Saturday, September 27, 2008

Construction Themed Sensory Box : Under Construction - Hard Hat Area!

The bottom of this post contains affiliate links that help fund my blog. 

The girls have been having such a blast with their Ocean themed sensory box, that I decided to expand our play repertoire with a new addition to the playroom. We now have an "Under Construction" themed Sensory Box. My youngest daughter, "C" is a die-hard Bob the Builder Fan and my older daughter, "E" has always wanted to follow in her handy-daddy's (work boot) footsteps.

The girls had a blast in their hard hats today shoveling, loading, and unloading their mini gravel quarry. We had quite the menagerie of construction vehicles at our house and another empty under bed box in my storage area in the garage. The girls and I ventured over to the Dollar Tree this morning to spend $5 on 5 mini bags of rocks to fill the site. It is a great place to find affordable materials for sensory boxes! The girls have been playing with it non stop all afternoon.

My oldest daughter's Kindergarten teacher was over here last night for a scrap-booking crop and loves my Ocean Sensory Box so much that we spent part of the evening brainstorming different centers for her classroom based on their thematic units of the year. I picked up some Pumpkin Patch materials (courtesy again of the fabulous Dollar Tree by our house) for their fall unit. The kids will have fun raking miniature leaves, stacking mini bales of hay, and learning about the life cycle of a pumpkin with their observation journals and some fake pumpkins, vines, flowers, pea gravel or bean "soil" and some pumpkin seeds to "plant" You should see the mini farm they'll be playing with later this spring! The winter box I'm working on for the girls will be made in triplicate: one for our house and two more for the two Kindergarten classrooms at her school.

If you make one of these for your house or classroom I would love to hear about it!

Pink and Green Mama,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ocean In A Box

Make your own Ocean In a Box Sensory Box. 

So Being the resourceful (read: green not cheap) mother that I am,
I like to make my own version of cool toys for my girls to play with.
I saw these really cool My Sandbox Kits (10"x 10".)
I loved the ocean mermaid box but they're kind of small.

So, I decided to be the artsy (read: clever, brilliant, and modest)
mama that I am and make our own Ocean Sensory box at home with stuff we already had.

I found an empty underbed-style storage box in the garage and thought it would be a better size
(so both girls can play in it at the same time.)

Then the girls helped me collect assorted mermaids,
fish, sea shells (real and the mini macaroni kind), polly pockets, and plastic mini trees
from the playroom menagerie to populate our "underwater" world.
The only thing we had to buy at the store were 2 small bags of new/clean turquoise aquarium gravel
(there was no way I was going to use sand in the house)
and 2 fake plastic aquarium plants/coral from the fish section at WalMart.

The girls (and I must admit myself as well) love playing in their new ocean habitat.
You could even make your own coral and plants out of Fimo or modeling clay with your kids.

It is so popular with my daughters that I'm thinking about making them as gifts
for the umpteen million birthday parties we'll be attending in the coming school year.
* Update: We gave a few of these boxes as gifts to friends and they were a HUGE hit!* 

How cool would that gift be?
Little do my daughters know that I'm plotting to surprise them
this Christmas with a Winter Wonderland sensory box
made out of another under bed box and dry rice "snow"
to be populated by some penguins, polar bears, a dogsled, an igloo, and some eskimos!

Think about the possibilities:
Construction trucks with brown fish tank gravel,
mini horses with a stable and oatmeal ground cover,
space men and aliens on Moon Sand.
* Update: We made all of the sensory boxes list above and they're so much fun!*

To see our complete list of sensory boxes, 
check out my Sensory Box 101 Post! 

Who says homemade gifts aren't fun?!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Confessional: Fantasy Husband League

Fall is my favorite season and I welcome it with open arms except for one minor detail. Fall is football season and more specifically Fantasy Football season. Every Sunday my TV has a game on and my computer screen is cluttered with several open windows that are urgently tracking the nuances of my husband's fantasy teams. I think women should have their own fantasy draft, a "Fantasy Husband League." We pick celebrities to serve as our own all-star husband team. These husbands fill different household roles and earn points on a weekly basis dependent on source data from TMZ, People Magazine, and our friends over at Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight.

