Friday, 31 July 2015

Confessions of a Creepy Parent

creepy mom
Peekaboo!  I see you!
We're so thrilled to be guest bloggers on the Parent Life Network again!  If you haven't seen our post already, check out the 12 creepiest things parents do. Yes, we really are that creepy;)

And a very special thanks to all of our loyal Smocks & Sprinkles readers who motivate us to keep posting!


Nancy & Michelle

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Instilling Compassion & Empathy in Younger Children

teaching compassion
When I was pregnant with my first child I remember dreaming about what character traits I would want her to have. Compassion was the first thing that came to mind. The world would be a much better place if everyone had even an ounce more compassion inside of them.  How can we instill compassion and empathy in our children? Cognitively, empathy takes time to develop. However, there are ways to start planting the seeds of compassion at a young age. My daughter is only 3 and it is amazing to see how empathetic and compassionate she is becoming with each passing day.

Learning About Emotions
Our post on feelings is a great place to start! Teaching children to express their emotions and to learn to read other people's emotions is the first step to developing empathy and compassion. My daughter has learned how to read other people's facial expressions. If she sees me grimace, she will often say, "Mommy, what's the matter? Are you sad? Do you need a kiss?" Take opportunities to talk about how your children feel in different situations, and ask your little ones how they think others are feeling.
teaching compassion

Giving To Others 
Use every opportunity you can to teach your child the importance of giving to others. The act of giving to another teaches selflessness. Have your child participate in making or picking out birthday/special occasion presents for friends and family members. If someone is sick, have your child make them a card. If you pass a homeless person on the street, give your child some money to hand to them. If you see a hungry squirrel in the park, encourage your child to give it some food. Make sure you explain why you are doing these nice acts. For example, "Your friend isn't feeling well, so it will make her so happy if you make her a special card," or, "Grandma's birthday is coming up and she would be so happy if you made her a craft."  You are teaching your child that it is important to serve and help others, and make other people and creatures feel good!  :)

teaching compassion
Painting a picture for Grandpa's birthday!

Observing the World 
Help your child understand that other people/creatures have feelings by pointing things out as they interact with the world. For example, if you see another child fall down and start crying in a park, point it out to your child and say, "Oh dear, she fell and hurt herself.  She's crying because she's sad, so let's see if she needs a hand."  Or if you're on the subway and a person with a cane comes in, you might say, "That man looks tired and it might be hard for him to stand up.  Let's see if he would like to sit down to rest."  Your child will start learning to notice others around them and think of ways to help. Just today my daughter was sitting on a seat in the subway while I stood beside her and she looked up and said, "Mommy, would you like my seat?"  You could even make this a game and see who can come up with more ways to help others you see around you!

teaching compassion

Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is empathy in a nutshell. Role-playing is a great way to introduce your child to this concept. For example, after reading a story, have your child pretend to be a character in the book. Pick out characters that go through various difficulties. My daughter's favourite book is about a bunny that wishes she had friends (Snow Bunny's Christmas Wish by Rebecca Harry). I have my daughter pretend to be Snow Bunny who is lonely and asks Santa for friends for Christmas. After we are done playing, we talk about how we can make someone like Snow Bunny feel better. I have watched her transfer this learning to a real life situation when there was a little girl alone in the playground. My daughter said, "Mama, she looks lonely.  I will be her friend," and off she went to play with her. It was definitely a proud mama moment! <3

teaching compassion

Role Modelling 
You are your child's role model. They are watching your every move. They will copy the way they see you interacting with the world. Holding doors for others, offering your seat in the subway, helping an elderly person cross the street, stopping to check on an injured animal, making food for your sick neighbour, etc. are all actions that teach your child compassion. Role-modelling is the single most powerful tool you have to teach your child. Use it well.

teaching compassion

Reading about Compassion and Empathy
Books are amazing for teaching your little ones about all sorts of things, so why not use them to instill compassion in them?  Here are some of the books we read or stories we tell our children (no affiliate links!  Just books we love!):
compassion in children
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Tip! Make up your own stories where your child is the main character performing altruistic actions. For example, my daughter loves the story where she is a caring princess that saves orphaned baby animals in the magical forest. She really enjoys acting out the story while I tell it to her.

