We had a free-for-all with the art supplies bin this morning. And it’s not even ten o’clock yet.
We had a free-for-all with the art supplies bin this morning. And it’s not even ten o’clock yet.
This is what I’m doing today instead of reading A Cricket in Times Square aloud to my kids for our Friday book club. They’re listening to it via audiobook, and I’m trying desperately to catch up on my reading list. Yep, you read that right. I’m not reading aloud to my kids today because I’m reading to myself. This is today’s goal. I’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office all afternoon, so I’m bringing all four along.
Totally not overambitious when I tell you I’m halfway through three of them, right? Top one for the blog, second for my own enjoyment/another E2S reunion discussion, next one is pre-reading for my 10 year old, last one is rereading because I already preread and okayed this series a couple years ago, but I need to refresh my mind in order to discuss it with him. Our oldest two are at the stage where they don’t want to read any of the 150 books in our home that we’ve pre-read and approved. They want to go to the library and get new ones! I use a bunch of resources and book reviews to weed out lousy ones in the first place, but it’s important to me to be able to discuss the book together, particularly the ones that cover heavier subject matter (like WWII or just war theory, just to touch on today’s two kid books). I love children’s/middle great lit, I really do, and I love sitting around with stacks of books to read and half a dozen started, but I am sooooo far behind, and even with 2-3 books a day, I think it will be impossible to catch up before we head out of town in five weeks. Real housewives of E2S have too many books to read and too little time!
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but over the next couple of posts, I’m going to review all of the subscription boxes we’ve tried out this year (see yesterday for two cooking-themed ones that I recommend). Subscription boxes are really big these days, and because our charter school lets us spend some of our educational funds on educational subscriptions, I’ve gone ahead and tried out a bunch of them. Like all kids, mine do get bored on long summer days, and I like having some activities I can throw at them and let them do. We do plenty of free coloring, lego building, pretend play, and the like, so a box kit is our family’s answer to a formal summer camp. The little kid boxes are also great for entertaining my littles while I’m trying to homeschool my big kids.
The problem is, while you can kinda see from a website what is included in a box, it’s hard to know until you handle it whether it is well-done or suited to your kids. By then it’s too late, because you’re stuck with 6 or 12 months of the thing. And when I search for reviews of these things online, they’re almost universally written by people who were sent a free box in exchange for a review. They’re almost always glowing, and my experience definitely doesn’t match up with theirs. So I’m not going to get a commission off of any of these things, and I’m going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly of each one.
Before I begin, let me say that for kits intended for preschool and lower elementary kids, I fully expect to be pretty hands-on with the activities. Open-ended play and the ability to repeat are high on my wish list. Kudos if they include all the supplies we need for the projects, not just a list telling me I can go find paint and bubble wrap and make a craft with them. Pinterest can tell me that. If I’m spending money on a box kit, I don’t want to have to run to Michael’s for supplies.
I’ll start with my favorite discovery of the past two years (pictured above)–Ivy Kids! These amazing kits, aimed at preschool through about second grade, are themed around a quality children’s book and have over a dozen art and math and literacy activities inspired by the book. I can’t tell you how much we love these kits. As soon as one comes in the mail, all other activity in the home stops. We immediately open it, read the book, and dive into the activities. I have been really happy with the book selection thus far, and the activities are well-thought out and appeal to my 4, 6, and 8 year olds. There’s always something involving paint, which they love, always some games (using various kinds of dice or matching cards, etc), usually a poster or two (we’ve learned about types of Australian animals, different 3-dimensional shapes, the life cycles of ladybugs, the difference between hedgehogs and porcupines, and the list goes on), and then lots of mathy games using different math manipulatives such as color tiles, geoboards, and the like. Often there’s a stuffed animal or blow-up toy to go with the theme. Everything, down to the glue, is included in the box, and for a mere $5/month, you can get double the craft supplies for another sibling. Usually there’s enough of the paint or whatever for me to add in my own paper and have all the kids (and even some friends) do the art project (handprint/fingerprint trees, etc), as well. On the inside cover of a box is a picture of all the activities, and there’s a full lesson plan (with scaffolding for older or younger kids) of each activity. Essentially, it’s preschool or kindergarten in a box. We have been getting one per month all year, and we still have tons of play left in most of the boxes. At $39/month (with a slight discount for longer subscriptions), it is a steal. I couldn’t go to the store and buy all the supplies myself for under $40, and the replay value of many of the activities is well worth it. Yes, I could get on pinterest and string together lesson plans themed around a book, but these are so clearly-written and well done that I won’t bother. Yes, this subscription is pricey, but it is well worth it. I will continue to buy it until my youngest is 8, even if I no longer get to use my charter school funds on it. I will no longer buy any formal curriculum for preschool or K–this is enough, with our good old phonics book added in once they’re ready for that. You can browse and purchase past boxes here, and I’d recommend just trying one out if you’re looking for some inside activities for your little ones this summer.
