Making a Simple Store Area in the Playroom

Posted by Carly Morgan

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

We’re in full planning mode for the play spaces in our new home and I wanted to highlight one of my favorite projects from our time in this house. This play area sadly did not survive the introduction of two baby brothers but for a while it was such a great place to play together, especially since Eva was just starting to really “get” cooperative play when we built it. I wish I had more video of her selling us the little fruits and vegetables because she always needed to weigh them and check them for spots before putting them in the cart.

Play kitchen and pretend market shop. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

The store was created to go with the Red Retro Kitchen that her grandma bought as a surprise. Such a good investment – it still gets a place of honor at the new house!

Red retro play kitchen toddler height. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

 

Red retro play kitchen doors for storage. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

The market was made out of IKEA shoe shelves and a $6 piece of wood, cut down for back supports and shelves along with $8 worth of L brackets and $10 worth of trays and baskets from the thrift store. It’s not the fanciest but it gave her lots of room to play around and certainly did the trick.

Originally I was going to make a little awning, but I was worried that it would be too much for the dining room so she has a sign made out of a dollar set of flashcards instead.

DIY play food market that is simple to make. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

The cash register was a contribution from her dad, who popped her down to the toy store as soon as I had the play market up. I wasn’t thrilled with it at first because I had visions of one of those vintage tin registers with the big buttons and the numbers that pop up, but this one has been surprisingly lovely. Eva has a lot of fun swiping her credit cards and scanning the food, so I think makes more sense to her than an older register would have. (Note: I did originally have a money jar full of money because I thought she could have a little hippie co-op and practice counting. Yeah, that’s the fastest way to get small pieces of plastic and paper all over your dining room.)

Simple play cash register for pretend market. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

The Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart is sort of what started this whole thing. It’s just Eva’s size and has some great safety features, so it won out over other ones that we looked at. I got lucky and picked it up at a sidewalk sale for $30 when I was pregnant. Score!

Metal shopping carpet for kid pretend market by Melissa and Doug. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

As for play food, I still have quite a bit from when I was little, but I picked up some plastic bread, fruits, and veggies from Toys R Us because they were a realistic size and not very expensive. We’ve also had a lot of fun with a set of Learning Resources 1 to 10 Counting Cans that we got her for her birthday. I think it’s supposed to be an educational toy for homeschooling, but the foods are cute and I like that we can talk about the colors and numbers when we’re “shopping”. Her Hide N Squeak Eggs are another education matching toy, sent in as a big sister present from my friend Margi.

Play food for pretend market shelves. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

Thrifted/Hand-me-downs: wooden shelves, dishes, assorted play food, baskets, trays

Purchased/Gifts: Red Retro Kitchen, lumber and brackets, Hide N Squeak Eggs, 1 to 10 Counting Cans, Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart, Melissa & Doug Fridge Food Set, play food and cash register from Toys R Us

Vintage red play kitchen. See more photos here: http://everclevermom.com/2013/09/evas-diy-pretend-market-and-play-kitchen/

Popular Kid Subscription Services: Checking Out Bitsbox, Tinytivity, and Bookroo

Posted by Carly Morgan

Disclaimer: I received sample boxes from Bitsbox, Tinytivity, and Bookroo in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts below are my own.

Which childrens subscription service is worth it

Subscription boxes are the hot thing in parenting and homeschooling right now. As we’ve all gotten used to ordering things online and getting them in the mail (raise your hand if you love Amazon Prime!!), it seems like prices on kid subscriptions have gone down and quality has gone up. I used to be involved in a couple of subscription services when Eva was a baby and, not surprisingly, all of those services are now out of business because they didn’t really deliver for what you paid for them.

The good news is that in the last five years, it’s gotten pretty competitive out there and companies are really stretching to make sure that you’re happy with every delivery. So, I wanted to check out some of the most popular subscriptions that my friends are currently signed up for and found three that are definitely delivering bang for your buck!

Bitsbox, Tinytivity, and Bookroo are all monthly subscriptions for kids but they each deliver a very different product and they have their own quirks and perks. As you check out my reviews, see if you can guess which one we signed up for as soon as we opened our sample box…

Bookroo

Bookroo subscription review

Bookroo is a children’s book subscription service (be still my heart!) that delivers either two picture books or three board books each month. The books arrive gift wrapped with a little note that explains that month’s selection. I wasn’t sure how the quality would be since kid books definitely run the spectrum from Maurice Sendak to those stapled coloring books you get at the doctor’s office, but we were so pleased with the books we got!

