Monday, December 5, 2016

Gingerbread Playdough!

This will be a quick post today, I just wanted to share a link to a few fun festive Christmas playdough recipes. We made the gingerbread one today and holy moly it smells amazing! Check it out here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Controlling the Toy Clutter

 Please tell me that I'm not the only mom out there who fights a daily struggle against all the toys and kid stuff?! We have a dedicated play room in our house, but that doesn't mean everything stays put. It still ends up spread through the house day after day. When things reach that point, it's frustrating for everyone. The kids can't find the item they want to play with, things get stepped on and broken, I get cranky, it's just bad. Hopefully you know exactly what I'm talking about and it's not just me!

I finally decided I had to get some semblance of control over the chaos before we all went nuts, and since my plan seems to be working out fairly well, I figured maybe someone like you could use it.
So, here's our playroom, or at least most of it. Maren gets the other half for her bedroom. This works because she naps during the day in my room, on the opposite end of the house from the playroom and all its noise, and only sleeps in here at night. It's nothing special, though I have big dreams for someday when I get around to decorating it.
 So, how to tame the mess?
First of all, my kids have way too many toys. I already knew this, but then after reading things like this and this I decided to do something about it. I went through all the toys (while the kids were out of the room to lessen the sorrow over the loss) and threw away all the toys that were broken or worn, or that didn't get played with but weren't worth donating (Happy Meal toys anyone?).
The next step is to put each type of toy in its own container, preferably with a lid. I love the selection of small boxes and baskets at Dollar Tree, but I have also found some good cheap containers at Walmart.
 After things had been sorted and organized, I let the kids back in the room. They got to take turns choosing a container of toys, until the small toy shelf was full. Now, go back and look at that picture. Our toy shelf is not very big. It will only fit 5-7 items, which really isn't very much (especially considering I require them to leave room for a few baby toys for Maren). We then chose 2-3 "big" toys (for example, the dress up box, the Little People Barn, etc) that sit around the room but not on the shelf.
Everything that's left went into the closet. Now, my kids are fairly good at staying out of the closet (perhaps because they were told that if they get anything out without permission it will get thrown away, and they have seen that statement in action), but if you feel yours won't then maybe find a way to lock it. We ended up with more than half our toys in the closet, which means we only have to keep control of 40% of our toys. This is SO much better!
So, now that the toys are organized and under control, where do you go from there? Here's the fun part. You know how your kids get tired of their toys and wind up with piles of stuff and still bored? Well, we're going to fix that. You could set up some kind of rotation schedule, which I tried for a while, but it only works if you stay on top of it. What I have found that works for us right now is a combination of toy rotation and bribery. ;)
Any time I ask my kids to do a big job (for example cleaning a large portion of the house with me), I tell them that anyone who works hard without fighting/whining/crying gets to choose a toy out of the closet. When the task has been successfully completed, any kid who met the criteria gets to go to the closet and pick something to get out, and then choose something from the playroom to put back in its place. The only things that always stay out are the books. This way they get to pick what is rotated and I get (mostly) willing help with work around the house. Their enjoyment of their toys stays fresh, and the house stays sorta clean.
I love watching them rediscover toys they haven't played with in a while. Like today, when one of them chose to bring out the box of dress-ups. They played together with all the costumes for almost an hour and had so much fun!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Contact Paper Dolls

 Sharli has a hard time adjusting to being alone when Erik leaves for school. It took her a couple of weeks to finally get settled in. I tried to find ways to keep her busy so that she wasn't just following me around all day whining about being bored. I was digging through my stash of supplies and thought it was time to make another Sticky Story Board. In a flash of inspiration, I decided to draw people (they're supposed to look like Sharli and Erik) on the non-sticky side of the contact paper before taping it to the wall. Thus were born our Contact Paper Dolls.
 Each figure has 2 outfits, one more casual and one more dressy. Sharli specifically asked for "church clothes" so of course we had to come up with something!
She LOVED this! It got played with constantly for a couple of days until all the stickiness had worn off the contact paper.
When Erik got home from school he was delighted to find his "mini-me" on the wall. He had just as much fun with this as Sharli did.
 I love finding new ways to use old materials and ideas. Go buy yourself a roll of contact paper and some craft foam sheets, you won't regret it!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Keep your Toddler out of Trouble while Feeding the Baby