How do you instill compassion/empathy in your child? Please share your ideas with us so we can work together to raise children that will make a positive change in this world!

teaching compassion

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Easy & Healthy Chocolate Bark!

I thought the chocolate avocado pudding was my ultimate favourite chocolate dessert until I caught wind of this incredible chocolate bark recipe. My sister discovered this recipe and raved about it incessantly so I finally decided to give it a try. My only regret...not trying it sooner! Crispy, chewy, rich, cold, chocolatey; it will drive your senses bonkers! Takes literally no time to make and it is a fun activity for the kiddies to participate in.

  • Base
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/2 cup coconut oil (I use virgin cold-pressed)
    • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • Toppings
    • 1/3 cup rice krispies
    • 1 tbsp hemp seeds
    • 1 tbsp roasted pumpkin seeds
    • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
    • 2 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
Tip! Feel free to add in any other "toppings". You can really add in anything you want! Walnut crumbs, chunks of dried fruit, sunflower seeds...don't be shy!

  1. Combine cocoa powder, coconut oil and maple syrup until smooth. 
  2. Add in toppings: rice krispies, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and shredded coconut.
    Such great little helpers!
  3. Spread mixture out thinly on parchment paper lined baking pan.
    So helpful with clean-up:)
  4. Place baking pan right in the freezer. Freeze for a couple hours.
  5. Break apart and enjoy! Remember to store bark in the freezer!
    Yup, they loved it!
We strongly encourage you to try this recipe and let us know how you like it! What fun toppings did you add in?
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Friday, 17 July 2015

Playing with Pudding - Baby Sensory Activity

sensory development

I Pinterest-failed.  Hard.  Some of it had to do with the fact that I failed to actually read any instructions on the Pinterest activity I was about to try out.  And some of it was a silly substitution I made.  Silly, silly me.

You've probably seen pudding painting around the interwebs for a while.  Basically, you dye vanilla pudding in different colours using food colouring, and then let your baby fingerpaint with it.  It's non-toxic because it's edible, and stimulates your baby's sense of touch, smell, and sight.  Oh, haha, and taste, because they're all about putting things into their mouths, am I right?

sensory activity
It started off well...

It sounds easy, right?  I had visions of super-cute fingerpainting in my head, and maybe an adorable handprint or two.  Instead, I ended up with a pudding-covered baby and torn paper pieces floating in pudding.  But who cares, really, because you call it sensory play instead of painting, and it's a Pinterest success!  I also consulted my sister, who actually owns a piece of beautiful pudding artwork now, and she gave me some tips for actual Pinterest success which I've incorporated below.

I know it seems messy, but it's worth it!  This type of sensory play is great for your baby's development!  It's good for:
  • improving fine motor skills 
  • neural development
  • encouraging your baby to experiment
  • language acquisition - asking questions and dialoguing with your child while you do the activity (ex. "How does the pudding feel?  Ohhh, the pudding feels cold and slimy!")
  • discovering the world and how it works
  • creativity
  • vanilla pudding (plus milk if using a mix)
  • food colouring
  • bowls
  • paper (regular printer paper is fine)
  • plastic tablecloth (to contain the mess, but it's optional...just be prepared for lots of wiping up after)
Tip!  Use ready-made vanilla pudding in the small snack-size containers and dye each cup a different colour.

pudding play

  1. Prepare vanilla pudding according to package directions, but reduce the amount of liquid slightly for a thicker pudding.  I recommend adding the liquid a little at a time until your desired consistency is reached.  I just followed the package instructions and my pudding ended up being too runny.  I also substituted water for the milk, so I had a more transparent "paint".
  2. Divide your vanilla pudding into bowls.
  3. Put in a few drops of your desired food colouring into each.  Follow the instructions on the package for secondary colours.  You can see the photo below for how I mixed my colours.
    sensory play

    baby sensory development
  4. Lay a tablecloth or some scrap paper on your work surface, if you want to contain the mess a bit.
  5. Put a bit of pudding into the centre of a piece of paper and let your baby go wild!
baby development
He really loved it!

