Take along loose parts

A while ago I was inspired by a post on Instagram from Jess at Tinker Tots where she shared her little box of loose parts that she takes along in her purse for her son.  It took a while but I finally put together our own little container of take along loose parts and it’s debut with my boys was a huge success.

I discovered a small cardboard shipping tube that I’d been saving for a long time and knew it was the perfect size and it could also be used as a loose part, itself.  I walked around the house grabbing random items to fill it; a ribbon from an unwrapped birthday gift, the ladder from a broken fire truck, coffee stirrers and more.  The only things I sought out were the two vehicles, a motorcycle and a helicopter.

After we ordered our food, I told the boys I’d brought something for them to play with and they were instantly curious.  I put the tube on the table and they did not stop twisting, tying, stacking, creating or imagining until the pancakes arrived at the table and we had to quickly stuff everything back in it’s holder.

I’m excited to keep this tool in my bag going forward.  This isn’t simply about something to keep them occupied or out of trouble but rather the ability to provide them with open ended materials that encourage creativity, conversation, storytelling, and more while we are on the go and in any situation.

I plan on adding and taking away materials as needed based on how they engage each time we take them out.



100 Days of School Project

This year was our first 100 days of school project for my son who is in first grade.  The assignment was pretty open ended, which I was SO excited about.  All we had to do was gather 100 pieces of a particular item and arrange them in a way that could be hung on the wall.

My son did not really have any ideas right off the top of his head so I suggested using some of our enormous bottle cap collection. (A while ago, a local girl scout troop collected bottle caps for me for a presentation I was doing. They collected hundreds, probably thousands, so we have what feels like an endless supply).

We pulled out the big box of bottle caps and started sorting through them to see what colors we could use. I suggested we use 10 different colors and have 10 of each color and he agreed. 

So, we did the best we could to find the colors of the rainbow but there were just not enough pink and purple. We ended up finishing the collection with black, white, silver and gold.

My son arranged all the caps on the board, which was actually the back of a picture frame that I had saved from another project. (I had used the frame to make a twine and clothespin photo display). 

After he was done organizing, I hot glued them. Typically he would have helped me with the glue gun but we’d been working on this for a long time and he was bottle capped out. I couldn’t risk the board being bumped into and his design being tossed about, so I did the glueing myself. (I always swore I’d never do my kids school projects for them but I rationalized my doing the glueing with the fact that he had really done most of the work and it was his own design, I just made it permanent.)

He was so proud of the final result and could not wait to bring it into school. I am hoping that they get returned later in the year because it’s so beautiful and I would definitely hang in their bedroom or in our office.


Flower Exploration

Using some mildly wilted flowers from arrangements we had in the house, I set up an invitation to explore for my boys, ages 6 and 3 1/2.


Some of the tools I included for the exploration included a bamboo cutting board, magnifying glass, child friendly knives, forks, chopsticks and a pizza cutter.  Other items that I’ve used in the past are lobster pickers, meat tenderizer, potato masher and scissors.

I particularly like the Vivitar magnifying glasses with the lights because we can see more detail even with dim lighting or on a dreary day.  They also have a thick handle that is great for small hands.  For knives, I always go back to our Zyliss lettuce knife as it’s been used over and over again by both boys.  I also included butter knives and cheese spreaders that again, are great for little hands.


I set everything up on my favorite plastic trays from IKEA.  I have also used cutting boards and cookie sheets.


The boys were free to pull, peel, chop, cut, slice, smash, poke, pinch, explore and examine as they please.  I mainly stepped back, took photos and listened to their observations.


“This one has these deep holes.  I think they go all the way down to the bottom.  I need to scrape all this stuff off.”

“This stem is all squishy.  Yuck.”

“It’s like juice that comes out.”

“There, I sliced it up.  I can see inside the whole thing now.”


“I can’t cut this one.  It’s too wiggly.”

“This one smells delicious.”

“It looks all flowery in there.”


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Pebble bin

This simple and affordable set up has kept my kids entertained and engaged while providing a variety of sensory experiences.

When we first put it together, it was just pebbles and trucks but an immediate attraction. 

I had previously collected the rocks from the beach and I much prefer putting in the extra effort then purchasing rocks and not knowing what they’re made of or if they’re coated with something harmful. 

I also have a few tires in the yard and used one as the base. 

The round tray is a hot water heater basin. It’s great because it’s sturdy and has a drain to easily get rid of water. 
The trucks have been around for years and are usually in the sandbox. I definitely recommend purchasing a set or two for any outdoor play. They’ve been a big hit, encourage fine motor development and have held up very well.

