Monday, August 30, 2010

Homemade Books: Pansy Book

When my mom traveled a roadtrip with M recently, she took advantage of the long hours in the car to make a homemade book with M for her little sister G's birthday. (She let M place the pansies,etc)

The words of the book are a poem:
Pansies in the teapot,
Pansies on the hat,
Pansies on the birthday cake,
Pansies on the cat,
Pansies in the basket,
Pansies on the chair,
Pansies on the window sill,
Pansies in your hair!

Isn't it sweet?

Then at the end of the book, she gave a pansy-counting page:
She used a blank book such as the kind you can buy here, a gluestick, laminating sheets, and flowers from her garden that she pressed in old books.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Garbage Castles

I haven't thrown away a box in a long time- even little boxes like the kind for ziploc bags. I have been saving them for a rousing round of "Garbage Castles." (It seems like a slightly crazy name goes a long way toward making an activity fun for kids, don't you think?)

Recently, when M had some friends over, I dumped the entire collection thus far in the middle of the living room in front of them and proceeded to issue a series of challenges.

The first challenge was to build a tower as high as they could without its falling over. Next, I asked if they could build a tunnel that one of them could crawl through.And then, of course, a jail...
...and a chair to sit on.
It was REALLY FUN! There were some other challenges the kids did as well, but the most fun part, by far, was the demolition each time. The kids kind of took turns building each structure, but everybody- including the babies from a safe distance- took part in the demolition. It felt like boxes were raining from the sky!
I imagine we'll do this sort of thing again. Do you have any fun challenge ideas for us for next time?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: Pete's a Pizza

I'd like to share a favorite book with you. It belongs to a genre of children's literature I call Parent/Child Play books. That is, it models a kind of playing that parents can continue to do with their children long after the book is finished.

In Pete's a Pizza, Pete is sad because he can't play outside. His father decides to cheer him up by pretending to make him into a pizza. He starts by kneading Pete like dough and then adds toppings and bakes him in the oven (couch). There are some moments when Pete really gets into the pretending too (e.g. he refuses to talk because he's "just some dough and stuff")
When I read this book to M her eyes sparkle- especially on the lines that let her in on the little secrets (the flour was really baby powder). It's just the sort of imaginary play she is often trying to draw her father and me into (she likes it when her daddy lifts her high in the air against a wall and says he is hanging a picture). I think the elaborateness of the pretending in this book is like a dream-come-true to her.

I have not yet made M into a pizza. I'm waiting for a day when she is a little sad. I think the pizza-making is sure to cheer her up!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

PlayShell Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to the writer of comment #46- Kate (katemgoodall at gmail dot com) who is the winner of the Bilibo Play Shell Giveaway!

Kate, I have sent an email to your address giving you instructions on how to proceed. If, for some reason you did not receive that email, please contact me.

Thank you to all who participated!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Real Play: Part One

I so enjoyed watching M play with some children from our church that came over recently. They played almost entirely on their own for an hour and a half, digging in the sand (they filtered it through an old screen to gather a collection of the larger glass pebbles), mixing it with water, baking it in a little "oven" they set in the sun to heat up, taking the little cakes out of the oven with oven mitts made of large leaves, and other such fanciful things.
As I watched them I was struck with the thought that what they were doing seemed like real playing. I have sometimes heard people of an older generation ruminate that "Children today don't know how to really play." I have never heard anyone define exactly what they mean by that, but it is a sentiment that resounds with me in a vague sort of way. I was pleased that on that day, these kids seemed to be enjoying at least glimmers of old fashioned fun, but I wish I had more defined thoughts about what makes for quality play- the kind that kids really relish looking back on when they are adults.
I would like to think and write more about it in the next few weeks- what characterizes it; what parents can do to encourage it; what kinds of things keep it from happening.

It would be really helpful to hear your perspectives on this issue. Do you have stories that help illustrate what real play looks like or thoughts on how to define it? Please feel free to weigh in!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cookie Cutter Snack Cheeses

I really like cookie cutters, but I have to admit: sometimes I don't relish the prospect the mess and hassle of making a batch of cookie dough. Then, of course, there's the trouble of transferring the delicate cookies to the cookie sheet without good ole Gingerbread Man losing an arm or a head!

When there was a small party the other day to which I was bringing cheese and crackers and I happened to notice some of our flower cookie cutters in the closet, I decided that M might enjoy the idea of making pretty cheese flowers for the ladies at our church. And she did!
I imagine there are lots of things besides cookie dough that would work well with cookie cutters. Have any of you had good experiences you could share?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Balloon Treats Party Favors

Balloons make most things more fun, don't you think? Even cheesy little 10 cent toys and cheap candies! That was the philosophy behind the party favors for M's Yellow Birthday Party last month.

