Monday, December 10, 2018

Baby Snowman Photoshoot

So the kiddos aren't the only ones learning new skills around here!  My babies are growing much too fast, so I'm always working on memorizing all the quiet little moments with them before they've changed again (hence the blog name).  Learning photography is one way to help me capture them at each stage.

I'm hoping to average about one "photoshoot" with them each month (in addition to all the daily pictures with both my phone and regular camera).  Since I've been having fun brainstorming relatively inexpensive set-ups, I thought I'd share with other mamas who might be interested.

This was December's set-up.  I purchsed this Snowman kit to use for the hat, scar and pipe, figuring the boys will be able to build snowmen outside with it after the shoot.  I borrowed a white fuzzy blanket and some indoor snowballs (the boys are getting some in their stockings, but I didn't want Xander to know that).  I used some face paint sticks for his nose and the "coal" on his chest.  Since all of our cloth diapers are patterned, I used one of our reusable swim diapers.  You could also go without a diaper and just use the scarf or snowballs to cover up!

All in all, I'm thrilled with how they turned out!  I'm also thinking I need to keep an eye out for this type of blanket when they go on sale.  It provided such a great matte background!



Thursday, December 6, 2018

Rescue the Penguins Helicopter Lift STEM Challenge

It was cold and snowy last weekend and I wanted to come up with a way to keep Xander busy without screens.  We hadn't done a STEM/STEAM challenge in a while, so it was the perfect opportunity.

The scenario:
I told him that his job was to make a "helicopter lift" to carry the stranded penguins back home.  The helicopter was a piece of string tied to a stool and a large paper clip I'd bent open.  He'd have to build a lift or boat that he could swing the paper clip to, pick up and then set down on the other side of the water (we set out paper to symbolize the water, for a tougher challenge, you could spread them out and go from one sheet of paper to the other).  Whatever he built had to be strong enough to carry all the penguins (we used about 10 from his Toobs).
The Materials:
I gave him pipe cleaners, aluminum foil and tape.  We used the paper for the water and the string and a large paper clip for the helicopter.
Building his lift. 
Xander had my husband and me each make a lift also.  We ended up with some VERY different designs. 
Using the string and paper clip to hook his lift ended up being a lot tougher than he expected. 
The first attempt crashed in the water. 

He made it, but only with one.  He ended up having to re-design his lift to make it accommodate all the penguins.
Trying out a different design.
This is a challenge that could easily be done with other toys.  We thought about rescuing Santa or Saving the Polar Bears (which would be a good environmental science tie in activity), but Xander wanted penguins.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Play to Learn Toy Inspiration List - 6-10 Years

I've always kind of considered myself a toy snob, although not at all based on cost (one of my son's favorite toys is a piece of PVC pipe).  Clutter stresses me out and I don't like waste, so I've always been kind of picky about what I buy my kids.  So many toys are played with for a week or so and then left to collect dust.  I always look for things that have high replay value and will last for years. So much learning happens through play, I want to make sure the things I buy provide ample opportunities.

Recently several people have told me that we always have great toys and have asked for help shopping for their little ones. Since I love shopping for kids and helping out other mamas, I thought I'd create and share list of toy ideas.  It ended up being GIANT to try to accommodate different genders and interests and provide lots of inspiration.  I'm sure I'll add to it as I find new things.
General Tips:

  • I usually look for something open ended.  If it can be used in flexible ways, it is likely to be used more often.
  • I try to avoid things with lots of lights and sounds.  Now there are definitely exceptions to this rule, but if a toy does all the "work," then kids will lose interest quickly. Once they have pressed every button, they have kind of exhausted the toy.  Also, my husband is an audiologist and says a lot of baby toys are loud enough to cause hearing damage.  He recommends putting tape over speakers of loud baby toys.  
  • Materials that will last through a beating are always a plus.  For babies and toddlers I try to avoid too much plastic, since it all feels the same.  Instead, I try to find a variety of textures.
  • Collectibles and stuffed animals really depend on the kid.  While some kids love them and will get a lot of use out of them, that has not been the experience in our house.  Action figures, stuffed animals and other collectibles just end up in a toy bin forgotten (Lego Minifigs being the exception).  Same goes for toys based on characters.  Some kids use them all the time, others outgrow them really quickly and then won't play with the toys because they're "too little kiddie."
  • Not a tip for buying toys, but for extending their use is that any toys with lots of parts and pieces need an easy to use container with a lid.  Toys are no fun if you have to hunt down all their pieces.  I keep all the boxes (mostly cheap plastic shoe boxes) of toys in the basement and then rotate them upstairs.  I don't even mind if multiple boxes of toys being used at the same time, as long as everything finds its way home when it is done.
  • When giving a gift, a book that goes with the theme of the toy is a great addition!  I didn't include books on this list because it is already long enough!

