Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Great Gifts for Toddlers 2 to 3

At two kids start to enjoy roll play. Think dress up, acting like Mom/Dad, pretending to answer a phone with the beginning of a conversation (Hello), cooking, pretending play is really beginning to bloom. Conversation is also starting to take off and by the time they are three it is amazing how far they have come. Gross motor skills become more refined as so fine motor skills. Things like kicking a ball, playing basketball on a short hoop, riding a tricycle are great skills to hone in on. Art starts to be come really fun at this age, gluing, cutting with scissors, painting, writing with large crayons/markers, stringing things like beads are all great for developing fine motor skills. 

Many of the previous suggestions (1-2 year, 6-12 month) still work as wonderful toys with more refined ability, instruments like bells, balls, push toys, ride on, music, etc. 

Here are a few new things to add to the list: 

1. Games: There are some really great games that come in to play at two. We love this one by Haba, which I reviewed previously:

Haba has a great line of games and toys that are both fun and require brain power to play with. 
2. Art supplies:
Crayola has a line of art supplies just for this age group and they are okay but I actually find that my kids both enjoy more traditional crayons/markers/paints and usually can use them at least as well if not better than the ones crayola put out for this age group. That being said crayola does have great crayons, markers, and finger paints. 

These triangular crayons are really helpful in getting the right grip:

But I have to say that my favorite drawing medium for this age are these Colorix:

They are so easy to glide on and create bright, vibrant colors with. For those just learning it is a lot easier than crayons. 
3. Role Play items:
Think telephone, kitchen set, shopping cart, dolls, vacuum/broom and other things that your child sees on a daily basis being done by adults. Does Mom or Dad have a brief case, a brief case might be a good choice. A pretend lap top, a baby to take care of, all of these things that help the child to learn the roles they see going on around them every day.
We are lucky enough to have quite a few of these things, a few of the most used are: baby dolls, telephone, vacuum and brief case. 

4. Dress up to go along with role play getting items to dress up in is something that my kids love! If you have a Doctor kit at home this Doctor outfit might work well:

Melissa and Doug also has many other great costume sets, fire fighter, construction worker, and many others. 

 5. The song Let's Go to Work by Kira Willey, this is one of my favorite new songs. I might like it more than anyone else in my family, it is so so so cute. 

6. Playdoh and things to use with playdoh, of course there are tons of recipes that are really easy and cheap to make but here is a link to a set of playdoh must haves that are perfect for working with any playdoh you make.
7. A trike or balance bike with no peddles is great for learning the mechanics for riding a bike (hint the most important thing is confidence about balance)

8. Not forgetting bike safety training, a helmet

9. A night light. Towards the end of this year in particular is when toddlers start to get scared of being in the dark room. This turtle has a timer so if they fall asleep it does not stay on all night. 

There are also some cute ones that can be easily be taken off the plug unit and carried to another room. 

10. Sensory table, great for learning about new textures and how things scoop and pour. Change out the medium from sand or water, to noodles or rice sensory learning is always fun for a toddler.

I hope this is helpful. What are your favorites for this age? 

Also check out this list of great toys to get for 1-2 year olds


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Super Hero Birthday Party

My little five year old is now six! I can't believe it.

Before his party I asked him what kind of theme he wanted (to him this means what does he want on his cake). He decided on Superman and I went to work searching Pinterest and Google to find activities for a Super Hero party, cake ideas, and decoration ideas. I made a whole Pinterest board for AB's birthday (you can follow me on pinterest in the sidebar to the right if you want to see it). I showed him the options and he choose his cake.

Now let me say that finding a Superman figurine the day of the party is not a good idea for any of you that wait until the last minute to put the finishing touches on things (ummmmmmm, okay me). I ended up improvising. I bought Superhero League stickers at Michael's Craft Store about two hours before the party because they had a Superman sticker. I then stuck the sticker to a piece of paper and ran it through my scanner to enlarger said picture. I glued it to card stock, cut around it, added tin foil to the bottom of the enlargement, and stuck it in the cake as the "figurine". Also I am not actually a cake decorator, I just play one at home, so I use plastic bags to pipe frosting and pretty much make things up as I go.

I did make a flour-less chocolate cake again for this cake and made french butter cream frosting which is so much better that that sickly sweet other stuff.

