Reading Roundup: New Children’s Books for Fall

UrbanSitter asked Susan Kundhart, children’s book buyer for Book Passage, an independent book store in Corte Madera and San Francisco, CA, to share with us some of her favorite new children’s books with us. Enjoy!

You Were the First
Book Passage

You Were the First, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, $17.00, ages 2-5.

Plenty of new-sibling books aim to persuade young children that they will learn to love the new baby, or to take comfort in being able to do things the baby cannot. This lovely new picture book from a beloved author affirms every child’s feeling about a new sibling: Hey, I was here first! “You were the first to cry. You were the first to smile. You were the first to lift your head, to look at the trees and flowers and sky.”



Book Passage
Book Passage

How to Train a Train, Jason Eaton, $16.99, ages 3-7.

Lots of kids are obsessed with trucks and trains, but these kids love trains so much they keep them as pets. Written like a manual for pet ownership, this helpful book gives advice on selecting, naming, training, and caring for your new friend. The illustrations showing full-size engines rolling over on command and snuggling in for a bedtime story contrast hilariously with the straightforward “instructions.”



Flora and Ulysses
Book Passage

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures$17.99 Kate DiCamillo, ages 7 up.

From a true genius storyteller comes the story of Flora, who resuscitates a squirrel that has been sucked into a powerful vacuum cleaner. The squirrel awakes with superhero powers: he can fly, he has super-strength, and he even writes poetry on a typewriter. Newbery-winning Kate DiCamillo’s own super-power is, in the squirrel’s words, to “make the letters on the keyboard speak the truth of the heart.” This human-animal friendship ranks with that of Charlotte and Wilbur.



Bugs in my Hair
Book Passage

Bugs in My Hair! by David Shannon, $17.99, ages 4-8.

If anyone can make a case of head lice fun, it’s David Shannon. He humorously captures and normalizes the panic, embarrassment, and tedium of this common school affliction. Even the mom’s reactions—first panic, then phantom head-itch, then mountains of laundry—are perfect.



You can visit Book Passage any time online to purchase the above books or just browse their fantastic array of staff picks, new book analysis, and other juicy tidbits most avid readers can’t get enough of. Happy reading!

Find and book babysitters and nannies at

Sharpen School Skills with Fun, Educational Games & Activities

meg_son_drawingExperts estimate that kids spend the first 2.3 months of the school year learning what they’ve forgotten over the summer. Yikes!

Help your kids brush up on their skills, before the first school bell rings, with these effective learning tools that can easily pass as fun games and entertainment.

Smart Games to Prepare for the School Year

Alphabet Tracing Chart 

Free, printable alphabet handwriting worksheet in a fun Back-to-School theme.  Traceable worksheets help preschoolers through First Graders learn to write letters A to Z in upper and lower case.  The worksheet features a start dot on each letter to help kids remember where to start writing the letter. Tip: Laminate and use fine tip erasable markers for repeated use.

Traceable Alphabet
Photo: First-School

LEGO Math Practice

LEGO activities are a visual way for kids to do math. And for the LEGO enthusiast, this might just be the sure-fire way to encourage math practice. The printable worksheet is great for kids to work on addition and subtraction. For younger kids, simply use LEGOS to work on colors, sorting and counting.

Photo: The Kent Chronicles

Book Picks for Kids 2-12

Research has shown that the single most important thing that a parent can do to help their child acquire language, prepare for school, and instill a love of learning is to read to them (Russ et al., 2007).  If you need a few new books to add to your repertoire, check out Cool Mom Picks Roundup. They have compiled an awesome list of their editors’ own children’s favorite books, including picks for ages 2-12.

Photo: Cool Mom Picks

Melissa & Doug Letter Puzzle

Little kids can work on motor skills, letters and numbers with a simple puzzle that includes all 26 letters of the alphabet in uppercase and lowercase, along with 26 gorgeously detailed illustrations of various animals. $11.99 at Target.

