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Do you host playdates for your young child?
Many children want to bring friends home with them to play after a morning of preschool, and that’s great! But, let’s be honest, most kids are not their best selves right after school. If your kids are anything like mine were, they are usually ravenous and cranky. They’ve been sharing all morning, and most likely, will find turn-taking at home to be hard. Because most children need downtime after school, playdates can be taxing. They are also fun, valuable, and most likely going to happen in your home at some point, so you might as well be prepared.
How to support your young child during a playdate:
Prep lunch BEFORE the school pick up. I like to set up a tray of finger foods that make lunch fast, filling, and energy-boosting. One simple idea is a snack tray filled with a bowl of carrots, a bowl of pretzels, hummus for dipping, a bowl of apple slices and some cashew butter and honey mixed to make a dip for apples. Give each child an individual yogurt cup and they can graze together on the snack tray. It is a simple, no pressure way to get a healthy energy boost into those little bodies.
Provide a simple, open-ended activity that includes a sensory component. One idea is a tinker tray of loose parts and playdough. I like this activity because it’s EASY and enticing. Pull out an old tray and fill it with interesting and colorful bits and bobs. Buy some playdough or make some home made. You can find my favorite recipe HERE. And all of my favorite playdough ingredients and accessories HERE.
When I am prepping an activity, I always try to have more than what I will need. Tired kiddos make impatient sharers, so I want to be sure to make play easy for them by having more than enough and limiting wait-time.
Incorporating a sensory component to the play can be comforting to a child who might be feeling unsure in your home environment. Playdough is attractive to ALMOST all young children. It’s familiar and can go in any direction the children take it.
Three life-saving play date tips:
Keep playdates SHORT! A playdate for a preschooler doesn't need to be longer than a hour or two at most.
ALWAYS show your guest where the potty is before you do anything else.
If there is a toy that you just know will be too hard for your child to share with his guest, PUT IT AWAY and save it for after the playdate.
Below you will find the supplies that I used in the tinker tray seen above.
For the tinker tray you could use a recyled egg carton or this one.
The mirrors are from Ikea.
How do you feel about preschool playdates? Love em' or hate em'? Do have any advice for me about preschool playdates? Talk to me in the comments below and join the conversation on Instagram by clicking HERE.
Thanks for reading along!
Let’s consider this post to be Playdough 101: Everything You Need To Know About Playdough.
Have you ever observed a child or a group of children using playdough? They are so IN IT. No one is telling them what to do, there are no complicated directions, they are free to make and create without adult intrusion. There are no lines to stay inside of and usually, there is not one prescribed task. Actually, play dough seems to be one of the last materials that we still allow children to use withou having our own agenda.
Play dough has graced the presence of almost every good preschool program for decades. There are lots of reasons that this is the case. First, it is easy to make and easy to store. You can make it with children or solo, because it’s not complicated at all. The ingredients are inexpensive and readily available. Play dough can be used by itself or with accessories that are found or purchased. There are so many great things about this versatile dough.
While it can provide hours of entertainment, play dough is not just worth it’s weight in fun. While children are using dough, they are also and exercising almost all areas of their brains.
Playdough is a fantastic tool for fine motor development. Those little hands are developing important muscles used for writing, tying shoes and zipping and buttoning all while playing.
Play dough encourages math skills. As the kids take the dough apart and put it back together they are using concepts like ‘part to whole,’ and exploring 3-D and 2-D shape awareness. They are also estimating and measuring, exploring weight and volume.
Language development? Check. Have you ever noticed how much your child chats away while playing with play dough? Our children are telling their own stories and the stories of everything around them as they process the dough through their hands and play.
Play dough offers our children a sensory learning experience that they can easily control. They can decide how intensely to squish the dough or if they’d rather poke at it with a tool. It offers children an opportunity to go at their own pace.
Finally, play dough is about creating and making on their own terms. In my book, that’s the most important kind of learning. Why? When children are in charge of the materials, and can meet them on their own terms, they have the opportunity to truly assimilate their own experiences and knowledge.
How to make playdough:
I find that cooked play dough is the easiest to make and lasts the longest. That’s just my experience, search Pinterest and you will find many other wonderful recipes that might work better for you.
Don’t feel like making it and just want to buy it? I hear you. Sometimes I don’t feel like it either. HERE is my go-to dough to buy.
Next, let’s talk storage. Any airtight solution will do. There are lots of pretty options, like glass jars or small clear jars, but my absolute favorite means of storage for homemade playdough is a ziplock bag with all of the air squeezed out. While it might no be the most attractive option, the play dough lasts months and months, without drying out or growing mold.
How to manage the mess:
One of my favorite things about playdough is that it’s NOT messy. Well-made dough will not flake and leave a trail on the floor, but just to be on the safe side, make a designated spot for playing. For small children, the floor is probable best. Put down a tray or a large cookie tin on a drop cloth or a sheet. We have THESE drop cloths and use them for everything.
For older children just pop that cookie sheet or any tray with a shallow lip up on the table. Put the drop cloth under the table and their chair. When you are finished just shake to off outside. No big deal!
Playdough is a wonderful medium for children of all ages. It’s soft, pliable texture offers a soothing sensory experience and an outlet for learning and creativity.
