Archives for July 2013

Cruising with Young Kids ~ Tips and Tricks

Cruising with Young Kids

It is true – we have been on quite a few cruises, and we realize what an amazing blessing this is.  We could never afford to do this on our own and are spoiled by grandparents.  Recently real life friends asked me for advice about cruising with tots, and I figured they probably weren’t the only ones with questions!  Because of our cruising experience, I thought I would share some things I have learned along the way for those of you who might be thinking of taking a cruise in the future, with young kids. It really is a great experience and way more affordable for us homeschoolers who can easily go during the off season.  All of our cruises have been purposely planned {by my mom} during the absolute cheapest times of the year {usually Feb-Mar}.

We have cruised multiple times {with young kids and without}, but with the young kids we have been on Royal Caribbean {once ~ Freedom of the Seas} and Holland America {more than once ~ Nieuw Amsterdam, Westerdam, Eurodam}.  The youngest we have taken a child cruising with us was age 1 {Ladybug}.

Our favorite…

Holland America for sure!  Here’s why…

  • Holland America ships are smaller ships with less to do.  This may seem like a bad thing with kids, but we personally think it is a great thing.  The Royal Caribbean ship was so big {we weren’t even on their biggest one!} and had so much to do {rock climbing, putt putt, ice skating, etc.} we felt like we were always trying to fit in something else. It was honestly exhausting!
  • HEATED POOL…need I say more?  Oh yeah and it has a glass “ceiling” that closes if it rains or is chilly!  The pool wasn’t huge and is “deep” even at the shallow end, but this didn’t bother us-the heat made up for it! Royal’s pool was freezing and it was chilly the week we went so we were in the pool very little. Sure they had an awesome kiddie pool and spray park but my kids were shaking and blue because they were so cold!
  • The service…amazing!  Although Royal Caribbean had awesome service too, Holland America steps it up a notch.  Honestly it is just in the genuine kindness you feel from just about everyone on board.
  • The food…awesome!  Again, Royal had great food too, but Holland America steps it up, especially with their breakfast/lunch buffet options.
  • HAL Kids Program…wonderful!  It begins for age 3 and goes up.  Each night, we had a late dinner seating {8pm} but HAL opened at 7pm, so the boys could just eat at the buffet {Lido deck} and head up to their club. Other ships have amazing kids’ programs too.  Be sure you know ages, most are potty trained 3 years old and up only.

But, you might not be like us!

Many people would disagree with us for choosing an “older people” ship as our favorite with young kids, but we like to relax, not be so busy.  If you enjoy constant activity, have lot of energy, love crowds and tons of kids, I definitely recommend choosing Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney or one of the more kid activity based ships.


Packing Tips…

Cruising with a Tot

  • clothespins {to hang up wet suits everywhere!}
  • power strip {there are usually only 1-2 outlets and taking things in and out is a pain}
  • DVDs {check beforehand, all of our rooms had DVD players in room, if not-bring a small one}
  • noise machine, the hallways get loud
  • night light
  • wet bag {or plastic store bags, to tote wet items}
  • lanyard/hole punch {to use for your key cards, wear them as necklaces}
  • bandaids
  • more sunscreen than you would ever think you’d need, oh and sunscreen chapstick!
  • hats for everyone, swim shirts too-the sun at sea is brutal
  • wind breakers/sweatshirts
  • blow up ducky pool {many rooms have showers only, and if you have a kid who only takes baths, you don’t want the fight in a tiny cruise ship bathroom}
  • umbrella stroller {yup, even for kids a bit too old for one} We brought one on a whim when Ladybug was almost 4 and used it at every port and are so glad we brought it at the last minute.
  • baby carrier {Ergo recommended} for non-walking babies. We used this a LOT when Ladybug was 1.
  • small toys {Littlest Pet Shops, play doh, cars, squinkies, crayons, coloring books, etc.} They are easy to pack and bring to dinner to occupy kids when the wait is long.
  • small purse for little girls, or bag for boys {to carry those tiny toys you brought}.  We brought a tiny bag with tiny toys to dinner on the nights when she came with us and it helped tremendously for multiple course meals!  iPads/iPhones aren’t a bad distraction either!