The night before the party, we filled each balloon with a small trinket, and a couple of wrapped candies. Then we blew up the balloons, tied them, and hung them with ribbon from the eaves of our front porch. As each guest left the party they got to cut down a balloon and take it home to pop so they could find their little surprises.(I was thinking that it would have been fun to include a little note or joke inside of each balloon also, but we I ran out of time.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scrabble Cookies

Shhhh! Don't tell, but for my parents' birthdays this month, I made them cookies. But not just any cookies- Pecan Shortbread Scrabble Cookies!

They were fun to make. I followed the following recipe for the dough, rolled it out and cut the cookies to be 2 X 2cm. After they were baked, I covered them with white royal icing, and used edible markers to print on the letters and numbers. It's a full set! :-)
Pecan Shortbread Cookies:

1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped (I used the food processor)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

To Toast Pecans: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Bake the nuts 8-10 minutes or until browned and fragrant. Cool on wire rack and then coarsely chop the nuts. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl place the flour and salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add the flour mixture, mixing only until incorporated. Stir in the chopped pecans.

Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least one hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one half of the dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll into a 1/4 inch large rectangle. Then, using a strip of cardboard 2cm wide as a guide, cut strips of dough in one direction, and then in the other direction to form squares.

Bake for approximately 8-10 minutes.

Fun Giveaway: Bilibo Play Shell

I have such fun news! CSN, (a company of online stores that is currently featuring a line of dinnerware sets) is giving away a Bilibo Play Shell to one of you in the color of your choice!

I have read a lot of interesting things about this toy and am so eager to hear from you whether it is as fun and versatile as people say.

The bilibo play shell is a simple toy for ages 2-7 that was designed in Switzerland and won the Dr. Toy prize in 2002 for Best Active Toy. The thing I like about it is that it doesn't "do" anything on its own, but it is basically a well-crafted prop for imaginative and active toddler play. Toddlers use it for rocking, spinning, filling, stacking, climbing, etc.

The play shells are available in pink, blue, orange, yellow, red, and green.
To be entered in the giveaway, simply leave your name and email address in the comments section of this post. If you would like a second entry, become a follower of this blog (using google friend connect on the bottom right hand side of the screen) and leave a second comment saying that you are a follower now (or if you are already a follower, leave a comment to that effect)

I will randomly choose a comment number a week from now and will announce the winner next Thursday.

Contest ends Wednesday, August 18 at midnight, central time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Homemade Bean Bag Toss

In my mind a bean bag toss is the quintessential party game- simple, quick, and the difficulty level is easily adjusted for a wide age range. Growing up, we had a big, wooden clown target with holes that I imagine my mother purchased at a garage sale. By the last time we used him I think most of the paint had worn away from his red clown smile and the wood was starting to warp.

Though an avid garage saler myself, I haven't yet had the good fortune to run across any ready-made targets and I couldn't stomach the idea of paying twenty dollars or more for a set that would likely seem chintzy anyway. So, I scrounged around for the makings of a homemade set.

An old maternity shirt furnished the material for the bean bags (which I filled with yellow split peas from the split pea treasure hunt mentioned below). For the targets I used foam stars from the craft store that I stenciled with numbers. The stenciling proved to be a bit more work than I had counted on. I had planned to buy some cheap number stencils at the craft store, but couldn't find anything under $7 which seemed a bit much. So, instead, I printed some large numbers off on cardstock, cut them out with scissors, taped up the incision and used those as stencils. (I found that it is important to use a very dry brush or they run and drip easily)

We taped them on the floor with packing tape. I was a little afraid that the tape wouldn't hold up to the thrown beanbags, but it did fine (maybe it wouldn't have if the kids had been older and rougher).

It wasn't anything spectacular, but it looked fine, worked fine and saved me a little money!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Yellow Split Pea Treasure Hunt

20 pounds of yellow split peas

+ 20 pounds of white rice

+ cheap yellow foam visors from the craft store

+ lots of foam stickers

= a very fun and unique birthday party activity!

We used two big tupperware containers to hold the rice and split peas and buried hundreds of foam stickers in each tub. Each guest at the party was given a yellow visor and dug for stickers to decorate their hats throughout the party.Just sifting, pouring, and feeling the rice and peas was a wonderful sensory experience for the kids, and adding the "buried treasure" element made it especially fun. It WAS a bit of work to clean up but I would do it again in a heartbeat. (Now I just have to find about six dozen recipes for dried yellow split peas!)