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Without question, one of the best parts of parenting is getting to go through your favorite life experiences and lessons again, but this time from a different perspective. That’s not to say that you failed to pick up on the fundamental principles of things like arithmetic and biology the first time around, of course. What I’m talking about here is reliving the good stuff. The fun stuff. Things like finding a bird’s nest, watching a sunrise, or seeing an egg hatch. While the simplest of concepts and the most elementary of lessons may have extra depth to you now that you’ve gained some context, more meaning now that you have firsthand experience, for children, it is all still so wonderfully new. Their reactions of awe and that look of dawning realization as they wrap their mind around yet another first say as much. It is priceless seeing the novelty of a new experience reflected on any child’s face, sure, but this is especially true when it is your own child’s. It is actually one of the best aspects of parenthood.

It was the anticipation of precisely this sort of reaction, combined with my affinity for all things autumn, that prompted me to undertake an effort to expand my cubs’ fall horizon beyond just candy, halloween and costumes last week. I was looking for a way to really drive home the things we’d been talking to them about recently regarding the changes fall brings. They had nodded along and asked pertinent questions when we’d told them that we’d have to trade in shorts and sandals for sweaters and sneakers because it was now colder outside. They took it in stride when we explained that we wouldn’t be able to go to the beach anymore either. When we’d told them, however, that in autumn the leaves would all first change color and then fall off the trees, their curiosity was piqued by this apparent connection. It was as though they’d just now realized that all those fun piles of leaves they were looking so forward to jumping in were presently still in their respective positions high up in the treetops, that they were- in fact- the very same ones! In that moment, I pictured their minds like little sponges, sopping up all this information and internalizing it. I knew that further explanation wouldn’t be necessary. This novel concept alone was enough for them now, and watching them mull it over was enough for me. Educational aspect accomplished, it was now time for the fun stuff!

 

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I have found that I actually do my best work once the kids have gone to bed for the night. Occasionally I’m even able to squeeze some meaningful progress out of what’s left of their paltry mini naptime too. Even more rare, however, are the mornings I’m actually able to tear myself away from my bed before they wake up (I know, right?). On those early mornings, I’m able to pitter patter around, enjoying the tranquil solitude, the quiet, and that beautiful early morning light as I plow through my to-do list. All right, maybe plow is a bit of an overstatement. But I digress. Back to what I was saying, it was exactly on one of those rare, tea-sipping, papasan-chair-sitting, iPad-perusing mornings that I found this clever idea for a fall craft activity on the wonderful world of Pinterest recently. A quick search for fall-themed art & crafts brought me to Michelle over at CraftyMorning.com. The idea is to use paint to stamp leaves onto the bare branches of a tree printout using stamps made out of toilet paper rolls. Seeing as empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls seem to be in abundance in my casa these days, I knew I would be able to oblige. Perfect.

Like all things crafty and/or potentially messy around here, I thought it best to set this activity up while the littles in question were safely out of the picture (See previous paragraph). As I just so happened to have a freshly vacated paper towel roll at my disposal, I decided to forego the bathroom variety in favor of this option instead. I cut the roll into about six one-inch slices and, following Michelle’s directions on her blog, gently squeezed each circle to give it more of a flatter, leaf-like shape. I then cut each circle open and taped each one closed so that the ends met in that more elongated, pointed shape. Once finished, you’ll find that each piece of paper towel roll has essentially been converted into a leaf-shaped stamp.

 

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Once my stamps were ready, I used the same link Michelle provides on her blog post to print out the free tree image she used. One for each budding artist. Next, I hunted down some craft paint which reminded me that I badly needed some craft paint. Luckily I was able to find a few little jars of Crayola washable kids’ paint in my trusty catch-all closet. I went with orange, red, and [what was left of] yellow on this one. Classic fall foliage colors. Technically you wouldn’t be wrong if you showed those evergreens some love right about now, I guess, but I was out of green anyway so that made it easy for me to shun them. I poured a little bit of each color into a container I didn’t mind my kids handling vigorously and then went to fetch said kids.

I set them each up with their own little stamps and paint stations and explained the idea of the activity to them. As expected, they looked ecstatic at just the sight of all the bounty of fun in front of them and were probably actually tuning me out. I ambitiously started off explaining that each stamp was for a particular color and that worked out pretty well for about five minutes, give or take five minutes. Eventually they just forgot, got mixed up, stopped caring, etc. and just started dipping and stamping into any which container at random. So, based on this and the resulting multi-colored leaves, I guess you could say that this activity doubles as an introductory lesson on grafting?

