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Nature Inspired DIY Teacher Gifts

This year for teacher gifts, my Oldest and I made some sparkly stick stars and homemade air freshener, and we got so many compliments as well as requests for directions and how-to’s.  I loved the idea of using natural materials for the teachers at his science and nature based school.  Also, these items were affordable, thoughtful and gave us a few days of projects.

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First, to make the stars, we collected sticks in our yard and at the playground.  I hot glued them together in star shapes and then my Oldest chose to paint them with sparkly blue and gold paint.   To finish them off I tied some twine to them so they could be used as ornaments.

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Next, we chose some jars to use for the air freshener.  This time we reused some jars that we already had and were washed and the labels peeled off but I’ve used 8oz. Ball jars in the past.  I also found some fun jars available online as well as a variety of sizes.

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I’ve been making this scented water for quite a while to use in our home and a handful of times have given jars of it as gifts.  There are so many options for what to use to make a variety of scents but for this batch I used clippings from our Christmas tree, mandarin oranges, cinnamon sticks and a few drops of tangerine essential oil.

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To make these jars, I thinly sliced six very small mandarin oranges and put them in the jar.  Then, I filled the jars almost to the brim with filtered water.  Next, I added the tree clippings and the cinnamon sticks.  By adding these last, you are able to arrange them easily.  Put the top on and add some twine or ribbon.  I also include directions on a piece of card stock.

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Some other ideas for similar scents would be include lemon slices, just the mandarin peels, or other essential oils such as lemon or patchouli.

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In the summertime, I like to use lemon slices and rosemary sprigs, or orange slices and sage sprigs.

Enjoy!

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A Few of Our Favorite Things: Baby Edition

Most babies don’t need much in the way of actual toys and will do just fine with some wooden spoons or bowls but here are some of my favorites.

I love toys that are both aesthetically pleasing, are open ended and promote development in a number of different areas.  These two toys from Grimm’s are small enough for little hands but will last long beyond infancy.  They would be a great addition to any nursery and you should expect them to be played with into the preschool years.

Grimm’s Small Wooden Stacking & Nesting Rainbow Bowls

Grimm’s Small Rainbow

This toy was purchased at a time when my Littlest boy was going through a tough period with colic.  For what was actually a short time, but seemed like an eternity, if the poor little guy was awake, he was screaming.  There was not much that got him to stop other then sound.  He loved the sound machine but once we brought this home it was the go-to for distraction.  The B. A-Maze Rain Rush makes some really interesting rain like sounds, it is loud enough to distract a baby who is crying (or screaming), and each time you turn it over the marbles run for a good length of time.  It can be laid on the floor and rolled around by baby as well.

We didn’t have the Plan Toys Activity Baby Gym but a similar one from IKEA.  I really like the simplicity that both of these baby gym’s offer.  They are not brightly colored or overwhelming.  Having neutral colors and only a few items makes it easier for baby to focus on one thing without have a sensory overload.

We also did not have the Plan Toys Van Walker but I am listing it because as soon as I saw this new product I wished we had a non-walker in the house.  I know both my boys would have loved this for their walking toy.  The handle in front is great for pushing when they are still on their knees and the big bucket in front would be really fun for collecting toys and other things as they walk around.

Plan Toy Stacking Ring is a classic always a great addition to any nursery.

Having a basket of sensory balls is great for baby to explore texture and sound.  These are just a couple that I recommend.  I also like wool dryer balls for a different texture.

Infantino Textured Multi Ball Set

Edushape Sensory Ball

Below are just a few of my favorite baby clutching and teething toys.  There are so many great ones out there from Plan Toys, Haba, Green Toys that are all safe and fun.

PlanToys Roller

Triangles

Haba Magica Clutching toy

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December Acts of Kindness

I must admit that I have hesitated to write about our December kindness acts.  Originally, my only goal in this journey was to teach my boys to take time to consider others in this world. However, I have been reflecting on how powerful and important it can be to share positive messages.   So, my intentions with this process now include to influence and inspire others to be kind and share kindness.    With that, I am telling the story of how our month of kindness began and what we will be doing this December.

Last year, when debating the idea of an advent calendar, I decided that instead of my kids getting little treats each day, it would make a much bigger impact on their lives (and the world around us) to perform an act of kindness for another person.  Our elderly neighbor had recently lost her husband and while she is an active lady, I knew she must be lonely at times.  So, we put her at the top of our list of people who we wanted to make smile.  We brought her homemade muffins and cookies, special drawings but probably the most meaningful was the time we spent with her in her home.  Teachers were also at the top of the list and received some special goodies like drawings and muffins.

