Hands-On Play Activities and Learning Ideas for Kids

Give a man a fish, and he will live for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he will live for a lifetime.
Hands-on play is an important part of a child's learning process.

Hands-on play is an important part of a child's learning process.

When it comes to the idea of learning, I always go back to these powerful and inspiring words. The concept of learning by doing has never been more emphasized than when I became a mother. Now, having hands-on play activities and discovering new learning ideas for the little one have become a priority at home.

But why is it important to expose children to hands-on play activities? One of the biggest benefits of hands-on learning is that it forces a child to think, rather than depend on an adult to feed them the lesson or knowledge. 

There are many scientific studies that support the value of the hands-on approach in learning, including a UChicago research led by How the Body Knows Its Mind author and one of the leading mind-body connection experts, Professor Sian Beilock. Published in Pyschological Science, the study determined that a hands-on approach to learning helps to activate the sensory and motor-related parts of the brain. This, in the process, helps children develop problem-solving skills while more likely to retain the lessons, all because they were able to physically experience the learning process through play. 

In an interview published on UChicagoNews, Beilock said: "“In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better.”

Current hands-on play obsession at home is this  Cubbie Lee toy Company Wooden Train Set .

Current hands-on play obsession at home is this Cubbie Lee toy Company Wooden Train Set.

Hands-on Play Through Building Blocks

At home, one of our favorite hands-on play activities is constructing things using building blocks. The little one is currently obsessed of her new Cubbie Lee Toy Company's Wooden Train Set. Okay, I'm not going to lie, the entire family is actually obsessed of this train set, primarily because it is made of premium wood—and nothing brings back nostalgia more than wooden toys!

For me, there's something so cathartic about building things with your hands, of being the creator who holds the power to build anything your mind could imagine. For the hubby, sharing the learning moment with the little one brings him back to his childhood days. "Oh, I remember how excited I was when I first built my first-ever train set! I was about your age," he recalls as we were all gathered on the floor trying to piece together the train set for the first time.  

For the little one though, aside from the novelty of a new toy, there's a sense of accomplishment to be able to sort out the 70 wooden pieces in this train set, follow general guidelines and successfully build a train set for the first-time in her life. For any six-year-old and given how elaborate this train set is (it even includes a bridge set), it's a major accomplishment!

"Look mommy, I did it! I helped build this train set and it looks so great!" she exclaims after the last piece was added. 

The joy on the little one's face after successfully building this train set says it all.

The joy on the little one's face after successfully building this train set says it all.

Hands-On Play is Not Easy

Although hands-on play is highly encouraged, it's often not easy, especially for children who have the tendency to quickly get frustrated and impatient. In the course of building this wooden train set, the little one had her moments of frustrations. "But daddy, it's not fitting right!" she complains with a hint of frustration. 

"Try another piece and look how the wooden piece curves," her daddy offers helpful tips without completely taking over the experience for the little one. As a parent, it can be very tempting to step in and do the activity for the child to keep tantrums at bay or save you the sanity from the thousand questions that may come along with the experience of hands-on play. But building a toy yourself defeats the purpose of helping a child develop better problem-solving skills.

Evoking childhood nostalgia, this elaborate train set comes with 70 premium wooden pieces.

Evoking childhood nostalgia, this elaborate train set comes with 70 premium wooden pieces.

But how do you keep a child from getting frustrated in the middle of a hands-on play activity? My mommy-tested trick involves being present while the little one is at play and helping her discover a solution to the problem for herself by asking her helpful questions.

For instance, to help her determine why pieces are not fitting right, I would ask questions like: "Why do you think it's not fitting right? Did you look at how the pieces are shaped together?"

By asking leading questions, I am able to guide the little one but still encourage her to continue to explore solutions to the problem. You'll be surprised at how kids often rise up to a challenge once they know they are being supported, so don't be too quick to feed them of a solution to a problem. 

Creative play is important to help a child develop problem-solving skill sets.

Creative play is important to help a child develop problem-solving skill sets.

Fun Hands-On Play Activities

Aside from building blocks, there are many other fun hands-on play activity ideas to try at home, including Cubbie Lee Toy Company's wooden shape sorters, tea sets and puzzles for babies and younger kids, to do-it-yourself crafts and sensory play activities, such as the following:


For more fun hands-on play activity ideas, I often visit education.com as they have a ton of great learning ideas to kick boredom out and help your little one enjoy creative play. How do you encourage hands-on play with your curious little ones? Which hands-on play activity does your kid enjoy the most? Let's share ideas in the comment box below.  

Disclosure: *This post is sponsored by Cubbie Lee Toy Company, makers of premium wooden toys. We work only with brands we love, so we offer only honest opinions and reviews. To learn more about these wooden toys, check out their website or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.

