Friday, June 27, 2014

Housers on the road - traveling with kids

Being locked in a car with 3 kids for multiple hours can be a way to torture people - just saying!  We have been on the recieving end of crying, screaming, I am bored, I need to pee, ugggggghhhhhh mom we are starving - etc!  Last summer when we made the 13 hour drive to the beach I put together an "activity bag" and pulled out things when the kids were bored. They loved it!  Now let me be honest...normally we bring the iPads and leap pads and let them watch movies when we make the 3 hour drive to the zoo and to visit great friends! 

 After putting together our on the go activity kit I already had one backpack stuffed with travel ready items.  I decided to put together a backpack for the older kids with activities for the car.  I spent 1 dollar on this.  Literally one!  I bought SK a word search book at the Dollar Tree and everything else we had on hand.  
Some of the items in SK's backpack: 
• word search
• color wonder marker book
• Where is Waldo travel book and magnifying glass
• hidden picture book and colored pencils
• Lego kit
• her digital camera 

(They had soooo much fun taking silly pictures of each other!  The laughing/giggles coming from the backseat were priceless!)
• her bird watching binoculars
• little chalk mat and chalk 
Some of the things I included for W:
• Waldo travel books and magnifying glass
• color wonder marker book
• sticker sheet and his name 
• quick lacing cards ----
Side note about these - I had read an idea on Pinterest about making lacing cards from family pictures etc.  Since it was approximately 11:30 the night before when I was putting together backpacks for the trip I had to use what was on hand.  I grabbed a couple boxes from our cardboard stash and cut out the front of some things they love like poptarts and popcorn.  I punched holes and included some plastic string and had some quick ultra cheap lacing cards. 
• Lego kit 

W and SK were thrilled to see me stuffing their backpacks with little things for them to do.  They loved carrying their own backpack and actually did a great job of putting things up when they were finished.  

Anything that has loose parts I made sure had some container.  The little marker book I put inside a ziplock bag to hold that and the markers, the lacing cards also were in ziplock bags.  The Legos were contained in the metal lunch boxes.  SKs colored pencils went into a pencil pouch.  Having something to hold each individual thing really helps them keep it seperate and off the floor!  What keeps your kids busy in the car? 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quick water play activity

The kids spent the night with Gigi the other night.  Before I went to pick them up the following morning I filled up their water table with some fresh water and laid out some loose parts for them to play with. 

This activity stayed out for several days.  They ended up dumping cup after cup of water onto the deck, then scrubbing the deck with a pool noodle like a sponge.  They crack me up!  A water table is a simple idea anyone can set up!  Under the bed bins, dish tubs, even a big plastic mixing bowl makes a great container for water play!  Just fill something up with some water and add some interesting things in to play with!  I reccomend a strainer, measuring cups or anything they can pour.  I also added some loose items that would both float and sink.  I will admit I didn't expect the nuts to float.  

Happy playing!!!! 

Monday, June 23, 2014

This is REAL life!

I recently ran into a friend at the mall. She and I haven't seen each other in ages and she mentioned loving all the kids activities and said she has no idea how I do it all. She said "you are superwoman!" After I finished laughing I said well it's because I have probably 6 baskets of unfolded laundry for one thing. She said well you should post that so I feel better. 

So here it is- some of the un-pretty areas of my house. I promise you I didn't move a thing - I walked in and took pictures as is.  Now- we have only lived in this house for 4 months so I will say there are some areas that I just can't get quite right. This area pictured below is one of them. 
This area houses my husbands treadmill, bags of animal food, our washing machine (which is just out of frame), bins that hold the kids activity stuff, and our dog crates. Basically it's awful.  I have a piece of furniture in storage that is being moved in soon to house a lot of the kid activity/craft stuff.  The dog crates and treadmill I can't do much about.  Matt and I have been brainstorming the best pet food storage situation.  One of the kids chores is feeding our dogs and cats so it has to be in a place they can get to it.  We also have chickens so we have to house chicken food and wood bedding chips.  
This is what it looks like.  People, (including me apparently because those polka dot rain boots are mine, come in from outside and drop their dirty shoes into a fun pile by the door).  I am working on a usable solution to keep our more outside-ish shoes like that but not in a big messy heap by the door! 
This is the kids playroom, it is also the direct path to our back deck.  This is why there is a pile of shoes by the door.  Also this is our dining room area because this room and our kitchen are just one big open space.  And if you can visualize behind where the picture is taken from is the laundry room - also open. So this room is a catch all and serves numerous purposes.  This room has all tile floor so we do many of our activities and painting here too! 