Bookroo childrens book subscription service

Picture book subscription from Bookroo

I’ll review these books more in depth when I do my book reviews for March but the books are both darling hardcover picture books with really nice illustrations and smart stories. They are definitely heavy on pictures and light on text even though we didn’t choose the board book options, but I wouldn’t say that they were too easy. Eva reads at about a second grade level and both of these are a great pace for her – enough reading that she feels accomplished but not so much that she gets overwhelmed and forgets to check out the pictures.

Side note – I can’t speak for every month but the two we got were distributed from major publishing houses (Penguin and Candlewick Press). I don’t necessarily dislike self-published or small run children’s books per se, but I do think you’re taking more of a gamble with those if you purchase before you read so I was relieved that I recognized these two as coming from vetted, quality brands.

The friend who recommended this service to me is building up a quality picture book library for her daughter and wanted to keep it fresh by adding something new every month. She’s since given subscriptions as baby shower gifts which is such a cute idea because it’s unlikely that they end up with duplicate titles as you might if you buy the classics for baby on the way. I know we ended up with a few different copies of Goodnight Moon when Eva was born!

Winner: Best Children’s Subscription to Give as a Gift

 

Tinytivity

Tinytivity subscription revew

Tinytivity is a monthly subscription services that delivers complete craft kits right to your door. The crafts are themed to the season and designed to be done by the parent and child together with enough flexibility that kids of all abilities can still do them. For example, one of the crafts in the sample box we received involved painting a bird feeder and while I’m going to have Eva do it because she’ll meticulously decorate it, Calvin could have still had a good time with his messy three-year-old style.

Tinytivity craft subscription service

Tinytivity craft box for kids

Because we got a box themed for springtime, the craft above did contain seeds so that was an allergy problem for us that I hadn’t anticipated. The good news is that everything was packaged separately and very neatly so I just took the seeds away and Eva was able to enjoy the rest. This is something that we run into occasionally (we once got a nature exploration box filled with loose pine nuts – yikes!) but it’s probably not something that comes up very often with a craft subscription. The other craft has pressed flowers but that’s not likely to be a problem for us.

Tinytivity monthly craft box for kids

The thing about this subscription service is that it provides an opportunity for at least two moments where you can hang out with your kid without having to worry about planning and prepping a craft project. Prepping craft projects is kind of my nemesis. I have bags of craft supplies hanging out in closets because I always plan big things and then we never get around to actually doing them after I buy the supplies. With these crafts being easy, timely, contained, and prep free, we are much more likely to actually do them.

I should note that Calvin was most excited about the picture books when we opened them but this was the box that Eva was really excited about because she wanted to immediately get her little artist hands busy with the making. I don’t even know if a weekly craft subscription could keep up with that one!

Winner: Best for Grandparents, Babysitters, and Getting Right Into Making Fun Family Memories

 

Bitsbox

Bitsbox kids coding subscription review

Bitsbox is a monthly subscription designed to make kids love coding. Coding is inevitable and unavoidable for kids because it’s the new language they need to be fluent in to keep up with how fast tech is changing. Unfortunately, parents who are my age (shout out to those kids of the eighties!) are at a real disadvantage because we grew up typing but not coding. I didn’t even learn coding in college because it was something only fringe computer geeks were doing and ended up having to go back to take classes at my alma matter after I graduated from law school because by then basic HTML was a lot handier than anything I had learned in college the first time around.

My coding skills are rough around the edges and Kyle’s are basically non-existent so we need some way to start our kids on the coding path without having to lead them ourselves.

Each month, Bitsbox sends out a kit that contains a set of coding activites for kids. The box we received was the deluxe version of the first kit that you get so I was expecting something really basic like flashcards or a nice board book with the ABCs of coding in it and had to admit that I was a little overwhelmed when I pulled all of these brightly colored goodies out of the box:

Contents of the Bitsbox first subscription box

Once I figured out what everything was, though, it’s such a cute little kit! First off, you get an Apper Keeper (eighties kids??) that’s a little binder with a big pocket to hold all of your activity packs, trading cards, etc. You put the activity cards into the binder as you go and each card has a simple coding project that you do on the Bitsbox website to create apps that work on your tablet, phone, etc. So the coding is done on a computer but the product your kid creates can be used on your iPad, if that makes sense.

Bitsbox Apper Keeper

Bitsbox coding projects for kids

Bitsbox coding kids activities

The deluxe box also included a guide for parents, a fantastic sticker book, and some other goods like stickers and trading cards. I put the smaller goodies aside after I opened the box but when Kyle came home and saw the trading cards he was all over them. Each of the cards has its own coding project so there was even more to do than what we have in our binder. Note: the site and guide make it clear that parents don’t need to have any coding skills beyond basic computer savvy in order to help their kids with the projects. Hooray!

