Fostering toddler independence, DIY-style

Edited: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

There are some areas in which I feel very confident in letting my twins just do their thing and figuring life out on their own. There are also some areas (ahem, meal time) when I’m slightly obsessed with making sure they take small bites and chew their food 1,000 times before swallowing. I’m working on that.

I can say, though, that I foster independence at home much more successfully when I set up certain areas of my house to be ready for whatever my twins want to do. Then the decision to let them be independent is out of my hands, because my home is already set up for this exact thing. In the past few months, I’ve made a few changes in my house that have really helped the twins make choices and be successful on their own.

First of all, Pinterest is my BFF. I know it’s so stereotypical. My husband likes to tell me that Pinterest is where your wife spends hours on the computer, only to end up serving the dinner salad in a mason jar and calling it a day. It’s kind of true. But I lack creativity. I’m great at following directions. I only save pins that I feel I can and will accomplish. So therefore, all the ideas I’m about to share came from my Pinterest searches.

DIY Toddler Art Station and Art Cart

With our nanny at our house every day, all day, I wanted the twins at age 2 to be able to do arts and crafts on their own. The kids have structured play during the day but also free play. I wanted art supplies to be at the ready for whenever we’re busy and they need to entertain themselves. As is my nature, I also wanted our art station to be as cheap as possible. So I consulted my BFF, Pinterest. Pinterest led me here, and this is what I based our art station and cart off of.

DIY Toddler Art Station

I used a piece of wood I found in our basement and Target’s $1 tin buckets we already had from the twins’ first birthday party. I already had the art supplies as well, though I continue to buy more on sale and switch them out. At the moment, the sticker bucket actually says, “stamps”. I bought the hooks at Target and my husband kindly drilled them in.

DIY Toddler Art Station

We have a small table that the twins eat breakfast and lunch at, and due to lack of space in our tiny cape, I decided that table would also serve as their art area. I found an old TV cart in my basement and I already had the plastic craft trays (affiliate link) from when we started doing Tot Trays. After a little modeling, I taught the twins that when they wanted to color (or use playdoh, stickers, etc.), they needed to grab a tray first, then a piece of paper and carry them to their table. Then they could grab the bucket of supplies they wanted and bring it to their trays.

DIY Toddler Art Station

They love it. These pictures are from the summer but the art station is used daily. At this point, they now know what color tray the other twin prefers and I frequently hear C saying, “Here’s your tray, B!” On the weekends after breakfast, she typically announces, “Let’s do playdoh now!” and runs to gather her materials. It’s been wonderful to allow them to partake in arts and crafts on their own without me needing to run around gathering supplies.

DIY Toddler Picture Schedule

Over the summer, B was struggling with transitions. He was so upset in between everything that happened – from dinner to bathtime, from getting up in the morning to breakfast. It was one meltdown after another. I hated that I was the misdirected cause of his anger. It was me saying, “It’s time to do _____” that got him so upset. Our schedules are pretty solid throughout the week. I wanted him to know what was coming next and even if he got angry, it wouldn’t be at me. So I Pinterested it, obviously. I found many examples but liked this one the best. I used mycutegraphics.com, made my own cards on Microsoft Word and printed them out. Around the same time, I paid $33 for this laminator as well as these laminating pouches (affiliate links). I knew it would get a ton of use over the years. I laminated the cards onto cardstock and slapped some velcro to the backs. I used a foam board (from Walmart – $2 or $3) and now the cards are interchangeable.

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I put it at the twins’ height in our hallway. They know to check the board when they aren’t sure what’s coming next but typically, most things stay the same every day.

DIY Toddler Picture Schedule

I have to say, this was helpful for fostering independence. More importantly, it cut down on B’s meltdowns. The bath card is always after the dinner card. He can’t be angry at me for my sudden bathtime announcement – he knew since he woke up in the morning that bath would follow dinner. Our nanny adjusts it as she sees fit. Right now, this is really working for us.

DIY Learning Tower

This one deserves its own post and is months in the making. Almost a year ago, my husband started making the twins’ learning towers. Learning towers are a Montessori staple, but we found it on (….Pinterest…) because we wanted the twins to be able to simply see out the window. We had a lot of scrap wood and my husband said, “I can make that”. And he did. And it took a while, and wasn’t exactly dirt cheap. That said, it was way cheaper to make one than buy one, and I love how I was able to “personalize” them with the twins’ colors, blue and purple. When they were first made (and not even painted yet), the twins were 18 months old. They’re now almost 27 months old, but these towers have already gotten a good amount of kitchen use.

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This was one of the first times we used them. B helped Daddy make afternoon smoothies. He absolutely LOVED being at counter height.

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C loved it too, and though we planned on them helping us cook in the kitchen, I found I could just hand either of them a pot and a spoon and they enjoyed pretending, stirring…

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…and sampling dinner.

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Someday I’ll do a post with the step by step, because my husband did take pictures along the way. I love their quality, and someday perhaps we will sell them. I don’t like how heavy they are. In a big house, they might have a permanent home against a counter but in our house, we have to move them to the mudroom when we aren’t using them.