      A few other things to think about when planning…

    Potty Trained?

Many cruise ships have a potty-trained only rule about their pools.  This means no swim diapers of any sort. Be prepared if you aren’t going on a ship with kiddie pools {no Holland America ships had kiddie pools}. I have heard people bring small blow up pools to let babies sit in on deck.

Sleep Arrangements

All cruises we have been on provided a pack and play free of charge and we used that, be sure to ask, I am not sure all cruise lines provide one.  When Ladybug was almost 4 she slept in the loft bed for the first time, with a nice pillow border we created.  She LOVED it!


Bring your own blow up rings/floaty devices, even for your older kids.  They are fun and every child wants one, we regretted the year we only brought one for Ladybug and not the boys.  Last year was much more peaceful, we brought 4 {in case one popped}. Also-goggles, swim socks/shoes for young tots {decks can be slippery}, swim shirts, hats {our favorite}, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.

You Don’t Have to Get Off the Boat!

Some of our favorite times are when we stay on the ship when others get off at a port!  We have a few ports we don’t care for {with kids} and we love to enjoy the empty pool. Once our kids are older this may change, but while we have a young one, some ports just aren’t worth the trouble of lugging them all around, especially if you’ve already seen it once.

Balcony or Not?

We have only sailed with a balcony one time, the others have mostly been the cheapest inside staterooms, and once we had a window.  We got the balcony this past time and although it was nice, I don’t think I would pay extra for it, since we didn’t use it nearly as much as I thought we might. Some would disagree, but I vote for saving money!

Room Service Breakfast

It took a few cruises for us to figure out what a gem this service was to us.  You see, I am not a morning person and neither is Ladybug. Having to get dressed and look decent just to go get breakfast was a bummer to us.  Cruises offer free 24 hour room service, just fill out the card and hang it on the door with the time you want it delivered.  This also made sure we didn’t oversleep and miss the day!

Tot Food and Drinks

If you have a younger tot still using a sippy cup, be sure to bring a stash of disposable sippy cups and a small bottle of dish soap. I just rinsed them out all week long in our sink and we always had a cup of water, juice or milk in the little room fridge for her. Also, we would snag tot snacks for her to keep in the room too {yogurt, cereal, crackers, bananas}, all from the buffet or from room service.


Have you cruised with young kids?  Any advice to add to my list?

Following her lead…

Following the Lead of Your Preschooler at Home

As I continue to follow the lead of the child, I am back to the drawing board with Ladybug {age 4}. What worked for her last year, is no longer working and, it is time to change. I still like the current routine, curriculum, and plan I have, however, she isn’t thriving as she once was so I am back to the drawing board. I enjoyed rereading Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Homeschoolers {a guest post from Becky on my blog} to get my wheels spinning once again.

I have decided to not use any formal curriculum for Preschool or Kindergarten, and instead enroll her in Calvert 1st grade when I feel she is ready. This gives me a lot of freedom, and since she is a younger 4 {turned 4 in April 2013}.  I have plenty of time, we are in no hurry! I really want to enjoy these last early childhood years, it is truly my favorite time in a child’s educational life. We aren’t planning to have anymore children, so this is my last couple of years to fully engage and enjoy this time period with my youngest!

Wait ~ does that mean I might stop using my own preschool program?  Yup. Just because I made it, doesn’t mean it is right for her.  All kids are different and she isn’t thriving quite as well as Krash did.  It may be because I am a bit burnt out with it, since I use it for my 4-5 year old Children’s Church class too. Maybe I have lost my enthusiasm at home, I’m not sure if it’s her or me.  I used RRSP in my church class all last year and am in the second round now. Plus, she just joined my class as a 4 year old, so she is getting the lessons there! So, although it is hard for me, we might be putting away most aspects of RRSP.  I do plan to still use certain aspects of it, but the overall program might be taking a backseat.

