Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Becoming Your Best Self as a Friend

I have been blessed with so many special friends over the years.  It amazes me how my friendships have changed with the season of life I am in.  An integral part of becoming your best self includes friends.  They walk with you side by side and don't give up on you when the going gets rough.  I bet you are picturing one of these friends right now! 

None of my friends make the quote above more true than the one that I'm married to.  Today my husband and I are celebrating our 18th anniversary.  He has been by my side through thick and thin for over 20 years!  We have this little joke between us that he is my biggest cheerleader.  Whether I'm taking on a new project, putting in long hours of work, or too grumpy to talk to--he is there--pom-poms in hand ready to cheer me on!  I wouldn't have it any other way!  I get to spend my life with my best friend! 

I have learned some really valuable lessons over the past few years about friendship.  Some were delightful and full of the joy of friendship.  Others were rather difficult and filled with heart ache and tears.  I'm going to share some of what I've learned with you so perhaps you can discover the joy of friendship as I have!

I believe strongly that what you offer to others you will strengthen in yourself.  So, if you want to have better friendships, you have to be a better friend.

Here are a few lessons I've learned about friendship:

1.  Some of the best friends you'll ever have are the ones you live with.  After all, they have the same gene pool you do and they "get it".  You know how hormones are!  My sister and I tease that each of us have at least two good weeks out of the month.  You can just about bet that one of us will be calling the other one crying on our off week and the "sane" sister better be ready to bring her "A game". 

Take care of your relationships with your family.  You don't get to choose them, you may not agree with everything they do, but they are family.  Keep your traditions alive and show your children the value of being part of a family of people who love one another unconditionally.


2. The friends that you share a unique experiences with will always be there even if they are hundreds of miles away.  I've heard a quote that says "Good friends are like stars.  You don't always see them, but you know they're there."  You know the ones...those friends that you don't talk to for a hundred years and then you see them or get a chance to chat on the phone and it feels like you just saw them yesterday!  The friends that I travelled with while I studied abroad in college and my friends from Camp Miniwanca are those friends.

So, get out of your comfort zone and try a new experience.  Take a risk!  Even if you don't know anyone there, you might make a new friend who will be come a great friend! You never know!

These are the girls I studied with while I was at Harlaxton College in England during my college years.  We don't see each other often, but these are truly my kindred spirits.
These are my friends from Camp Miniwanca.  We volunteered together at camp for several summers and they are such special people who challenge me to dig deep, follow my dreams, and be my best self.
3.  It is good for your health to have friends that you meet with on a regular basis!  It lowers your stress and helps you live longer!  I met a lady in the airport recently who was in her 90's, but didn't look a day over 70!  As we chatted, I discovered the secret to her youth!  She bowls several times a week and has for YEARS!  Staying connected with friends and being active has done the trick for her!
Find a group of friends you can get together with on a regular basis.  You could start a book club, have holiday parties, share recipes, travel, or just meet for coffee.  Be consistent and set aside the time in your calendar to be with friends.    
These are my Bunco Girls!  We get together once a month to play this crazy game of dice, eat, and laugh till our muscles hurt!  I only knew 2 or 3 of the girls when we started over 5 years ago, but this mixed group of ladies has become one of the most solid rocks in my life!  They are such talented ladies who are leaders in our community and have been an essential part of my success professionally and personally.  I know that no matter how I feel when I go to Bunco once a month that I will always leave feeling a renewed sense of joy!
4. Friendship means hard work and dedication and sometimes doing things that you really don't want to do!  You know what I'm talking about.  This is the friend who stays up late nights helping you pack boxes, gets up early for a ride to the airport, make time to talk on the phone when they really don't have a spare moment, cooks extra food for you so you won't have to cook while you have sick kids, or just sits with you while you are learning how to be a mom or experiencing the feelings of the empty nest. 
Think of friends that you know who could use a friend like this.  How can you help them?  It is also important to allow yourself to be the one receiving the help.  I heard a great radio interview on recently about giving and receiving help from others.  Many people are very good at giving because when they do, it puts them in control.  When we are on the receiving end of an act of service, we have given up control.  That is very difficult for many people.  Be open to receiving help from others as much as you are to giving it. 
These beautiful ladies came to my rescue a couple of years ago when I had to pack up my classroom.  They helped me purge my classroom, helped me laugh when I wanted to cry, and didn't give up until the job was done.
5. A good friend doesn't like all the same things you do, but a GREAT one does!  These are the friends that laugh at the same jokes, love the same movies, share the same quirks, listen to the same music, and even drink the same coffee!  They just seem to get you and love you just the way you are!
Make sure you take the time to thank your friends for their friendship.  It is easy to take it for granted and not notice how special it is until they move away. 
6.  True friends know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, and know when to walk away.  They will tell you their honest opinion about your new hair cut or outfit when you ask.  They won't make you explain what you believe and why, but they will listen while you do.  They are the ones who probably don't agree with everything you do, but love you regardless and stick by your side to the end!  They are your secret keepers.  You could tell them anything and the crazy thing is it just won't phase them and you can rest assured that your secret's safe with them!  What would we do without friends like these!

