Sunday, September 14, 2014

Creative Things to Do with Colored Chalk

I am forever indebted to Crayola for making sidewalk chalk.  The Jersey Momma's boy took a liking to it when he was just a wee lad- maybe two?  Possibly even younger?  And our driveway became the biggest canvas he could ever get his hands on.  Better yet, he expanded beyond the driveway.  We've found sooooo many creative uses for chalk over the years, so we thought we'd share some with you.  He often came inside looking like this, too, by the way:

And we had quite a chalk collection to make our creations.  It wasn't hard to gather so much, since it's not too expensive.  You can buy it really cheap on clearance at the end of the summer!

The Jersey Momma's Boy started simple enough- he liked color and lines, and drawing both around you if you happened to be sitting down:

He eventually expanded to the whole driveway:

He liked using Crayola's chalk tools, too, like the brushes.  He made his own blurred lines.  Robin Thicke would be proud:

Sometimes the lines would go down the driveway, too:

And then there were pipes, filled with chalk 'water:'

Our sweet Milo liked to sit with us when he was still alive.  His white fur would turn rainbow colored if he happened to sit on a creation:


Then the chalk drawings got larger.  And I mean really large. Like this life-size rainbow:

Or all nine planets across our whole driveway:

Sometimes we copied what we saw in our every day life.  This was our Halloween decor:

Our friend Cher suggested we try chalk drawing on a wet surface.  So we tried it in the rain:

And hosing down our driveway canvas when it was sunny outside:

Sometimes we used our chalk for games or projects.  We traced all of the cracks in the driveway to make what we called, 'jewels:'

And then we played a target game with the buds that fell from the trees.  It was really fun because the buds smashed like mushy tomatoes when we threw them:

Now this was painstaking on my end, but well worth the effort- I often made chalk roads or chalk towns for the Jersey Momma's Boy to ride through on his bike.  Some of them were pretty elaborate, with shops, gas stations, houses and parks:

Sometimes we used more Crayola tools.  Like their stencils:

Or their rainbow rake:

We tried a Mandala stencil from Alex Toys:

And once we even made our own sidewalk chalk.  Stay tuned for the recipe!

And at times we moved way beyond the driveway and the sidewalk.  Like the trees:

And the leaves on the deck (this was all the Jersey Momma's Boy's idea):

And then I got a little silly and decided to make some familiar faces on our log pile.  I spy Angry Birds!

The rest are my creations.  I liked sitting on the driveway myself, on our favorite little quilt, drawing away.  Here's a silly rainbow:

And a "thank you" that the Jersey Momma's Boy posed next to for a picture.  We used the photo to make cards at Shutterfly.  They were a big hit after his birthday party, when we sent them to guests.

Let's not forget St. Patrick's Day...

Or Autumn...

Or Thanksgiving...

Or my favorite Chalk Garden...

So you see, you can do a lot of things with chalk, in any season.  You just have to think outside the box!  

Oh, and by the way, if you like any of the chalk products I mentioned in this blog, I set up a widget on the side of the main page with links to where you can by them on Amazon.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back to School Night: Tips for Teachers and Parents

If you've read my Profile or the About page on this blog, then you know I used to be a teacher. Over the years I taught preschool in corporate daycare, 3rd grade in parochial school, 1st grade, 6th grade (creative writing) and 2nd grade.  I left teaching when we had our son (The Jersey Momma's Boy!) and I never went back.  I miss my students, my colleagues and my classroom, but I don't think I can return to teaching.  I often compare myself to Doc "Moonlight" Graham from Field of Dreams.  Do you know that movie?

"Win one for me one day, will you, boys?"

Doc Graham stepped into the field of dreams to become the ball player he always imagined.  But when duty called (in the form of a choking child), he needed to step out of the field to be a doctor again.  The catch?  Once he crossed the field, he couldn't ever go back again, and this is how I feel about crossing the parent/teacher line, too.  But, as Doc says, "It's all right.  I'd best be gettin' on home..."

Anyway, enough of my dramatics.  Let's discuss Back to School Night (or Open House, as some schools call it).  I've learned some things about holding a successful Back to School Night over the years, so here are some teacher tips I thought I'd share.  If you scroll down to the bottom, I also have some tips about attending a Back to School Night as a parent, too.

Keep your door open!