The Power of Play: How to Raise Creative Children

"Mommy, can you play with me?" asks the little one as I was putting dishes into the dishwasher. Aside from "May I please have a snack?" (I'm not exaggerating when I tell you this tiny six-year-old can nibble faster than a Pac Man!), the question about play is one of the most recurring questions in our home. Understandably, as an only child, the little one turns to us for playtime—so we often happily oblige and take on the role of a playmate.

It's funny how mine and the hubby's idea of playtime are often in polar opposites. I tend to favor low-key activities, like playing house with dolls or doing crafts. The hubby's playtime is often more physical and leaves the house in chaos like it has just been hit by a roaring tornado! Often, it involves chasing each other around the house and wrestling on the bed. Ugh, the sight of the mess still haunts me!

Raising creative children means giving them opportunities to learn through play.

Raising creative children means giving them opportunities to learn through play.

But why is playtime so important in our home? For kids, playtime is actually learning time. There's an overwhelming number of scientific evidence that supports the idea of play encouraging learning and creativity at an early age. In fact, one of the play facts compiled by thegeniusofplay.org states "through imaginative play, children become more creative, perform better at school and develop a problem-solving approach to learning."

So, as a parent, I don't frown upon the idea of a child playing all day. If the goal is to raise a creative child, play should have a room in our home. 

What are some ways to encourage creative play? Here are a few mommy-tested tips:

Set up a safe space for play.

Apartment-living is often a challenge in terms of finding space. We don't have the extra room to turn into a play room, so we have to compromise and create a play area in the little one's bedroom where she can safely play with her toys. She loves setting up pretend house for her dolls inside her walk-in closet, so I've allocated some space for her do this. One thing I keep in mind is to make sure cabinets are securely bolted into the wall as children like to climb on furniture, posing a safety issue.

Invest in toys that allow a child to use both hands and imagination.

Construction toys, or those that require assembly, often challenge a child's ability to be inventive. Among all her toys, the little one is recently obsessed of Magformer's Shimmer and Shine Carnival set.

Magformers toys are magnetic so that, when pieced together, they can be built into different geometric shapes. The Magformers Shimmer and Shine Carnival set comes in 64 pieces with double-sided character cards of cartoon show favorites like Shimmer, Shine, Tala and Leah. Each card can be inserted into the magnetic square pieces to add a fun sparkle to any creation.

Magformers Magnetic Shimmer and Shine Carnival Set encourages problem-solving and creativity.

Magformers Magnetic Shimmer and Shine Carnival Set encourages problem-solving and creativity.

Magformers is such a fun toy to play, the little one could spend hours on the floor creating any of the eight design ideas shown on a fold-out idea mat that comes inside the box. Perhaps one of the reasons why Magformers is a big hit among children (even winning Creative Child Magazine's 2017 Top Toy of the Year Award), the concept of a construction magnetic toy is both challenging and rewarding. The little one sometimes find herself having to solve problems while figuring out how each piece connects when assembled, but also takes a tremendous amount of pride after completing a design.

"Mommy, mommy, I made a Shimmer and Shine genie ball by myself!" she once proudly announced. Her favorite to create, however, is the ferris wheel ride as she pulls her dolls out and pretend to get them into a carnival fair! How adorable is that?    

There is no doubt that finding the right toy that challenges a child's imagination creates more opportunities for the little one to be more creative.

Supervise, but don't be intrusive.

I sometimes am guilty of this. In an attempt to help the little one, I'd catch myself instructing her how to do things, rather than letting her explore and discover for herself. If we are to ignite creativity, we need to learn to step back as parents and simply give our children the opportunity to make mistakes, figure out what they did wrong and correct their own mistakes. 

I understand other parent's frustrations and eagerness to step in to show kids how things should be done, but I've discovered early that kids will surprise you with their creativity and resourcefulness if you allow them.


Learn to say "yes". 

Ugh, this is tough, even for me! As parents, we often say "no" more than we say "yes." But by learning not to be extremely restrictive, I learned that I am giving the little one the freedom to imagine things and see the world from her point of view. 

For instance, when the little one asked to keep paper rolls and boxes so she could build a mini house for her dolls, my first instinct was to say "no" to more mess in the house. But I decided to go against my knee-jerk reaction and allowed her to keep them and build her "masterpiece." What a milestone accomplishment it was after she finished her creation!

As parents, I realize it is not our duty to teach our children how things are done in the past. Instead, it is our duty to protect their natural curiosity and love of discovery. If we manage to do this, then we have done our job in raising creative children who will soon move the world.

Disclosure: *This post is sponsored by Magformers Magnetic Toys. We work only with brands we love, so we offer only honest opinions and reviews.