Cute is important for points but the way your fantasy husband earns points for your team is how he behaves in real life. For example, Brad Pitt would be a number one draft pick...loves kids, active participant in co-parenting, seems to dress himself well, humanitarian, etc.

Your fantasy husband team can lose points by screwing up in real life.
If, for example, your fantasy husband gets arrested/solicitation (Hugh Grant), DUI (Mel Gibson), changes girlfriends too frequently (John Mayer), gets all crazy (Do I have to spell it out for you Tom...couch jumping anyone?.. religion based on a sci-fiction novel.)

The teams need to have degrading/snappy names like the "Tennessee Tight 'Uns," "The Tool Box," "Seattle Sea Cocks," "Chicago Bares"... you get the idea.

So here is my Fantasy Husband Team ("Mommy's Victorious Secret"):

1. Tight End (Number One Pick - Bedroom) - Mark Wahlberg
2. Child Care - Patrick Dempsey
3. Landscaping - Dennis Quaid
4. Cooking - Chef Ross Burden
5. Cleaning - George Clooney
6. Handy Man - Carter Oosterhouse from HGTV
7. Breadwinner - Mr. Big from Sex in the City
8. Physical Education - Jason Taylor
9. Dance Partner - Justin Timberlake
10. Flex Position (all-purpose reserve player) - Eric Dane (Mc Steamy from Grey's Anatomy)
11. Rookie (too young to be legal yet but worth the wait) - Prince William and/or the college kid who makes my salads at Pot Belly.
12. Stylist - Rene Fris (Shear Genius)

* Notice: Unlike Fantasy Football when you pick a dud you're stuck with them, in the Fantasy Husband League you can drop and add whenever you want to, after all it is a fantasy. A girl can dream can't she?


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Keep 'em Busy...They Just Might Learn Something! Create An Invention Box With Recyclables.

So the Frog Princess is obsessed with Robots. She has been since she was less than a year old when she would sleep with her baby einstein robot flash card every night. A week ago she received one of those musical Hallmark cards and immediately wanted to rip it open to see the circuit board and speaker. She cut it out carefully and has been hauling it around playing the music incessantly...if I hear "Boot Scootin' Boogie" one more time....argh!... I hope her next card plays "Claire de Lune."

Since I'm an avid recycler and can't stand to see bits of random plastic in the trash we came up with an "inventions" box. The Frog Princess loves to create robots and other creative machines from the inventions box. Lately she's been asking for "real circuit boards" like the ones in her robot (DK eyewitness) book and her musical card. So, this morning we disassembled an old telephone and a remote control from our garage into parts. Right now she is in scientific heaven investigating all of the parts and making up elaborate stories for her mini robots. I would rather entertain my kid for a few hours and let her use her explore and create with her imagination with some of my old trash than have it sitting in a landfill. Next time you're about to toss that soap pumper, wine cork, or twistie-tie ask yourself if a little artist or scientist you know would have fun making it into something new.
You both might learn something new in the process!

Pink and Green Mama,

Friday, September 19, 2008

* Kid's Crafty Spot: Storing Children's Art Supplies

Every house needs one. A place where your pint-size Picassos can go to create their masterpieces. In our house it is usually the kitchen table or countertop. But we also like to work in mommy's art studio. My girls have their own cabinet stocked with all kinds of goodies. I picked it up at a neighborhood garage sale a few years ago and meant to paint it but never got around to it so it became the kiddo art closet. You don't have to go buy a piece of furniture. Look around and see if you have a book case, kitchen cabinet, rolling supply cart, filing cabinet, etc. that would work as a central location for all of the arts and crafts gear. They also have a little kid sized table and stools where they can get messy and mom won't freak out about them ruining the table finish!

I sorted supplies by general category and have them in easy to open containers so when my girls go off to create I'm not being asked to open something for them every 5 seconds. We have a ridiculous assortment of supplies but I used to be an art teacher so I can't help it. You'll find: paper (including white drawing, watercolor, colored construction paper, scrap paper, cardstock, and scraps of cardboard) clay, play-doh + tools, paints, markers, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, oil pastels, chalk pastels, craft foam sundries, pipe cleaners, yarn, googly eyes of assorted sizes, pom-pons, feathers, stamps, sequins, popsicle sticks, glue dots (fabulous!), Elmer's glue, glue sticks, glitter glue (very popular), stickers, etc.

