Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Toddler Fun Series: Blowing Pom Poms with a Straw

The number one thing about this activity was discovering the adorable way Rhys says "pom pom". The activity itself was quick and not all that engaging, but guys? My baybee . . . he says "pom pom" cutely.  WIN.

Materials needed: Pom Poms, Straws  (in the craft kit)
Time consumend: About 5 minutes. A minute blowing pom poms around, another minute sorting them by color, the maority of our time was spent putting pom poms back in ziplock bag when finished. THAT actually went over well.  Putting things in bags . . . activity idea . . . hmmm. . .
Todder approval rating: 5 out of 10 stars. It wasn't "bad", just not all that interesting to him.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Toddler Fun Series: Cheerio Threading

Having Rhys thread Cheerios on yarn or pipe cleaners had been on my activity list for a while, and then I found this totally amped up and way cooler Cheerio threading idea.  It went over really well with the little man.

Materials needed: Play doh, dried pasta, Cheerios.  We had everything on hand.
Time consumned:  About 20 minutes. 
Toddler approval rating:  7 out of 10 stars. He liked this one! It didn't hold his attention quite as long as I expected which is why I docked it a few stars, but the twenty minutes he spent were fun for him.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Toddler Fun Series: Playing Grocery Store

Rhys isn't actually a big fan of real grocery stores . . . he's the only child I've ever known who usually refuses to sit in a cart (even when we offer to let him sit in the big part of the cart!).  He does, however, like carrying things in bags, playing with rewards cards and using his calculator, so in the end this activity was a winner.  I set up a row of empty food boxes along our bench, gave Rhys a storage bin with wheels (it usually holds balls) to use as a cart, and pulled out a calculator (cash register), rewards card (credit card) and reusable grocery bag.  Rhys surprised me by wanting to be the cashier, rather than the shopper.  Other than the part where he tried to charge me $4,444 for some dried beans and crackers, I'd say this game went well.

Materials needed: empty food boxes, rewards card, calculator, reusable shopping bag, something to use as a cart or shopping basket.
Toddler time consumed: about half an hour, encompassing 7 or 8 shopping trips
Toddler approval rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Toddler Fun Series: Making Greeting Cards

Rhys' last day of daycare was a week or so ago and in preparation, he made cards for all of his teachers.  I was really surprised by how intently he worked on these, and for how long. This was a huge winner of an activity and I'm so glad . . . it means I'll always be able to come up with a meaningful, adorable card at a moment's notice!
Materials needed: Blank greeting cards (or folded over paper) and decorations.  We used: watercolors, markers and stickers.
Toddler time consumed: 45 minutes for 5 cards, in rotation: First he painted all 5, then he stickered them, then he drew with markers.
Toddler approval rating:  9 out of 10 stars.  He LOVED this project!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Toddler Fun Series: Pipe Cleaners in a Colander

I saw this idea on Pinterest and it was the first kid craft idea I'd seen there that made me want to drop everything and run home to try it.  It is absolutely perfect for little hands.  Rhys, like most toddlers, enjoys "connecting" things or "plugging things in" (not always safe!), so setting up a safe activity for him where he could "plug" away to his heart's content went over really well. 
Materials needed:Colander and pipe cleaners (in the kit!)
Toddler time consumed: about 10 minutes
Toddler approval rating: 7 out of 10 stars. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Toddler Fun Series: The Craft Kit

I've noticed lately that for all the reading and playing we do, Rhys and I actually do quite little in the way of crafty/planned activity type things.  I think this may be a working mom thing . . . I get home from the office and the school run and it is all I can do to put something reasonably healthy on the table and maybe even sneak in a toddler bath before it is time for bed.  We haven't got a ton of time for master planned activities.  Crafting is, however, something that is obviously pretty darn important to me.  It is how I spend about half of my "me time" and something I really enjoy.  And given that  preschool is starting (crazy) soon and considering all the fine motor skills Rhys will be able to pick up by practicing crafty activities, I felt it was high time we get him on a regular craft project rotation.

I stockpiled a list of ideas and, once I'd done so, I realized I needed to put together a basic craft kit for Rhys.  95% of the ideas I'm going to share in this series can be replicated with materials from this kit alone, there are literally hundreds of hours of fun to be had all contained in this unassuming box.  The kit would cost about $30 to replicate in full, but I think most moms have at least half this stuff lying around the house already.  Here's my master list:
1) Drawing paper
2) Construction paper (Ikea sells a huge pack of white and construction paper for about $4)
3) Painting paper (Not strictly necessary, but handy if you have a toddler who is heavy handed with wet, soggy paints)
4) Washable school glue
5) Glue stick
6) Tape
7) Safety Scissors (Ikea sells an set of toddler scissors and toddler pinking scissors for a few dollars)
8) Crayons
9) Markers (washable are ideal)
10) Watercolors (You can pick up a set for around a dollar. Lots of  bang for your buck!)
11) Finger Paints
12) Paintbrushes (Another item I picked up at Ikea)
13) Play doh
14) Play doh toys
15) Stickers (An awesome resource for stickers is the party store.  Super inexpensive sheets in a variety of characters!)
16) Popsicle sticks (For the next 4 items, I discovered that craft store prices were FAR lower than Amazon's prices, for what it is worth.)
17) Pipe cleaners (which might be called "chenille sticks", depending on where you're shopping
18) Google Eyes
19) Pom poms
20) Scraps of yarn (hopefully you or someone you know knits or crochets. If not, a skein of multicolor, variegated yarn might do the trick)
21) Egg Carton
22) Paper towel tubes
23) Paper Plates (The cheaper the better, plain white with no designs are most useful)
24) Paper Lunch Bags
25) Optional: Craft Kits.  Creativity for Kids makes great ones for around $5 (but they often go on sale for $2 or $3 at Joann's.). We've done a Build Your Own Wooden Train kit and a Foam Airplane kit, both of which were huge hits. 
Other ideas:  dried beans, dried pasta, glitter glue, tin foil, tissue paper, sticky back foam shapes or letters, Styrofoam shapes, empty mints tins, old magazines or catalogs, empty boxes, etc. etc.