In case you’re not up to sawing pieces out of wood and would rather invest in a learning tower, you can find a few great ones HERE and HERE! (affiliates!)

So these were a few changes we made that have really encouraged and fostered independence from our toddlers. I am always looking for new ideas, because I truly believe in the concept of independence. The more they can do on their own, the better! Selfishly, I also love that there’s less for me to do – more of it’s on them, saving me time and energy. I did pin many more ideas but haven’t yet tried them – you can find all of them on my Pinterest page!

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

I have mentioned before that I’ve always wanted to make the twins an alphabet they could hold onto and rearrange by themselves. My original idea, which I started when the babies were infants and I didn’t yet have a sewing machine, was to hand-sew felt letters filled with stuffing. I believe I made two letters before I quit – hand-sewing is just not worth it, and stuffing the letters was a giant pain. I shelved the project for quite a long time, not thinking much of it.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

Recently, after finishing my last big project (the baby blanket bunnies), I scoured the internet looking for my next craft. I stumbled upon an amazing tutorial for making fabric letters. The blogger provided clear pictures and easy-to-follow directions, which seriously helped me in making these letters. I followed her craft to a “T”. After completion, I consider this project a great one for beginning sewers, as the stitches are straight and simple. While it took me a little time (a few nights worth), it wasn’t a massive undertaking by any means and I really enjoyed making them!

So here’s what I did. First, I gathered my materials.

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

Buying fabric is kind of addicting. (This fabric is super cute, and cheap!)  I only buy what’s on sale, and I purchased the three pieces on the left for under $4 total, for a half a yard each (which was way too much!). I purchased the two solid colors for like $1.50, as they were in the scraps pile. The fabrics on the right were leftovers from my buckle pillows. I had additional fabric donated from a few relatives. The only purchases I really made were the cotton batting and the fabric marker. The batting was $9 (find it HERE!), but I only used about 1/4 of it, and it’s some good quality stuff. I’ll be looking in the future for little projects I can use this with! In addition, the letters look the best when you use pinking shears, which if you don’t know (I didn’t!), they are special scissors that are fabulous for cutting fabric.  This pair is a great deal!

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

It’s really a straightforward project. I took a night just to cut – you need a top piece of patterned fabric, a bottom piece of solid color fabric, and two squares of cotton batting in the middle. I cut out the letters provided in the tutorial (so helpful!), traced them onto the fabric with a fabric marker, pinned my pieces together and started sewing!

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

Sewing along the lines was quite easy, as it’s straightforward. Cutting out the inside of a few shapes (A, B, P, D, etc) was slightly trickier and you need a pair of sharp, small scissors.

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

After the letters were sewn, I took my pinking shears and cut closely around the letters. The scissors added a nice touch! Here’s a finished letter:

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

I really like the way they came out! This craft could be tailored to boys or girls with various interests, as the fabrics you choose define the way the letters look in the end. I was going for a “nursery” type vibe with most of my colors, but the original tutorial provides a more classic look. The next morning after finishing the letters, I surprised the twins with a new present, and they took to the letters right away; picking them up, excitedly identifying them, and sorting them on a chair.

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters DIY: Simple Sew Fabric LettersThe basket of letters has now made its way into the playroom as a permanent fixture!

DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters DIY: Simple Sew Fabric Letters

I got this craft idea out of my system now, but every few weeks I get the itch to start up a new project! I’ve already got my next one, and it’s long-term: FELT! More on that soon…

Check out more of my recent projects as well as related links on Facebook or Pinterest

 

2 Easter Egg Crafts To Do In A Pinch!

 

I love to blog about kid activities and I’ve been a bit quiet this past week because I’m finishing up an awesome gift for my twins for Easter. One that the tutorial informed me would take an hour, and because I’m not crafty, is actually taking me a solid week, working on them every night. SO, I had every intention of blogging about them way before Easter, in case anyone wanted to try and make them too, but I’m still not done. Tonight’s not looking promising, and tomorrow night isn’t either. But soon – hopefully Monday night!

Anyway, every Saturday morning my husband goes to work. Every Saturday morning I kick myself for not planning something fun to do with the twins while he’s gone, because with a nanny at our house, they’re used to playing with their same old toys all week long. Weekends are for trying new things. So as they got up this morning, I scrambled to find a few Easter crafts that weren’t too complicated (as art isn’t exactly my thing), didn’t require a trip to the store, and still would be cute.

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I found one that was perfect – marbleized eggs. We had all the required materials (except card stock), so after breakfast I got out the twins’ dollar store aprons and we got started.

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Blurry, but cute aprons!

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I put out the shaving cream (we only had gel, so I had to mix it before hand…) and the washable paint. The idea is to swirl, swirl, swirl, then press card stock onto it and it looks so pretty! But here’s what actually happened:

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C got started using both brush ends and we were on the right track to a cute Easter egg craft. The colors looked promising!

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B’s plate looked all nice and swirly as well, creating very cool color combos and textures. They both enjoyed the stirring process, though they didn’t like paint on their hands. I think we need to be messy more often!

