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Partying Mozart-Style

Apparently, not many people throw “Magic Flute” parties, as in, the opera by Mozart.  From what I can tell, parties centered on Mozart himself are not too common either.  At least, if they exist, they don’t get broadcast in the internet world.

Well, Drama Queen has never been one to stick with the norm, and she decided that her 7th birthday party should be based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”  To be precise, she prefers the children’s version by Classical Kids, “Mozart’s Magical Fantasy.”  I’m a big fan of copying other people’s ideas that I find on the internet, but they just weren’t out there for this one.  Therefore, I’m posting photos from her party just in case someone else out there is just weird enough to throw a Magic Flute party.

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Some of you may be like I was four months ago and not know what this Magic Flute thing is.  It was the last opera Mozart wrote, prior to his death only months later.  “Mozart’s Magical Fantasy” is a modified version of the real thing.  It begins with a girl named Sarah visiting an orchestra during a dress rehearsal of the “Magic Flute”.  She is specifically there because her mom is playing the part of the Queen of the Night.  However, the lights go out, the “rehearsal” begins, and Sarah is swept up into the story.  She uses her flute to defeat a dragon who is attacking the prince, Tamino.  (In the real version, there is no Sarah, and the dragon is killed right away.  In this version, the dragon is shrunk and becomes quite the scaredy-cat – a good comic-relief character.)  A bird-calling man dressed in feathers (another comic-relief character) named Papagino enters the story, and they all go off to find princess Pimena.  Her mother is the Queen of the Night, who turns out to actually be the “bad guy” of the tale.  The scorcerer Sarastro, who the Queen of the Night has portrayed as the evil abductor of her daughter, turns out to be the kind, benevolent father-figure.  Tamino has to face challenges to win his love, Pamina, during which Sarah’s magic flute is very helpful.  Papagino finds his true love, Papagina, and Sarah and the dragon sing their own song to each other about the journey being over.  (That’s the song my kids go around the house singing the most.)

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Since I couldn’t find much specifically in terms of Mozart or Magic Flute, I went with a general music note theme.  That, of course, had lots of ideas online.  I found this colorful party plate set, called Dancing Music, on Birthday in a Box, which was perfect for us.

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For food, I used music note cookie cutters for cheese and jello, made sandwiches to (kind of) resemble piano keys, and arranged veggies as an eighth note.  (Okay, so there’s not actually a piano in “The Magic Flute,” but Mozart was an accomplished pianist, so it works!)

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You can see my centerpiece there as well.  It was simply the CD, along with a Mozart bio and a Magic Tree House book based on the story.  We bought that little Mozart finger puppet recently when we went to an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra production of “Tchaikovsky Discovers America” – another from the Classical Kids collection.  I gave The Brain the task of finding a way to make it stand, and this was his humorous solution.

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We didn’t do much with decorations.  Mr. BANG and Drama Queen hung up streamers everywhere (two rolls for $1 at Dollar Tree), and I hung up a couple things from the Dancing Music set.  (The next day, while walking across a parking lot downtown, Drama Queen commented out-of-the-blue, “Happy treble clef Birthday.  I love that!” lol)

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I always like to have fun with my kids’ birthday cakes.  I’ve made a construction truck scene, a train, and a pirate ship, among others.  To be clear, I’ve never taken any classes and don’t particularly have any skill in cake decorating. (My pirate ship completely fell apart, so I made up the story that Hook had tried to shoot cannon balls at Peter Pan but it backfired, destroying his own ship.  The kids loved it!)  But I just have fun with it and don’t worry about perfection.  I give my kids lots of examples to prove their mom is not perfect!

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I thought through how to make this cake.  Again, I normally just copy other people’s cakes – I’m not so creative myself – but there was nothing for me to copy this time.  I finally decided to make kind of a swirling staff with notes like on our plates, and just have a toy dragon and fondant flute sitting on top.  Again, it’s nowhere near perfect, but Drama Queen absolutely LOVED it, and that’s what matters!  Plus, all the little boys at her party thought it was super cool that she had a dragon on her cake!  (Only one other family knew the Magic Flute story at all.  Drama Queen and Mr. BANG had planned with those two sisters to put on a play of it for the other kids, but unfortunately, of all things, their car broke down and they weren’t able to make it!)

