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Busy Bag Madness!

16 Nov

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a little obsessed with the idea of  “Busy Bags.”  I’m sure you have heard of them but if you haven’t, here’s the lowdown:

They are collections of little toys, activities, and learning that are put together and collected into bags, totes, baggies, etc., and are only used in desperate moments when you need your little one to be “busy.”  The concept is that because your little one does not have free access to this item at all times, it catches their interest, similar to the idea of a toy rotation.  These are great for church, doctor’s visits, car rides or those desperate moments when you would just like to shower without little ones banging on your door.

First, you know your kid best…buy things they will actually be interested in.  Second, I try to make busy bags out of things that have more than one use…so usually not a coloring pad unless I can get a bunch of them super cheap.  Third, some people keep it cheap and use baggies which would work great.  However, I want these bags to last through several children so I splurge and get the pencil pouches at Walmart when they are having their back-to-school-sale (less than a dollar each).

Here are a few busy bags that I did this week:

These are some mini dinosaurs that I added on to a purchase I was getting on the classifieds.  Less than a buck!  Whenever I am buying off the classifieds, I like to always check and see what else the seller is selling to see if there’s something small I can add on as a busy bag.

Next we have some Tic Tac Toe I got at the Dollar Tree.  Nothing special, but for a buck I’m sure it will be worth it’s pay.

Next I have some magnetic foam manipulative puzzles that I got off Oriental Trading when they were having one of their free shipping promotions.  If I have a fridge or magnet board nearby, great!  If not they can still put the puzzles together.  Great for learning fractions!

Next is a flip book I made about letters and shapes (I showed you how to make it in this post).  I included some stretchy colored rings that can be matched up to the correct colors.  I will probably add something to match all the shapes up with too.

Next is Three-Letter Word puzzle cards!  I got these added on to my purchase at a yard sale for free!  You can also buy them at the dollar store though.

Next is a simple white board I also got at the Dollar Tree.  I will probably add more to this busy bag later.

This is just a bunch of snowman Make-A-Sticker-Scenes that I got on clearance at Oriental Trading.  Good for when I have multiple kids with me (comes with 12 sheets).

Next is a magnetic dress up doll that I got at a yard sale for $1.  I was very excited about this find as I think dress up dolls are so cute!

Next are these cute hand puppets I got at the Dollar Tree.  I got about 10 of them so I will either add a story book and make a couple busy bags out of them, or just find a bigger bag and throw all of them in together.


These are some Christmas Pop Beads I got off Oriental Trading for cheap.  Maybe they need to be broken in, but they seem like they would be hard for a small kid to put together.  I’ll have to update you.

This is a coloring roll.  Like I said earlier, I usually don’t use one-time-use items in my busy bags, but they were on clearance at Walmart for $.30 so it was worth it to me to buy a bunch of them.



That’s all the pictures I have for now, but I will be sure to update as I finish more busy bags!  I’d love to get more ideas, so feel free to share some fun ones you have done, or link back to a particular blog post about busy bags.  What have been your most successful ones?











Quiet Books and File Folder Games the Easy Way

28 Oct

When I was an education major I made tons of fun file folder games for my future classroom/children.  When I got married and moved in to my new apartment I couldn’t find them anywhere!  I have wanted to start making them again, but as I repin a bunch of ideas on Pinterest I am reminded of all the time and money it took to make them.  I don’t know if I’m up for all the coloring and cutting.

I also have been obsessing over all of the Quiet Book ideas lately.  I did a post previously on no-sew quiet books, but I have discovered an even better way than magnets or velcro!  I bought a removeable sticker book on Amazon and noticed that the stickers easily stick to laminated pages!  This leaves me free range to create all the quiet book pages and file folder games that I want as long as I have removable stickers for them.    I found removeable stickers on Amazon, and also found a few at the dollor store (also called “window clings”).

What I liked about Amazon’s was it wasn’t very much money for TONS of stickers (over 150).  I can do an entire farm life quiet book with their “habitats” sticker collection, or they also have a “Pinkalicious” sticker book.

