Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Make Your Own Bean Bags

I really love using bean bags in all kinds of games and activities. Often people feel they have to buy commerically made bean bags but you can make your own. Here are a couple of ideas on making your own and two of them are no sew. Older children will enjoy the activity of making them as much as the games you'll come up with to use them.

Simple Shaped Bean Bags
This is a sewing project and is best done on a straight stitch machine.
I liked to use fabric scraps or remnant pieces that are colorful prints. Any fabric is fine if it is sturdy. Simply cut out two pieces of the desired shape, sew edges with a straight stitch about 3/4 inch from the edge. Leave an opening along one side about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. This is where you'll fill the bag with beans. Once you have the beans inside, stitch the opening closed. Trim the edges with a pinking shears to minimize fraying. You can also use an anti-fray glue along the edges. Fleece fabric or felt does not fray and holds together very well. If you have a serger then you are sealing the edges as you sew the bag together - it's really slick!
This project can also be done with hand stitching. I recommend putting beans in a zip lock sandwich or snack bag and then insert into the bean bag you've made. This way if a stitch breaks and the bag starts to open up, the beans will be a little more secured.
While simple shapes are easiest to work with you can also make them in letters or numbers.

No Sew Bean Bags
1) Zip lock style sandwhich bags - fill with beans 3/4 full, seal edges with duct tape. If you'd really like a sturdy bag cover the whole plastic bag with duct tape. Remember duct tape can be decorated with permanent marker or it does come in several colors.
2) We all have a lone sock who has lost their partner or socks that aren't really useful as socks anymore. Make a bean bag out of them. Simply fill the sock to a point where you can knot the open end. No sewing, no glue, no tape. You can even decorate the sock to make it fun.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Don't Neglect Self-Care

By Colleen O'Connor

Self-care is important for everyone, but especially for parents and nannies. Caring for children is an emotional--and at times highly draining--experience. Because of this emotional investment, it’s easy to give everything you have to your children and forget to save some energy for yourself. Parents and nannies who neglect their own needs are less effective caregivers because they experience constant stress, exhaustion, and burnout. They also lose the ability to respond quickly and creatively to challenges. Children in their care will sense and reflect these emotions as well as the implicit lesson being taught: “Keep giving to others even when it becomes unhealthy to do so.”

Think of every plane safety lecture you’ve ever heard. Remember the instructions about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs? The reasoning is that if you become incapacitated, you’re unable to help anyone at all. It’s better to take a few moments for yourself so you can sustainably care for those around you.

Everyone has different self-care needs. Focus on what decreases stress and increases your feelings of well-being. This can consist of anything from exercising to spending time with friends to delving into a new or favorite hobby.

Ideally, your self-care time should:
• Remind you of your identity beyond that of caregiver. Although being a parent or nanny is a deep, important part of who you are, you are also so many other things.
• Have a formal place (such as a corner of the guest room just for your craft projects) or time (a scheduled date night). You’re much more likely to follow through and be free from distractions if you’ve committed to your “me time” in some way and made space for it in your life.
• Be a child-free time so you are focused on no one’s needs but your own.
• Encompass social, intellectual, physical, and spiritual renewal.
• Include healthful activities such as exercising, sleeping, and eating well. It’s good to indulge in a rich dessert or an evening in front of the TV, but you’ll feel truly at your best when you’re also healthy.
• Reflect your true passions and fulfillment. One can garden or read all she likes and still not be at peace. You must also take time to think about whether or not you’re truly satisfied with your life, and if you aren’t, what possibilities there are to explore. Once in a while, find time and space to ask yourself the deeper questions about your vocation, priorities, and passions.

Remember, self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. By giving yourself time to recharge and gain perspective, you’ll be better at caring for others.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Keeping Cool

Have a wonderful weekend everyone and keep cool!
Sharing a Treat
Sprinkler Fun
So Cool!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keeping Connected

We wanted to share with you a great application that nannies and parents can use to provide updates about the children. A nanny candidate let us know this is available to anyone. Some child care centers are using this option over the paper version of a daily log. This could be a great option for you.

Some of the features include:

  • Track daily information about children: feeding, diapers, sleep, mood, activities, medicines, photos, ...
  • Several authorized users can be specified for each child: parents, family, daycare staff, ... Entries are immediately securely synchronized on each user account
  • Parents and Child Care staff can easily exchange messages via the application
  • Accessible with Daily Connect iPhone/iPod touch application, Daily Connect for iPad, Daily Connect for Android, or with a browser by logging to

  • When visiting you can see all the features, screenshots, view a demo and get pricing options.

