Coloring on Butcher Paper

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As you know, I’m constantly looking for new activities, crafts, and projects for the twins. Because we have a nanny and they don’t go to a daycare, they are here all day with the same old toys. They don’t get a change of scenery often until the weekend. So on lazy Saturdays (and Sundays), we try to engage the toddlers in activities that are different, educational, and frequently sensory based. Both B and C get very excited to see what fun games we have in store for them, and I certainly think the independence many of these activities provide is right up B’s alley, considering his strong-willed, passionate nature.

What I look for in a toddler activity first and foremost is simplicity. Unfortunately, as much as I wish it weren’t true, I lack creativity (which is not helpful as an elementary school teacher and a mom of toddlers). What games can toddlers engage in that involve the least amount of materials? From there, I look for price. It needs to be super cheap, if not free. If I can find a simple, cheap game or craft for the toddlers to play or create, I’m in.

That’s why when I came across this so simple and cheap activity from Jamie at “Hands On As We Grow”, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself.

The twins go through phases of interests, as I suppose all kids do. They were on a letter kick for a while as they learned their ABC’s. Then they obsessed with numbers while they practiced counting. Lately, they can’t get enough of colors. My goodness – they want to name them, screaming out loud of course, pointing, getting their hands on color. On our first snow day I provided crayons after an unsuccessful mess-free paint experience. I gave them a piece of a paper and let them have at it. But it wasn’t the best way to get them coloring.

No, the right move here was to buy butcher paper. I bought it on Amazon, and I can’t say it was super cheap/free. It wasn’t (almost $40). However, the roll is huge – it’ll last YEARS for sure. It was absolutely worth the purchase.

A few times a week, I cut butcher paper to the length of the twins’ little toddler table and tape around the edge so it can’t be lifted up or ripped while they color.

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As soon as I put the jumbo crayons out (Dollar Store find!), the twins start grabbing and scribbling at top speed.

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Sharing between siblings is going to be a constant work-in-progress, especially since both kids want the colors their twin is holding (obviously!). B has lately been entranced by orange. He can’t stop pointing out what’s orange, and he requests his orange cup, bowl, plate, socks…you name it.

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On this particular day, my husband “the artist” wasn’t home, so I drew what only a non-artist can draw – letters. (In previous coloring sessions my husband has been caught drawing farm animals and creating comics, much to the kids’ enjoyment.) The twins enjoyed going around the table and shouting out the letters they saw. C was getting hung up on a Q looking so much like an O, and B kept turning his head this way and that to see how the H was also an I.

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I was even able to catch C working on her grip to get the crayon to paper just right.

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Colors are so much fun for toddlers and putting crayons to butcher paper is a guaranteed success in our house every single time. Getting B and C to hug each other on command though, not so much.

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Stubborn Toddlers & Baby Sign Language

Thank you for the support in regards to my last post. B was throwing some mighty fits for a few days there and since then, it’s decreased a lot.

I figured out the problem. He was sick of his oatmeal. Yes, his oatmeal. Every day for breakfast, B and C were eating 5 scoops each of baby oatmeal, mixed with one ice cube of pureed pears and a few dashes of cinnamon. Apparently, B is done with it. Not only that, but he was starting to associate his orange bowl with the oatmeal.

Those breakfast meltdowns that occurred a few days in a row were because he didn’t want what he had been eating for months. I was confused, because he had insisted I hold him while I made the oatmeal – mixing in the water, stirring it up – and he would even let me give him a taste off the spoon with no complaints. But as soon as I put him in the chair, the meltdown began. I assumed it was the chair, and after my last post, we switched out the high chair tops to the booster seats…and now I know it wasn’t the chair at all. He just didn’t want oatmeal. (We know this because we tried serving it on a plate – no luck. Since then, he won’t touch a bite.)

On the day I couldn’t take it anymore, he also had a one hour meltdown at dinner. No, there was no oatmeal served. However, I put out his orange bowl to put his dinner in – and as soon as he saw it, he started screaming. He even said the word “bowl” a few times, and I thought it meant he wanted it. But he didn’t.

I hadn’t realized how “deep” the issue had gone – he didn’t want oatmeal and he didn’t want the orange bowl because it reminded him of the oatmeal. Now that I’ve figured it out (and B has taken a 2 hour nap for the last three days in a row) – he hasn’t had a single meltdown. The kid was trying to tell me something!

