Whew – last week was the start of (pre)school, and I’m not gonna lie, it totally kicked my butt! Juggling everyone’s schedules, a work conference + a non-stop teether (pedi seriously thinks she’s getting molars at 10 mos #fml) = a major glitch in the system: missed the big kid’s actual 1st day of school then dropped her off on a day she wasn’t scheduled *headdesk*. (Better cross this t-shirt off my Christmas list.) The crazy week continued into the weekend: fast-forward to early Saturday morning swim lessons at the Y – and the cold, hard reality of metal bleachers. Soccer mamas everywhere, I salute you. There’s gotta be a way to make watching kids’ sports more comfortable and to look cool while staying warm. Since hanging out in the bleachers is where you’ll find lots of us come fall weekends, here are three ways to have more fun in the stands.
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I’ll never forget when my oldest, Raines, first learned how to ride a bike. A real bike – with pedals and two wheels and everything. A Big Boy Bike. Raines had been riding his little green Strider bike for years, but now that he was five, he really wanted the real thing.
It’s not like his Strider slowed him down – heck, he would keep me company while I ran (and once we did four miles down the banks of the Schuylkill River together) but Raines has always been interested in fast, and quickly realized that a higher top speed could be reached with a larger bike.
You understand my hesitation, Mamas. Mike, on the other hand, was all, “boy’s ready for a bike!”
So….OK. After school one Friday, Raines and I came home with a bike. It was huge. It was heavy. It was a giant monstrosity that the bike store guys assured me would “last for years”. I was skeptical, but….whatever. This was Mike’s domain. I envisioned him coming home from work that night, and spending all weekend with Raines having that classic father-son Bonding Moment. Snort. I was ignoring that my own memories of learning to ride a bike involved tantrums, tears, and a certainty that adults COULD NOT BE TRUSTED.
Anyway, The Big Bonding Moment never happened. Not because of tears or tantrums, but because Mike never got the chance. Raines hauled his heavy bike out onto the sidewalk to show it off to the neighborhood kids, including Luke, a nine-year-old who always seemed impossibly old compared to my little guys. “Miss Shana? I can teach him to ride,” Luke said casually. Pax had picked that exact moment to freak out, so as I carried the screaming/flailing Pax back into the house I said, “Uh…OK, Luke. Go ahead.”
I went inside to change Pax, and when I came out – it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes later – Raines blew past me on his bike, Luke running behind him. “LUKE!!!!” I bellowed. “WHAT HAPPENED???” Luke stopped, confused. “Uh….he just got on the bike and rode?” he said, giving me a funny look. “I barely did anything!!!”
The genius part of balance bikes is that they teach the hard part – the balance – almost immediately. It’s innate, just based on the design of the bike. And when you see your kid cruising by with their feet up….
Hey Mamas! We were so excited to find out that Nordstrom now carries TOYS! That free shipping/free return thing that I love so much? It makes it super easy for me to shop for Greenlea . . . too easy. I might be in trouble. Shana & I came up with about a billion gift ideas that we tried to whittle down unsuccessfully. Instead, enjoy our overwhelming menagerie of toys!
*We’re trying a new thing with this post . . . instead of the usual links that follow our collages, this collage is totally clickable. Just hover your mouse over an item that you like and you’ll be able to click right to the site to purchase. For those of you in a reader or in your email you may need to click over to the full site. Let us know how you like the new format!
Greenlea is obsessed with her baby gym. She can stare at that thing for hours. Me? I’m kinda over seeing it in my living room . . . this Finn + Emma Wooden Gym is so much more aesthetically pleasing. I love the wood and soft colors and the fact that it takes up soo much less space.
The wall sign (#9) first caught my eye because it would look awesome in Greenlea’s nursery and then I read it and had to have it. It says, “As your Mom & Dad we are smitten, taken, crazy about, enchanted for, swimming in a sea of love, prouder than proud, delighted and tickled to death, for you dear *Greenlea.*” Is that not exactly how you feel about your babies?? LOVE.
I really like the fact that these toys are adorable without being too “cutesy.” The Mason Jar Light would make an awesome night light (it’s battery-operated so it won’t take up one of your outlets). The elephant play mat would be perfect for our hard floors. I can’t wait to try the Wubbanub because everyone raves about it (and Greenlea loves Sophie the Giraffe as much as everyone said she would). The Nat & Jules Giraffe hat and bloomers would be an awesome photo op and OMG are those GOLD baby Uggs?? Like I said . . . I might be in trouble.