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For party favors we gave them recorders, pencils with flute pictures on them, music note stickers, and some random things from my “treasure box” left over from my public school teaching days a decade ago!  My kids’ poor friends are going to be getting those in every goody bag and Easter egg hunt until they’re teenagers!  Oh, I also got some free personalized merchandise with my order, so I got these cute personalized magnets for some of the guests.

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As for special activities and games and creative, fun crafts…I don’t do those.  I’m a big fan of sending the kids outside to play – they come up with plenty of fun on their own without me interfering!  This year we did actually rent bouncies for the first time.  Drama Queen had been asking for a party at a local bouncy house, and we had told her she could do that as her present from us.  Then The Brain had the brilliant idea to use the same amount of money to rent bouncies at our house.  That way, we could do it anytime we wanted and invite as many people as we wanted, and let the party last as long as we wanted!  (From the first family’s arrival to the last family’s departure was about 4.5 hours!)

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The only theme related activity was that I had some coloring sheets set out: a dragon, music notes, a flute, and a girl playing a flute.  A few kids did have fun coloring those pictures.

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We also did our annual Montessori birthday walk.  I gave her the choice this year if she wanted to do it or not.  She said she did because “it’s a special part of having a birthday.”  It’s fun each year having new friends who are so curious about the whole thing, and older friends who are eager to explain what it all represents.

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Another successful birthday party in the books! (and on the blog…)

 

 

The Secret Is Out

I’m not good at keeping the “I have a fun surprise for you” type of secrets.  If I’m excited about something, it’s really hard for me to contain that excitement!  Thankfully, my children were able to hear a good amount of related conversation between The Brain and myself and not put it all together and figure out that we were making plans for a playset to be built in the back yard.

Today, however, they got to join in the excitement themselves.  The builder arrived half an hour early, which ended up making The Great Reveal even better.  When Drama Queen and Mr. BANG woke up and came downstairs, The Brain and I told them we had set up a scavenger hunt for them.  We explained that they would find one item that would be completely out of place.  That item itself would be a clue for a big surprise we had in store for them.

Almost immediately – before Mr. BANG even started looking – Drama Queen found this:

A swingset and slide made from Bendaroos, hidden under the love seat by the back windows of the house.

They started guessing that they were getting new dolls, or that there was a new playground in the playroom.  Not quite…

We led them to think about where a playset would be.  Once they finally guessed “in the back yard,” we pulled up the window shades.  There was Shane and his assistant, already in process of building a playset.  Perfection!

During the two hours of construction, the kids frequently watched out the window and once went outside to watch.  (They had a better view from the window!)

              

After the truck drove away to fulfill a dream for the next family, outside we ran.  Drama Queen immediately immersed herself in new Peter Pan games.

     

Mr. BANG tried out the glider horse for a few minutes…then spent the next 45 minutes digging in dirt.  When you’re three years old, pretty much nothing compares to God’s greatest toy: dirt!

     

The hard-to-keep surprise was definitely a hit.  And now my backyard looks the way I’ve envisioned since we moved in nearly two years ago!

                

*If you live in TN, GA, KY, or AL, and you’re looking for a great, wooden playset, I highly recommend Hop’s Fun Factory!

Leap Year Fun

When you are three and four years old, as my two children are, four years is pretty much an unimaginable amount of time.  While trying to help them understand the concept of Leap Year, I decided to do a fun project with them.  This was pretty much a spur-of-the-moment thing, so without any preparation, we spent the first part of our morning yesterday putting together a Leap Year time capsule.  We did some math (just using fingers) to figure out how old they will be four years from now when we open the time capsule.

I let them start decorating the box as I explained more about what it was for and how we would use it.  (I just grabbed an Amazon box that hadn’t been taken to the recycling center yet.)