Storing Memories: Smart Ideas to Organize Your Kid's Keepsakes

Here's a little confession: I'm a teeny-weeny bit of a hoarder. I hoard lovely wrapping papers, used boxes, recyclable ribbons and even craft-worthy empty wine bottles. It drives my "toss this away" husband crazy, but I've always felt a little guilty about throwing things I feel I can either recycle or transform on a good craft day. 


This slight hoarding problem has exacerbated now that I'm a mom. Each time the little one comes home from school with a new artwork or a card she created, I feel the urge to stash it away in an album of keepsakes. But after a while, the keepsakes could quickly pile up! So what's the best way to organize your kid's photos and artworks? Here are at least three smart organizing ideas I've learned along the way:

1. Organize and store keepsakes online.

This is probably my most valuable tip! Finding an online tool that helps organize kid's artworks and photos has been a game-changer in my quest to streamline the organization process at home. It has allowed me to save the little one's creative drawings without being buried in a pile of paperwork that's likely to just gather dust in boxes that take up storage space. 

I had my "aha!" moment when I first discovered Keepy, an app that smartly stores, organizes and shares kid's photos, artworks, videos and voice recordings to family members. The app's basic package includes five free photo and video uploads every month. For an unlimited access to all its features for a year, there's an investment of $9.99, which, in this hoarding mama's opinion, is a small price to pay for the promise of a more organized home life!

The app is simple and intuitive to use, something I love since the little one's Mamaw and Papaw whom we share photos and artworks with usually steer clear from complicated technology. The voice, video and text comment feature is a nice touch as family members are able to interact, record videos and give encouragement to the little one even when miles away. It's a feature I value the most because, with family members living either a state or continent away, it's a great way to keep everyone privately up-to-date on the little one's mischiefs and adventures.  

The little one channeled her inner wizard and drew Harry Potter.

The little one channeled her inner wizard and drew Harry Potter.

2. Label, categorize and put things in buckets.

When organizing, there has to be some kind of order. To do this, I put labels and categorize things in their own little buckets. Yes, I still sometimes do the old-fashion folders and envelopes to store the little one's drawings because, despite having the app, I still keep a few original copies of my personal favorites, like her adorable Harry Potter drawing.

With the app though, it's super easy to sort out things into categories like Art, Award, Birthday, Field Trip or Family Outing, to name a few. Putting them into categories makes it easier to search and ensures that your feed is clutter-free.

The app makes for a great long-term storage and backs up all photos and videos in its original quality. It also syncs to Dropbox, a feature we like as we personally use Dropbox to free our smartphone or laptop of valuable storage space as we tend to run out when we get trigger-happy when taking photos of the little one. 

Keepy, an app that smartly organizes, stores and shares kids artworks and photos, is a life-saver to moms who need to simplify and organize.

Keepy, an app that smartly organizes, stores and shares kids artworks and photos, is a life-saver to moms who need to simplify and organize.

3. Turn them into a scrapbook or photo album.

Storing kid's artworks shouldn't be a boring process of stashing them away in albums or boxes. Instead, add a creative touch to the concept of storage by creating a scrapbook that combines all your favorites from among your kid's photos and keepsakes.

Not exactly the crafty mommy? Thankfully, when storing on Keepy, the app allows you to turn photos and artworks into a photo book so you are able to customize and print all your favorites easily in a single custom album—no extra artsy skills needed. If you subscribe to its unlimited plan, you also get to avail of 50 percent discount on all orders via the Keepy store. The store offers other products like custom-made beach towels, canvas, ottomans and phone cases, making it a great Mother's Day gift option which is fast approaching! Goodness, where did April go?

In addition, it syncs up with Facebook, allowing you to easily pull archived images so you can either store them all in one place or include other images when ordering a customized product.

Do you have other smart ideas to organize your kid's drawings, school work, photos and mementos? I'd love to exchange mommy notes if you comment down below.

Disclosure: *This post is sponsored by Keepy. Follow them on Facebook to keep up-to-date on the latest about the app. All opinions are my own.*



5 Ways to Help Your Child Become a Better Reader

Oh, the joy of reading! For any kid learning to read, there is magic in the written words. There's the adventure of being onboard a pirate ship sailing in unknown seas, the magic of riding a rainbow unicorn or the delight of meeting new friends in enchanted forests. But for some kids still learning to read, it can sometimes feel like being asked to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider backwards—ridiculously difficult!


Now that the little one is in pre-school, she's learning a new appreciation for books as she's able to read her favorite bedtime stories mostly on her own. It's exciting to see her lit up with joy after conquering a new or big word. Today, for instance, while reading I'm Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney (published by zonderkidz), a new book we received in the mail, the little one discovered the words "beyond compare." These are big words for any six-year-old, so there was imaginary confetti and much jumping for joy after she sounded it out and successfully read them.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are days when she gets frustrated or when I find myself running out of patience. But there are ways to help support your child so they may become better at reading, and here are five mommy-tested tips to try: 


Mommy-Tested Tip #1: Find age-appropriate books.

