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

***Updated October 2019***

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.
  • Pyramid Building Blocks - (Knock off Wedgits)
  • 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. 
  • 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!
  • Colored Cones
  • Balance Pods
  • Spooner Board
  • EZ Roller* - Xander got one for his birthday and LOVES it.  It actually moves much better than a Plasmacar.  He's already talking about the bigger Drifter Version, and we're debating getting the Mini for Archer's next birthday or just waiting for him to be tall enough for the standard version.
  • Wiggle Scooter
  • Catapult Wars - Create your own catapults and then play with them.








    • 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.  
    • Indoor Snowballs*

    • Magnetic Modular Houses, Dolls and Vehicles - This line has several sets with let kids change up the configuration of their buildings. I am so happy they included ones aimed at boys also! There's a houseschoolfarmpet rescuefire station and more. There are also a couple that are dry erase, letting little ones color them however they'd like! I'm toying with the idea of getting Archer some, but not giving him all of the little accessories until he is older.

    Technology and 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. They have also started expanding into preschool ages with the Little Genius line.


    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



    Creative and 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 and 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.

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