My little guy (8 months) leaped for the bowls of pudding the instant I put him down on the tablecloth.  I thought he'd "paint" with the pudding on the paper for a bit, but it went downhill fast, and he ended up with pudding all over his clothes.  He really enjoyed spilling and smearing it everywhere, and we could have done without the paper.  There was a delightful vanilla smell to him after and he ended up playing with it for a while.

Tip!  Try this activity in the tub, right before bathtime for easy cleanup!

baby painting

Tip!  You can also try dyeing the pudding with jello powder, for a different smell and slightly grainy texture.

After he decided he was done, I just scooped him up, stripped him at the sink and rinsed his pudding-covered appendages.  I used a damp rag to wipe down the tablecloth, and voila, it's like pudding painting never happened!  Oh, wait, that's because it didn't.  But pudding playing did, and it was lots of fun!
sensory painting activity
The aftermath!  But cleanup was done in less than 5 minutes!

I might try this activity outside next time, so I can just hose the kids off after.  I'm a little bit concerned about bugs, though?  Have you ever tried this?  Let us know how your pudding paintings turn out!
baby development sensory activity
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Monday, 13 July 2015

Easy Meal & Snack Trays for Kids

There is this awesome restaurant in our neighbourhood called The Beet that offers "nibbler platters" on their kiddie menu. My toddler is always asking for a nibbler platter. It's the small bite-sized portions and variety that she finds appealing. I decided to make my own version of the nibbler platter using ice cube trays (I'm sure you've come across them in pinterest).
I realized that my daughter would surely eat all the good stuff (fruit, crackers etc.) first if I handed her a tray mixed with random food items. It made more sense to create actual meal/snack trays. It looks really time consuming but it actually takes very little time and effort! I just used items I had in my fridge/pantry. You can always fill 2 or more cubes with the same food item if you don't have 12 different items to fill your tray. You can easily make these trays ahead of time. The ice cube trays I use are actually meant to freeze baby food (fresh baby so easy food/breast milk storage trays) and they come with lids!
The ultimate bento box to go!
Perfect for packing up for a picnic or road trip! Just be sure to layer cling wrap in between the tray and lid to keep all the contents in place. The best part of these trays is that your kid is getting a wide variety of healthy food choices.

The deconstructed salad tray basically has all the components to make one amazing, healthy salad. I made sure to fill 1/3 of the tray with foods high in protein. You can mix and match steamed, raw and roasted veggies. I also like to include some heartier starchy veggies, like sweet potato or corn to keep my toddler satiated.
Here are some ideas of what you can put in your salad tray:
  • chickpeas
  • edamame
  • peas
  • snap peas
  • green beans
  • asparagus
  • brocolli
  • cauliflower
  • tomatoes
  • sweet potato
  • corn
  • beets
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • pepper
  • mushrooms
  • boiled egg
  • cheese
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • tofu
  • meat
  • avocado
  • lentil pasta
Tip! If your kid is a dipper, fill one or two cubes with a healthy spread like hummus or tzatziki.

The breakfast tray has all the components for a well rounded breakfast. Again, try to include some healthy protein and carb choices. The breakfast tray also makes a really healthy snack tray.
Here are some ideas of what you can put in your breakfast tray:
  • french toast/pancakes (I make my own using whole grain bread/flour)
  • muffin (I cut up pieces of our healthy pineapple breakfast muffin recipe)
  • whole grain pita
  • cereal (low in sugar preferably)
  • boiled egg
  • meat
  • cheese
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • dried fruit (prunes, dates, apricots etc.)
  • blueberries
  • blackberries
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • grapes
  • apple
  • pear
  • melon
  • citrus fruit
  • banana
Someone is enjoying their nibbler tray!

I also thought of a trail mix tray. Haven't made it yet but planning on it. Here are some ideas of what you can put in a trail mix tray:
  • different types of cereal (again, be sure to check the sugar content!)
  • whole grain pretzels
  • crackers
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • raisins
  • other dried fruit 

So grab your ice cube tray and start assembling! Let us know if you come up with a different tray theme! Deconstructed pizza or hamburger tray perhaps?

