November 16th, 2017

Kid Gifts to Encourage Creativity

Kid Gifts to Encourage Creativity

Buying kid gifts is one of those things that can drive me up the wall. My kids are old enough to want a lot of things, and what they want keeps getting more and more expensive. That doesn’t mean they always get what they want – far from it – but it does make finding appropriate gifts within a budget challenging at times.

Kid gifts that encourage creativity are among my favorites. Kids enjoy movies and such, but creative toys really encourage them to explore. What works well varies quite a bit with age, of course.

One of the challenges can be that a lot of creative activities are messy. Painting, for example. My kids have a lot of supplies to allow them to create, and it does create a mess sometimes. But it means I know they’re having a good time expressing themselves.

Younger Kid Gifts

Magic CabinMagic Cabin isn’t itself a gift – it’s an online store. Their toys, however, are wonderful for encouraging kids to be creative. They have building toys, toys to encourage kids to play make believe, art supplies and so much more. It’s so much fun just looking at what they have.

HearthSongHearthSong is another online store I love to look at. They have wonderful creative play and outdoor play toys. Some of their exclusives look really amazing.

Cardboard Playhouse – One of the best gifts that my husband ever gave our kids didn’t cost any money at all, just time. He got a two layer cardboard box from Home Depot by having the night crew save it for him. He taped it closed on top, then cut appropriate doors and windows for a playhouse. This allowed the kids to color on it as they liked. The double thickness of cardboard meant that kids could safely climb on top.

If you like that idea but don’t want to cut one out, there are cardboard playhouses available at Amazon.

LEGO – When you’re talking about kids gifts that encourage creativity, you can’t skip LEGO. There are so many things kids can do with them. There are LEGO sets to go with just about anything your kids like. Personally, I’ve always loved the plain block sets where the kid gets to decide what they’re making. The sets where you’re supposed to make a particular item always struck me as a little limiting.

My Wall EaselMy Wall Easel by ALEX Toys is a great idea. Your kids can have fun drawing, and it doesn’t take up floor space. Kids can use a roll of paper or the chalkboard. The one problem I’ve always had with easels is the floor space they take, so this is great.

Perler Beads – It amazes me how long kids can sit and play with Perler beads. One year they even made homemade party favors with them for a Minecraft themed birthday party. Perler beads were perfect for that job.

These obviously require some adult interaction when the kids are too young to use an iron on their own. If you get more than one board, you can iron out a few at once rather than waiting for the kids to finish something.

Snap CircuitsSnap Circuits are one of the best toys we ever got for my son. My daughters played with them a little, but not like my son did. He was in second grade when we got them, and quickly mastered them. He has even done demonstrations at school with his Snap Circuits, and this is my quiet kid who hates to speak up in class.

If your kid ends up loving Snap Circuits, save on batteries and get the Battery Eliminator. It connects to the Snap Circuits set in place of the batteries. It plugs into the wall instead.

Garden Tools – Age appropriate garden tools are great for kids. They love to dig!

When possible, I’ve given my kids their own place to garden in the yard. They decide what to plant, if anything. They can just dig if they like. My oldest loved fairy gardens for a time when she was little. My youngest has a thing for marigolds. Whatever the kids do, it’s fun to just let them do it on their own.

Play Kitchen, Tool Bench, etc. – A play kitchen, tool bench or whatever suits your kids will encourage a lot of creative play. Children love to do things similar to what they see adults do.

If you want to get more realistic, go for an Easy Bake Oven or real cooking tools they can use in your kitchen. Real tools to make things are great as kids get older too.

Art SuppliesArt supplies of all sorts are ideal for encouraging creativity. We have a cabinet where the kids keep all their art supplies. Crayons, colored pencils, pens, paint, all kinds of paper, clay, play dough, glitter, craft foam – the list goes on and the cabinet gets cluttered. But that’s all part of the fun.

Lessons – What does your child want to learn? Art lessons, dance lessons, music lessons… what do they want to do? Learning how to do these things can help them quite a bit with their creativity, and makes great kid gifts. There are often good classes available locally.