Melissa & Doug Habitats Reusable Sticker PadEyelike Stickers: OceanMelissa & Doug Dress-Up Reusable Sticker Pad

I really love the dress-up one as well…what little girl wouldn’t LOVE an entire quiet book full of dress ups?

The way that I do quiet books with laminated pages:  Design (I do mine very simply using Powerpoint) or print the pages that you are using, laminate them, and then coil bind the book (very cheap).  I then just add the removable stickers!  Easy!  And the best part is there is no sewing, cutting, or adhering magnets or velcro.

Some of my other quiet book posts: here and here

Tune in later for the pages I have designed to use with all these sticker collections (I’ll share them with you when I’m finished).

Toy Rotation: Saving Time, Money and Simplifying your Life

23 Oct

As Christmas is approaching I’ve been thinking about what we should get Kinley.   This will be her 2nd Christmas but her first one that she’s old enough to get excited about toys.  I want to get her fun things that she will really enjoy, but also be frugal.  I’ve actually been thinking a lot about how I want to do toys for the rest of our children because not only do I want to get toys that they will actually play with, I want to have a good system in place before we add more children to the picture.  I’ve seen way too many toy rooms completely  full of toys and children that get bored too fast with them.  I decided that I want to set up a rotation system so that new (or forgotten) toys  are always being introduced. Toy rotation will help your children appreciate and take better care of their toys, it will help them learn and focus more efficiently, it will save your family money, and it will help you as a parent when you need a little time to get something done.  Once I decided what I wanted to do I got online and was surprised to find many people already do this.  Here is how I plan on doing it:


I went through and organized what I had, put all the toys into bins and organizers, and labeled everything.  Throw away any toys that are broken or have missing pieces.  If you have children at different stages, also organize things by age (“baby toys,” Toddler toys,” etc.).  I like to also have things organized by indoor/outdoor, seasonal, and type of play (pretend, active, sensory, etc).  You can be as simple or as complex with this as you’d like.



Labeling is important because you want this system to simplify your life, not the opposite.  If you are digging through totes trying to find specific toys then you are only complicating your life.  Find a way of labeling and organizing that will make it the very easiest to find what you are looking for.


This would definitely be according to your own taste, family situation, and how you want to decorate and organize your toy room, but I like to always have a few things out.  For instance I don’t ever pack up books.  I want Kinley to be able to pick a book out to read anytime she wants and I like to have a good selection to choose from at bedtime.  I also like to keep art supplies at arms reach (MY arm’s reach) because  I want them to be available whenever (not just for the kids, but for me)!  A few other things I keep out at all times:

Big toys like a play kitchen, rocking horse or art easel. (I will pack away all of the play food and everything that goes with the kitchen, but I don’t want to have to haul the big stuff back and forth whenever my kids want to play with them).  When the kids decide they want to play with the kitchen I will go get the toys that go with it, or when they want to play with the crib and stroller I will go get the doll stuff.  Make sense?

Learning Toys.  I like to keep a few things out like legos or blocks that they can play with anytime they want.  I will still rotate them with other learning toys, but less frequently than I rotate everything else.

Also, if you happen to go to a yard sale, or have toys handed down from a family member…resist the urge to give them to your kids all at once.  Put them into rotation and wait for them to be surprised!  They will also spend more time playing with them and they will last longer.


This would also be according to your own taste and situation, but I like to rotate things whenever my kid starts to appear bored with the toys she has, or when she is older I will also pull things out as they are requested.  If she wants to play with dolls on a particular day, then I am not going to stop her; but in order to have a new toy pulled out, another one will take its place in storage.  How often you rotate will also depend on where you store the toys.  I have three places:  a closet, a storage room, and a garage.  The things that I want handy at any moment (like art and craft supplies) I will put in the closet.  This is also where I will put busy bags and quiet books(little bags with on-the-go activities when I need to take a child along with me in the car or to an appointment).  The things that my children enjoy playing with more frequently will go in the storage room.  The things that I want to be a surprise to pull out on days that I really need to get something done (or items that I won’t rotate as often) will go in the garage.