Then our Pinterest craft went downhill. I believe my error was in the ratio of shaving cream to paint – WAY too much paint. After a few minutes, you couldn’t tell we even used shaving cream and the twins were effectively just painting, which left no opportunity for swirling to occur. B’s colors were okay, but C’s were not, and so this happened:

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And she had a plate of mud. No marbleized Easter eggs here. Oh well. I hung them up anyway and slapped some ribbon on them, so they would avoid looking like round poop circles.

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Certainly not like the original, but the twins don’t seem to mind.

A little while later, we came back to the table for round 2. This was simpler and I just thought of it on a whim, as hanging these “marbleized” eggs on the slider reminded me of when we hung our Valentine’s sun catchers there. I got out the contact paper and some leftover ribbon from my DIY buckle pillows and set up two tot trays.

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Simple enough – stick the ribbon to the contact paper, shaped like an egg, then cover it with more contact paper when it’s done and voila. Contact paper sun catchers. And so we did.

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Well, C did. B didn’t care for the texture for whatever reason and so he happily enjoyed tossing each ribbon off the table one by one. It produced many big laughs as he watched them spiral to the floor.

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C got the hang of it, pressing and sticking her ribbons to the contact paper. After they were done, I took care of the rest.

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Not our finest work, but in a pinch, the twins made two easy Easter egg crafts and had a great morning!

Please like my Facebook page for real-life Pinterest-worthy crafts and activities from many real-life professional bloggers as well as myself! 🙂

 

Simple Easter Egg Activities for Toddlers, Part 2

 

In the last week or so, we’ve been in full Easter egg mode. These eggs are such versatile toys – you can use them for so many activities and games for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. We use them year round, though I’ve put together six activities in particular that are free (assuming you have the eggs already), simple in concept, and easy to set up. The twins did the six over the course of a weekend and loved them all.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

PicMonkey Collage

Part 1 of our six Easter egg activities can be found here, where we played an alphabet identification game, had an egg race, and practiced sorting by color. This time, the twins enjoyed some scooping practice, a water sensory bin, and sorted with the help of an old egg carton.

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This was a “throw together last minute” activity that actually worked out well. The twins were antsy, and I quickly loaded up two trays (similar to THESE) with some eggs, a plastic ice cream dish (like THESE), and a tablespoon. The original goal was for them to practice scooping up the eggs with the spoon and dropping them in the cup. C had other plans, and enjoyed opening and shutting the eggs multiple times. B did try scooping though.

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The lip of the tray helped him in scooping up an egg with the spoon, though in retrospect this activity would have been easier if the eggs were in a bowl of some kind, not a flat surface. Oh well – they got the challenging version. B is persistent when he wants to do something, and was successful in scooping and bringing them to the cup a few times.

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He had a good time, even though it was more challenging than I meant it to be.

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Our Easter egg water sensory bin, as with all water bins, was a hit for the toddlers. I added a few drops of purple food coloring, some eggs, and some other tools. After they got started, I also added a little soap for a few bubbles. Not a complicated concept by any means, but the eggs had these little holes in the bottom that made it fun to scoop water and pour from.

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Pouring practice is all the rage in our house right now. They can’t get enough of it.

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They enjoyed this water bin for a long time!

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This last Easter egg activity was unbelievably simple, like so simple I can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner. I’ve had these eggs for a long time now, sitting in an egg carton. One night I grabbed some markers and simply colored the bottoms of the carton and let it dry overnight. The next day, the twins got their eggs and put the eggs in the corresponding spots that matched the color.

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DSC_0318I couldn’t get too many pictures because this one was a little too easy for them – they had the eggs in correct locations in about 30 seconds, and they weren’t too keen on repeating the game more than once or twice. However, it would make a great travel activity as it’s portable and easy! The only thing I would recommend is to use a cardboard carton, not plastic, as the marker didn’t stick too well.

My goal was to find Easter egg activities and games that were simple and cheap – and all six of them fit the bill!

I’m on to something slightly more complicated (though still cheap) next. It might involve my sewing machine – we’ll see if I don’t change my mind!

St. Patrick’s Day Tot Trays

 

One of my new loves is the tot tray. I recently tried using tot trays in our home for the first time, and I love so many things about them: the simplicity of the activities (which usually = cheap!), the ease of setup/cleanup, the educational aspects to them, and the (eventual) responsibility the twins will have in taking care of them. They fit with everything I love about toddler activities.

It’s my understanding that tot trays are usually sorted into categories that align with the Montessori model, including practical life, language arts, math, sensorial, and cultural studies. For example, you could Pinterest just “practical life tot trays” and come up with many cool ideas that help foster independence. However, for this set of tot trays, I went with a holiday theme: St. Patrick’s Day.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

St. Patrick's Day Tot Trays

Over the course of a week or so, the twins did five tot tray activities that were simple, educational, and best of all – unbelievably cheap. Looking for a good, sturdy tray? Find them HERE.

Instead of writing five separate posts, I’m showing them all here and will keep the text on the short end as this post is picture-heavy.