Teen And Older Kid Gifts

As kids get older, they are so much harder to shop for. They also have a better idea of in which direction they want to direct their creativity. Some will make it difficult, however, and insist that they aren’t creative at all. Don’t believe them! Everyone can be creative; it’s just a matter of figuring out what type of creativity they enjoy.

YouTube videos can be great for helping teens improve their skills. There are lots of “how to” videos for just about anything your teen can imagine.

Art Supplies – Just because the kids are older doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the right art supplies. My oldest daughter still loves to draw, so better quality colored pencils are good for her. My son is into steampunk, so supplies to work on that are better for him.

Drawing Tablet – Art on the computer may be more fun lots of kids, and a drawing tablet is a huge help. My oldest daughter has one, and she likes it. It’s a great tool for drawing on the computer.

Musical Instruments – While some musical instruments for kids could almost be considered instruments of torture, things improve as the kids get older. They get better at playing their instruments and may appreciate something of better quality.

Tools – As kids get older and reach their teenage years, real hand tools are definitely in order. Teach them to use the basics such as hammers, screwdrivers and glue guns. Then take it farther, depending on your own skills with tools and what you have available. A good set of tools that is all their own may serve them for life.

Soldering Kit – Take an interest in electronics up a notch from Snap Circuits and teach your child to solder. It’s also a useful skill for a teen who wants to make jewelry.

Camera – A decent quality camera all their own can be very encouraging to the older kid or teen interested in photography. It’s a creative skill that can be a lot of fun to practice. Younger kids enjoy this too, but a teen who enjoys photography can easily be encouraged. A cell phone camera is good enough for a lot of photos, but it’s not the same as having a camera that is just a camera.

Lessons – If your child has been taking lessons and enjoying them, keep them up. If there’s something they want to start, go for it.

Independent Outings – Make sure your older kids and teens get out and do things on their own. Gifts to encourage this could include movie tickets or gift cards to places they would like to go. They’ll be adults all too soon. They need to get used to acting independently so they’re ready to head off to college or career when the time comes. If they’re used to creative thinking and problem solving, so much the better.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

November 3rd, 2017

Kidde Fire Extinguisher Recall – Have You Checked Your Fire Extinguishers?

Kidde Fire Extinguisher Recall - Have You Checked Your Fire Extinguishers?

On November 2, 2017, Kidde issued a recall of their plastic handled fire extinguishers. This impacts about 37.8 million fire extinguishers. It’s a great reminder of why you should pay attention to product recalls. No one wants their fire extinguisher to fail them.

Take a moment right now to find your fire extinguishers. If you don’t have any, consider it a reminder that a fire extinguisher is a good addition to any home.

Check the Kidde fire extinguisher recall page on their site. The fire extinguishers may have been purchased in the United States, Canada or Mexico. Customers in Mexico have to call in; customers in the US or Canada can fill out an online form.

I did this for our four Kidde fire extinguishers. You fill in a form with your contact information, including mailing address. They have you look up the model number, and then fill in the serial number. When we did this, they confirmed that our extinguishers were recalled, and said we will get new ones within 15-20 days, along with instructions on what to do with the old ones.

The problem with these fire extinguishers is that they can become clogged and not spray. There’s also a potential for the nozzle to come off, which could cause an injury.

Talk About Your Emergency Plans

We used this opportunity to talk to our kids a little about how to use a fire extinguisher. Hopefully, they never need to use one, but if they do, it helps if they have a vague idea what to do. We didn’t have them try one out, however.

Another good thing to discuss at times like these is what to do in the event of a fire. Kids, for example, should be more focused on getting out of the house than on trying to put most fires out. They need to know how to get out of the house and where to meet. They may need to know neighbors well enough to feel comfortable knocking on doors to alert them or ask for help.

A recall like this is a great reminder to keep an eye on product recalls in general. You can follow RSS feeds from the CPSC to make this easier if you like, or just check the website here and there. Local news will usually cover the big recalls such as this one, but not the little ones. If you haven’t checked yet, make sure you know if the Kidde fire extinguisher recall impacts you.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

October 24th, 2017

50 Free Or Cheap Ways To Play With Your Kids

50 Free Or Cheap Ways To Play With Your Kids

When was the last time you played with your kids?