There's nothing more frustrating than to be told to read a book that is too challenging. Letting your child read a book that does not match his or her reading level is setting your child up to feelings of failure and discouragement. As parents, it is our responsibility to support our kids in this learning process, and that starts with guiding them in finding the right books to read. To do this, use the 5 Finger Test

Mommy-Tested Tip #2: Let your kid choose his or her own books.

When you have identified the right books for your kids, encourage them to choose the ones they really love to read. Before we received I'm Going to Give You a Bear Hug, the little one has first seen this book at a local bookstore and completely fell in love with the beautiful illustrations by Tim Warnes. She loves the whimsical rhyme which helps her pay closer attention to letters as she discovers that similar spellings tend to have similar sounds. "Tight looks like night, except it starts with T!" she was quick to point out.  


The book has also helped her spot the "sight words" she has learned in school. "We just learned the word 'that' in school today!" she reported to me, after spotting it in the book. Several times while reading, she giggled at the pig with curly tail giving her a big, big, BIG hug or gasped in awe at the thought of a giant whale hug! 

The book is a delight to read and the idea of fun animals giving her a snuggly hug makes for a great bedtime reading.

Mommy-Tested Tip #3: Create an awesome reading nook.

Creating a cozy reading nook inspires the little one to go on a corner and get lost in her books. Set the mood for fun by throwing in a lovely rug (we got our polka dot rug at IKEA), pillows and stuffed toy friends. On this particular day, the little one enjoyed reading a story to Peanut, her Lalaloopsy friend.


Mommy-Tested Tip #4: Make it a habit to visit a local library.

The library is one of my happy places as a child. I love the idea of being surrounded by books and being able to freely pick any story I want. To share this childhood memory with the little one, we make it a point to bring her to a local library at least once a month and let her read books or check out the ones she wants to bring with her home.

Mommy-Tested Tip #5:  Have a reading routine.

Although most parents prefer to read before bedtime, I find it more helpful to read with the little one early, such as while doing her school assignment. It helps her to easily recall her "sight words" as they are still fresh on her mind and ensures we don't rush at night as she needs to get to bed early to get her full night's sleep.

What has been some of your mommy-tested ways to help and support your little reader? Let's exchange ideas in the comment box below.

GIVEAWAY! When you comment below, you will be automatically entered in a giveaway drawing to win a copy of I'm Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney. It will make a lovely surprise for your little one!


Disclosure: I received the book I'm Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney from The Blythe Daniel Agency to review. All opinions are my own.

Life Lessons: Let's Talk About Our Body

BE OUR GUEST WRITER! We invite you to write for The Gospel of Beauty and share your beautiful musings to our inspired readers by connecting with us at thegospelofbeauty@gmail.com. Here, Thao Nguyen, editor-in-chief of polaritymagazine.com, takes an honest look at double-chins and muffin tops, and how the idea of body perfection is making us love ourselves less.   


When I look in the mirror, I know my body wouldn’t be considered “perfect” by societal standards. I have small boobs and thick thighs (every pair of jeans I own has a hole at the inner thigh), but it has never got to the point it bothered me nor made me want to hide parts of myself. In fact, I can say with confidence that body image has never really been a struggle for me.

Which is why, when a random woman came up to me in the locker room at the gym while I was standing in my sports bra and yoga pants, placed her hand on my stomach and asked if I was pregnant, I was initially more concerned about the fact that a stranger touched my bare stomach than that I apparently looked pregnant. However, I guess her words did get to me in some way.

That night, I found myself in front of my full-length mirror scrutinizing my body. I normally check myself for moles (I’m a hypochondriac and melanoma is my biggest fear), but on that day, I focused more on my shape and imperfections. I saw my muffin top, the double chin that shows up when I smile, and for the first time, inklings of doubt about my body began to creep in.


For the rest of the week, I went ham at the gym. I ran faster, lifted heavier weights, did more reps. And every night, I would check in front of the mirror for signs of change. But the only thing that had really changed was my mind. Thankfully, it only took a few days of eating less than I usually do to become angry at myself. This wasn’t me being hungry, it was disappointment. I couldn’t believe a 10-second interaction had pushed me toward being obsessed with how I looked. I quickly realized my body was damn fine the way it was. Just like all of yours are! Because it’s truly all in how you look at yourself.

Five simple words (“You have a little baby?”) had managed to completely curtail my view of myself in a short period. This goes to show how powerful words are. If we take to heart the words of others and the images imposed upon us in all the forms of media we have access to, chances are, our self-image is going to suffer from time to time. Make it a point to be kinder to yourself and be more careful with your choice of words.

