Month

March 2015

Open-Ended Summer Play Ideas

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Ahhh summer. Long hot days filled with kid-energy just waiting to be harnessed. If you’re like me and have younger kiddos, the transition from school time to kids-home-all-the-time can be an adjustment.  I start off the summer with big plans for fun activities to fill the time. But life happens and some days we still end up with me sprawled on the floor across a pile of laundry while she plays with the iPad.

I too often fall into the common idea trap that tells me I have to fill her time, I have to entertain her and be actively involved all the time, not wasting a minute of precious time with her in order to be a “good” parent. And every time I fall down that rabbit hole, I’m brutally reminded that that isn’t a reasonable expectation, for parents or for children. It’s not my job to entertain her all the time, to be her constant playmate. It’s my job to to teach her how to entertain herself, to learn how to play on her own when no immediate play buddy is available. It’s not my job to help her avoid discomfort, it’s my job to help her learn resilience in the face of discomfort, or perhaps even to use that discomfort to fuel creativity.

My dear sweet firstborn will turn five this June. Each year she grows older she gets a little more space and trust to go do her own thing in the great wild backyard. I have countless memories of playing in my own backyard growing up and all the ways we would explore and make believe. As her parent, I want to give her the safe space in which she too can explore and play the long summer days away. This allows her space to listen to her own ideas, follow her own impulses, create her own world. Pure, authentic, open-ended play.

Kids are natural explorers. Given the space they will inevitably find something to do to entertain themselves. It may be a safe and creative way and it may not be. 🙂 While it can certainly be good for them to explore those natural consequences (like how it hurts to jump off the deck stairs), I’ve found that a few little well-placed props can help guide them in the right direction.

Here are some ways to guide “productive” open-ended play this summer:

Outside

1. Clean out your old utensil drawer and put together a small bucket of pots/pans/pie pans/utensils. I got a bucket full for less than ten dollars at Goodwill. On sunny afternoons, I dump the contents out of the bucket and fill the bucket with water. This can literally entertain her for hours. She can play with the water or add mud. She can incorporate other toys for making “food” or can scoop water out to water the plants. The possibilities are endless.

2. Wood blocks. Paint. Markers. The local hardware store often has a wood scraps bin. With a small pile of wooden blocks, she can build chairs and fire pits, she can color on the blocks to turn them into books, a television, anything. Between decorating them and playing with them, the possibilities are endless!

3. A tent/fort. If you have a tent, set it up in the back yard and turn them loose to play camping adventure. If you don’t have a tent, why not do the old chairs-and-sheet trick outside? Any “shelter” can become a starting point for adventure.

4. Rock painting. Enough said.

5. A bucket of water and paint brushes. They can paint on the sidewalk, the swing set, rocks, anything. Then it dries. No cleanup!

 

Inside (or outside for less mess 🙂 )

1. Make a bucket list. Ask what they want on it. Don’t veto anything, just let their imagination run wild. This can help get their creative juices flowing. 🙂

2. A flashlight. Then send them to the dark basement or the dark bathroom or into a dark blanket fort.

3. Paint. I know this can be messy, but it is also a great way for kids to jump into creating. Keep it exciting by changing things up. Hit up a Hobby Lobby and buy a canvas bag or a tshirt and fabric paints for them to paint on. Have them add salt or sugar to a painting for texture. Have them paint pictures on old newspaper. Use straws to blow the paint. Paint with forks. Paint on paper plates. Ask them if they have any ideas! My four year old asked if she could use ice cubes in her paint the other day. I was skeptical, but it turned out amazing! I am framing it and hanging it in her room as a reminder to follow our ideas.

4. Hit up the dollar store or the craft store. At our local dollar store we found pipe cleaners, picture frames to decorate, glow sticks, shoe laces, etc. My four year old played with pipe cleaners, making people, trees, etc. for HOURS. I never expected them to be so popular.

5. Keep boxes and let them create with cardboard.

6. Give them a roll of tin foil and let them create! (I take it out of the box so the sharp edge isn’t a problem.) They can make bowls, car tracks, rivers, statues, etc.

7. Give them bowls with food/spices and a cup of water and let them mix and stir. We do flower and sugar and salt and pepper and occasionally some other spices like cinnamon. Then I give her bowls and spoons and water. You can even go crazy and give a bag of frozen peas or vegetables to add to the “soup”.

8. I buy old books at goodwill and let them paint and glue all over them. This is a fun art project even as an adult!

Paint chip alphabet
Paint Chip Alphabet

9. You know those strips of paint color samples at hardware stores? I collect handfuls of them every time I walk past. My four year old cut apart the colors and turned it into an alphabet game. With older children, we’ve take the paint color names and turned them into “paint chip poetry”. Best of all: they’re free!