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That said – he’s still extremely stubborn. C would never have a meltdown over a bowl. She’s never had a meltdown, period. And that’s okay – they’re two different children. But man oh man – B knows what he wants. He’s independent and strong-willed: two good qualities that happen to be exhausting for parents.

I have to say that this was a learning experience for me. I learned to start parenting a toddler instead of a baby. I’m much more on my game. I’m trying my best not to be wishy-washy with what B can and can’t do, and my husband and I are on the same page about the little issues, where we weren’t before, which was giving the twins mixed messages. We’re actively parenting now, and I guess we weren’t doing that before. What do we feel comfortable letting B do and not do? Some things don’t bother my husband like they bother me, but he’s great about agreeing to them if he knows it’s something I don’t approve of, and vice versa.

For example – standing on the couch. The couch is pushed up against our big living room window, so sometimes we all look out the window together. But if the TV is on and the twins are looking out the window, they might turn around to watch TV, still standing. My husband and I weren’t being consistent enough with our couch rules – deciding if they could stand on a case-by-case basis. As long as they didn’t jump or move around. Or as long as they didn’t turn around to see the TV. B didn’t understand the rules, and I wasn’t thinking that he was of age to NEED to understand the rules. But he is old enough, so it’s time to be clear.

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The day after the double meltdown, we were looking out the window together, pointing out birds and the snow and cars. They sit up there with us behind them to see better. When we were done, I sat them on the couch. B immediately stood up and moved his foot to the side, staring at me. I said, “You need to sit down now or you’ll be off the couch.” He took another step; looked at me. I picked him up and put him on the ground. He stamped his feet for a second and decided it wasn’t worth it. That was it – he went to play with his toys. This seems so obvious – and we WERE doing this. We just weren’t doing it every time, so B was confused. Now I feel better, and with confidence- we’re on the right track.

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Where I’m going with this post is how we use Baby Sign Language. I can’t say enough good things about it, though I wish the twins knew more signs than they do. The fact is, B didn’t want his oatmeal anymore and he didn’t want his orange bowl, and the only way he could tell me was by saying “bowl” and screaming. I can’t imagine how many more fits he would have if he didn’t have any sign language to use. It has REALLY been handy for these 18 month olds.

We started when the babies were 8 months old. Well, I started. I knew they wouldn’t sign back for a long time, but since they were eating solids and they sat in their high chairs, I would say and sign “more”, “eat”, and “all done”. Again and again and again. As they got used to seeing me do this, they started to smile and laugh, thinking it was a game. I just wanted it to become ingrained in their brains. Those were the only three signs I used for a long time. It was around 12 months or so that B began using his hands to speak to us, and he started on his own. He was obsessed with our ceiling fan and he pointed to it, letting his arm go around and around. That just happens to be the sign for “fan”, so I went with it and incorporated it into the babies’ sign language vocabulary. If you are hoping to do baby sign language, as soon as they start signing just one sign to you, they’re ready for many more signs. They’re in learning mode.

After that, I taught them a few signs that were important to me, such as “water”, “milk”, and “again”, but I also let the twins show me what they wanted signs for, based on their interests. They went through a dog phase, so we taught them the sign for “dog”. We recently taught them the sign for “snow”, because we now have a ton of it and the twins are paying attention. They also learned “please” and “thank you” and use them appropriately all the time.

Before I started this, I was worried about how long it would take them to learn the signs. Honestly, once they start signing, they pick up new ones so quickly. I would show the twins twice, maybe three times and then say, “You do it!” and they would. When they forget (like tonight, they forgot “again”), I just did it two times and they were back on.

One worry that people who have never tried Baby Sign Language have is that it might slow down a child’s verbal vocabulary – as in, they’ll sign instead of talk. That is absolutely NOT the case at all – in fact, it’s the opposite. As long as you are modeling by saying the word with the sign, they’ll do the same. The twins have a great verbal vocabulary of at least 40 words and Baby Sign Language has only enhanced it. I find it amazing when one of them wants something. If their mouths are full, they’ll just sign “please” by itself. If they can talk, they’ll sometimes just say “please”, or sign and say it together. The signs are just another tool in their toolbox to use when they want to express themselves.

Like I said, my only regret is that we (my nanny, my husband and I) haven’t taught them more. Next up on the list (especially for B): “Feeling” signs – “mad”, “happy”, “hungry”, “tired”…etc.

