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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

How to Be Awesome at Quarantine with Kids Part 3

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Previously, we talked about eight ingredients that we can use to help fill our days while we are social distancing at home.  Here are some specific activities for most of those categories to help get you started.  I tried to find easy, no or low prep options that you can do with whatever supplies you have at home.


  • Flash Cards
  • Sudoku
  • Crossword Puzzles
  • Workbooks
  • Rhyming/Matching/Opposites Games
  • Board Games like Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Solitare, Scrabble, etc.  My kids especially love the Richard Scary Busytown Game.
  • Pick an animal, sport, historical figure, country, etc. that they are interested in and research it together
  • Spelling Games
  • Keep a Journal or Video Diary
  • If you have a chalkboard, write spelling words or letters on there and let your child "paint" them off with a paintbrush and water.

As I mentioned before, reading with your child or setting aside time for them to read independently is probably the most important thing you could do during these next few weeks.  You can find free audiobooks on podcast apps or rent them from your library through Libby or Hoopla if available.  There are also some on Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube.  See my last post for some recommendations.

Gross Motor
  • Masking/Painter's tape works well on hard floors.  Make shapes or lines and have them try to walk along the tape without "falling" off.
  • Tape crepe paper streamers at angles through a hallway and have kids bob and weave their way through the "laser field."
  • Simple songs like the Hokey Pokey or Father Abraham can get kids moving.  Or put on some music and have a dance party!
  • Obstacle courses can be made indoor or outside.  Masking tape, pillows, and pool noodles can be used in surprising ways to create obstacles inside!
  • "Heavy Work" chores can be a surprising source of gross motor activities.  Have small children pull all the cushions off the couch and help you vacuum it, then replace the cushions.  Help (and supervise) them climb on a step stool to dust the top of a shelf or table.  For older kids, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing, etc. double as housework and gross motor!
Fine Motor for Young Children
  • Have children paint some sticks from your yard and then when they dry, tie some ribbons on them.  Put them in a vase for a colorful centerpiece.
  • Put different kinds of paper, TP tubes, ribbon, etc. in a box with a pair of scissors and let them practice cutting!  (Stay close and make sure to supervise this one!)
  • Put sticker dots (or just draw them) on a page and have your child connect the dots with a pencil, crayon, or marker.  
  • Lacing cards are available to print online, or you might have some from Target.
  • Give them strips of fabric or ribbon to thread through the holes of a laundry basket, chain link fence, chicken wire, or anything else with holes big enough.  
  • Playdough!  Have them roll snakes and then cut them with scissors, roll different size balls, make shapes or letters, etc.
  • I have a whole Pinterest board full of more great ideas for fine motor activities here.
  • Coloring books and mazes like this one are a hit with my four year old
  • Both of my kids have really enjoyed these foam mosaic craft kits

Fine Motor for Older Children
  • Rainbow looms and weaving looms are great for more advanced fine motor practice.

  • Paracord bracelets, macrame, and friendship bracelets

  • Simple cross stitch or sewing projects

  • Adult coloring books or printable pages

  • Spirographs

  • Finger knitting
  • The more open ended the art, the better.  Put a bunch of supplies on the table and see where they go with it.
  • Mirror painting or bathtub painting are fun alternatives to the usual.
  • Magazine collages
  • Stamps, foam stickers, or stencils
  • Directed drawing activities give step by step instructions.  Do one with your child and hang them up together when you finish!
  • Watercolor pencils are a fun and less messy way to paint.  You draw with them like regular colored pencils and then paint over them with water.  Or dip them in water and see how different they write!

  • Kwik Stix are tempera paint sticks that make painting less messy and easier for young children to control.


This one is easy to incorporate into other activities simultaneously.  
  • Play classical music during art time or while coloring and knitting.  There are plenty of playlists on Pandora, Spotify, or YouTube.
  • Play upbeat music for a dance party or while doing an obstacle course.
  • Play name that tune with Disney songs or whatever your family listens to.
  • Let your kids do their own cover of their favorite song and make a video.  
  • Pull out some pots and pans, your old recorder, or whatever else you can turn into instruments and have a jam session.

