Thursday, February 18, 2016

TBT: Cardboard

A quick look around my blog will clue you in to the fact that we are big fans of cardboard  boxes around here. We've used them for all sorts of things. 
On this particular day we took a large sheet of cardboard we'd acquired and worked as a team (Sharli included) to create an awesome play mat. I taped a couple of markers on either side of one of the kids' blocks and drew roads, then we all brainstormed on the details. 
We drew a pond like the one near our home, a place for the toy animals to live in their very own zoo, parking lots for the toy cars, etc. This thing got played with until it literally fell apart and had to be smuggled out under cover of darkness because:

Our neighbors got a new washer/dryer, and as soon as I found out I begged them to save the box for us. This thing provided more hours of fun than just about anything else we've had in our home. It stayed like this in the living room for almost a week for the kids to play in. They colored nearly every square inch of it with their crayons over the course of the week which would've been worth it all by itself. 
 When it started to get too beat up to stand up anymore, I chopped it in half so we could stand it up easily and we made a little house out of it, complete with door and windows.
 This box lived in our playroom for more than a month. Most of that time it was known as "Maddie B's Restaurant", though I actually have no idea where that name came from. So many imaginary delicacies were cooked in there! It was sure a sad day when this box had been played to death and had to be smuggled out of the house as well.
What amazing fun have you had at your house with cardboard?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Pudding Painting

Sharli has always had a pretty serious need to put things in her mouth, so she hasn't gotten to do as much painting as Erik did at her age. I had some extra boxes of instant pudding in my cupboard, so the kids helped me mix it up and color it. I put Sharli's "paint" right on her high chair tray, and Erik's on a large cookie sheet.

 Now obviously this isn't going to create a work of art you can hang on your wall, but it does give your kid a chance to create and explore new tastes, smells, and textures. Process art is so much fun!

 We talked about colors and color mixing. It was fun to try to get Erik to guess what color we'd end up with before we mixed things together. When they were done creating we had snack time ready to go!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

TBT: Oatmeal!

This oatmeal sensory bin has become a favorite at our house. I keep a container of oatmeal in the cupboard just for sensory play, and it gets used over and over. If I need to keep the kids busy on a rainy day, or while I cook dinner, or if I don't feel well, etc then I throw a sheet on the floor, dump the oatmeal in a pan, and send the kids to get some scoops and bowls out of their kitchen toys. This will typically keep them both occupied for 30-40 minutes, which is unheard of around here. NOTHING has that kind of sticking power other than the TV.
Need a cheap way to keep your kids busy? Try some oatmeal!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

MORE Ways to Keep a Toddler (and a Preschooler) Busy on a Road Trip

Several months ago we went on a big road trip that lasted almost two full weeks. This was the first major road trip we'd gone on since adding a second kid to the mix. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to maintain my sanity while keeping the two of them entertained, it had been hard enough with just one!

I knew I already had a good collection of ideas from our experience with Erik, in fact this post I did about our major road trip with him has been one of my most popular. That post really sums up a lot of what we did on this trip, so I do recommend you check it out as well. Even though all the old ideas are still good, I knew we were going to want some new things in the mix to keep the kids interested. I spent a fair amount of time searching for ideas and assembling supplies, but it was totally worth it. Here are all the activities I came up with, hopefully you'll find something in here that might work for you too. I put each one in its own zip top bag and put everything in a backpack so I could keep it handy and organized. 
And here is more information about everything we did. Links take you to the sites that inspired us, or to 

***Coloring books, colored pencils, and a pencil sharpener. I purchased a new coloring book for each kid so that they would be new and exciting. I chose to pack colored pencils instead of crayons because in warm weather crayons may melt all over the inside of your car, and because Sharli eats crayons.  
*** Glow in the dark bracelets and cheapo flashlights for keeping the kids busy after dark. 
*** Books! I bought a new book for each kid. Having something new and exciting makes such a huge difference. We also packed a big bag of our favorite books from our own shelves. Erik is getting big enough that he can follow a story without needing pictures to be entertained, so we checked out Mr. Popper's Penguins from our library and read that aloud as we drove. That was a fun one for us adults too, definitely one I'd recommend!

***An I Spy bottle. I somehow didn't get a picture of the kids playing with this one. It wasn't a huge hit, but it did keep them busy for a few minutes here and there.  
***Magnet Discovery Bottle. This one wasn't much of a hit with my kids. I think we ended up throwing it away part way through the trip because it was taking up room and nobody wanted to play with it. Who knows though, maybe your kids would love it. 
***Pipe cleaners. These were to be used on their own to play with, as well as to be used in our Pipe Cleaner Drop and to make Pipe Cleaner Shapes, both of which are outlined here. For the Pipe Cleaner Drop I ended up wishing I'd used one of those little snack size Pringles cans, since the full size one was kind of unwieldy for Sharli. Plus, the smaller things are the less room they take up in the car. I also remembered too late that we learned with Erik that sticks work better than pipe cleaners for this one.  
*** Sticky Sticks (and matching game). These have been one of the most favorite things we made for this trip. Months later they still get played with a lot. This one is so easy to make. You just attach velcro dots to craft sticks and you're done. If you want to make the matching game then you cut shapes out of paper and write the name of the shape on them. Even if your child isn't reading yet, there is still great value in giving them chances to become aware of print in the world around them.