Constructive
  • Candy Construction- Like Tinker Toys only way cuter!
  • Zoobs* - I like that the STEM set has challenges for kids to accomplish, in addition to the free building.  There are also sets with motors or glow in the dark pieces.   Z-Bricks also let you attach Zoobs to Legos to extend the play.
  • Magnet Building Sticks - Just little rods and spheres, but we've had these out a lot over the years.
  • Wedgits - An interesting building toy.  We've had them for years and recently just added the Wedgnetixversion, which are magnetic. 
  • Marble Run - Younger kids love watching the balls go through, but might need help constructing.  Some, like this Hape Marble Run, are wooden and involve more stacking.  Others, like this Meland one are plastic tubes that connect together, which is the kind I got since Xander was pretty young when I purchased it.  The Q-Ba Mazes have smaller pieces that give more options to put together, but are a little more challenging.  The Techno Gears version combines gears and marble runs.
  • Legos - Once again, this is one of the few toys I don't mind having character sets for, since they still get used. There are sets for every age and interest level.  We actually started collecting some of the Christmas Legos to use instead of a traditional Christmas Village.  I figure it provides a good activity for us to do together every year.

Blocks
Magnetic Blocks
These end up getting their own category because they have been used pretty much constantly since Xander was 2.  We've slowly added move sets over the years.  Friends always enjoy using them also (as do adults). We've built on the ground, fridge and light table.  There have been geometric designs, skyscrapers, ramps for toy cars, zoos with Toob animals and much more.
  • MagnaTiles - Now these are a bit of an investment, but they're great quality and have good magnets (which allows for better building).  Two years in a row his only real birthday present was a big set of these.  We also have the Glow in the Dark version. 
  • Stardust - these have glitter and mirrors.
  • Big Base Plates - provide a wide base on which to build.
  • Ramps and Stairs - These have been a great addition to our regular tiles.  He builds all kids of buildings and pyramids with them.
  • Fences and Doors - Allow for different kinds of buildings and pens for animals.
  • Tunnels and Domes - more fun shapes to extend the play
  • Domes - Another unique shape to add to buildings
  • Polygons - more shapes from the MagnaTile brand.
  • Magnet Men - These were used to fill our Easter Eggs last year.  They are so much fun and can hook together in lots of ways.

Active Play
  • Ultra Dash - This is a fun relay type toy that we often combine with Hilltops, rings and domes to create big obstacle courses. 
  • Hilltops* - These will be in every age category!  Little kids like them, but my 8 year old still uses them multiple times a week.  They are used for climbing, obstacle courses and upside down for ring toss. 
  • Stepping Domes
  • Activity Rings*  - These can be used for obstacle courses, relays and ring toss.  In our house, the baby loves to chew on them!
  • Balance Pods
  • Spooner Board
  • EZ Roller*
  • Wiggle Scooter - We got one with a much higher weight limit (AODI 3 Wheels Scooter Swing Motion Speeder), but it is currently stocked out on Amazon.  Xander has a great time on it, but even his grandparents have used it.  So fun.
  • Walkie Talkies* 
    • Nerf Guns* - I never thought I'd be one to have toy weapons in my house, but Nerf Guns and other foam/inflatable weapons get used SO much! I love watching at gatherings when all the male family members have an epic battle.  Also, to make it interesting, I used to write things on a dry erase board and then have him shoot certain words/answers with the suction cup darts.
    • Nerf Target
    • Laser Tag Guns - These guns let you use different types of ammo and be on up to four teams.  We have a set and two other cousins do too.  Even though they're all different brands, they all work together so there was a massive laser gun fight at Thanksgiving with toddlers to adults running around playing.  We also have the little bugs that you can shoot for target practice.

    "Doll Houses"



    Technology & Coding
    • Osmo - This is an interactive educational game for the iPad for ages 5-12.  We started with the Genius Kitand the Pizza Co.  The Pizza Co was definitely a huge hit, although Xander plays with all of the sets we have.  I'm excited to get him the Detective Agency Set, too!  There are also several creative games, as well as coding games that I think would be good for more tactile learners.  We use code.org instead, which is a free coding website for kids.