We tried to think of things to put in the capsule that express who they are and what their interests are right now.  Mr. BANG immediately brought out his Cranky toy (the crane from Thomas and Friends), saying that that’s his favorite toy.  Once I reinforced that the things in the box would be put away for four years, he quickly put that back on the shelf.  However, Drama Queen brought out a single piece of wooden train track – perfect!  They have a huge bin of track pieces, so they’ll never miss that one.

We thought of some more things to put in that represent activities they enjoy:  stickers, a crayon, WikkiStix in the shape of a balloon (their favorite thing to make with WikkiStix, a little puzzle, etc.

    

Drama Queen helped me choose some recent photos of the two of them doing fun things, such as making Daddy’s birthday cake, meeting Daisy Duck in DisneyWorld, and Drama Queen dressed in her own self-made Peter Pan costume.  I just printed those off on my printer since I hadn’t planned ahead and ordered prints of them.

Mr. BANG got to work on making some artwork for the box.  He loves dot painting, so he chose a picture and started painting.  Drama Queen later made one of her own.

   

One activity Drama Queen loves repeating during school is to make booklets of her number writing.  She added one of those to the box as well.

As they worked on those things, I wrote out a list of things that would be interesting for them to reflect back on when they’re older.  I included items such as Favorite Thing to Do Outside, Favorite Thing to Do in School, and, of course, What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.  For the most part, I wrote down exactly what they answered, but there were a couple times that they said something random, so I put my observation of the real answer.  For example, when I asked Drama Queen about her favorite thing to play, she answered “truck driver.”  What?  She had driven a ride-on dump truck in my bathroom that morning…for about five minutes.  What she spends all day doing, though, is acting out Peter Pan, her latest obsession.  So I wrote down Peter Pan.  Also, I started out asking Drama Queen each question first, but quickly realized that Mr. BANG would parrot her answers.  (As he did with “truck driver.”) For the rest of the questions, I asked him first.

As we moved into our normal school lessons, I decided to take pictures of the children as they did their work.  I compiled those photos onto a couple pages and included them in the time capsule, along with a written out schedule of the day.

             

Once everything was in the box, they helped me tape on a note reminding us of when the box can be opened, then we stashed it away in Mr. BANG’s closet.  That may not be the best place for it as he gets older, but for right now his large, walk-in closet is used for family storage so it’s a perfect spot.

I realize that I’m posting this after Feb. 29, the special day of Leap Year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still do this project with your family.  The Leap YEAR is no where near over yet!  🙂

Wrapping the Block

Do your kids love any opportunity to wrap gifts?  Mine do.  Especially using tape.  Tape is SOOO exciting if you’re under 4 ft. tall!  So, I decided that since ’tis the season for gift-wrapping, I’d let them have some practice – and get to use tape.

I decided that wooden blocks would be ideal for wrapping practice, so I figured out exactly what size of wrapping paper would perfectly fit one block.

Then The Brain was kind enough to cut out a whole stack of wrapping paper rectangles that same size.  I gathered several blocks in a basket, then put the basket on our art shelf next to a tray with the papers and two tape dispensers.

Of course, in the morning they were very excited to find out what this new exciting-looking thing on the shelf was.  It actually was one of those “she’s getting it!!” moments:  I overheard Drama Queen tell Mr. BANG, “Remember not to touch it until Mommy shows us what to do with it.”  Woo-hoo!  🙂

In the lesson, I first carefully demonstrated how to pull a small amount of tape from the dispenser, push downward to cut the tape off, and stick the end of the tape onto the art table (former breakfast-in-bed tray).  I instructed them to cut off four pieces of tape to hang from the art table.  (This step has continued to be tricky for them.  I had to help Drama Queen for awhile, and still am helping Mr. BANG tear the tape.)

    

Next, I showed how to place the block in the center of the paper.  I used the pincer grip (thumb against index and middle fingers) of both hands to pick up the two left corners of the paper and fold them over the block.  While the left hand held the paper in place, the right hand grabbed a piece of tape and taped the paper onto the block.  As an adult, that step is unnecessary, but it makes a big difference to a child trying to get the hang of keeping the object in place and keeping the paper held down.

I showed the right side the same way – use pincer grasp of both hands to pull the right corners of the paper into place, and use a piece of tape to hold them together.