And.... Just for you Dana- the laundry! Everything you see is CLEAN! What is wrong with me? I hate folding laundry with a passion - obviously! Okay fine - there is also a basket of my clean clothes piled up in my bedroom too! 

So I just wanted to open myself up to show some of these areas because it's not all perfect and Pinterest will probably discontinue my account in shame.  I'm probably opening myself up to some judgement but this is how our real life looks. If you come over it will be picked up of course and actually during the school year when we are at work/school all day vs at home it's much better!  The summer provides us all day everyday to make messes and things to pile up! 

Happy Monday!  Now---- I should probably go fold some laundry! 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Berry Pickin'

On the go - quiet activity kit

Back a few weeks ago I found a cute little container and as soon as I laid eyes on it I knew I wanted to put together an on the go activity kit. I adjusted what I first assembled for my most recent need. My hubby was leading worship at our church as a sub for the normal music minister. Since daddy was going to be singing a lot we wanted to older 2 to be in the service to watch him. When they have stayed in "big church" before they are usually bored and not super quiet (which translates to me not being able to listen). I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to try out the quiet activity kit. I decided to not only place engaging items, but quiet ones. Normally, play doh is a go to for us, but being that we would be in our church sanctuary we also needed things that wouldn't make a mess and would only take a moment to pick up at the end. Our little container has 3 levels and I decided to make each level a different activity vs just using the container as a toolbox of randomness of sorts. 

In the first level there is a built in divider so I gathered some loose parts and put something in each section.  I included colored noodles, dinosaurs, colored gems, plastic tops, seashells, and clothespins. 

In the middle section I wrote each of their names on a piece of thick paper and then included some leftover foam mosaic pieces for SK.  These are smaller, requiring better fine motor skills to complete.  For W I included a couple pages of yard sale stickers. I placed a couple stickers to start them along their name.  (The purpose of the activity is for them to trace their name with the stickers).  I also on this level included a small container of perler beads and some twine that I went ahead and put some tape on the end to make it easier to thread. 

On the bottom level I included some pieces of folded paper and markers for W.  For SK, in one of her birthday presents, she was gifted a new set of scribbler markers and a brand new small marker pad that I knew would be perfect for taking with us.  

They did wonderfully. They drew pictures and very much enjoy using markers. I did worry about them getting marker on the chairs or the carpet so I brought along some laminated mats with their names on them that I have for playdoh.  Sk used the loose parts and the beading materials and made this beauty of a necklace for her Aunt Michelle. Thank goodness I convinced her to bring it home and reuse the supplies or Aunt Chelle would have to find an outfit as amazing as this necklace to wear! 

Along with the activity kit SK brought a small backpack with a Waldo finding book, a hidden picture coloring book and some colored pencils, along with a little game where u move slides around until the picture is just right.  

I know this is overkill but I wanted to make sure I had enough things if they didn't want to do one they could do another.  I also didn't put this together just for today. The things that I pulled and included for the backpack are items we don't tend to play with unless we are on the go anyway.  I plan on leaving these things inside as well as keeping the activity kit with that so I can quickly grab as I am walking out the door and I won't have to redo anything again.  I intentionally designed this for multiple play times without having a lot of disposable one time play activities. In the kit all I need to get (I didn't have it on hand today) is a small little notebook for W instead of folded paper that way I am not switching anything at all.  

If any of you have little on the go activities please share them with me!!!! 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Quiet time - shhhhhh

Let me be real - I.need.a.break.from.children!!!! Let me tell you something else - they need a break from me too!  This isn't just my children it's all children!  We LOSE OUR MINDS at school in the dead of winter when we can't go outside for recess.  We all just need a break from each other!  THIS IS OKAY!!!!


I have started something new-ish at my house that we have done some on Saturdays but are now doing daily whenever we are home and it's possible this summer.  QUIET TIME.

Here is how it works -

step 1 - you go to your room
setp 2 - Mama sets a timer
step 3 - you stay in said room

DONE.  I usually set the timer for an hour.

Rules -

play, do whatever is legal in this house within the confines of your room (example - coloring on the wall will get you 25- life), and do it quietly.  When the timer goes off I will come and tell you that you're allowed to come out.