I got an email recently from Leslie, titled, “Please help make us the cool kids on the block!” She wrote:
We recently moved to Billings, Montana, and my five year old boy and three year old girl are having a bit of a hard time fitting in. I think we might need cooler toys. Everyone around here has a trampoline, or an xbox and we are not there yet. I do want them to have fun outside, and fit in. What do you, your friends, and readers love? I did a small amount of research and bought them Strider balance bikes last year, but we didn’t have too much luck with those. I have to be careful about the price to appease my mechanical engineer husband; although I tend to agree with your theory, cost per laugh would be appropriate here. I would love things that I could involve the neighborhood kids with too. I will consider anything, and promise to send pics of our choices. Thank you so much for your ideas.
Leslie, I don’t know if we’re the cool kids on our block, but I do know a bit about moving across country with two kids and trying (desperately) to make friends. And I’ll admit that in our current neighborhood, we now have kids swarming around our pad pretty much 24/7. In my experience, you don’t need money or expensive toys (I mean seriously check out our decrepit aka free swingset above)…you just need a spirit of…wildness.
From my experience, kids play better when there’s this sense that they’re in charge. They direct the play. With that in mind, here are the “rules” we live by:
1. We Say YES.
When you are playing over at our place, I almost always say YES to the following questions:
Can we use the hose?
Can we use the sprinkler?
Can we dig a hole?
Can we make mud?
Can we use this old log/stick/piece of wood?
Can we use some rope?
Can we use a hammer?
Can we take art supplies outside?
Can I draw on myself?
The key has been to figure out how to say yes. For example, digging a hole in the middle of the lawn? Yeah – that’s a NO. But giving them a section of the garden where they can dig to their hearts content? YES.
2. Make Open-Ended Materials Available
Forget toys, the smartest thing I did this fall – from a play perspective – was buying a few bales of hay. (I mean yes OK it made a huge mess that we are still cleaning up and we have sworn NEVER AGAIN but live and learn, right?) But the good news is that there are a ton of open-ended materials that are much more containable than hay. Open-Ended Materials We Stock Up On:
- Pieces of wood (these make fantastic ramps, jumps, forts, etc.)
- Rope (the kids have used these to make everything from ‘animal traps’ to hacking up swings on our poor old tree).
- Bungee Cords (we go through these things so fast – they use them for freaking everything)
- Extra-Large Rubbermaid bins (fill ’em with dirt, with water, leave ’em empty. The kids will figure out what to do in about .2 seconds)
- Umbrellas (these Totes stick umbrellas from Target are big, fairly durable, and the neighborhood fav for outdoor forts – stick with the stick, not portable style for max durability)
- Old Sheets or Blankets (perfect for fort building)
- Duct Tape
- Stuff From Our Recycling Bin (empty yogurt containers, cans, etc.)
- Pulleys (you can find a bunch at any Home Depot type store)
- Old Pots/Pans from Goodwill (there was an issue one day when I failed to realize that the kids were playing soooo very nicely with my husband’s favorite All Clad pan. Talk about sh*t hitting the pan when Mike came home. I mean fan. Sh*t hitting the….fan.)
3. Don’t Make Them Share.
There’s nothing lamer than some adult hanging over a group of kids going, “Susie, you’ve had your turn. Please give the ball to Johnny.” Sharing sucks. IT SUCKS. (And I’m not alone – check out this book) A strategy that’s worked for us? Prevent the conflict in the first place by hitting the dollar store for multiples of:
- Water Guns: I suggest buying multiples of the EXACT SAME guns if you can….but if not, at least make sure you have enough guns for everyone (and throw in extras for the adults). These are our favorites.
- Bubbles: You can get the big sizes for refills, but also buy a bunch of the individual bottles so each kid can have one. I buy – no less – than 25 each summer.
- Balls – basketballs, soccer balls, dodgeballs, wiffle balls, and especially these little soft balls that are intended to be water bombs in the summer.
- Pool Noodles: These are such a huge hit, and they’ve never even seen the inside of a pool. Amazing how open-ended these are.
- Sidewalk Chalk: Crayola’s Sidewalk Chalk is the best. The colors are – hands down – the brightest.
- Buckets and Shovels
- Flashlights (or headlamps): They seriously go nuts for these. This may not be a dollar store item, but totally worth it. We’ve been collecting these over the years and now have about 8. Flashlights are one of those items that seem to be too hard to share.
- Foam Swords: You really can’t have enough of these. (And girls love them too.) Amazon carries sets of 12.
