Toddler To-do List: Fall Wrap Up

Fall doesn’t technically end until December 20, but our toddler to-do list included mostly seasonal activities. So now that we’ve officially kicked off the holidays, it’s probably time to revisit our list.

Time flies when you’re having toddler fun, amirite?


Go to a football game. We took Emme to a Northwestern football game in early September. Here Emme is enjoying a snack in the stands and sporting her new hat. That’s my husband’s leg. He’s a runner.

Check out a local fall festival. Again, we crossed this one off the list early and attended Oktoberfest in Berwyn. But it rained on and off, so we cut our time at the festival short. We talked about going to another one, but never did.

Visit a farm with animals and a pumpkin patch. Did I mentioned how much I loved the Green Meadows Farm in Wisconsin?


Go on a hayride. Done.


Splash at an indoor water park. We basically had the waterpark at Timber Ridge Lodge in Lake Geneva to ourselves. And we’ve already booked our trip for next year.


Decorate a pumpkin. We did this. I don’t have evidence of it.

Go to the zoo. We did end up going to Boo at the Zoo at Brookfield Zoo, but it was not a great day for the toddler, and we didn’t stay long. Maybe we’ll try again next year.

Dress up for Halloween and trick-or-treat. Yep. And yep.


Have a dance party or two. Sometime in October, Emme became obsessed with Taylor Swift. We listened (and danced to) Shake it Off about 10 times a night for a week. What I learned is that I do not hate Taylor Swift.

Explore a new playground. We did actually make it to a new playground for a playdate in Western Springs.

Take fall photos. Nope. Not this year. At least nothing fancy.

Visit an art museum. Turns out you can take a toddler to the Art Institute of Chicago.

still life

Visit a children’s museum. We took Emme to Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview.


Learn about Thanksgiving. With Gena’s help and my mom’s book selections, we crossed this one off the list, though I’m not sure she “got it.” She told me “Happy Birthday” on Thanksgiving. Close enough.

Keep Your Young Child Happy and Occupied on Thanksgiving

By Gena Kittner

For many, Thanksgiving is spent rushing across town, gulping down multiple turkey dinners, and indulging in various varieties of pie.

Not at our house. My husband, daughter, and I stay pleasantly house-bound at Thanksgiving in order to have more time to travel at Christmas.

We’ve done it this way for more than a decade and love it.

While staying close to home has its benefits (stuffing the turkey in your PJs, refilling your wine glass knowing you have no where to go), an entire day spent turkey basting and football watching isn’t overly appealing to my 3-year-old.

Activities to Keep Your Toddler or Preschooler Busy on Thanksgiving Day

So, if anyone finds themselves in the same Thanksgiving boat, here are some activities we plan to try this year to keep the kiddo happy and the adults more or less relaxed:

Enlist child labor
My husband is the primary chef of our Thanksgiving feast. It’s everyone else’s job to stay out of the way (and, eventually, do dishes). But there are a few areas where Ellie can help and stay momentarily busy. Last year she poured broth into the stuffing mix. This year she might move up to bread ripping and potato mashing.

Daddy keeps an eye on our little Thanksgiving chef.

Plan a craft
It’s hard to go wrong with the handprint turkey. Kids trace their hands on brown construction paper and color the fingers for feathers. Last year we made one for each guest and used them as table setting name tags. This year we might make a turkey using a stuffed brown paper lunch sacks or start a construction paper Christmas garland. The craft ideas are endless. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

Get some fresh air
I know it’s easy for me to suggest this living in balmy Tucson, Ariz., but taking a quick walk, stroller ride or playing a game of tag or hide and seek is a nice way to break up the day and maybe prime the kids for a nap (always my goal).

Put in some FaceTime
Even if we can’t be with the people we love doesn’t mean we can’t say hi. Ellie loves showing her cousins all her toys via FaceTime or Skype and saying hi to Grandma’s puppies. Doing this on Thanksgiving has the extra benefit of saying hello to some extended family who might also be around.

Write or draw a menu
If your child is old enough, have him or her write out everything in your family’s Thanksgiving dinner. If your kiddo can’t yet write, have them draw pictures of turkeys, potatoes and cranberries. After dinner they can put a star by what they liked best (umm pie?). Write a date on the back and keep it from year-to-year.

Try something new
Even though Christmas is just around the corner, surprise your child or children with a new toy or game, such as a puzzle everyone can work on or a toy with some assembly required. Just make sure it’s easy enough for adults to do while simultaneously cheering on their team.

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.

I’m Grateful for My Job

It can be easy to focus on the negative at work, and I am guilty of this a lot lately. As much as I’m ready for something new, my job has largely been a good situation for the last five-and-a-half years, and I’m grateful for it.

Without my current position, I don’t think I would have been able to figure out what’s next for me—and actually believe that I’m capable of doing it. So, I was in bed thinking last night about Thanksgiving, gratitude, and NaBloPoMo (as one does), and I decided to make a list of the reasons I’m grateful for my job beyond having steady employment and a regular paycheck.