During this time I don't care what they do in their rooms as long as it is quiet ish.  Now obviously I don't store things like permanant markers and acrylic paint in their bedrooms where this will end badly for me.  W is awesome at quiet time, except for the quiet part.  There are times that whatever he is doing sort of sounds like he is adding an addition on to the house.  Occasionally I'll holler in there to say chill out some, but if I can help it I don't go in their rooms.  This is their quiet time.  Usually someone needs to use the bathroom (of course because kids always have to use the bathroom when they are supposed to be confined to a space).

One thing that I love the most is that I normally find them at the end reading books, or at least I see books all over the floor in suspected reading.  Today I went in to tell W that he was allowed to come out - after an HOUR and he is FOUR and he looked up at me from his chair and said "Mom, I'm reading books."  So I slowly backed away, thanked my lucky stars, ran and got my iphone and took a picture naturally.  I stuck my head in to check on SK and she is asleep.  AHHHHH the beauty of quiet time.

Naturally the first few times we did this there was a lot of yelling though the wall "MOOOOOMMMMMM can we come out yet???? We have been in here FOREVERRRRRRR!"

The purpose of this - along with my sanity, is to help them learn how to self direct.  I am not in there telling them what to do, suggesting play ideas, providing lots of things.  While in their rooms they have to work with what they've got.  In the girls room they have a big thing of books that are SK's and H's.  The girls also have baby cradle, baby beds, and their dollhouse, along with a big basket of babies.  That's it.  SK did originally take our small dog in with her but Hazel wisely escaped promptly.  In W's room he has a big thing of books that are his as well as a toy thing with pull our drawers with some guys, cars, trucks, etc.  I have noticed however after quiet time that what W has out mostly (obviously after he has been working construction in there or whatever), is his books.

This would be all rainbows, unicorns, glitter and sunshine for me - and I would be laid up with a book, cuddled under a quilt with a blog, or a cup of coffee loving every second.....but there is H.  I love her.  Obviously.  Bad news about her age is that she naps before lunch and quiet time is after lunch.  So during quiet time she is awake.  I have tried sending her in with SK and slowly she does spend more time in there but for her it's just about introduction.  Usually she comes in the living room with me, sometimes plays a quiet activity, usually just wants me to rock her or something that includes her clinging to me.  My hope is that she will see what quiet time is, come to expect it and slowly as she gets a little older be integrated in.

Anyway this has worked amazingly better for me than insisting that the older 2 take naps.  For one SK is in school full time during the year now so there are no naps.  I think it isn't a good idea to get her in the habit of a mid afternoon nap when she won't get one most of the year.  (If you follow me on IG @akhouser you will see she gets her share of naps on the way home from school - especially Mondays.)  W is a major night owl.  When he naps he naps for keeps - like 3-4 hours.  Yes it's amazing at the time, no it's not amazing when I'm still trying to get him to go to sleep at 11 and I can hear him kicking his wall awake in his bed.  So this allows them some down time but doesn't REQUIRE that they sleep (which eliminates the tears that usually come with me forcing naps). How do you chill your kids out/rest them/etc? 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Playing with loose parts

Loose parts is basically playing with random loose items that you have around in whatever creative way your child wants to.  After seeing several of these beautifully laid out play invitations I have been wanting to use this play with my 3.  Today I ran around the house collecting items that would suit this type of play.  I used small plastic bowls to display the items seperately for the kids.

I collected: 
* colorful gems and glass stones
* melting beads
* cut up straws
* wine corks
* colored pasta
* wooden blocks
* cut up pool noodle
* cut up egg carton
* cut up toilet paper rolls
* clothes pins
* little cars and doll house people

I laid out a little grid on the train table using painters tape and even made a small road.  I fully expected the kids to get the people and make a little city or something and use all the parts as pieces to complete their little community.  WRONG.  That's the beauty of loose parts, the kids use their own imagination and they didn't do anything close to what I imagined.  I first had them wait in their bedrooms while I laid it all out, then called them to come and play.  

SK immediately asked "how do we play this?"  I told her however she wanted.  They first grabbed a couple pieces of whatever looked interesting (read the wine corks) and rolled them around on the table.  

Then they spotted the cut pool noodles and immediately divided the set in half so that each of the older 2 had some.  W started using these as building blocks and SK immediately realized that the corks fit perfectly into the hole of the pool noodle and filled hers with corks.  They then decided to play a game and see if W stood on the table and dropped colored gems through the pool noodle hole, could SK catch them in a bowl beneath.  