Back to School Night Tips for Teachers

(I'll try to keep this to the point, since I know you teachers will be skimming this entry for lack of time!)

  • Be sure your room is decorated, warm and inviting.  Parents will be looking for student work, their child's name, and names of other students in the class.  If you don't have time to complete much student work before BTS Night, try having the kids write a note or draw a picture to leave for their parents at their desks the night of the event.
  • Wear something that makes you feel confident.  I never wore heels while teaching (too hard on my legs when I was always standing!) but I wore them to BTS Night to give me an added professional boost!
  • Keep your door open.  Literally!  One year some parents wandered into my classroom a little early on BTS Night.  They were parents from the previous year.  They were upset because their child's new teacher would not let them in the room early and had her door closed.  They came back to me because they knew they were welcome in my room.  Parents should always feel welcome in your room.  They entrust you with their children, after all.
  • Keep extras of hand-outs.  I have had divorced parents come separately and each wanted their own supply of hand-outs.  Also, check all of your letters and papers for typos.  One year I had a welcome letter waiting for the parents at each child's seat.  While walking around before my presentation, I caught sight of a typo and had to go around to each letter with a pen to fix it before the parents got there.
  • Be sure your room is neat and the kids' desks are clean.  It only happened to me ONCE in my ENTIRE career of teaching, but I will never forget that one year when I did not have the kids straighten their desks out prior to BTS Night.  This one mom flipped out over the messiness of her daughter's desk.  She started pulling out papers and books and throwing them on the floor.  "What IS this?" she kept repeating as she formed a small pile on the carpet.  This was a Catholic school and the desks were those small, old fashioned ones where the seat was attached to the desk.  The books and papers were stored underneath the seat.  I was mortified.
  • Consider a short slide show or have a slideshow running on a laptop nearby.  Parents love to see their children's smiling faces and see the faces of their new classmates.
  • Post your contact info.  Put it on the board or somewhere nearby so parents can write it down, even if you have it in a hand-out for them.
  • Inform your parents of their child's schedule.  Parents want to know what their kids are doing each day.  
  • Let your parents know how much you value their children.  Teaching is an honor, truly.  Those parents trust you every day with their most prized possessions.  Remind them that you know this and plan on taking good care of their babies!
  • Above all, smile.  There's nothing like being greeted by a happy, smiling face and knowing that's who your child sees every day, too.

Another small piece of advice:  my son's fabulous teacher started this year's BTS Night by having each parent introduce themselves, say their child's name, and tell something about their child.  I loved this because it enabled me to hear about each of the children and see who their parents were.  I know not every BTS Night allows for this time-wise, but it was really a nice idea.

Other ideas which many teachers already implement for BTS Night:

  • a "helping hand" or "giving tree."  Write down items that are needed for your classroom (snacks, ziploc bags, markers, pencils, tissues, etc.) and if parents would like to donate, they can choose one of the items (write each item on a separate piece of paper- I used to make a little apple tree and the items were written on paper apples that the parents could take)
  • leave paper for parents to write a note to their child while they are there
  • leave a checklist of things parents should look for or find around the room
  • put out a volunteer sign-up sheet or sign-up sheets for anything you might need assistance with during the year
My classroom was my second home.

Back to School Night Tips for Parents

It's rather refreshing to be the parent at BTS Night instead of the teacher!  So many years spent prepping and stressing for the big night- now it's nice to be the guest and visit my child's room with eager anticipation.  I don't have many tips for parents because basically, all you really need to do is show up!  But here are some things I can suggest, coming from both the teacher/parent point of view:

  • Be on time.  I know sometimes that's not always possible, but if it IS possible, then get there when you're supposed to, simple as that!
  • Leave your kids at home.  Don't be that ONE parent who brings their kids, for whatever reason.  There's always one, and I know, again, that things come up, but your kids really should not be with you on that night.  Just my opinion, but I am sure most of you agree.
  • If you can't make it, email/call your child's teacher and let them know, and ask if they would be willing to send home the hand-outs for you
  • Remember that this is not conference time.  As tempted as you are to say, "How is little Johnny doing in math?"  you just can't.
  • Write down any basic questions you might have for the teacher.  I know I have walked out of BTS Nights thinking, "ugh, I forgot to ask her about---"
  • Dress like an adult.  Have you seen those parents who show up in flip flops or sweat pants?  I just think you should present yourself with respect if you want respect in return.  
  • Smile.  That teacher might be nervous, too.  We're all human.