10. Just let them draw! Some of my favorite creations from my kiddos came from a simple notebook and pen.

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These ideas are really just a starting point. The purpose of open-ended play is to turn your child loose to discover and create. Ask them what ideas they have and then listen. Let their imagination drive the activities.

Reminders for Parents

A few things that are important for parents to remember when trying open-ended play with your kids:

1. Kids get used to the way things are. So when you change up the way “play” works, they might be a little confused at first as they learn the new “rules of the game”. It’s ok to explain to them why that they are going to practice playing on their own.

2. It can be really hard not to want to “edit” kids’ wild imaginations. But do you best not to stop anything unless it’s dangerous. Kids will figure out the natural limits on play, and it will be a more potent lesson because they learned it on their own.

3. Remember that the purpose of open-ended play is for them to discover what it is they want to try, not what you want them to try. There is no “right” way to pain or create or play. Acknowledge every effort as an act of bravery on their part, but make sure you praise the effort and not the outcome. This will encourage them to keep trying, rather than simply trying to please.

4. Most importantly, have fun!!

 

An Open Rant to My Fellow Parents

Dear Fellow Parents, 

Babies are cute. I get it. So is your toddler. So cute. And it’s so sweet that they love babies. Adorable.

But could you please not let your fucking toddler grope my baby?

You’re a parent. You know what it’s like to feel the protective instinct over your young. To see every germ and every poke and every potential danger.  

So it’s hard not to notice your sweet little one crawl across the floor with their hands in their mouth as they make a beeline for my little helpless infant. Slobbery hands poking her face and eyes and rubbing her head like she’s scrubbing leftovers off the dishes. Her giant clumsy body trying to crawl in the car seat with my significantly smaller offspring. 

No. 

No she can not share her pacifier. No your one year old can not hold my infant. Or carry her around. Or sit in her bouncy seat with her. No. No. No. 

She can certainly come see the baby. But for god’s sake, teach her what is appropriate and what isn’t. Please. Teach her about germs. Teach her not to jab her hands in my baby’s eyes or nose or mouth or to poke her delicate head. Teach her to respect babies and parents by observing gently, by honoring space. Teach her. 

And if you don’t, know that I will. It’s just that simple. My own preschooler has been drilled time and again how to appropriately interact with her baby sibling. So if your curious toddler rolls up out of nowhere and is groping and poking and jabbing, know that I will correct them as if they were my own child. It will be gentle but it will be firm. Because this is non negotiable. This tiny human can’t defend herself, and as her mama it is my job to defend her space. And I will.

But it would be cool if I didn’t have to protect my child from yours. It would be cool if we all just learned to respect each other, no matter how big or small we are. 

So if your child invades our baby bubble, no need to be embarrassed. Kids are kids and they don’t know. Unless you stand there and watch and say nothing. Unless you ignore the teaching moment to instead brag about how cute it is that your toddler loves babies. Then you can be embarrassed. 

Seriously.

Really??

ok. I’m sorry to be the person who posts this. I know that all little babies look like boys. 

But when a baby is dressed ENTIRELY IN PINK and sitting in a PINK CARSEAT surrounded by PINK BLANKETS and you’re still like, “What a cute little boy!”

Seriously. 

Even the student doctor came in the other day and was all like, “ah is this your baby brother?” and my four year old literally said, “uh, she is wearing pink.”

Don’t get me wrong. Boys can wear pink and shit. But shouldn’t you, as a doctor, look at the chart and know whether you are examining a male or female before you walk in the room?

C’mon, people. 

Easter Egg Experiment

 

I saw an article about naturally dyed Easter eggs. The process used different produce and spices to create natural dye. You can find the original article here

We didn’t really plan to try it this morning but the kids were up early and by 9 a.m. it felt like is should have been afternoon. So we had to do something. 

It just so happened I had turmeric, red onion, and blueberries. So we decided to try it. 

We hard boiled our eggs in the oven by put the eggs in a muffin tin to bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then we submerged them in ice water. 

  

Then we put about 1 cup of blueberries into two cups of water with a teaspoon of salt and boiled it for ten/fifteen minutes. We did the same thing with two tablespoons of tumeric, two cups of red onion skins, the inside of the red onions, and two cups of spinach. (We tried the onion and spinach as part of an experiment even though they weren’t listed in the original article.)

Once we had boiled each of the mixtures, we strained the liquid and added a tablespoon of white vinegar. 

   

      

We put them into the fridge to cool before using them.