7. Surround yourself with friends that inspire you.  They are the people who set goals and achieve them and push you to do the same.  They are the ones who share the same passions and interests.  They challenge you intellectually, physically, spiritually, and in every facet of your life.  They will be there with you in the trenches when the sweat is dripping, the muscles are aching, and you feel  like giving up.  They know just what to say to give you the extra boost you needed to bounce back to your feet and keep on trucking!
I can't express enough how important it is to have friends like this in your journey toward being your best self.  They have the same aspirations as you do and are willing to put in the hard work to get there and won't stop short of helping you do the same! 

As the New Year approaches, consider your friendships and other relationships and how you can grow in them this year.  Your connections with other people are essential to your success!  Find some friends that you can share your journey with this year!  Tell them about your goals and share your struggles.  Through encouraging your friends, you will be encouraged.  How will you join with me in strengthening your friendships this year?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Becoming Your Best Self: Super Powers

Have you ever felt powerless?  I know I have! 

You know those times when you see that chocolate cake and it starts calling your name.  All of the sudden your self-control goes out the window and you give your power away to a piece of cake.

How about the times when your child misbehaves and you try all the tools in your parenting toolbox and you haven't a clue what else to do!  You lose it with them and end up giving your power away to a two year old.

It even happens in the line at the grocery store.  You run in to the store to grab a couple things real quick and end up standing in line for 15 minutes.  You find yourself upset with the clerk and discover you've given your power away to a line of customers and put them in charge of your behavior! 


My friends over at Conscious Discipline have been sharing a webinar series that Dr. Becky Bailey created about the Seven Powers of Conscious Adults titled "Be the Best You Can Be!"  I love this series because it shares a glimpse into the brilliance of Dr. Bailey.  Her life's passion is to empower every adult with the inspiration, knowledge, and skills to implement Conscious Discipline, improving children's lives for generations. 

Back in 2007 I really thought I had everything under control as a teacher and mom.  I was teaching preschool for children with special needs and doing a pretty good job at it!  My co-worker wanted to attend a workshop titled "How to Handle all the Fussing, Fighting, Fits and Tantrums", but I really wasn't interested.  I really didn't think I needed it! 

HA!  Little did I know!

Long story short...I attended the workshop, and it was my first introduction to Conscious Discipline.  I was hooked!  I attended every workshop I could and soon discovered that this program that I thought I was only going to use in my classroom affected my whole life.  It became my passion to share it with others!  In 2011 I became a Conscious Discipline Certified Instructor and began my business Ignite Learning LLC so I could share this important message with teachers and parents throughout the state in trainings and around the world via this blog.

Why do I tell you all this?  Because I would have never believed back then that Conscious Discipline would make such a difference in my life!  It has and I want to share that with you!

A dear friend of mine once said that the Seven Powers of Conscious Adults isn't something you strive to achieve, rather it is the uncovering of who God really created you to be!  These powers are in each one of us!  Life and the stories we've created for ourselves sometimes get in the way of our access to them, so we need a little help discovering them.

Yesterday I shared a dare with you to be your best self by creating a little more cushion in your life that can help you bounce when you fall instead of landing flat on your face.  I mentioned that being a mom takes SUPER POWERS!  We have to find strength somewhere to help us withstand the pressures we face.

Conscious Discipline does just that!  It helps you discover and strengthen the God-given powers you have through the Seven Powers of Conscious Adults. It gives you a new lens through which to view life.