Playtime with your kids can be hard to fit into your schedule. Life gets so busy between work, school, and activities. The days go by, and you realize it has been a long time since you did anything fun as a family. It’s helpful to think of free and cheap ways to play with your kids in advance, so you can be spontaneous about it later.

Play is one of the big ways kids and parents build memories together. Fun kinds of work builds memories too – think of something you made with one of your own parents. But that kind of work is often close to play as well.

Play is important at all ages. The kind of play your kids consider fun will change as they get older – you do not want to play with your kids in elementary school the same as you would a high school student. You’ll get major eye rolls if you try most of the time. There are only a few things that will keep being fun no matter your child’s age, and that will in part depend on his or her personality.

50 Free Or Cheap Ways To Play With Your Kids

  1. Build a couch fort.
  2. Play dress up.
  3. Make homemade ice cream.
  4. Bake cookies.
  5. Bake a cake from scratch.
  6. Make homemade pizza.
  7. Have a tea party.
  8. Have a water balloon fight.
  9. Have a squirt gun fight (try it in the rain!).
  10. Run through the sprinklers.
  11. Go swimming.
  12. Have a picnic.
  13. Make an obstacle course.
  14. Teach your child to do flips, cartwheels, etc.
  15. Have a scavenger hunt.
  16. Ride bikes.
  17. Go on a hike.
  18. Fly kites.
  19. Play their favorite sport together.
  20. Stargaze, especially if there’s a meteor shower.
  21. Camp in the backyard.
  22. Climb trees.
  23. Go geocaching.
  24. Plant a butterfly garden in the spring, and observe the results for months after.
  25. Catch bugs. A bug vacuum is helpful for getting a good look.
  26. Teach your kids to sew. A stuffed toy snake is easy (just a tube).
  27. Play a board game.
  28. Have an indoor “snowball fight” with cotton balls.
  29. The floor is lava.
  30. Blow bubbles (try touchable bubbles and build with them).
  31. Draw with your kids (consider a speed drawing challenge).
  32. Go to a playground and both of you play.
  33. Play Mad Libs.
  34. Pretend to be animals.
  35. Home spa day. You paint their nails, they paint yours.
  36. Play with Legos.
  37. Make origami.
  38. Solve a jigsaw puzzle.
  39. Play video games together.
  40. Pillow fight!
  41. Play tag, hide and go seek, etc.
  42. Play Simon Says.
  43. Act out a play.
  44. Paint.
  45. Make a cosplay outfit.
  46. Fly quadcopters.
  47. Build something together.
  48. Launch rockets.
  49. Bad movie night – pick a movie you know is awful and have fun picking it apart.
  50. Movie marathon – pick a favorite series and watch them together. Try to stay up all night if necessary.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

September 8th, 2017

How to Limit Kids’ Screen Time While You Work at Home

How to Limit Kids' Screen Time While You Work at Home

It’s hard balancing working at home with being a parent. Someone always wants something. Even when school’s in session, kids find ways to need you right when you’re trying to be really productive. And of course, they always want permission to watch TV, use a tablet or a computer. But you can’t let them do that all the time. Kids need limits on their screen time. Sometimes that’s difficult when you’re working at home and screens are the easy way to get them to give you some peace and quiet.

This issue has become both easier and more difficult for me as my kids have gotten older. They’re all old enough now that they can play on their own for quite some time, but the oldest in particular likes to play online games where she can interact with friends whose parents never seem to want to let them just come over.

Giving screen time to the kids is, of course, one of the easiest ways to keep them busy and somewhat quiet while I work, but it’s not ideal. Fortunately, there are good ways to limit kids’ screen time while you work at home. Try a few and see what works for you.

Talk About Screen Time Limits And Set Rules

It’s good to get into the habit of talking about it when you’re going to make a rule change such as limiting screen time. The ages of your children will determine how much they have to say, and you can try to come to a mutually agreeable solution. You can set limits per day or week, and consider ways for kids to earn extra time if you like.