 

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Once your cubs have finished stamping away to their heart’s content, you can either continue the activity by showing them how they can fill in the leaves using a paintbrush or you can decide to cut your losses and end the activity right there. Step back, allow your littles to admire their handiwork for a moment and then go ahead and set that wet paper somewhere very high and very far to dry in peace, thereby ensuring that your house remains blissfully free of fall-colored tempera paint smears.

I know that there will come a time in their lives when things like leaves changing color will lose their luster, when all the magic in everyday details will just blend in with the more unremarkable parts of life. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. We all reach that point eventually. It’s mother nature’s way of moving us forward and making room for more in our minds as in our lives. What I do think is that this progression, so to speak, deserves to be acknowledged, celebrated even. It’s exactly the kind of progress that allows us to sit back and appreciate all of the little things in the first place, so why not indulge in these stepping stones right along with them? While one day, their autumn knowledge repertoire may be expanded upon with things like photosynthesis, chlorophyll, and heliocentrism, today my cubs are still at a delightfully preschool level. That means in-depth explanations aren’t in big demand just yet and, at least for a little while longer, arts and crafts will do the trick just fine, of imbuing their minds with the particular tenet in question.

 

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It made a real impression on me when my first child was born, just how oblivious I’d been to the innumerable exhortations about new parenthood we’re regularly lambasted with from all sides and sources our entire lives. I’d always thought I understood exactly how hard it was on new parents just by hearing and witnessing family and friends go through this rite of passage over the years, not to mention the additional perspectives, as far-fetched as they may have been, provided by the occasional sitcom or sappy movie. That’s just the way it is, and that is why I’m still stumped as to how this message could have been so catastrophically lost on me. It wasn’t until I found myself trying to sit up, head bobbing, a baby at my poor breast in the dead of night for the fifth damn time that reality finally called my bluff. Suddenly, I was in the thick of it and I fully understood what everyone had been trying to tell me. Now that I actually felt it, I understood it, and this actually ended up being one of my very first parenting lessons.

I learned in those dreary, blurry first days of new mommyhood that, yes, while being a parent may now give you access to all that emotion and clarity that you’d only ever had the privilege of tuning out before, it could never be- under any circumstances- a substitution for experiencing the real thing with your own little. As empathetic as you may be and as much as you can logically understand what a parent is going through, it will always still be, far and away, completely foreign to you once you’re going through it yourself. These were some of the thoughts furiously running through my mind as I drove up to the elementary school last week to drop my little man off for his first day of pre-school.

 

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All summer long I had found my thoughts stubbornly turning to that date on the calendar- the first day of school. I was ambivalent, I was nervous, I was excited, I was absolutely everything. Now here’s where that first lesson came in handy because I refused to be blindsided again, dammit. My newfound appreciation for firsthand experience allowed me to walk into this scenario with the full knowledge and understanding that there was to be no script for this moment; the way someone else felt about it and conveyed it wasn’t necessarily going to be reproduced for me that day. My husband and I followed every drop-off instruction to a tee, gave our boy one last look over, and then we all took the walk to the school’s doors.

Standing next to all the other moms and dads around me, I kept marveling at this transition, at just how momentous it actually was. For the first time, I wouldn’t be a part of every single minute of my son’s day. When he walked in, my position would be to stay behind. To let him go on alone. What a foreign concept to me. As a dedicated stay-at-home mom, I’d been responsible for his well-being and safekeeping at all times from the moment he was just a tiny little body swaddled next to me in the dark of night four years ago until now. For the first time since I first laid eyes on him, it wouldn’t be up to me how he spent the next few hours, how he was feeling, or what he wanted. He would have to begin the incremental process of speaking up for, and learning to look after, himself. This was a big step for him, one that demanded a lot of confidence and trust on his part. Though I knew what he was capable of, he didn’t seem too convinced of his own abilities those first few mornings.

 

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The very same thing was happening for us parents too, however. This situation was demanding a tremendous amount of trust from us as well and I’m sure more than a few of us were standing there with doubts on our own minds. We would have to reconcile this new step in our children’s lives with the fact that the very same incremental process was being asked of us, the difference being, we are expected to just take it in stride. I guess entrusting someone else with your child’s care is supposed to be easy? This was what the first day of school truly asks of you. People tell you that you should be proud, that he’ll have fun, and that it’s all okay. Others still, tell you that you have to let go eventually. While all of these might technically be correct, they were still overseeing something very important, they were negating natural emotions as if they don’t even matter. But they do matter.