I had decided on doing a Superhero training camp, target practice (bean bag toss), and building a super hero hide out or vehicle with legos as activities. It was wild, crazy, and I think fun.

Then we had super foods for super heroes, veggies and hummus, guacamole and sweet potato or corn chips, a variety of fruit, sparkling water and 100% juice, water flavored with orange slices, and cheese sticks.

Thanks to my Mom for taking photos :)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Great Gifts for 1-2 year olds

There are huge changes between your little baby who needed you to do everything and your one year old. A one year old is either walking for close to it, is eating solid foods, is beginning to say "words" or getting there. They are really starting to show their personality at this stage. They are much more involved in exploring and find toys a bit more interesting now. 

Some of the things from the previous stages are still excellent toys and will remain excellent toys for quite some time, for example: blocks, balls, toys where one thing disappears (think jack in the box). By one they are branching out a bit and start enjoying things that they can push or pull while they walk. Scooping and stirring are interesting for them. Water play and other sensory activities are beginning to be fun and between one and two they can start to use art supplies that are designed for their age (with some help of course). 

Here are few toys that we loved at this age:

1) Pop-up toys where you twist, push, buttons and then an animal pops up.

2) Duplo Legos, they have come out with some really fun sets a few that are particularly interesting for the 1 1/2 and up group. There are some sets that include trains, dinosaurs, and more. 

3) Simple puzzles, ones with nobs are much easier for toddlers to handle. There are some with added texture, great for sensory play, and learning about texture words.

4) Shape sorter

This one is multi functional because it is also a pull along toy:

5) Dr. Seuss board book set

6) Beginner games.  

7) A pretend phone, pretty much the bees knees in a youngsters eyes.

8) A walking toy, either to pull or push. The thing about the ones that a toddler pushes is it might go really fast and cause baby to fall, some have something to slow the pace down but most do not so keep an eye on them at first. 
We have ride on toy that can be pushed also and my 6 year old still uses it. 

9) This eating set is great for toddlers starting to feed themselves. It is really fun and they have it in a construction theme and garden theme. It even has a little pusher to help push food onto the spoon or fork.

Another good investment at this point is a zoo membership or children's museum membership. 


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Great Gifts for 6-12 Months

This is the age when kids start to get active. They are rolling over, sitting up, scooting, crawling, standing up, and beginning to walk. Sitting up is a big step in being able to enjoy toys more. They can use their hands a lot more to grab and manipulate things. Babies from six to twelve months are still putting things in their mouths like crazy and are starting to really eat solids.

I loved watching my little ones start to take their first steps and learning how to dance which they even do before they walk. This is a time when it is really important to talk about everything. I liked to use colorful toys to talk about colors, and when handing blocks to a baby I liked to count them as I was handing them out. This is a good time to start using sign language with simple words and phrases.

I love the baby stage it is so full of learning and everything is new and full of wonder.

1. Blocks. It is a major accomplishment when a baby develops the ability to stack blocks. Getting the point where stacking is possible takes practice. It is a great way to work on counting and depending on the blocks many other things too. Here are a variety of suggestions for blocks all with attractive qualities. 
 a) These are lovely colors, and include numbers with objects to count on each block. They are just heavy enough to make stacking not too difficult and are rubber so little hands can grab them more easily.

b) These are great because when you push a button on one it causes not only the object on it to move but also the object on the one stacked below it. There are only three of them but the stack together well and stay stacked more easily. 

c) Alphabet blocks by Fisher-Price are neat because they each have a letter and something that begins with that letter.

2. I love this set of stacking toys. I give it to almost every new baby I know because it has great potential to be a wonderful aide in learning and development. It is great for learning colors, sizes, stacking, object permanence (even if you can't see it is still there), and coordination.

3. Crawl along drum. Something to encourage crawling and makes noise! When my son was young he loved playing with one of these at my friends house and her baby loved it too.

4. I really like how this toy has a leg that each makes a different tone. The legs are full of air so they are pretty easy to squeeze. 

5. Eric Carle Board Books, beautiful art and learning combine in his books to make them a great addition to any kids library.

6. Bath toys begin to be a lot more fun at this age. Here are a couple my family enjoyed: 

d) Wind up toys

7. Spinner toys are great for this age

8. Jack in the Box

9. Sign language books to read with baby are good for encouraging enjoyment of books and learning signs to help strengthen communication skills. 

