Monday, June 22, 2015

Fostering Creative Play Through Dressing Up (A Giveaway!)

It's not every day that you get to sit down and have breakfast with a fireman and a member of the elite police protection S.W.A.T team... Unless, of course, you happen to live at our house in which case it is a totally normal, expected and oft-looked forward to dining experience.

Sitting across from them I am regaled with tales of brave rescues, top secret missions and the time they "did teamwork" to rescue the neighbor's cat from a tree. Their eyes grow wide as they feed off of each others' stories, while I wait with baited breath to hear how it all turns out in the end, ever hopeful for the happy ending. 

My kitchen has been a castle, the playroom a wide open abyss. I've been warned not to step into the fiery mote that snakes around the couch in the living room and don't tell anyone, but I'm pretty sure there's a Brontosaurus living in the downstairs powder room... 

It's one of my most favorite parts of being their mother- witnessing their imaginations grow and stretch as they do. They could play like this for hours (and often do!) as evidenced by the constant state of disarray that our dress-up corner lies in. 

And don't for one second try calling either of them by their real names or else you'll be met with the side-iest side eye of them all. In fact, I am continually amazed by their ability to maintain character, often changing their voices to suit the persona they've taken on. Break character? Not these brothers!

From astronauts to zookeepers, mommies to cowboys, clowns and construction workers, my boys have embraced many a role. On the surface you might think they're just having good old fashioned fun but the truth is, playing dress-up teaches them valuable lessons about the world and life around them.

There are countless studies linking role play in children to empathy, stating that those children who engage in role play were often more skilled in judging how others might feel than those who did not. 

Not only is it cute to watch but playing dress-up also fosters cognitive skills, decision making and is an exercise in both fine and gross motor skills. Not to mention that it's a nice break from the screen time that sneaks into our long summer days.

Plus, it forces me to think outside of the Serious Grown Up box that comes with old(er) age and having kids. Playing dress-up with my boys allows me to connect with them on an altogether different level. Some days we act out our favorite memories while other days we dream up new adventures. In a way, I'd like to think it helps keep me young while I also get to see different facets of each of my boys' personalities. 

Costume Express is a great destination for all of our dress-up needs. Not only can we shop there for all of my kids' favorite characters and heroes, but I love hopping on their ideas page for year-round tips on creating and fostering imaginative play.

Now, for the best part! One lucky winner will receive a $100 gift card to shop Costume Express. You can enter using the Rafflecopter below. We're excited to host this giveaway with 8 other awesome blogs! Be sure to visit their sites to see the fun ways their children dress up.  By visiting all of the blogs, you'll have a chance to see over 25 of the costumes currently available from Costume Express.

Good luck to all those who enter and don't forget to PLAY EVERY DAY!

This post is brought to you by Costume Express. 
I received product for free in exchange for this post.
All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Gear Guide: Knowing Your Baby Is Safe with the Levana Baby Monitor (+ Giveaway)

I can remember fondly those times during the first few months of my first son's life when I would sit down alongside his bassinet and watch him sleep. I did nothing else during those moments but sit alongside him counting his breaths, watching his tiny eyelids flutter with whatever it is that tiny babies dream of. Laundry? What laundry? Dishes? Those dishes can wait.

And then I had my second baby and had less time to creepily watch my babies as they slept. The minute the baby's eyelids closed, it was as if a switch went off and my toddler would turn into the sneakiest child alive- getting into all of the things he shouldn't be getting into and climbing any and all surfaces of the house shy of the walls. 

And just like that, our third baby arrived and with two older kids in the mix to keep happy, well-adjusted and alive, long gone were those moments that I could spend keeping watch over my baby. 

It was after my second son was born that I invested in our first video monitor. I did some research, not a whole lot, and chose one that was relatively inexpensive but rated well. I liked it, sure, but didn't love it. The picture was grainy, poor reception seemed the norm and after seeing a friend's color monitor in action, I was bummed when mine was simply black and white. 

Now that I have three boys running amok in my house, ages 5, 3 and 1, I wish I could put a camera in every room. While I would love to be in three places at once, patting the baby's  back in his crib, playing trucks with my oldest and coloring in the kitchen with my middle baby, that's just not reality. It's during these moments that I'm thankful for the Levana Keera 2 Camera digital video monitoring system that allows me to virtually be in at least two places at once. 

With a camera placed in our downstairs playroom and the second camera placed in the baby's nursery, I feel at ease knowing I can watch the boys play trains as well as the baby while he sleeps, all the while tidying up the kitchen or cooking dinner. Knowing that my children are safe allows me to worry less and do more whether for myself or for our family. 

This monitor has some incredible features that makes it one of the top monitors that I would recommend to those registering for baby, adding to their family or looking to replace their existing monitor.

At first glance I was impressed with the touch and feel quality of both the monitor and camera. With a 3.5" screen, the monitor is sleek and discreet enough to blend into a room but substantial enough to give off a crisp, clear picture. 

