the new outdoor kitchenette

After painting the table we originally intended to be the outdoor kitchenette, we declared it was too nice for water and dirt. It is now residing in Elliott’s room, to hold his stereo and books. So we needed a new table, but one that looked just as spiffy. We spent most of the afternoon constructing and painting, while watching over the boys. Sadly, Elliott was in such a funk, we had to ban him from any participation. Lately, he totally disregards instructions and suggestions, yells back at us, and breaks things when angry. Sensing how that could impact a quick construction project or a tidy paint job to get to the actual play, we sent him off to play elsewhere (a few times to his room too).

Mike cut and built, I painted. Oliver created mischief. But by 3:00, we had an outdoor kitchenette.

I decided since we have no intention of introducing dirt to it, at least while we are residing here for the next two months, I cannot really call it a mud kitchen. So with sand, water, and vegetation, it is our outdoor kitchenette. The boys needed no instruction!  Oliver had a cup he filled with water, which he repeatedly had me ‘drink’ from. Elliott set to work on muffins, a cake, and soup. While I missed a photo of it, the boys collecting leaves in their baskets was so sweet. This short time playing refreshed everyone’s attitude. Amazing what a little sand and water in pans can do.

                                    

        

take a tour… part 2

 

Welcome to our dining room and kitchen. Since we ran out of space in our actual kitchen cabinets, we use a pantry for all dry non-perishables. Our clear glass Ikea cabinet has it good points and bad points… On one hand the boys can see the snacks they want and make a choice. On the other, the boys can see the snacks they want. This has led us to discuss healthy choices and unhealthy choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time… time and time again. It has also led the boys to throw tantrums on occasion when they cannot have whatever their eye desires. (Yes, I realize I could just not stock it with goodies, but then Mommy would not have as many goodies. And sometimes, goodies are just good!)

Our dining table is also from Ikea. The chairs for the boys are both Stokke and we love these high chairs. We opted to use only the baby rail, not the straps. But once they figured out how to pull a leg out to try to get out, we have had to spend many a meal reinforcing staying seated or leaving the chair. It has felt harsh with Oliver at only 13 months to remind him a few times and then remove him for a minute while he screams on the floor, wanting to eat. But in 2-3 weeks the issue no longer seems to be an issue. He understands in some way what has happened. Eventually, the rail is removed and they learn how to get up and down in the chair from a very young age. For the first few months when this first happened for Elliott, it was a confidence boost 4-5 times a day when I could ask him to get himself seated at the table for a bite to eat.

If you notice in the picture we have two trash cans. Here in Muncie, you have a regular trash bag and then a bag for all recyclables. While that makes it easier to explain to Elliott about sorting since there are only two choices, what exactly goes where has been harder. I finally made a sign and taped it inside the lid with web images of all of the recyclables (newspaper, foil, glass bottles, aluminum cans, yogurt cup, and the actual recycle logo). Google image searches gave so many choices. For an older child who has trouble remembering, a written note might be helpful.  

 In our kitchen we use the learning tower to allow Elliott to reach the counter top to help measure, pour, mix, or just observe. He is now able to move it on his own and, since he can reach the dog biscuit jar, is now sole supplier of treats to Addison, our dog. Needless to say, she loves him!

 Soon Oliver will be up with Elliott. It will be a little tight with both in the tower together, but Elliott could easily stand on a stool now if needed.

Our kitchen is not ultra small like our apartment in Boston was, but it is also not grand and full of cabinet space. For that reason, real estate was at a premium and only one low cabinet could be given to the boys. It appears to be a bit cluttered, but Elliott is wonderful at maintaining the order.

