Preparing for back to school

The first day of school is coming soon - are you ready?

The first day of school is coming soon – are you ready?

Summer may be in full swing, but the new school year is fast approaching. Time for backpacks, school supplies, lunch boxes, homework and sports gear. This year, I am joining the ranks. My daughter will begin kindergarten this fall.

It’s hard to imagine that she has reached this stage; it feels like she should still be crawling around the house, learning to talk. But alas, Pre-K graduation has past, and kindergarten is on the horizon.

To be 100% honest, I don’t know if I will be ready. My daughter asks every day, “When do I get to go to kindergarten?” So obviously, she is raring to go.

In order to make sure she is as prepared as possible, we have invested in a few kindergarten workbooks. You can find these at retailers (such as Walmart or CVS) or bookstores, where they have all grade levels, as well as books to focus on certain subjects. And the best thing about these books is that she loves them!

Kindergarten workbooks

Kindergarten workbooks

And it isn’t ‘Back to School’ without school supply shopping. Every year, stores have stands covered in school supply lists for various grades and schools in the area. Rather than passing by without a second glance, I will have to grab a cart and fill it with crayons, tissues, notebook paper and all the other necessities required for the classroom.

Personally, I remember being able to fit all my supplies in my backpack for the first day; now you need a wagon or wheelbarrow just to get everything in the door. I will definitely be stocking up on personalized labels to keep my daughter organized.

But it doesn’t end with crayons and paper. Gotta shop for backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, shoes, etc. Personalized back to school supplies

Even though she’s only 5, my daughter definitely has her own opinions and sense of style. I cannot count the number of times I have been informed that something doesn’t “match” or just isn’t right. Did I mention she’s only 5? What am I going to do when she’s a teenager?

Tax Free Weekend and Back to School sales are already on my radar. I have already begun to plan my next order of luggage tags to attach to all her school and activity bags.

I also know that I will be completely scatter-brained trying to keep track of everything. Between school functions, cheerleading and dance classes, I will definitely be using weekly calendars. They’re perfect for organizing my week either by activity or by child.

I am also one of “those” moms who are not afraid to ask the teacher exactly what’s going on at any given moment. So, personalized note cards and memo pads are perfect for getting my many questions to and from school.

As for the dreaded first day, I’m sure I will be an emotional wreck. I will be enjoying the parent’s breakfast the school provides (the Boo Hoo Breakfast) and counting down the minutes until the day is over. And when the day is done, and she is excitingly describing her entire day, I can relax – until it’s my son’s turn.

Toddler birthday party ideas

Toddler birthday parties

Toddler birthday parties

There’s something magical about birthdays when you’re young. The decorations, the friends, the cake and the presents are details that so many kids look forward to all year long. I know my little man asks me when his birthday is at least once a week! Creating a special event for your toddler takes planning, but with a little effort can be easy, affordable and fun!

Location, location, location

If there’s a local pizza and game center or kids’ amusement park, they can host the whole party and plan food, activities and decorations for you. But remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune on kids’ birthday parties.

If your toddler has a summer birthday, take everyone to the park where the kids can run and play – maybe even feed some ducks – and your house will avoid being destroyed in the process. The park might be just as special to them as a formal event, and unless you plan to rent a shelter, it’s free!

Toddler party themes

Once you know where you’re having your party, deciding on a theme is the next step. Consider the details of the party through your toddler’s eyes. Keeping their favorite things in mind will help you tap into creativity and create a special event all the kids will enjoy.

  • What are his or her favorite foods?
  • What games or activities does your child enjoy most?
  • What are your child’s most treasured toys?
  • What are the books he or she reads over and over (and over)?
  • What TV shows or movies does your child love to watch?

If you’re planning a first birthday party and your child hasn’t developed an affinity for anything in particular, some continually popular kids party themes include princesses, fairies, trains, robots and cars. Mustache themed parties for boys and owl themed parties for girls have also grown over the last year.

Mustache party theme

Once you decide on a theme, set the tone for the birthday party with matching invitations. My youngest son turned one last year, and we threw him a Mini Man Mustache Bash with these adorable invitations:

Toddler mustache party

Handlebar Invitations from Expressionery.com

Birthday party food

Deciding on what foods to serve is the next easy step. The time of the party will determine the type of food you should serve. If the party is held during a meal time, plan on serving more substantial foods like build-your-own sandwiches or personal pizzas. If it’s before or after meal hours, simple snacks like fruit, veggies or Goldfish are more appropriate. (Try to take naptime and bedtime into consideration before you choose the time for the party!)

