Monday, April 24, 2017

8 Non-toy Toys

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     Sometimes the best toys are non-toys. They're those bits of random objects around the house that can be repurposed for play. After all, don't you know that the best part of a new toy is the box?!

     The following is just a few of the activities I've created over the last few years. Some have been more successful than others. They have all been wonderful to offer the children when they need something new and/or interesting and interactive. 

1) Coin Drop
     This activity is made from a baby oatmeal container and milk jug caps. The bottom of the container is metal and makes a sound when the coins are dropped into it, which has added to the enjoyment. When noise isn't desired, though, I added a piece of felt to the inside. The children have played with this activity so much that the slit in the top is nearly worn out. 

      Also, this activity pairs well with a tot school unit on the book *Corduroy by Don Freeman. It's a safer alternative to using real coins for little ones. 

2) Jingle Bell Socks
     This activity has been great for our 0-1 year olds. It is made from a package of infant socks (0-6mo.) and small bells. I placed a single bell in one sock, two bells in another, and three in the third sock (that fourth sock walked away from me and I never found it!). I then sewed up the top of the sock, leaving the cuff intact. The cuff, actually, provides a great place for little hands to hold. Who needs fancy plastic rattles when you have socks?! haha!

3) Foam Bead Lacing
      The idea of this activity is to practice fine motor skills by lacing the pieces onto the string. It's made from a foam pool noodle and shoe string purchased from the dollar store. 

     This has been one of our least successful activities. First, the tip of the string was more difficult than expected for them to string through the beads. I think they would have been more successful if the end of the string wasn't so floppy. Or, simply wait until an older age than when I had introduced it to them. Second, if you notice there are bites taken out of the bead pieces. This was the main reason this activity isn't brought out very often and if it is there must be close supervision. I don't care to pick up dozens if small foam bits from the floor or have the activity itself destroyed! 

4) Scent Bottles
     The children really enjoyed these! These are simply a set of travel bottles within which I added a scented element inside (essential oils, extracts, pieces of herbs or other aromatic plants). The children have enjoyed squeezing the bottles and smelling the various scents! 

5) Velcro Sticks
     The children call these "sticky sticks." They are simply the largest colored craft sticks and pieces of velcro. These are fantastic for creative play, and we've often brought them in an activity bag for church. We've also used them to create various shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, pentagon etc.). They will hold the shapes up to their faces like frames and giggle. 

6) ?
     I'm not sure what you'd call this activity. It consists of an empty container (formerly filled with peppercorns) and cut pieces of pipe cleaners. The idea is to insert the pipe cleaners into the small holes of the lid. It's a great fine motor skill activity!

7) Pom-Pom Drop
     This activity is similar to the Coin Drop activity, but easier for younger ones to complete. It's created from an old dairy container. I purchased a value bag of various sized pom-poms from the craft store to accompany it. The nice thing about the container being something ordinary is that I can always get another lid and cut smaller holes for smaller pom-poms. So, it can increase in required fine motor skill as they do. 

8) Ribbon Pull Box
     This is also a favorite! I simply poked holes in a small box and inserted stripes of fabric (could do ribbon, but fabric strips were what I had on hand). The fabric piece are strung through two holes on different sides of the box. When one side is pulled the other goes in, and vise versa. We have played with this activity so many times. The children really enjoy when I add silly sound effects when they pull on one end causing the other end to move as well. 

     Like I said, these were created over the course of the last three years. I don't have near as much opportunity to create activities these days. It's nice that once created, we have them to play with for the next few years. Although slower, I still enjoy adding to our collection. It's so fun to offer the children activities that promote skill building and exploration (not to mention, free reused materials!). This sort of thing satisfies my creative spirit. 

 Note: The "*" indicates the inclusion of an affiliate link. I am personally an affiliate with, and as such receive a compensation for purchases made through the links. (Thank you!)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

March 2017 In Our Home

They play while I read

Garden Beds
So exciting to see these beds! We've dreamed about them for so long!
     We have been dreaming of our own garden for many, many years. We attempted a container garden nearly every year we've been married, but had poor results. (Tricky to get the soil composition just right). When we moved into our house, we immediately began talking about putting in a raised bed garden. David carefully calculated the cost of all materials and we put funds aside when we could until we had the full amount to complete the project. Over the course of one weekend, David built all the beds and filled them with the various soils. I then got to determine what we'll grow and where. (This was very exciting to me and quite the privilege! I know nothing about gardening whereas David grew up with one, and so it would have been easy for him to simply do everything himself. Instead, he gave me the opportunity to have a hand in it as well. Since, I don't have a background in gardening I relied on the Farmers Almanac Vegetable Garden Planner to determine square foot gardening and companion planting. I also consulted various other websites to determine how many plants we needed to plant for our family (and some to share!).) Hopefully, it will be a productive gardening year! It will certainly be an educational experience for me. I'm so looking forward to fresh vegetables from our own backyard! I'm also looking forward to the children getting to see where food actually comes from beyond products in a store. 