Moving to a total dud, Little Passports was one of those fun ideas I’ve wanted to try for years. I think they’re one of the first subscription model kits out there, and I was so underwhelmed with them. For $15/month plus shipping, you get a few pieces of paper, a junky toy, and a couple stickers to add to your around-the-world suitcase and map. I like the idea of learning about geography through stories from different countries, but this concept was half-baked and too advanced (worksheet activity-wise) for my little kids but not enough content for my bigger kids. We open it, read and look at it for 15 minutes, and are done.
For a better geography-themed kit, try Cultured Owl. For $30 (with discount for multi-month packages), you get a booklet about the country (written to actually engage a second grader’s interest), a flag, a recipe from that country (usually for something that my kids really liked–fondue was a big hit!), and a few fun art projects inspired by that country (with all supplies included). Unlike Little Passports, there are enough activities to keep kids occupied for a whole afternoon (or more), and I think my kids have actually retained information about each country.
Green Kids Crafts are little boxes arranged around a science type theme. For $19.95/month (or $24.95 on amazon), you get several little art/craft activities that are honestly more display-oriented (eg, making a little model ocean in a bottle) than experiment- or skill-based. My kids (mainly the K and 2nd grader) have enjoyed them, but to be honest, one Ivy Kids box has three or four times as many activities (many of which include reusable pieces) for just twice the price. Green Kids boxes aren’t bad, but they only occupy my kids for an afternoon.
This summer, we just tried Compass Crate, $30/single box, or $25/month, with outdoor/adventure type themes. Aesthetically, these really appeal to me, as does the fact that the company is run by two homeschooling moms with a combined 8 kids, so they totally “get” our family’s lifestyle and goals. There are only three crafts (plus some little info cards), but they’re more open-ended (our most recent hiking/exploring box had us making a compass, decorating a walking stick, and decorating a nature journal–last month we made a flower press, which obviously we can still use). Unlike the Green Kids crafts, which you do and then toss away, these crafts are intended to have you embrace the theme and use the things you’ve made to go have adventures. So I love the idea, even though it’s pretty understated. It’s easy to run with the inspiration and use their resources for my whole range of ages. But again, if you just have little ones, I’d still pick Ivy Kids first to get the most bang for your buck.
Okay, I’m going to hold off on the big kid (8-12 range) boxes and do a separate post on those tomorrow! Has your family tried any subscription boxes?
Okay, friends, after three days of talking, I want to spend a few days sharing some ideas and resources. With the easy, breezy summer schedule, my kids’ tummies are suddenly on need-to-eat-nonstop mode. We’ve talked about snacks on the blog before, so I just want to re-share a few of those posts, since it was four years ago:
Emily’s Favorite Healthy Snacks (check out the comments section, too)
And we do have a pinterest board dedicated to snacks.