    Have you used this app? If so, we'd love to hear about your experience.

    This article from Nannies from the Heartland does not imply endorsement of any product or service.

    Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    Homemade Popsicle Fun!

    by Kelly Miller

    Popsicles are one of my children's favorite summer treats.  For years, we have used the same popsicle molds to make our own variety.  However, this year we have gone beyond fruit juice and leftover smoothie mixes.  We are having a lot of fun experimenting with new popsicle types, from Jello and pudding to fruit purees.  We also purchased some new popsicle molds to make the new recipes more fun.  We are not only saving money, but having fun being creative while we are able to control the ingredients we use.  Here are some simple recipes that we have enjoyed.,1813,159174-231202,00.html,1940,146183-244193,00.html

    Monday, July 15, 2013

    Business Payroll is No Place to Pay a Nanny

    This article comes from our friends at Breedlove and Associates . . .

    Business Payroll is no Place to Pay a Nanny
    by Breedlove July 10, 2013

    We often speak to families who think that adding a household employee to their business payroll provides an easy, one-stop solution. However, doing this is illegal in almost all instances and there are several snags that can come up when household and business payroll are not maintained separately. The following case illustrates one of them.

    The Mistake
    A family in Colorado hired their first nanny to care for their two children. The family owned a small business with 10 employees and had been told it would be okay to add the nanny to their company’s payroll. They wanted to “make things easy” as well as provide the nanny with access to their company’s healthcare plan. The placement agency the family worked with thought this seemed out of place and advised the family to call Breedlove & Associates for a second opinion. Unfortunately, the family never called and set their nanny up as an employee of their business.

    The Law
    Business owners are allowed to take a business tax break on their company’s payroll expense because the employees are direct contributors to the success of the business. The IRS has ruled that household employees are not direct contributors to a business and, therefore, their wages – as well as the accompanying care-related tax breaks – must be handled through the personal tax process. In addition, household employees cannot be filed with a business’ employment tax returns (unless it is a sole proprietorship or for-profit farm).

    Furthermore, company group health insurance policies may not include non-employees. If a household employee is interested in health insurance, the nanny must obtain an individual policy. However, just like a commercial employer, a household employer can contribute up to 100% of the employee’s health insurance premiums and have it be considered non-taxable compensation. This means that neither the family nor the nanny would pay any taxes on that portion of her compensation. As an added bonus, as long as the family covers at least 50% of their household employee’s health insurance premiums and their nanny makes less than $50,000 a year, they can take a tax credit of up to 35% of their total yearly contribution.

    The Mess
    Approximately six months into the relationship, the nanny broke her ankle while skiing one weekend. She required surgery and an overnight hospital stay which resulted in around $20,000 in medical expenses.  The insurance company ultimately discovered she was a nanny and refused payment on the grounds that she was not an employee of the company and, therefore, not covered by the group health plan. The nanny was distraught with the thought of having to cover these medical bills and contacted the family.

    Having remembered the conversation they had with their placement agency, the family contacted Breedlove & Associates to try to find a solution. A consultant informed them that their nanny needed to have an individual health insurance policy in order to be covered for the majority of her medical expenses. Additionally, the family needed to establish themselves as household employer with the IRS and Colorado state tax agencies to accurately report their nanny’s wages and take the correct tax deductions.

    The Outcome
    The family felt horrible that their payroll mistake caused their nanny so much stress. Because they were so happy with the work she was performing and because it was their mistake, they paid their nanny’s medical expenses. The family also had to pay their CPA to amend their business tax returns for the previous two quarters in order to reverse their illegal payroll deductions.

    Because their CPA was not familiar with household employment taxes, the family signed up with Breedlove & Associates to process their nanny’s payroll going forward. We filed two quarters of late Colorado state income and state unemployment tax returns to catch the family up on their tax obligations. The family had to pay interest on their late tax payments, but we were able to get the state penalties waived for them once we explained why the tax returns were late.

    The family continues to employ the nanny and even pays for 75% of her health insurance premiums.

    How the Whole Thing Could Have Been Avoided
    Had the family taken their placement agency’s warning about adding the nanny to their business payroll, they would have avoided this extremely expensive experience.  As the husband said to the Breedlove & Associates consultant who helped him, “My gut told me to call you months ago, but I convinced myself that it was not a big deal. I wish I had it to do over again!” Many well-intended families have made this mistake based on advice they received from a trusted source. This case serves as a reminder that tax and employment law for households is unique and outside of the core competencies of most tax professionals.