If you don't already know about Conscious Discipline or you are new to this concept please RUN--don't walk--over to their website and learn more!  Hush that little voice in your head that says you already have discipline "under control" or know everything there is to know.  Give it a chance.  It will change your life!

As I told you yesterday, I am going to practice my ability to say "NO" and be heard not just to others, but mostly to myself.  In Conscious Discipline we call that Assertiveness. 

I realized in the past couple years that I don't like to be told "no".  As a matter of fact, as an adult I found myself throwing temper tantrums when the world didn't go my way.  The Seven Powers of Conscious Adults have helped me handle those strong emotions differently and discover new ways to express myself.

I believe very strongly that you cannot teach your child something that you do not possess.  You could try to do it, but you will find yourself coming up short every time.  It is so important that we practice and strengthen these Powers within ourselves so that we are able to model them for our children.  I'm sure you know by now that the old saying: "do as I say, not as I do" won't get you very far.  How about making it "do it this way, I'll show you."

I've included a free printable below with the Seven Powers on it to hang up near your desk or perhaps on your refrigerator as a reminder of how you can "Become Your Best Self" in 2014.  Click here or on the image to get your copy!


What Super Powers have you used today?  Are you willing to challenging yourself in the New Year to practice these powers and strengthen your ability to access them in the blink of an eye?  I DARE YOU!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Becoming Your Best Self: I Dare You

If you are anything like me as 2014 inches closer and closer I get this urge to see how I can plan and organize for the New Year and make it the best one yet! 

My friends over at Conscious Discipline inspired me to write this post because of the video series they are promoting right now titled, "Being the Best You can Be."  (We'll talk more about that tomorrow, but you can check it out now by clicking over to their Facebook page by following the link above.)

When I was in high school I was awarded a scholarship to attend the National Leadership Conference which is sponsored by the American Youth Foundation.  The scholarship was named the "I Dare You Award" and I was given this book that is written by William H. Danforth.

Dare you to do what?  Up until this point, the only dares I knew of were the ones that came from my sister or friends when playing Truth or Dare and it usually wasn't very pretty. 

At Camp Miniwanca that summer I was dared to push myself beyond my limits, seek balance in my physical, mental, social, and religious life, and discover my personal best.  I met friends from around the world and broadened my perspective on life.  I found confidence and strength and learned what I am truly capable of achieving.

The years have past and so much has changed.  At times, my life is so off balance it's a wonder I don't just fall over!  You know how it is as a mommy and wife and what a challenge it can be to "do life" and maintain or find any balance at all.  It's not just about me anymore.  The dare hasn't changed, but the impact has.

As a mom, you are the balance.  It's like you're that tight rope walker with your hands outstretched.  Here you are, walking a fine line and trying to keep your balance.  On one hand you have meals to plan, diapers to change, boo-boos to kiss, clothes to fold, budgets to balance, homework to check, baths to give, and the many other jobs that just seem to fall into your life.  In the other hand you have your own self-care, exercise, friends, church, volunteering, reading and learning, and for many moms there is also a 40 hour work week outside the home.  I have to say, being a mom takes super power!

Tomorrow we are going to talk about some of the super powers I rely on to help me find balance.  You know as well as I do when things get too off balance you WILL fall!  Whether it's illness, weight gain, lack of energy, or an all out meltdown, it will happen if you don't take care of yourself!
When you go to the circus you see that the tight rope walker usually has some sort of safety net hanging below.  What's your safety net?  It could be the difference between bouncing back when you fall and landing flat on your face like a pancake!  Who wants that to happen?

So, that is my dare this year.  Will you join me?  I am reflecting on the steps I can take to put more margin in my life.  Whether it is with my time, money, energy, or relationships, when there is no margin, I get stressed out and it just isn't pretty!  What steps are you willing to take to put some margin back in your life.

Over the next few days I will be sharing some of my reflections as I look back on 2013 and prepare for the New Year.  Will I ever get to my destination of "best self"?  I see life as a journey, not so much focused on exactly where I will land, but more on what I learn along the way.  My plan is to enjoy the journey!