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Money spent: $1.87. (Bought pony beads in assorted colors at for $13; each color averaged out to $.87) We had pipe cleaners already but you can find them HERE.

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As hard as they tried, they could not thread the pipe cleaners with the beads. They are still a bit young at 19 months. However, they were great at unthreading the beads and did this for a while! As a disclaimer – this was their first time using beads and I was a little nervous to see how they would handle them, as the beads are quite small and could easily be swallowed. Neither of them currently puts much in their mouths right now, and B tested the waters by putting one to his mouth and looking at me. I immediately told him it was “yucky”, and asked him to help me put the bead on the pipe cleaner. He was distracted easily and didn’t try it again. C never tried it. That said, they are still a little young for these beads, and I’ll likely wait until they’re a bit older before using them again.

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Overall, they enjoyed this tot tray.

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Money spent: $1. I used an old container from our repurposing old containers activity and cut a slit in the top, then wrapped it in green construction paper for St. Patrick’s Day. I bought the coins at the dollar store.

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This tot tray was a huge hit and continues to be used on a daily basis. They loved being able to put the coins in the slot, then open the container, dump the coins out and start over. Lots of fun for this activity and it was such a simple concept. Big Y coins work just as well…

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This tot tray was serious business!

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Money spent: $0. Free!

My personal favorite – I collected toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls for a few weeks, then asked my students to help me wrap them up in construction paper during recess. I already had the pom poms from the one million things we have done with them!

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C took to this tot tray right away: sorting her pom poms, lifting up the rolls, and starting over. B (who is currently obsessed with colors), wanted his favorite colors in his possession immediately. His colors of the moment continue to be orange, but also now yellow and brown. I had brown construction paper but not brown pom poms, so I didn’t include them in this activity. However, a happy B is a happy Mommy, and he focused on trying to stack his brown rolls while C sorted. Still a success, and I plan on eventually cutting up the rolls to do a giant threading activity.

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Money Spent: $1. The dried split peas came from Walmart. I already had the tiny measuring pitcher, though any cup would do!

I almost didn’t do this activity. I thought – there’s no way the twins can pour yet at 19 months. I had never shown them how, though they occasionally did it in the bathtub or with the sensory bins. But nothing so specific as to pour this into that container. C didn’t do much pouring, really. She was entranced by the texture of the peas, which we had never used before (and would make a great base to a sensory bin!)

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But B found his niche. Pouring things is what his little self is apparently made to do right now. He LOVED IT.

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Not only did he love it, but he knew exactly what to do. As you can see from the pictures, he barely missed his target. He poured back and forth between the two containers for a good half hour. It really took me by surprise. I’m interested to see what else he can pour, and would love for him to eventually pour himself water to drink and you know, use this skill in a practical manner. A hugely successful activity for B.

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Money spent: $1 – for the stickers at Walmart. I printed the shamrock from coloring castle.com.

This last tot tray was C’s strength and she took to it for a very long time. First of all, she’s really into stickers and coloring right now. I couldn’t find St. Patrick’s Day stickers (which was my original plan), so I bought these green letters instead. I figured I’d go for the double whammy of alphabet review as well as practicing sticker skills. In order for the twins to get a sticker, they had to tell me which letter they wanted. B practiced reading his letters back to me.

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Then I gave them both a green crayon, and that’s when C’s fun really began. She colored and scribbled for a long time, until her picture was completely covered in green.

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So obviously simple, and yet still so fun. A very successful activity for C.

Total Money Spent for all 5 Tot Trays: $4.87

I wanted my newest batch of tot trays to reflect St. Patrick’s day (and our focus on the color green) since it’s right around the corner. I suppose now I’ll be pondering what to do for the arrival of spring and Easter!

As a side note, I’ve recently created a Facebook page  where I share not only my own posts but those from other bloggers with similar interests as my own. Come check it out! 

The Cheapest, Simplest Sensory Bin Ever

 

This St. Patrick’s Day-themed bin was a result of what happens when you need an activity pronto that takes less than a minute or two to set up and will keep toddlers occupied for at least a half hour. I find myself scouring Pinterest and other blogs often for ideas on what we could do with the twins. But sometimes, it’s the simple things then lend themselves to the perfect activity – no trips to the store needed!

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With all the sensory bins we’ve done lately, I never even considered the obvious soap and water. In fact, I didn’t think of it this time either. My husband did – and it was his first sensory bin! Go Daddy!

I wasn’t home, and I guess Lil’ C wanted to do some pouring. My husband has watched me plenty of times in the process of setting up a bin, starting with dumping out my shoes on the bed and stealing the container. He threw in some tools, a few old washcloths, soap, and green food coloring. Then, thankfully, he grabbed my camera. Another successful sensory bin!

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As usual, the twins got right to work. Out of all the bases we’ve used in our sensory bins so far (water, potato flakes, beans, and rice), water is definitely their favorite. It’s also one of my least favorites, as it’s guaranteed to soak the children and then you have to deal with mopping the water up and getting new clothes. But still, it’s worth it once in a while.