One thing you may have to discuss is how much screen time parents have. Since I work at home, I’ve had to explain why the rules don’t apply the same way to me. I work on my computer, after all. If you aren’t following the rules yourself, be sure to have a fair reason why.

One long standing rule we have is that the kids may not bring screens into their bedrooms – except on sick days when I want them to try to keep their germs to themselves. Keeping screens out of the bedrooms means no one can just sit and stare at a screen for hours without being noticed, and they won’t stay up at night watching stuff.

I don’t count homework time against their allowed screen time. That’s school work, and the older the kids get, the more often the computer is required to get their homework done. They’d be upset if that was the only time they could use the computer, and I would consider that reasonable.

Consider Educational Computer Games And Apps

If you want to give your kids a little more leeway on how long they use screens, find some acceptable computer games or apps for them. My youngest adores The Prodigy Game, an online math game, which is nice because she needs a little extra help with her math.

You may also want to give some leeway if your child is building a skill using the computer or a table. My oldest wants to be an animator, so it’s completely reasonable to allow her extra time to work on that skill, just as it would be for one trying to develop an app or do other work that requires a computer.

Don’t give your kids unlimited time with screen just because it’s an educational game, of course. It’s not unreasonable to allow them some extra time if they can convince you of the value of what they’re doing.

Send them outside

Send Them Outside

Many kids these days seem to really resist playing outside when it’s hot out. I suspect it has to do with air conditioning. Why go outside when inside is soooo comfortable?

I aim to get my kids outside during the more pleasant parts of the day – morning before it really heats up, evening as it cools off. In the heat of the day is more difficult, but a nice sprinkler and a healthy supply of Super Soakers really improves their interest.

Consider also whether your kids are old enough to go to the park on their own or with a group of friends while you work. Whether or not this is possible depends on a lot of factors, but there comes a time when it’s really good for kids to be allowed to do things without direct adult supervision. Once they can do that, you may worry, but you can get things done while they’re gone. You can go along and try working on your laptop or tablet if you like or if the kids are too young to go on their own, but if your kids are old enough to go to the park on their own, you’ll probably be more productive at home.

Classes, Camps, etc.

What do your kids want to learn about or do during their spare time? My kids take swim lessons at least part of each summer, and we look at other classes, soccer camp and so forth. There may be signups at various times, both during the school year and in summer, depending on where you live. While I don’t believe in overscheduling kids (they need down time too!), signing them up for something they really want to do is great for keeping them away from the TV or computer and can give you some work time. If the classes are short, you may be better off bringing some work along on your laptop than driving back and forth for drop off and pick up.

Have activities ready for the kids

Have Activities Ready For the Kids

I keep a variety of craft supplies ready for my kids. My kids went through a phase where they constantly wanted to make things with Perler beads. They print designs off the internet for whatever they want to make, and my oldest is allowed to use the iron to press them.

Pay attention to the kinds of crafts and other activities your kids enjoy so you can keep supplies ready for them. The easier it is for the kids to access the supplies on their own, the more they’ll use them rather than watch TV, and the more they’ll let you work.

Board games are another good choice. Play as a family sometimes, but make sure your kids know how to play some games just with each other. Some games are good for a wide range of ages – mine play Sorry together sometimes, for example.

Be ready to help the kids negotiate when they can’t agree on what to do. One time I persuaded my two older kids to play a game called Greed (what they wanted to do) while taking turns playing Mastermind with my youngest. It worked out pretty well, as everyone was doing something they wanted to do.

There will probably still be times when you’d rather let your kids watch TV or play on a computer or tablet. If you plan alternatives in advance, you won’t have to give in as often. As everyone gets used to relying on screens less and less for daily entertainment, it gets easier all around.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

August 10th, 2017

Are You Overparenting?

Are You Overparenting?

As parents, it’s tempting to give our kids the best of everything. There are so many activities you can sign your kids up for, sports, academics, and all kinds of interests. It’s nice when you can give your kids the things you wish you had when you were a kid.

This can turn into overparenting.

You’re overparenting when you spend so much time running from kid activity to kid activity that you have no time to do other things. Your kids don’t have time to just be themselves, and it’s hard to get them together with friends, because everyone is always at an activity.