If you’re just starting out, I get all my signs from one source: www.babysignlanguage.com. I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

Parenting a strong-willed child

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now and have made mention to B’s somewhat challenging nature. Tonight is the right night to write it.

B changed from a calm, easy baby to a challenging toddler almost overnight. I started writing about it in May of 2014, when he was only 10 months old. And when I haven’t been writing about sensory activities and DIY toys, I’ve made mention of B’s strong-willed personality.

Through multiple sleep regressions, learning to walk, down to one nap – you name it – his new personality hasn’t wavered. It’s only gotten stronger. And I have to admit that I feel unequipped to handle him, because the tools I have in my toolbox don’t always work.

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He loves going outside because he has the freedom to go and do what he wants – he gets to make all his own decisions. Unfortunately we have a few feet of snow on the ground at the moment!

He is passionate. That’s the best way to put it. He is bored with his toys, even when I rotate them (this is why I love sensory bins!). He doesn’t want to sit and watch TV. His body is calm, that I do have to say. He’s not hyper, doesn’t climb on things, etc. It’s his brain that wants to go 50 miles an hour. He wants to hold what we’re holding, press every button, grab every sharp knife, cook, clean, flush toilets, use our pots and pans (but only the ones we don’t offer him). And when we’re able to, we let him help. We believe in the importance of toddler independence and my husband has been building “learning towers” for the twins. They aren’t done but here’s what it looked like before my husband had to take it apart to make some adjustments:

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He was helping to make smoothies, and he loved it. But sometimes when we do let him help, he doesn’t want to do what we ask him to. He wants to play with adult items that are dangerous, in the way he wants to play with them. He doesn’t really want to help at all – he wants to do it alone, his way. And when we can’t allow him to do that, or when we’re not able to let him help, he melts down. We have to creep in the basement so he doesn’t see us go, or he will have a meltdown. When we take him down there, he wants to spin the fan blade and press the dryer button. If he can’t, or we don’t do it long enough – meltdown.  If he’s eating a meal and someone goes into the basement and he sees, he’ll meltdown and refuse to eat any more. If he chooses the purple spoon and I give C the blue one (I always give him the first choice), he’ll immediately want to switch. After they switch, he’ll want the purple one back. (Yes, I have multiple blue and purple spoons but he’d want both of the same colored spoon regardless.) He’ll grab toys out of C’s hands, he’ll hit the dogs when he’s upset. He wants to walk around with his water and when I won’t let him – meltdown. He wants to jump on the couch and when I won’t let him – meltdown. He wants more smoothie because his sister is still drinking hers but he finished his – meltdown. He wants what he wants and he won’t let it go. When he does have a meltdown, he has a traditional temper tantrum – he rolls around the on the ground, kicks his legs, slams his head into the ground (only twice, and then he realizes it hurts and stops). If I leave him in another room to cry alone and ignore him he chases after me, pulling at my shirt and then melting down more when I offer to hold him. During a meltdown, he’ll throw things, hit, and bite (though biting is MUCH less in the past few months, thankfully). The worst part of all is that it lasts forever.

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In the past week or so, he’s melted down in this way once a day. Today it was TWICE, and all the meltdowns have been over him not wanting to sit in his chair for meals. Being strapped in was an issue many months ago but had been getting better. Today it was breakfast and dinner and probably would’ve been lunch too but we weren’t home. He doesn’t want to sit in his chair. And me, feeling unequipped without the confidence I need to parent him correctly, I’ve allowed him to meltdown, I’ve ignored him and walked away, and then after 20 minutes or so, I start to doubt myself. This is crazy, he’s in hysterics. I’m his mother, he needs to know I understand he’s frustrated and doesn’t have the words to tell me why. So after these 20 minutes, I’ve gone into a panic, feeling like the meltdown needs to stop, and I’ve either turned on the TV or …twice…fed him his oatmeal on the couch. Bad Mommy! The meltdown wouldn’t have had an end and I felt trapped. Because he wouldn’t sit at the table, and so it was either feed him when he’s in a cried-out zombie state on the couch or he doesn’t eat. And then tonight, I decided I can’t keep being wishy-washy. That’s not good at all – I know how bad it is, and that it’ll only make things harder for me in the long run. Not to mention it’s not fair to C. I used to let him take toys from her as long as it didn’t make her upset, but now that she’s getting older, she does get mad. And even if she doesn’t – I can’t allow him to grab things from other’s hands at this age. I allowed it , and now I’m not. So tonight, as soon as it was time for dinner and C went to her chair, the meltdown began.