    The adjustment to caring for three children three years old and under has been challenging to say the least. Attitudes and behaviors have been at an all time rotten. I've realized how my poor attitudes and behaviors while I was so exhausted during pregnancy and during these newborn days have so negatively and so deeply impacted the children. We've got a lot of work to do to dig out of this hole. 
1 month old!

    Breastfeeding has had a rocky start. Once again, I'm an overachiever milk-producer. As in, if I were to pump I can obtain 7-11oz in one session. Breastfeeding for us is "drink or drown." He was getting so much so fast by week three that he would projectile vomit many of his feeds. He was also having an issue with milk becoming trapped in his nose, which is problematic when you're an obligatory nose breather. Because he gets so much milk so fast he tends to gulp and gag during nursing sessions (all my babies have done this). All that gulping results in a lot of ingested air. One of our greatest struggles is a painful gassy belly and resulting sleeplessness. Again, this is the third time we're experiencing breastfeeding as such. It's heartbreaking to watch him struggle with his belly. It's also exhausting for Mama and Daddy to need to do so much to try comfort him (..all night long). I contacted a local lactation consultant and we determined another way to try to decrease supply. I'm hoping to hold out a little longer with breastfeeding, but I also know this path well. Poor sleeping and eating habits established early on are so very difficult to redirect later. (And, honestly, I'm struggling many days on only four hours total of sleep every night.)

     We're back with "tiny tot school" and "tot school"! I had really missed having an activity to do with each of the children each day. The approach of having just one activity per child per day is continuing to work out really well. 

      I've also desired to have a more purposeful activity for our outside time each day. Free play is great, but eventually they grow disinterested in the toys or area provided. One of my goals this summer is to provide something new for them to play and explore. Since we have been working on our garden this month, I thought it would be fun to provide a vegetable garden for them. I purchased some inexpensive plastic vegetables and buried them in their exploration bins. I also set out a bin of flowers and plastic pots for a flower garden. And then there was also the gardening tools and watering can that they already had. I've brainstormed a list of ideas I hope to incorporate each week. They don't have to play with the planned activity, but it's an additional option. 

Lessons Learned
What would I do without a baby carrier? Love the K'Tan!
    We're one month in to family and home life with three young children! Although I have many, many more lessons to learn, the Lord has already begun guiding me greater. A few areas within which I've been learning:

    1) A schedule is more essential than ever- If I'm going to adequately care for three little ones, meals and the housework all day everyday, then I must pre-determine what or who needs my attention when. Otherwise, I'll be expecting more from myself than possible and no one/thing's needs will be met (not to mention I'd be a fried and frazzled mama). A schedule also helps me keep everyone productively occupied throughout the day. Otherwise, the children will quickly fall into disputes with one another or make colossal messes in the house. Because Huxley's eating times can vary each day, I've found it best to use a basic framework in creating a schedule each day and then adjust the times as needed. I create the morning portion at the start of the day, and then write the afternoon portion at naptime. Anything we didn't accomplish during the morning gets moved to the afternoon. Scheduling helps me tremendously. I have intentions to begin taking photos of each element of our day and creating a photo chart/timeline to give the children a visual. I believe this will help them understand each piece and transition well. 

2) My approach to parenting has to be refined- Though I've been a parent for three years, I've come to the realization that I've had it all wrong. We have been so authoritative in our style. However as I examine the children's individual personalities and behaviors in terms of responses to situations,  I'm becoming painfully aware of how damaging that approach has been. The children have such different personalities, and they need me to learn and approach them according to how they can best be reached and respond. I cannot approach them both according to my personal parenting philosophy. I also cannot parent my sensitive child as I would my spirited child. Or, conversely, parent my spirited child as I would my sensitive child. None of these approaches work, and I fully see that. The Lord has really burdened my heart with a desire to learn and grow towards better parenting. This has meant laying aside former notions of parenting and learning new ones, as well as becoming a student of my children in terms of who they are and how to best relate to them individually. Their behavior is so heavily influenced by my parenting style. With three children now, I want to end the power struggles and begin enjoying each of them greater. 

New Books We're Enjoying This Month:
     I like to purchase at least one new book for each of us each month. For an additional look into the books we've enjoyed in our home, click the "Bookshelves" tab at the top of the page and then follow the links to our various online bookshelves. 