This year, we are stepping it up a bit, as my Oldest is more aware of the effect he and his actions have on others.  Together we talked about things that might make other people smile, what it means to be kind and how important it is to think about people besides ourselves.  We came up with a long list of kindness acts and it was important that the majority of items on our list would be meant for strangers or people who weren’t family or close friends.  Later, I wrote them out on small pieces of paper, folded them up and stored them in a jar.  Each morning our Oldest shakes the jar and takes out one of the cards and that’s how we find out what we will be doing that day.  Some of the items require some prep work like decorating candy canes or making cards, so we will be continuously working on those, while the ingredients for cookies and other edibles are on hand.

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A number of these acts will be repeated and I made enough cards to get us through the entire month.  See below for some pictures of our journey so far…

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I hope you are inspired to spread some kindness yourself.  We’d love to get some new ideas so please share photos on our Facebook wall or tag us on Instagram.

Happy Holidays.

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A Few of Our Favorite Things – Cognitive & Fine Motor

I’m excited to share some of our favorite toys that encourage cognitive and fine motor development.  I combined these two domains for the majority of this list because each toy or material really fit into both area of development and I didn’t think it would make sense to separate them.  At the bottom you will find a short list of our favorite board games.  Enjoy!   

Toys and Manipulatives

The Haba Bambini Caterpillar Dice was a fun introduction into the social skills of turn taking and game playing.  Each person roles the dice to find out what color bead you have to pick up, then you thread it onto the string.  This toy helps to work on cognitive skills such as color identification and concentration.  The threading, of course, helps with fine motor skills.

We loved these Weight Cylinders with our Oldest right around 2 years old and I’m looking forward to taking them out again soon.  They were great for weight comparison, matching, stacking and counting.

Magical Menagerie is one of my Oldest’s favorite Evening Activities.  These cardboard cut outs have been put together and taken apart so many times.  Each animal comes with an envelope to store the pieces and on one side there are visual directions with corresponding numbers.  These have also made thoughtful gifts for teachers and friends.  We got them at age 3 and he put them together with assistance.

Dado Squares are a bit tricky to manipulate which is why I have to recommend them for your older child with strong fine motor skills.  But, they do make wonderfully intricate, geometric designs when the child has mastered the ability to maneuver these.

Magna-Tiles.  Get them.  Just do it.  Seriously, if you have never experienced magna-tiles, then you are missing out.  The planning, the balancing, the engineering, the creativity…these amazing little magnetic shapes can be manipulated and formed into some incredibly elaborate buildings.  Just check out their Instagram to see some examples.  We had these in our house from the birth of our Oldest and he used them as a toddler just for magnet play but now, 4.5 years later he is so comfortable with them and is creating some really amazing buildings.

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The Grimm’s Extra Large Rainbow Stacker  is worth every penny and great for any age.  I am always a big fan of very open ended toys and this is one of those toys.  It is an aesthetically beautiful piece to have in any play room or bedroom but it’s uses are endless.  From carefully stacking to build a tall tower to putting pieces together to make circles to having a child lay still while the rainbow covers their legs and torso…so many areas of development can be encouraged with this one amazing toy.

This is another great toy that encourages development across domains.  The Rainbow Whirls Pegging Game  can be used in many ways including color identification, sorting, matching, stacking and balancing, and counting.  Another beautiful piece that has seen a lot of love starting at about 18 months in our house.

Board Games

The Ladybug Game is a fun game that was created by an elementary school student.  It promotes counting and patience!  And we all get a kick out of the “Bug off mantis” cards.

The Richard Scarry Busy Town game was a gift from a special friend and it was an instant favorite.  There is no winner in this game so it’s a nice, peaceful entrance in the world of board games.  We all really enjoy when the spinner lands on a “Goldbug” and everyone has to search for minuscule clues.

Does your child see the picture of another book by the same author on the back cover of a book and then beg you to add it to their library? Well, that’s how we came to own the Richard Scarry Airport Game.  On the Busytown box there is a picture of Busy, Busy Airport and once it was spotted we had to have it.  And I’m glad we agreed to order it because it is a really fun game complete with airplanes that fly to different corners of the room to get to places like the mountains or the city.

The Picnic Game was another gift and at first my Oldest just enjoyed using the pieces in the box to set up pretend picnics.  One day we finally sat down to play and discovered a sweet game that was also lots of fun and encourages patience, counting, sorting and even nutrition.  

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