4. Keep It Accessible….Even When You Aren’t There
Once the weather warms, I store all of our water guns, bubbles, pool noodles, chalk, buckets, shovels, swords and outside balls in bins on our front porch. The rule is that anyone can use them, anytime. (We also have a rule that they must be put away when you are finished, but that’s a tough rule for young kids, so it’s more of a general guideline than something we try to strictly enforce.)
5. Toys Worth Spending Money On
There are a few toys that have been worth their weight in gold. They are:
- Skateboards – real ones!! Penny boards are a great first skateboard that will last for years…or if adults want in on the action, try a longboard (the kids ride it on their belly, or Mike will ride double with the kids). The super cheap ones don’t last, and a barely functioning skateboard isn’t fun for anyone.
- Scooters – Razor Kick Scooters work with many ages, but I’ve been hearing more & more about Micro Kick Boards if you want a smoother ride…
- A Tee for T-Ball (and several bats, and a whole ton of whiffle balls) – The Little Tikes Tee is a good choice for the very young, but we’ve found that once the kiddos hit 5, you’ll want a real tee.
- Portable Soccer nets – we love this one by Step2.
- Basketball Hoop (one that can be lowered…but not the baby version once they approach 5.)
- Swingset – I tend to think simple is better….but I’m having a heck of a time finding one with enough swings to replace our old, worn-out set. Maybe the Flexible Flyer “Swing and Play” Swing Set?
- Real, Kid-Sized Yard Tools (Rakes, Shovels, Brooms, etc.) Melissa and Doug makes a set, but we think it’s better to go with multiple individual kid rakes because if one wants to rake they ALL want to rake.
Of course, if you really want to grab the neighborhood kid’s attention, you could always go the route of over-the-top-water fun:
Works every time.
(This smaller double-pool-and-slide is what we used to “bribe” the neighborhood kids over when we first moved in. We had kids from ages 1-7 going crazy on this thing. It didn’t last long, but it was the best $40 we ever spent.)
6. None Ya (As in “none of your business”)
Finally, we try to stay out of the kids’ business as much as possible. Dispute over a truck? Yeah, I’ll empathize. That stinks. How frustrating!! Or I’ll employ a trick from Raines’ amazing preschool teacher, Lauren*: “Are you telling me because you want me to do something, or because you just want me to know?” You’d be surprised at how often kids just want to be heard. Many times the kids respond with “I want you to know!!” and then run off to play. In the event that they are looking for some action, Lauren suggests coming back with: “What have you tried?” At this point, they’re totally bored and typically will go work it out themselves.
The times I intervene are when I’m worried someone will get hurt, or if I notice that my own children are so tired they are terrorizing the neighborhood *cough*Pax*cough.
So there you have it. Our “rules”. Snort. As you can imagine, many of our neighbors think we’re nuts. But, you know…walks like a duck and all that. There are worse things than a few shades of crazy, right?
Readers – any other ideas? What do you guys do to bring all the boys&girls to your yard? (Besides milkshakes…hahaha).
*local Mamas, Lauren just joined forces with the insanely fabulous Creative Clubhouse and is starting her own preschool program this Fall!! (You can find it under “Creative Corner”.) Knowing Lauren, it’ll be an awesome blend of Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Waldorf all wrapped up with a huge dose of outdoor time. My preschool-dream-come-true.
I have a secret. Most mornings, I get to sit quietly and enjoy a cup of coffee (and a piece of chocolate) for a few precious, uninterrupted minutes. Let’s not go crazy, we’re not talking hours, but if I do things right the night before, my little guys wake up in the morning, make themselves some cereal (I help), and then busy themselves with some kind of project.
Sounds almost too good to be true, right? I KNOW. Welcome to the #creativetable.
The #creativetable hashtag can be found on Instagam (and Google+). It was started by my friend Rachelle (the blogger behind Tinkerlab) and is useful for finding play invitation ideas. A play invitation (or “create invitation”) is basically a method of setting out a limited number of art/building/similar supplies, and artfully arranging them to entice your child to explore.
But here’s the key (at least for me): Once the “invitation” is set up…keep your mouth shut. As Rachelle says, you “facilitate” not direct….I call this “drinking coffee”. (potato potahto)
This isn’t a “hey let’s make these cute chicks out of pom-poms and follow my strict instructions by gluing this pom to that pom” kind of an idea. Rather the goal is to give your kids the space to discover, to wonder, to problem solve. Nothing shuts down my kids’ creativity faster than instructions from adults. Have you noticed the same thing? (Along these lines, Rachelle has some amazing guidelines on making art with kids.)
