Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Few of my Favorite Things

It’s almost back to school time here in VA. That means awesome sales on stuff we use all the time. Every year about this time, I get asked frequently what some of my favorites and must haves are for our homeschool preschool classroom. After years and years working in early childhood education I have found some standout products that we just love. And while everyone likes to save a few dollars, quality matters and will save you more in the long run. I have included direct links to products where I can. Just a note, they are NOT affiliate links. I do not receive and incentives or credit for sharing. 

Messy Trays by Lakeshore Learning

These are at the top of my must have list. We use them for EVERYTHING! Painting, cutting, play dough, tie dye, car trip lap tray, LEGO building, the list just goes on and on. I also stack them alternating directions for a quick drying station.

Nylon Bristle paint brushes by LakeshoreLearning

These things take a beating and then some! They wash out cleanly every time, no matter how long I forget to rinse them out. The bristles don’t fall out like natural brushes, and paint smoothly using a variety of mediums. They come in two sizes, we have both. I like the smaller ones for watercolor painting. 

My First Washable Markers by Crayola

Another top of the list must have in our house. These markers have a rounded tip which makes them perfect for toddlers and rough preschoolers alike. The rounded tips are very durable, as most young kids love to bang their markers down breaking pointed tips. I really wish they were available in more colors than just the classic 8 count pack.

Washable Paint

I have two favorites in this category- Crayola and Lakeshore. I go back and forth between what’s on sale or I have a coupon for. Crayola has smaller bottles of more colors available. Keep in mind, not all ‘washable’ paint is the same. Both Crayola and Lakeshore washable paints truly are washable. They wash cleanly off hands, out of clothes, and my shower walls. I use regular washable paint for finger painting no need for anything fancy.  

Construction Paper

Don’t get that “heavy weight” stuff from your local big box store, order from a reputable company like Lakeshore Learning or Discount School Supply. It is thicker, doesn’t fade as easily, and much much cheaper. Your craft projects and finger paintings will thank you. It is also available on Amazon, but it is slightly more expensive. 


Learning to cut is HARD! Even the littlest kids can succeed with these spring loaded scissors by Fiskars. They can be used with either hand in any direction. They are spring loaded and only open so far to help ease frustration. The package say 3+ years, but we started around 20-24mo introducing cutting. 

As they become more successful you can move up to these combo scissors that can flip between spring loaded and regular. The two toned handle helps teach proper hand placement. We do tons of free cutting. I keep all the scraps from projects in a bin and the kids love to just go nuts. Cutting skills are a great fine motor exercise and build hand writing skills, just don’t tell my 4yo that!

These pencils are seriously awesome. Even my tiny tots can hold them and write successfully. They are chunky, durable, and just right for little hands. Even when used roughly the lead tips do not break easily. Everyone loves a pretty sparkly fancy pencil, but the continuous breaking lead is frustrating for the child and me.

Sensory Table – Step2 Naturally Playful Sand Table

While not marketed as a sensory table, that’s what we use it for. It is a perfect height for small kids, big enough for several to play at once, and cleans up easily. I’ve put it in the shower stall for shaving cream and Jello play; outside with corn, oatmeal, or ice; inside we’ve filled it with pom poms, Easter grass and little eggs and used it as a free cutting center.

I’m sure this list will continue to grow as I think of more things to add. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or a product that you love!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Travel Activities for Kids

  I frequently get asked what I pack in the car for Z-Rex. I deliver locally for Farm Table so I've got 3 kids under 4 in the car for around 3 hours every week, plus all the day trips we do to nearby attractions. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas and get you prepared for your next family adventure. 

My first piece of advice it to be prepared. Pack plenty of busy bag activities, fidget toys, snacks, and music. Plan plenty of stops for potty and to get the wiggles out. 

Let's talk about storage. I LOVE LOVE these clear plastic pencil pouches. They keep all the pieces together and are easy for the kids to use independently. 

31 zipper pouches are also amazing for busy bags. I keep Magformers in one, fidget toys in another, and Z's mail center in yet another. They are super durable and washable. 

I get these little bins at IKEA in the children's section. A 3 pack is just $1.99! Right now I've got a mini play dough kit and a few letter puzzles in them. 

Another item I'm in LOVE with is theses Lakeshore Learning messy trays. We use them frequently for projects and they make an excellent lap tray in the car. Perfect work space for dry erase letters or our mini play dough kit!

Notebooks are always a HUGE hit for a busy bag with all the tots. I've included different size notebooks and a variety of pencils: regular size, carpenter style, one made from a stick, and a thicker beginner pencil (not pictured). Another way to squeeze in a little handwriting practice while keeping it fun is a mail station. Note cards, cardstock, envelopes, and markers. Z loves to write letters to his friends! 

We try to never leave home without Z's favorite LEGO kit. Normally at home we play with Duplos so the little bricks are a big time treat. This is great for car rides, waiting rooms, and even restaurants. It was really simple to make too. I used a metal lunch box  then hot glued magnetic strips on a small LEGO plate. The building plate sticks to the lid while the box contain all the extra pieces. 

Stickers and paper are another easy favorite. I peel off the backing of each sticker sheet to help little fingers and ease frustration. I cut construction paper in half so that it easily fits into a plastic pencil pouch. Check out my Pinterest Busy Bag board for more ideas. 