When my girls (and their friends) go work in their space they come up with such creative ideas and have so much fun. They spend so much time in school doing structured activities and cookie-cutter art projects, I think it is important that every child has a space where they can invent and experiment with new materials and explore art in a safe and non-judgmental environment. If you read my previous post, I think it is just as important for us mommies to have a space like that as well!

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” - Pablo Picasso

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mommy's Play Room - My Art Studio

My friend Michelle over at Sweet Mady's Paper has been blogging about studio space for the past two days and discussing how to organize your own mommy play room. As a former teacher I've found that you can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can't take the classroom (e.g. the OCD need to label and organize everything neurosis) out of the teacher. What would I do without closets, kitchen cabinets, a playroom and my studio to micro manage?!

So I'm going to share my own little secret...Now that the Frog Princess is back to school (and Mini-Saurus still takes faithful daily naps, god bless her!) I have been sneaking off in the afternoons to my favorite room in the house, my art studio to play. It's where I go to paint, scrapbook, collage, draw, sew, and make mixed media pieces. It is also where I allow my girls to play and explore with tempera and acrylic paint, play-doh, sculpey, scrapbooking, collage, watercolor, oil pastels, etc.

In our house the best space for my art studio happened to be the "formal living room" Who needs another room full of couches you never sit on? We also made our "formal dining room" the playroom because that's more useful for our family than a space to eat in twice a year -- we just don't entertain that way - I'm a potluck and football or grilling out in the back yard kind of girl! I have two big kitchen islands from Ikea in there, as well as some long tables in the middle perfect for spreading out fabric and scrapbooking crops. I also have lots of shelves and cabinets (with doors for the uglies) for all of the stuff you need to make your masterpieces. I converted an antique armoire into the craft cabinet for all of the girl's stuff and they have their own small table and easel for their projects.

If you don't have room to do something like this in your own home I hope I can inspire to you carve out your own little crafty oasis even if it's a closet, a corner of a rarely used guest room, a converted old tv/clothing armoire some little place that is just yours, you deserve it. I always read about how important it is to give children a space to be creative and make messes even if it's just a rolling cart or kitchen cabinet to store art and craft materials. I think this is very important however I also think that we mommies need our own craft and art spot, you have to nurture your inner artist (your inner child) and play so you don't lose your self in your other roles of adulthood/motherhood/partnership. It's completely worth it and so much fun. I would love to hear about your own special space in your home.

Monday, September 15, 2008

* Kids Are Like Plants: Getting Kids Out of a Bad Mood

Yes, you read that correctly, I said, "kids are like plants" All you have to do is give them sunlight, fresh air, and water. When they are climbing the walls and driving you insane just remember this mantra and it will save your sanity. Throw your kids outside into the backyard, deck, front yard, driveway, where ever you can to get them out for some sunshine and fresh air. It will do wonders for your own sanity and theirs.

When my girls are feeling grumpy, or more likely their mother is...we head out into the yard with chalk, plastic animals, match book cars and explore nature. If it's warm enough (over 80) I'll turn on the sprinkler for a bit to water the plants and my kids. This isn't some great new parenting concept ... my grandmother used to toss all 7 of her kids outside so they wouldn't drive her crazy. My own mother was known to send me outside with a coffee can of water and a paint brush on a warm day to "paint" our back steps while she got dinner started. There is even a name for it now (, not child negligence!) the Green Hour is meant to encourage parents to send their kids outside to play and explore nature instead of plugging them into the television, computer, or a video game. The sand and water table on our deck makes a fabulous hand exfoliation spa.

Another favorite activity is making nature bracelets with a roll of masking tape and some awesome hunting and gathering skills. I make an inside-out bracelet on each of the girls with the tape (sticky side out) and we collect leaves, flower petals, seeds, grass, etc. to decorate our nature bracelets. Daddy gets quite a fashion show when he gets home from work!