    Friday, July 12, 2013

    Summer Fun - Planned Spontaneity

    Summer weather is finally here. School’s out and the children are ready for some fun in the sun, and so are we. The key to spontaneity is being prepared for it - sounds like an oxymoron? Well, being prepared makes it easy to get up and go at a moment’s notice. Here’s some tips to get you started.

    Pack That Bag

    Have a bag of those “must have” items packed and ready to go. You may want to include towels, swim wear, sunblock, hats, child friendly insect repellent, water/sand toys, rollerblades/skates and safety equipment. Plus all the necessary “stuff” for the children’s comfort (diapers, change of clothing, etc.), first aid kit, travel snacks, travel games or activities and books. You get the picture. Choose a sturdy bag that is easy to pack, something with compartments for categorizing items for easy access. I found a large bag that had wheels so it was easier to move around. I often left it in the car and just changed out items as needed.

    Adjust your packing as to accommodate the activity. You won’t need all the beach supplies for a play date with friends at the zoo. I’ve used large size (2 gallon) plastic bags to store swim wear, special toys or other equipment. I keep them organized and ready to grab and go so we’re not spending time hunting for things. Then pick the plastic bags you need and slide them into your large bag. After each trip out you’ll want to take care of any wet or soiled items and replenish the bag with essentials. Then you’re ready for your next outing.

                    In your large bag you may want to include a daypack (small backpack) so that you can carry your essential items with you anywhere. Also, using a daypack will leave your hands free to hold a child's hand, a kite string or an ice cream treat. Most packs are designed to be lightweight and comfortable. The daypack is also a great place to carry your first aid kit and those must have snack.
                    Don’t forget to carry wet wipes with you. Not only are they handy for clean-ups but they can take the initial pain out of a bee sting until you can get to some ice. My theory is that the moisture from the wipes evaporates and cools the sting site. I discovered this through a personal experience with a five year old while riding in the car. We had nothing else at hand to sooth the sting. Everyone was amazed and delighted that this was a quick fix until we got an ice pack.

    Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’

                    Keep your vehicle ready for those last minute runs to the park or over to a special play date. Having one or two over-the-seat organizers has made things so much easier. That’s where I’d keep a few choice books, paper, crayons, travel games, etc. It’s also a great place for sunblock, wipes, paper towels or other helpful supplies. Having different items for different seasons is makes sense (extra mittens, scarves or hat, umbrellas, light jacket, etc.). Changing out activities, books or games based on children's ages and interests is a good idea too.
    Summer is here! Get out and enjoy! This is a great time to reconnect with school age children, let those infant through preschoolers explore and discover their world, and most importantly everyone can have fun together!  

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Use Your Noodle!

    These fun ideas to use pool noodles comes from Great ideas for lots of fun this summer and beyond. Enjoy!
    Pool Noodle Backyard Games

     Pool Noodle Backyard Games ~ How to make a target station by joining rings into colorful targets for  flying disks, soccer balls, and more. Stakes keep the target upright.

    Agility Tire Jump Game  Agility Tire Jump Game ~ Duct-tape six rings to one another, then tape them to thicker (3 1/2-inch-wide) hollow pool noodle posts.

    How to Make a Wicket Game  How to Make a Wicket Game ~ Use a hammer to pound two chopsticks or 1/4-inch dowels (cut to 10 to 12 inches long) halfway into the ground about 30 to 40 inches apart, depending on how tall you want your wickets. Slide a hollow pool noodle in place.

    Summer Noodle Game  Summer Noodle Game ~ Cut a few swimming noodles in two, so that you have one half for each player. Scatter 20 or so blown-up balloons on the ground around a laundry basket.

    Pool Noodle Lacing and Counting Pool Noodle Lacing and Counting ~ How to create a number game for preschoolers. It works on number recognition and one-to-one correspondence!

    Water Noodle Lacing & Pattern Practice Water Noodle Lacing & Pattern Practice ~ This is a great activity for pre-schoolers and even kindergarteners. In fact, it is going to be one of my centers in pre-school this year.  It is a great way to practice patterns.

    Pool Noodle ActivitiesPool Noodle Beading Games ~ Depending on the skills you’d like to work on with your tot, use a permanent marker to write on the pieces. I made an ABC set and Numbers 1-20 set. You could also leave some blank and use them for patterns.
    Games to play:
    • Lace the “giant” beads on a piece of the clotheline or rope. (Motor Skills)
    • Lace the beads in ABC order. (Motor skills & Literacy)
    • Lace the beads in Number order. (Motor skills & Math)
    • Lace the beads to spell words or names. (Motor skills & Literacy)
    Pool Noodle Chain Links Noodle Chain Links ~ The children made long and short chains and one little boy put his together to make a motorcycle.