Letter Puzzle
Photo: Melissa and Doug


Top 10 Educational Apps for Preschoolers

If you’re in the camp that believes in embracing the power of technology as a teaching tool, try out these educational apps for preschoolers. The list includes practice games for handwriting, letters and numbers for iPad and iPhone devices. Costs vary.

Photo: Handwriting Without Tears

Magazine Letter Printables for Literacy Station

You can avoid the time and mess of cutting letters out of magazines for your child to use for literacy exercises – such as finding the alphabet or creating words or phrases – with this super cool Magazine Letter Printable, just $7 from Etsy.

Magazine Letters
Photo: Olive Loaf Design

5 Games for Speaking, Listening and Thinking

Verbal games are great for developing speaking and listening skills, and thinking and reasoning abilities. They are ideal to play on a long car trip, or while your child’s hanging out in the kitchen while you make dinner. Try them with kids age 3 and up.

Photo: Childhood 101

All of these games and activities are great to leave with the babysitter. Find trusted babysitters and nannies at

5 Special Back-to-School Traditions to Start this Year

IMG_0374Even if you are sad to see the summer go, there’s no denying the excitement a new school year brings. You can get your kids motivated for a fresh start and build lasting memories by starting back-to-school traditions you can repeat each year. These fun, memorable traditions will have everyone raring to go!

To help you create traditions that are just right for your family, we’ve pinned loads of great back-to-school ideas, tips and products to our Back-to-School Pinterest Board and included links below. We hope they are helpful!

Start a New Back-to-School Tradition:

1. Super Star Shopping Date

Remember the thrill of picking out new school clothes when you were a kid? Maybe you got a new backpack, lunchbox or some fresh kicks.  No matter how much or how little was on the shopping list or what’s on your list for your own kids, everyone loves  starting the year with something new.

  • Take advantage of pre-fall sales and hit the stores with your child. Make him or her the center of attention by arranging to send siblings on a playdate or hiring a sitter to take over while the two of you are on a date.
  • Stock up on school supplies, gear and clothes for the new year.
  • Keep budgets in check by first doing a closet and drawer assessment with your child, deciding together what’s needed. Organized Home posts helpful strategies for Back-to-School Shopping.
  • Make shopping a fun event by including a stop for lunch and using the time with your child to talk about highlights of the summer, and plans and goals for the new year.

2. Meet a New Teacher and Host a New Friend

For a child, walking into a new classroom can be a scary thing. Seeing a familiar face in the room always makes it a bit a easier. Take advantage of opportunities to meet the new teacher and visit the classroom to build familiarity and calm first-day anxieties. It’s also helpful, if you have a class roster or know of a child who will be in the same class, to schedule a playdate with a classmate who happens to be an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile or make an introduction to a new friend.

Turn it into a fun tradition by making it an annual project to find a new or long-lost friend to meet up with after orientation day. You can make it extra special by meeting at a local park and bringing a treat to share or at a local ice cream shop for Back-to-School cones.

3. Tweak your Routine and Refresh your Homework Station or Quiet Time Spot

morning routine
Photo: IHeart Organizing

Being organized feels fantastic and  gives everyone in the family a sense of control and preparedness. Have a tradition of holding a family meeting to discuss with older kids what could be improved from last year and to share with everyone what the routine will be once school starts.

This is the time to roll out new calendars, introduce new sitters and make sure kids know what to expect. There are lots of free printables that will help you organize expectations, including chore charts, weekly planners, lunchbox planners you can create with your child, and even simple This is Our Morning Routine and This is Our After-School Routine printable charts that will help kids stay focused and limit the number of times you’ll be barking orders, such as “Put your shoes on!”

If you have school-age kids, now is the time to refresh supplies for homework and organize them in a location that’s easy for kids to access. For younger kids, you can perk up the quiet time area, maybe adding a few new books to the collection or making a space more inviting by seeing that it has a comfy spot to rest and plenty of light for reading.