We dropped the eggs in and left them for about an hour. If we had done more variation in time, we probably would have gotten more variation in the colors. But we got busy playing bear cave. 

The red onion skins turned almost brown. The blueberries were bluish gray. The onion and spinach were pretty light.  The turmeric was yellowish orange. When mixed with the blueberry it made a pretty green. 

Overall, it was a fun experiment and pretty simple to do. A fun twist on egg dying and some unique colors. I could definitely see us doing this again and experimenting with different foods. 

      

Left to right: blueberry, onion, tumeric, red onion skin, spinach
  
Letting the eggs soak
  
The final product
 

Those Parenting Days

Little Lexi <3
Little Lexi <3

Some days parenting feels like I’m the kid and the kids are the ravioli. (Is that how you spell ravioli? Why does it look wrong? Don’t you hate it when a simple word like that looks completely wrong but logic tells you it is right? DO YOU SEE WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT?)

How I Became a Cloth Diaper Mama

Taking the Leap

I read this horrible book while I was pregnant. It was basically a giant conspiracy theory about the baby industry. Even though it was written with such a bias that it could hardly be considered a credible source of information, it did inspire me to do some more reading about things I wouldn’t have otherwise looked into.

I bought “natural” wipes and diaper ointment and shampoo and body wash. Those things were pretty straightforward. But cloth diapers? I had never really considered before.

I have the best intentions to be a “natural” mom. I try to be conscientious about what they eat and what they put on their skin. But convenience often wins out and I find myself feeding them Mac and cheese from a box and slathering them with soap I can’t even pronounce the ingredients of. I don’t beat myself up; I know that I’m improving and making little steps. Doing everything the “right” way is effing hard, man.

Cloth diapers interested me first because of the claim that the chemicals in disposables are bad against baby’s skin. When I read and found that to be mostly false, I still considered cloth diapers for the money saving potential. Since I’m still new at being a stay-at-home-mommy, I’m trying to find ways to contribute financially. Because getting paid in crayoned drawings is the best. But it’s also a big adjustment.

I’m rambling. I decided to try cloth diapers, mainly to save money. I happened to find a sale on Zulily that had FuzziBunz Elite One Size diapers for about $10 a piece, which is a ridiculously good price. I cautiously ordered five of them, thinking that would be a good start. Even if I just used five diapers a day, that would save us money, right?

The diapers arrived and they were soft and colorful and fun to touch. And also a little confusing. Why were there two inserts? How did this work? Am I supposed to change the whole diaper every time or just the padding?So I did what anyone would do. I googled.

How I Accidently Picked a Style

And it turns out, even though I had done some reading on using cloth, I had barely scratched the surface. For starters, I didn’t realize how many different kinds of cloth diapers there are.  All-in-ones and pocket style and hybrid and all-in-two and prefold and so on. Yep. All different things.

Without knowing it, I had ordered the pocket style diapers, which, after reading more about each type, is probably what I would have chosen on purpose because you can add more inserts to customize absorbency better than an all-in-one and they dry faster after being washed.

I learned that the inserts in my diapers were microfiber, which was great except it can’t sit directly against baby’s skin. Hence, the pocket.

I also learned that with pocket style diapers, you wash the whole diaper and insert after each use much like an all-in-one. With hybrids and all-in-twos you can replace the insert and reuse the shell.

(A note in researching cloth diapers: I found YouTube to be incredibly helpful for the visual demonstrations of diaper use. I also watched a few “day in the life of a cloth diaper mom” videos that helped me to figure out the diapering area setup and the laundry situation.)

(Another note: I found a fantastically helpful site that ranks the top rate cloth diapers and has an incredible amount of information about cost, care of diapers, etc. You can find it here.)

Getting Started

Ok. So I have my pocket style diapers. Check. I ordered a washable, reusable diaper pail liner from Amazon, and got another plastic trash can with a lid. Time to try them out!

They felt a little bulky at first. And it was really hard to tell if she was wet or not. But they worked pretty well. I was impressed.

We used three diapers the first afternoon. I put her in a disposable for bedtime because disposables wick the moisture away from their skin better, which means less chance of diaper rash when they sit in it all night. It also means when you use cloth, you change diapers more frequently, both to prevent rash and to prevent leakage.

The laundry part was relatively easy. Dump the contents of the laundry bag in, push the bag inside out, and throw it in as well. A rinse cycle in cold water, then add your detergent (less than for a normal load) and run on a hot cycle in the deepest water you can. Finish with an extra rinse cycle. Tumble dry on low or hang them to dry. It seemed easy enough. Maybe we could actually do this.