This wasn't one of my eight categories but it's worth listing because a lot of food items typically used for sensory boxes aren't available right now.  So here is a list of common sensory box fillers that aren't food.  I'm not saying go buy any of this specifically, but maybe it will give you new ideas. (Use caution and supervise young children to prevent eating or choking, of course.)
  • Shredded paper (even better if you have a shredder and they can watch you make it)
  • Marbles
  • Bingo Dots
  • Pompoms
  • Buttons
  • Flower petals or other nature items from your yard
  • Cotton Balls
  • Cut Up Straws (let them cut up the straws first!)
  • Easter Grass
  • Cut Up Foam
  • Bird Seed
  • Fake Snow
  • Glass Gems (used as vase fillers in hobby stores and Dollar Tree)
  • Aquarium Rocks
  • Water Beads
  • Soapy Water
  • Poker Chips
  • Rainbow Loom Bands
  • Yarn, Ribbon, and Fabric Strips
  • Feathers
  • Beads

I know, I know.  Sometimes it's more work to get them to "help" than to just do the work itself.  Think of it more as an activity than actually helping. I'm pretty sure if you have older kids, you know what they can do, but here are some ideas for young children.
  • Wash doorknobs and baseboards with baby wipes.
  • Sweep with a small broom
  • Dust with a feather duster or a dry washcloth
  • Wipe down bathroom counters with a baby wipe
  • Put toys on shelves
  • Fold washcloths and match socks
  • Set the table with help
  • Wipe the table before or after a meal
  • Put bib/pj's/clothes in hamper
I hope this gives you some ideas to get you started!  Please don't see this is as a list to work through from beginning to end.  I am just throwing out a whole bunch of ideas so that hopefully a few of them click with someone.

Next post, I will describe my themes for our "Spring Break Quarantine Camp."

Monday, March 16, 2020

How to Be Awesome at Quarantine with Kids Part 2

This post includes affiliate links.

You just found out your children's school is closing for three to four weeks.  You can't take them anywhere.  You can't travel.  You just see days and days full of hours and hours yawning ahead of you.

Picture credits to Douglas Adams and this site.

Remember from my last post, if reading ideas about activities and plans stresses you out, walk away now.  Everyone copes differently.  Some people need this info, and some need to hear me say it's ok to do nothing.  Do what you need to do to get through.  And not all of these ideas will work for all age groups and all family situations.  You are welcome to message me with specific questions, and I will do my best.  I'm just trying to help in the very small ways I can, so if this helps, great.  If it doesn't help, no worries.

But let's say you need some suggestions.  I have some areas that I consider basic ingredients for my day.

Let's go through each area and talk about some basics.
  • Academics
Many schools are transitioning to e-learning or online class components.  If that is the case for your school, make this a priority.  That means it gets done early, and intentionally.  If you like a schedule, set a time to all sit down and make it happen.  If you like it looser, set boundaries around what has to be completed each day before screen time or free play.  

If your school is not giving your children academic work to do from home, like most of the schools in my state are not, you can still devote some time each day to working on academics that will help them retain what they are learning.  You might use math flashcards, spelling games, books from the library about what they are studying in history or science, or whatever else you think would help engage their minds.  We are going to talk in a later post about theme days, and it is easy to find some quick activities for math, science, etc, that go along with pretty much any theme you can imagine.
  • Reading
Setting aside reading time each day might be the very best thing you could do over the next few weeks.  You can order books from most local libraries online, and pick them up quickly without having to stay long in a public place.  If your library is closed, you could also order them new or used on Amazon if that isn't an option.  Chances are, you probably have a ton of books at your house already that you can pull out.  For little ones, read to them or with them every day. For older kids, set aside DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time each day.  Model it yourself!  Let them see you sitting on the couch reading during DEAR time.  