How do you feel about playdough? Are you on team make it or team buy it?
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One of the ways that I express to my children how much they mean to me is by showing up for them again and again. Especially when it is hard and uncomfortable. Setting limits for our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. In part two of this three part series on setting limits, I am sharing a few real life scenarios and some language to go with them. Of course, these are strategies that work well in my own family. Take it as you see fit and adapt it to fit the needs of your children and your family.
Limit Setting with Children
Mom: “In five more minutes, it will be time to stop playing and come inside to wash hands for dinner. Choose a last thing to do or finish up what you are working on.”(5 minutes pass) “Five minutes is over and now it is time to stop playing and come inside for dinner.
Child ignores mom.
Mom bends down to make eye contact. “Please stop your hands from collecting rocks and walk inside with me. I will help you wash up.”
Child resists, “NO!!! I'm not finished. I need five more minutes.”
“Now is time.”
Child cries and stamps feet in protest.
Mom says, “You really wish I would give you more time, but I am not going to. Dinner is warm and now is time to come inside. Even if you cry and yell, I am still going to bring you inside for dinner.”
It is okay for your child to cry and protest. It is your job to remain as unflustered as you can and to carry on with what needs to happen. Letting your child know that you are in charge and that you will take care of them, no matter what, is the important part. This might be hard and uncomfortable for both of you at first. Plus, it’s just plain embarrassing when your neighbors see you carting your flailing child inside. Stay calm and centered and know that we have all been there. You are doing what’s best for your family. You are providing clear and consistent limits with follow through.
Your child is running ahead of you on the sidewalk on your way to the park. You are okay with it. She knows that you are comfortable with her a few feet ahead. You've already already practiced where, when and how to stop when it is time. You see your child nearing the corner and you clearly and firmly tell your child to stop and wait. Your child is daydreaming and excited to get to the park. She doesn't stop, but continues walking around the corner. In a firm and controlled voice, you say, STOP NOW. You catch up to your child and hold her hand the rest of the way to the park. Your child is upset. She didn't mean to disobey you and she doesn't want you to hold her hand all the way to the park. She was enjoying her new-found freedom of walking a few feet ahead. Your child cries and pulls away. You hold her hand more firmly and offer to pick her up. You explain, "It is my job to keep you safe. When you do not stop the second I say stop, I know I need to be touching you to keep you safe. I can carry you or you can walk holding my hand. Even if you cry and even if you wish I would let go, I am not going to. I am going to hold your hand until we are safely at the park. You can try again on the way home.”
It is okay for your child to cry and protest. It is your job to remain as neutral and unflustered as you can and to carry on with what needs to happen. Letting your child know that you are in charge and that you will take care of them, no matter what, is what is important. It is one hundred percent your job to give your child the opportunity to practice walking ahead, messing up, feeling the consequence and trying again.
Your child is tired. The school day was long and dinner cannot come soon enough. You offer your child a bag of carrots but he wants a lollipop. You say, "Here are some carrots, I know how hungry you feel and it is going to take me a few minutes to get dinner together." Child (shouting, eyes narrowing, feet stomping), "NO! I want a lollipop. Give me a lollipop!” Child melting down. You say, "You are so hungry and you wish you could have a lollipop and I am saying no. I am leaving the carrots here on the table. If you change your mind, you are welcome to eat them. I think they will give you energy and help you feel better." You walk away to make dinner. Do not engage with the tiny terrorist! When kids are really hungry, or overtired, they can’t take in what you are saying or doing. They are in sensory overload. It is best to just provide what they need, stay nearby, and move on with what you need to do.
It is okay for your child to cry and protest. It is okay for them to yell and scream and express themselves. They are supposed to. Healthy homes are messy and loud and sometimes chaotic. But you know what? It is your job to remain as unflustered as you can and to carry on with what needs to happen. Letting your child know that you are in charge and that you will take care of them, no matter what, is what is important. They need to know that no mater how hard they struggle, you can still man the ship. You can still be their safe, consistent, reliable anchor.
Revisit the incident AFTER the fact, NOT in the moment:
I usually try to talk to my own kids the day after the incident. In a light tone, I will say something like, "Remember yesterday when you really wanted a lollipop? You really wished I would give you one, but I didn't. That's because it is my job to feed you healthy food to help you grow. Maybe you would like to have a lollipop after lunch today, instead." This kind of conversation allows your child to process what happened, as well as the opportunity to talk more about it if they want to. It also shows them that you are not angry with them for resisting.
Some key phrases to try…
“I am the grown-up in charge, and that’s what I decided.”
“It is my job to keep you safe.”
“Even if you cry, I will not change my mind.”
“I love you even when you are screaming and kicking.”
“I am still learning about being a mom and you are still learning about being a child. It is okay for both of us to make mistakes.”
It’s Spring Break over here, so there is no school this week. The kids and I made a list of things we would want to do with our time and NYC was high on the list. We are very lucky to live a short train ride away (about 50 min.) so that made it an easy YES.
We had loose plans to take the train to NY Penn Station, walk to Madison Square Park, play and eat lunch, and then head to the Math Museum. But… the day was too beautiful to spend inside. Here’s how it all went down.
