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Even MORE [Creative] Ways We're Learning the Alphabet!

There are just never too many fun new ways to explore the alphabet with our littles! A crazy amount of variety definitely isn't necessary, but switching it up sure makes learning through play even more fun; and that's exactly why I'm here today!

Hello, Jenny's Crayons friends. I'm Denise. I'm a former teacher, turned coffee-addicted SAHM who now spends my days adventuring with and experimenting on my two favorite littles, Beckett and Charlie Grace, affectionally known as Buck and Chuck! You can usually find us exploring, creating, and goofing off over at, but today Jenny invited me to share a few of our current favorite ALPHABET activities with you!

Here's what you need to know! Nearly two years ago, I shared this post on 16 ways Beckett (19 months at the time) was learning his alphabet! Our methods were SUPER successful and Beckett knew ALL of his letters and sounds by the time he was TWO!

Well now it's Charlie Grace who's hit 19 months and we figure it's about time we get started teaching her a thing or two. And since allll kids are exactly the same (right?!) we started out with the same methods! Boooy did I learn that that was NOT going to fly with this sassy pants, center of attention, terrifyingly decisive little miss. She wasn't having it and I knew that I was going to have to switch gears and get more creative (literally). So while we still do a little bit of our original 16 ways, here are some more colorful options for the "ar-teests" in your life!

Here's an important tip for before you get started: model the activity and point out the letters. Maybe even help their little hands do the activity if they're interested. However, the goal here is PLAY! So if they just want to make a total chaotic mess, you're still WINNING! ALSO, I tend to focus on ONE letter at a time. So we play with ALL of the letters, just goofing and having fun, but I only ask Charlie to occasionally repeat whichever letter we're working on at the time. Keep it simple for them!

1. Let's talk about Play Doh. Does it REALLY ever get old?! Even when your children have stomped it into your carpet? I would be willing to spend EVERY nap time pulling colorful flecks of dried dough out of the floor if it meant my kids were happy and entertained in the morning. There is no losing with Play Doh. We got this set of cookie cutters a long time ago and we still use them almost every day! The shapes are usually our favorite, but we just recently started pulling out letters and VOILA. Insta-interest! Play Doh for the win!

2. OK. Remember how I just said there is no losing with Play Doh? Pretend for two seconds that I didn't say that and take a gander at the hot mess above on the right. This is borderline losing. You're at least going to lose that pile of dough and beads. I shared this on Instagram the other day because it was SUCH a #MomFail. PEOPLE: Those beads do not come back out! On the plus side, my kids were TOTALLY entertained, and we got to practice our B name and sounds. Going forward, though, we'll use marbles or wiggly eyes for this idea!

3. You need to know that this bright fun mess is every bit as appealing as it seems! Feathers and pom poms and neon chalk markers? OH MY! I just recently discovered these ERASABLE NEON Markers. WHAAAT?! My life is complete. Be careful though: they take a moment to dry. So if you're planning on doing several letters in a sitting, I would stick with good old fashioned chalk.

PS. You can do this idea with just about any items on so many different surfaces! We've used hot wheels, plastic bugs and animals, legos, wiggly eyes, and just about any other small item we have around to layer over letters. You can draw your letters with chalk on the ground, with dry erase on a mirror or board, with a pen on paper, washi on the kitchen floor... the ideas are endless!

4. I've been wanting to try some sort of salt writing for a while now and I'm so glad I finally gave it a go! We saw ideas all over Pinterest for laying colors in the bottom of your salt tray and I just didn't have it in me to do ANYTHING extra. So VOILA! I grabbed a couple pieces of felt, threw it underneath a clear pie pan, and BOOM! Colorful bottom with no cutting, coloring, fitting, or arranging. You're welcome! We used epsom salts because I have a ginormous bag of it. This kept Charlie entertained for SO long. Unfortunately, clean up was more than I'd hoped (because I gave a 19 month old a slippery tray of salt), but my trusty Dust Buster took care of it! Next time we're feeling extra motivated, we're going to try this idea with shaving cream!

5. Have you seen this idea yet?! This brilliant stamping the Play Doh concept has been floating around the Pinterest-sphere for a while, but recently is the first time we gave it a try. When Beckett (the 3 year old) saw what I was doing, he responded as if I'd just done a crazy cool magic trick! There was so much excitement and oohing that I felt pretty dern accomplished! We used our Melissa and Doug Stamps, which worked perfectly for this! 

6. Ok. Have you tried a scavenger hunt with your little yet? The first time we tried this was back for our Zoo Themed week, then we did it again with bugs. Beckett got such a kick out of the challenge that I decided to try it alphabet style! YOU NEED TO TRY THIS! Here's how it works: Scatter or hide a set of alphabet flash cards around the house/room, then send one kiddo (in our case, Charlie) to find them. Then let the other kiddo be responsible for the clip board and marker. As Charlie finds and brings the card back, we talk about the letter, then Beckett find and checks it off on our scavenger hunt sheet. SO FUN and so many great thinking skills! And SURPRISE! I've got a FREEBIE download for you! Just click here!