I used to make the mistake of making offhand comments about bodies all the time, never truly believing what I was saying. “Oh, her body is perfect! I wished I looked like her.” Or “Yowza, that guy is gorgeous, he’d never be interested in someone with thighs like mine!” I didn’t think anyone took what I was saying too seriously, because I wasn’t being serious myself. But when I found my six-year-old sister weighing herself one day, I made a vow to myself to never speak about bodies like that again.


That was four years ago, and she’s more confident than a lot of her classmates are now. When they come to our house for play dates, I hear them make little comments about how they don’t want to eat too much snacks, or how they are worried about their clothing not looking right. Those are things I’ve never heard my sister show concern about. I’m not sure if this is entirely due to the way I and my family changed the way we talked about bodies, but I’m positive it didn’t hurt how she views herself either. This is why it’s important to make the distinction between showing concern when someone is being unhealthy versus making “harmless” comments about someone’s weight. We have to learn to love and accept ourselves, and verbalize that, so that everyone looking up to us can learn to do the same.

Dr. Seuss Party Ideas: Let the Cat Out of the Hat

Oh goodness, it feels like we just threw the little one's 5th birthday party and we're about to throw her another one! Shucks, where did time go? Don't you sometimes wish we all have the super power to freeze time so our little ones remain this adorable five-year-olds who wholeheartedly believe that we are partly unicorns with magical abilities to make "boo-boos" better with a single kiss?

As the little girl and I have been chatting up ideas for her next birthday, I can't help but look back at the yearly birthday parties we've thrown for hermy favorite of which is her 4th Dr. Seuss Birthday Party.  


It was a fitting theme as one of her favorite books is Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss. She had the best time on her Dr. Seuss-themed birthday that, to this day, she remembers that party like it was yesterday. 

Every parent knows that throwing a themed birthday party could easily get expensive, but with a little creativity, it shouldn't cost you a fortune. Here are some mommy-tested tips that may help you the next time you plan to throw your child a Dr. Seuss birthday party. 


1. Pick a color scheme. Your party decorations would look more cohesive if you stick to a color combination. For instance, before I settled on a red-white-and-yellow combo, I was considering a pastel color scheme like those of the palette combination of the book Oh, The Places You'll Go! That would have been adorable but I already bought her red polka dot birthday dress months in advance, so I built her party color scheme around that instead.


2. To save on costs of party decorations, be ready to invest some time to do things yourself. Although it requires a little bit of time and sweat, I promise you decorating for a party is a fun project. You may even turn it into another bonding moment by enlisting your little one to help. For instance, the little one was extremely excited to help glue boxes that I wrapped with gift wrappers and turned into a cake stand.


3. Be a smart shopper and shop in the Dollar Store. Believe it or not, the Dollar Store can be a treasure trove of birthday finds, you just need to let your imagination do the work. For instance, instead of buying a Dr. Seuss party banner at Party City, I opted to buy a $1 Dr. Seuss shape cards which I glued on a polka dot $1 ribbon to turn into a mantle banner. I also created accordion fans using colored papers and used them as accents on a piece of wrapped styrofoam. Cut-out an oversized number four in the middle and violaI had an attention-grabbing birthday party decor for less than $5 in total!


4. Always have fun birthday prizes and games. For this party, we played "Pin the Cat's Hat" and "Punch for a Prize." The props were fairly easy to make for both games. I simply drew the Cat in the Hat on a large poster and cut out at least five red hats which little guests took turns to pin while blindfolded. The "Punch for a Prize" required that I drop a ticket with corresponding prize numbers in colored cups which I wrapped with a tissue wrapping paper. I then asked the birthday girl and her guests to play along and pick a task, such as "sing your favorite song" or "bust a dance move" before they were allowed to punch and claim a prize. It was a riot to see what little ones would do for a promise of a bag full of sweets!

Looking for more Dr. Seuss inspirations? Below are sites I've checked out myself for fun ideas for the little one's own party:

Hostess With the Mostess


Kara's Party Ideas

How about you? What fun birthday party themes have you thrown for your little munchkin? Let us know in the comment box below.


Dear Tooth Fairy: I Kept a Treasure for You Under My Pillow


Dear Tooth Fairy,

Whee, how exciting! This Sunday while at church, I lost my first tooth. It was rather unexpected. Well, let me take that back. It was somewhat expected since, the night before, I accidentally got my front tooth loose while trying to open my spy toy with my teeth. Okay, okaylesson learned, never be a hero and use your baby teeth to open toys!

I must admit, at first I was horrified! I ran toward Mommy and Daddy after I realized my front tooth got loose and discovered a teeny-weeny blood on my lipbut then it dawned onto me. This is exactly the moment I've been waiting for! I will be able to soon leave a treasure for you under my pillow.