I was looking back through some of my recent-ish posts on here and realized that there are several activities in a row that I did with the kids while I was breastfeeding the baby. And I mean while I was actually sitting in the chair with the baby latched on. It was nice to have a way to keep the "big" kids busy while I was unable to get up and chase them around. I figured that surely I'm not the only one who has needed to corral an older child or two while wrestling with a nursing newborn. So, I've compiled a list of activities that might be just the thing some desperate new mom needs.
Most of these require little prep and make very little mess. Some may take a little more prep work or mean a few minutes of easy clean-up once you've got the baby settled, but (for me at least) it was worth 2 minutes of vacuuming my floor to have the kids entertained for half an hour. The term "toddler" covers a fairly large age and abilities range, so these may not all work for your kids.

Low Prep, Low Mess
For when you need that toddler occupied NOW and you won't even have 2 minutes for cleanup afterwards.

Pom Pom Play 
Hammer Practice
Sensory Grab Bag
Soap Sud Sensory Jar
Color Wheel
Magnetic Exploration Tray
Walk the Line
Pinching Pom Poms
Tunnel Time 
Discovering Textures 
Mixing Bowl Madness
Basket Pull 
Piggy Bank Play
Muffin Pan Sorting
Egg Carton Fun

Low Prep, Some Mess
For when you need that Toddler occupied NOW, but you can handle 2 minutes of easy clean-up in exchange for some great fun. 
Cutting Practice 
Shoe Sorting
Oatmeal Sensory Bin
Rice Krispie Sensory Bin 
Full vs. Empty 
Simple Sensory Bin 
Piles of Pillows 

Some Prep, Low Mess:
When you've thought a few minutes ahead and have time to put together a simple activity. Most can be assembled in less than 15 minutes, some in less than 5. If clean-up is needed it shouldn't take more than 1 minute.
Color Mixing Discovery Bottles
Color in a Bag 
Chunky Lacing Activity
Jingle Bell Magnetic Sensory Bottle 
Sticky Name Game
Clothes Pin Counting
Shape Jump 
ABC Stomp 
Toy Matching Game
Sticky Wall Adventures
Fishing Game 
Lacing Cards 
Ocean Discovery Bottles 
Sticky Story Board
Balloon Free Play
Sorting Box 
Poking Play 
Magic Kleenex Box

Some Prep, Some Mess:
When you've thought a few minutes ahead and have time to put together a simple activity. Most can be assembled in less than 15 minutes, some in less than 5. Clean-up will be easy in under 5 minutes.

Blanket Fort 
Rainbow Rigatoni 
Noodle Threading
Favorite Playdough
Stained Glass Window Art
Christmas Playdoughs

Monday, October 31, 2016

Balloon Free Play

 We LOVE balloons at our house. They are so cheap and provide so much entertainment! I almost always have a package of balloons tucked away somewhere so that when we're desperate for something to do I can pull them out.
 This day both kids were bored and cranky and just kept getting into trouble. I've learned that if I can provide them with something to keep themselves busy and cheer them up it can change a BAD day into a good one. And this pack of balloons only cost me a dollar, so it's a winner all around.
 We built muscles while we threw and caught and batted and kicked the balloons.
 We built vocabulary as we talked about colors and sizes.
 We built a foundation for learning math by comparing and classifying.
 We built memories as we goofed around and enjoyed being together.
 I pulled out a marker and drew a face on one of the balloons. This idea took off like wildfire, and soon every balloon had a different face on it. The kids would bring me a balloon and I'd let them pick whether that one would be happy, sad, surprised, etc.