7. And for my final idea for the day, FELT makes an appearance again! I actually borrowed this from my ever-creative bloggy buddy and preschool homeschool momma, Cara from Raising Kinley. These are similar to the sand paper letters you may have seen floating around the world wide web. They're just another great sensory and fine motor experience for littles! Let them trace and feel the letters while you repeat the name and sound. Sometimes we even say our sounds to a beat or tune! ;) 

Well how about it?! Did you find something simple, low-prep, low-mess that your kiddos would go gaga over? Playing and experimenting doesn't have to be earth-shattering to be memorable and fun! I hope you walk away today with a new motivation to explore the alphabet with your toddler or preschooler!

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Beauty and the Beast 2017 Soundtrack Review

I am an avid fan of Beauty and the Beast music and have been listening to both the Broadway and animated versions for years since I was a kid. I have seen both versions of the movies and the Broadway play. I was so excited to listen to the new soundtrack from the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast adaptation. All the soundtracks were written by Alan Menken and have similar sounds. The Broadway version was his debut Broadway composition.

What did I think? Will my kids like it? There were some songs and changes I loved, and other songs where I preferred the original.  It is hard to have three unique soundtracks for the same story, but Alan pulled it off. Alan threw in different instruments, for example a harpsichord was used and changed the beats and climaxes enough to make it different. The words of the original songs changed slightly to adapt the more developed storyline. I liked this album enough to give it a few listens, and my kids love it too.  Read the rest to find out why.

The original animated movie was 1 hour and 24 minutes long featured 15 songs, the new movie is 2 hours and 9 minutes and features 19 songs. I have not seen the movie yet, but listening to the songs there is added depth to the characters. For example the song "How Does A Moment Last Forever (Montmartre)" we find out about Belle's youth especially the time with her mother.  She says,

    "This is the Paris of my childhood
    These were the borders of my life
    In this crumbling, dusty attic
    Where an artist loved his wife
    Easy to remember, harder to move on
    Knowing the Paris of my childhood is gone"

Belle calls this the Paris of her childhood, signifying it was the happy time of her childhood. From this we learn that Belle had a mother, they put some of her things in the attic, her father loved her mother, and that Belle had a hard time moving on.

The new movie keeps the original songs; "Overture" and "The Prologue", "Belle", "Gaston", "Be Our Guest", "Something There", "The Mob Song", and "Beauty and the Beast". The biggest changes I heard wjile listening were the adaptions from the play.  It gets rid of the songs, "If I Can't Love Her, Human Again", "A Change In Me" and "Home". The 2017 soundtrack adds the new songs; "How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box)" and "(Montmartre)", "Days In the Sun", "Aria", and "Evermore".

"Evermore" replaces "If I Can't Love Her" from the Broadway version.  It conveys an entirely different message. The most poignant lines of the song are "Now I know she'll never leave me/She will still torment me, calm me, hurt me/She will still inspire me, be a part of/Move me, come what may/Waiting here for evermore!"  The Beast realized she changed him and is happy for it.  He realizes the impact she had on his life. In the Broadway version of "If I Can't Love Her" he says, "Hopeless/As my dream dies/If I can't love her/Let the world be done with me."  In the Broadway version he does not want to go on, in the live action version he does and is inspired to keep living. I love the message of the new song "Evermore" though you can not belt it like you can "If I Can't Love her".

The other big change was "Days In the Sun" from " Human Again" and "Home".  This is another favorite change from the play.  I absolutely adore the new song "Days In the Sun".  Many people did not like "Human Again" and the original VHS that does not feature that song sells for a lot more.  It was trying to be like "Be Our Guest" but missed the mark and sounded too fluffy and happy. The staff are sad because they are not human, but the song is a happy song. "Home" made Belle sound very unhappy in the castle.  "Days In the Sun" is more melancholy and evokes regret of time past. It starts with an amazing opening by Chip recalling his short "days in the sun" and the whole cast remembering their days in the sun wanting to "relive just one".  Belle sings in it too, saying being at the castle has made her stronger, but she still longs to be "free".

How do the old songs compare?  It really depends for me.