Thank you for making this otherwise horrific experience of losing my first tooth anything but traumatic. Boy, it sounds like it could easily scar me for life! But the thought of having a Tooth Fairy visit me while I lay asleep and leave me a few dollars so I could buy a toy is rather fun, playful and comforting. So yes, I was brave and was not a bit afraid! In fact, when I lost the tooth at church, it didn't hurt one bit. I was simply chewing a gummy worm andviola! just like that, the tooth fell off! I think Mommy was more horrified than I was!

As you can tell, I was excited to leave a treasure for you under my pillow last night. Thank you for the $2 you leftI was super pumped to have earned this money so I can add it to my toy allowance. Is that the going rate for a baby tooth, by the way? I heard my classmate Gabriella got $5 per tooth, maybe you could raise your tooth rate next time. (LOL!) I hope you were pleased with my treasure. I try to always floss and brush my teeth well before going to bed so every tooth I leave you will be sparkling clean. 

By the way, I visited the dentist today and, like #theboss, I was calm, cool and collected like it's another day in the play area. She even said I was her best patient of the day! Whoa! And oh, she also told me I might have another treasure for you in a few more weeks as I'm ready to lose another one of my baby teeth soon. Hmmm...guess you'll be visiting me more often now! And while you are sneaking into my room to get my treasure and leave me my payment in return, can you perhaps also leave me a little sprinkle of your pixie dust? 


Love and Kisses,



Love Letter: Cheers to New Beginnings!

This year, be unafraid to explore your own Neverlanda place where every kid-at-heart remains child-like and where creative moments are sparked with magical plays. Learn to share and don't horde the pixie dusts. Instead, throw them around like gold confetti on New Year's Eve so everyone can see you sparkle more each day. 

Glorious sunset at Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Glorious sunset at Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Bask in the warm sunsets and savor every kiss the sun leaves on the lips of the distant horizon. It's the simple, little things we often take for granted that matter most in life. As you watch more sunsets unfold, be constantly reminded of what they stand for: hope and new beginnings. Every sunset is nature's reset button. It's Father Time's way of saying: "Now, now, worry not, my child. Forget today's pains, disappointments or regrets. Tomorrow is another day. Take advantage of a new chance to undo mistakes or get closer to your dreams."


Be as fearless as the red-haired mermaid in your fairytale book. Explore the deepest seas by carving your own path of adventure. We, as parents, can only give you a simple map and train you the basics of survival, but ultimately, your journey is your own. Do not simply follow the crowd, take the unbeaten path and discover new adventures. When the path seems dark, clear out the bushes and carve your own. You are raised with a heart for wanderlustset your soul free and bravely swim deep on to your own magical realm.


Spread more sunshine with your laughter. You are most beautiful when you are filled with joy. Never give anyone the power to undermine your inner glow. You are beautiful, even when mean-spirited people say you are not good enough. Instead, count your blessings. When your heart is filled with gratitude, you'll begin to see the magical moments that escape those with tainted hearts that only you, with all your innocence, are blessed to have.


Finally, chase the passions that set your soul on fire. Dance when your feet moves to the beat. Sing when the melody calls your name. The universe has a unique place for you, you simply have to listen to her voice. And when you finally discover your calling, ride off on a unicorn toward the end of the rainbow. In that special place, happiness awaits.


Dear Santa: You #Slayed Christmas This Year


Dear Santa, how was your trip back to the North Pole? I hope you had a safe flight as Rudolph drove your sleigh. Whew, I bet you and your helpful elves were hard at work reading all the letters from eager children, assembling their gifts, wrapping each one and personally delivering all the gifts under the Christmas tree! 


Now that the last gifts have been opened, I'd like to thank you for sending me all the lovely gifts. Remember when, a few days before Christmas, I sent you a card asking if I was on your "naughty" list? Boy, I was worried there for a minute since Rosie, the Elf on the Shelf, had been keeping a close eye on me weeks before Christmas! I knew I had to send you a Christmas card and make my case as to why I deserved to be on your "nice" list this year.


For one, I've been kind and friendly, especially at playgrounds with new kids. One time, I even approached a crying girl who I overheard told her mommy no one wanted to play with her. That's right, I volunteered to be her new friend! Her mom was so happy that I was so kind to her little girl, she even told my Mommy how pleased she was with my A++ behavior.


I have also been very good at following Mommy and Daddy's rules at home, including doing my after-bath drill of dressing up and putting lotion myself, combing my hair, and flossing and brushing my teeth. At night, just before bed, I always remember to say my prayer. And oh, I've been working really, really hard with my school assignments lately, learning all my sight wordsyou would be proud!


I wanted to let you know that I could hardly contain my joy after seeing all the gifts when I woke up on Christmas day. You'd likely find it hilarious had you seen me then. I shrieked with excitement, ran around the living room, woke up Mommy and Daddy to tell them the lovely surprise and asked them far too many times if I could open the gifts right away. I couldn't wait!