4. Share a Story and a Craft

Get kids excited about school and address concerns and worries by sharing a book about starting school. Picture books can help to reassure kids about starting school or going to a new school, and they also serve as catalysts for better communication at home. Check this handy list of top children’s books about starting school, including books that talk about first day jitters, how to make new friends and simply what to expect so the day is not so scary.

If you have a crafty crew, get them excited for the big day by spending time together on a Back-to-School project.  Red Ted Art has a popular round-up of back to school craft ideas that are sure to get school spirit soaring.

5. Make the First Day Extra Special

first day of school sign
Photo: Just Imagine

Create a tradition of great fanfare on the first day of school! This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours planning menus and creating DIY decorations. It just means putting a little extra TLC into the day to turn it exciting and memorable. Here are some simple ideas you can do each year:

  • Get up earlier to set a pretty breakfast table with fresh flowers and a favorite breakfast that you don’t typically serve on a week-day morning, such as these French Toast Roll-ups that are so easy, they could easily become a week-day staple.
  • Have each child pose for a First Day photo you can save in special photo album. Take it up a notch by having your child hold a small sign or chalkboard  marked with the date and a personal note, such as his favorite activity or what he wants to be when he grows up.
  • Pack a special lunchbox treat with a note reminding the recipient that you are thinking of him all day long.
  • Pick up a special after-school snack, such as these Chocolate Coconut Graham Crackers that take good’ole graham crackers to a new level,  or a all the fixings for First Day sundaes. Take time out of your day to either sit with your child or call them to hear the highlights of the big day.

One more tradition to start (just for mom and dad): The occasional night out! Find a trusted babysitter at

Handy DIY Printables for Personalized Teacher Appreciation Gifts


The end up the school year means it’s time to thank your children’s teachers for their tireless dedication, patience and nurturing. Thanks to downloadable printables provided by some of the most talented and generous bloggers out there, you can give a gift that’s  a little more special and a little more personal. These cute gift ideas and free printables are just what you need to leave a smile on any teacher’s face.

Movie Day On Me

Who wouldn’t appreciate a gift certificate to see a movie and a bunch of sweet treats to take along? Tater Tots and Jello is providing a free downable striped fry box template  and gift tags to insert on the front of the box that say “Thanks for Making Me Feel Like a STAR.” She’s even provided two color options. Simply print the box template on card stock, and assemble by folding on the dotted lines. Once assembled, fill with a gift card and your teacher’s favorite candy.

Movie Pass Tater Tots and Jello

Reusable Tumbler

A plastic cup with a lid and a straw makes for a practical gift and a sturdy receptacle for handmade thank you notes and kid drawings you can roll and insert inside. Make it an even better gift by inserting individual serving-size drink mixes, teas or instant coffee, or even a gift certicate to a coffee or smoothie shop. Top it off with an eye-catching flag to hang from the straw. Free flag printables with thank you note by Lisa Storms.

via Lisa Storms
via Lisa Storms


Succulent Garden

Here’s a DIY project that doesn’t take (too) much work and produces impressive results. The Idea Room tells you how to create a succulent garden in a customized, galvanized pot. The pot is mod-podged with pages from old dictionaries that include teacher-related words, such as guidance, grow and nurture. You’ll need the following supplies:

Pot, container or bucket

Old Dictionary Pages

Mod Podge

Paint Brush

Potting Soil


For a little more guidance and a printable label that reads “Teachers Plant Seeds of Knowledge that will Last Forever” click here. (Be forewarned, The Idea Room requires that you Like them on their Facebook page before they provide the printable.)

via The Idea Room
via The Idea Room

Extra-ordinary Teacher Treats Bags

If you have multiple kids and/or multiple teachers to thank (don’t forget music teachers, art teachers, aides, and bus drivers),  a mini treat bag topped with a cute label that reads “You Are One EXTRAordinary Teacher!” is easy and affordable, and just as thoughtful as a bigger gift. Sweet Metel Moments created the free printable as a fold-over tag for 3 x4 inch plastic treat bags filled with Extra gum. Simply print the labels, and staple them to the tops of the filled bags. If you aren’t a fan of the gum, there’s another label that reads “Thanks for a Being Such a Sweet Teacher.” It’d be just right for a bag filled with any candy… and is just as cute.

via Sweet Metel Moments
via Sweet Metel Moments


via Sweet Metel Moments
via Sweet Metel Moments

Summer is coming! Find a summer babysitter at UrbanSitter.