To help you prepare for the New Year that lies ahead, here is an excerpt from I Dare You by William H. Danforth with his dare for you:

IT IS DIFFICULT to put a challenge on paper. I would rather look you straight in the eye and say, "I dare you!" In my mind that's exactly what I am doing. I am on one side of a table. You are on the other. I am looking across and saying "I dare you!"
I Dare You, young man, you who come from a home of poverty—I dare you to have the qualities of a Lincoln.
I Dare You, heir of wealth and proud ancestry, with your generations of worthy stock, your traditions of leadership—I dare you to achieve something that will make the future point to you with even more pride than the present is pointing to those who have gone before you.
I Dare You, young mother, to make your life a masterpiece upon which that little family of yours can build. Strong women bring forth strong men.
I Dare You. boys and girls, to make life obey you, not you it. It is only a shallow dare to do the foolish things. I dare you to do the uplifting, courageous things.
I Dare You, young executive, to shoulder more responsibility joyously, to launch out into the deep, to build magnificently.
I Dare You, young author, to win the Nobel prize.
I Dare You, young researcher, to become a Microbe Hunter.
I Dare You, boy on the farm, to become a Master Farmer—A Hunger Fighter.
I Dare You, man of affairs, to have a "Magnificent Obsession."
I Dare You, Grandfather, with your roots deep in the soil and your head above the crowd, catching the rays of the sun, to plan a daring program to crown the years of your life.
I Dare You, who think life is humdrum, to become involved. I dare you who are weak to be strong; you who are dull to be sparkling; you who are slaves to be kings.
I Dare You, whoever you are, to share with others the fruits of your daring. Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you!

What is your dare for 2014?  How can you challenge yourself and find more balance as you become your best self?  In the words of Mr. Danforth, "...share with others the fruits of your daring.  Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you!"  I DARE YOU!


Click the image above for a free printable that you can hang up in your home or office to inspire you throughout the coming year!  This is the motto of the American Youth Foundation and it has inspired me for over 23 years to be my best self and unlock my highest potential as I make positive impact on the world around me.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Season of Sweetness

I wanted to share this quick idea with you that we've been using in our house this week.  This is an adaptation to Dr. Becky Bailey's Kindness Tree.

I grabbed a 5x7 picture frame at Hobby Lobby for 50% off and added a cute little seasonal bow.  Went to my computer and found a cute font to print out the words "You ______, so _____.  That was sweet!"  If you've been around the blog very long you know that the "you" part is where you describe what the person did.  The "so" part is where you tell them how that made a difference in the world.  Then top it all off with sweetness using words like kind, helpful, caring, or super sweet!

I already had the little Christmas tree in my stash so I just grabbed these cute little mini candy canes from Wal-Mart and we were ready to go!

When I was at Target earlier this week I saw that they had little gold and silver mini Christmas trees in the dollar bin so I grabbed a silver one to use later this year.  They also had mini star ornaments that were super cheap so I bought some red ones and some gold ones because I know they will come in handy as a reminder to look for sweetness all year long!

My husband is a hoot!  He LOVES this little reminder to look for sweetness!  He says its like giving a "shout out" to people for all the helpful things they do!  We have already filled our tree with sweetness and started over several times!  This would be a great way to help your family continue to focus on the sweetness in others as this Christmas Season rolls into full swing.

Hope you and your family have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and may it be FULL of sweetness!!! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Conscious Discipline Resources for Children with Special Needs

Today I'm sharing one of my very favorite online resources for using Conscious Discipline with children who have special needs. This brilliant website is created by the amazingly talented staff in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools of Miami, Florida.  


You can go ahead and click the image above and go check out the website for yourself, but make sure you come back here to learn more about this amazing resource!

If you have worked with children who have special needs very long you've probably heard of the Mayer Johnson software called Boardmaker.  If not,  click the image to learn more!