I loved every single one of your gifts. All the pairs of pants were too adorable, especially those with bunny prints. I also love the pink and sequined tutu skirt, it makes me feel like a ballerina. My all-time favorite though is the Skylanders video game kit. I know Mommy texted you that this was what I wanted for Christmas, so I'm super-duper happy you gave me exactly the gift I wanted. Thank you again Santa, you are every kid's rock staryou #slayed Christmas this year!


Elf on the Shelf: Spying on Santa's Spy

In the past couple of years, the little one has enjoyed a little Christmas magic through Rosie, the sneaky Elf on the Shelf who constantly spies on kids and reports to Santa whether they have been naughty or nice. It's a fun Christmas tradition Mamaw Kathy has started with Ariana and her cousins. The kids (and adults too!) always have a blast spying on Santa's little spycurious where the magical little helper will show up next!

Where did we spot the sneaky elf this year? It appears Rosie has been busyplaying chameleon, hiding in cold places and even sharing a lovely afternoon tea party with a friend. 


Even Rosie needs a little break from keeping an eye on the rambunctious little munchkins. To have a little bit of "me" time, our favorite elf enjoys an afternoon tea party with Barbie who, as we all know, is not one to turn down a lovely party invitation. 


Goodness gracious, can our little elf handle four screaming girls? Rosie, ever so resourceful, knows the only way she can keep up with hyper-active kids is to hop on a skateboard so she could outrun them. That's right, when it comes to this magical elf, you can run, but you can never hide! 


Just when you thought she's not watching, our little elf pulls off a sneaky move! Rosie blends like a chameleon among poinsettias and watches over with eagle eyes on who's been naughty or nice.


Huh, there's no way you'll get into the holiday sweets and frosted cake without getting past our sneaky elf first! Rosie guards the cookies, cakes and desserts so no tiny fingers can get to them without mommy's permission. Although, there's also a good chance she's hiding inside the fridge because she's missing the North Pole and wants to be in an icy place for a change.


Umm, we think this is Rosie's way of saying "I'm chillin' like a villain!" The little elf wasted no time lounging on her own private tub so she can watch over the kids without breaking a sweat.


The Four Musketeers: The little one and her cousins bond over the holidays. The girls were adorably a handful, even for a kid-expert elf like Rosie, but no one's complaining: Excuse the mess, these girls were making memories!


Love Letter: Let Your Heart Grieve

So I tell you, when your heart is broken—whether by a loss of a loved one or a betrayal of someone you care—find the courage to let your heart grieve so you may learn to accept. Numbing the pain is the coward’s way.

From an anatomical standpoint, the heart is one powerful machine. It is considered the strongest muscle in the body, capable of pumping blood into the veins critical for survival. And yet, despite its power and strength, it is the frailest of them all. Why else does it easily break by the death of a loved one, betrayal or broken friendships?

When your heart is broken, do not be scared to grieve, for only when you go through the process of disbelief, denial and pain can you get through the most important part of healing: acceptance. Without acceptance, you can never have the courage to move on. 

So how do you move on when the pain is tremendous, as if it is choking you with every breath you take? Mommy's advice is simple: Do what is necessary to free yourself from the gripping pain. If it's a lost love or broken friendship, cut any cudgels that may have imprisoned your heart and sanity. Throw away old photos, love letters and bury the memories. If it's the sudden death of a loved one, wail like a mourning orphan, until your eyes are completely dried of tears.

The hardest part about grief from the loss of someone close to our heart is that, despite knowing that life is temporary, we continue to cling on even to the smallest hope of mortality. But when you are older to grasp the deep meaning of life, you'll learn fast that this world is simply a transient hubnothing more than a necessary stop-over to your final destination.

So I tell you, when your heart is brokenwhether by a loss of a loved one or a betrayal of someone you carefind the courage to let your heart grieve so you may learn to accept. Numbing the pain is the coward's way.

Then, when the heart is finally able to let go and move on, cleanse it of its burden. The heart may be at times frail, but a shattered heart is stronger once healed, for it knows what it is capable of and the amount of pain it can withstand.

Love Letter: Act Like a Lady, Chill Like a Boss

Let’s be carefree. For once, not worry about missing deadlines nor keeping them. Let the paperwork pile up; instead, let’s postpone our 8-to-5 jobs so we can enjoy life 24/7.

When you grow up to be a proper lady, and life and responsibilities take the most of your precious time, remember Mommy's advice: Act like a lady, chill like a boss.

Adulting is hard, so when you are old enough to understand, learn to escape from your Monday-morning life. Perhaps you and mommy can linger together as we take a sip of our morning teas and travel to our own imaginary Shangri-La during our quiet times. Let’s run away from the exhausting daily grind, drive far from worldly cares and intentionally forget the weekend to-do list to find time for ourselves.