10. Music and shakers/bells
The wheels on the bus is a family favorite but there are tons of others. Try and encourage shaking to the beat, using hand signals and signs along with songs. 

Don't forget that a lot of the items from the 0-6 month post are still great toys for this age, such as a picture book of people baby knows, a mirror book or just a mirror, and as I am sure you know these little guys and gals are not going to really understand much about gifts and will benefit most from interaction with people and environment even with the simplest of things. It might be a good idea to give a gift of donating to a college fund instead of a toy.

Also check out the next age group too, here are some great toys for ages 1 to 2.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

12 Holiday Gifts For 0-6 Months

I thought that I would make a short Christmas suggestion list for the ages my children have experienced. These will be items suggested because of the amount of use they received by my children or because they help further development. 

I figured I would start from infancy and work my way up to older kids. The thing about babies is they really benefit most from interaction with people. They are naturally attracted to faces in particular and notice contrast, like the lines of eyebrows and the hair line. The see black, white, and red the best in the begginning as well as things that are about a foot away. This means that toys that are bright and have lots and lots of color are not actually that interesting for a very young baby. They see much simpler patterns better, red, black, white. 

Younger infants have difficulty grabbing things but this is one of the first things other than smiling and lifting their heads that will be helpful in playing. Therefore things that are good for grabbing that have interesting textures or sounds are good for baby.

Here is a small list of some good things for baby. 

1. Both my kids liked either the whoozit or lamaze toys 

2. I have heard great things about this Giraffe, he is great for chewing mouths and made out of natural rubber so he is safe. His long neck and legs are great for gripping.

3. A mobile is always nice for above a changing table, just make sure it is out of reach of the baby so that later they don't get it messy.  

4.  A swing is both fun and relaxing for a baby and helpful to the parents, although I recommend baby wearing very much (Ergo Baby and Moby are excellent carriers).

5. A tummy time toy is good for helping to encourage development of upper body strength needed to crawl. We had one similar to this that my daughter loved and it can fold up to take it along places.

6. A mirror is great for babies to learn about self recognition and faces. 

7. I like rattles for babies but I don't like how they are usually hard so the baby ends up hitting their face with it. This one is nice and soft. 

8. This sqeak toy is also neat:

9. Books! Fabric books are great for baby or high contrast books also consider getting one you can put family pictures into. We liked this one called Look! Look! and had one to put our own photos in. My child liked that one until she was 2 and still goes back to look once and a while. Honestly my boy like to look at it when he was 4 and 5 but I am not sure if that was just because it was his sisters.



10. A soft ball that baby can hold onto is fun.


11. Another great gift is music, a cd with either calm music or fun common songs like the wheels on the bus are great choices. If you head to my Music tab you can find some good music for kids/babies.
12.  Of course since babies are not really going to know if they do not get lots of toys for holidays it is always a great idea to donate to a college fund. 

Coming soon...6-12 month toys (some of these will definitely work for that age too, there are just some new ones to add to that age group that would not really be useful to a baby under 6 months). 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Felt Hand Turkeys

The other day I was looking for a craft to do with the kids. Thanksgiving is coming up so I wanted to do something that fit the Thanksgiving theme. I adore hand print crafts because I love being able to have something later that reminds me of how big their hand was. Connected to the craft it also shows what their artistic ability is at that point in growth.

Hand print crafts also have the advantage utilizing many areas that little ones need to work on like fine motor skills (tracing, cutting things out), you can talk about how the hand that is traced is the same size as their hand and how it is larger than the one from last year (learning about growth and size), and usually there is either coloring, gluing, or some other form of decorating that takes place where patterning development, learning about colors, textures, shapes, etc. can all take place. 

This time of year is also a really good time to learn about history, culture, and reasons for being Thankful. I like to talk about the story of the first Thanksgiving and include some talk about how the Native Americans might feel about Thanksgiving given how they are no longer able to live on the land the way they used to.

So I went with the hand print turkey. I have done hand print turkeys in past years using a foot as the head and body and hand prints (usually at least 3) as "feathers". Those are really cute and I recommend them, but this year I went with something a little different.