    Logic Games
    Solo puzzle games.  These have been a big hit in our house.  I actually started keeping a container out on the counter so I can rotate which puzzle we have out.  Xander, my husband and my dad all tend to get them out while I'm working in the kitchen.

    Board Games
    Pretend Play


    • Detective/Spy Kits - Melissa and Doug has this good intro Spy Decoder Kit.  ALEX toys has a couple of sleuth kits.  This Master Detective Toolkit is a little bit more complex, so it is on Xander's list.
    • Magic Kit - I bought this one on a Black Friday deal a couple of years ago and it has gotten so much use we might expand with another set or book on card tricks. The Melissa and Doug sets look really well made.

    Creative & Experimental
    • UV Pens - Write secret messages that can only be seen with the UV flashlight
    • Coloring Plates - Meliss and Doug make both a "girl" and a "boy" version that have their own carry case.  Kahootz makes Action Plates and Fashion Plates, which seem to have more pieces.  I got Xander the Action Plates on a whim and he ended up really enjoying them.  They 
    • Rainbow Scratch Paper
    • Stamp Sets - Stamps that can then be filled in with colored pencil.  There are all kinds of sets from animals to  Disney Princessdinosaurs and vehicles.

    Light Table & Tools
    There are lots of light table options.  We built our own using wood, plexiglass and LED strips, but you can also buy them.  There are big table versions that are definitely more of an investment and thinner panel versions like this one and this one.

    Check Out My Other Lists

    * - Items with an asterisk appear on multiple lists due to being able to fit a wider range of kids, depending on ability and interest.  I also see this as a good thing, because ideally, toys will last for years.

    Affiliate links are used, at no cost to you.


    Friday, November 16, 2018

    Early Readers - Thanksgiving Book

    Happy (almost) Thanksgiving!  Recently I added a section for early reading books to the blog, so I decided to make a fall themed book.  Usually, I am making three version of each book, one in English, one in Spanish and one with both. However, since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I felt like it just didn't translate well.  This time, I only made an English version.

    Here are example pages (words on one page, picture on the following).



    And then here is what my printed one looks like.  (I printed on cardstock and laminated the pages . Then, I used a 3 hold punch to make the holes and used 3/4" binder rings to "bind" the books.)



    You're free to download the files to use with your little one.


    If you're looking for other Fall resources, you might check out my Thanksgiving Printables.

    You can check out my other Early Readers here.


    Tuesday, November 13, 2018

    Play to Learn Toy Inspiration List 3-5 Years

    I've always kind of considered myself a toy snob, although not at all based on cost (one of my son's favorite toys is a piece of PVC pipe).  Clutter stresses me out and I don't like waste, so I've always been kind of picky about what I buy my kids.  So many toys are played with for a week or so and then left to collect dust.  I always look for things that have high replay value and will last for years. So much learning happens through play, I want to make sure the things I buy provide ample opportunities.

    Recently several people have told me that we always have great toys and have asked for help shopping for their little ones. Since I love shopping for kids and helping out other mamas, I thought I'd create and share list of toy ideas.  It ended up being GIANT to try to accommodate different genders and interests and provide lots of inspiration.  I'm sure I'll add to it as I find new things.

     
    General Tips:

    • I usually look for something open ended.  If it can be used in flexible ways, it is likely to be used more often.
    • I try to avoid things with lots of lights and sounds.  Now there are definitely exceptions to this rule, but if a toy does all the "work," then kids will lose interest quickly. Once they have pressed every button, they have kind of exhausted the toy.  Also, my husband is an audiologist and says a lot of baby toys are loud enough to cause hearing damage.  He recommends putting tape over speakers of loud baby toys.  
    • Materials that will last through a beating are always a plus.  For babies and toddlers I try to avoid too much plastic, since it all feels the same.  Instead, I try to find a variety of textures.
    • Collectibles and stuffed animals really depend on the kid.  While some kids love them and will get a lot of use out of them, that has not been the experience in our house.  Action figures, stuffed animals and other collectibles just end up in a toy bin forgotten (Lego Minifigs being the exception).  Same goes for toys based on characters.  Some kids use them all the time, others outgrow them really quickly and then won't play with the toys because they're "too little kiddie."
    • Not a tip for buying toys, but for extending their use is that any toys with lots of parts and pieces need an easy to use container with a lid.  Toys are no fun if you have to hunt down all their pieces.  I keep all the boxes (mostly cheap plastic shoe boxes) of toys in the basement and then rotate them upstairs.  I don't even mind if multiple boxes of toys being used at the same time, as long as everything finds its way home when it is done.

