. Pull out the calendar any time they push back on going to school and remind them about the fun to come. Make weekends and evenings a safe haven for your children and remind them that summer will be back before they know it. Overall, acknowledge them when they do get to school without a fuss or sit down and do homework without arguing.
- Create and Maintain an After School Routine– An after school routine is just as important as a morning routine. Allowing children to come in and lay on the couch to unwind from the day typically does not serve children or parents well. Give children a protein filled snack, encourage outdoor or big body play (think fort building, balloon catch, or chores that require movement) first, before homework. As tempting as it is to try to get homework out of the way, remember that they have been sitting for a long time and need to move. You can either give them productive movement time or watch them fidget and complain through homework. Set the expectation that at x time homework starts and hold everyone to it. Create separate homework spaces without distractions (television, cell phones, younger siblings, etc.) and give your child a choice on which part of their homework they want to do first, next, etc. You can make homework time quiet time for the whole house and give siblings who do not have homework activities that keep them quiet and occupied (books, coloring, lacing, puzzles, their own “school” work). Once homework is finished, move on with a different activity. Setting the expectations, and doing the same thing every day will ward off homework fights and whining.
- Reward yourself– You did it! You got Junior to school on time, found his classroom and teacher on the first try, only cried 3 times and took at least 97 pictures of the back of his head because he refused to turn and smile for a picture. You said goodbye in a record 31 seconds and made it back to your car before any other parents noticed that you forgot to take off your slippers. You are safely in your car when you notice the remnants of a half- eaten breakfast bar and fall to pieces remembering that angelic face of your little one as he squished it into his seat minutes earlier. Get out of the parking lot and reward yourself! Go get that coffee with extra whip, turn your favorite song on extra loud, or enjoy a workout without a million interruptions. Reward yourself for successfully navigating the first day back to school.
With a little bit of preparation and a lot of grace, back to school can be a fun, memorable experience that leaves you and your child excited to embrace all this year has in store. What tips do you have to make the Back to School transition easier? Comment below! We love hearing your suggestions.
By A.J. Gain
Welcome to a new Fun Van grant year! If you have been with us for a few years you have probably grown quite familiar to our staff, but things are going to look a little different this year. At the end of June we sent Miss Julie off to retirement with a fun celebration, but man are we sad to see her go. I was able to catch up with Miss Julie before she ventured into the great unknown to ask her a few questions about her past memories and future plans!
What was the best part about working at Fun Van? The joy of helping others and playing with the kids!
What will you miss the most (aside from A.J.’s fantastic performances)? Driving all over Pinal County in Bertha (the biggest Fun Van vehicle)!!
What are your plans for your retirement? Read, garden, travel and spend more time with my four grandchildren.
What is the best retirement advice you have received? Your 60’s are your “go-go” years. Get going while you still can!!!
And that’s exactly what Miss Julie is planning to do. Fun Van will not be the same without her. Our lives and this program gained so much richness from her warmth, knowledge, organizational skills, and kind words of encouragement. We wish her the very best and hope she comes to visit us soon!
If you have a special message for Miss Julie, leave a comment below and we will make sure she reads it!
Let’s be honest…Father’s Day sometimes gets pushed aside. With summer break, vacation, Mother’s Day burn out and the overall craziness that comes with small children, it’s no surprise that our special guys sometimes get the short end of the stick. But not this year! This year I want to make sure we take a day to say, “Thanks,” to the dads, grandfathers, uncles, foster dads, surrogate fathers and male mentors who make our lives grand! Here are a few ways to help make this Father’s Day one to remember!
- “Dad, what would you like to do?”: First and foremost, make sure you ask dad about his expectations for Father’s Day. It’s easy to get carried away with extravagant plans, or to give them what we think they like only to find out that another light up tie was not on their list. Remember, most guys are happy working side by side on something active, not talking about the wonder that is Fatherhood.
- Let’s Play: Hey Dad! play boxes are one of my more recent finds. The boxes come once a month and include everything you need to create fun experiences for dads and children ages 3 and up. Think indoor camping, PVC pipe creations and super hero play. Each box includes an instructional video. I will definitely be checking these out when my daughter is older! Head over to Heydad.com for more information or research ideas to make your own.
- Out and About: Some dads are thinkers and some dads are doers. For the doer dad, an adventure may be just the thing he needs to feel special. Bowling, fishing, a movie, mini golf, splash pads, a day trip, hiking, an amateur sporting event, or even geocaching are all fun adventures to try. Check Groupon and other discount sites to see if there are any holiday deals!
- Fill their Stomach: What’s a celebration without a delicious spread to satisfy dad’s appetite? Spoil dad with breakfast in bed, enjoy a barbecue or skip the meal preparation and head out to eat. Just remember to call for reservations since it’s a holiday.