It lasted over an hour.

He screamed, he hit, he threw things, he rolled around, he temporarily was distracted by playing cars and trucks and then in the middle of it he burst into hysterics all over again. He wanted to take his plate from the table and throw it. He wanted to shove whole cucumber slices in his mouth. We stood our ground. He wasn’t eating unless he sat in his chair. He stood his ground, and continued to meltdown through bathtime. I then realized that maybe dinner wasn’t the right meal to begin holding firm. That what if he goes to bed starving, because he’s a 30 pound beast who needs to eat? That it might cause night wake ups, or an early wake up, and that in the morning when he realizes it’s time for breakfast, this would start over again. What if he misses both dinner and breakfast?

Well by the time I thought of all that, it was too late. He was past the point, he was exhausted, he was still screaming. I offered all types of food, he said yes to a few but wouldn’t sit in his chair. Because C hadn’t finished her milk as dinner was hectic and rushed, we decided to allow both toddlers to drink their milk in the bathtub. And they did. He had his cup of milk.

But that’s it – he went to bed hungry, refusing to touch a single piece. We held strong. And was it worth it?

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He is full of love. The flip side of the coin is that his passions also extend to what he likes. And one thing he likes is his lovey!

I’m now full of doubt – this is the hard part of parenting, obviously. I don’t think I made the right choice, sending my 18 month old to bed without any food. But after 45 minutes went by, it was clear he wouldn’t be eating anything. He was beyond hysterical.

My nanny doesn’t see these meltdowns like we do, which is good. And when we’re out of our house, he’s Mr. Shy. Hiding from new experiences. Taking forever to warm up. Super quiet. Completely opposite of how he is at home. I did mention this at the twins’ 18 month appointment and the P.A. said some toddlers do start this behavior early (um, yes.) and that when he has a bigger vocabulary and can say why he’s upset, it’ll be better. I hope so? But I’m doubtful.

I just wish I knew what the “right” way to handle him was. If this is the personality he’s going to have, I’m going to accept it. I want to learn how to channel it productively as he gets older. I want to give him the independence and the decision making skills he craves, but yet I want him to know where I draw the line. And a few months ago, I felt like he was still a baby, doing what many kids do. And now I’m not so sure. Now my husband and I need more tricks up our sleeves and the confidence behind it to know what we’re doing is the right thing.

Or maybe there’s nothing we can do and we just have to ride it out. It’s frustrating and emotionally draining. Maybe it’s a sign of genius? All kidding aside, can anything good come from this personality he has?

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A good mood – maybe forgetting he was in his chair!

Coloring Rice for Sensory Play (Valentine’s Day)

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With today’s snow day (our 4th snow day in the past few weeks!), I gave the twins yet one more sensory play opportunity. I’ve been dying to see how the 18 month olds would do with rice, and since we’ve recently played in sensory bins filled with water, potato flakes, snow, and dried beans, this seemed like the next logical step. As I’ve mentioned many times before (and hope to have a post coming soon), my son B is extremely curious/opinionated/strong willed and most of all, sensory stimulated. He loves textures and music, sounds and sensations. Sensory bins were made for him.

If you’ve never shoved your hands in a bucket of uncooked rice, you really should. It’s actually very relaxing and therapeutic. I’ve got many different rice bin ideas floating around in my head for the future, but I decided to start with a Valentine’s Day themed rice bin. This meant I needed to color rice. It’s SO EASY. Here’s what you do:

Gather your supplies – white long-grain rice, food coloring, and distilled white vinegar. You can also add extracts (as I did), but that’s totally optional. There are many recipes out there, but in keeping with my DIY activities’ theme, I wanted coloring rice to be easy, quick, cheap, and also safe for mouths. I used Learn, Play, Imagine’s recipe.  Because my sensory bin is large, I decided to make a double batch.

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Directions for coloring rice (Valentine’s Day themed): (DOUBLE BATCH)

– RED: Two cups rice, 10 drops red food coloring, 1.5 tbsp. white vinegar

-PINK: Two cups rice, 5 drops food coloring, 1.5 tbsp. white vinegar.