    Pool Noodle Marble Racetrack  Pool Noodle Marble Racetrack  ~ My kids love this activity. They will race marbles for hours. It’s a perfect indoor activity for a rainy day or can be taken outside so you can enjoy some sunshine. I hope you’ll give it a try and have as much fun with it as we have!  Here’s another pool noodle marble run tutorial from Family Fun.

    How To Make Pool Noodle Lances How To Make Pool Noodle Lances ~ The pool noodles were decorated with crepe streamers (it’s what I had on hand, although in hind sight I wish I had used the colored duct tape.

    How to make a Backyard Goalpost How to make a Backyard Goalpost ~ Kids can practice their placekicking — and increase the challenge as their aim improves — with this adjustable goalpost made from pool noodles.

    Real-life quidditch tournament Real-life Harry Potter Quidditch Tournament ~ Made with pool noodles as the broomsticks, the orange nerfball is the quaffle, and the two small red ones are bludgers, and hula hoops for the goals.

    Pool Noodle ActivitiesPool Noodle Floating Sculpture ~ How to make a sculpture that floats.   This a great activity that you can bring outside or in the bathtub too.  All you need is some cut up pool noodles and toothpicks.

    Pool Noodles and Golf Tees Figures Pool Noodles and Golf Tees Figures ~ How to make fun figures and sculptures out of cut up pool noodles and golf tees.

    Pool Noodle Painting ActivityPool Noodle Painting ~ Simply put some tempera paint in some recycled lids and put a cut noodle in each one and we were ready to print/paint.

    How to Make Star Wars lightsabers out of pool noodlePool Noodle Lightsabers ~ How to Make Star Wars lightsabers out of pool noodles for a birthday party or just for fun.

    super sprinkler games with pool noodlesPool Noodle Super Sprinkler ~ How to turn one into a super squirter that can be used to launch all sorts of fun and games, such as the High Water Jump shown here.

    The Deluxe Kid Wash The Deluxe Kid Wash ~ The Kid Wash is crafted almost entirely from PVC pipe, a material we love not just for its low cost (about $30 for all the pieces shown here) and durability, but also for its ease of use (with all those interconnecting pieces — it’s like Tinkertoys for grown-ups).

    Monday, July 8, 2013

    Responsibility: Encouraging Skills

    I don’t know a parent or nanny who doesn’t place a high priority on building responsibility in children, but encouraging skills can be a challenge. Knowing how to incorporate building skills into the daily routine and what to expect from all ages of children are important considerations. We should start by defining responsibility; responsibility can be thought of as respect for the rights of others and personal accountability for one’s actions.

    Responsible children need the opportunity to practice and learn skills from adults who are patient through the process. There are several areas where adults can make an impression in the area of responsibility.

    • Model appropriate behavior – setting an example of respect for self and others. Children notice what you do and if it is consistent with what you say.
    • Expectations and rules should be stated clearly and positively. The reasons behind these should be explained so that the child can understand – they should also get positive feedback when they act responsibly. A genuine “thank you” or a comment about being noticed for their behavior goes a long way to encourage children.
    • Children need experience – allow them to set goals, make choices and problem solve whenever possible. They can practice by taking responsibility for household chores and participating in family meetings where family decisions are made. Using charts can help younger children visualize their progress for specific expectations.
    • Allow for natural and logical consequences – along with knowing the expectations children should also understand that there are consequences for not acting responsibly. When children are part of the process of setting up rules and expectations they are aware of the consequences that go along with noncompliance. Don’t be surprised when children test the limits to see if the adults will follow up – so be consistent and clear.

    Knowing age appropriate expectations can help parents, nanny and children develop a “Can Do” list. A “Can Do” list is a positive spin on a chore chart that works great for the younger children. The chart can continue to be helpful to older children if they know that there is a perk to earn. Many families tie weekly allowance, special activity choices or other motivational items to their “Can Do” chore chart. Expectations need to be age appropriate and specific to the maturity of each child. Here some general guidelines:

    o Can usually clean up toys with some direction or assistance
    o Expect independent play for short periods of time
    o Make clothing choices and dress themselves with some help
    o Household chores – help set table, sort laundry, pet care, etc.

    Grade School Age
    o Often follows rules of group games
    o Can express anger without action most of the time
    o Beginning to care for personal belongings – school items, toys, etc.
    o Does simple chores independently – clear table, hang up coat, etc.
    o Handles personal hygiene/dressing needs with little or no help/reminders

    Intermediate School Age and older
    o Completes assignments independently
    o Organizes personal time to fit homework, free time, etc.
    o Helps with household chores on a daily basis
    o Respects personal property of others

    Incorporating appropriate expectations, providing opportunities to practice and earn positive feedback, and observing adults’ modeling expected behavior sets the stage for building a responsible child. Like building any skill it takes time, patience and consistency, but there’s plenty of potential to make it fun and positive.