The ends are a bit trickier.  I modeled how to fold the top down, fold the sides into triangular shapes, then fold the bottom up and tape.

At that point, they were ready to place the wrapped present under the tree.  However, they usually wanted to “write” the name of the recipient on the present first.  Then they would run to place the present under the tree and come right back for the next one.

      

They loved this activity so much, they actually used up all our rectangle wooden blocks of that size.  I then got out soft blocks of the same size.  When they had wrapped all those, they started experimenting with two blocks that would combine to make the rectangle.  Then Drama Queen started experimenting with completely different shapes, such as the cylinder blocks.

It was clear that this activity was VERY successful!  That afternoon, we celebrated a “practice Christmas.”  We all sat by the Christmas tree and handed out presents to each other.  The kids were so funny, saying things such as, “(gasp) What is it?!”  and “This is just what I’ve been wanting!!”

They were eager to start the wrapping over again the next day.  I decided to add another step in the process, however.  It occurred to me that this could be wonderful cutting practice.  So instead of cutting the wrapping paper, I drew bold lines with a black Sharpie on the back of the wrapping paper.  They got to cut their own paper!  Again, this was a thrill to them.

Mr. BANG unfortunately got frustrated because he wasn’t able to cut his paper very well.  (He seems to be left-handed.  Left-handed-experienced people, do I need to buy him special scissors?)

Drama Queen is perfectly happy cutting paper for both of them, so the thrill of wrapping presents is on-going!

  My little tree-hugger

Birthday Celebration, Montessori Style

Last week was a very exciting week in our house:  BIRTHDAY WEEK!!  We make a big deal about birthdays around here.  It actually started just because Drama Queen’s birthday is one day before my birthday, so we naturally did several special things together during the week of our birthdays.  Now we’ve made it a tradition that whenever we have a birthday in the family, we do something special every day that week.

I’ll share all our fun experiences from this Birthday Week shortly, but first let me describe the “Montessori Style” part of it.  Montessori Primary (ages 3-6) classrooms have a really unique way of celebrating a student’s birthday, and I love it!  Every Montessori Primary classroom has a large ellipse taped or painted on the floor, which is used for a few different things.  One of those is the birthday celebration.  The children sit behind the ellipse for the celebration.  A lit candle is placed in the middle to represent the sun, and the birthday child, holding a small globe, walks along the ellipse.  For each “lap” around the ellipse, the teacher describes what new skills the child developed during each year of his life.  It’s a really neat visual representation of how the earth travels around the sun one time each year.

I’ve wanted to do this as part of my own children’s birthday celebrations, but I always get stressed and overwhelmed and don’t get that part organized.  This year, I did.  Since none of the children at Mr. BANG’s party have been part of a Montessori class or experienced this type of birthday celebration (including my own) I wasn’t sure how it would go, or how Mr. BANG would handle it, but I really felt like it went well!

Before the party, I had used blue packing tape to make a circle on our living room floor.  At the appropriate point in the party, I gathered all the children over to the circle and guided them to sit behind the line.  (It took a bit of effort to help the younger ones understand that they weren’t supposed to be on the line!)  I was also behind the line, and I had Mr. BANG stand in front of me on the line.  The Brain lit the candle in the middle as I stated that the candle represented the sun.  I handed Mr. BANG the globe and very briefly explained that the globe was a model of the earth and that the earth goes around the sun each year.

I told the group that three years ago, something very exciting happened to Mr. BANG’s Mommy and Daddy.  I told about a new baby being born, and how excited Mommy, Daddy, and Big Sis were.  I shared the full name that Mommy and Daddy gave the baby boy.

At this point I prompted Mr. BANG to start slowly walking around the circle.  He took me very literally at first – he was walking so slowly, you could hardly tell he was moving!  As I sped him up slightly, I told about his first year:  learning to lift his head, roll over, and smile; loving to sleep against Mommy or Daddy, etc.  I had put together a collection of photos for each year, so I showed that as I spoke.  When Mr. BANG made it back to me, I said, “And then he was one.”  We continued the same process for the next two years.  When I said, “And now he is three,” we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him.  He was awesome with walking along the circle – he walked slowly and meticulously placed each foot along the way – but when we sang, he just crumpled against me!  It was pitifully sweet!  The Brain commented later that it was probably the loud sound that he was reacting to.  (Loud sounds from others are much different than loud sounds from himself, of course!)