Now because I was feeling extra crafty, I decided to add a few drops of peppermint extract to the rice. Extracts go a long way; not much is needed. Without it, the rice only smelled like vinegar if you deeply inhaled the rice (which isn’t probably what you would be doing anyway). With the extract, while we all played in it today there was a nice, faint smell of peppermint. It wasn’t overbearing. I’ll definitely use other scents with my rice in the future. I’ve now decided that this pink mixture I’ve made can be Valentine’s Day themed or “Candy Cane” for Christmas.

-Mix together. I started in ziplock bags, but found the color wasn’t distributing well.

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So after a few minutes I dumped it into a bowl and found it much easier and quicker to mix. I would definitely recommend using a bowl.

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You do not need a lot of vinegar – play around with the amount, especially if you don’t make a double batch like I did. You only need enough to lightly coat the rice, as it helps move the color around. If you find the color not spreading evenly, add a bit more. If you do use too much though, it’s fine; it’ll just take longer to dry. After mixing thoroughly, dry out the rice on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

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With the amount of vinegar I used, it took maybe a half hour to an hour to dry. It wasn’t bad at all. I imagine in the summertime and with more vinegar it would take longer, so making it the night before you plan to use it would be a good idea. Because I let the rice dry completely, there was absolutely no staining on the twins’ clothes or hands. And I would know, because C was wearing white pants today!

Once it’s dry, store it in an air-tight container or like I did, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  As you can see, I added the rest of the rice bag to the mix for some plain white. It’ll keep for months!

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Play around with this – add your own colors and scents. The process of coloring rice took me a total of 10 minutes and cost me nothing as I had all the ingredients in my house already. A free, fun activity that would kill lots of time in an otherwise cabin-fevered day.

So today was another day in what I am now believing is the “18 month sleep regression”. The one nap the twins took was early and short. They barely ate lunch. They were just blah. And for B, who thrives on these sensory activities, he didn’t give his usual focus and concentration on this bin. I don’t think it was the rice though, I think it was his mood. They did get right down into the bin and immediately shoved their hands in it, grabbing the rice and letting it drop all over their clothes. As usual, I first taped down a cheap vinyl tablecloth to the floor for easier clean up.

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Originally, I let the dogs hang out with us. I typically do. But with the peppermint scent and the fact that it was rice, the dogs started licking their way around the mat, so I banished them to the living room where they could watch us without eating our bin. Puppy dog eyes were tried. It didn’t work.

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Surprisingly, (or not, with these lack of naps), the twins started to seem a little bored after only 15 minutes or so. These bins usually give us a good hour of solid concentration before anyone gets antsy. I decided to bring out my next trick, the same hearts we used in our Valentine’s Day Soup water bin.

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And then I made a crucial parenting error. I got all excited about the hearts and had this idea that I would bury them and the twins would dig them up. Except I jumped right in to bury them before the twins even had a chance to play with them at all, and being overtired, B was very upset. He started in on full meltdown mode and I thought for sure the activity was over.

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After a few minutes though, he did calm down and came back to play. I’d even say he enjoyed himself, as he typically does.

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And he proved his love for the hearts after all, even after I tried to hide them. We still managed to pass about 45 minutes of our day!

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Now, for the ratings:

The set-up rating: A 1, unless you are coloring rice, in which case maybe a 4.Once it’s colored, dump it in the bin, add tools and it’s ready to go!

The cost rating: A 1. You would probably have these things in your house already but if not, they could be purchased at the dollar store.

The mess factor: A 5. Rice is messy in that it’s small and light, so it’s easy to throw and spread everywhere. Kids like to grab handfuls of it and see how it feels when it hits their clothes and the ground. If you were doing this outdoors and didn’t try to save it for future use, the mess factor would be lower. But in between bouts of stirring and scooping, I went around with my hand on the vinyl mat and scooped up runaway rice back into the bin. In doing that, I kept the mess to a minimum. For clean up, I dumped what I couldn’t pick up back into the bag and then my dogs took care of the little rice stragglers. If I didn’t have dogs, a quick vacuum would’ve done the job just fine. It really wasn’t bad at all, but I gave the rating a 5 because it COULD get out of hand. Here was part of our mess:

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I will absolutely do a rice sensory bin again, though. It was fun – I enjoyed it as much as the twins did. On to the next one!

Dried Beans Sensory Bin

My daily posts about sensory activities might be taking a few days off – in between home-bound weekends and snow days, I’ve had a lot of opportunities lately to engage the twins in some sensory fun. But I’m back to work tomorrow so I won’t be trying anything new with them until the weekend!