Contents of the Bitsbox coding subscription deluxe box

Bitsbox grownup guide

Paint by Sticker kid Zoo Animals

The age range starts at six years old but after looking everything over I’m not quite sure that Eva (turning six this Saturday!!!!!) is up for these activities yet. I think she’ll be there by early summer for sure so we might do a little coding bootcamp then when she has less going on. It’s also going to take that long for me to get the activities back from her father, who pounced on the trading card and activity binder combo and wanted to know exactly how soon we could get some more because obviously we need to fill the binder and collect all the cards. (Seriously, eighties kids! Up top!)

PS – they gave me a discount code so if you use CLEVERFOREVER you can take 20% off your Bitsbox subscription!

Winner: Best Subscription for Giving Kids Mad Skills You Don’t Have

Bitsbox coding lessons for children

 

Well, did you guess which one we signed up for? We’re strongly leaning toward getting all three eventually because it was a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation with all of us getting excited about different boxes BUT the Bitsbox subscription was the one we started right away. The crazy thing is that we didn’t even start it for the kids – Kyle and I want Bitsbox! I wasn’t kidding when I said my coding skills are rough, even after a couple of college courses, because coding is overwhelming and boring when you learn it in a classroom. The Bitsbox subscription is a much more fun place to start and since Kyle is really starting at the beginning we figured it makes sense for us to get the subscription, use it ourselves, and then play with it with our kids after we have a binder full of coding projects for them to do. If they’re lucky, we might even share some of our trading cards with them. Well, the duplicates anyway.

As for the other two, I was really impressed and understood why I have friends with active subscriptions to these services. The only reason I’m hesitating is because we happen to have a huge library of picture books already, so I’m not building one like my friend is, and as I mentioned I have a ridiculous stash of unrealized craft projects hanging out in closets so I want to tackle a few more of those before starting a subscription. That being said, the kids were so excited and it’s not like books and crafts are something you can have too much of in childhood so we’ll see…

Homeschool Science: What is a Living Thing?

Posted by Carly Morgan

We’ve officially set aside Fridays for special homeschool outings now that the weather isn’t quite so snowy and the baby brother isn’t quite so brand new. Last Friday we braved the rain and went out to our local nature park, which ended up being quite lovely despite the chilly weather because nobody else was there! I’m working on turning the kids into little nature scientists and knew I wanted them to focus on one thing while we were out so before we left we all decided on the question of the day: “Is it a living thing?”

The idea of living things vs. non-living things was something I thought they’d pick up right away since it seems like such an obvious question for me, the mom. As it turned out, it’s not such an easy answer and they came up with mind-bending questions like whether or not water is living since it moves around or if leaves are alive by themselves or only alive as part of a whole tree.

To see if something was living, we checked for these key characteristics of living things:

We determined that water isn’t a living thing because it doesn’t eat. Leaves eat and grow, but not when they fall off the tree so leaves must only be living things as part of a living tree. The idea that trees eat made sense to them when we talked about the food coming into the roots from the ground, but when they asked how trees make waste I explained that trees give off oxygen and then Eva made the connection that oxygen was tree poop and we were all breathing tree poop and they thought that was hi-la-rious. (Yes, we straightened that out later.)

Lesson on living things

 

Homeschool lesson on living things and nonliving things

Homeschool learning about living things

It was a great late winter/early spring lesson because so many of the plants are deceptively dead-looking and that led to a lot of conversations about whether or not something was going to keep growing in the spring or if it would decompose and turn to dirt. I was surprised at how perceptive the kids were when they really got their brains working on sorting things out.

I can’t wait for springtime and the outings that come with it! I’m getting ready for some big time nature lessons and it’s been fun to start collecting the books and gear we’ll need. Here’s a peek:

 

Affiliate links – Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World /// SainSmart Jr. Kids Bug Catchers and Viewer Microscope /// Toysmith Nature Kaleidoscope Kit /// Learning Resources Magnifier & Tweezers /// Toysmith Garden Root Viewer /// Moulin Roty Le Jardin Flower Press /// The Practical Naturalist /// CamelBak Kids Water Bottle /// Mountaintop Schoolbags for Kids

Resources for Kids Interested in Art

Posted by Carly Morgan

Eva is very into art. I feel like most kids like to draw and create things, but Eva has been art focused forever and, much like her bottomless interest in rocks and her obsession with Disney Infinity, her passion for art goes way beyond anything I’m interested in. I like art but I don’t want to talk about it all the time and outside of pre-packaged crafts I’m not that creative. So nurturing her artistic side has been something of a challenge.