Science kits are a must have for us. These are all rocks we've found at a local creek plus a few of his favorite shells. I keep his headlamp in here, but he also uses it in the dark with his other activities. The magnifying glasses and rocks keep him engaged for quite a while. We have another science kit with magnets in it. The divided containers are from IKEA for around $3.
This Melissa & Doug board never leaves the car. Dry erase on one side and magnetic on the other. I rotate out different magnets sets of letters, shapes, animals, and a few others to keep it fresh. Crayola dry erase crayons are as much fun to draw with as they are to erase. I was pleasantly surprised when we tried them out. Bonus they don't seem to melt in a hot car as long as the are out of direct sun.  

Z is is big time fidget. He ALWAYS needs something to keep his hands busy. I keep a stash in the car and our go bag all the time. The car is also the one place we allow battery operated toys, so we've got a few of those too. For nighttime travels those crazy light up toys are a HUGE HIT! we found a Buzz Lightyear at the Disney store and he is very loved. You can also pick up glow sticks at the dollar store.  

Lastly I keep everything neat and organized in a big 31 utility tote. It's really full right now as we gear up for a weekend away. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Nature Scavenger Hunt

We LOVE to take Z-Rex hiking. He's loved it since he could walk. I think this summer we are going to track our miles to see just how far we can go.

Recently we invited some friends from our outdoor art & play group to join us for a hike. 

I love watching the kids at the park. My favorite park is a local wildlife refuge. No play ground, no crowds, no distractions. Just us enjoying nature and each other. 

I made up this Nature Scavenger Hunt that was perfect for the our preschool crowd. 

The kids had a great time exploring and trying to find every thing on their list. 

A kids hike seems to have developed into a weekly tradition I hope to continue. Hands on learning at it's finest!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day Slime

I don't make slime often. Clearly I need to make it more. I had lots of special activities planned for today, but the tots ended up playing with this Valentine's Day slime for almost two hours. 

You Will Need:
2 cups clear or glitter glue gel
1.5 cups water

(I used two 6oz bottles of Elmer's red glitter glue plus one 4oz bottle of clear glue gel)

1tsp Borax
1.5 cups warm water

Pour the glue into a large mixing bowl after measuring. Fill glue bottles with warm water and shake well to get the last little bits of glue. Then measure out 1.5 cups water, pour into the glue and stir well to combine. 
At this stage I added the heart confetti and a few drops Cinnamon Leaf essential oil, it smells like red hots candies!! You could add extra food coloring or glitter too. 

In a separate bowl mix 1.5 cups very warm tap water with 3/4 to 1 teaspoon borax. Stir well until completely dissolved. The more borax you use, the thicker the slime will be. 

Pour the borax solution into your glue solution and mix well, stirring fast. The slime will quickly form and be very sticky at this point. Keep mixing until it forms a ball. You may or may not have some water left in the bowl (we didn't this time). 

That's it! Slime is super simple to whip up and super fun to play with. It's not sticky to play with and doesn't need much to go with it. Z Rex was very excited to start playing.


He loved squeezing the slime in his hands, feeling it ooze out between his fingers. Great exercise for building fine motor strength. 

Z Rex took his time investigating the physical properties of the slime. Squishing, squeezing, pulling, and stretching to see how the slime would react. I love sitting back quietly at this point during sensory play just to watch his expressions and reactions. 

Look Mama, I can see through it like glass. 

He quickly realized that if he held it up, the slime would slowly ooze down and thin out some. The light shining through was really pretty! We took turns pulling to see how far we could stretch the slime. This always ended in fits of giggles when it finally broke.

Slime is SUPER stretchy!
He did this over and over and over again. 

After about an hour of just playing and exploring the slime, I gave Z Rex a few heart cookie cutters to try out.  When he picked it up there is an impression for a few seconds, but it quickly disappears into the ooze. He had fun pressing them into the slime and seeing the slime ooze out around it. 

Overall slime is moving it's way up on the favorite sensory play ideas for Z Rex. He's already asking to play with it again.
There are lots of other recipes for play slime using liquid starch or even  Metamucil. We may try one of those next time to compare. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Valentines Day Shaving Cream Messy Play

I'm always looking for ways to help make the holidays fun and exciting for the tots. Shaving cream messy play is always a favorite at our house, so I added some Valentines Day bits for extra fun. 

These little faces are really excited to get started! I filled up our sensory table with almost 3 cans of sensitive skin shaving cream. Then I stirred in a few drops cinnamon leaf essential oil as I smoothed it out. Drizzled a bit of red washable paint on top then added some foamy hearts I picked up in the dollar spot. The Kids are armed with paint brushes and an assortment of random kitchen utensils.

They really enjoyed discovering the foamy hearts, realizing they could stick on the walls and on each other!

Little Miss A usually isn't too into anything messy. Digging in with two hands was a BIG step for her. Z Rex on the other hand is all about getting as messy as possible!

It is always fun to sit back and watch how they interact and play with the given materials. Today there was lots of wall painting and drawing.  

 Z Rex is all about the full body experience with any kind of sensory based play. It never takes him long to be completely covered, in the bin, and having a great time. He's a messy play loving kid at heart!

As the kids naturally wind down after their initial excitement, I try to demonstrate a new way to interact with the play materials. They were excited to see they could write and draw on the bottom of the sensory table with the shaving cream. The red paint swirled through beautifully and the cinnamon leaf EO made everything smell like red hots candy. 

 The best part of messy play in the shower or tub is that clean up is a snap. We let the water run for a little while to add yet another dimension to our messy play experience. They really liked mixing the water and shaving cream to see it 'melt' together. Then we used cups and scoops to splash the walls washing away all our mess. Everyone got a good scrub down, then off to bed for these guys.