***Open and Close Activity This one was pretty easy to put together. I looked around the house and the dollar store for small containers that I thought little hands could open and close and put them all in a bag together. It turned out that some of them were pretty difficult for Sharli to open, so I incentivized the work she'd have to do to open them by putting fruit snacks inside. 
***Button Snake. This was an activity I had intended to be more for Sharli, but Erik loved it! He begs to play with it at least once a week. I somehow failed to get any pictures of this one, but the link above has all the info.
***Pom Pom Magnets. These were super easy to make. I just picked up some thin magnets from the craft aisle and hot glued pom poms to them. The magnets I found were in little strips, so I glued a whole line of pom poms on with my hot glue gun (the adhesive already on the magnets wasn't enough to do the job) and then just snipped in between the pom poms with scissors. Throw in a cheap cookie sheet (I got mine for just under $1) and you have a great magnet board, as well as a hard surface for you kid to set on their lap for all the other activities as well. Both kids really enjoyed these magnets. Erik pretended they were cars driving around, or made pictures with them. Sharli mostly just enjoyed dumping them onto the tray and then putting them back in the bag. 

***Lacing Cards. We've made these before for Erik to play with, but that was a long time ago. They were a hit then and they are now too.
***Clip Sticks Counters. Erik might have liked these better if he weren't too distracted by all the other stuff in the activity bag. They were easy to make, all you need are some craft sticks (which is handy, since you'll want some for the Sticky Sticks too), some circle stickers, and a few clothes pins.
***Ping Pong Ball Puzzles. I thought this was a pretty clever idea. You can make an infinite number of puzzles, and increase the difficulty by increasing the number of balls so it's an idea that can grow with your child. Pick up a cheap package of ping pong balls, salvage an egg carton from your recycling and you're ready to go. 
One thing I talked about in my first Road Trip post was the power of snacks. If all else fails just throw some food to your kids and that should keep them quiet for at least a few minutes. Two snack ideas that made a re-appearance from our last road trip were edible jewelry and Surprise Snack Mix. Check out this post for more details. 
And because I'm super nice, I've been working on figuring out the perfect mixture for the snack mix so you all don't make the same mistakes we have. I learned last time that there are some snacks that don't play nice with the others. Our problem snack this time around was the frosted circus animal cookies. They did great until the car got too hot and the frosting melted. Then everything stuck together and got really messy and difficult to eat. Oh well, maybe next time it will be better. Our mix this time included the Circus Animal Cookies, fruit snacks, M&M's, and Goldfish crackers (except ours were the cheap brand so they were penguins instead of fish). I tried to include a mix of textures and flavors to keep things interesting.
I think that about covers it. Now that we've got a third little one in our home I'll have to let you know how things go next time we go on a major trip, but for now this should be enough to go on. Have a good trip!

*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, February 8, 2016

Egg Counting Mats

For our letter E math activity we made some cute counting mats that we found here. She has a free printable version of this for those of you who have a printer, or you can do like I did and just trace it onto a piece of paper. 

Erik had fun with this and it was a great addition to our box of activities that Erik can do on his own when I need him occupied for a while without my supervision. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Letter E Elephant Craft

For our letter E craft we took our inspiration from Anna at The Measured Mom. She has a ton of great letter of the week material, I highly recommend her site!
I knew I wanted to use her idea of turning the letter E into an elephant, but I also wanted to play around with this painting method, so we combined the two. 

First, let's gather our supplies:
Easter Eggs
I drew both an upper and a lower case letter E on some paper, as well as a trunk for our elephant. Then I set out the paint and some easter eggs for Erik to experiment with. 
 He was mildly interested in the stamping, but as always, it was only a matter of time until he switched over to finger painting. By the time he was done painting there were no traces of the stamping process left. Oh well.
 I cut out the pieces of our elephant and Erik helped glue them onto another sheet of paper. We came up with a sentence about our elephant, trying to incorporate as many e's as possible. We decided our elephant needed some easter eggs, so I drew some and Erik colored them. They got cut out and glued around our elephant.
 We added a couple of googly eyes (you could just cut some eyes out of paper if you prefer) and viola!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

TBT: Pom Pom Fun

Back when morning sickness was just starting to kick in I needed a way to keep Sharli busy for a while. I dug back in my blog archives and pulled out a few ideas that had worked really well with Erik when he was little. I needed something that was low prep and used materials I already had on hand, and here's what I came up with. 
An easy to assemble Pom Pom Tunnel...
 ...and a simple Pom Pom Toy.
These kept Sharli busy for quite a while, giving me a chance to do whatever I needed to do (which probably means I was laying on the couch concentrating on keeping my lunch down).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


So I thought I ought to explain why I've been such a terrible blogger for a while now. For months now I've been operating in survival mode. I haven't felt well, and any time I had a spare moment that could have been used to blog in, I almost always chose to take a nap. Now, don't worry there wasn't anything seriously wrong with me, I was pregnant.
Now though, I no longer have that  problem. A few days before Christmas the newest member of our Playing to Learn crew arrived and (other than a severe lack of sleep) I am finally feeling like a human being again.I'd like to introduce you to Maren, our new little sweetie. She is a good baby (as if there was such a thing as a bad one) and her older siblings took to her right away.
 Life is slowly starting to settle in to a new normal and I'm hopeful that I'll be back into blogging again now on a fairly regular basis again.