Do you rotate your toys?  What are some ways that you do it similarly or differently?  What has worked best for you?

If you haven’t already, please give your input on my post about toys that kids play with the most!

Here are some toy rotation ideas from other moms:

This one is an excellent post on why toy rotation is so great:

This one has ideas from multiple moms:

Fun ways to show Love to your Child

5 Oct

Eat Family Dinner Together.  This is one of the most important things you can do for your kids.  I took many, many classes in college on family and child development and family dinner always came up.  It is one of the best ways to build your child’s self-esteem, to have close family relationships, and by having meals together your children will be significantly less likely to get stuck with the wrong crowd or get into drugs.

Make family dinner fun and don’t over schedule your kids so much that dinner together is impossible.  Have “themed” dinner nights such as “Taco Tuesdays”, “whatever’s leftover Wednesday”, or “Favorite Foods Fridays”.  Make dinner a special time to ask your children deep or fun questions about their day, their interests, and their friends.  Have special moments for “brag time” during dinner and build sibling relationships.  If certain nights are just too busy during dinner time, schedule out a special time for snacks after school when you can all sit down together.  I remember as a kid occasionally coming home to dinner on the table at 4 pm because our family had too many things going on that day and family dinner was too important to my mom to give up that day.

Know Your Child’s Love Language and Find Ways to Express it Often.  Love languages don’t just pertain to marriages, children have special ways they like to be loved too.  If you can, it would be really good to read the book specifically about love languages for kids.  The book has awesome reviews, and parents have noticed a dramatic difference in their children once they learned what their love language was and different ways that they could meet their needs.  If your child’s love language is touch, make time for extra cuddling, hugs, and kisses.  If your child’s love language is time together, take time out of your day for some special one-on-one time.  Do more to spend time with this child than you would with others.  If your child’s love language is words, make sure you show you love them by stopping what you are doing to give eye contact, give praise, and talk about how they feel.  Does your child feel loved through notes or gifts?  Plan ahead and find ways to creative ways to show love in this way.

Take the time to be silly, to be messy, and to take in life’s simple pleasures.  Make up silly songs with your kids, play pretend, get on their level and play on the floor, build forts, get your fingers messy, talk in funny accents, and leave enough time in your schedule for star-gazing, looking for fun shapes in the clouds, and feeding the ducks.  Have you ever noticed how easily children are amused?  I once took a walk with my niece that would have taken the average adult two minutes.  We were occupied for over 30 minutes because she had to stop and smell every flower, touch every plant, and wave at everyone that passed by.  That’s what living is all about.  Take time to be a kid again.

Say Yes as Often as You Can.  There’s a difference between spoiling your children rotten and doing simple things that bring happiness into their life.  Yes kids should have chores, and yes kids should have consequences for their choices but kids also deserve plenty of love, attention, and simple pleasures.  As a kid I always wanted to ride on those little kiddie rides that they have at the grocery store that move when you put a quarter in them.  I believe I only got to ride them once or twice in my lifetime which is great, but for the amount of joy that it brought me to ride one, that could have been a very simple pleasure for my mom to provide.  I don’t blame her at all, in her mind I’m sure she considered it a waste of money.  But to me it wasn’t a waste of money, to me it was the world.  Once when I had my niece and nephew for a few days I took them to the dollar store and told them they could choose one item of their choice from the WHOLE store to buy.  My nephew picked a little package that had Police handcuffs, a gun, and I believe a walkie-talkie.  Sure it was a cheap toy and it was broken by the end of the day, but this kid was in heaven.  He played pretend police and handcuffed his little sister for different offences ALL DAY long!  I had no idea a dollar could be such a pay off!  I have a personal rule that if I’m not running late for something and I pass a lemonade stand I ALWAYS stop.  I always stop because I remember the pure delight I felt as a kid when someone finally pulled over and bought my lemonade.  And I stop because no matter how tight my budget is, 50 cents isn’t going to break me (maybe that’s a bad way to think, but it brings fulfillment and warm fuzzies into my life).  So next time your little one asks you to play ponies, cars or house–say yes.  Even if it’s just for five minutes.  Make it a game to see how many requests you can say yes to and always make sure it’s more than “no”.