This is a great time to pick a chapter book to read aloud to your family.  The Read Aloud Revival has great suggestions for family read aloud books.  And if you don't like to read out loud, you can find audio books at your library or on YouTube, Spotify, Podcast Apps, Libby, Hoopla, Audible, etc.  Not all of those will be available to everyone, and some of them are free while others have a cost, but there are plenty of resources available.  Audiobooks have a magical way of entrancing kids from 4 to 14 (and adults too) and they will give you topics of conversation, inside jokes, and ideas for academic enrichment.  If you need some quick recommendations, I am reading Anne of Green Gables right now to my kids, ages 4 and 7.

And my husband is reading them The Green Ember.

We also recently finished Thorton Burgess' Big Book of Animal Stories and loved it!

  • Gross Motor
Think big movements and big muscles.  Running, jumping, tumbling, jumping jacks, etc., are all gross motor activities.  There are lots of great exercise and activity videos on YouTube for kids.  Two of my favorites are Jack Hartman and Cosmic Kids Yoga.  You can also print out activity cards like these and set up an exercise circuit or an obstacle course for them to do.  If they can do gross motor activities outside, even better!  Jump rope, cartwheels, freeze tag, etc. Kids crave the deep muscle input they receive from gross motor activities, and they need to stretch and get out that energy, for everyone's sanity!  
  • Fine Motor
Fine motor activities are the ones that require precision and detail, such as lacing, tying, sewing, pinching, etc.  For younger children, this can look like sorting pom poms into ice cube trays, or making a Froot Loops necklace.  For older children, it can be cross stitch or macrame or making paracord bracelets.  Stacking and balancing blocks, playing Jenga, coloring, and playing with Legos can also be fine motor activities.  I try to incorporate at least one fine motor activity into each day.
  • Art
Creative expression is important, especially in times of stress!  Pull out some old magazines to make a collage.  Let everyone paint abstracts.  Make a nature mandala in the backyard.  There are tons of easy art projects that don't require special supplies and don't create too much of a mess.  You can search Pinterest for easy art ideas, or do something that goes with your daily theme.  One art project a day can give kids an outlet for expression and encourage them get lost in an idea.  While they're at it, why not pick up a paintbrush yourself?  You might be surprised how good it feels!
  • Music
Music is soothing and has been shown to lower stress hormones and unify groups of people.  Whether it's a living room dance party or practicing an instrument, try to bring some music into your day!  YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, or even just the radio can provide some background while they paint or some rhythm while they perfect their dance moves. 
  • Free Time
Remember when we were kids and we were allowed to get bored?  It's still an ok thing.  Boredom is actually important to kids because it encourages innovation and creativity.  If they aren't used to unstructured free time, or if they haven't had any since last summer, it might take a while to get used to, but that's ok too.  Start with a set time, and tell them it is their time to free play.  No tech or screens, and no structured activities.  There might be wailing and gnashing of teeth in the beginning, but eventually they will wander off and find something.  (Offering extra chores or tasks as an alternative always worked for my mom. Just saying.)
  • Housework
We already talked about how things are going to get messier than normal.  Incorporate your kids into helping keep the house clean.  If they are little, it might be as simple as "helping" you sweep with a small broom or wiping doorknobs and baseboards with a wet wipe.  (Mine started doing that at 3 years old.)  If they are older, they can help fold clothes and towels, clean their rooms, set the table, etc.  It contributes to the sense of adventure and the attitude of "we are in this together" if they are included in the daily tasks more.  Again, there might definitely will be complaining, but it is worth it to use this time to teach about serving our family and taking care of our things.

Housework can also include cooking!  Get them involved in making snack bags, lunches, bread, dinner, desserts, etc.  It might make a bit more mess, but hey, you've got extra time now!

Of course there are plenty of other things you could add in, and we will talk about some of those next time, but if you hit all eight of those every day, plus meals, you are well on your way to filling the hours.

Next, I will give you some easy, no-prep activities in each of these categories that you can pull out on the fly.  Then I will talk about some theme day ideas if you want more detailed plans.  As always, comment or message me if you have questions.  I'm happy to help!