To add on to the excitement, today I poured a few buckets of water into the pebble tray and removed the trucks

There was some great sensory input with scooping and digging while only using their hands. Texture, temperature and sound, too. 

My niece discovered that when dropping one or two pebbles into the water it made for a pleasant sound and watching the ripples in the water was mesmerizing for all of us. 

Mixing shells in with the pebbles provided yet another way to scoop and create. 

Later on, the trucks were brought back into the mix and it was decided that the addition of water was preferred to no water.

I’m excited about this new area of our yard and have a few more ideas on ways to change it up as the days go on. I’d like to add some more shells, maybe some sticks and possibly swap out the trucks for our Plan Toys bath toy boats.

Preparing your sensitive child for a new baby

When I was pregnant with our second child, I knew that thoughtful and gentle preparation for our oldest was going to be an important job.  He has always been sensitive, curious and cautious and while I knew that it would be exciting for him, I also knew that he would need to be a part of the process and we would need to do our best to let him know what to expect.  Some children adjust without much need for preparation, they are just excited to be a big brother or big sister.  And some might even get more anxious with more preparation.  You know your child best and if you think they might benefit from preparation and participation and insight, please read on and I hope these tips help.

Read Subtle Books

We had a few of the obvious ‘You’re Going to be a Big Brother’ books but my favorite and what I believe to have been the most effective, were our two more subtle books. Over and over and over, we read On Mother’s Lap by Ann Herbert Scott. It is a sweet little story about a boy who loves to sit on his mother’s lap and continues to add toys and dolls and blankets to her lap while they rock. Then his sibling wakes up from a nap and wants to climb up too, the boy is mad but mother assures him that there is always room on mother’s lap. ❤

A second book that we liked is called I Heard Said the Bird by Polly Berrien Berends and it is about the excited suspense and anticipation of a ‘new one’ arriving on the farm.  All the animals hope and wonder if it’s a new pig or a new chick but then the little boy on the farm announces that it is his new sibling.

The subtlety of both of these stories addressed real worries that my son might have been having like sharing his mama. He consistently asked to read these two books above all the other Big Brother books we had which spoke to me about what it was that he needed.

Separation of Belongings

Children often feel a strong sense of ownership over their belongings and can be attached to things that we don’t even think of as being important to them. When a new sibling arrives and he or she needs those same belongings, it may cause resentment or difficulty of acceptance. There is no need to buy new items for either child but being mindful of what may cause the older child to feel sad about no longer being the baby or resentful for having to share what’s his, can help the entire family during this process.

That said, I did purchase new Aden & Anais swaddle blankets for baby because they had become a security item for our oldest and those certainly could not be removed from his grasp. I also made sure to buy a different brand of pacifier because even though he hadn’t had one in a while, it was another major security item for him.

One thing that we were certain we wanted to do before #2’s arrival was to move our older son into his new bedroom and out of the nursery. Baby was due in February and we wanted him to have a good couple of months to adjust to the new sleeping arrangement, no longer feel attached to his old room and not feel that he was being kicked out of his space for the baby. We set up his new space and closed the door to the nursery for a solid month.  I snuck in when he was sleeping to rearrange furniture and empty the room of anything that he might feel ownership over. We also removed the high chair from sight and all toys that would become baby’s went in the nursery.

Now, not every family can replicate this exact situation for any number of reasons but no matter how or what, try removing any items you can that your older child may associate as belonging to him when he was a baby. Other examples may be a crib, bouncy seat, nursing pillow, bottles, changing table, pack ‘n play…


When it comes time to prepping and organizing baby’s things like clothes and diapers, consider how much your older child can help you with before doing it on your own. When diapers were washed, my son put them in baskets on the changing table. When onsies and pajamas were sorted by size, my son chose the drawers in which to arrange them. He helped put books and toys on the shelves.

I know that this part of the process was important to him and he took these jobs very seriously.

Preparation Book 

About a month before my due date, my husband and I made a book for our son that told the story of what would happen when I went into the hospital. He had only ever spent one night away from me so that could have played a huge factor in any possible anxiety or fear.

The book itself included pictures of who was going to take care of him and where. It also talked about where I would be and who would be taking care of me, with a picture of the hospital and my midwife.  With pictures of our car and the two car seats, we wrote about what would happen when it was time to come home and how he could talk or sing to the baby in the car.  Next, we added photos of some of the toys and books he might like to share with his new brother or sister and ways that he could help take care of baby.  Lastly, we included pictures of the three of us as a family and made sure to say that no matter what we would always have time to hug and kiss him and sing him songs and read him books.