Note: The "*" indicates the inclusion of an affiliate link. I am personally an affiliate with, and as such receive a compensation for purchases made through the links. (Thank you!)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Family Rules and Rewards (for toddlers)

 **  Please note that our parenting experience extends to a mere three years currently. We are learning how to approach family rules and expectations as we go! These rules and rewards will change as our family changes. The following is merely a sharing of our family's current experience. Perhaps, though, it may be helpful for determining rules and rewards for the toddler ages. **

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     At some point it happens- the need to establish household rules. Household rules are beneficial for the child and the entire family. They, in fact, allow all individuals to thrive. Rules provide guidance to proper behavior in a predictable manner. They aren't arbitrary, nor are they reactive. They establish boundaries and limits that teach a child how to conduct himself in a variety of situations and settings. 
     A toddler is experiencing a developmental stage in life in which he desires independence and will explore his limits. He's also wrestling with feeling big emotions but lacking in the ability to communicate or control those emotions. As a parent, it's my responsibility to help him navigate emotions and impulse-control so that he may develop emotional intelligence and maturity as he grows into an adult who will then be a beneficial member of society. 
Our "time out" spot in our home. 
     The home and family are mini-societies and practice societies. Jill Savage describes the upbringing setting or time as our "internship" for life in her book *Professionalizing Motherhood. She contends that the lessons learned early in life within the home or relationships therein provide a foundation from which we will work from as adults. Rules within the home establishes a respect for authority and boundaries that exist for a purpose and must be followed, the same as within society. Obedience and respect for authority is learned. Rules also provide lessons in social skills and how to interact well with others. If a child can learn to get along well with his sibling(s), he can get along with anyone. Establishing rules within the home are a part of training a child to become a thoughtful, kind and productive member of society as an adult. 
      Establishing rules within the home requires discipline on my part as a parent as well. It's easy to just "go with the flow" and correct as needed. However, this pattern is diffcult for the child to follow. He doesn't clearly understand expectations for his behavior. He only learns of his misdeed through correction. In other words, he acts and then I would react. It appears as though expectations are arbitrary and perhaps subject to my mood/disposition. I can see how eventually the children may begin feeling guilt and shame for being "bad" as a result of constant fussing. Establishing rules in a more proactive and concrete manner provides them a better understanding of the expectation for behavior and allows greater opportunity for success. 
      Family rules aren't bad things! They're really quite beneficial!
     As our oldest child grew from baby to toddler, we began to see the need for establishing family rules. We determined that around the age of two was an appropriate time to introduce formal rules and consequences. We considered various behaviors that were applicable to the particular stage in development. I didn't want a list of "no...". Instead, I tried to write the desired behaviors and then clarified with specifics to the side. We have a copy of our family rules hung in our "time out corner" in our home, and can easily point to the list and show them which rule was broken during our discussion. 
     Below I have a copy of our family rules. 
Click to enlarge. Contact me to receive a copy via email. 

     Our approach typically includes three steps: 1) a reminder of proper behavior 2) a warning of consequence and 3) Time Out mat (following Jo Frost's method). I've learned that it's important to resist the temptation to ask, "Do you want to go to Time Out? Then, don't do ___." This seems to send the message that the child may direct the discipline. Instead, I've tried to train myself to say, "We do ____. If you choose not to, then you will need to sit in Time Out." 

     (There is certainly far more to discipline than mere rules and consequences. This post is intended to focus only the practical "how to" as it applies to our family.)

Our jar is kept in our living room to be easily accessible and visible to everyone. 
      Along with rules, we also have a reward system for our children. A reward system is equally important as a rules system. A "reward" can be as simple as a word of praise. Or, it could be a visual reward. It could also be something tangible like a new activity, toy, book, treat or outting. Little ones are learning proper attitudes and behaviors, and it can easily become apparent that they are "bad" if they receive only correction. They really need to be affirmed that they've done well as well! The two systems are necessary for balance. 
       A reward system  recognizes and focuses on positive behavior. The creation of some sort of a system allows me to be more cognizant of offering them that recognition. It's easy as a parent to simply expect a certain standard of behavior, and neglect praising and/or rewarding them for it. By having a visible reward system, not only are they motivated to work towards the goal, but I'm more inclined to be prompted to offer them praise or a reward. My mama-heart needs to see the good/positive and offer praise just as much as the children need to receive it. 

     We initially used a sticker chart, but it quickly lost it's appeal. I then chose to use various size pom-poms placed into a jar. The pom-poms are new and exciting to them, which provides sufficient motivation. The various sizes allows the jar to be filled without a predetermined amount. 
      Any time we recognize the children having good behavior they receive a pom-pom for their jars. We try to recognize even the smallest act, as even that is important. Once the jar is filled we take the individual out for an ice cream cone, cookie or other special treat with just Mama or just Daddy. It's a simple concept, and yet has been so effective! 

    (Of course, eventually they will need to learn to exhibit proper behavior without a tangible reward, but for the toddler age presently we believe this is an appropriate course of action. His little face lights up with the offering of a pom pom or mention of working towards an ice cream cone reward, and so that's sufficient evidence for me!))   

Recommended Resources: 
Jo Frost's Toddler Rules by Jo Frost
*Time Out Mat
"Caught You Being Good Jar" idea and printable

Note: The "*" indicates the inclusion of an affiliate link. I am personally an affiliate with, and as such receive a compensation for purchases made through the links. (Thank you!)

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