Let’s be carefree. For once, not worry about missing deadlines nor keeping them. Let the paperwork pile up; instead, let’s postpone our 8-to-5 jobs so we can enjoy life 24/7.

Let’s boldly explore unfamiliar territories, to places where the skies are bluer, the sand finer, the people warmer. Let’s bring empty luggages to vacations so we can pack them with memories and new friends—and then come home a better person.

Let’s expand our horizons with inspiring stories, both told and read. Let’s cultivate ideas, and like pollens in spring, spread them in fertile minds so we can grow creativity.

Let’s get lost from the intrusive world of the web, be anti-social in overtly social circles of Snapchat and Instagram. Instead, let’s choose to temporarily disconnect so we can share a deeper connection with family and friends.

Let’s shed off stress in our own little haven, whether it’s on top of a mountain peak or in our own private space. For once, let’s live life.

Love Letter: 10 Ways You Stole Our Hearts

Ariana at six months old.

Ariana at six months old.

The heart patrol is on a haunt for a little heart thief named Ariana. It's no secret, the moment Daddy and I first laid eyes on you, you stole our hearts. Here are at least 10 ways you've landed in our "Most Wanted" list:

1. You flashed your then-toothless smiles. Yes, those days are still fresh on my mind, and it couldn't get anymore adorable than that!

2. You boss Daddy aroundin the cutest possible way. Remember how you, like a #GirlBoss, tells him you're closely watching (with two fingers pointed at him)? Or do you recall how you would send him gibberish texts each time you were mad, like that time when he took the liberty to throw a favorite toy away? 

3. You giggle with every tickle. Playtime involves wrestling with Daddy and tickles with Mommy. The sound of your giggle is contagious, it makes Mommy's heart skip a beat.

4. You turn car drives into a mini concert. Car rides are never boring with you. You demand that we turn the volume up when songs you love (Alicia Key's "This Girl is on Fire" is still on replay in my head). What's most adorable is that you don't hold back even when you had to adorably make up most of the words!

5. You break into a dance while Snap-chatting. They say if you don't know how to Snapchat, you are too old. How adorable that you had to teach Daddy how Snapchat works, and never break out of character when recording short videos for Mommy to enjoy!

6. You throw "Drama like a Southern Mama." Oh yes, you do! Need I say more?

7. You try really, really try hard to speak Cebuano. It melts Mommy's heart that you even try, asking me before you go to bed "Mommy, palihug, tubig (please, water)" in your best American-Cebuano accent.

8. You've got style. When it comes to style, you are fearless. You always tell me you want to look "fabulous" (your words, not mine) so I let you explore your creativity as you stack up with jewelry that do not match and colors that clash. I take pride that you are learning independenceeven at times when I feel the need to wear a sign: "Please don't judge me, she dressed herself up!"

9. You have better negotiating skills than a diplomat. You've proven this time and time again. You are capable to getting out of trouble with your charm. You somehow manages to trick Daddy into giving you "one last chocolate" after the supposedly last one, or to let you stay up for another minute even after you are past your bedtime.

10. You believe fairies, unicorns and mermaids are real. Sure you complain that Santa never gets you the right gifts (maybe because Santa is cheap), but you believe that unicorns, fairies and mermaids existand they all live somewhere near confetti-sprinkled rainbow!


A Love Letter: Learn the Rituals of Gratitude

Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.
— Maya Angelou

With an open heart, learn to say thank youthank you for the gift of a new day, for the warm bed, morning hugs and the ray of sunshine that peeks through the morning windows, reminding us of the opportunities that await in the outside world.

Thank you for the sand that tickle our soles as we take in the beautiful sunsets by the beach. Or the good health that has allowed us to play and frolic in the rain. 

Life may sometimes be cruelpulling us down with painful surprises of lost loves or sudden goodbyesbut if there is one lesson to learn: Gratitude is unconditional. So even in our seemingly darkest hours, let us not give in to the temptation to feel bitter and ungrateful, for everything we have in this life are temporary and borrowed.

Let us say thank you for the adversities in life. Without those, we can never measure our strength. Without life's occasional trials, we can never uncover hope, which is why we remain grateful even in the darkest days. 

Gratitude Apothecary Jar,  The Paper store

Gratitude Apothecary Jar, The Paper store

How can you learn the rituals of gratitude, you may ask? Each day, before you retire to bed next to your favorite Bee pillow, take the time to write one thing you are grateful for and drop it in our Gratitude Jar. May we fill our Gratitude Jar because our hearts are often too small to carry all the joys of life's wonderful blessings.     

Yes, amidst life's daily grind, take the time to pause and search your heart: What have you been thankful for today?