He adored this book. He asked us to read it to him and looked at the pictures on his own. Every now and then the book shows up when we dig out an old favorite story or we are rearranging the book shelves and it’s sweet to remember that time with him.

I typed everything up on the computer but ordering a book from a photo website would be great, too.


I wouldn’t doubt if I was forgetting something as it was over three years ago. I’ll edit to add if something else comes to mind.  Good luck mama’s and papa’s!


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Pouring fun, outside!

  Pouring is always a fun activity for little people and this pitcher is perfect for little hands.  I grabbed some glasses, bowls and washcloths, of course, and filled the pitcher with water.
  Since it was such a beautiful day we brought our pouring supplies outside but this is also an easy way to keep the activity low maintenance as spills do not need to be cleaned up immediately or as efficiently as they do indoors.   
  Oops!  First spill, cleaned up.
  “This one a little too fill up.”  It’s good for little ones to test just how far they can pour before over flowing or to figure out an appropriate water level to prevent spillage when trying to drink.  Making mistakes and pouring too much in a fun activity like this, will help them when it’s time to pour a drink at the dinner table.
  Of course, we sampled the water in each glass and had to ‘cheers’ each time. We cleaned up our pouring materials and proceeded to collect some leaves.  After a few minutes I noticed this sweet guy was laying out some yellow leaves with great precision and then he set up the pitcher and two glasses and invited me over for a drink. ❤

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Some of our current favorite book titles!

I’ve had a number of requests for book suggestions over the past few months so, I’ve been keeping a mental list of our favorites.  I’m finally getting around to putting some of our favorites down in a blog post.  I tried to separate into categories for organization purposes but there are some crossovers, of course.  Clicking on the book covers will bring you to the listings on Amazon through affiliate links.

Empowering and Confidence Building


Social and Emotional Learning



Beautiful Illustrations



Board Books


Fun Favorites



Traveling with trays

The complete set of our in flight activity containers and two trays, ready for take off.

We are heading to California this week so I’ve been gathering items to surprise my boys with for our plane ride. I picked up some new coloring books and stickers, and finally invested in some Crayola Color Wonder markers and paper. I also liked the idea I found on Pinterest of decorating the plane window with gel clings, so I added those to my cart in the dollar section at Target.

Beyond that, I spent some thinking about how we work and play at home and what would make the boys feel comfortable on the long flights but also in the hotels during our ten day trip. The first thing that came to mind was how we pretty much always define workspaces with trays and immediately about a dozen lightbulbs went off at the thought of bringing trays on the plane.

First, it really opened up the possibilities of what kinds of materials we could bring. The lip of the tray will prevent small pieces from falling, rolling crayons, etc. I also remembered that using a car seat on the plane means the table doesn’t fold down from the seat in front. I had visions of magnets and dry erase markers and loose parts.

I set out to find toaster oven sized trays and hit the jackpot at the dollar store. I found trays and also came across a package with small containers that I knew would be great for putting together travel size activities.

Here is what I ended up with in the ten containers.


I thought I might be able to fit the Lego guys, but was thrilled to remember all the tiny extra pieces we’ve collected and filled the container to the brim.  Then, I cut a piece of Lego baseplate and glued it to a lid.


I know it might seem a bit mad to bring paint on a plane but I know it will be a huge hit.  We will be at the ready with paper towels and their excitement will make it worth it.


Nuts and bolts.


Colorful wood beads and string.


I made this color matching activity with clothespins and paint samples.  I cut the samples to fit in the container and glued a sliver onto the clothespin.  Using the gradient scale will be challenging for my older son.  For my two year old, I will give him two choices at a time to make it more appropriate for him.


I intend on encouraging my five year old to use these magnets to practice patterns and of course some independent creativity.


These magnets came as part of a set to build a car.  I could not fit the wheels into the container so they will be using their imagination rather than following the directions.


Last set of magnets!  I pulled these letters off our dishwasher.  Both boys engage with them often, they will be surprised to see them on the airplane.


Loose parts.  I think this is my favorite container 🙂


I’ve had this mini stamp pad forever and just found these little number stamps at Michael’s not too long ago.  They are the perfect fit for one of our activities.




Amazon affiliate links are included in this post, however, I purchased most of my items from the local dollar store and scoured my house for other items.