    Constructive
    • Candy Construction - Like Tinker Toys only way cuter!
    • Zoobs - Zoob Jrs are bigger and better for younger kids, while regular Zoobs are a bit smaller.  I like that the STEM set has challenges for kids to accomplish, in addition to the free building.  Z-Bricks also let you attach Zoobs to Legos to extend the play.
    • Squiggs* - The have been used on tables, floors, glass doors and in the bathtub.  Archer likes just chewing on them too.  We have the regular ones, but that have some that stick to tables too.
    • Maze O - pieces you put together to make mazes.  It also comes with cards to follow instructions.
    • Lalaboom - beads that snap, twist and can be laced
    • Marble Run - Younger kids love watching the balls go through, but might need help constructing.  Some, like this Hape Marble Run, are wooden and involve more stacking.  Others, like this Meland one are plastic tubes that connect together, which is the kind I got since Xander was pretty young when I purchased it.  The Q-Ba Mazes have smaller pieces that give more options to put together, but are a little more challenging.  The Techno Gears version combines gears and marble runs.
    • Fridge Marble Run - This is a marble run that is magnetic so attaches to a fridge or white board.  It is simpler, so a good introduction to the idea for younger kids.  The cards that come with it make for good visual spacial reasoning.
    • Gears - The basic set has one size of gears and bases for building and turning. The Lights and Action set has different sized gears, a motor and lights. You can also get themed sets like this Build and Bloom Flower Set, Space Explorer Set, Monkey Jungle Set 
    • Duplos - These are the introduction to Legos and they fit on regular Lego baseplates.  We started with the little story books with instructions and a few bricks, before branching out to other sets.  There are farm sets and construction sets, a pizzeria just to list a few options.  There are also sets for fans of Mickey, Minnie, SuperheroesPrincesses and Cars.  These types of toys are also nice because you can buy the cute themed sets, but since they all work together, you can still use them when your child moves on to a different favorite show.  I also see myself getting Archer the Santa Duplo to go with Xander's Christmas Legos.
    • Lego Juniors - We started with Lego Juniors, since they're easier to build, but then quickly moved on to regular Legos (mostly because, at the time, there weren't as many junior sets available).  Once again, this is one of the few toys I don't mind having character sets for, since they still get used.  There are lots of Lego Junior sets featuring vehicles, but there are also lots of Disney ones like the Incredibles, Batman, Snow White, Little Mermaid and Jurassic World.  
    Blocks


    • Nesting Rainbow* - Rainbow Nesting Stacker - Grimm makes a beautiful, but pricy one.  We'll probably be going with a cheaper smaller (less cool) version. I also like the "V" version. Grimm also makes some gorgeous Nature and a Little Flower nesting blocks, but more of "splurg" items.


    • Pretend Play Blocks* - Pretend play is supposed to provide an outlet for kids to learn empathy.  Add that to building blocks and you get some adorable toys.  There's this Blockopolis City that even has puzzle piece roads.  Fairy Tale Kingdom has princesses and castle pieces.  Heroic Knights Castle has little knights and castle pieces. The Elm Street Fire Station has little firefighters and rescue vehicles.

    Magnetic Blocks
    These end up getting their own category because they have been used pretty much constantly since Xander was 2.  We've slowly added move sets over the years.  Friends always enjoy using them also (as do adults). We've built on the ground, fridge and light table.  There have been geometric designs, skyscrapers, ramps for toy cars, zoos with Toob animals and much more.
    • MagnaTiles - Now these are a bit of an investment, but they're great quality and have good magnets (which allows for better building).  Two years in a row his only real birthday present was a big set of these.  We also have the Glow in the Dark version. 
    • Stardust - these have glitter and mirrors.
    • Big Base Plates - provide a wide base on which to build.
    • Ramps and Stairs - These have been a great addition to our regular tiles.  He builds all kids of buildings and pyramids with them.
    • Fences and Doors - Allow for different kinds of buildings and pens for animals.
    • Tunnels and Domes - more fun shapes to extend the play
    • Domes - Another unique shape to add to buildings
    • Polygons - more shapes from the MagnaTile brand.
    • Magnet Men - These were used to fill our Easter Eggs last year.  They are so much fun and can hook together in lots of ways.
    Active Play






  • Pikler's Triangle* - This is our huge wishlist item for Christmas!  I'm hoping my husband can make us one rather than purchasing one.