A young JerseyTeacher (not yet a momma) with a bad hairdo and a  worn out old jacket on.  But still smiling.  Photo by former student Matt R, who was just a kid when he took this, but is now in college.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Autumn Review of Sesame Place: The Count's Halloween Spooktacular

Living in New Jersey has so many advantages, and one of them is its proximity to so many fun places.  So I thought we'd venture out of Jersey again to visit Langhorne, Pennsylvania, home of Sesame Place!  Now before I tell you about our experience there, let me just set the record straight.  My son is not a huge fan of Sesame Street.  Sad, but true, since I grew up on the show and still love it.  I think there are so many shows nowadays to capture his interest, so Sesame Street is not top on his list.  That means he was not totally interested in seeing everything at Sesame Place.  We skipped the parades and shows, and he had no desire to have breakfast with Elmo (no complaints here because that saved us some big bucks).  So if any viewers want to add anything we missed in the comment section below, please feel free.

Another thing worth noting is that we visited specifically in the fall, for the Count's Halloween Spooktacular, so the water rides were obviously closed (again, no objection, since I am not a huge fan of water rides either).  And finally (I swear, this is it, then I'll get to the good stuff), everyone who knows the Jersey Momma knows that I hate crowds.  We did not visit Sesame Place on a weekend, so crowd levels could be significantly different on a weekend than what we experienced.  I'll explain more about that below.  Okay, enough of my jibber jabber.  Let me tell you about this adorable place.

The entrance to Sesame Place!

What and Where is Sesame Place?

Located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Sesame Place offers 18 rides for kids as well as water rides, parades and daily shows.  Holiday themed events and character dining are also available.  Check their website, for more information, park hours, and calendar of events.  (**Note that in 2014, they opened Cookie's Monster Land.  This was not yet opened when we visited, so check out their website for more info)

Getting There and Parking

The drive took us about a little over an hour from Central Jersey (but my dad was driving, so maybe we would have gotten their faster if I had been behind the wheel.  Sorry, dad).  I was very excited to be saving some bucks on admission, since Sesame Place's Facebook page had advertised a special added Friday opening (they are usually only open weekends in the Fall).  They had a special rate for this particular Friday opening, as well as special hours.  It was in honor of Elmo's birthday.  So always keep your eyes peeled for discounts.  Joining Sesame Place's email list might also help.  However, what I made up for in ticket discount was quickly overshadowed by the parking fee, $17.00 (this was the cost as of the published date of this blog entry).  Blech!  All of the theme parks seem to do this and it just makes me cringe. Anyway, parking is in a lot across from the park.  Although it's not a far walk, there is still walking involved, so unpack the stroller if you have one, because you'll need it for the walk to the park. VIP and preferred parking are also available for added fees.

What Will I See There?

Be prepared for cuteness overload.  So many great photo ops, you won't know where to start!

Photo Op at Sesame Place!
As soon as we entered the park, my son made a beeline for the roller coaster.  He's just that kind of kid (head over to Mouse Planning and see if you can spot us hamming it up on Disney's Big Thunder Mountain).  Anyway, Grover's Vapor Trail was a significantly fast roller coaster, so hang on to your hats, Big Bird!  After that we just kind of wandered around the park to see what we would enjoy.  Look!  Over there, next to the fix-it shop!  It's Mr. Hooper's Store!!

Mr. Hooper's Store at Sesame Place
My son was not as excited about that as I was.  You could even take a photo on the famous lookalike of Sesame Street's steps, but my kid wasn't interested in that, either.  Sigh.  But we did see some other cool sites:
Cute seasonal decor at Sesame Place
The water rides were closed but they were still fun to look at:

The Count's Halloween Spooktacular

My son really enjoyed the Count's Halloween Spooktacular.  Park employees presented him with a little trick-or-treat bag, and there were places throughout the park where he could stop and fill his bag with treats (they varied from candies to applesauce containers).  Then we hit up The Count's Un-haunted Castle Maze.  That was a cute walkthrough maze with interactive buttons to push.  My son enjoyed that.


Other Halloween themed events included Abby Cadabby's Magical Halloween Maze, the Not-So Spooky Hayride (we skipped this one), Rubber Duckie Costume Party and several Halloween shows/parades.