The big kids walked to the train station and Sloane scootered. She is six, and too old for a stroller. Her tiny little legs have a hard time keeping up with the big kids sometimes. Before we left, we talked about bringing the scooter. We called it her “commuter scooter” and we chatted about how riding a scooter in the city is WAY different than taking runs up and down out street. It’s different because we didn’t wear a helmet, which is usually a non-negotiable. It was different because instead of riding independently, she had to stay right next to me and if she wanted, I would pull her along. It’s so easy to “tow” your child with THIS scooter. Two feet on, and I can easily pull her along and steer.
We took an 10:38 train in. We got to the station a little early and I let the children each choose lifesavers or gum for the train ride. I know they’d be fine with nothing, but for me, it’s the little things in life, and I like to make our adventures special. We rode the train in and walked across town to Madison Square Park and ate at Shake Shack. The kids had never been there before, and it did not disappoint. Next stop in the plan was to go across the street to Mo Math, The National Math Museum, but the kids asked to go to the playground first. Sure, why not (see me being flexible over here?!)?
The kids played and I sat in the sun, feeling good. I watched them run, squeal and climb, when I suddenly decided that the weather was too perfect to head inside to a museum. Their favorite NYC playground is the one in Union Square but I wanted to try something new. I did a quick Google search and decided on The Ancient Playground in Central Park. I called the kids over and asked them if they still wanted to go to a museum or if they were up for a new adventure. Guess which one they picked?
We headed off to the Subway and hopped on. It didn’t occur to me before, but Sloane had somehow never ridden the Subway! She was mesmerized and it was the absolute cutest thing. Nate and Ruby played their favorite game of “spot the rats” in the tracks while Sloane asked me a billion and one questions about how the subway works. We got on and the train was pretty empty. The kids seriously had the best time holding on and riding the bumps. I fought my inner germ-phobe and went along with it. I am so glad I did. They LOVED it.
It was an easy trip into Central Park and we headed into the playground. Kids were off and running and again, I was sitting on a bench in NYC on this beautiful Spring day. Besides a few hiccups with Sloane, we could’ve stayed for hours, but I know from experience that it is SO important to quit while you are ahead. I knew we still had to get back downtown and get on a train back to Maplewood before the evening commute began. I enticed them with ice cream cones and off we went.
We made it back down to Penn Station and as luck would have it, a train to Maplewood was boarding. Thank goodness, because at that point we were all getting a bit tired. We made it home in one piece and I am so grateful for another adventure in the books.
Here are my quick takeaways:
Front end load. Pack snacks and water, wipes, and layer clothing. Knowing that basic needs are easily met means you can relax.
Follow your child’s lead. We literally went to the city to play at the playground. Could we have done that at home? Sure, but it was way more special this way. The kids had a blast and since they were happy, my job was much easier.
Quit while you are ahead. Remember NOT to stretch them to their limits. It can be tempting to stay when you are having fun, but ending on a high note is so much better.
Have a plan but be flexible. We switched it up today and instead of the museum, we hit up a new playground.
You know your child best. Think about what you will need to do in order to meet their needs and keep them feeling successful. For us, this was bringing along the scooter for Sloane. I knew she’d feel tired and frustrated trying to keep up on foot. The scooter was a total game changer.
Get out of your comfort zone and adventure with your kids! It will not always be as smooth as today was, but it is SO worth it. The adventures that don’t go well are learning experiences for everyone, and they will only make your next adventure easier.
It’s ok to say no to your children. In fact, it is imperative. It is not your job to keep your children happy all the time. We are bombarded every day by images that portray smiling children surrounded my their young, stylish, doting mothers and fathers. Guess what? It’s not real. At least not all of the time. And it is certainly not the norm. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be.
Setting limits and saying NO is one of the most important things I can do to ensure that my children feel safe and loved. Setting limits and following through, regardless of the tantrum that ensues, is crucial to my ability to raise children that I can trust out in the great big world. Knowing that my children respect my authority and the limits that I have set for them shows me that they will know how to act in the face of danger or during risky play. They will learn to respect their own limits and limits placed on them by the environment.
Let me tell you a story... Last Spring, on one of the first warm days after a long cold winter, I headed out to our local park with my three children to meet up with a bunch of our friends. Needless to say, the park was bustling with nannies, parents, and tons of children. My two older kids took one look at the wet, MUDDY field, and after a quick glance to me for the a-ok, stripped off their socks and shoes and luxuriated in the mud. I mean, they really went at it (Like pigs in you know what). There is a little creek that runs adjacent to the park and they proceeded to run back and forth from the muddy field, to the creek to wash off, and back again. This occupied them and filled them with utter JOY for well over an hour. Upon my instruction, they were careful not to get the mud on any other children or on the climbing equipment where the clean and dry children were playing. My children were able to run and play freely with wet, muddy, bare feet, and still respect the other people at the park. I knew I could trust them to do this because I have been setting firm limits for them since they were babies and they have tested my boundaries every single day. That is their job.
Obviously, the mud play earned them a few strange looks, and I, as their mother, got some SERIOUS stink eye from a few other adults. That's totally okay with me. I am confident in my ability to parent my own children and I realize that my choices might be different from others. As I often say to my children, "Different families, different rules."