    

All in all, I was very pleased with how his Montessori birthday celebration went.  The other children seemed really engaged and were listening and watching intently, and Mr. BANG seemed to feel very special by it.

Now, as for the rest of the week prior to the party, here are the special activities we did…

MONDAY

We went to a nearby bouncy house that we’ve been to just one time before.  Of course, both children had a wonderful time running and bouncing.  Drama Queen made friends with another four-year-old girl, so they created a long-lasting game where Mr. BANG was the bear trying to catch them.  For probably half the time we were there, he literally was running around the place (and climbing and sliding and all that) waving his arm and yelling, “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!  Bang!”  I never realized that bears hunted by yelling “bang” – but now I do!

   

TUESDAY

On Tuesday, God surprised us with a rare November Tennessee snow, so our special activity was playing in the snow!  It doesn’t get any better than that!  Okay, so it really wasn’t very much snow at all, but to Mr. BANG and Drama Queen, it was the best snow ever!  It was enough that we were able to take a nice snowy hike through the woods by our house down to a little stream.  They loved it!

    

WEDNESDAY

Mr. BANG’s request for Wednesday was to make a repeat visit to one of our favorite places – the aquarium.  We go all the time, but it never gets old!  Mr. BANG is all about the sharks, so we wandered around the ocean area observing the sharks, sea turtles, and the always fascinating jellyfish.  We even paused to watch the diver show, which my children normally want to run (literally) right past.  It’s partway down a long, zig-zagging ramp, and that ramp is probably 80% of the reason my kids always want to go “see the sharks”!

    

THURSDAY

Thursday was cake-making day.  Both of my children started helping make cakes when they were around 14 or 15 months old, so by this point, they’re old pros.  Since I was making a two-tiered cake (for the first time!), I set each of them up to make their own cake.  I had all the ingredients measured out and lined up in order – and let them go to work.  For the first time, I got to be their helper instead of them being my helper!  It was awesome letting them have that experience of making their own cake, with just a little help from Mommy!  Afterwards, they both had that air of confidence, knowing, “I made that cake!”

    

    

FRIDAY

We started the day with streamers over his door, an idea I got from my friend Amber.  He was really confused at first.  He just stood there and asked, “What do I do?”  Once he got the hang of it, though, he kept running back and forth through the streamers, getting more and more excited.  It culminated in him running circles in his bedroom for about ten minutes singing one particular song he made up.

Friday was probably the most exciting of all because that’s when we got to go have lunch with Daddy at his office!  Both children always love going into Daddy’s special world where he spends his days.  AND there’s a giant fish tank at Daddy’s office, so having lunch while watching the fish is quite a treat as well!

   

Friday also was his actual birthday.  Instead of sitting and opening all the presents at once, we spread presents throughout the day so the child can take time to enjoy each one.  First thing in the morning, he opened one from Mommy and Daddy and the gift from Drama Queen (they always give each other a new book of their choosing).  At Daddy’s office, he opened another gift.  After nap, he opened the two gifts from extended family members, and after dinner he opened his last gift from us.  (That one is a card game that I will have to tell you about later – it’s awesome!!)

SATURDAY

Saturday was his birthday party with friends.  It turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day, so we spent much of it outside.  I don’t do organized party games at this point.  I set out limited toys inside and let them run free outside!  Parents get to chat, and the kids have a blast!  🙂  For months, Mr. BANG has talked (sang, actually; he made up a song that he’s been singing repeatedly.  Every day.  For about 6 months.) about having a Thomas birthday party with lots of blue cakes.  So I did my best to suit.  (It was my first time with fondant, so don’t judge!  🙂 )

It was supposed to look like this, but I did the best I could in the time I had!  🙂

                   

I love the fun of birthdays and letting the child get the chance to really feel how special he is – and how much fun he is to spend time with!