Take a look at what your kids do. Do they have time for themselves or are they always in some sort of formal activity? Think back to your own childhood. Maybe that was how you were raised or maybe you had lots of free time to be yourself.

Free time to themselves is one of the gifts you can give your children. They need to know how to entertain themselves. There is nothing wrong with letting your kids play in the backyard or even in the front yard if they’re old enough and the neighborhood is appropriate.

How Many Activities?

It can be hard deciding how many activities are right for your child. Some of it depends on your family and your routines. If you’re running out of time to just relax as a family, you might have too many activities going on.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Kids in theater, for example, are going to have times where all their free time is eaten up by rehearsals and such. Sports can get intense too. If you can break up those times so that between plays your kids have time to be with friends and just relax, those utterly swamped times can be balanced out somewhat.

During the school year, you need to make sure that kids have enough time for homework and downtime. My kids’ school offers a lot of clubs, even at the elementary level, so I tell them they can sign up for no more than one or two. If one is high demand, I’d suggest sticking with just the one.

I do the same for summer, even though there’s more free time. Some things I insist upon – all my kids have taken swimming lessons until they complete all the levels available locally. It’s not a guarantee of pool safety, but it means they know what they’re doing in a pool.

The number also depends on how many kids you have and how far apart activities are. I love the clubs my kids do at school because that means they just stay late. I don’t have to drive them anywhere for most clubs unless there’s a competition.

If you have to drive all over town for various activities for different kids, you will need to keep more careful control over how many activities you let the sign up for. This isn’t just about kids having fun, it’s about parents not being overwhelmed or exhausted.

But My Kids Love Their Activities!

I would certainly hope your kids love their extracurricular activities! You should sign them up for things they want to learn or do when you can, after considering the time and financial requirements.

There comes a time when parents need to tell their kids “no.” It can be about the money. It can be because you didn’t like the time it took from your day. It can be because your kids complained about not having time for friends the last time you signed them up for the activity.

If they really love the activity and it’s reasonable for your family to allow your kids to do an activity a lot, go for it. So long as you take their needs into consideration along with everyone else’s (including you!), it’s not a completely bad thing to let your kids do an activity even when it makes doing other things difficult. Just be sure everyone is on board with the sacrifice required.girl in dress and mask

Activities have value for kids. They’re fun. They learn things they want to do. If you can afford the time and money, I think signing your kids up for some activities is a very good thing. But they shouldn’t be the only thing your kids do with their spare time. Give them time to get silly on their own.

But They’ll Get Bored!

Yes. Yes, they will. That’s a good thing.

Kids should get bored sometimes. That’s how they learn to cope with boredom. If you’re too concerned about it, you can always tell them to go clean their rooms – my kids get quickly un-bored when I make that suggestion.

Remember that if your kids are used to being entertained by other activities, they won’t be able to come up with their own ideas for something to do so easily. That means when they are between activities, you are a lot more likely to get the “Mom, I’m bored!” complaint. A child who is used to playing games, being creative or even just sitting and reading doesn’t get bored quite as easily. Yes, you will still hear the classic complaint, but your child will be more ready to handle quiet times themselves.

Don’t protect them too much from failure either. Let them suffer consequences as necessary. Kids really aren’t as fragile as many parents think. My oldest daughter used to get so mad at me when I told her to do something herself when she’s insisted that she couldn’t. I’m not talking about tying her shoes… that one takes time and practice, and is often frustrating for all concerned.

I’m talking about days when she wanted me to draw a circle for her because she didn’t think she could, or rather, didn’t want to. The frustration was very good for her. How fast would she learn to draw circles if I did all of them for her? She draws quite a bit more than circles now and wants to be an animator. She still gets frustrated, but that comes more from being her own worst critic, something most of us understand.

Let your children suffer frustration, fail at tasks they are trying to learn. Let them be embarrassed sometimes. Children get over these problems more easily if they are familiar. You know that as an adult you fail sometimes, get frustrated and even get embarrassed. You learned to deal with that as a child. Do your children the same favor. Don’t make their lives too easy or overly managed.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.