I overheard someone say disdainfully, “Those children have no rules.” Well, let me assure you, my children have more rules than most. I believe that it is because of those rules, limits and boundaries, that my children are able to play confidently and freely. They are not afraid of what others think, they are confident in their choices.
A lot of people ask me who cleans up the vast messes that my children occasionally make. People want to know why I am able to allow my children to use real saws and power tools from a young age. People ask me how I get my children to cook for themselves and for one another... and clean up. There is one collective answer to all of these questions....
My expectations are clear and there are consequences when they are not met. Do I sound mean? I know it can come across as harsh, but I assure you, it is love that fuels my decisions. I am not afraid that my children will not think of me as nice. I am not their friend, I am their mom. I am their confident leader who is able to guide them. Part of that guiding is done by setting up clear expectations and limits.
It is because my three children understand what is expected of them that we are able to go on such fun adventures. I am able to let them wander out of my eyesight in the woods because I know that they will come when I call them. I am able to travel with all three of them on my own, because I know that they will pitch in and help me.
Do they listen all the time? NO WAY!
Do they step out of line? ALL THE TIME.
Talk back? Yup.
Dawdle when it is time to get ready. YOU BETCHA.
It is their job to test limits and boundaries and it is my job to be firm and clear about the consequences. Most of the time I use logical consequences. I find that logical consequences work, and make the most sense in our world. Of course, I am not able to do this all of the time. Sometimes I lose my patience and then things turn topsy turvy. There are definitely days where no one is feeling it and we all fall apart. But you know what? That is totally ok. Those are the times we can refer to when we communicate about what works for us as a family and what does not work.
Happy Spring! It is finally time to head out of hibernation. These are our top five items that we cannot live without in Spring. FInd out WHY we chose these items and where you can get them.
Bogs. My children have been wearing these boots since they were very little. (I wear them too!) I remember when Nate started nursery school and needed rain boots. I did what all good moms do.. I headed to Target and bought the cutest, least expensive pair I could find. Whoops. Bad idea. Live and Learn. After about three sessions of hard play at the muddy playground, they leaked. I paid up and bought the Bogs. Now we are customers for life. I almost always buy black and then just hand them down through all three of my own children and their cousins.
Primary Raincoat. I love these new rain jackets from Primary! They are light weight enough that your child won’t complain about having to wear a jacket now that it is finally warm out. If you size up, you can fit a thick sweater or a fleece underneath for those nippy days. These jackets are functional, adorable, and sell at a very wallet friendly price point. Use the code WORKSPACE for 25% off your first order from Primary.
Rain Mittens. Ever heard of them? You’re welcome. They are brilliant. Kids can pick through the melting snow and dig deep in mud puddles all without getting their hands wet. They are also great when it’s still very windy and they are riding bikes. No frosty hands, perfect for Spring.
Water Pants. Seriously… My kids live in these waterproof, mud proof bibbed pants. They go over your child’s clothes and keep the wet out. We use them for all seasons, but especially for Spring.
Sidewalk Chalk. Yup! We keep ours right on our front steps ready for all the action. We color with it, smash it up and make paint, grind it for sprinkles, and much more. Every Spring I buy a huge box so that we never run out.
Do you have items that you find yourself reaching for every Spring?
How happy are your kiddos when you say YES to playing in the mud? Mine are practically levitating when they see a great mud puddle and they get the nod from me.
I know, I know, it’s wet, A MESS! But you know what? It’s totally worth it. I’ll tell you why.
Why mud play is worth the mess:
Playing in mud is FUN. Good old fashioned fun. No phones, no iPads, just kids, nature and squeals of delight.
Playing in the mud is FREE. Do you know any other material that costs nothing, can be used wet, dry and somewhere in between? Oh wait, there’s sand at the beach… But unless you live at the beach, it’s back to good old mud.
Playing in the mud is HEALTHY. Studies show that when children play in the mud they are healthier. It’s totally true. Google it. I dare you.
Mud is readily available. Especially in the Spring when April showers bring… you guessed it! MUD.
Here are a few tips for keeping your sanity while allowing mud play:
Mud can certainly stain. So if it’s warm out, I would strip the kids down to their skivvies or an old bathing suit that you no longer care about. If it’s still cold, we love THESE awesome rain pants from our friends over at Biddle and Bop.
Set limits that you are comfortable with and encourage your children to communicate with you and with one another. Some children like splashing and covering each other and some are much more tentative. Model language for cooperative play before diving in and moderate a discussion among the children about what is and is not allowed. While mud play is certainly exciting and fun, it doesn’t have to be an out of control free-for-all.
Keep a clean towel on hand. Sometimes, a big splash can be uncomfortable or get in the eyes. Having a clean towel on hand makes it easy to recover and get back to playing.
Have a set of mud tools. Old thrifted pots and pans, shovels, and buckets. They are simple to source from thrift stores and enhance the play so much!
A large bin of soapy warm water for when you are all finished. The warm soapy water and rags are for your children to clean up most of the mud before coming inside to bathe. This saves you from having to clean your floors and tub. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.
An empty laundry basket for stripping outside, BEFORE entering the house.