Now that we have THE BOX all assembled, I find that Rhys and I do art projects and activities together really regularly.  Putting the box together is 3/4 of the battle.  I can't wait to share some of our project ideas here!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rhys' New Train Table

When we first remade Rhys' nursery into a big boy room, we used the corner that had initially housed a big armchair for nursing (which I never used, since we were more comfortable nursing on the couch, in the bedroom, etc.) and remade it into a tent/fort area complete with tap lights and a "control panel".  The tent arrangement worked out great, until a) the tent was recalled for fear of the bars snapping and exposing sharp metal ends and b) Rhys took to flinging himself bodily into it for fun.  So!

I'd been resistant to the idea of a train table because I think that building and laying out tracks is the most educational aspect of paying with a wooden railway.  I for sure did not want to glue or bolt Rhys' tracks down onto a table, thereby limiting his play and learning options and dooming him to an eventual life of NOT being an astrophysicist, rocket scientist or similar.

I'm also cheap and train tables are expensive, yo.  And while I know that Rhys absolutely adores playing with train tables now at this exact point in his life, I assume he won't when he's, say, seventeen.  In other words, a train table didn't exactly strike me as a wise investment piece. 

The obvious solution was to make my own table: something inexpensive that would look great in Rhys' room, might remain useful even after Rhys outgrows his train phase and something that wouldn't limit his track layout options. 

I decided to start with a simple, inexpensive Ikea coffee table.  We actually returned the recalled Ikea tent and applied the credit to the table, so we got it for $10.   To be honest? We almost could've stopped there.  We set up some track on the plain coffee table for Rhys to play with for a few days as I was gathering supplies for my hack and it worked fairly well, save for the fact that there were no railings to help keep track in place during play, and so our layouts had a way of ending up on the floor after a few minutes of rough toddler train action. 

Ultimately, though, I wanted Rhys to have something a little beefed up and more interesting looking.  I initially figured that I'd find some sort of  landscape scenery printed wrapping paper to adhere to the top, but that proved difficult to find.  I started looking into maps and found some interesting ones, but thought something more graphic would work better . . . with bold lines that Rhys could run his cars and trains over rather than a spiderweb of tiny streets and highways.  Once it finally dawned on me, the choice seemed so obvious: a London tube map.  Perfect.  I found one (slightly out of date, but who cares for this purpose) for about a dollar (!!!) via Amazon.

I used gloss Mod Podge to attach the map to the table.  This was my first Mod Podge experience and, though not without wrinkles and flaws, it was actually far easier than I was expecting. The surface of the table is passable.  There is one large-ish wrinkle running vertically down the left hand side of the tube map, but as the Mod Podge dried it actually seemed to flatten itself out fairly well.  I used one coat to adhere and two coats on top, letting the layers dry overnight in between coats. 

I then used a few inexpensive strips of moulding, cut to size with my metal saw and painted white using spare paint from the garage, and attached them to the sides of the table with wood glue in order to form a lip.  I used painters tape to hold the lip in place as it dried and, although I used an Elmer's wood glue that didn't expand initially, it wasn't holding all that great so I added some expanding Gorilla glue in the cracks between the table and the moulding.  This, of course, expanded and made kind of a mess.  Which is how I found myself googling "Where can I find white caulk that gets REALLY hard?" (thank you, UCLA, for  the education that enabled me to spell "caulk" properly and thereby avoid a plethora of Internet porn).

I discovered that something called "Painter's Caulk" exists . . .for mouldings and, well, things that are going to be painted.  It applies more or less the same way as silicone-y bathroom caulk does, but it dries hard.  When my husband got home, I greeted him with "We need to go buy some really hard white caulk". So, that was fun.

The caulk did the job and covered most of the Gorilla Glue mess.  I finished the whole table off with a layer of clear acrylic spray sealer over the top surface and the rails.  It doesn't look perfect up close, but it is passable, for sure:

And with trains:
All set up:
Total cost for Rhys' bitchin' new train table, that looks perfect in his room, has meaning for our family and which may even be useful after he outgrows trains (I can totally see him taking this to use as a coffee table or bedside table in his first dorm room or bachelor pad. Amirite?):

Ikea table: $19 -$9 store credit from the recalled tent:  $10
Out of date London tube map: $1.09 + $3.99 shipping (although a bit pricier now) = $5.08
Hardware store run including moulding (only a few cents), foam brushes, wallpaper smoother, clear acrylic sealer spray, really hard white caulk, painter's tape, wood glue, etc. = about $20

Grand Total: $42.78