The rides were a lot of fun (although the roller coaster still ranked #1 in my kid's book!) and they were oh so cute!  Halloween surprises were hidden everywhere around the park if you looked hard enough.  Eek!  I spy a spider!

Sesame Place is also known for its "Nets n' Climbs."  I was pretty petrified of this as a kid because you literally climb on nets way above the people below.  I remember the rope nets bouncing as I tried to make my way across them.  This didn't phase my son at all, but every child is different, I suppose.  Note that I chose to stay on the ground for this shot.  Mr. Jersey Momma braved the ropes to help our son and take this fab picture:

Sesame Place's website offers detailed descriptions to each of its rides, including the net ropes pictured above.  Check out this link to read about their rides, since it would take me an awful long time to list them all here!  Sesame Place Rides

What Can I Eat There?

After riding all of the rides we could, we headed over to the food court, which I found a tad bit disappointing.  I know I am pretty frugal, but I just thought the food was expensive and not very good (think cafeteria style frozen pizzas and chicken fingers).  I did like the little plastic Elmo plate that came with the kid meal we purchased, and we still use it today.  Park rules prohibit you from bringing in outside food, but I did see people with small coolers and sandwiches.  Perhaps security just turns a blind eye to this, so if you want to try to bring in your own food, I'd do it at your own risk (they do allow coolers for baby food/formula, etc).

All in all, we enjoyed our day at Sesame Place.  It's hard to have a bad time at places like this, because ultimately, you're creating a special memory for your family no matter what.  For more theme park reviews from the Jersey Momma, check out our blog about Dorney Park's Planet Snoopy.


*Admission is expensive, just like any of these parks, so search around for your best deals.  Tickets range in price. As of the publication date of this entry, a full-price regular admission will cost you $63.00 (43.00 if purchased online in the fall, which seems to be the best deal). They also have twilight tickets (enter after 3pm) for a reduced price.  They offer packages and season passes, so shop around for your best rates.  Children 23 months and younger are free, and they do offer senior citizen discounts.

*Sesame Place offers sunny day tickets.  If it rains for more than an hour while you're there, you can trade your ticket in for a "sunny day" ticket to use on another day.

*Even though we went on an "off season" day, lines still formed quickly and the park did fill up.  I suggest visiting early if you're going on a weekend.  You know how I hate crowds!

*We visited last year.  I have seen some negative reviews on the internet about the cleanliness of the park this year, but I don't know how true this is.  As far as I'm concerned, you won't find Disney World cleanliness in any of these parks, but I don't recall anything being overly dirty.  Feel free to comment below if you've visited recently and feel otherwise.

*Check out the park FAQ page for more information and tips about visiting

* Check out their concert and event schedule for shows and parades.  I have had friends see AMAZING up-close and personal concerts here like Choo Choo Soul and the Imagination Movers.

*Last but not least, remember that you have a small window of time to bring your child to a place like this.  They grow up so fast and outgrow the desire to visit cute kiddie parks before you know it!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies : A Basic Guide

If you ever thought about raising butterflies with your little ones at home, I have some basic tips for you!  As I'm sure you've figured out, I am not a butterfly expert.  If you want all of the best information from the experts, feel free to visit them at MonarchWatch.  I have raised and released over 45 monarch butterflies over the past few years, so my tips come from what I've read and my own experience.

This female was the first we released in 2014.

Why Raise Monarch Butterflies?

Classrooms and science kits usually promote raising painted ladies.  You can buy these kits in most stores and there are basic directions included on how to raise and release them.  But I actually prefer raising monarchs for several reasons:
  1. They're gorgeous.  Have you ever seen a monarch butterfly?
  2. They need our help.  Read all about the plight of the monarch here.
  3. They're fairly easy to raise if you have milkweed near you.
  4. Their chrysalis is beautiful- light green with little gold flecks.
  5. Watching them go through the entire metamorphosis is unreal.  To watch a monarch emerge is simply awesome.
Monarchs have a complex life and follow specific migration patterns.  They spend winters in Mexico and make a long journey here to continue their life cycle.  So by raising them, you're not only learning something, you're assisting in keeping their species alive.  How cool is that?

Where Do I Start?