Get to Know Their Friends and love them as your own.  It’s very rewarding to children when their parents have a good relationship with their friends and it’s also a good way for parents to know what’s going on in their kids lives.  My best friend’s parents never wondered what their kids were up to because they were always at the house.  All of their kid’s friends always wanted to hang out at their house because their parents were to friendly and fun.  I still call my friend’s parent’s “mom” and “dad” because I honestly felt like they cared about me like their own kid.  One of my neighbors said to me the other day, “it used to bug me that the neighbors were always eating at our house, but then I just learned to be grateful that they enjoyed being at our house and that I had enough money to feed them.”  Not all of us have the financial stability to feed our kid’s friends all of the time, but we can still come up with creative ways to bond with our children’s friends.

Set Limits and Have a Sense of Humor.  Studies have shown that children feel loved when their parents set limits and don’t give in to all their requests.  They may give you a hard time about their curfew, but they feel more loved that the child whose parents don’t care when they come home.  Just because you are setting limits doesn’t mean you have to do it in a harsh tone however.  Make learning something to be praised (“I’m so excited for you to learn how to show respect to your sister!  This is how I’m going to help you learn”).  Some parents feel they have to raise their voice to let their children know they are serious.  The opposite is true (more about this here).  When children are being yelled at they are more focused on protecting themselves and staying mad at you.  When you discipline with love and a sense of humor, children naturally are more likely to self-reflect and learn valuable lessons.  Teach them that making a mistake is exciting because it brings the opportunity to learn and grow into the people we want to be.

Praise, Praise, Praise!  More on this here, but find ways to express appreciation, adoration and respect to your child.  Leave love notes on their pillow, sneak a letter into their lunch, and tell your husband and family all the reasons why you love this particular child.  Leave no doubt in their mind that they are loved, appreciated, and cherished.

Discover their Talents and Put Them to Use.  This is probably one of the things my own mother was best at.  She had (and still has) a talent for making me and my siblings feel gifted.  She always said things to me like “Oh Kristina!  Will you please write  a poem to go with the neighborhood Christmas gifts?  No one has the same gift for rhyming like you do!”  And if I came up for an excuse for why I couldn’t or why I didn’t have time she always made it seem like it wouldn’t be the same unless I did it.  She would also say things like “Kristina, will you plan your sister’s birthday party?  You are so fun and creative that I just don’t think it will be the same unless you are the planner,” or “Kristina!  I need your handwriting!  Please come write on this for me!”  I always felt needed and felt like I had a unique place within my family.  Still to this day she will call me to plan something for her, or get a good deal, etc.  Every kid comes with their own unique personality and it is important to help them discover the different ways that they can positively contribute to the world around them.

Surprise!  Find fun ways to shock them with your love.  Shock them meaning do something they wouldn’t expect.  If you always say no to pop tarts for breakfast, break them out one morning in celebration of something.  Sure they aren’t the healthiest thing, but one morning isn’t going to send the body into complete shock (hopefully), and the reaction on their face will be well worth it.  Try to get that look on their face as often as you can.  Do you never order anything off the dollar menu?  One day just say, “okay!  Order whatever you want!”  Are you strict about school absences and tardinesss?  One day check your child out of school for an hour and go do something fun (probably shouldn’t make a habit out of this one, but I would have been shocked out of my mind if my mom ever showed up at school and checked me out for something other than a dentist appointment)!

What are some fun ways that you like to show love to your children?


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Toys that Kids Play With

29 Sep

Okay, so I have a problem (Scroll to the end to help me out as well as enter the contest).

My 10-month old has started losing interest in her baby toys and I’m realizing she doesn’t have very many toys anyway.  I would love to buy her some new ones, but I hate the thought of paying for toys that she may or may not play with.