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B just loves scooping and pouring. He’s been doing a few different pouring activities lately (more on that soon!), and really – he could just transfer water/rice/beans all. day. long. He is so serious about his sensory bins – he concentrates super hard and is quiet and focused. I’d say sensory bins are one of his very favorite things to do.

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This was the first time washcloths were incorporated into a bin, and I’m glad my husband thought of it – it looks like the twins enjoyed playing with them. And really, it makes perfect sense: you can fill them with water, squeeze them out, watch water drip, scoop them up, and practice washing the tools. Great for fine motor development and strengthening hand muscles.

My husband gets home before me every Wednesday afternoon, so I’ll be curious to see if he found this fun and successful enough to start doing weekly sensory activities!

DIY Buckle Pillow Tutorial

I’m straying from my usual “quick and easy” theme to describe the process I went through to make a buckle pillow. Actually, three.

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This project was a big one for me. A few months ago, in December, I saw the need for some sort of toy with buckles on it. C was taking an interest to buckles, as most toddlers do, but of course at 16 months, she couldn’t open or close the buckles herself. I knew she’d figure it out soon, though, and I went online to see what I could buy for her with buckles on it. There are a few products out there, but the most common toy is this one. With shipping, it runs around $25. As is my style lately, I’m too cheap to pay for that and wondered if I could make it. There wasn’t much out there for DIY buckle pillows for toddlers, but I did find one from This Girl’s Canon and I modeled my pillows after hers. To cut to the moral of the story – each pillow I made cost just shy of $11. To me, that drop in price from $25 was well worth my time, and my favorite aspect of it was that I got to choose the colors and patterns, making it just a little easier on the eyes.

I have to preface this tutorial by saying that before this project I had never used a sewing machine and for the most part, never even hand sewed either. When the babies were first born I had this idea to sew together felt letters of the babies’ names and I started that project, but because I was hand sewing it, I quit. Then, for Christmas I received a sewing machine and knew if I wanted to create toys for the twins, I’d need to sew. I’m still learning how to thread the thing, but yeah, using a sewing machine is much faster and easier than hand sewing. Being my first time, I think I jammed the machine every 5 minutes. Clearly I don’t really know how to sew.  Regardless, this pillow is a sewing machine project. It was not quick (not counting shopping for fabric, each pillow took me about 3 hours). It was not easy either, though for an expert sewer I think it would be. I made two of the pillows around Christmas, but that was before I decided to start blogging about toddler activities and crafts, so I didn’t take pictures of the process. But last week, I made my third one and chronicled it throughout each step. This post is pretty picture heavy.

Here’s the step-by-step on how I made a buckle pillow (picture comes before directions):

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1) Gather your materials – fabric, buckles, and ribbon. Last week, I made the pink pillow. I got that fabric from Joann’s – it was 60% off. I paid less than $3 for a yard. I used less than 1/2 a yard for this project, so really, what I needed for the pillow cost about $1.50. For the buckles – each pillow took four parachute buckles – one large one, two medium sized, and one small. Here’s the page that shows prices for the large and medium buckles (from Joann’s). Here’s the page to the small buckles (from Oriental Trading, but I saw them today at Walmart!). Together, the buckles cost me about $6.50. As for the ribbons – I walked around Joann’s with the buckles in my hand and chose ribbons that closely fit the width of the buckles. The ribbons together cost around $2.75.

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2) Fold fabric in half, then cut a piece that is 15 1/2 X 13 1/2, from the top. That way you will only have to sew three sides instead of four. Then, cut ribbon the width of the fabric. You need 2 ribbons for each buckle.

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3) Open the fabric and flip it over. Then, pin the ribbons 2.5-3 inches apart on one half of the fabric, so when you fold the other half back over the ribbons will be sticking out the sides.

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4) Turn the ribbon inside out again. Tuck the ribbons inside where they would fall naturally, rather than letting them stick out. Repin them with both layers of fabric.

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5) This isn’t a Sewing 101 post, so I’ll skip the how-to’s on sewing. I learned many things, like take the pin out before you run over it with a needle. Anyway, sew the two sides that you just pinned. Then turn it inside out again, and it should look like the picture below.

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6) Pin your buckles to the straps. I made an error here – I pinned one of the green ribbons too loosely, so that when the pillow was all done the ribbon didn’t sit nicely on the pillow; it fell down. I had to take out the stitches and redo it. So make sure to tighten the straps enough  – though not too much, as you’re going to stuff the pillow later.

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7) Sew the straps to the buckle. It should then look like the picture below. You can trim some of the excess ribbon as well, which I did after I was all done with the pillow.

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8) Stuff your pillow. I bought that polyester fiberfill from Walmart back when I was going to make the felt letters (which maybe I should just finish…). It’s a huge bag. I understuffed this pillow. Again, it’s kind of a fine line. Stuff it enough so that the ribbons lay nicely on top of it but not too much where there’s no room for it to smush, as a pillow should do. Tuck the stuffing into each corner as well.