Even on a rainy day you can put them in raincoats, and flip flops, or rain boots and take them outside to splash in puddles. If it's too cold or gross outside, just make your own inside water table with an under bed plastic storage box with a couple of inches of water. I also do this when it's snowy outside. Sometimes I'll add a bowl full of snow to the mix and we make an Artic wonderland with plastic penguins, polly pockets, and plastic dinosaurs. I'm considering scrubbing out our sand table and hauling it into the kitchen for the winter to fill with water (+ a dash of hand soap) to keep my girlies occupied. Whether they realize it or not, it's a great way to clean their hands during cold and flu season!

If you don't want to mess with the whole plastic tub of water thing you can always go old school with the kitchen sink or your bathtub, they'll have a blast and it will buy you at least 20-45 minutes of kid entertainment and that ladies is priceless!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Nature Jars

My kids are collectors. They save every drawing ever made, pages from magazines, perfect leaves, bits of interesting mulch, rocks, feathers, etc. When the Frog Princess was in preschool, I would find mulch and dried weeds (bouquets) in the pockets of her coat and in the bottom of her book bag. Once after a trip to Home Depot at Christmas time I found cotton batting (from their fake snow and Christmas tree display) hidden in tiny tufts in her shoe because, as she explained to me later, her coat didn't have pockets so she used her shoe.

I always had to be the meanie mom who said, leave it outside. This brought on temper tantrums and tears ... my favorite. As much as I want to support my budding scientist's discoveries and treasure finding, I don't want a house full of compost or bird lice... so I came up with "the Nature Jar"(a flower pot you can stash your treasures in). It lived on our deck at our last house and resides just inside our garage at this house. Whenever the girls find a rock or leaf or other natural treasure when we're playing outside or taking a walk now instead of saying leave it outside, I just say, put it in the Nature Jar and they happily stash it. With two kids, it has now evolved into two jars but who's counting.

I finally had to clean out the jar today (it had a spider family taking over and I think a mouse was starting a nest in it) I'm not sure yet how the Frog Princess will react but I know we'll be filling it up (outside - this time) with even more fabulous treasures as fall brings new leaves, acorn caps, and little treasures. * I also came up with a solution for all of the drawings and papers but that's another post.


Color My World - Rethink How You Can Use Your Trash

I always look at trash I can't recycle and try to think if there is something else I can use it for. We have an "inventions box" in our house full of these kinds of treasures (bits of plastic packaging, twist ties, wine corks, plastic lids, foam, bubble wrap, etc.) My girls like making art and "inventions" with them and I've been known the raid the box when I'm working on one of my own projects. Sometimes I have things that are too big for the inventions box but I can't bear to just toss them in the trash either, one of these things are mini quiche trays from BJs/Costco.

My kids love to eat Nancy's frozen mini quiche but I don't like the plastic trays they come in because they can't be recycled. My solution is to wash and save them for art and science projects at home. Here are a few re-uses we've found for plastic quiche trays:
  • Display & Collecting: They are great for playing "geologist" (just collect rocks in the back yard and let your little one wash them with a paintbrush and water and display them in the tray)
  • Sorting: I also love them for sorting projects like sorting buttons, beads, noodles, etc.
  • Mixing Colors: One of my daughter's favorites I came up with involved filling the little cups with some water and putting a few drops of red, yellow, and blue food coloring in a couple of them. Then I gave her an old eye dropper (that I saved from an old infant's tylenol bottle - these make great toys too... the eye droppers not Baby Tylenol!) She used the dropper to mix the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) into varying shades of secondary colors (orange, green, purple) and had a blast while learning about mixing colors and improving her fine motor skills by using an eye dropper.
  • Paint tray for mixing tempera paint
  • Pass them along to Elementary and Preschool teachers for their centers
  • Have other ideas? I would love to hear them!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Make Your Backyard A Certified Wildlife Habitat - It's a Jungle Out There

In hopes of doing our small part to educate and protect the planet for our daughters (and their future children) we joined the National Wildlife Federation. This spring, we joined 90,000+ people and certified our backyard as a certified wildlife habitat. It was an easy application and fun for our girls. We love hanging out in our backyard and exploring for bugs, bird watching from the family room windows, and digging in the dirt. The three requirements are food for animals, a regular water source, and cover and places to raise young. We also practice eco-friendly, sustainable gardening habits.