Your Turn for Snack Duty!

Add up all the school classrooms and sport’s teams your children participate in and you’ll see that it’s likely you’ll be handed snack duty more than a few times.

Bringing a snack for the class or the team to enjoy at half-time is a chance to help out the teacher or coach, and to provide kids with a tasty pick-me-up.

Before you choose a snack to share, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Homemade is great for avoiding preservatives and other ingredients we either can’t pronounce or would rather not see our children consume, but your child’s school or team may have a policy against bringing homemade snacks. Some require snacks be store bought and pre-packaged. Make sure you check the rules.
  • If you’re bringing a half-time game snack, keep in mind your biggest objective is to keep the players hydrated and fueled. Water is key, as is avoiding overly sugary, salty or fatty foods.
  • Parents of kids with allergies often send a separate snack for their kids, but it’s nice to be considerate and not leave anyone out when choosing a group snack. Play it safe and ask parents if anyone has an allergy you should be aware of and check labels to accommodate them.
  • Younger siblings often attend their big brother or sister’s game, and love to join in on the snack. It’s nice to bring extras. Their parents will greatly appreciate not having to keep little ones away from the tasty temptations.
  • Keep it simple. Snacks are often eaten standing up and at lighting speed. Nothing fussy.

So what do you bring? Here’s a helpful round up of tasty, healthy food  to feed a crowd:

  • Save your wallet and the planet by foregoing juice boxes and bottles of water. Instead, bring a large jug of water or a healthy sports drink made from a mix, and don’t forget a stack of reusable cups.
  • Fresh fruit. Go beyond orange slices (although they are popular for a reason!). Think apples, Cuties, grapes and bananas, or make it fun by serving frozen fruit cubes or melon balls on skewers.
  • Yogurt sticks. Choose the ones without high fructose corn syrup and other nasty stuff, and freeze them to turn them into satisfying popsicles.
  • Air-popped popcorn served in brown paper bags.
  • String cheese sticks.
  • Individual serving bags of pretzels, Pirate Booty or Apple Chips.
  • Mini boxes or raisins or craisins.
  • Fruit leathers or twists made with 100 percent fruit.
  • Unsweetened applesauce in the pouches.
  • Jello cups.
  • Mini cinnamon raisin or whole-grain  bagels.
  • Popsicles – packed in a well-insulated cooler.
  • Healthy granola bars or other kid-sized energy bars.

Need a little extra help with snack duty? Hire a sitter to help at

UrbanSitter’s Back to School Handbook: Part 2 – Send Them Back to School in Style

We’ve made your back-to-school shopping list as easy as clicking on our favorite pins and deciding which you’ll choose to outfit and arm your little one for the new school year. Whether he or she is off to preschool or grade school, we’ve got you covered with super cute, hard working staples. Check out our Back to School Style Pinterest board or this list:

  1. Leave it in the hands of a professional by subscribing to this groovy service that mails your little one a coolest-of-the-cool outfit each month. You complete a style survey to help stylists choose a look that’s just right.
  2. Little Man will be tearing up the playground with these stylish new kicks by Keen.
  3. Protect your investment by labeling everything from jackets to sippy cups and water bottles with these trendy, no-one-can-call babyish, and totally waterproof labels.
  4. Lunch boxes have come a long way since we were kids. Try the bento route this year with one of these slick, eco-friendly.
  5. Who can’t relate to the ickiness of transitioning from summer flip flops to stuffy socks and sneakers? Avoid sock meltdowns with these soft, seamless, no-binding organic socks that beat plain white ones any day.
  6. For times when a t-shirt won’t do, give him a blazer with some ‘tude.
  7. When the weather’s still a bit steamy, these easy, breezy skirts make the grade.
  8. Preschoolers need backpacks, too. You can ease their load with one of these little-kid sized picks from SkipHop.
  9. Isaac Mizrahi supposedly goes to Estella for inspiration. Maybe you should, too.
  10. For preschoolers who are lucky enough to have quiet time at school, this nap mat we found on Etsy looks as good as it feels.