Kids Interested in Art

I would love to have just thrown crayons at the kid but I also want her to get inspired by art ideas that she hasn’t come up with herself. Exposure to art is tricky because we have unimpressive art museums around here and Calvin would rather put toothpicks in his eyes than go to art museums. So, we needed to find a new way.

Because I am a giant nerd, I first started looking for books that would help me expand the world of art for Eva. I bought a book about teaching art to elementary school students and I liked how it broke down different principles, but it’s structured as though you’re going to be teaching 20-30 kids at once so a lot of it wasn’t worth it for me. (Maybe if you’re planning on doing art projects with homeschool groups?) The Artful Parent was a lot more helpful because it’s focused more on creating creative spaces and opportunities for art, rather than specific art projects. I also liked the format more, probably because it was written by a blogger.

That book suggested having books on hand that had different examples of art, so I got The Art Book for Children, which covers a lot of the big classic pieces of art and that’s been great to have on hand, but we’ve actually gotten more mileage out of 1000 Illustrations for Children, which was an impulse purchase at the local art museum. There isn’t quite as much variation in art type or country of origin but it’s more accessible for Eva and it’s actually kind of nice to just be able to look at a piece of art and not think about how super famous it is and how you really HAVE to like it because everyone says it’s so good.

Finally, we’ve done a bunch of projects based out of this book, which has a lot of different kinds of art that kids can do. It’s out of print right now but we use it so often I thought I’d include it. Used copies are pretty cheap!

If you aren’t as into getting info from books, you might want to try these websites out:

Of course, the final part of the puzzle is to keep art stuff on hand. We’ve swung between having too much (the mess around the house!!) and too little (those pre-stocked art kits are so, so boring) and it turns out that having a little bit of a lot of different mediums is the best bet, if that makes sense. We don’t need ALL the paints, but we need some paint. We don’t need ALL the paper, but we need at least 6-7 different types. The only thing we don’t need is glitter, mostly because it just makes me yell a lot when it ends up all over the house.

Oh, and everything needs to be washable. That’s key. There are also materials that are just too old for the kids right now, including pottery clay, liquid ink, hot glue guns, and electric pencil sharpeners. Learned that the hard way.

Here are some of the materials we keep stocked these days. I have a running list on Amazon so I can restock when we run out because it took us a while to find the good stuff instead of the cheap stuff they try to pass off because kids don’t know the difference. Some were an investment but a lot of them are stocking stuffer prices:

Preschool Craft: Coffee Filter Halloween Pumpkins

Posted by Carly Morgan

We hung pumpkins up in the dining room today.

Make coffee filter pumpkins for Halloween

Seeing as it’s mid-September, it’s definitely a little early for Halloween decorations but the pumpkins are out at the grocery store and with the baby coming some time next month (most likely), I don’t want the older kids to miss out on Halloween festivities because life got crazy. So, we’ll be making pumpkins and witches hats and caramel apples and if we go all the way to Halloween and I still haven’t had the baby it will just be that much more fall fun.

Most of our pumpkins were construction paper creations with all the rough edges and funny shapes, but we made a few special coffee filter ones to let the light through. This is a very simple craft that was great for both the three year old and the five year old so I thought I’d share.

 

First, you take an orange marker and color in a coffee filter, being sure to put something underneath it because the color will leak through. Don’t worry about the kids covering the whole thing with color because the next step takes care of that.

How to make pumpkins for Halloween from coffee filters

After the filters are colored, it’s time to get them wet. You can use a plate to catch the water, but I saved the plastic tops from portable cake pans a couple years ago and they are GREAT for projects like this so we used that. Just put the filter in and use a spray bottle to get every bit of it wet.

Idea for a fun coffee filter craft for preschool

Pull it out carefully (your fingertips will get orange, by the way!) and let it dry flat on a piece of aluminum foil. Once totally dry, add a few construction paper eyes, noses, mouths, and stems and you’ve got yourself a pumpkin. I cut out a ton of different pieces and let the kids do the whole stack of pumpkins at once so they got to design all the faces and give them personalities. The results were pretty awesome.

Make pumpkin decorations as a fun preschool craft for Halloween

Easy coffee filter jack o'lanterns

Materials: coffee filters, orange markers, cake pan tops, construction paper, glue sticks.

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Halloween Preschool craft: make jack-o-lanterns with coffee filter pumpkins

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