Inside the box was a quick start guide to get the monitor up and running. I will admit, I was thrown off a bit by the lack of an included manual but didn't have any difficulty setting up the monitor or accessing the manual online. For those without easy access to the internet, however, it would be very difficult to truly learn all the in's and out's of the monitoring system. 

Below is a quick video which demonstrates the ease of use when it comes to the operating the touch panel screen as well as the video toggle switch, pan, tilt, zoom options and bonus lullaby tunes.  

Perhaps my favorite feature of this monitor system, second to the safe and secure wireless network it runs on, is its "PEEP" feature which basically puts the monitor and camera to sleep when no sound is detected in monitored rooms, thus saving battery life. When a noise or "peep" is detected, the camera and monitor activate allowing you to observe what's going on. Too many times to count have I been interrupted by beeping monitors and dying batteries during a child's nap time when I should have been writing. There's nothing like losing your train of thought worrying about a dying monitor, the safety of a sleeping baby and getting up to plug the monitor in! 

Being a mom keeps us busy in more ways than one! What is one thing you wish you could do more of? Enter to win your own Levana Keera 2 Camera Video Monitor using the Rafflecopter widget below!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Levana. The opinions and text are all mine.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Letter To This Really Great Dad I Know...

This is a heartfelt sponsored post brought to you by Socialstars and Minute Maid.

Hey Mr. AP, 

Did you know that this will be our 5th Father's Day celebrating you as No. 1 Dad? A whole 5 years have gone by since you first earned the much-deserved and sought-after title of "Daddy," and while you may think that as these years add up they're just that and nothing more, each of those years has become monumental in its own way.

From surviving the first year of fatherhood to patting ourselves on the back for a job well done all the while thinking to ourselves, "well, we didn't traumatize the first one too badly, let's have another!" to learning, albeit a trial by fire, how to keep three kids under the age of four alive, each of the past 5 years of watching you father our three boys has been nothing short of exhausting incredible.

Right from the very beginning you never once questioned our ability to be parents, not even from the very first set of positive pink lines we saw in 2009, all the way to the major freak outs that I had the minute I was being wheeled into the OR to have our third baby. I don't say nearly as often as I should but I am profoundly happy to be on this adventure with you.

I want you to know that I see you. I see you in those moments when you're bathing our boys and you think I'm hurriedly putting laundry away when I'm really lingering right outside the bathroom door listening to you make up silly bath time songs, giving a different voice and life to each of the boys' favorite toys, making them laugh so hysterically that it's almost difficult for me not to laugh along with them.  

I want you to know that you're doing so much better than you think. In those moments when we're both sitting on the edges of different beds in the dark, rubbing backs and sleepy heads, saying prayers, you often still wearing your suit pants and button down from a long day's work. Perhaps even after fixing both yours and my dinner because for whatever reason that day, dinner for the both of us didn't cross my radar. Maybe you even audibly sighed a little when our oldest asked you for just one more story. But you read it, despite how tired you may have felt because you're selfless and kind of amazing like that.

I worry much less about our boys' futures with you as their father, as you instill both tenderness and a necessary strength in them. Your patience always manages to sweep in at the very minute I feel as if I'm about to break and it's as if we constantly parent that way- one swooping in just as the other needs them most. 

I'm grateful, too, for the ways in which you challenge my mothering. Questioning me on occasion, forcing me to think outside of my instinctual motherly box. We were brought up in such different ways that some days I wonder how we ever got together but you know what they say, "opposites attract" and while I may not always say "thank you" deep down, you only makes me a better version of myself for our family.

I want you to know that the big things you do for our family, as well as the little things never go unnoticed. I know there are days when you'd much rather stay home with our boys but instead press on, putting in long hours at the office so that I can have the luxury and the privilege of staying home with them, so that I get to be the one to take them fun places and introduce them to new and exciting things, of places and adventures that you only get to hear about secondhand. 

I love how much they love to tell you about their days, every day. The excitement in their voices, their eyes wide with emotion and not once do you shush them, make them wait or belittle their experiences. I promise you are a part of each and every one of their favorite memories, too.

You transitioned seamlessly into this role of father, often times I think to myself much more seamlessly than my own rocky, questionable transition into motherhood. Or maybe you're just really good at pretending like you have it all together all of the time and if that's the case, I'm an able and ready student. Teach me your ways! 

Regardless, I want you to know that I see you. I see you every day working diligently to be the world's best father to our boys, asking very little in return. You are more than good enough and some days I truly wonder how we got so lucky to have you in our lives. I know what a difference it can make in just a single day to hear, "you know what? you're doing a great job," and so I need you to know, to hear, that you're doing a GREAT JOB. Greater than great, really, and I promise to tell you more often and not just in a letter. I love you. 

Happy Father's Day to the best! 

Love you more than S'mores, 
Ashley Paige, Carter, Maclane & Collins

Who are you celebrating this Father's Day? Whether it's your Dad, your husband or another very important father figure in your life, it’s so easy to tell them that they're #DoinGood too.  You can share this video with them and follow along at #DoinGood to see other tales of positive parenting.

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