Having even one cabinet has been wonderful though. If you do not think you can devote a whole cabinet in your kitchen, please find a drawer or small space somewhere. With access to a plate, a bowl, a cup, napkins, and utensils, the child can set their own place at the table, preparing their own snack even, if water and snacks are available. They are also able to put away their own items when helping with clean dishes. This is an example of the water and food set up we were doing for Elliott a few months back. While we abandoned some of the snack layout, the beverage pitchers are still the same. Many, many, many times I am so busy, I send Elliott to get his own drink and foods. Relief for mommy, independence for Elliott. He has gotten so independent lately that he has taken to setting his breakfast place and selecting his cereal before my husband even makes it to the kitchen. I only wish he could reach our plates and bowls. I feel he would like to help even more without having to wait for a parent. With another inch of growth, he should be able to reach from the learning tower very soon!

Thanks for coming along tonight… I will be back shortly for a tour of our living room and some of the activities currently available on our shelves for little hands.

end of the season special

A few days ago I surprised my boys with a sand and water table. I am not sure why I held out so long, but one play experience at a friend’s home sold me on it (Thanks Amanda!). Originally, I was checking Craigslist for good deals, but most people wanted top dollar for an item that was very well used, at least around here. So a quick search on Amazon led me to dozens of tables to compare. I spent the best part of an evening searching and comparing, reading dozens of reviews. I finally found one that matched our needs: the colors were not obnoxious, the shape was rectangular which meant I could set it next to a wall or playhouse and it would fit snuggly, it had an umbrella for days when the wee little one played with it, and the price was right. It was discounted by a 1/3 off the normal price. That combined with free shipping made it a done deal.  

After a few days of water play for both boys, I put in the sand last night. It was so nice and clean, so inviting. In five minutes Elliott took care of that bit of order and got busy playing and mixing. Here he was busy making chocolate cinnamon cake, cinnamon cake, and mud bog cakes, which are to be served at – – mud bogs, of course! 

I did let Oliver have a go at it, but he was intent on eating the sand, despite the taste, the gritty feeling, and Mommy repeatedly saying “No!”

A reviewer of this table, Value Mommy, gave some wonderful tips for using the table. I liked them so much I copied them down, for days when I needed a fresh idea. I am sharing her ideas below for others to use to extend the life of their tables, even though the warmer season is winding down. 

(1) sand alone

(2) water alone

(3) potting soil/trowels/silk plants/plastic pots

(4) landscaping stones and small Tonka construction vehicles (aka “the quarry)

(5) bubble solution to use with the large wands and even the small and different wands (so that the kids aren’t fighting over the tiny opening of a tiny bottle of bubbles that inevitably gets spilled all over the patio)

(6) a Mommy-made iceberg (colored blue) on the hottest summer day with dollar store penguins and polar bears–you can even shave the iceberg to make snow (I used a putty knife) and put crushed ice (if your refrigerator makes it) in the water to make it a happier habitat

(7) dishwater and play dishes with sponges and scrubbers to play clean-up without making a mess at the sink like they do inside

(8) aquarium gravel/toys/plants with pretend fish

(9) sand over buried “fossils” (pretend dinosaur bones found at the local dollar store)

(10) sand sifter and dirt with various sizes of rocks that I spray painted gold

(11) measuring spoons/cups/jugs that teach lessons about volume — pair with bath color tablets to learn about color mixing!

(12) Did you know that Little People LOVE to go to the beach? (Off subject, they’re also not opposed to a tumble in the dishwasher!)

(13) any number of arts and crafts activities that I would rather do outside than inside (making slime, paper mache, etc.)

(14) tin pans/muffin cups paired with dirt/sticks/water mud for mud pies

(15) sand castles, of course!

(16) dinosaurs and various animals add a tremendous amount of play value to your basic sand environment.

For right now, I found the animal toobs on sale at Hobby Lobby and made a few bins for Elliott to add to the table.  As you can see, he was excited to get them out and set up a scene!

