Finding Joy in the Little Things

Costco Receipt

You know that person at Costco who checks your cart before you leave in case you’re trying to sneak out with 500 rolls of toilet paper?  The same one who draws a smiley face on the back of your receipt if you have children with you?

My children know that person (we live in suburbia, after all).  You should’ve seen their faces today as they watched her scribble.  Such anticipation.  Such delight when they saw she’d drawn not one but TWO smiley faces.  A GIRL AND A BOY!

A reminder to find joy in the little things.  Courtesy of 2 small children and, ironically, Costco.

Personalize Kids’ Rooms

I love wrapping paper.  Every print, pattern, color, character possible, for less than $5 a roll.

When my daughter was crazy for Dora the Explorer, a piece of Dora wrapping paper pressed inside a cheap Ikea frame made her so happy.  Now, two of those same frames display her American Girl posters, one of which she made herself with Scotch tape and cut-outs from a catalog.

We’ve had an old particle- board bookcase for so long that I don’t remember where it came from.  It was headed for Goodwill 3 years ago when a can of red spray paint and a roll of paper (outdoor table covering?) from Ikea turned it into funky storage for our craft room.

Just recently, when our craft supplies outgrew the bookcase, my son inherited it for his room.  I replaced the old paper with Star Wars paper that he chose.  Well…at least he likes it.

Ikea Hensvik Cabinet

My favorite makeover, though, was with a vinyl tableloth – I loved the cheery print, but it was too girly for our family table.  So I used it to cover the back of an Ikea chest in our infant daughter’s room.  It served her well for 6 years before we traded it for “big-girl” furniture.

Made by Kids

A couple of years ago, my son’s preschool teacher assembled work he’d done into a book for him to bring home.  For the cover, she’d had him write his name on construction paper, using a different color for each letter, and then she cut out the letters and glued them onto a piece of cardstock.  It was adorable.

As a Room Parent, I’ve used this technique several times now, as a cover for a collection of notes, cards or pictures from children to their teacher.

At the end of the school year, the parents of the children in my daughter’s kindergarten class elected to give the teacher individual gifts.  So I asked each child to fill out a questionnaire (“I love my teacher because…” and “My advice for the new kindergarteners is…”) and bound them together.  The book gave the children something to present to their teacher as a class at the year-end party.

I especially like it for Thanksgiving, after children have typically spent all of November talking in their classrooms about what they’re thankful for.  Yet it’s unusual for teachers to be honored at this time.

Charmingly imperfect.

And it says – this is from your students, not their parents.


Kool-Aid Painting

The unseasonably warm weather we’re having reminded me of this toddler activity (art?) that yields Jackson Pollock-like results.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I worked at a daycare center with 2-year-olds.  The lead teacher was a wonderful lady and we had such fun with our tiny charges.  One day she announced that the kids were going to do “Popsicle Painting.”  She covered a table in the kitchen with craft paper, sprinkled different colored Kool-Aid powder on it, and gave each child a craft stick frozen in a chunk of ice.

Less than two years years later, I had my own daughter outside exploring the joys of melting ice and colored sugar.  It became a favorite warm weather activity for both of my kids.  My daughter loved the painting part and my son loved the licking-the-ice part.

Our Toy Hall of Fame

Or, gifts for toddlers that will have years of play value…

Sand & Water Table
The single best $70 we’ve spent has been on a basic sand table from Step 2 like this one.  We bought it for my daughter before she could even walk.  We didn’t have a backyard at the time – only a small deck – and it turned our deck into usable play space (very important when you’re entertaining a toddler at home all day, every day).  My 5-year-old son still plays with it several times a week.

We’ve dragged it inside our large master bathroom for wintertime kids’ parties and into our garage just so the kids could get out of the house during rainstorms.  It’s held sand, water, oatmeal and pasta noodles, been home to animals, soldiers, trucks and boats, and hidden pennies, beads and fake jewels.

Magna Tiles
At about $50 a box, these aren’t cheap.  But they’ve been a great value for us – my children have played with them several times a week for the past 5 years.  We like the clear colors and I buy them at our local Learning Express.  They are great blocks for clumsy little toddler hands because they’re magnetic and stay together.  And they make fun houses for animals and tiny figures because they’re see-through.

Schleich Animals
We’ve had cheaper, softer animal figures that were discarded long ago. But the realistic-looking animals from Schleich fascinated my children when they were toddlers (and were great learning tools) and still get played with when my kids, now 5 and 6, need inhabitants for some kind of structure they’ve built.  Schleich has such a huge variety that most of the animals come in adult and baby sizes (very important to young children).  Widely available at Target and Learning Express and my favorite section in the FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue store.

Wikki Stix Party Packs
Good for sticking in your purse and pulling out during waits at restaurants, amusement parks, etc.  The ones that don’t end up with crud stuck on them can be reused.  It’s no coincidence that our favorite family restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill, hands these out to kiddos when they arrive.

Klutz Hand Art
All of the Klutz books are great, but this one, in particular, has had a lot of staying power for us.  Years, in fact.  My children received it as a gift when they were toddlers (thank you, Heather) and they begged me to trace their hands again and again.  Now they can trace their own hands, and they’re still having fun making dragons and bats.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It Game
This is our favorite board game for 4 reasons: it’s gender-neutral (we have a boy and a girl), you win or lose as a group (our older child beats our younger child at every other game, and you know how that goes), the kids love it and we think it’s fun, too.

Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Symphonies
These CD’s are brilliant!  Hilarious, information-packed lyrics for children and adults set to classical music masterpieces.  All four of us – ages 5-40 – love them.

The Laurie Berkner Band
Our other favorite kids’ artist whom the grown-ups appreciate, too.  Fun music for young children.  Seniors, too – my mom, a fitness instructor, gets her Alzheimer’s group moving with “We are The Dinosaurs.”

Giant Bubble Wands
Another great idea that came from Learning Express.  A big tub, several good-quality giant bubble wands and homemade bubble solution (12 c water, 3 c Dawn Ultra, 3/4 c corn syrup).  When the kids were toddlers the tub was a staple in our backyard.  Since then, we’ve brought it out for birthday parties, family get-togethers and school parties.  Every time, there’s someone - a child or adult – who has never seen anything like it, so it’s been a hit over and over.  Well worth it to buy extra wands as you’re able to.