But what I really like about Rachelle’s perspective is that it’s not just about creating, this concept of play invitations. It’s not really even about making art. Instead it’s about learning how to problem solve, how to test limits, how to come up with new ways of doing things, new ways of looking at the world. Giving kids the space to explore, discover, and create (without getting all up in their business) allows kids to develop into the best kind of engineers: innovative ones.
So how to get started?
It’s helpful to have a (relatively uncluttered) place to create. My house is almost always a disaster, but I do try to keep one surface clear for our #creativetable (and in the summer, it’s often on the patio). I like to set things up the night before, so I can do my calm coffee routine in the morning.
For inspiration and ideas on how to set up your own, check out the #creativetable hashtag on Instagram, explore Tinkerlab, or….for the big announcement….go buy Rachelle’s new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors.
Now, I consider myself an old hat at the play invitation game (I’ve been doing this kind of thing for almost three years now) but I still found her book to be….grounding. In the best possible way.
I mean YES: it’s completely inspiring, too (chock full of ideas), but in a I-can-totally-do-that-let’s-start-now kind of way. This isn’t one of those beautiful books you’ll sigh over and then feel depressed because you don’t even know where to start. Rachelle has a whole section on how to create your own Tinkerlab, and the best tools to stock it with. (Hint: If you’ve seen our art cart on Instagram….the idea was ALL Rachelle.) She also has entire sections dedicated to design, building, concocting (my fav! Any other chemistry geeks out there??) and discovering. I’m loving the way this book successfully blends art-based play with science, and we’re talking everything from paper houses to ‘naked egg’ experiments, from painting to creation of a drawing machine (complete with a toy motor).
I mean seriously.
I have one copy to give away (besides ours which is well worn by now – even R thumbs through it for ideas)….so here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re going to play.
To enter the giveaway, do the following:
1. Upload a picture of your own version of #creativetable (no judgement here, Mamas – try anything you want) to Instagram. Don’t forget to use the #creativetable hashtag!
3. “Like” my instagram giveaway pic to be entered into the giveaway
1. Upload a picture of your own version of #creativetable below my post.
You can also do both, for an additional entry.
The giveaway is open to US, Canada, UK and Australia. Let’s play!! (Or…ummm….set things up so the kids play while we relax and enjoy our coffee.)
Hey! Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors is currently the #1 best seller in the Crafts for Kids section on Amazon. Congrats, Rachelle!!
Thanks to Vivi Gonzalez and Jessica Robles Worch, Mainline mamas have a new place to hang: Lulu's Casita.
Lulu's Casita is a kid-friendly cafe and play space where "kids can play and parents can stay". And at Lulu's Casita, they are serious about play. For example, there are runways and dress up and giant blocks….
I love pretend play and dress-up, but I'm not a big Halloween fan. I mean sure…if babies are involved, I'm ALL in. I dressed R up as a bee, and remember Pax the chicken? Yeah – that's my kind of Halloween dress-up. But as soon as they get old enough to form their own opinions, I find myself trying to come up with a "Super-hero bear" costume only to have it tossed aside day-of.
So now we've scaled the whole Halloween thing waaaay back. When Halloween parties pop up, or the main event itself, we wander on over to the dress up box and see what we can come up with. And thanks to some insanely talented Etsy sellers….we have a whole lotta awesome in our dress-up box. (For under $50.)
I got a Pap smear yesterday. Whoa, maybe I should say good morning first. Hope you already had your coffee! But I booked my appointment in honor of Megan's recent health scare. The Happiest Mom says go get it done, Mamas. I did mine. Now it's your turn.
Have you heard of Sakroots? They make really cool products, all covered with…art. I love this clutch for date night, am dying for this water bottle, and would love any of their iPhone cases. They are currently holding a contest to find their next print, if any of you are art-inclined….
Are any of you on Chictopia? I joined recently, just to see what the fuss was about. I'm not totally convinced it's worth my time….between Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook…there's just so much. Thoughts?
On Monday, I talked about my resolution to spend more time in nature just…sitting….and then I found this article from a local parent's group. They call it a "sit spot". Isn't that clever?
I love when books lead to creative play…and Play at Hom Mom found a good one.
If any of you are interested in Reggio-Emelia…Play Outside has created THE BEST series on the Reggio-Emelia approach. Their emphasis is primarily for pre-school classrooms, but I find a ton of inspiration to pull into the home.