I had some little googly eyes and toilet paper roles hanging around and I had gone to the craft strore a few days before looking for Thanksgiving colors and found these leaves and pompoms that looked like fun.

We traced the kids hands onto the felt leaving enough room below and next to it to cut out a line to wrap around the toilet paper tube (used for support). I cut the toilet paper tube to about and inch in length but with one side having enough room to extend the length of the hand so it would support the hand so the fingers would not fall over.

Then using a sticky, less watery, craft glue the kids went to town decorating the turkeys.

After the glue dried we glued them onto the toilet paper rolls and set them up.

Monday, October 22, 2012

And Suddenly She's Three!

My little girl was born 3 years ago. The time has gone so fast and it is so amazing to take a step back and look at her. All of a sudden I realize that she is a little girl not a toddler. I can start to see what she will look like in the years to come. These three years have gone so fast. Even faster it seems, than the first three of my son's life.

Maybe that is because my time is split between two children instead of one. It might have to do with my best friend getting diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer during the first week of my daughters life. Or with spending the month leading up to my daughter first birthday in the hospital most of the time with that same friend. Or spending the actual first birthday of this beautiful happy daughter of mine, in the hospital, while my friend left this world. It might be in part because the last two years have been amazingly painful grieving that friend.

It might also be because this little girl gives so much joy to my life that the time goes by quickly because I am contently enjoying her "reading" a book, playing games, and singing and dancing.

Whatever the reason these three years have gone by faster than I want them to. I wish I could slow the time down and relish in her cute phrasing, tenaciousness, and goofy playing. I love seeing her grow up, seeing her try and learn new things. I also want these stages to last just a bit longer they are so precious.

I love seeing her grow up and I am amazed every day by her.

As she turned three we planned a party for her. The theme was birds. We took to pinterest to find ideas for the party, she looked with me at the ideas I came up with and narrowed the playing field. She was especially sure about the cake.

Here is was we ended up with:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

A couple of months ago I volunteered to make a grain free cupcake birthday dessert for a friend's son's 6th birthday. They are on the Paleo or Primal lifestyle diet and do not eat any grains and usually do not eat sugar either. Obviously there is some sugar in chocolate but they do eat dark chocolate so I had two ideas for them: flour-less chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. They opted for the flour-less cake and I decided to try it out as cupcakes. I was delighted to find that it worked out very well.

This is such a great recipe because it only uses four ingredients! 

16 ounces of dark chocolate
1 stick(half a cup) and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
5 eggs separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I would like to try this will very strong coffee too at some point)

First preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Line cupcake pan with the wrappers. 

Next chop the chocolate (or I just used good quality 80% dark chocolate chips). 

In a double broiler (or like I do a heat proof bowl over a pan of about 2 inches of boiling water( place the chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir to keep it all moving and melting evenly so the chocolate does not burn. Once this is all melted together remove from the heat. 
Next whip the egg whites until they produce stiff peaks but do not over whip them. Move the egg whites to a new bowl. Then beat the egg yokes together.

Combine the egg yokes with the chocolate stiring constantly, you don't want to end up with scrambled eggs in the chocolate!

Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate and then follow with the rest of the egg whites. Fold them in until you can not see any of the whites.

Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3-3/4 of the way full. You should be able to get 12 out of this recipe.

Bake for 15 minutes and check for doneness with a toothpick it should still have a bit of cake come off and should look shiny on top like a brownie. You may still need to cook them for up to 10 minutes more. I started checking them at 15 and then ended up taking them out at about 20 minutes. Just try not to over cook them.

I served them with raspberry sauce made with raspberries, about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and 1/2 tablespoon local raw honey. I cooked  this until the raspberries were totally soft and then used the immersion blender to make them a sauce. I then added in a dollop of whipped cream for "frosting" at the time of serving the cupcakes.

These are actually not very difficult and pretty quick to make. AND oh so delicious!

I am using this recipe again next weekend for my daughter's third birthday, yay!

Later Addition: I did make these again for my daughter's birthday except as a full cake. I decided to use 1/4 of an avocado mixed in with the egg yoke to try and retain some moisture. It worked out really well. I highly recommend it. Here is what you do, when mixing the yoke in the blender add in 1/4 of an avocado and make sure to mix it until the avocado is very well mixed in and smooth. Then just add according to the recipe.