 To see more of the fun things we've done with balloons, click here.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Sensory Grab Bag

The idea for this activity came from a neat little book of activities one of our neighbors gave us, called The Preschoolers Busy Book. It's full of all kinds of great ideas that are mostly quick and easy to put together.
Set up for this activity is really easy. You fill a small bag (think leftover gift bag, brown paper lunch bag, pillow case, anything you have handy) with miscellaneous items from around the house. Aim for a variety of shapes and textures, and try to include things from multiple rooms of the house.

Have your child reach into the bag without looking and choose an item. They have to feel the item and try to guess what it is before pulling it out to see if they're right. My kids loved this, and it was a great way to keep them busy while nursing a baby. You can change out the items as many times as you want and keep this game interesting for days and days!

*Diedre Mower is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Balloon painting

 I saw this idea on Pinterest and thought it looked fun! I'm always on the lookout to turn an ordinary activity (like painting) into something more interesting. 
 Holding onto the balloon with slippery paint covered fingers took some skill and concentration. It was fun to watch the kids try to figure out how to make things work out how they wanted. (We also had the occasional dropped balloon, so using some kind of easily washable paint is a good idea.)
 The kids experimented with different ways to incorporate the balloons into the painting fun. We used them as stamps...
...and also as a canvas. 
 The kids ended up switching to finger painting when the balloons just got too slippery. I was glad I'd covered the table under each kid with some wrapping paper from the dollar store!
 The kids still wanted to paint, but were tired of finger painting, so we tried making some prints by pressing blank paper into the little plastic trays their paints were in. They were fascinated by that idea!
I love activities like this that keep the kiddos happy for a good long time!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rice Krispie Sensory Bin

 I don't remember where I first saw the idea of using Rice Krispies as filler for a sensory bin, but it's a great idea! I spread a sheet out on the living room floor to catch the mess, and gave the kids each a plastic tub of cereal and lots of fun toys for playing with. They loved it!
 With a sensory bin like this I love to give the kids toys/utensils that are great for scooping and pouring. It gives them a chance to explore spatial relations (will the amount in this scoop fit in this cup?) as well as hand-eye coordination.
 This citrus juicer is one of the kids' favorite toys. It's fun with play dough or sensory bins, or playing in the dirt. It's also a great way to strengthen those fingers!
 This one kept the kids busy for a long time, I didn't even have to feed them a snack that day! ;)
 This did get pretty messy, but most of the mess was on the sheet and what had gotten on the floor vacuumed up easily.
I love sensory bins! They can be so low-prep and are one of the more engaging things I've found for the kids to play with.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

TBT: Shaving Cream Free Play

Shaving cream is one of our favorite play materials. It's cheap, is versatile, and it's so much fun!
This spring Sharli had her first experience playing with shaving cream, and she had a blast. We started out with a big pile of plain shaving cream and I just left it there for her to explore with no further direction from me. 
 She wasn't too sure about this new weird goop at first...
 I added some drops of food coloring and that's all it took for her squeamishness to disappear. This girl lives for all things pretty!
 It didn't take very long before she was all in, and I mean ALL in. Too bad I didn't think to strip her to her diaper before starting this. Good thing it's pretty easy to clean up!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Super Suds Water Play

We spend a lot of time outside playing in the water, so I'm always looking for something new to keep it interesting. This activity was a great way to mix things up.

All I had to do to prep was put some water and a large squirt of dish soap in my blender and turn it on to make as many suds as I could get. I poured the water and bubbles into a couple of containers and carried them outside for the kids, along with some of our toy kitchen utensils.

This kept the kids busy for a long time, and whenever the bubbles started to run out I just had to flip the blender back on for a few seconds and whip up a few more. Pretty soon one of the kids ran inside and came back with the basket of animal toys, and they spent a long time washing all the animals.

Maren though was not real impressed with it all. She spent the entire time napping in the sun while they played.
By the way, this all happened in January. Thus the mostly dead grass and the swaddled baby. But, we do live in NM, so it's not too cold to enjoy water play outside even this time of year. 
Because this is Erik we're talking about, it was just a matter of time before he was all the way in the water, with Sharli following right behind.

 Good thing it's just soap and water, right?