Yesterday during our “blizzard”, we did our first dry sensory bin. It was my favorite of all of those we’ve tried so far (well, out of water, snow, and potato flakes) and it almost didn’t happen in the first place.

B took a bad nap – only 50 minutes. I could tell he was still tired because he woke up crying. I let him cry for a few minutes because I wanted to see if he’d drop back down in his crib and go back to sleep. Instead, I realized if I let him keep going he would wake up C who was a room away, so I had to go in there. And by that time, he was wide awake. Once downstairs, he was super fussy. Didn’t want to do anything at all, including watch TV. He was just cranky and miserable. And then C woke up 20 minutes later. Good times – easily my biggest pet peeve, a bad nap! My original plan for the afternoon was maybe doing a repeat snow bin or going upstairs to play in the playroom. But B was in the mood to get his hands on everything and anything he shouldn’t have. So I needed another plan.

I remembered I had a bag of kidney beans from the Dollar Store (my favorite place for sensory bin items!) that I originally planned to make into a new shaker. Instead, I made a snap decision to dump it into the bucket that holds the sensory bin tools, as I didn’t have enough beans to use my shoe storage container. With B on my hip and C trailing us around, I found a bag of chickpeas in our pantry and dumped that in the bin too. With towels quickly thrown on the floor and the tools out, I let the twins have at it.

They absolutely loved it. In fact, for the first 15 minutes, they played in absolutely silence. Not a sound was uttered because they were that engrossed.

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I started with the beans separated, knowing full well they’d be mixed up in seconds, which was the point of course.

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B and C used the same tools they always use for these bins. I put them aside for this purpose. The dogs were very curious and managed to crunch a few dried beans on the side, but snouts did not make their way into the bucket.

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There was a LOT of transferring beans back and forth between containers and spoons. I’d say that’s how they played with this bin almost the entire time. The beans made fun noises when they came in contact with various sized containers. The twins explored the beans up close and individually as well:

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Obviously when doing activities with kids, safety is #1. These beans would definitely not be something I would use if my twins were still putting everything in their mouths. At this point, if they p

ut something in their mouth, it’s because they want to eat it like snack. And luckily for me I suppose, they didn’t realize that the beans were food. They saw them only as toys. At one point, B held a bean to his mouth and looked at me, waiting for me to give him the go-ahead or take it away. I didn’t do either – I just redirected and asked him for help scooping beans. That was the only time for him and C never tried it. They couldn’t get enough of this bin  – and it lasted a whopping hour and a half. It was awesome. They were both completely caught up in it for the longest time.

I have been rating these activities for their mess factor, but would also like to start adding in ratings for cost and ease of set up. For this activity, the set-up rating from a 1-10: 1. I dumped beans into a bucket, threw down a towel and grabbed some tools. It took 2 minutes to set up! The cost rating from a 1-10 (1 being cheap, 10 being expensive): 1. I spent a dollar on the kidney beans and had everything else in my house already. And finally, the mess factor out of 10: 3. Here was the mess:

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Beans did travel. I sat there with them for most of the time and kept putting beans back onto the towel. I’d also ask them to help me put them “on the blue towel”. Since they are learning their colors, they were happy to follow these directions. A few times C did purposely drop some beans on the floor, but as long as they weren’t going far I didn’t care. The clean up would have been easy anyway – just a broom! But by keeping the beans on the towel I was able to bag them and save them for another time. The only thing I would’ve done differently is tape down the towel or tape down our vinyl tablecloth had I used that. The towel kept slipping under them and beans traveled more that way.

This bin was my favorite so far and will be my go-to activity when the twins are antsy. It seems like they enjoyed it more than the wet bins as well, which was fine with me!

“Faux Snow” Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

Wintertime in New England means it’s too cold to go out. And staying indoors all day, every day means cabin fever. So I’ve been on a bit of a personal mission to find different, DIY-type cheap and easy things for my twins to do and play with. On our first snow day, we did our pom-pom contact paper activity and then we journeyed out into the snow. It was very cold and underneath the snow was a sheet of ice in the backyard, so the twins mostly stood there. They enjoyed the different environment and the change of pace but we didn’t last too long. I took a few pictures and we went back inside.