And as a preview to what I’ll be talking about tomorrow, this year, I’ve gotten some new inspiration for cooking with my kids from a couple cooking-themed kids’ subscription boxes. Raddish Kids has more dinner-themed recipes, while Kidstirs has a variety of meals and snacks. Both are pricey, but if you have grandparents asking for gift ideas (or if you’re in a public school charter like ours that lets you spend your funds on educational subscriptions), I’d recommend checking them out. Yes, my kids can cook in the kitchen with me any time, but the kit does the organizing work for you and feels more special. Both kits are geared towards kids and have cute designs and fun little extras along with the recipes. You have a shopping list, but the groceries themselves are not provided. My kindergartner was the official recipient of both subscriptions, but her 8 year old sister often helps, her four year old sister watches, and her ten year old brother will sometimes lend a hand. Here’s the lowdown on both (and I’m not sponsored by either, so I’m giving you my honest opinion):
Raddish Kids features three laminated, fold out recipes around a central theme each month. Kits are $24 apiece with free shipping (with a slight discount if you get a 6- or 12- month subscription). In the first kit, your child gets an apron, and each month, there’s a patch to sew on to show they’ve mastered those recipes. Ingredients are fairly common, and directions are very clear. I like that the pages fold out so that you can see the ingredient list and the directions all on one page without having to flip back and forth. The back often features a special skill that your child can develop or gives you information about a particular ingredient. There’s often a little activity to go with the theme (for Chinese month, we made little paper lanterns), and they always include one kitchen tool (which have all held up so far) to help with the recipes. I have a fairly well-stocked kitchen, accessory-wise, but we do now have some new tools (like a dumpling press) that we didn’t have before and now use often. Taste-wise, these recipes have almost universally been a hit with my kids, and only one was too bland for me. They are truly from-scratch recipes, with no dumping cream-of-something soup over a chicken and calling it cooking. Recently my daughter and I went through all 18 of the recipes we’d tried, and there were only two that we didn’t want to keep (one, a spaghetti sauce, was tossed only because we all prefer my husband’s family recipe, and the other, chicken tenders breaded with cornflakes, was fine but just not particularly better than my other baked chicken tender recipe). A couple of them, including pork dumplings and beef stir-fry, were such big hits that they’re now in our regular meal rotation. My girls made the blueberry muffins for breakfast this morning. Also, the website has a wealth of resources of which we have only scratched the surface. They are very homeschool-friendly, with lesson plans for many ages, they have a special American Heritage Girls badge kit, and they have adapted recipes for special diets available. We only have a peanut allergy in our family, so we haven’t needed to adapt any of them, but it’s nice to know that we could if we had to. The only con for me was that the recipe cards are hard to store, but I see that they now have a binder with pockets that we could get to slide the cards into if we wanted.
Kidstir also provides three recipes around a theme each month. A single kit is $20 plus shipping, with a discount if you buy a multiple month subscription. There are only 12 kits available, so after a year, you’d just be getting repeat boxes, unlike Raddish kids, which creates new kits each month. In the Kidstir box, you get two kid-sized cooking tools, and often they’ll include little decorative things (flag toothpicks for finger food, etc). The recipe pages are not laminated, so you can’t just wipe spills clean, and the ingredients and recipes are scattered across a couple separate pieces of paper, forcing you to flip a page back and forth while cooking, which I dislike, but they’re already hole-punched to put into your binder, which has all the categories of a common cookbook. I like that my daughter is literally building her cookbook each month, and it’ll be easy to add in additional recipes as she continues to spend time in the kitchen. They also have educational pages and several online resources on the website. My kids loved the “eat a rainbow” charts so much that I keep printing off more from the website so they can continue to keep track of their fruit and vegetable intake. Nutritionally, the recipes are healthy but not too healthy, if you know what I mean, and they’re pretty kid-friendly, not pushing them too far out of their comfort zone. Last night we munched on kale chips that we made from one of their recipes, and that is a big deal, because five out of the six of us loathe kale in other forms. Because a lot of them are snacks and not dinner recipes, we haven’t gotten around to making all of them yet, but my girls are definitely enthusiastic to try more. I think these kits are really fine, but because I like the layout of Raddish better, I’d give a slight edge to Raddish. I’m mean, if you’re up for spending $24 a month on cute cooking inspiration in the first place.
And of course, I’m a big fan of letting the kids browse my cookbooks for a fun-looking recipe and then trying it together!
What do you do about food with your family over the summer?