I’ve been researching to solve my dilemma and I came across the Baby Cheapskate website.  Here they talk about how to avoid the “duds” when it comes to toys.  They also talk about tops toys for the current year here.  There is another website I love that lists all the different toys that encourage speech and language development.   If you don’t want to read through it, I have narrowed it down to this simple list:

*There is another website I love that lists all the different toys that encourage speech and language development.  Find it here.

So here’s a contest question. 

What are (or were) the toys that your kids played with most?  Please include whether it’s a favorite for boys/girls/both and what general age they love certain toys at.  This will especially be helpful for others considering it’s almost Christmas time and I’m sure I’m not the only parent wondering.  Baby Cheapskate is great for narrowing toys down for the current year but what I really want to know about is the toys that are continually popular year after year.  Especially toys that have lasted generations (Mr. Potato Head anyone?)  3 winners will be chosen (meaning you have a very good chance).

Remember this post?  The prize will be a set of 3 flash card packs for you to make into flip books or to use as they are, or you can choose one of the printable quiet books.  Not a huge prize, but hey!  This is mostly just a fun post to get all of your ideas and all you have to do is answer a question.  Easy!  Winners will be drawn at random.  Contest ends November 15th.

Thanks in Advance!

Exercise: The love/hate relationship

20 Sep

I’ve had exercise on my mind a lot lately.  I have a dying diabetic dad (how’s that for alliteration?), and watching him suffer has really motivated me to create some consistent and healthy habits in my life.  I don’t come from a family that exercises much but I have definitely married into one and over the last two years I’ve felt my heart start to convert to the dark si…er…exercisers side.  All of my in-laws are ultra runners and seem to think running 50 miles at a time is a good time.  Although I never intend to get that intense, I’ve definitely made some progress in the running category.  If you had told me years ago that I would one day run a half marathon I would have laughed in your face.  And then I would have started over again and laughed some more.  I hated running.  My only memory of running was the dreaded “fun run” in P.E. and I remember huffing and puffing to the finish (it was only a mile).  I never considered in my mind that I could one day run and enjoy it.  What I have learned is that consistent exercise is a lot like having a smart phone, owning a car, or drinking Simply Orange orange juice: once it’s part of your life it’s hard to go back.  Not in the sense that once you get in the habit of exercising it’s easy to stay in the habit, because the opposite is true.  Exercise is hard to be consistent with throughout the roller coaster of life; however, once you experience a consistent exercise routine and get yourself in shape, being lazy is never again the same.  I go through repeated phases of getting out of my exercise routine, but now that I know what it feels like to be in shape and get to a point with my body that what used to be hard isn’t hard anymore…it bothers me to let my body get too idle.  I get sluggish, I feel unhealthy, and I start to crave that feeling you get after a good exercise.  So I will admit, I don’t mind running so much anymore.  As I trained for a 10k and then a half marathon I noticed that the more I ran, the more my body was capable of running and I enjoyed it.  One week running 2 miles completely destroyed me….but three weeks later I was running 5 miles without getting tired….and then 9….and eventually 13.  That being said, running is not my exercise of choice and this entry is not about running.  So let’s get on with it.

How do we make time in our busy schedules for an exercise routine and how do we make it fun?

1.  Start small and be consistent.  Serving others brings a lot of joy and fulfillment into our lives; but surprisingly, it is taking care of ourselves first that makes serving others more meaningful and pleasant.  You can’t give to others if your running on empty.  So rule number one is set aside at LEAST 10-15 minutes a day for “me time.”  Breathe deeply, do yoga, dance, listen to music, whatever.  Do whatever brings you joy.  If that thing that brings you joy ends of being something like watching T.V., stretch while you do it or maybe do a few sit ups or push ups.  One person I know just makes it part of their “get ready” routine.  Every morning before she showers she does her exercise of choice for 20 minutes.  And if she is running late one morning she does it for five minutes, but she always does it.  You wouldn’t run outside naked without putting clothes on, right?  Because it’s just something you always have done and you always will do.  Make that kind of a habit with exercise.