The Soda and Egg Brushing Experiment

I recently ran across an experiment in a blog that I immediately knew I was going to let Mr. BANG and Drama Queen carry out.  The idea of it was that, since eggshells and tooth enamel are similar, you can use boiled eggs to show the effect of thoroughly brushing your teeth!

The process starts with boiling eggs ahead of time.  Each child will need one egg and you’ll probably want one to demonstrate.  It is important that the eggs not be cracked, so you may want to boil a few extras as well.

The next step is to let the eggs soak in Coke for 5 or more hours.  I let the children place the eggs in a bowl and pour the Coke in.  I probably used too wide of a container (or just didn’t have enough Coke), because the Coke didn’t fully cover the eggs.

   

Around 6 hours later, I had the children sit at the table with toothbrushes ready.  I talked about the similarities between tooth enamel and eggshells, and compared the stains from the Coke with plaque that forms on their teeth.  I passed around a mirror so we could all look at our teeth (which had been brushed not long before).

I also showed two eggs – one soaked and one not soaked – side by side for comparison.

I then began my demonstration of brushing the egg.  They were amazed to see more and more of the Coke stain get brushed away.  I did just a small section, then handed out eggs, toothbrushes, and dabs of toothpaste to them.

They excitedly got to work.  Drama Queen was able to immediately focus on one area and start making a significant difference on the stain of her egg.  Mr. BANG was moving his toothbrush haphazardly around the egg, so I guided him to just brush one area at a time.  Once he got that down, he really started to see the difference.  They brushed and brushed and brushed.

  

     

Along the way, Drama Queen asked for a bowl of water to rinse her toothbrush in, which turned out to be an excellent suggestion.  Otherwise, she was largely just pushing the ugly brown mess around the egg, covering the sections she had already brushed white.  One thing I would do differently next time is actually have a blob of toothpaste in their bowls, so they could get more as desired.

By the time they finished, Drama Queen’s egg looked just about as white as our egg that had not been soaked in Coke, and even Mr. BANG’s was pretty close to it.

The top egg is the un-soaked one, and the bottom one shows the un-brushed side of my demonstration egg. 

The egg on the left is Drama Queen’s final product, and the one on the right is Mr. BANG’s brushed egg.

 

Drama Queen then finished brushing my demo egg, just because she wanted to keep brushing.  🙂

We ended the experiment with a discussion on what we learned about brushing, such as how long it took to get the eggs white again (some difference was made right away, but it took a few minutes of brushing to get them fully white again).  We were then able to refer back to the experiment when it was time to brush teeth again.

Activity Jars

I don’t think any mom of young kids has been in my house more than five minutes without asking about one item:  my activity jars.  The three colorful jars sit on a counter right next to the kitchen, and I guess they are just good attention-getters.

I have three of these jars:  Let’s Eat, Activities and Games, and Oh, the Places We’ll Go.  Each is filled with small strips of paper, with different things written on them within their category.

I pulled out three randomly from each jar to give you a taste of the possibilities.  In Let’s Eat, I drew “dip a banana in chocolate and freeze,”  “make an edible necklace (Cheerios, fruit loops, etc),” and “make orange juice.”

From Activities and Games, I drew “do something nice for someone else,” “create puzzles from drawings/puzzles,” and “play freeze dance.”

From Oh the Places We’ll Go, I pulled out “bounce house,” “visit neighbors,” and “Althaus Park.”

Usually during the weekend as I’m putting my calendar together for the next week, I allow the children to draw a certain number out of specific jars (based on how much we have going on that week), then I choose when they will fit best within the upcoming week’s calendar.

I originally saw this idea on another blog as Summer Activity Jars and thought it was awesome!  I set up the jars for summer, but the children and I like them so much, we’ve continued using them during the school year.  It’s fun to have a few special things added into the week!

The original website includes her own lists of strip possibilities, as well as the labels.  If you’re interested in the jars, definitely check out her site – she makes it much easier!  I used a lot of her food and activity suggestions, but mainly did my own field trip slips, since that can be very different in different areas.