I foresee a great winter activity too – an indoor snow table! We already do that with a bowl of snow. But this, oh! I might be more excited than Elliott for snow. Okay, not really, but this will make the time pass faster the days we are trapped inside.

creativity and the little one

My oldest little one, big E, well, he loves to craft. Markers, glue, scissors, and lots of paper make for a happy boy. And I encouraged it from the start. I left out the paints and crayons and all the needed tools – a choice he could make anytime of day. And it was going great until about the age of 3. With being older and more skilled, I noticed more messes that resulted from bigger projects. So materials started disappearing off the shelves, I began encouraging him to choose other works, even getting angry and stressed over the mess (ultimately, he gets in so deep, he needs rescuing and help cleaning up – not cool when  we had a newborn). The other day on the verge of losing it yet again, I was finishing up my Facebook time. A friend found a link to a YouTube video of Sir Ken Robinson, who I had actually had the pleasure of hearing speak at the AMI Refresher Course back on February 14, 2009. Here is the video I got to hear yesterday. It is long, but worth the listen in my opinion. While I listened, I ignored the crafting table. Twenty minutes later, this is what he brought over to me:

Lesson learned. When I keep my nose out of it, he is a happy creative boy. And the paper pieces, open scissors, glue stick on its side, pencil rolling on the floor? He was also very willing to clean up the resulting mess after he was done working. And when I had to pick little scraps off the floor that night that he overlooked, I was just fine with it.

Some tips for crafting with young children:

– There is no need to make every project a parent-child project. While it is great to make a project you have seen in a magazine or do a big one together, this does not and should not be the bulk of your child’s crafting. They are creative thinkers and need time to work on their own ideas, not someone else’s.

– After showing a child how to carefully write and draw with crayons/marker/pencils, put an age appropriate amount out on an accessible shelf. Make sure to include a mat to protect your table and paper that fits onto the mat. If you have a low table for them to work at, this is even better. They need a place to work at that fits their body and is always there when they want to work. If your kitchen table is your craft table, a lot of struggles may ensue when it is time to set the table for dinner and the crafting materials are still in use!  At first, you may have to remind the child where they can write (on the paper). But what happens when they do not? Well, without a lot of fuss, have them clean up the mess they made with you and then put them up, out of sight, for one day, two days… Later, give them a chance again, demonstrating again where they can write. For a young toddler or young child, it is important to state where they CAN draw, not where they CANNOT draw.

– As a child is able to be trusted with one medium, make more room on the shelf for a second, or rotate in new choices. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, chalk, clay, watercolors. Introduce them and make sure they have everything handy to use them. For instance, to do watercolors, they need high quality paper, a mat, a brush, a bowl for water, a pitcher to get more water, and a bucket to put dirty water in. You do not want them emptying that tiny rinse cup in the bathroom if they have to cross two white rugs to get there! And don’t forget the sponge or rag to wipe up drips and spills. They will happen and there is no quicker way to kill creativity and discourage working with art materials than to yell over the mess. Trust me, I know.

– When crafting together is happening, make each project your own. Your work and your child’s work. You choose your colors, design, and medium. Allow your child the same freedoms. It may not be what you would choose, but what a sense of independence and satisfaction with their own work at the end! And if they do not like their work at the end? Well, they are then able to reflect on their own choices, not a parent’s choice.

– And if you absolutely cannot tolerate the idea of crayons and markers at first, start with sticker and paper. Put something in their hands. Trust them and you may be happily surprised.

Here are two setups we are using for our boys.

I put out coloring for the very young child at one, watercolors for the older child at the other. Notice that the crayon set up has only three chunky crayons and only white paper for the youngest artist. This helps to focus the toddler on how crayons work and what they are making. Chunky beeswax crayons write well and are easy to hold. The white table and low chair are from Michael Olaf. They served big E from sitting age to about 3. For the watercolor set up, since the older child has more concentration, they are able to set up the materials, use them, and clean them up. It is a bigger work, more responsibility. The green table and blue chair were garage sale finds (with dings to show it). The table is from Ikea. The chairs are old school chairs my mother passed along to us. With two chairs it is great for snacks with friends or crafting with friends. There are lots of options out there. Just find one that fits your child, cutting down table legs if you must.