 

That afternoon, I knew they needed another activity. These naps, as I’ve mentioned before, are so damn short – an hour and a half max (but they sleep 12.5 hours at night..). It’s a long afternoon from 2:00-7:00! B thrives on stimulation, so sensory bins are his new favorite thing to do.

I decided to try making a “faux snow” potato flake sensory bin, since it was a snow day after all. During the nap, I quickly gathered up my materials and set up the bin:

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The large storage container I’m using for my sensory bin is actually for shoe storage. In typical fashion in our house, I dump my shoes on my bed while we’re doing the activity and put them back in later! I probably should buy another bin, but for now, this works. I bought a box of instant mashed potatoes and dug out my small storage container of sensory bin tools – cooking spoons, measuring cups and spoons from the dollar store and a few toys. I first saw this idea for a potato flake sensory bin at The Train Driver’s Wife, but apparently it’s a common bin to do. I put down a vinyl tablecloth I bought at the grocery store for $4 and taped it to the ground, assuming this bin might be a little messy (foreshadowing alert!). As usual, the twins dug right in.

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The texture of the potato flakes is very dry, almost like sand. It’s easy to scoop and drive trucks through. The twins did some stirring and transferring for a little while. They also found the fun in grabbing handfuls and releasing it, though it wasn’t always over the bin.

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They started to get a little antsy though, sooner than I expected they would, so I added water and asked them to help me stir the bin. I continued to add water to the consistency I wanted – more “snow” like and easy to mold and squish. After that, they were able to make little balls and pick them up, pat the chunks down and really explore the texture.

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My goal with each sensory bin is to keep them occupied for at least 45 minutes. As they started to get bored of the activity, they went into their storage drawer in the kitchen full of their cups and lids and started taking them out and bringing them to the bin. I was a little conflicted for a second because on the one hand, I wanted to keep this bin going. At the same time, each container joining the game would be more clean up for me! Obviously, for all of our sanity, I let them take out some containers. Then they practiced stuffing the containers with the potato flakes and pushing the lids on. I made my goal of an hour. We finished with C learning how to drink from a little tiny cup.

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The twins had fun. I added it to my growing list of sensory bins we’ve tried. It was super easy to set up and extremely cheap. HOWEVER. The mess factor, from a 1-10, was an 8.

First of all, it smells like potatoes and spices. Because that’s exactly what it is. I didn’t mind it, but there was an ever-present odor of food in our kitchen. Second, after adding water and stirring, we essentially made potatoes. If I slapped them on a plate and heated them up, they’d be ready to eat. I expected the twins to taste it at some point but they never did. This is probably for the best though because they both hate white potatoes! More than the fact that they smelled like and WERE potatoes – it was messy. Even with a large tablecloth, inevitably dry potato flakes and wet potato chunks made their way off the mat. Little feet in socks stepped in them and then trailed them around the house. It was sticky. The dogs had a field day with their tongues doing the job of a mop all over the halls. Luckily we didn’t have any houseguests who would have been in some shock 🙂 And because it was food, each and every storage container, spoon and toy had to be washed. Next time, I wouldn’t add toys because it was hard to clean wet potatoes from them! After I cleaned it all up, I swiffered the floors in multiple rooms.

With all of that said, it wasn’t a failure at all. It was fun and the toddlers enjoyed it. I’m glad we tried it. We may even do it again – but not for a while. 🙂

Cloth diapers and the potty training connection

For those of you who are new followers to this blog, my husband and I cloth diaper our 18 month old twins and have done so for exactly a year now. But let me back up.

Like most people of my generation, I was raised in cloth diapers. I was told the story a million times of how I almost swallowed an open pin (eek) and how heavy the bucket of sopping wet diapers would be when it was taken to the washer. Neither one of those things sounded appealing to me. But it saved money. It was so CLEAN – think fresh smelling laundry, drying out on a line in the summertime bleaching in the heat. It’s just what people did. So before I was pregnant, cloth diapering was not something I was scared of and I hoped to do it someday.

Well, we received TONS of disposable diapers as gifts before the twins were born, which we were more than grateful for. Boxes upon boxes. It was wonderful. In the back of my mind I thought, “Maybe someday I’ll still make the switch to cloth.” But honestly – I am SO glad I started out with those disposables. Life was such a blur. My husband and I were doing round the clock double feedings for months. My daughter was a non-stop crier. It was just so hard to be a mom for a little while. Who has time to think about alternate ways of diapering a newborn? Not this mom. I needed to slap on a diaper super quick and whisk it away when it was full of poop. I did notice that the twins got diaper rash a lot but it was still worth the ease.