Follow UrbanSitter on Pinterest! Missed the Back to School Handbook Part 1? Find out how to Tame the Morning Chaos.

Simple Ways To Help Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten

photo by anieto2k

Whether your little one is going off to kindergarten this fall or the big day is a year or two away, it’s nice to know she’s on track and prepared for success. Preparing her is easier than you may think.

You can send her off to big kid school with confidence by taking time to help her practice skills in each of seven areas experts have identified as key aspects of early childhood development: Language Development, Learning and Thinking, Beginning to Read, Beginning to Write, Numbers and Counting, Physical Development, and Social and Emotional Development.

Educators use these buckets to help decide if a child is ready for kindergarten. Yours will undoubtedly be ready to tackle the big milestone with some simple, yet consistent help from you, other family members or your sitter!

Language Development

What you can do:

  • Have frequent conversations with your child. No baby talk  Use complete sentences and lots of good description.  Encourage her to use words to express her feelings and reactions to the world around her.
  • Play games that require listening and following simple directions.
  • Read stories with easy-to-follow plots and interesting characters to talk about.
  • Sing songs and read stories or poems with rhyming words.

Learning and Thinking

What you can do:

  • Help make small collections, such as rocks or toys, and have her sort them using different criteria, such as size, shape, and color.
  • Do simple puzzles together. Tired of yours, trade with a friend or make your own using photos, pictures from magazines or print-outs.
  • Let her help you sort and fold the laundry, matching socks and other clothes by size or color.
  • Play “I Spy” to practice color and shape recognition.
  • Show her how to string beads to make patterns… and beautiful necklaces!

Beginning to Read

What you can do:

  • Set a time every day to read to your child and talk about the letters and words, characters, and what happened first, next and last.
  • Have her put into the correct sequence photos of herself or family members at different ages.
  • Buy magnetic letters and let her play with them on a cookie sheet or other magnetic surface.  Practice the sound each letter makes.
  • Have her cut out letters from magazines to spell her name and other simple words she knows.

Beginning to Write

What you can do:

  • Help her practice writing her name, ABCs and numbers 1-10. Use different tools to make it fun – colored pencils, chalk on the sidewalk, and finger paint.
  • Together keep a summer journal. She draws a picture of something she did each day, and with your help writes a word or more to describe it.
  • Let her help with writing grocery lists or making cards for friends. This helps her to see the different ways we use writing in our daily lives.
  • Make labels for belongings, such as an art box, notebook, or cup.

Numbers and Counting

What you can do:

  • Go on treasure hunts to collect things to use for counting.
  • Use coins or items around the house to experiment with adding, subtracting and the use of “more” and “less.”
  • Together look for and point out numbers in her world, such as addresses, page numbers, recipes, and price tags.
  • Read stories and sing songs about numbers, such as “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

Physical Development

What you can do:

  • Help develop large muscles by playing with balls, hula-hoops and bean bags, and riding a bicycle or tricycle.
  • Build simple obstacle courses to practice jumping, walking a straight line, and climbing.
  • Help develop fine motor skills by practicing with child-safety scissors. She can cut out shapes you draw on paper or pictures from magazines.

Social and Emotional Development

What you can do:

  • Create an “About Me” notebook for your child. Together add personal information, such as her name, age, address, favorites, and names of family members. She can decorate it with drawings that tell more about her.
  • Build independence by rewarding the things she can do for herself, such as brushing her teeth, washings hands, getting dressed, and zipping a jacket.
  • Play school to help her practice saying goodbye, meeting new friends and packing up to come home

Looking for childcare help? Find babysitters with advanced degrees in child development and elementary education at UrbanSitter.