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Friday, 10 July 2015

Pineapple Breakfast Muffins

This hearty breakfast muffin is perfect for those early mornings where you need a quick, healthy meal on the go! Oats, bran cereal, eggs, hemp seeds, pineapple...all yummy breakfast ingredients wrapped up in one compact little muffin. It will keep you satisfied until lunch-time! And there are rumours that oatmeal helps with milk production for all you breast-feeding mamas out there:)
Start your morning off right with these healthy muffins!

Ingredients (makes a dozen muffins)
  • 1 large can (540 ml) crushed pineapple 
    • packed in pineapple juice, NOT syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 cup instant oats
  • 1/2 cup bran cereal 
    • Try to find a brand low in sugar, I use Blue Menu Fibre First 
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Tip! Throw in some shredded unsweetened coconut, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins or even dark chocolate chips!

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. 
  2. Grease muffin pan with coconut oil.  
  3. Drain crushed pineapple using a sieve. You won't need the juice for this recipe.
  4. In a medium sized bowl blend drained pineapple, eggs, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.
  6. Add dry to wet and stir until just combined.  Let sit 5 minutes for absorption.
  7. Fill 12 muffin tins with batter.
  8. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. 
  9. Let cool, remove from pan and enjoy!
  10. Store leftover muffins in a sealed container and refrigerate.
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What are your quick breakfast solutions? Try this healthy muffin recipe and let us know how you like them!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Easiest Stained Glass ever!

I needed to keep my toddler busy today, so it was craft central here!  I keep a stash of precut tissue paper squares for all sorts of art activities, and today it was stained glass.  These look beautiful in the window and are great for any occasion.  The best part is, they keep your toddler busy for a while!

  • clear contact paper (I bought clear book protector at Dollarama, in the stationery section)
  • tissue paper in different colours
  • construction paper or bristol board
  • scissors
Tip!  If you can't find clear contact paper or something similar, you can use wax paper or acetate and adhere the tissue paper using a glue stick, or watered-down glue.

  1. Cut your contact paper into a 2 squares/rectangles (make sure it will fit the frame shape you want to use).  Keep the paper backing on while you do this!
  2. Next, cut your tissue paper into smaller squares.  If you want to get organic with it, you can rip it or cut it into random shapes.  Your junior crafter can definitely help with this!
    It also keeps them busy to play with the tissue paper
  3. Cut out the construction paper frame for your stained glass.  If you want to keep it simple, just cut out 4 strips to paste along the outside.
  4. Make a few loops with your tape and adhere it to the contact paper (on the shiny side, not the paper side) and stick it to your work surface (this will keep it from rolling up when you peel off the paper backing).
  5. Peel the paper backing off the contact paper and adhere your construction paper frame and shapes.
  6. Now the fun begins!  Start to stick the tissue paper on your sticky contact paper.  You can get your children to do this part (I've done this with kids as young as 2 years old.  Younger than that and they tend to eat the tissue!).   Keep sticking until all the stickiness is covered.  Or you can leave some parts exposed...this will depend on the attention span of your child.  Or you?
    She decided to crumple the tissue paper.  Type A me died a little inside.
  7. Optional:  Once you're happy with the tissue paper placement, take the other piece of contact paper and peel off the backing.  Carefully lay it sticky side down on top of the tissue paper, to seal it all in.  If you don't want to do this, you can leave the tissue paper exposed to keep it simple.

  8. Use your scissors to trim off any excess contact paper around the outside of your frame.
Tip! If you're feeling fancy, you can also cut some shapes out of the black paper as silhouettes for the centre of your stained glass. Stick these on before you start the tissue paper in step #6.

Voila!  You're done!  Isn't it amazing? Aren't YOU amazing?  The shapes make it really customizable!  Making them for Valentines' Day?  Cut out a bunch of hearts.  Thanksgiving?  Cut out some leaves or pumpkins!  If you're feeling really fancy, you can cut thinner strips of black paper to act as the "lead" piping and make a design on your contact paper before adhering the tissue paper.  The sky is the limit!
Crafting is always more fun with a fuzzy friend

If you make this with your kids, be sure to let us know how it went!  We'd love to see your masterpieces.

Happy stained glass-ing!
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