Life started to become a little less hazy around 4-5 months. I didn’t feel like I was walking around drunk anymore. I could experience normal feelings again that weren’t clouded by utter exhaustion. I could THINK and not just react. Coincidentally, that’s about when our disposable diaper stash ran out. I was actually going to have to start buying diapers. I joined a babycenter.com cloth diapering group just to get a sense of what cloth diapering was all about in this day in age. Yes, there were still people out there who took the white diaper (otherwise known as a burp cloth in our house), folded it up and pinned it to the sides. But for me, that wasn’t going to work. Ain’t nobody got time for that. If I was going to go cloth, I needed to maintain the ease of use factor that came with disposables. I didn’t have time to fold and pin! There were also people who were cloth diaper junkies. More power to them, but they thrived on “fluff mail” (getting a shipment of cloth diapers) and loved to try out various brands, types, and colors. Also not me – and a massive amount of money. No, if I was going to go cloth, it also needed to be cost-effective. What was the point of doing this if I wouldn’t save money? People recommended buying a few types, just to see what we liked more and then buying in bulk after that. This wasn’t an option for me – I wanted to buy one kind only and put all my eggs in that basket.

After much research and consideration and after buying a few more boxes of disposables (which were not cheap), I bit the bullet when the twins were 6 months old and purchased 24 Bumgenius Freetime “snap” cloth diapers. If I had one baby, I obviously only would’ve purchased 12. I feel like this might sound like an advertisement but it’s not – this is the diaper I chose and I’m so glad I did. If you’re thinking about switching to cloth diapers, consider this: If you want it to be EASY, get snaps. My diapers have snaps (I’ve heard toddlers can undo their own velcro diapers). These snaps require adult strength to put together and take apart. The diapers also have thick foldable liners built into them – perfect for alternating the areas you need the extra protection. For B, I fold the top flap over in the front so he has lots of padding where he pees in the front. For C, I keep both the padded flaps stretched out, giving her more protection in the back. And the best part of all is that these diapers are adjustable, from 8-35 pounds, from newborn to potty training toddler. I’d only ever have to buy one diaper. And that’s what I did.

To keep this post from getting crazy long, I’ll skip the details and save for future posts about how I wash the diapers (no heavy bucket! no stains!), handle the poop factor (long gloves! fleece liners!) and some troubleshooting tips I’ve learned in the last 12 months. I can tell you that with two kids in diapers at the same time, this was definitely a smart financial decision for us. If we ever have another child (ha!), we’ll just use these again. And they’re a hot commodity on the cloth diaper market – I have no doubt I’ll be able to sell them for a discounted price, making at least a little money back.

The reason for this post is that I believe these cloth diapers are lending a hand to our potty training beginnings. Not that I’m overly excited for endless “I have to go potty”s and accidents and bed wetting. We’re not there yet, thankfully. But I’ve heard that cloth diapers do speed up the potty training process and so far that seems to be true for us. At a certain age, no toddler wants to be wet. It’s cold and uncomfortable. It’s like leaving a wet bathing suit on for a few hours at a time, except it’s thick cotton. Yuck. In a disposable, its job is to hold the urine so that you can go longer without a diaper change, meaning that the kids won’t feel it. At least not for the most part. In the last few weeks, C has started declaring that she’s “wet” – holding her diaper and announcing “wet, wet” over and over again. And when I’ve gone and checked her diaper, sure enough, she’s been wet. I think she feels the discomfort from this. I’m encouraging her to keep telling me when she’s wet. Her noticing this – I take it we’re at the beginning stages of potty training. And for B, he does not tell me when he’s wet yet, but he is now going many hours without going to the bathroom. In fact, he mostly only pees when he’s napping or in the car. But he’ll hold it for hours. Once he goes, he goes a LOT and sure enough, it’s time for a new diaper. I can imagine that there’s nothing worse than a cold, wet diaper. So perhaps our potty training journey is getting a boost, thanks to our cloth diapers.

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This was soon after I purchased them a year ago.

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These were from over the summer, 6 months in.

And here they are two months ago, 10 months later and they still held up well:

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It was a decision I never regretted and in our journey to potty train these two crazies, I’m finding added benefits from cloth diapering I never knew existed.