    Friday, July 5, 2013

    Frozen Fun Boredom Buster

    Our dear friends at Regarding Nannies posted this fun activity. Written and contributed by experienced nanny Tracey Chipps it is kid tested and nanny approved. A great activity for these 80+ degree days!

    Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    Monday, July 1, 2013

    Building Critical Thinking

    I attended several sessions at the recent International Nanny Association conference that referred to building critical thinking skills, which got me considering ideas on this topic. Here are some things I've used to encourage and build critical thinking in children. We'd love to hear your thoughts on building critical thinking skills, please comment and share your knowledge with us!

    Critical thinking at it's core includes: clarifying goals, examining assumptions, discerning hidden values, evaluating evidence, accomplishing actions and assessing conclusions. That sounds massive and weighty but it is much more fluid. Most professions integrate components of critical thinking and much of our current education process incorporates critical thinking opportunities. However, building critical thinking skills can start long before children enter school. Parents and nannies can play a huge role in building those skills.

    Children with strong critical thinking skills are typically more resilient and are able to manage stress better. They have a confidence in their abilities and are not overwhelmed when things don't go their way. Overall they have a more positive outlook on life. A child's personality has a lot to do with how they see the world, but every child can benefit from building skills. They are already adept at asking questions which is the basic foundation of critical thinking - questioning and seeking options.

    Problem Solving
    Building problem solving skills boosts a child's confidence. Young children can begin working on this skill through board or card games, doing simple science projects, math games, play with construction and building materials or even in simple daily tasks. When solving problems we use previous personal experience and logic to derive possible options. Children need experiences to draw from so putting a puzzle together, solving a simple tangram, or figuring out how to build a block bridge add to those experiences. This practice leads to understanding the importance of prioritization and planning. For example if you are building a bridge out of blocks or Legos you need have a strong foundation and plan ahead about how that will happen. Both successes and failures teach children more about the problem solving process. We can help by being available to encourage, support and answer questions as they come up.

    Be Creative
    Imaginative play that includes children taking on different roles can bring a greater understanding about real world situations. Letting children take the lead in developing imaginative play gives them a safe way to explore and echo things they've seen parents or other adults doing. As the adult you may find that you are invited to be the audience or a participant, but remember to let the child lead the action. Books, movies or television programs can also spur on creative thinking. Discussing the actions, emotions or subjects can help children bring clarity and relevance to real life situations now and in the future. Conversations are a time to ask open ended questions. The "what if" game is a great way to get critical thinking skills going. After reading a book or watching a program you start with "what if . . . " adding a twist that would make the story head on a different path and then let the child take off with it. They may enjoy asking you some "what if" questions too.
    Real Life Situations
    Every day brings opportunities to talk about real experiences. Parents and other adults close to children often try to avoid talking or sharing the most difficult situations to protect them. While it's true we need to be selective, you may be surprised to know just how intuitive children are and that they are thinking about serious matters frequently. Allowing them to share their fears and past experiences allows them to work through and process information. Being a good listener is vital in encouraging children to share. This can be a great opportunity to do some brainstorming on ideas and using role play to act them out. While this can seem serious it can also have an element of fun with it.

    Awareness of Others
    Understanding the feelings and viewpoints of others allows children to start seeing a problem or situation from all sides. It opens up their frame of reference beyond themselves or their family. While younger children are primarily egocentric in their thinking they can still start to be aware of others. Typically when children reach about seven they start to have a greater understanding of others, their views and feelings. Getting them talking about their feelings is a first step. Young children assume everyone else thinks like them so sharing your thoughts are helpful to them seeing that others think and react differently. Participating in group play and play dates expose them to peers which gives them experience with others. Being aware of other viewpoints and ideas provides another tool in the critical thinking toolbox.
    Thinking is question driven. Critical thinking skills take questioning to another level by adding problem solving, awareness of multiple viewpoints, personal experience, evaluation and assessment which lead to options for solutions. This non-linear thinking opens doors and expands ideas. It's no wonder innovative companies are seeking those with strong critical thinking skills. On a personal level it allows the individual not to be overwhelmed when challenged with a real world situation because they are seeing options not obstacles.

    We're interested in your thoughts on critical thinking and encouraging critical thinking skills in children. Please feel free to post your comment below!