H basically just mixed things together and handled handfuls of random materials.  H got sleepy after a while and as I rocked her the older 2 began mixing materials and creating their own little imaginative play.  

I was pleased with how quiet and engaged they were.  They were so excited to dive in and immediately had their own ideas of what they wanted to do.  It was certainly nice to watch.  We will certainly be incorporating this into our play more.  I am currently hoarding the caps to milk jugs and bottles to use!  (If you want to be my best friend save some for me too!) Happy playing.  What random things do your kids like to play with?

FAQ from a friend

So my friend Ashley over at and I have been texting back and forth about play activities for some time.  I asked her to put together a little FAQ for me to answer and hopefully answer any questions y'all have as well.  Now let's get to it:

Hey Amberly!
So, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the activities I've seen you doing with your kids.  They look SUPER fun, FUN enough that even *I* want to come over and play...
So far, which activity is YOUR favorite? Hmmmm this is a hard one.  I would say play doh is my absolute favorite.  It's easy to make for one.  The homemade version is waaaayyyy better than store bought.  It's softer, squishier, cheaper (you probably have all the items in your house now), and I know what's in it if my 2 year old decides to taste test.  Playdoh lends to so many types of play.  You can make things, stamp things, squish things in it.  I love to play with play doh if I'm being honest.  When I make the kids a fresh batch I am usually standing there playing with bits of it myself as well.  My favoirte thing to watch them play with is loose parts.  Their creative sides really surface when playing with a collective bunch of random materials and I soooo enjoy watching what they come up with (and it's never what I thought they would do).
Which, would you say, are the kids' favorite(s)? The kids love play doh as well and request it often.  My youngest asks to paint constantly and the older 2 really love everything.  They LOVE water beads but I haven't found the best way to contain them without having my entire floor covered with water beads (the solution is probably playing with them while my 2 year old naps), they also love to play with loose parts.  The older 2 generally don't request something specific they'll just ask if I will please set them up an "activity."  
Now, be honest, does the mess not drive you bonkers? I get this question ALL the time.  Honestly no it doesn't.  When I set them up with something I give them a specific area to play in whether it's at the table, the bar, their small play table or the train table, wherever.  I usually give them a blanket or something if it's on the floor to keep it on.  This allows me to clean it up quickly when it's over.  99 percent of indoor activities are done over our tile floor so the materials can be quickly swept up if some has spilled over.  When we paint we wear a smock and I try and contain the mess to a specific area.  That being said I don't allow them to play something that can be messy and me go in the back room and read a book (wouldn't that be nice!).  I usually am in the same room-ish and keep an eye.  Also in regards to the mess kids make a mess whatever they do, in my case I love watching them learn and experiment and explore so it doesn't upset me.  NOW.... if they are intentionally making a huge mess and not playing making a mess but just being completely ridiculous I DO NOT like that at all.  
What have you learned from this whole "creative play" experiment?  I have learned to rage against the TV!  Oh my goodness I didn't realize the effect it's been having on my kiddos.  When I was growing up we didn't have all of this digital entertainment and we PLAYED.  I noticed my kids didn't seem to know HOW to play and I decided I thought it's because they are entertained constantly with zero effort on their part.  They don't have to THINK of something to play or IMAGINE they just sit and watch.  When I cut the TV and other things super drastically they had to use their brains to play and entertain themselves.  It did take some time but now that they have adjusted to not having digital entertainment all the time they are playing, REALLY playing and it makes me so happy.  
What do you think your kids have learned?  Goodness.  I think they have learned as I mentioned above HOW to play.  I think they're learning how to use their imagination, how to create, how to think.  Some of the play activities are open ended entertainment but some specifically designed to teach.  They work on colors, words, fine motor, counting, scooping, math, pouring, measuring and a million other things.  I feel like they get something from this type of play and that makes me happy.
Why not just send your kids outside and say, "Go forth and PLAY, children!" Well I do that too.  Sometimes we just say GO!  That is what kids need too!  Sometimes we take our play outside with water, ice, soap or whatever as well.  I guess I think of it as I teach kindergarten.  I spend all day every day teaching other peoples children, planning activities to help them learn and grow into respectable humans to function appropriately in the world so I need to be doing that at home as well.  I also know that this season of my life having small children is so short.  I want to enrich their lives as much as possible.  Now I know there are many schools of thoughts on why are we trying to make everything magical and just let kids be kids etc.  I want to clarify here that I'm not trying to make every second magical, we don't do activities all day every day (thought some days we do more than others).  Sometimes we don't even do them daily.  My kids are bored, they do watch tv some and roll around in the floor doing nothing.  My husband and I say "go play something!!!' as well.  I just think that I'm trying to set up small, simple things that I have around the house or can acquire easily to help foster their curiosity and allow them experiences in a fun way.  By no means is what I do trying to be pinterest worthy and a mompeditor - we all play with our kids in different ways - this just seems to work for my kids. 