I think we're headed out to the Creative Clubhouse today (if any of you are local, it's my hands-down fav place to take the kids)….and this weekend I hope to do a little star gazing. Gosh, I love a good Science Festival.
Mamas, I apologize for the light week. I had intended to post the promised hair article, but man. I'm wiped out. Mike has been gone (since Sun!!) on a business trip, and in his absence, I've broken one coffee cup and two plates, lost the car keys six times, left Pax's winter coat somewhere in Easton, PA (Crayola "Experience" – LAME), and have had to deal with snotty noses and freezing weather ALL WEEK. Ugh. (To make matters worse, Mike's trip took him to freakin' HAWAII, so my week has been peppered with super annoying texts like, "Aloha Baby!" and pictures of the big waves on the North Shore. Awesome, but GAH!!!)
During weeks like these, our Kiwi Crates (full review here) are worth their weight in gold. If you haven't checked them out in a while…they currently have a charming limited edition crate for Valentine's Day. It comes with enough (pop-up!) Valentine's for an entire class and is nicely gender-neutral. But be warned: unless your little one is pretty dexterous, gluing on the pop-ups is a challenge. R did exactly one, loved it, and then went about just making his own (non-pop-up) cards. (Kiwi Crate, if you see this, we'd love more regular cards next year. And more gem stickers.) I ended up supplementing with plain folded cards (aka cut-up paper, LOL), and am planning to pick up a few sheets of gem stickers to continue the fun.
I've been perusing through Laura Barr's list of Games That Make Children (and their parents) Smarter. Raines is just starting to get into games (the old-school board game kind) and if this cold front keeps up, I may be making a large Amazon game purchase. (R keeps asking for a chess set after playing a bit at the Art Museum. How awesome is that??)
Also? I'm feeling fat and old. Fat, because my body is no longer making all of those holiday goodies magically disappear (GET WITH THE PROGRAM, aging metabolism!!) and old, because next week is my thirty*cough*somehighnumber*cough* birthday. WOO. HOO. To invigorate said metabolism, I signed up for Barre3's 28-to-great program…however, I have only managed to work out THREE times since the beginning of Jan. Therefore, in order to complete my "goal", I must workout 25 more times before Feb 1. Right. Shouldn't be a problem.
And thank you to Refinery 29 for these tips on how to eat healthy in the dead of winter. Soup, here I come.
In the midst of one of my (many) pity parties this week, I bought myself a cute, cozy sweater. (With hearts on it. For $30.) It's now sold out, but SheInside is my new favorite place for cute & cheap. This might be my next purchase. Of course, their things sell out in roughly 10 minutes, so…..
I also can't stop thinking about these Keds snow boots. They have a super cool 70's vibe, and would be a fun change-up for anyone sick of their serious snowboots. Did I mention they are on sale for $30?
Lastly, the highlight of our week was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If any of you follow me on instagram (@shanachristine) you'll know that I brought the boys to the art museum to see EB Lewis read from his latest book, Each Kindness. Well. Add this one to the List of Books That Make Me Cry. In this very amazing book, the main character frequently rebuffs the attempts of the "new girl" to be friends. In the end, the new girl moves away, and the main character realizes too late how she had not chosen the path of kindness. The book ends with, "I watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya became more and more forever gone." Heavy, right? But I think it was good for Raines to hear that sometimes, when you make bad choices, you can't always fix it. Since then, we've been talking a lot about kindness, what it means to be kind, and how very small acts of kindness, when added together, really can change the world. During Mr. Lewis' reading, he mentioned that the concept of kindness is so important that he wished we focused on it for longer than just a day. I couldn't agree more. So. I've decided to act like the time between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Valentine's Day is Kindness Month. (I know it's not really a month, but still.) I've been brainstorming ideas with the boys, and we're trying to do something kind everyday. I'd love for you to join in – it's always so nice to get inspiration from others. I'll be posting what we do to Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #kindnesscounts.
Happy Weekend, Mamas!! I can't wait for the love of my life to get back home…and I know he picked up some dried mango at the ABC store. Yay!
They. Are. Awesome. And perfect if you (like me) are dreading the after-Christmas influx of crappy toys. (Really, we don't have the room.) Instead of _____ (fill in the blank with annoying toy), how 'bout the relatives get your littles something that is not only super-crazy-fun but also helps to keep you sane during the dark days of winter? A win-win if ever there was one, Mamas.