9) This is the last step, and I didn’t even take a picture of it because it’s a little challenging to do. Sew the last side up tightly without letting the stuffing come out. When you’re done, the pillow will look something like this:

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Yay! It was fun for me – I chose how it would look, I didn’t spend much money on it, and it’s just very satisfying to see your kids enjoy something you created for them. I had been taking pictures for the last few months of the twins playing with the first two pillows I made, and this toy still hasn’t gotten old for them.

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Of course, both toddlers have now mastered buckling (though they still can’t open them), and have moved on to their booster seat buckles, the car seat buckles, and even the poor dogs’ collars’ buckles. They love these pillows! I’m going to get back to quick and easy activities because I don’t have this kind of time often, but once in a while, it’s worth it.

What are tot trays?

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Lately, I’ve been on a wild ride. One that I’ve created. See, when I get excited about something new – I focus on that one thing exclusively for weeks with giddy anticipation for the creation of whatever I’m doing. It started last summer, with DIY sensory boards and a spaghetti sensory bin because – I was on maternity leave, and why not, it would be cute to watch. Then it took off from there. I found myself reading about sensory bins, learning towers, and skills that teach toddlers independence. B, throughout his tantrums, took a liking to all of those things and I realized, we have the need in my house. The same old toys and free play all day won’t work for them, especially B. He needs stimulation, he needs a variety of experiences, and he needs to do things on his own. I found myself drawn to toys that let the twins explore on their own and figure out concepts independently, like our treasure baskets and sensory bottles, rather than those toys that did all that for them.

Then my blog took a turn, focusing on activities and crafts, because that’s my life at home right now – that’s what the twins do. I don’t know what direction this blog will go in the future but it’s my hobby and I enjoy it. And whatever the twins are interested in, I’m interested in. I made buckle pillows and zipper boards (posts coming soon!). I got a sewing machine for Christmas. I got so pumped about all these little things I couldn’t sleep at night. I even got my husband into it, as he’s still making those learning towers (they won’t be done until spring, unfortunately!). And then, I stumbled upon the Montessori Method. I’m not the kind of person who throws all the eggs into one basket – there are many correct ways to do things. HOWEVER. I knew nothing about Montessori, except that it was an expensive preschool. I still don’t know much about it, so this post isn’t about that. But what I have found is that everything B needs, everything that my husband and I believe in (independence at a young age, discovery, problem-solving, etc)….matches the Montessori method, almost to a T. We had no idea. As I read more about it, I’m really in agreement with so many of the Montessori concepts. My twins are only 19 months; they aren’t going to preschool for quite a while. So I wanted to implement something at home that resembled “preschool learning” because the twins love to learn new things.

Since I’m focusing mainly on cheap, simple toys (which typically do fit within a Montessori-type activity), I hosted a Busy Bag Exchange back in December (another future post). The bags were great but I wanted more.

So just recently, through a Montessori lens, I discovered tot trays. And fell madly in love with them. As far as I can tell, “Tot Trays” were coined by Carisa at 1+1+1=1. Her website is loaded with ideas – more than I could ever search through in one night. But the idea is quite simple, and very much like a busy bag. Basically, the child does an activity; a simple, cheap, educational activity on a tray. I just bought trays but when I tried tot trays for the first time, I didn’t have them and used a cookie sheet instead. The activities are not meant to last hours and hours (though bonus points if they do!) – they are short activities that reinforce skills – everything from math or language arts skills to practical life skills (like practicing pouring water into a cup, or picking up things with tongs, or scooping with spoons). It can be anything really, so long as it fits on a tray. It’s not complicated and it doesn’t need to be over-thought. Many people do tot tray activities without knowing they have a name. The idea with the tray is that the child will be responsible for it. As soon as they are able, they will carry the tray with the activity on it over to the floor or a table and return it when the activity is over. From a practical standpoint, trays have raised edges, and raised edges keep messes from going everywhere! I just adore them.

A few weeks ago when it was (shocker) snowing again, we needed something different and quick after nap. I decided to implement our first two tot trays, back to back. First, we started with a color matching tot tray. I printed out the color sorting mat from here, grabbed an old cookie sheet and the large sized pompoms I already had. After realizing I only had one cookie sheet, I ended up giving the babies their coloring mats on the table with a container of pompoms for each of them. Their only job was to take the pompoms and match them to the corresponding colors on the mat.

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They did it in about two seconds. I don’t know if that’s good or bad! That’s the thing with tot trays – I mean, I obviously started them with one that was not a challenge for them, which made the activity short. I would imagine the goal is to challenge them at least a little bit. I love the many skills being applied here – knowing the colors, but also identifying letters, feeling textures, and the fine motor skills necessary to place pompoms on a small circle. B was especially into this tot tray, and kept trying to get the pompoms to stick to the paper. (I added pink, white and black pompoms at first because I knew they knew those colors – but when your mat doesn’t have those colors on it? Yeah – don’t do that. Lesson learned!) B practiced saying the colors a few times.

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And that was it for our first tot tray! Luckily, I had one more planned. I grabbed two sheets of plain paper and as this was around Valentine’s Day, I drew a big heart on each paper. Then, on the “tray”, I gave the babies a sheet of heart stickers and two Dollar Tree crayons. So simple and so cheap! My kind of activity!