On the Miami-Dade County website click on the "Resources" tab on the left hand side of the page then click on the Boardmaker label.   As you will see, Boardmaker is a software program that helps you support learning with images.  The Miami-Dade website provides many different Boardmaker files for you to download free of charge!  You do have to own the Boardmaker software in order to print many of these images, but it gives you a great place to start!  If you are a special needs teacher or therapist this could save you HOURS!  We want to use images to help young children govern their behavior...why reinvent the wheel!?!  :)

The board above is used during a Greeting Circle to focus on Phonological Awareness.  It includes elements of the Brain Smart Start from Conscious Discipline.  Help children connect and build relationships while they build reading skills!  :)
One of the Brain Smart Principles of Conscious Discipline is that the brain is pattern seeking.  Look how this board helps children use body movement to create a pattern.  What a great way to add some Brain Smart moves into your day!
If you have been to one of my trainings you know how successful Boo Boo Lotion has been in my work with children who have special needs.  This visual helps the child with minimal verbal ability to show you where their "boo boo" is so you can comfort them and show them  you care. 
There is a whole section of boards under the Behavioral and Social downloads.  The one above is a feelings board that gives children some a way to name their feeling and how they choose to handle their feelings.

Using a "First/Then" board really helps children stay focused on the task at hand until they reach their goal.  This comes in really handy with the Skill of Assertiveness!  It focuses everyone on what they want.

I love how this board gives you lots of ideas for commitments that your School Family can make throughout the year.  Adding a visual to the commitment really helps everyone better focus their intentions and brings us back to our focus when we get off track. 
Take some time to explore the website on your own.  There are many great resources available.  One of my other favorites is the page that has TONS of fun nursery rhyme ideas!  Take a look around and share what you find most helpful with others via Pinterest or Facebook!  They add new resources all the time!  Which board inspired you the most?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Looking for Kindness with Elf on the Shelf

Are you ready for Elf on the Shelf with a twist? Help your Elf on the Shelf find a new focus this holiday season! 

If you have never heard of Elf on the Shelf, click the photo above to find out more information.  Our family adopted an Elf, Speedy, several years ago from Target.  I love family traditions and thought this was just adorable!  This cute little guy visits your family every year and gives nightly reports to Santa about how everyone is behaving.  Who wouldn't LOVE a visit from one of Santa's little helpers throughout the Christmas season, right? 

Cute as he is, after a little elf reflection I realized I was missing a great opportunity!  I was using Speedy to try to control my children's behavior and making threats like, "Speedy's watching" or "What will Speedy tell Santa tonight?"  My focus was all wrong! 
At the suggestion of my friends from Conscious Discipline I am going to try something new this year!  We are going to help our elf harness his Power of Attention and learn to focus on kindness!  Now he can be a teaching tool!  He is going to help us retrain our eyes to see the helpfulness in others and focus on the positive behaviors we want to encourage.  Perhaps you'll join me? 

Here are a few ideas on how the Elf on the Shelf tradition be tweaked to focus on helpfulness:

1. Read the book Shubert Sees the Best with your class or family.

2. Present each child with his/her own pair of heart shaped glasses to decorate. (We have a FREE printable on the Conscious Discipline website.)

3. Everyone color and decorate their own pair of heart-shaped glasses just like Shubert's!

4. Once decorated, everyone put the glasses on and have a class or family meeting to talk about what acts of kindness they might see at home or school.

5. Tell the children that the Elf on the Shelf will be seeing the best in others too! Make sure your elf is wearing his very own pair of heart shaped glasses everyday that he visits!

6. Create a bulletin board (school) or poster board (home) titled, “(Elf’s Name) _____ Helps Us See the Best! Cut snowflake shapes out of construction paper and put them in a basket near the board. Explain that when somebody notices someone being helpful or kind, they can write that person’s name on a snowflake and tape it to the board.  Make sure the Elf on the Shelf is adding snowflakes to the bulletin board!

7. Have the Elf leave little notes that contain encouraging words and notices helpfulness: “You _____ (describe what the child did) so (describe how it contributed to others). That was helpful!

You clean up the race cars so we wouldn't fall. That was helpful!

You reminded your Mom to put on her seatbelt so she would be safe. That was helpful!

You raised your hand quietly so others can learn. That was helpful!
8. Have your elf surprise people with Random Acts of Kindness around the classroom or home.  For example, he could make someone's bed or pick up trash.  Leave the elf on the bed or near the trash can when the job is done.  Explain to the children that when the elf has RAK'ed you, it is your turn to look for a way to RAK someone else.  The elf gets passed along as a symbol of  the kindness that has been done.  (The recipient could also complete the steps described in #6 above.) 
I hope you find these ideas helpful as you look for kindness this holiday season!  Seek and you will find--the TRUE meaning of Christmas--love!
For more ideas about how to focus on kindness this holiday season read my post over at  "PreK and K Sharing".  Trust me, it's a sweet idea!
#iheartcd  #elfontheshelf  #SEL


Monday, December 2, 2013

Gingerbread Activities: Fresh Out of the Oven!