{disclaimer ~ there are affiliate links below}

Home Preschool

In preparation to change things up, I made a list of things about her that stand out to me…

  • loves books, reading alone and being read to
  • loves anything with paint {Q tip painting, finger painting, anything.}
  • loves music, instruments, dancing, and being silly
  • loves playing independently for long periods, once she gets going
  • loves creative play {role play, dress up, etc.}
  • loves bugs, dirt, worms, & being dirty {see example above}
  • loves the letter of the week idea, and the abc basket collections
  • loves playing with tiny toys, the phonics box items are a big hit
  • does not like letter mazes, color by number, or “school” coloring anymore
  • like cutting, and is getting more into bigger cutting projects
  • loves anything with glue
  • loves puzzles
  • loves themes and most of the theme pack activities
  • does not have good social/emotional skills
  • loves ABC Find It, and Animal ABC letter crafts
  • enjoys her All About Reading Pre lessons
  • does not enjoy her workbox set up anymore
  • loves displaying and admiring her completed work
  • does not beg to do school anymore, will do it, but doesn’t beg like she used to
  • loves playing for long periods, alone or with me
  • loves crafts {mommy directed is a big hit}
  • gets very frustrated with transitions
  • loves feeling significant and included, longs to have responsibilities
  • loves surprises and doing little things with me {games, projects, art}
  • loves sensory bins, sensory play, play dough, shaving cream play, ANY messy play
  • loves learning apps, especially if I cuddle up and learn with her
  • is resistant to learning to read, even though she has the basic reading readiness skills.  the desire isn’t there so she isn’t ready yet
  • loves Montessori style activities
  • loves magnets and her cookie sheet
  • loves “calendar” time and the silly songs and games we play
  • isn’t as interested in “doing what her big brothers are doing” as she used to be

I am currently praying about our plan, I have a few ideas in mind, but am going to think, pray and plan slowly over the next few weeks.  Sadly, I already got what I thought we were going to do all printed and ready.  It is very hard for my Type A self to let go of the original plan, but I simply must,  I want my child to thrive and love learning.  I must practice what I preach, and follow her lead.

You can see a similar post to this one, that I wrote when she was 32 months old. I revaluate often to meet her current needs.  As you make your own plan, or revaluate your current plan, I recommend making a list similar to the one above, and one for yourself too!  It is about finding the balance between the child, the parent-teacher and the entire family’s needs during this season of life. If it isn’t working, some simple changes might make everyone happier. Just because it looks really great on someone else’s blog, doesn’t mean it will work in your home!

Ideas in my brain spin…

  • Read even more than we already do
  • Art daily, or some type of messy play {we usually do, but I need to up this for her}
  • Be more intentional with music play, and use our Laurie Berkner DVD more
  • Montessori at Home! ideas {we use them, but I think using them more would be good for her}
  • Spielgaben Educational Toys {reviewing soon, this looks like a GREAT fit for her interests}
  • Keep letter of the week, she loves this, keep All About Reading Pre also
  • Definitely learning app time with and without me, and online books.  Use We Give Books more.
  • Lots of sensory play, themed or not
  • Focused social and emotional skills time {she really needs work here}
  • Reorganize our learning materials and make Quiet Boxes {for her own independent school time}

I am still brainstorming and praying, stay tuned to see our plan!

Tot School Gathering Place ~ week 29

Gather together here, gather ideas from other blogs, share your own ideas on your own blog. Browse around at the other posts linked up, leave a few comments if you have time, and be sure to check back to see if your blog was featured!



I love the emergent readers shared over at The Measured Mom, she also shares how she used them with her kids, and give you tips {for those of you who aren’t as comfy teaching early reading skills.

The Measured Mom


My kids LOVE marbles, this post from Little Bins for Little Hands is full of many different ideas, all revolving around marbles!