You can absolutely allow mud play WITHOUT A GIANT MESS. Communicate your limits and set them. Stick to it. Trust me, your children will do basically anything to be allowed to get muddy. Explain that you know how much fun it is, but also, that in order to do it over and over, it needs to be kept to a level that you are comfortable with. My favorite phrase when my kids are getting a bit out of control is this: “Make me want to say YES next time. If you listen now, I will want to say yes to mud again and again.” I use this kind of strategy in many situations. It is a skill that you actually can teach with repetition. Remind them afterwards, “Remember when I asked you to stop playing and get cleaned up? You listened, and that made me know we can definitely do this kind of play again!” Also, randomly pepper these anecdotes into your daily conversations. At random times, I’ll remind my children about how much fun we had and WHAT MADE IT WORK. Remind them of how they listened and helped. Remind them of how much fun they had. Children love to be set up for success. Use it to your advantage.
You guys, we had a yelling, screaming morning. It was total chaos. When everyone left, I took a second to breathe and think about how it could’ve gone differently. (Let’s just say…. Sloane was having a six-year-old tantrum and I met her tantrum and raised her one forty-year-old mama tantrum.)
For me, staying present and centered is usually the answer to whatever issue I am struggling with at the moment with one or all three of my kids. Regardless of the context, I know my children are begging me to SEE them and HEAR them. When they are misbehaving or whining or refusing to get dressed…. they want me to be in their struggle. They need me to acknowledge it. This being said, It doesn’t mean we have to bend on the limit that we’ve already set. It does not mean that they don’t have to finish that homework or put on their shoes. It does mean that if we can step out of the immediate chaos of the tantrum and just look our children in the eyes and hug them, even if its only for a minute, it really helps.
You know what else helps? Knowing that it’s not about you or your parenting. Kids need to struggle. They need to tantrum. When we can control our impulse to join the yelling and carrying on, the difference is tremendous. When we can stay calm under the pressure of their emotions, everyone wins.
I am certainly not saying that I’m always capable of this kind of parenting, but when I can muster it up, it REALLY helps. This morning was total chaos in our house. I jumped right into the mess. Next time, I will try harder.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes we all need help. When I need help in the parenting department I often turn to books. I return to the same favorites I’ve read in years past. Even just skimming helps jog my memory and get back in a better head space.
There are so many phenomenal books and podcasts out there. Today I am sharing my personal favorites with you.
Top Five Parenting Books:
Below are the parenting books that i find myself returning to again and again. (The Louise Bates Ames book is just an example. She has an entire series and I LOVE it.)
So, tell me, how do you help yourself when your kids are losing their minds and you are about to lose yours too?
*some of these are affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Workspace for Children.
It is Easter Basket season! It seems like everywhere I go, the shelves are stuffed with plastic, once-use toys and huge candy displays with a guaranteed tummy ache. I’ve pulled together some of my favorites to help you narrow down your baskets and avoid those last minute impulse grabs.
You can shop these links (some are aff. links) by clicking below.
Maileg Rabbit-Marcus (B&B)
Candy Lab Pink Sedan (B&B)
Bamboo Kids Toothbrush (B&B)
Civil Engineer Tape (B&B)
Glux Super Putty (B&B)
Those items marked “B&B” are from Biddle and Bop. Use the code “theworkspace” for 10% off your next order.
I don’t know about you guys, but my kiddos wake up early on the weekends. Last Saturday everyone was up by seven. It was too early to play outside or go anywhere, and I’d already said no to TV. I wanted an activity that would be good for all three children (ages six, nine and eleven) and I really didn’t want to start my weekend with a big mess to deal with. I pulled out our Crayon Clay that was sent to us from The Pencil Grip and set up a tray of our favorite materials. I find that how you approach the set up of any invitation to create actually does matter. Doing a little bit of extra work on the front end really pays off. Sure, I could’ve just opened the box and given them the packets of clay, but then there would’ve been fighting and whining and lots of requests for help.
Right away, Ruby (nine) knew that she wanted to mix the perfect shade of color. At first, she was frustrated. It took some time and string fingers to get that clay to blend. But when it did, it was so good.
Sloane wanted to make a set of circle crayons for a friend. She rolled the clay and then cut out little circles of color. I think they turnout great!
Nate made little a little snail crayon because he loved the idea that it could leave a trail of color.
When they were finished creating, we left the shaped clay on the table to dry and off we went. It dried beautifully (took about 12 hours) and the children now have a new set of crayons!!
This set is my new go-to birthday gift. It’s a great price point, and can be used by such a large range of ages. I am all stocked up! Click the images (affiliate links) below to find out where to get everything!!
It is so important to let your children view your imperfections. You are teaching them to take risks and try- even if they don’t know what the outcome will be. You are showing them that life is not perfect, nor is it supposed to be. Guess what? They don’t care if the cookies you made for them are a little burned. They are just psyched you made them cookies! Plus, you are teaching them that it’s the thought that counts. An act of kindness does not need to be perfect. Not at all.
Pretend you made it just in time to the school play. Phew! You are there for your kid’s solo. They see you and a smile spills across their face. Do you think they care that your makeup is smudged or that your hair is in a messy mom-bun? Nope. They care that you showed up for them.