Well, you need to find yourself some Monarchs!  You can try buying a kit, but can be pretty expensive due to shipping costs (they will only ship east of the Rocky Mountains).  Your next option is to look for milkweed plants.  Monarchs lay their eggs on the under side of milkweed leaves.  When the caterpillars emerge, they are very small.  They range in size based on when they were born.  Some are super tiny, or you can find them larger, about an inch or longer.  They are yellow, black and white striped (very cute, as far as caterpillar standards go).  When I find them, I usually take their whole leaf home with me in a small container (be sure your container has small air holes poked in it!).

This photo shows how small the caterpillars can be- even smaller when they are first born!

Another picture of various sized caterpillars.

Once I get them home, I keep them in the small container, lined with a damp paper towel.  It's important to keep a close eye on them (but don't disturb them).  I check on them often just to make sure the leaves aren't dried up or that they haven't crawled out.  

Quick Tips:

  • if the leaves start to curl up or dry out, place a new leaf under the dried one.  The caterpillars will make their way towards it (don't try to pull the caterpillar off the old leaf)
  • they will occasionally crawl off of their leaves and remain very still.  This is usually when they are shedding their skin, so just let them be!  In the beginning I used to think they were sick or needed me to prod them back to their leaves.  Not the case.  Once they shed their skin it will look like a little black ball.  They usually eat it, so just leave it there.
  • caterpillars poop! (who knew?) You will see lots of little pellets around.  They are called frass.  It's just plant matter, so don't be grossed out.
  • when they get a little larger, you can think about moving them to a butterfly cage.
Lots o' frass in this picture!

Where to Raise Them

I prefer to use the standard butterfly cages that they sell in stores, but I have heard about people making their own with small mesh hampers, too.  I know they're ready to be transferred from the container to the cage when they are large enough not to get lost in there!  I have tried putting the tiny caterpillars in the cage but they are so small that sometimes I cant find them at all once they're in there. So I prefer waiting till they get a little larger before I transfer them to the big cage.

My various containers and milkweed collection.

What Will The Caterpillars Do in the Cage?

Eat, eat, and eat!!!  You will need to keep replenishing the milkweed on a daily basis.  I have some growing in my yard now, but before that I used to have to pull the car over on the side of the road to cut down wild milkweed when I saw it (my husband was thrilled about that, let me tell you).

When the caterpillars are ready to change, they will start to slow down a bit and eventually make their way to the top of the butterfly cage.

They will start to weave a little white web/netting with their heads.  They will use this to hang from.  Once they are done, they will hang upside down in a "J" shape from this netting (it looks like a little white dot, see picture below)

When Will They Become Butterflies?

They will hang in a "J" for a few days (if you happen to disturb them or knock into the cage, they will curl upwards to protect themselves, but eventually uncurl into the J again).

photo by DRamsey, WikiMediaCommons

You will know they are ready to change when their bodies start to straighten out a bit.

Then they will slowly form into a bright green chrysalis.

They will wriggle out of their skin, and what is left, they will shake off in a "chrysalis dance" and it will fall to the bottom of the cage in a little black lump.  Bye, bye, old skin!

Once the chrysalis stops wiggling, it will remain still for what seems like forever.  It can take about 10 days.  The chrysalis starts off kind of a dull green but then will slowly become kind of shiny and flecked with intricate golden dots.

Photo by DRamsey, WikiMediaCommons

The chrysalis will turn black (actually transparent, but it looks black at first glance) when they are just about ready to emerge.

photo by DavidD, WikiMediaCommons

And then, if you're lucky to witness it, you will see these beauties pop out of their chrysalis.

photo by Armon, WikiMediaCommons

What Do They Look Like When They Emerge?

The butterfly's body will be filled with fluid and its wings will be smaller and kind of crunched up.

Let them be!  They will rest, hanging from their chrysalis, allowing the fluid to flow into their new wings.
Letting her wings dry...

They will soon start to look like the beautiful butterfly they were meant to be.

You can release them when their wings are dry after a few hours.  Do NOT release them in the rain and do not release them if it is below 60 degrees.
Releasing monarchs with Aunt Laura.
Time to let them go!

They usually fly to a high tree to continue to let their wings dry in the sun.  Wave goodbye and wish them well!
Releasing monarchs in our pajamas.

For the best, most accurate information on raising monarchs and growing milkweed, please visit