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I tried to get the twins to put the stickers “inside the heart”. That didn’t work out exactly, but that’s okay. C was especially into this tray. She is madly in love with stickers right now – they both are. I had to peel them off for her but she stuck every one down and then went to town with the coloring.

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She couldn’t stop smiling through the multiple sheets of stickers she went through! She really had to work her fine motor skills around pulling stickers off my fingers and then sticking them onto paper.

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This tot tray lasted much longer than the first one, which was nice. When they were done, we hung them up on the slider with our other heart crafts. My first introduction to tot trays was a success. I’m not sure how I’m going to post about them and organize them here on this blog, but I plan to do many more tot trays with them in the future. Next up – learning to carry a tray!

On a side note, I won’t have a blog post about this one but my nanny made amazingly adorable weather sensory bottles.

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This picture is not my best work, but the bottles demonstrate “snowy”, “windy”, “rainy”, “sunny”, and “cloudy”. I’ve just set up a Facebook page and there you can find the link where my nanny found the idea!

DIY sensory boards

 

*This post was originally written in May of 2014, when the twins were 9 months old. It has just been updated (20 months old) to reflect the multitude of ages that can enjoy a sensory board! 

I find a lot of enjoyment in creating things for the babies to use, such as toys. I’ve started an adorable felt letters project but I barely carve out the time to work on it, so when it’s done, I’ll be happy to share. (Yeah, still haven’t finished that one.) Up until now, I’ve spent just a few minutes of time creating sensory bottles and treasure baskets for the babies. We still use both of those things every day. And then Pinterest gave my husband and I the idea of sensory boards.

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My major influence for this project was this.I loved how both the preschooler and the baby got a ton of use out of the same board – going to show that they can get years of use. Here’s another example of simpler textured items, specifically for babies. Anyway, I just thought they were the coolest thing and a great toy that will last for a very long time.

My husband was excited to make them. (I apologize that I can’t give you a tutorial of this project. When my husband made the boards, I was a very different blogger than I am today!) I don’t know the exact amount of money he spent in all, but we got most of the items at Home Depot, including free carpet samples and dollar items if we could. He did choose to sand and stain the board, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to do that. I imagine extra money was spent in the quality of the board, the sanding and the staining. After doing that, he screwed the individual components onto the boards. What you add to a sensory board would be completely up to you and the ages of your children. We wanted pieces that would be fun for both babies and toddlers.  It took him a few days to complete, so the stain could dry. He made two sensory boards (with items you would find also on a latch board), and here are the finished products (updated to show mounting on wall):

 

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So today being their first day of use, we had these boards on the ground lying flat. But my intention, especially as the babies get older and can stand, is to secure them into the wall of the upstairs playroom. I found out today that the board on the right is a little better for the babies at their current age, 9 months, than the board on the left. I mean, I obviously knew the twins couldn’t hook some of those items on the left but they do like to slide and flick whatever they can. It can definitely be used. But I decided to save the second board for a few months from now and just use the board on the right. It’s hard to see, but it’s got the end of a brush, a mirror, a front door knocker, a spinny wheel that I’m sure has a more sophisticated name, a carpet square, a push light, a piece of textured…rubbery thing I got at the dollar store, a door stop, and a mini door. That came from C’s desire to open and shut our cabinets, so we bought the knob for $1 and my husband cut a little piece of wood and made it into a mini door for them to open and shut. I thought it went swimmingly well today, and the boards will have many more days and months, and possibly years, of use. And obviously at this age, this is a toy that I need to be sitting with them for them to play with, as these items aren’t exactly toys for the mouth. As they get older, I won’t be as concerned (at 20 months, I am not concerned at all. It’s a very safe toy for toddlers!).

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The door stopper was a huge hit, so we might add a second to the board. It makes a great noise and is fun to flick.

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B enjoys the texture of the carpet.

 

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Just checking out her reflection. I didn’t add the blurry picture of her bending down to kiss herself in the mirror – so cute!

Updated: The toddlers still enjoy using these sensory boards on a daily basis. I am glad we put a variety of components onto the boards, because their interests and ability levels have obviously changed in the last year. Now, the mirror and door stop are less of a hit (though still fun!). Instead, C uses her fine motor skills to slide the lock.

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B still enjoys spinning the wheel as well as feeling the texture of the broom.

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These boards are super durable and will hopefully be passed down through a few generations of children!

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Please “like” my Facebook page for more DIY crafts and activities – not just from my own blog but from many other amazing bloggers!

 

DIY baby/toddler toys: Sensory Bottles and Treasure Baskets

Sick day(s)!

I think I remember calling my twins’ first illness “a cold” in my last post. As in, just a cold. Some sneezing and sniffles, nothing a mom can’t handle, right? Well. Not 10 minutes after I published that post on Saturday night, Lil C woke up crying. When I went up there, I found she couldn’t take her pacifier because she couldn’t breathe through her nose. While B lay in his crib a few feet away, I tried suctioning out C’s nose which not only didn’t work, but made her cry louder. Then I panicked, thinking she might be in some pain, and gave her Tylenol, which in my arms, she projectile vomited that and her bedtime bottle of 9 ounces all over the babies’ floor.