- Let Him Sleep: Any adult who takes care of young children knows that sleep is a precious gift. If at all possible, let dad sleep-in or catch up on zzz’s with a mid-afternoon nap. If dad is not a nap person, offer to give dad a few hours of alone time to catch up on reading, video games, a workout, or anything else that gets lost in the shuffle of day-to-day life with young children.
Above all else, say thank you! Here at Fun Van, we have a great group of dads who are working hard to raise awesome kids. We see you and want you to know that we appreciate all that you do. Happy Father’s Day!
As I lugged all of my bags after work to the front door of my home, I could hear squeals seeping from the windows. I smiled as I thought of my giggly, toddler daughter playing happily with her dad. I imagined them shaking maracas and beating on the cajon together, or throwing balls back and forth, two of her recent favorite activities. Instead I found my sweet daughter laying on her play mat, happily exploring a Berenstain Bears book she had recently received from a friend. As she flipped the pages, she pointed excitedly at different pictures and babbled and laughed as if the book was an old, dear friend. My heart melted as I realized that my daughter delighted in reading, even before her first birthday.
In our home, we are readers. If you open my front door on any given day you would find books on our coffee table, books on our shelves, books on the floor, books on the kitchen table, books in the toy area, books in our bedrooms, and yes, even a book or two in the bathroom. We read A LOT. And my husband and I decided that our children will read A LOT. But how do you raise children who love to read, without force, bribes, or tears? How do you compete with the bright screens, noisy toys and short attention spans?
After doing some research I ran across Sarah Mackenzie’s blog Read Aloud Revival. She wrote and produced a podcast and blog series titled Creating a Book Club Culture at Home. In this series, she gives tips and tricks to remove the pressure placed on our children to read and encourages parents to cultivate a home environment that satiates their desire to delight in a book. Below are a few of her tricks, along with some tips from the educators at Fun Van, which we hope will lead you on your way to raising children who devour books purely for the sake of enjoyment.
Tip 1: Model Reading in front of your children: Often we read to our children, but we wait until they are not around to read “our” books. Our children need to see us indulging in our favorite books just as much as we want to see them reading their books. Don’t have time? Try just 10 minutes. Pull out a book while your children are playing quietly, have a book in the car to read while waiting in the pickup line, bring a book to appointments, or even set aside 10 minutes for everyone to read their own books together.
Tip 2: Schedule reading time into your day: Make reading books a natural option during your day. For smaller children, pull them onto your lap and read a quick 5 minute story before running an errand, or while they are eating a meal. For older children who do not nap anymore, establish a quiet hour (or 30 minutes) where everyone engages in books either together or separately to wind down and recharge. Bedtime is still a great time for scheduled reading, but try to get more creative as your children get older.
Tip 3: Have conversations about what your children are reading daily: At first it may seem awkward, but the more you engage your children in discussions about what they are reading, the more they will be eager to share what they are enjoying, what moves them, inspires them and even what questions they have about a book. This should be a discussion, not a drill of questions. Think about how you discuss a movie you really enjoy. You use phrases like, ” I was surprised that…” or “I could relate with this character because..” These questions get to the heart of what moves your child to read because they want to, not because they are going to be quizzed on it. ( There is a time and place for asking questions for comprehension, but try to limit those times when encouraging reading for reading’s sake.)
Tip 4: Display books in an appealing way: Have you noticed how libraries and book stores display the books they want to catch your attention? Cover facing out! Try to find creative ways to display books with their covers facing out to attract your child’s attention. Books can be displayed on window sills (like the picture below), coffee tables, in baskets on the floor, and anywhere else where your child will be able to see and reach books whenever they want.
Tip 5: Choose a small snack or treat to serve your children during their quiet reading hour: Sarah Mackenzie points out in her podcast that anyone who has attended a book club knows that half of the fun of book club is dishing over your favorite book while eating delicious food. So, why not create the same environment for your home? Try a small treat that has a low chance of damaging a book. Sarah suggests 3 jelly beans, but you could also give yogurt drops, pretzels and cheese, dried fruit, popcorn (for children over 4) or something else yummy your child enjoys. The positive association of a special treat while reading will increase the likelihood that your child will be excited to participate in quiet reading time.
Tip 6: Create a mock book club or other special reading event: As your children begin to enjoy reading and discussing books more, you can plan your own book club event. Choose a book suitable for the majority of readers in your family and decide on a date and time to discuss the book. Create a warm environment (maybe a fort, or a tent outside, or even tons of blankets and pillows to create a comfy book nest), have special treats (you could even have themed treats to the book you read), and model discussions about the book with your children. If you need help with what questions to ask, some books have a book club discussion guide that you can modify for your family. If you do this, please send us pictures to feature on the blog and Facebook!!
What about you? What tips have you tried with your family to cultivate a lifelong love of reading? Leave a comment below to let us know! Thanks to Sarah Mackenzie for her great ideas and articles. Click over to readaloudrevival.com to learn more about reading aloud as a family.