So you decided your little one would love a beautiful sensory bin to play with after school. You hop on Pinterest and get to work… only yours turns out a little, um, different than the picture. Guess what? Your kid will love playing with that soapy foam whether it is in Insta-worthy rainbow swirls or one big blob of color. They will still have a really fun time.
It’s lunch time in the school cafeteria. Do you really think your kid cares if his or her lunch is ready to be featured in the next big food blog? NO! They care that you packed them food that they actually like and want to eat. They care that you provided them with lunch money. They care that their tummy is full and that they have energy for the afternoon. Not one thought about your beautifully arranged cucumber slices
LANGUAGE PROMPTS FOR TALKING ABOUT MISTAKES AND IMPERFECTIONS:
Starting when the children were real little, I would point out my mistakes in a positive way:
“Oops! I meant to grab the wipes from upstairs but I forgot. Oh well, moms can forget!”
“We’ve arrived to the park and I left our snacks at home! I wish I had remembered. I’ll have to ask a friend to share with us this time.”
Sometimes, after either I or they made a mistake or something came out less than perfect, I would say, “Is is okay to make mistakes? Is it okay to try something and not have it work out the way you thought it would?” Opening this conversation from a very young age is KEY.
When the children were a bit older, we started having conversations about mistakes we made during the day and how we solved the problem.
“Guess what everyone, I took the dog to the groomer today for her appointment, but when I got there I found out that the appointment was yesterday and I missed it. I was frustrated and so was the groomer. I apologized for wasting her time and rescheduled for next week. Did you make any mistakes today?“
I really want my kids to know that I am not perfect and that they aren’t either. It takes a village and pointing that out is so important. I love to point out when I see them helping someone else or sharing how others help me. Keeping the conversation open and REAL is very important to me in raising my kids.
How do you speak to your children about mistakes?
I’m that mom that allows her kids to climb the highest tree and scale the rock wall as far as they can comfortably go. I trust them to decide how far they can push themselves and whether or not they can safely get themselves back down to the ground.
Yes, this earns me the side eye sometimes. But here’s the thing- taking healthy risks in childhood allows children the opportunity to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. They are learning their limits and seeing where they can push themselves. We’ve been practicing this way of thinking since they were tiny tots.
These were the rules and language that I used then and the ones I still use now-
If you can get up there yourself, you can get yourself back down. What if they need help? I’ll usually help them by telling the what to do, but I won’t put my hands on them to get them up or down, nor do I allow siblings or friends to lift them up or down when climbing. It is so important for safety that they find their own solid footing.
I won’t lift you up onto anything, if you can’t manage to get there independently then you are not ready to be up there. Like I said above, it is SO important for them to find their own footing for safety reasons. But having them get up on their own is also a great way for even the youngest children to set goals and work towards them. Sure, it can be very frustrating for the youngest sibling to see all the others get up high when she cannot yet do it. But that’s ok. She’s building her frustration tolerance and setting goals for herself. Once she can do it on her own? I love to say things like, “Can you remember when that was too hard for you? Now you are stronger and bigger and you can get up there all by yourself.”
Listen to yourself. Do you feel safe? Are you comfortable? I encourage my children to be risk takers but NOT to be RECKLESS. There’s a huge difference and we talk about it often.
I strongly believe that our children need to learn to evaluate risk by taking risks. The best way to learn is by DOING. How do you feel when your child takes risks? Are you cringing and calling out how worried you are or are you offering constructive support? I know it’s not easy. It’s scary to let them fly. .
My six year old has letters and numbers on the brain. After a bit of a slow-to-warm-up phase, she’s loving kindergarten. Recently, her class has been learning about skip counting. Sloane has taken it to heart and I hear her skip counting her toys, singing rhymes about skip counting in bed at night and using her fingers to figuring it all out. The other day, as I sat and procrastinated emptying the dishwasher and switching the laundry, an idea popped into my head and a skip counting activity was born.
Here’s what you need:
A Shallow Tray
Cardstock or Index Cards
I had punched a lot of circles last week for another project the were working on, so I pulled those out and labeled each circle with a number from one to fifty.
Then I poured some salt in our tray to make a skip counting base.
I set it all out on the table and left it to see what Sloane would do.
After some initial frustration because she couldn’t locate the numbers she was looking for, it was a hit. She was able to demonstrate a visual representation of skip counting by two’s, five’s and ten’s.
This activity would be a great number sense activity if you added some mini pom-poms for setting up a number line with the corresponding amount of pom-poms. In addition to practicing her skip counting, Sloane enjoyed the sensory aspect of running her fingers through the salt, drawing in the salt and making hand prints. There are lots of great ways to use salt trays to set up an invitation to create. The best part? Salt is a cheap, readily available, and you likely have it in your kitchen pantry. Have you used a salt tray?
Looking for another salt tray activity? Click HERE.
I can’t stand a huge mess. I can, however, happily deal with controlled chaos. You guys are always asking me who does the majority of the clean up over here. Truth is…It depends on a lot of factors.
A lot of times, I ask the kids to clean up the materials that are scattered on the floor and let them leave up their building so that they can return to it later. This means that all of the blocks that didn’t get used, the random peg people scattered on the floor and the crashed magnate tower all need to be picked up.