Of course, the feature food of the day will be the birthday cake! Coordinating the party theme into the design of the cake will make it even more special for the birthday boy or girl. Simple store-bought cupcakes with rings are popular and easy – or you can try your hand at a more elaborate cake.

Train birthday cake

Toby the Train Cake

You can get really creative with toddler birthday cakes – they’re so young they’ll love whatever you try, even if it’s not perfect. As long as there’s cake under there somewhere, you really can’t go wrong.

Since my son’s favorite food is bananas, we served banana flavored cupcakes decorated with mustaches and speech bubble picks. Not only did they appeal to the kids, they made for a terrific centerpiece. We also had a smaller mustache-shaped cake made just for the birthday boy. It was so funny to watch him try out his first licks of chocolate icing and handfuls of chocolate cake!

Banana cupcakes

Banana cupcakes at the mustache bash

Toddler birthday party decorations

Decorating your party space doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The toddlers will be happier with simple balloons they can play with than fancy decorations they’re not allowed to touch. Work with materials you have on hand, or hit up the party aisle at your local superstore or dollar store.

Grab plates, napkins and plasticware in the colors of your party for a simple, affordable way to give your party a cohesive look and feel. Banners are a terrific way to decorate your party space and add a special message about your birthday honoree!

For our party banner, I used photos of my son from birth through his first birthday, added a mustache to his little face with an online photo editing program and printed them at my local 1-hour photo processing center. Then I simply punched holes at the top and threaded them onto a length of tulle.

Toddler birthday banners

Voilà - a custom birthday banner!

Party favors are another element that add to your event’s theme and send your guests home with a piece of the fun! Dollar stores and party retailers offer a wide selections of favors. We sent the kids home with a DIY ‘stache-on-a-stick, candies and a Wooly Willy game. Bubbles and fruit snacks are inexpensive favors that are sure to be a huge hit with the kids.

Toddler birthday party activities

If you plan your event at a location that hosts the party, the activities will be taken care of for you. Let those kiddos run wild and play! If you are hosting the party in your home, there are a few things to consider.

  • Are you inviting mostly big kids, little babies or a combination of ages?
  • Do you have enough space for the activity?
  • Will you holding the party indoors or outdoors?
  • Will you conduct the activity or game, or will it be self-directed?

Thinking through each of these details will allow you to properly plan appropriate activities for the party. Because we invited a range of ages to our party, we offered limited structured activities allowing the kids to play with toys outside or inside as they chose. The one party game we did play was a revised version of Pin The Tail On The Donkey. We switched it up a bit to fit our Mustache Bash theme and played Stick the ‘Stache on the Birthday Boy!

Toddler party activities

Toddler party activities

Planning your next kid-friendly party can be a piece of cake! Share your ideas (and blogs) for kids’ birthday parties in the comments below.

Laura Kelly – Featured Artist

Laura Kelly Designs

Artist Laura Kelly

Laura Kelly is a creative and crafty artist and designer. She is an official Sharpie® Guru and proud member of the Sharpie Squad. Her art is created with Sharpie pens to create bright, bold and simple designs that uplift the human spirit.

Laura Kelly lives in a world as whimsical as her art. Surrounded by people who share her aspirations to generate joy, happiness and empowerment in a vibrant, organized environment, she fills notebook after notebook with playful drawings inspired by everyday images: a child chasing a butterfly, a bouquet of flowers, a pair of cowboy boots, a swirl here and a curl there. Suddenly, a new collection is born.

When she is not busy drawing, sketching and dreaming, Laura stays busy crafting, painting, gardening, molding clay, decorating, baking, traveling, shopping and seeking out new adventures. She gets the greatest pleasure from creating projects for kids and has been featured in Southern Child Magazine. You can view her projects on her blog or watch her videos on her website.

Laura grew up in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, immersed in books and art, and daydreaming of fairies, gnomes, dragons and castles. She began teaching elementary school in North Carolina and found artistic inspiration in her students’ vivid imaginations. “When they told stories of make-believe, I found myself believing the magic of my childhood was recreated,” she says.