Who is ready for some Gingerbread fun?  Can you believe it's December already?!?  One thing I love about December is GINGERBREAD!  I love everything about gingerbread--the way it smells, eating it, reading about it, decorating it, and playing with it!  I even have a little Christmas tree dedicated to everything GINGERBREAD! 

I am "rolling" out several new Gingerbread Themed products in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store over the next few days! 
Click the images below to check out the first two products in this collection!



Have fun and Happy Shopping!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Handling Holiday Stress

Do you find yourself, your co-workers, and family a little stressed out during the Holiday Season?  There is a lot going on including the preparations, parties, and anticipation of that Big Bearded Elf we know as Santa!  If you find yourself trying to control and manipulate children because you think you can make them behave by calling Santa or telling them they won't get Christmas, I would like to challenge you to think differently!  How about helping yourself and your children handle the stress differently by giving the gift of Conscious Discipline?

If you live in Indiana, consider attending the workshop I am offering on December 6th. Now through Tuesday I am offering a special BOGO free so you and a friend can attend together!  You can't beat this price at $75 for two people for a full day training!

If you don't live in Indiana consider visiting the Conscious Discipline website where you can learn more about the program through books, resources, videos, and MY favorite--"Shubert's Classroom".

There are several new products that were recently released.  I LOVE this new Perpetual Flip Calendar.  Since it is not dated, you can use it over and over again!  It is the gift that keeps on giving as you are inspired daily by the work of Dr. Becky Bailey and her  program Conscious Discipline.

These Sophie Board Books are the simplified version of the Shubert Series.  Sophie is Shubert's younger sister and she helps us learn about the Seven Skills of Conscious Discipline.
Finally, are these adorable little plush pillows with each of the breathing icons on them!  They are perfect for your Safe Place, bed, car, or couch!  What a great new tool and reminder to keep breathing!
Whatever you choose to do, my hope is that you and your family will have a Holiday Season filled with peace, love, and the kind of happiness that money can't buy!  Happy Holidays!


Friday, November 29, 2013

Favorite Finds: Great Christmas Gifts for Preschoolers

When I was a classroom teacher parents and grandparents often asked me about what toys I would recommend for their preschoolers.  I have always been very passionate about finding toys for children that give them opportunities to increase their language skills, motor skills, social skills, imaginative skills, and creativity.  This year I sat down at my computer and tracked down 10 of my favorite toys (from my favorite store Target) for preschoolers.  I don't like toys that take all the thinking out of play and include lots of lights and noises so you won't find them here!  Most of these toys can be played with for hours with no need for batteries!  I also looked for great deals so all these toys are under $25!  All of these recommendations are based on years of observing young children and what I know to be best practice in early childhood.  Hopefully you will find this to be a helpful resource.

When asked about my recommendations, often my first response was Play-Doh (one of my all time favorite toys).  Guess what their response was!  "Ugh, Play-Doh?  I HATE Play-Doh!  It gets in my carpet and makes such a mess!"  Of course I was ready with my response.  "Play-Doh is a wonderful toy that helps develop imagination and motor skills.  When given guidance and direction (such as staying at the table in the kitchen and an adult joining them in their play) the possibilities are limitless!"  :)  This fun Play-Doh Perfect Twist Ice Cream Playset has so many possibilities for imaginative play and developing fine motor, language, and social skills!  There are many other fun Play-Doh products available or you can even make your own dough at home!  Maybe you could give a child a package that includes some homemade dough as well as some additional recipes, rolling pins, and some cookie cutters!  One of my favorite ways to help children to learn to use scissors is by cutting Play-Doh! (I prefer plastic scissors)
I once read some research that said that children who play the most board games do the best in math and social skills later in life.  Therefore, I try to include board games on the Christmas List every year!  There are many great board games out there, but this is one that my own children as well as my preschoolers loved!  Zingo is similar to Bingo, but it is very easy to play and great for vocabulary development as children are recognizing and naming pictures in the game.  What is your favorite board game?  What games do you remember playing with your family and friends when you were growing up?  Many of the best games are still around!  Board games are timeless gifts when you make sure that they are not based on movies, TV shows, and other animated characters!
The next toy on our list is a timeless classic!  I remember playing with a doctor kit when I was a child and I see children use these tools over and over again today!  Each week I provide childcare for a group of preschoolers and this is by far their favorite toy!  They play doctor with the babies, on each other, stuffed animals, and ME!  It is amazing to watch as children replay their experiences with the real caregivers in their lives! 
I recently returned from the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference in Washington DC where I attended several sessions about music and movement with young children.  I heard over and over again how important it is to get real music into the hands, ears, and hearts of young children!  This is the best technology you can give your child--a musical instrument in their hands!
Our next gift is a toy that children AND adults enjoy!  Do you remember Lincoln Logs?  We had a set when I was a child and my brother, sister, and I played with them over and over again!  In fact, we still have those blocks!  In my experience, Lincoln Logs are a little too technical for most 3-4 year olds.  They are more appropriate for children that are a little older.  Bristle Blocks, on the other hand, are the perfect block for preschool children.  They are also a winner with boys and girls alike!  This particular set is recommended because it includes some people and accessories that can be used as wheels all in a nice carrying case! 