Here's a black and white version of the graphic so you can print it out and check it off if you want.  Both graphics were made for me by Megan Floyd at .  She is amazing.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

How to Be Awesome at Quarantine with Kids Part 1

Schools are closing.  Everything is crazy.  Families who never wanted to homeschool are now honorary homeschoolers for the next several weeks.

It can feel like a long road ahead.
Welcome to the family!

If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing anything but screen time and Lunchables for the next couple of weeks, no judgement here.  We all deal with stress and crises differently.  Some people panic at the thought of implementing any kind of structure or they simply feel it isn't necessary.  That's a valid response, and you probably don't want to continue reading. 

But some people need some kind of structure in order to thrive.  (It's me.  I'm some people.)  It doesn't have to be a rigid schedule, nor does it have to be the same as anyone else's, but for me, chaos makes me panic.  I need a plan.  And I've seen lots of posts asking for help and ideas, so I thought I could share what works for me.  This isn't my attempt to force anything on anyone else or make quarantine "Pinterest-worthy."  I'm just offering what I have to anyone who might be interested.  Take it as it is.

So you want to set up some kind of routine or schedule or at least plan some activities to pull out when the kids get restless?  Let's start with a couple of mindset adjustments that will help for the long haul.
  • Expect more mess.  It's gonna happen.  Whatever your tolerance level for mess is, having kids home all day, every day is gonna push those limits.  Take a minute before you do any planning to try to address this so it doesn't drive you crazy and inhibit the rest of your plans.  What are the definite boundaries (like, no art on the couches, or no food on the carpet, etc.)?  What are the areas where you can give a little (like letting some sensory filler spill on the kitchen floor), and how can you incorporate cleaning breaks into your day so that you don't feel overwhelmed by 6:00?
  • Try to stretch the times.  For little ones, try to stretch activities to 20 or 30 minutes.  For older ones, try for 45 minutes to an hour.  That means you probably won't be able to just set play dough on the table and expect them to occupy themselves for an hour.  You'll have to be more involved.  Help them make up games, like a play dough pie store, or print off some play dough mats.  If you are constantly jumping from activity to activity every five minutes, they will be restless and you will go crazy.  Pinterest is your friend here.  Search "easy play dough activities" to get some good ideas.  
  • Use themes.  Everyone who knows me knows I love a good theme.  Don't try to invent twenty random activities each day.  Pick a theme for the day and make the activities fit with the theme.  It encourages them to combine and expand, and it makes your life easier because you will naturally start to come up with more ideas that go with the theme.  
  • Get outside.  If at all possible, go outside every day.  If it's raining but not storming, let them splash in puddles and then come in and take warm baths (fills extra time!).  If it's cold, bundle them up and give them five or ten minutes to do a nature scavenger hunt.  Or even just have them run out the door and do ten jumping jacks and then run back in.  Fresh air is great for everyone!
  • Don't expect to get a lot "done."  You will not be as productive as usual.  It's important to make peace with that.  Constant interruptions, heightened vigilance, more mess, and constantly finding things for them to do means that you are going to look back at the end of some days and say, "Did I actually DO anything today!?"  The answer is yes.  You were there for your kids, and that is a full-time job.  Give yourself some grace.
  • Adopt an attitude of adventure.  I know these are anxious times, and I know there are a lot of inconveniences and disappointments swirling around everyone, but as much as possible, approach these next few weeks with a purposeful attitude of adventure.  We've never done this before.  We are all in this together, including your kids.  Keep a "quarantine journal" or blog or vlog.  Get your kids to add to it.  
We are going to get through this together, you guys.  We have so many resources at our disposal.  Eyes up, hearts up!  You've got this.

In my next post, I'm going to go over some basic ingredients for a day, and then I'll give some easy no-prep activities for those who want to keep it super simple, and some theme day ideas for those like me who need a plan!

Let me know if you have specific questions.  I'm always happy to help!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Awesome and Easy Collages for Toddlers

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  I am not otherwise compensated for my opinions.

I found a couple of pins recently that inspired me to do some new simple projects with Cricket's easel.  This is the style of easel we use.  It's just a basic white board on one side and chalkboard on the other.