10 Things I'm Grateful for at My Job

10 Reasons I’m Grateful for My Job

  1. My current job has given me the opportunity to build confidence in my work again after it got a bit beat up in a tough job situation prior to this one.
  2. Upper management seems to understand that the work we are doing is not life-or-death, and no one pretends like it is. I’m thankful that I have had very few fires to put out over the last five years.
  3. I have sane coworkers who all seem to have their priorities in order when it comes to work and life.
  4. Some of my coworkers have even become good friends, which always makes work a lot nicer.
  5. My supervisor let me write for our magazine, even though it was out of the scope of my job. And having published clips means not starting from square one as freelance writer.
  6. I can leave work at 4:30… 4:20… fine… 4:12 p.m. Train schedules, what can I say?
  7. I can leave work and know that I don’t have to think about work again until I show up the next morning.
  8. My supervisor pushed me in the direction of Web content and social media, which I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen myself, but once it was handed to me, it made a lot of sense for my skill set and interests. I realized once I became the “content person” that it was the right direction for me.
  9. Over the years, because of sane coworkers and bosses, I have had the time and mental space to plan my wedding, buy a home, renovate a home, and plan for a baby. As compared to the vast majority of other jobs out there, I have a lot of work/life balance.
  10. This job has given me the ability to plan for the future and figure out what’s next for me. And as much as I would have liked to figure out my path 10 years ago when I started having this career crisis, I don’t think I was ready until now. I needed time. This job gave me time.

Who’s with me on this? Love your job, hate your job, or feel somewhat “meh” about it, are there things that make you feel thankful or grateful besides the paycheck?

Teaching Young Kids to be Thankful

By Gena Kittner

Getting a child to say “please” and “thank you” isn’t terribly hard. We demand it. Want some fruit snacks? Say “please.” The Target lady just gave you a sticker, what do you say?

But what I’ve been pondering, as the season of thankfulness is upon us, is how we teach our kids to mean it.

In other words, how do we teach young kids to be thankful?

How to teach toddlers, preschoolers, and young children thankfulness, kindness, and gratitude | Thanksgiving | Holiday Season

Clearly struggling myself, I’ve turned to some of my awesome mommy friends for advice and inspiration.

“Part of our bedtime routine is to talk about what we are thankful for that day,” said Kirsten, mom to 3-year-old Emma. I met Kirsten in my first mom’s group in Madison, Wisconsin. “[Emma] mostly uses the time as a way to talk about what she liked best during her day, but then we talk about how fortunate she is to be able to have what she has and hope that we can instill a sense of gratitude.”

I love this idea. I used to include in Ellie’s bedtime routine a time when we talked about all the cool things we did that day. Lately I’ve been bypassing this in an effort to expedite bedtime, but I think it’s time to slow things down and do a nightly thankfulness recap.

Rachael, a fellow mom I met during my daughter Ellie’s gymnastics class in Tuscon, has two daughters: 4-year-old Aliyah and 2-year-old Sydney. While it’s not thankfulness exactly, Rachael tries to reaffirm kindness whenever her daughters show it.

“When they do something nice for each other I really praise them,” Rachael said.

To me, kindness and thankfulness go hand-in-hand, and I think too often we focus on what our kids should be doing and don’t give them credit for the small acts of kindness they exhibit every day.

When discussing teaching young kids to be thankful, the conversation unfailingly turns to the dreaded thank-you notes. We all understand the importance of the traditional hand-written missives, but when parents are doing most of the writing, how much are our kids really learning?

My sister-in-law Anne has two boys, ages 5 and 8, who both have birthdays in October. This time of year she’s drowning in thank-you notes.

There’s talk among friends, Anne says, about the merits of a thank you form letter. It would go something like this:

Dear _______,

Thank you for coming to my party and for the awesome ________. It was kind of you to think of me.

Sincerely, _________

Some find this too informal or a thank-you note cop-out, but for a kid like Doug, who is 8 and actually can fill in the blanks, it might be more meaningful than having him simply sign his name to notes largely written by his parents, Anne said.

I fully endorse this idea. Bring on the thank-you form notes, you’ll never get an eye-roll from me.

One thing we do in our home is talk about who gave Ellie the toys she’s playing with or the cool shirt she’s wearing. We hope by reminding her who gave her these gifts, it will help her understand these are special things, and she has family and friends who love and care about her.

Sometimes she remembers, sometimes she doesn’t. Either way we’re having the conversation, and I think that’s often the best parents can do.

photo-3Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.

Happy, Healthy Holiday Tips

I’ll be taking a break from writing extremely long blogs about blogging today, and instead, I will point you to a post I wrote on the Fit4Mom blog about healthy holiday tips.

Healthy Holiday Tips

This week, I talked to our Fit4Mom instructors who provided some great tips about staying healthy and on track during the holidays, which start in one week with Thanksgiving, take us through the December holidays, and end on January 1 when we all decide we can do better than this.

There are a lot of “stay on track during the holiday” tips out there, but I thought the instructors had some great ideas (numbers 5 and 7 are my favorites), so check it out.