Of course anything Lego makes is going to be a hit with kids (big and small)!  The set listed below is a great option for preschoolers because they are a bit more chunky for smaller hands.  It also comes in a great carrying case!  My sister and I used to dream up ways to organize all the Legos our kids had, but this has a built in storage case!  That is so helpful!  Now you can take them anywhere!  Instead of putting your kids in front of a screen while they ride in the car or wait at the doctor's office you have an opportunity for play!
Another favorite toy for preschoolers is anything involving dramatic play!  In my classroom the two favorite play areas were blocks and dramatic play!  Children love to pretend to do the things they see adults do!  My daughter loved having tea parties with all her favorite animals, dolls, and people when she was younger.  Who ever really outgrows tea parties?!?  This is a nice little tea set from Fisher Price that gives lots of opportunity for pretend play along with a fun little stand for the perfect tea party spread!
When my daughter was turning three years old we had a Teddy Bear Picnic for her birthday party.  All of the children loved getting their own little picnic spread and pretending with their teddy bears!  This Leap Frog Shape and Sort Picnic Set is super fun and educational!  It includes some shape and color sorting activities as well as several different foods children can play with in this adorable picnic basket!  Who wouldn't love those eyes!!!
Do you have one of those kids who has "everything"?  My favorite solution for children like this is BATH TOYS!  Bath time is one of my favorite play times!  You can sing songs, explore, and get creative!  All while you get clean too!  :)  This little Seahorse Pump offers many opportunities for children to observe, explore, and ask questions!  There are many commercial products for bathtub play, but one of our favorites was a cup and a spoon!  Maybe you could personalize a set for your favorite child and set it aside for bathtub play!  Remember, bath time is about more than just getting clean, so play, explore, and HAVE FUN!
Christmas wouldn't be complete without at least one great children's book!  Last year my preschoolers and I absolutely LOVED the newly released Pete the Cat Saves Christmas book.  In fact, they wanted to read it all year long!  If you have been around my blog for very long you know that Pete the Cat is one of my very favorite characters!  His books are always full of fun rhythms, rhymes, and lessons to be learned!  The Christmas book is about giving and the fact that no matter how small you are there are lots of ways you can give and help others.  Why not pair the book with the Pete the Cat plush doll?  Snuggle up with your favorite little preschooler, Pete the Cat, and a cup of hot chocolate and make some memories!  Your time and presence while creating memories and reading with a child are the best gifts you can ever give!



As you may have noticed, most of the toys in this list are open-ended and don't require batteries!  They are an invitation to play, but the "batteries" are provided by the child.  Keep that in mind when you are purchasing toys for the children in your life this year!  You don't have to spend a lot of money or buy the "latest and greatest" in order for them to be truly happy.  The happiest memories I have from my childhood were the times that involved play with the people that I loved.  Whether it was reading stories with my mom, playing games with my dad, or building and pretending with my brother and sister, the lesson I learned was that the relationships I have are priceless!   You can't wrap the things that matter most...your relationship with your children.  This Christmas Season, take time to create memories, play, and be present with your child.  That's the best gift you can ever give!