    • Hilltops* - These will be in every age category!  Little kids like them, but my 8 year old still uses them multiple times a week.  They are used for climbing, obstacle courses and upside down for ring toss. 
    • River balance beams* - Same company as Hilltops. These are modular balance beams and have other accessories that can be purchased to go with them.
    • Stepping Domes
    • Activity Rings*  - These can be used for obstacle courses, relays and ring toss.  In our house, the baby loves to chew on them!
    • Dancing Ribbon*
    • Pop Up Tunnel*
    • Play Tent* - Some of these are just tents, but you can also get them with tunnels and ball pits.  They can be very complex, like this one that can make a huge square.  This princess one is adorable, and comes with dress up clothes.  So is this space ship one.




    • Walkie Talkies* 
    • Binoculars* - Great for walks and trips to the zoo. 
    • Outdoor Exploration Kit*
    • Nerf Guns* - I never thought I'd be one to have toy weapons in my house, but Nerf Guns and other foam/inflatable weapons get used SO much! I love watching at gatherings when all the male family members have an epic battle.  Also, to make it interesting, I used to write things on a dry erase board and then have him shoot certain words/answers with the suction cup darts.
    • Indoor Snowballs*
    "Doll" Houses and Dolls
    • Draw and Build Dollhouse-  Modular magnetic dry erase pieces that kids design themselves.  Just wish there were less girly colors! 
    • Build and Imagine Dollhouses - Modular pieces that kids can put together in different ways (also makes storing easier).  There's a castle, house and Marine Rescue Center.
    • Toobs* - We have tons of these.  Because of their wonderful detail, they were initially used for vocabulary development.  They've been added to the bathtub and water table.  Now they get combined with blocks or Magna Tiles to build zoos.  DragonsMythical Realms and Knights can all be used to have battles.  Fairiesand Days of Old could be added to blocks to make castles or enchanted forests. (This year I'm planning on using Toob figures in the Advent Calendar we made)
    • Create a Scene - Magnetic scenes with little magnets, kind of like reusable sticker books.  Lots of different interests available.  Construction, Dinosaurs, Dollhouse, Zoo, Bugs etc. 
    • Wooden Train* - This Hape Musical Train and the Pop Up Monkeys are definitely on our wishlist due to how interactive the accessories are.  Janod also makes train sets with story boxes to expand the pretend play.  For the girly engineers out there, Bigjigs has an adorable pink and purple Fairy Town train set.  If we have a girl, we'll definitely be adding some of the really cool accessories (and maybe even if we don't).  Bigjigs also has a pirate series and a dino series with adorable accessories.
    Pretend Play
    • Dress Up - This can encompass so many things!  Old clothes and costumes, things from Goodwill, etc.  If you want to purchase some there are the Disney Princess and Superhero sets for girls, as well as a boys set.  There are also career outfits like a chef, firefighter, police officer and more



    Play Food*
    Games
    • Osmo - This is an interactive educational game for the iPad for ages 5-12.  We started with the Genius Kit and the Pizza Co.  The Pizza Co was definitely a huge hit, although Xander plays with all of the sets we have.  I'm excited to get him the Detective Agency Set, too!  There are also several creative games, as well as coding games that I think would be good for more tactile learners.  We use code.org instead, which is a free coding website for kids.

    Logic Games

    Solo puzzle games.  These have been a big hit in our house.  I actually started keeping a container out on the counter so I can rotate which puzzle we have out.  Xander, my husband and my dad all tend to get them out while I'm working in the kitchen.

    Puzzles

    • Layer Puzzles - These wooden puzzles have different layers to them to show different science concepts.  The Little Boy and Little Girl Human puzzles show different anatomical layers.  There is also a Butterfly Life Cycle Puzzle and a Frog Life Cycles Puzzle.  There's also this cute one that has the four seasons.


    Light Table & Tools
    There are lots of light table options.  We built our own using wood, plexiglass and LED strips, but you can also buy them.  There are big table versions that are definitely more of an investment and thinner panel versions like this one and this one.
    Bath Toys


    Art and Creative


    Check Out My Other Lists


    * - Items with an asterisk appear on multiple lists due to being able to fit a wider range of kids, depending on ability and interest.  I also see this as a good thing, because ideally, toys will last for years.

    Affiliate links are used, at no cost to you.
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