The tower or fort that they’ve created can stay up. Once I notice it’s getting stale, meaning no one has come back to it in a day or two, I’ll ask them to decide if they want to add to it or clean it up. But they have to do one.
When the playroom is a huge mess I ask them to work with me to clean it. I also ask that it get completely tidied on Sundays so that we can start the week fresh. I need that for my own personal sanity. It has nothing to do with their play.
Nate and Ruby are rockstars at the big clean up. In fact, Ruby can style those shelves better than I can. Sloane is the master of the magnetic tiles. She spends ages stacking them in rainbow order.
You know what else I do? I bribe them. Yup, sometimes the playroom is a huge mess and I don’t want to deal with it or even look at it. It is on the main floor and if you are in our home, you can see the playroom. So, sometimes I’ll make a deal and trade cleaning for screen time allowance or candy. #honestmotherhood at it’s finest.
Like anything, the clean up process around here is flexible. We all kind of pitch in and then I make any necessary tweaks to arrive at the final outcome.
I usually don’t have playmates help with clean up. I’m way too controlling about the playroom for that. My kids and I know how we like it, but most other people could never decode the system. Oh, and my husband kicks butt at cleaning up and organizing the block shelves. He’s. SO. Good.
Ideas For Young Children:
When my kids were younger, the approach for having them help me clean up in a way that I found useful was very different. Here are some prompts I might use with young children around clean up time. I find that the language you use has a marked effect on the outcome.
Prompts For Clean Up Time:
Let’s clean up everything that is red. On your mark, get set, go!
Great! What color will we pick up next? How about I do blue while you do green.
Can you pick up the triangle blocks while I work on the units?
Let’s see how long it takes for us to clean up the trains, trucks and cars, but not the blocks. I’ll set the timer.
I am going downstairs to start a wash. How many items can you put back while I am gone. Surprise me!!
What if your children have a really hard time with cleaning up?
First, think about the age and developmental stage of your child. What is appropriate for them to clean up? The play is the important part as well as instilling good clean up habits. BUT, you do not want to overwhelm them.
Ask yourself these questions:
Does everything have a clear defined place? If not, clean up is going to be a disaster most days.
Are there just too many things to clean up? If it is too overwhelming, have them start with only a few small things to clean up.
Set them up for success. If they feel like they are good at cleaning up, they will be more likely to want to do it.
Make sure you give ample warning. I like to say, “We have about five more minutes. Now is a good time to finish something up or choose a very last thing to do.” This also works when you want to leave a playdate or the beach!
Here’s another way to talk about clean up:
“Let’s get this room ready for the next time we feel ready to play. It will feel good to come in to a clean space!”
In the classroom, you could say, “Let’s ready the materials for the next children who come in and want to play. Won’t they feel happy when they see the room is all ready for them?”
Finally, remember that it takes a lot of time and patience to raise children who will want to contribute and help you keep their space nice. When you value something and you talk about it and model it often, your children are likely to follow suit. It takes work.
Do you have any other tips or tricks regarding clean up time in the home or classroom?
Rainbow rice is making the rounds on Instagram big time right now. If you search the hashtag, #rainbowrice, you’ll see a plethora of beautiful activities from all around the web.
What’s the deal? Why are all these people making rainbow rice? How do I make some of this magical rice? Ugh, but my kids are going to throw it everywhere and I’ll be stuck cleaning up for hours! I’ve got you covered, my friends. Let’s break this down.
Why is this material beneficial?
When your children engage in rice play they have about a million opportunities learn.
They are exercising fine motor skills. This is important for writing, zipping coats, buttoning pants, tying shoes and all sorts of life skills.
They are learning to pour, scoop and dump. Do you want your child to pour their own juice in the morning without all the mess and chaos involved? Well, practicing with sensory materials is the first step. Pouring with rainbow rice over a large tub is great practice for even the youngest toddlers.
Children are learning about math when they engage in rice play. They are practicing estimating, and experimenting with concepts of weight and volume.
When children play with rice they are story telling and delving deep into imaginary play.
Most importantly, when children are working with rice, they are engaging in child-led learning. In my opinion, that’s the best kind!
How to make simple rainbow rice:
Six lidded containers or ziptop bags.
Paint- either washable tempra paint or liquid water color.
Uncooked white rice
Divide rice into the bags or containers and drop in the desired amount of paint.
Shake it up and massage the color onto the blank grains.
Dump it out and let it air dry. It won’t take long. Maybe about an hour or so.
The Set Up Details:
Here’s how to set up for rice play without an insane amount of clean up. (Please note that there are lots of different ways to do this. )
For starters, define a space. Either outside or on a big tarp or sheet inside. If you are inside, an uncarpeted area works best.
Find a giant under the bed box and set it on the tarp. Then, take a shallow bin and put it inside the under the bed box. This is the bin where you will put the rice. Add in some scoops, spoons, small bowls and pitchers.
Using a small bin inside the larger bin is a way to contain the overflow. It spills back into the larger bin, making clean up MUCH easier.
Recently, we have been using our Ikea Flisat table for all sensory play. It is simple and defined and I just love it. If you have a young toddler, however, I would go with the bin method on the floor. Clean up will be much more manageable that way.