She loves to paint and draw on it, but these were a few other quick and low budget projects that I used to fill some time when I was tired or she was restless.  

Feelings Collage

First we went through a couple of my old magazines and looked for pictures of people who were showing different emotions, and I cut them out.  Cricket helped me find pictures, and we talked about what they might be feeling and why.  

It was easy to find happy people, and even excited and proud people, but it took a while to find pictures of people who looked sad and angry.  Prescription ads ended up being very helpful.  :o)

I just used plain easel paper from this pad I ordered for Cricket's second birthday.  It's lasted forever!

I taped a piece of easel paper up and wrote "I Feel" in the middle of it.  Then I wrote emotion words like "sad" and "happy" around the paper.  She painted some glue around it and stuck the corresponding pictures next to the word as we talked about it.  

Of course, she loves painting, so painting glue was great fun for her.  She also liked the pictures, and she enjoyed talking about them.

The emotions we ended up with were happy, sad, angry, proud, surprised, and grumpy.  These are all emotions we have talked about with her for a while now, and they have come up in several of her books.

Not only does this help teach her how to express her own emotions, it also helps her practice recognizing social cues in other people to determine their emotions.  This is a valuable skill for toddlers (and for adults), and one that doesn't always come naturally, so it's good to practice.  

After we finished putting the pictures on, she decorated it with stickers just for fun.  She used a couple of stickers as band-aids for the sad person, which showed me that she was really listening to what we were talking about and empathizing with the person in the picture.  

When she finished her collage, we taped it to her bedroom door.  She is very proud of it, and she loves to show it off to people, which gives her even more opportunities to practice recognizing and repeating the emotion vocabulary she is learning.  I was really happy with this activity and highly recommend it.

Sticker Collage

For something even easier, I just put up a piece of paper and let her stick stickers wherever she wanted.  She loved it!  

Just about every toddler loves stickers, so this is a fun and really easy activity for them.  I had a bunch leftover from my classroom that I pulled out, but if you need some, Dollar Tree always has a bunch, as well as the dollar bins at Target or Wal-Mart.  Melissa and Doug also has some great sticker pads that come with hundreds of great looking stickers for a decent price.  A friend got Cricket one last Christmas, and she's still using it!

The only thing about stickers is, some of them are hard to get off the paper they come on, so I stuck a bunch to a chair so I could do dishes while she worked on her collage.

When she was finished, I gave her the option to further decorate her collage with crayons or colored pencils.  She wasn't interested at the time, but I left it up for a few days, and she did come back and color it a little.

She has asked to do this again and again, so I'd call this one a success as well.  

Torn Paper Collage

This is another super easy one.  I taped a piece of contact paper to the easel, sticky side out.  

I let Cricket and her friend tear pieces of construction paper and just stick them on!

They chose to tear the paper into big pieces.  I love that since the contact paper is clear, you can see the drawings she had done on the easel, giving it a kind of background.

To add a natural sensory aspect to this one, try the Contact Paper Window I wrote about when Cricket was younger.  

Remember, it doesn't have to be complicated to be a fun and absorbing experience for a toddler!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Awesome Gifts for Expectant Parents

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  I am not otherwise compensated for my opinions. 

If you are anywhere in the 25-40 age range, chances are, you get invited to a fair number of baby showers.  For a while, it seemed like we had a wedding invitation for every weekend of the year, but now, those have definitely morphed into baby showers.

While my first advice is always to get something off the registry, (They picked it out.  They obviously need it and want it!) some people don't like using registries.  Or maybe you just want a more personal gift.  Or the store they registered at is not in your town and you don't have time to order online.  Whatever the case, here are some great ideas for baby gifts that I have either given or received and loved!

Nursing Survival Kit

One of my friends gave this to me, and we have given it to several others since then.  If you know the mom-to-be is planning on breastfeeding, put together a basket of things she might need.  You could include:

Nursing Cover, Nursing Pads, and Lanolin for the basic needs.