Little Bins for Little Hands



I want to come play at this house! Our Homespun Haven shares so many adorable ideas, including this chocolate cupcake play dough fun they had!

Our Homespun Haven


Were you featured?

You are welcome to a button but you certainly don’t have to use it! Totally optional!

Tot School Feature

<center><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="I was featured for Tot School!" src=""/ ></a></center>

Please read this carefully before linking up! This may no longer be the linky for you, so please glance through this list to be sure you want to stick around and link up with us!
By linking up you agree to the following:
  1. A photo and a link to your post may appear in a future Tot School post. You give me permission to choose a photo from the post you link up, and give me permission to use your ideas in my post. I will link back to you, mention your blog, and give you full credit for any ideas choose to share form your post. If you don’t want me sharing photos, your blog, or ideas, please don’t link up.
  2. Your post is a post written specifically for Tot School and not just an idea for tots. It features your own child{ren} in action. This is a community for moms to come together and share their journey with Tot School virtually.
  3. Provide a link back to Tot School within your blog post {you can use this link: or a direct link to the weekly post you link up to} if you link up. If you do not link back to Tot School, your link will be deleted. Link backs on the sidebar, or in a massive “I link up here” page don’t count ~ they are too difficult for me to find and the first thing I look for when verifying links is the link back.
  4. Link up your exact Tot School post {not your blog homepage} if you are unsure how to do that read this!
    Each week I will feature photo{s} and ideas from blogs who link up. Sometimes it may be one simple idea, sometimes it may be a collection based around a concept .

Do you have your FREE

Where to Begin with Tot School eBook?


See the Tot School webpage here!

New to linking up here? Read this first! Basics: write a specific post about what you did with your tot, link up the permalink from your post, link back to Tot School within that post, put your tot’s age in months in ( ) like this: (43 months).

Some of our favorites…and a deal!

{disclaimer ~ my affiliate link is used in this post}

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know that we love Made On products.  I was introduced to them years ago through a review I did and we have been loyal customers ever since!

Our favorite products are pictured below {lip balm, hard lotion, and goat milk soap}. My husband has very dry skin in the winter and the goat milk soap and hard lotion have been a big help.

Made On Products we Love

This past year we discovered Bee Silk Junior and I am even more in LOVE!  I use it for so many things, mainly Ladybug’s dry skin in the winter.  I also began mixing it with our essential oils when we got those and it worked even better!  I LOVE this stuff and one large tub is still going strong after an intense winter of use by us!

Bee Silk Junior

Made On has a new storefront and in honor of the launch the owner Renee, offered a discount code to my readers! 

Use code 1plus1 for 15% off your entire order from now until August 5th.

Renee is also hosting a giveaway for a $50 gift certificate!  To enter, all it takes is registering as a new customer (no need to make a purchase). Giveaway ends July 31st, and entrants will be randomly drawn in early August.  gift certificate

A few GREAT deals…

I check out the deals on Zulily every now and then, and just happened to look today and saw a few educational deals that I wanted to pass along in case these are items you might be looking for.

Not familiar with Zulily?  It is a group buying deal site, and works on referrals, basically if you are new to Zulily and register through me {or whoever’s referral link you click on} I get $20 Zulily credit when you make your first purchase!  Then you can turn around and refer friends too!  You can read more on their site. My referral links and Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

I am often leery of deal sites, truly wondering if the prices are actually better than Amazon…so I did some legwork for you to compare on a few of my favorite items.  If you have racked up Zulily credit at all, these are even better deals!

I listed the current Amazon price when I clicked, obviously they change those often, so it may not be the same when you click,

Here are a few price comparison items…



Zulily $49.99Amazon $72.52

See my Draw, Write, Now companion printables here!


We have used this for years, it stored our Animal ABC and Tot School Printable units {I have 2} as I was preparing the units.  Now it stores folders of extra supplies.


Zulily: $9.49Amazon $14.31




Zulily $12.99, Amazon $19.99

Happy shopping!