With C now really crying, my husband is trying to clean up the milk/Tylenol mess because the Tylenol is RED, and the carpet is TAN. (Ah, that’s why we should’ve chosen a darker color rug) He’s using a flashlight to scrub, C is screaming and now B’s awake, crying as well. I’m COMPLETELY covered in vomit.

Good times. And she was up all night, coughing and gagging on what was dripping down her throat.

Now, a few days later, we are skipping playgroup but slowly on the mend. Still lots of mucous of all colors, stuffy, coughing, terrible sleep – these babies are a mess. What little cold was I thinking of? Two nights ago, I found that C could breathe better if she were straight up and down. Elevating the mattress wasn’t enough. So I pulled up a rocking chair in the next room, and we snuggled in for the night. I got no sleep, but C was breathing better. Last night, she luckily was okay in her crib.

Anyway, this isn’t a little cold by any means. It’s so hard to see your babies suffering and being so sad. There wasn’t any fever though, just strictly a nasty cold with lots of tears and yuck.

And of course, all four of us have this cold now. In the future, I’m wondering how parents possibly avoid getting whatever illness their children have. I don’t think it’s possible – especially with babies who need to be held and snuggled. So we all feel crappy.

 

Since we are home and have been recuperating the last few days, I decided to bring out some new toys for the babies to enjoy. I’ve been on a DIY kick lately, and have a few projects in the works. I have to give credit where it is due – the majority of the projects I’m working on come from The Imagination Tree – this woman is amazing. Her ideas are cheap and easy, and awesome for kids. Here are a few completed toys:

Sensory Bottles

I’ve been working on this one for a while. For a cheap set of toys for babies or toddlers, sensory bottles are a great way to change up what your child plays with every day. You can be really creative, make many bottles, or just a few, but it’s so easy to do.

First, I collected water bottles. We only had the larger, standard size at the time which is fine for older babies, but the younger ones can grab onto the smaller bottles easier. After washing the bottles and caps and letting them air dry, I filled them with an assortment of items I either had around the house or bought at the dollar store. Some have water added and some do not. I super-glued the caps on, and I keep them in a basket. SO easy!

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From left to right, here are the bottles I made:  1)Water with pink plastic hearts and small beads, 2) Pompoms of different sizes, 3) Water with silver glitter (you need a lot of glitter for a good shake!), 4) Pipe cleaners, 5) water with standard colored beads, 6) small bottle with plastic buttons of different colors, 7) small bottle with plastic necklaces, and 8) Water with yellow food coloring and dish soap

*Another great one that I haven’t yet made is ripped up pieces of tin foil – so shiny!

Again, you can be creative or not, add whatever you’d like, but the idea is to stimulate the different senses. I have a few bottles that make loud noises when you shake them, a few that are great for future color identification or counting, and a few that show slow movement and are great for visual stimulation.

So far the babies love to shake the two smaller bottles, and hold onto/look at/try to eat the bigger bottles.

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Part of my reason for making some of my own toys is that I can keep them for years and use them for different purposes as the babies get older. Right now, they’re all about making the bottles crackle and looking at the colors and shine, but in the future I’m hoping to use the bottles for counting, rolling, and that sort of thing.

 

Treasure Baskets

What I like most about this idea is that you can store these baskets away and bring them out on a rainy day or when the babies are fussy. Or, in this case, on our Sick Day when we need a pick-me-up.

Using cheap baskets from the dollar store, I filled one with regular items from around my house that are safe for babies. We have so many light up, sing-song toys in our house that are great but also do the work for the babies. Treasure baskets are supposed to be for exploration – you put in items that aren’t toys, giving children the opportunity to feel and discover different materials.

I’ve only made one basket so far, but I’d like to make a few with different themes. The Imagination Tree shows baskets full of wood products (like a wooden spoon, wooden blocks, etc), soft textures, crinkly textures, and so on.

This basket has a variety of items from around my house but not with any theme to it.IMG_4242

As you can see, there is a pot holder (clean and new 🙂 ), a bath mit, two fake foods, measuring cups and spoons, etc.

I gave this basket to the babies for the first time and it kept them happily engaged for a good half hour, which in baby time = forever.

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Checking out the basket for the first time..

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They seemed to really enjoy the contents of the basket. And it was great for their fine motor development, as they had to use their fingers/whole hands to pick up oddly shaped items. For the first time, I witnessed C with something in her right hand but an item on her right side she wanted to grab. She transferred what was in her right hand to her left, and then grabbed the object on the floor.

It’s the little things.

Treasure baskets are awesome for different textures and sizes. As the babies get older, you can still use these for toddlers but can switch out any of the items for things that might be more appropriate for their level.

With sick babies who only took a half hour nap (ugh) this is all I’ve got time for at the moment! I’m hoping to make more toys – it’s very satisfying for me and good for the babies.

For now, it’s time to bring out the basket again I think, this cold has them quite fussy…