Food Sources: In our backyard we have native plants like Black Eyed Susans, Sedum, and Echinacea growing happily and providing seeds for birdies and chipmunks to nibble. We also have a beautiful Kousa Dogwood that is loaded with berries and a huge hedge of Holly bushes covered in berries for the birds and squirrels. Not to mention Oak trees loaded with acorns. For our indoor cat's entertainment we hung a black thistle feeder that gets daily goldfinch traffic. The Frog Princess made her own "bird" feeder by recycling an orange juice carton, it was very popular with our squirrels.

Water: We provide clean water with a bird bath that I refill every other day and I keep a mosquito dunk in it to battle the evil Asian Tiger Mosquitos that love our area. There is also a creek running through the woods nearby. I love my water wiggler I got from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Cover and Places to Raise Young: Wildlife require places to hide from people, inclement weather, and my next door neighbors killer outdoor cats. They also need shelter for raising their offspring. I have several bird house, shrubs, and trees like pines and the holly hedge I mentioned before. We had 4 nests of blue jays, one robin's nest, a squirrel nest, a batch of baby chipmunks, and a big group of baby house sparrows all raised in our backyard this spring and summer. We are planning on a bat roost and a butterfly house/garden next year.

Sustainable Gardening Practices: We are all about xeriscaping. We have replaced several areas of grass in our yard with stone, brick, and mulch beds to reduce demands on water. I am planning on installing rain barrels on a couple of our downspouts - they're on the top my birthday wish list this year. The native plants don't require as much babying and water as non-native species do...I have a survival of the fittest attitude with my plants and I refuse to coddle them, if they can't handle neglect and whatever water comes from the sky then they don't stay in my yard. I mulch my backyard beds with pine straw (it doesn't deforest the way traditional bark much does). We've tried to do as little chemical warfare as possible but we will need to find someways to deal with the crabgrass and clover. Since I'm not allowed to have a pet goat in my neighborhood, I'm thinking corn gluten, aerating, and milky spore for grubs.

Not only do I feel good about doing my small part to help our planet stay a bit more animal friendly but I got to post a groovy sign in my yard too! When you walk past my slightly weedy front lawn remember I'm not lazy, I'm a green mama (read: shameless plug -- check out my online store!) Your challenge this week is to take a green hour with your kids and see what you find, after all it's a jungle back there!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My 10 Minutes of Peeptastic Fame

This is the kind of thing I would have posted on my blog if I had one this spring. I entered the Washinton Post's Peeps Diorama contest on a whim and actually made it as a semi-finalist. Not only that but they picked mine as one of the examples that ran in the Sunday Source Print edition. The link still works to see the slideshow at the post so I'm throwing it on here tonight. I've already got next year's entry planned out.
Check out the gallery at the Washington Post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Day of a New Year

The first day of a new year isn't January 1st for me. New Years Eve is a night for party invitations you don't want to go to, watching a movie, and looking up at the clock sometime past midnight and nudging my husband and saying, "oh, happy new year."

I track my life in school years. Even though it's been years since I sat in a classroom it's the way I can always remember doing things. Elementary school: K, 1,2,3.... Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Graduate school. As a teacher, I kept track of the school years in clusters: '98-'99, '99-2000. Then I kept track for a while by my daughter's age: 6 weeks, 4 months, 13 months...

The process came full circle today as the Frog Princess got on that big yellow bus for her first day of Kindergarten. I wasn't as overwhelmed as I thought I would be. Yes, she looked very small climbing those big steps, yes she was at my bedside at 5 am this morning in the darkness crying about being scared of school, and yes I brought extra kleenex and wore my dark sunglasses so she wouldn't see me cry. But, there was comfort in knowing that I can start keeping track my my days again with a new routine and the start of a new school year. It seems fitting that my first/ever blog entry would be posted after that same little girl bounded toward our family at the bus stop this afternoon and announced "Kindergarten Rocks!" Here's to the first day of a new year.

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