  • Emma Watston as Belle- I loved her take on Belle, she sounded excellent. I think there was a little bit of autotune in her voice, but that is okay because she is an actress not a singer.
  • Dan Stevens as Beast-His voice was lower and more proper than I expected.  I prefer the old Beasts songs.
  • Luke Evans as Gaston-He was okay, did not prefer either one.
  • Josh Gad as LeFou-I am afraid to say this, but I can not get Olaf disassociated with Olaf.  I prefer the animated Lefou.  It is hard to imagine his voice being a villain.
  • Kevin Kline as Maurice-I did not like Maurice's song I'm sad to say.  It was a little boring.
  • Ewan McGregor as Lumiere-I loved his take on Lumiere and prefer his version of "Be Our Guest".
  • Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts-I loved her take on Mrs. Potts. Angela Lansbury will always have a place in my heart. Emma did a great job and I preferred her vocals to Audra McDonald's.
  • Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe-Her voice was to operatic for me. I did not like her singing in the Beauty and the Beast Finale song. It just did not fit. Her voice reminded me of Carlotta from Phantom of the Opera.
Let us talk about the end credit songs, there are three of them, "Evermore" by Josh Groban, "How Does a Moment Last Forever" by Céline Deon and "Beauty and the Beast" by Ariana Grande and John Legend. I love Josh's and Céline Deon's songs.  Maybe it was because their songs are new and different and they sound amazing.  What did I think of Ariana Grande and John Legend's version of Beauty and the Beast?  If it was the first time this song was released, I would have loved it, but it is not and it was too similar to other versions.  And Céline Deon's version was amazing, and the fact she was also featured in this soundtrack with a new beautiful song really overshadowed their version.  It was almost not necessary to this soundtrack, or it could have been sung by Céline again or not even added to this movie.

Here are the new soundtrack list of songs and which with ones I prefer and like.
  1. Prefer the same-"Overture" (Score) Alan Menken
  2. Prefer the same-"Main Title: Prologue Pt. 1" Hattie Morahan (narration)
  3. Not impressed-"Aria" Audra McDonald
  4. Prefer the same-"Main Title: Prologue Pt. 2" Hattie Morahan (narration)
  5. Prefer the same, but love this version "Belle" Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Ensemble
  6. Not impressed-"How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box)" Kevin Kline
  7. Prefer the same but, love this version"Belle (Reprise)" Watson
  8. Prefer the same-"Gaston" Evans, Josh Gad, Ensemble
  9. 2 thumbs up and prefer this version-"Be Our Guest" Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Ian McKellen
  10. 2 thumbs up-"Days in the Sun" Adam Mitchell, Stanley Tucci, McGregor, McKellen, Thompson, Watson, McDonald, Clive Rowe
  11. Prefer the Same, but love this version-"Something There" Watson, Dan Stevens, Thompson, Nathan Mack, McKellen, McGregor, Mbatha-Raw
  12. 2 thumbs up-"How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre)" Watson
  13. Prefer the same but love this version "Beauty and the Beast" Thompson
  14. 2 thumbs up for song message, okay for vocals-"Evermore" Stevens
  15. Prefer the same-"The Mob Song" Evans, Gad, Ensemble, Thompson, McKellen, Tucci, Mack, Mbatha-Raw, McGregor
  16. 2 thumbs up except Audra's vocals-"Beauty and the Beast (Finale)" McDonald, Thompson, Ensemble
  17. 2 thumbs up-"How Does a Moment Last Forever" Céline Dion
  18. Prefer the original "Beauty and the Beast" Ariana Grande & John Legend
  19. 4 thumbs up-"Evermore" Josh Groban
I definitely recommend everyone give this soundtrack a listen, there are enough differences to make it new and amazing.  Your kids and you will love it for years to come.

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3 Easy Preschool Valentines Activities, Target Mailboxes and Hearts and Sugar Cookies

For this party we decorated some mailboxes from Target.  Then we sewed some Valentines hearts and then frosted sugar cookies.  Each kid had a different colored mailbox and got to pick out which stickers they wanted to use to decorate it with.  I also had letter stickers to so they could put their names on them.

Here are the finished mailboxes. They all turned out so unique. The kids then put their Valentines into each of the boxes.

If you do not want to find the stickers yourself Target is selling mailboxes with stickers this year.

Here are the Valentine hearts we made.  All the kids liked it.  The Spritz package from Target came with lots of different colors.  I have seen these hearts there this year. The needles were safe for the kid.  They got got put stuffing into the hearts and decorate them how they wanted to.  It was a good hand eye coordination for the kid.

After that we decorated sugar cookies. The kids all got to put on as much icing as they wanted and they got to choose the sprinkles they put on the cookies.  They all turned out different.

This is my Grandma Rowley's famous sugar cookie recipe.  It makes soft and fluffy sugar cookies, the best ever.

Grandma Rowley's Sugar Cookie Recipe, Printable Version
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
1. Cream the butter, add the sugar and beat well. Beat in the egg. Add the milk and vanilla.  In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. 

2. Chill one hour. Cut out to desired shape on parchment paper.

3. Bake at 375 degrees.

4. Cook 10-12 minutes for thick cookies, 7-8 minutes for thin cookies.
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