Managing Clean Up
Keep a dust buster and a small hand broom and dustpan nearby. Teach your littles to sweep up spills outside of the box, but know that you will need to do the majority of the work.
Define the rules and set some limits. For me, throwing of anything is out of bounds. We put it away and try again another time. No judgement, no yelling. Just simple limit setting.
Pro Tip: Start with this as an individual quiet time activity. Having children practice using the bin on their own, BEFORE adding siblings or friends in the mix is a great way to nail down the limits of what you are comfortable with.
When the play is over, SAVE your rice by sealing it in an airtight container. This can be used for months and months.
Thoughts On Food-Based Play:
When I was a classroom teacher, I never used food based sensory bins. If you are a teacher consider this as well. I didn’t want to assume anything about the food security of my students, and you shouldn’t either. As a parent, I am okay using this as a sensory base because I know that we will use it for months and months and that I will not be “wasting” something that is an important source of nutrition for many families.
Still Want More?
While I have been making rainbow rice for my children for many years, I was recently SO inspired by the amazing Anna over at Imagination Tree. Check out her blog post on the easiest rainbow rice. She is a phenomenal resource for all things PLAY.
Also? Do yourself a favor and search #rainbowrice on Instagram for a zillion great ways to use it.
I love this project because everyone in the family can contribute in some way. It is perfect for a snow day spent at home, or a long afternoon in the summer when you’ve got nothing but time on your hands .
In this particular instance, a large wind storm left us this beautiful branch smack in the middle of the yard. The kids and looked at each other and we knew exactly what to do.
First, we dried out the stick for a few days in the basement where it is dry and hot. This also gets rid of any little bugs that might be hanging out inside.
I threw a big drop cloth on the floor and gathered up our materials. We used yarn, fabric scraps, wire, beads, feathers and anything else the children gathered from our art cabinet.
There really weren’t any directions involved. This was entirely about the process, and it happened to turn out to be so beautiful, that it now lives in our living room. The amazing thing about this stick project is that it has been ongoing for a few years. Whenever we find some fabric, interesting yarn or a bead that we love, one of the children pulls the branch out an adds on to it. There have been many new stick projects started over the years, but for some reason, this one was really magical. Sometimes, I wonder if it has anything to do with the tree that dropped it in our yard.…
How do you use gifts from Mother Earth in your art space?
Remember last week when I went on my tangent about reading readiness?
I know that Sloane is feeling ready and excited about becoming a reader so I’ve been pulling out lots of sight word activities. You all requested more activity how-to’s and this one couldn’t have been easier.
Here’s the deal…I wrote her words on little index cards, poured our jar of gem letters into a shallow bin, and set it out to see what would happen.
Guess what? She independently practiced her sight words for twenty minutes…didn’t even look up. She got in the zone and I could see her practicing, testing herself, getting frustrated and working through it, and more. All from this one activity that took me about five minutes to pull together. It was a huge win for me. Have you had any wins lately? We all deserve a little celebration for a win. Drop yours below. It does not have to be parenting related! Just tell me your latest win and how good it made you feel.
It’s as simple as that!
Do you want to keep your child quiet and occupied when you are eating in a restaurant? What about when you are at the doctor’s office and suddenly the wait is over an hour? Do you have a little one who you are constantly lugging around to an older sibling’s activities and you don’t want him on a screen while he waits?
With three kids, you can bet that I’ve been in all of these situations more than once. Poor Sloane spent half her toddlerhood waiting in the orthodontist’s office for Nate or sitting on a blanket at Ruby’s softball practices. She waited on the benches with me during swim lessons and sat through more than a few dinners out that were way past her bedtime.
I knew I didn’t want to occupy her with a screen during these times (ZERO JUDGEMENT IF YOU CHOOSE THIS), but I also didn’t have it in me to sit there and read her books or play with her or follow her around begging her not to lick the walls. So, here’s what I did…
I bought a bunch of these muslin pouches on Amazon and I filled them with simple, open-ended activities that were mostly mess-free and could be used anywhere. My goal was to put them together once and then have them for hours of entertainment on-the-go for Sloane and her friends or siblings.
Yes, this takes a little bit of effort up front, but the reward is SO worth it.
Here are my favorite Amazon-friendly materials for you to put together your own little activity pouches for your family, on-the-go.
First, you’ll need some of these multi-use muslin pouches.
Next, you need some open ended goodies to fill them with!
Mini Felt Balls and Wooden Numbers are a simple pouch. This is great for number recognition, patterning, color play, early math and counting. Let your child explore without guiding.
Plus-Plus Manipulatives are an easy no-brainer. Just dump them in a pouch and you are set!
Mini Vehicle Erasers and Mini Animal Erasers- These erasers are great, light weight figures for open ended play. Spill a few out on the table at a restaurant and watch your child fall into an imaginary world while you sip your wine and have an adult conversation. (These have tiny parts so if your chid still puts things in their mouths, this one is not for you.)
Tiny Colored Blocks- These are great on their own, or to add in with animals or vehicles. Just dump them into a little pouch and you are ready!
Art Pouch for open-ended art on-the-go. These materials are fantastic for grownups and children of all ages.
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