Every adjustment in life requires a period of transition, a path to acceptance, and time. Everyone needs time. So, with this in mind,  I chose a better way to make peace with this change. I chose to feel community with the other moms for whom this was their first too. We may all be decades into our own list of firsts in life, sure, but this was a first for us all nonetheless, and it was just as momentous as all of the other firsts we’d experienced in our lives. I decided that my role in this milestone shouldn’t be discounted, but embraced, understood, and accepted. So now here we are, with his first week of school completed and his first piece of artwork hanging like a trophy on our wall at home, a little handprint next to a poem, but more importantly a craft we didn’t make together- a present for my husband and I. We’d all made it through our first week of pre-school together.

 

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Now that we’re past the hump of back to school blues, it is on to new territory in our home. This new terrain of having a school-age child has come with new routines, new habits, and many adjustments for us all, not the least of which is getting out of the house on time each and every single morning during the school week. As my personality dictates that I constantly be in pursuit of efficiency, I immediately commenced my search in that endeavor. I began compiling a few tips, tricks, and items to help us tackle the morning routine and get through the day. In so doing, and being the sentimental organizational junkie that I am, I was immediately drawn to a few ideas right off the bat. They all brightened my mood this past week just as much as they eased my load.

 

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I absolutely adore these little lunchbox notes I found over at papercrave.com. Now, granted I am a sucker for all sorts of paper and stationery, there was just something about these little guys in particular that stole my heart on sight. Something this adorable being specifically geared towards something other than my Project Life scrapbooking or greeting card stash? Sold! These little gems harken back to the good ‘ol days of receiving actual real mail from people in your real mailbox. I, for one, can still remember that feeling of excitement at getting a letter from my pen pal, or reading about someone’s travels on a beautiful little postcard.

It’s a feeling that is hard to replicate these days as email tends to fail at mustering the same thrill. It was in this spirit that I tucked these into my boy’s lunchbox a few days this week. While my little man might still be too young to read the sweet message, he is actually the perfect age to appreciate an unexpected colorful surprise from mom during snack-time. Provided as a free printable, they are available to all of us Mama Bears. I know I will be stocking up on these for the days to come as well as scavenging the internet for holiday themed options for the wonderful seasons ahead.

 

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Being back in a school environment conjures up all sorts of old memories you’ve probably forgotten all about. The familiar little songs you thought you’d never hear again, the admonitions like “Stop, Drop and Roll,” that were once drilled into your head, the classroom birthday parties you used to enjoy so much, and the labeling. Wait, what? Yes, that’s right, the labeling. In the same vein as “criss-cross apple sauce,” not everything is the way it used to be, requiring some minor updates on your part. These days, a label with your child’s name on it is required on all of their belongings. At least around our neck of the woods it is. And I mean everything. As in, even on the spare pair of socks you’re asked to keep in their cubby. Therein lies the question.

How, oh how, to go about this task without straight-up defiling the duds you so lovingly bought, as visions of well-dressed children danced in your head? Frankly folks, if my choices were to lay sadly between hideously drab solutions of the plastic variety and the indiscriminate nature of those big black permanent markers- I think I’d rather take the lost item. That’s why I think Brenna Berger over at Paper & Ink has the right idea. Sure, you’re going to need a couple of supplies and a little elbow grease to make these whimsical fabric labels, but you’ll be rewarded with these absolutely precious name tags in return. I find something beautiful in their quaint simplicity. As an added bonus, when the inevitable hand-me-down time arrives, you will be blissfully free of any unsightly permanent reminders of these labeling days.

 

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I knew, with the advent of pen drives in college, that although CDs had just become near obsolete, I might one day be able to breathe new life into all those plastic discs stacked neatly in that mini bundt pan. So imagine my elation when I stumbled across this time-saver right here on I Heart Organizing while on my virtual travels recently. As a Mama Bear trying to implement Montessori principles wherever I can in my child’s life, I relish any opportunity to allow him to flex his independence muscles. This is one such opportunity. Now, he can put together his own outfits for the week as I’m working on putting away my own mountain of clothes. Check out the updated version in the link above that utilizes cereal box cutouts instead of CDs for yet another take on this fantastic idea!