2.  Find an exercise buddy.  Exercise for me is always loads more fun if I’m doing it with someone else.  Remember when I said running isn’t my exercise of choice?  That’s because I love to swim.  There’s something about swimming that just makes me come alive.  I feel like I can conquer the world after a good swim workout.  The problem with swimming is I have to drive somewhere to do it.  And I have to get wet, and I also have to change in and out of a swimsuit (may not sound like a big deal, but it is).  I have found that when I ask my friend to meet me at my house at 6 A.M., magical things happen.  The first magic is I actually get up (I would never wake up on my own, but I would also never dream of making my friend wake up only to ditch her).  The second is that I actually swim, and I swim hard.  We both want to make it worth our time so we motivate and push each other.  And we have fun.

3.  If you don’t love your current exercise of choice, find something you do love.

 I never grew up a dancer, but I love to dance.  Just full on move-your-body-in-awesome-and-weird-ways-dance-till-you-sweat dancing!  I can’t wait until my little girl is a little bit older because that is how we will wake up every morning!  We will bust out to some of our favorite music in our pajamas and we will do it until we have no breath left to laugh.  And we will do it every Saturday to start out family chores.  And we will dance while we clean (is this a fantasy?  Or can it happen for real?  Anyone do this with their kids?)  When I went to Zumba for the first time I fell in love.  Dancing and exercising at the same time?  Sign me up!  P.S.  Here is a Chinese site I found that plays full length Zumba videos!

When I was in college I was in a lazy stage of life.  Okay, that’s harsh…my mind was doing all sorts of running and stretching and dancing…but my body…not so much.  I decided I needed exercise but remember the family I came from?  I didn’t really have a clue about exercise but I definitely wanted it to be fun.  So I came up with a routine and challenged my roommate to do it with me.  I was at a park and it consisted of something like this:  First we zigzag run through the trees running a full circle around each one, then we run up each of the stairs but we have to touch our hand to each one, then we run up the slide 5 times, then we hang from the monkey bars and do 100 crunches, and then we do a hand stand and repeat.  Silly?  Maybe.  Fun?  You bet your bottom it was!  And it was a good work out too!  So stop hating what you’re doing and find something you love.

4. Don’t have time?  Just include exercise in whatever you are already doing!

If you hate all forms of exercise but you love talking, get with a friend and walk the neighborhood until you finish telling your life’s story.  If you can’t pull yourself away from your weekly soaps, then get your heart rate up during commercials with some jumping jacks.  If you’re talking on the phone, do some lunges.  Purposely take the last parking stall at the store, and race your kids back to the car!  Okay, maybe there’s a safer place for racing your kids to the car, but you get the idea!

5.  Remember that it’s worth it and reward yourself for your hard work.

Have something fun coming up?  Connect it to your exercise goals.  For example, you are getting with your girlfriends for a weekend getaway in 2 weeks.  If you meet your exercise goal then treat yourself to a manicure, or an outfit, or a really good burger.  Maybe your favorite show airs on Tuesday evening.  Have Tuesday also be the day you exercise.  If you exercise you get to watch your show.  Sometimes if I am having a craving for some chocolate I will tell myself I get to have it if I exercise.  The best part about that is I usually don’t have cravings anymore after exercising!

That’s it for now.  Remember that exercise isn’t just good for you physically, it’s helps heaps with emotional and mental health as well and serves as a great stress reliever!  I went to a health forum a few weeks ago and the doctor there ended his message by saying, “honestly…the majority of illnesses and problems that come into my office could be avoided if people knew how to cope with stress in a healthy way.”  So true.

This is one of my favorite quotes in relation to exercise:

Hope this was helpful to someone, but mostly it’s just a refresher for myself.  I want to be alive when my children have children.  It saddens me to think my dad could be gone soon and my baby is only 10 months old.  58 is too young to die.

Here’s a video my brother-in-law made about his love for ultra-running.  Most of my family on my husband’s side is in this video.

What do you do for exercise and how do you stay motivated?