Energy bars, a cute water cup, and a small book to make mama smile.


Nursing tank and burp cloths to make nursing a little easier!


Of course, several of those would make great gifts by themselves, but put a couple of those in a cute basket and you have a really memorable and useful present!  This is a good one for a group or hostess gift, because the more you put in there, the cuter it will be!

Fleece Nose Wipes

This may seem like a weird gift, so let me explain.  When I was pregnant, my mom gave me a bunch of cute fleece squares she had cut out for me to use as cloth baby wipes.  However, once I had Cricket, it became very obvious that they were no good as baby wipes because they didn't absorb liquid well.

I had all these cute little fleece squares sitting around, never been used, and I quickly figured out that they worked great as nose wipes for tiny, sensitive noses!  They are way softer than tissues, you can use them several times, and even toddlers can use them without tearing a hole in them every time they wipe their nose!  Two years later, we are still using them!

So here's what you do.  Get some cute fleece, like these.


Cut them into six inch squares, tie a dozen up in a pretty ribbon and give them along with a note saying what they are for.  No need to sew because fleece doesn't fray.  Easy, cute, and unique!  It is a great thing to keep on hand for last minute gifts!

Little Remedies Box

My sister gave this to me when I was pregnant, and I am STILL using some of the stuff in it!  This is a collection of Little Remedies products for babies and young children, like gripe water, eucalyptus rub, saline nose spray, etc.  It's great, and any new parent will greatly appreciate it!


Ok, y'all knew this was coming right?  No way am I not going to talk about books.  At my baby shower, my hostess put in the invitation a request for guests to sign their name in a board book instead of a greeting card.  They are the same price or even cheaper than a card, and they are way more useful!  Plus, it is so fun to read books to Cricket and get to tell her who gave each one to her.

One of Brian's long time family friends sent us Pat the Bunny when I was pregnant, along with a list of several dozen books that she recommended or that her children had loved growing up.  What a great idea!  I made notes of a bunch of them to get as soon as I could!

I love to give books, so often I will give several of my favorites as a way to start the child's library.  This one is always in the group.


Whether you give a stack or just one, you can never go wrong with books!

Name Bands for Sippy Cups

I don't know if y'all have seen these, but they are rubber bracelet-looking things that go around bottles and sippy cups to label them.  The idea is that they are washable, so you don't have to take them off, and they aren't adhesive, so you don't have a gooey mess after a couple of weeks.  There are several different kinds.  The original ones are actually debossed with your child's name.  (You could also add other information like allergy alerts, phone numbers, etc.)


Or you could get one of these that you just write on with a permanent marker.  Either way, these are a fun and unique but practical gift that any parent will appreciate.


House Cleaning

I don't have a link to this, because it's more of a local thing, but it's worth mentioning.  One of my favorite gifts for friends who are about to have a baby is to pay someone to come clean their house while they are in the hospital.  That way they come home to a sparkling house and no chores to worry about!  This would be a good hostess gift or group gift, as well.

A bonus to this is that if you have friends who clean houses as a job, you are helping them out as well!  If you don't know anyone who cleans houses, you can ask your friends on Facebook for local recommendations or hire a professional service, although that will obviously be more costly.  Just make sure that this is something the expecting parents will enjoy or someone they know, since some people are hesitant to let strangers in their house for obvious reasons.  When in doubt, ask ahead of time on this one.

Closet Organizers and Hangers

This is my go-to gift right now.  I stumbled upon the realization that Amazon has literally dozens of designer closet organizers.  This is awesome because you can find some to match just about any nursery theme!  (I have been known to stalk pictures on Facebook to figure out which colors and designs will match!)  They are a decent price, too!

Closet organizers are super handy because you always end up with clothes in four or five different sizes, and this helps you keep them organized so you don't end up finding an outfit that your baby never got to wear because you didn't realize it was his size four months ago!


Pair them with some matching baby hangers and you have a sweet and thoughtful gift that they won't want to return!


I hope this gives you some good ideas for baby gifts!  What about you?  What are your favorite go-to gifts for baby showers?