How often and for how long do you normally do these activities? I usually do a couple set activities a week.  That being said some days when we do activities we may do more than one in a day and we may go days or a week without anything specific being set up.  Our life is crazy sometimes and it just depends on how much we are home and what is going on.  When the kids get irritable and need something or at times just need to calm down that is sometimes when I bust out something for them to do.  I also go in spurts where I'll do more for a while and less for a while.  My kids will do an "activity" for different periods of time.  My 2 year old will paint for MAYBE 15 min.  My 6 year old will paint until the end of time.  I have set them up with things that they have played with for no time at all and they just don't love it.  More often than not my older 2 will play consistently anywhere from 30 min to an hour sometimes longer depending on the activity and what other things are going on in the house that will divert their attention to something else.  
Do you have to watch them vigilantly with hawk-eyes so they don't eat things or re-design your sofa?  This depends on what it is.  When my 2 year old paints yes I watch her vigilantly!  I usually set her up at the bar and I work in the kitchen doing dishes or whatever so I can see her and make sure she doesn't decide to paint the walls!  I'm more hawk eyed on her just in general.  She tends to put things in her mouth - specifically the colored pasta!  What's fun about many of our play materials is they are simple and homemade so though I don't want her eating them they aren't going to hurt her.  Anything with small parts when she is involved I watch much more vigilantly.  The older 2 are ages 4 and 6 so I can usually set them up with something and explain where to keep the materials and sometimes a few "do not do this" type of thing and theyr'e great and will play and play.  (The exception to this would be the water bead debacle of 2014.  My older kids LOST THIER MINDS one day and had water beads EVERYWHERE - this may have lead to an angry mom who had to apologize and I may have thrown the water beads in the trash and we haven't done it again).  But all things in stride just like anything we do I watch my 2 year old much more vigilantly to make sure she is being safe, not eating things etc. because she is the one who gets into things she isn't supposed to, doesn't ask permission and is just TWO!
Do you think you'll keep doing these activities when school starts back up?  Yes.  Absolutely.  We starting doing these more intentionally in the late winter/early spring this year during school.  For me working full time, since I don't stay home it does change the way in which things go.  I typically try and think of something ahead of time and set it up when we get home and they play while I get dinner ready.  Funny enough I'm actually better at setting up things during the school year because I need them entertained while I cook supper, and I am much more regimented on a schedule than in the summer.  Summer I am more child led when they need a break or ask for something I'll set it up and decide just whenever unless I have seen something I specifically want to try with them.  In the summer we spend so much time outside, at the pool, etc. that activities are hit or miss so far but I do still try and do a few per week and this summer I've put together a portable activity kit for when we go to late night grill outs with friends and I worry about keeping them entertained at someone else's house etc. 
What is your biggest piece of advice for any parent just starting out with sensory play?  My biggest piece of advice is to just do it.  The dollar tree is your friend.  It doesn't cost a fortune.  Get some rice, some pasta, and make yourself some play doh and you're ready to roll.  My youngest was gifted a water table for her birthday that we frequently use but you don't have to have something like that.  Under the bed bins work great for containing things as well as big plastic mixing bowls and things like that.  Keep the play contained with a table or a blanket or both and just go for it.  So that's lots of advice but by all means do what YOU are comfortable with!  One of my friends cannot stand glitter so in her case I wouldn't advise her to give her kids a bottle of glue and glitter and let em go because that's going to lead to her being frustrated.  If you hate huge messes avoid things like cloud dough and finger paints - the things that are harder to clean up.  A counter top with a stool or a kids plastic placemat go a long way to contain things and clorox wipes erase a multitude of messes.  Start small and stay where you are comfortable and don't feel that you have to have a specific expectation.  Things are not always Pinterest pretty and kids aren't always happy.  They don't always love activities and stay engaged for long periods of time.  Sometimes things flop and that's okay.  Let yourself off the hook.