The birth of Laura’s oldest son opened a door that would soon lead to a promising new career. Unable to find a suitable birth announcement for her newborn, she designed one herself. “The design was of a baby and his puppy in the bathtub,” she says. “When I sent them out and got such a great response from friends wanting me to draw their kids and pets, the Paper People collection was birthed, too.”

Laura currently licenses her work to companies in a variety of industries including gift, stationery, gourmet food and home décor as well as bank products. She is extremely active in her community schools and volunteers with the Girl Scouts. She is also an active member of the Greeting Card Association, Craft and Hobby Association where she has served of the Trend Team and as a delegate to the National Stationery Show. Laura is also a member of the Buttons Galore Design Team for 2012.

Currently Laura is working on a few craft books and several new collections for her licensing portfolio. She is thinking about taking up sewing now that she has fabric lines in all of the major fabric chains.

For more information about Laura, visit her at www.laurakellydesigns.com or view some of her products at www.expressionery.com.

Laura Kelly Products

Some of Laura's stationery products

Personalized Kids’ Stationery

Personalized kids stationery

Do you remember the last time you got a handwritten note in the mail? If you’re like me, it’s been awhile, and you got excited when you saw your name written by hand on a pretty envelope in a huge stack of plain white envelopes barcoded by some impersonal printer.

It didn’t even matter how long the note was or how imperfect the handwriting was. What mattered was that someone took the time to pick out a card, write something just for you on it and then mail it with a good old-fashioned stamp.

I think it’s important to teach kids the value of writing handwritten notes. Later in life they’ll be better equipped to send thank-you notes after an interview. They might really enjoy writing if you start encouraging them to write early on. No matter how simple their first notes are, they’ll be bringing smiles to someone’s face.

It’s not hard, and it won’t even take too much of your time. It just requires a little planning. First decide who you want your kids to write to and what kind of stationery is appropriate – usually a folded note or a flat card works best. A big letter-size sheet of paper may seem awfully big to fill, while a note card lets your kids write a shorter message that fills up more of the card and feel like they’ve accomplished more.

Does your child have a special teacher who deserves a word of thanks? How about a grandma who lives far away? Think of a recipient first and then sit down with your kids to order some personalized kids’ stationery.

Choosing stationery is one of the most fun parts of the process, and if your kids have a say in it they are more likely to enjoy writing the note. Here are our top personalized kids stationery picks – each one can be personalized with your child’s name or a custom message:

Personalized kids stationery

Valentine’s Day Card Crafts

Valentine's Day Card Crafts

Valentine's Day Card Crafts

These days it seems like parents buy those standard cardboard boxes of cartoon Valentines for their kids’ classmates. Why not do something different as a family this year? You don’t have to make Valentines from scratch to add that extra-special handmade touch.

Here’s a list of supplies you might want for your card crafts:

  • Cookie cutters to use as stencils
  • Crayons, markers or pens
  • Glitter
  • Felt or foam from the craft store
  • Ribbon
  • Rhinestones or sequins
  • Glue – hot glue or glue sticks work the fastest
  • Scissors – one pair of regular scissors, and maybe some specially shaped ones for edges
  • Personalized Valentine’s cards – Expressionery.com has lots of cute designs

Valentine Envelope Decorating

There are lots of ways to decorate envelopes – don’t try to be perfect, just try to be creative and have fun. If you like to doodle, draw fun designs on the envelopes. Smiley faces and stick figures can go a long way toward saying “I love you.” If you’re not feeling like much of an artist, trace around cookie cutters in different shades of pink, red and purple.

Another fun way to decorate envelopes is to go three-dimensional. Use your cookie cutters as templates to draw shapes on felt or foam, then cut them out and glue several layers together on top of your envelope.

Don’t forget, you can also have fun personalizing Valentines with your trusty custom stamp. Whether you use a heart stamp or something completely unique like a monogram or fun kids stamp, it will help your Valentine stand out.

Valentine Card Decorating

Personalized Valentine’s cards are easy to decorate – glue a ribbon bow on one corner of the card, or use your cookie cutters as stencils to trace light pink hearts all over the inside of the card (after you sign it). You can even buy special scissors from the craft store that have different edges – look in the scrapbooking section and trim the edges of your cards for a special handmade touch.

Valentine's Day Cards

Get creative with your Valentine cards!