So I did a little bit more internet digging. I found a sale that had the bumGenius 4.0 pocket diapers for about $15 through The Green Nursery website. Not as cheap as the FuzziBunz, but they were really highly rated. So I ordered seven of those. Twelve diapers would cover us for a day and I could do laundry at night. We were ready to commit.

FuzziBunz v.s, bumGenius

When they arrived, I was surprised at how different the two brands felt. FuzziBunz feel softer and a seem to fit a little more comfortably. bumGenius diapers have more snaps to customize size, but the material doesn’t seem to give as much, making them feel a little bulkier. They might be better as she gets a little bigger.

A big difference I hadn’t expected? With FuzziBunz you can throw the diaper and the insert in the dryer on low. BumGenius diapers say it’s ok to dry the insert, but the diaper should hang to dry. With my plan to do laundry at night, and the fact we didn’t have a clothes line, this was kind of a big inconvenience.

But hey. We can roll with this. I’ll get a small drying rack we can put on the deck in the sunshine. Easy.

Why Stop There? (Alternate Header: All the Extra Stuff I Bought)

So now we were in. I felt like I had learned so much from my reading I decided to do a blog post outlining the important things I had learned. Which led to more reading. Which lead to more learning.

I discovered there are a variety of different materials… microfiber, like what my inserts were, but also bamboo and hemp and minky and organic cotton. Some were more absorbent than microfiber and could actually go against the skin. I decided to order a set of bamboo with microfiber and a set of hemp, just to try, since they were rated so well for overnights.

And since those inserts can go against baby’s skin, why not order a hybrid shell to try so I can test out changing just the insert and reusing the shell? So I ordered three of the Flip diaper covers. (Update: I tried the Flip covers with the bamboo inserts for the first time the other day. I love them as much (if not more) than the pocket diapers. They seem to fit a little trimmer on my three month old than the pocket diapers and they worked great. For traveling, it was so much easier to take the inserts rather than a bunch of diapers. I’m definitely glad I tried these.)

AND since cloth diapers were going so well, I decided maybe I could use them when we were going out and about. Which means I would need a way to transport soiled diapers back home without ruining my diaper bag. So I bought a small wet-bag from Amazon. (You can see the one I got here.)

And if that wasn’t enough, I decided to test drive some of the disposable liners for when poop happens. Technically, I could have waited on these because as long as baby is exclusively breastfed, you don’t have to rinse poop out before you launder your diapers.

Speaking of Poop…

When you set up your cloth diaper plan, you’ll want to have a poop-plan as well. Poop should be rinsed out of the diaper before it is put in the laundry (unless you are exclusively breastfeeding, then it isn’t necessary, but can be done to prevent staining). They make attachable sprayers that can hook up to your toilet line and allow you to spray the diaper contents directly into the toilet. The least expensive was around $20.

We have sprayer/detachable shower head in our shower, so I wondered about spraying the contents into a bucket in the bathtub, and then dumping the bucket into the toilet. The idea of spraying poop at my toilet sounds potentially germ-happy. At least if I was spraying into my shower, I could clorox the shower after each spray.

But for right now, she is exclusively breastfed and will be for the next few months. I haven’t done anything special other than following the typical protocol of running diapers through a cold rinse cycle before washing them. There has maybe been some SLIGHT staining of the microfiber inserts, but the pocket diapers haven’t stained at all, even without being rinsed.

How Not to Immediately Ruin Your Diapers

In all my researching, I found a few things that hadn’t even occurred to me when we switched to cloth.

First, DIAPER OINTMENT. You can’t use just any diaper ointment. It will get on the cloth diapers and it can inhibit their ability to absorb. Not good. Just to give you an idea, before I discovered this, I had a little bit of Butt Paste on my daughter with a cloth diaper on. Some of it got on the diaper. IT IS STILL THERE. After maybe ten washings. Luckily, it was a small enough amount that it didn’t ruin the diaper. But as I mentioned before: poop has washed out without a stain. Butt Paste is still there.

There are some lists out there about what diaper ointments are safe with cloth diapers. The two I’ve purchased are California Baby and Earth Mama Angel Baby.

Next, LAUNDRY DETERGENT. You can’t use any old laundry detergent with cloth diapers. Residue from the soap can build up over time and ruin the absorbency. After reading several reviews, I purchased Charlie’s Soap, and have been happy with it so far.

A Note on the Cost of Cloth Diapering

One of the biggest persuasive arguments for cloth diapering is all the money you can save doing so. And it can definitely be cost effective.

However, it can be very easy to over-invest. As I started experimenting with cloth diapers and became more excited about using them, ordering more types of inserts and accessories was fun! But cloth diapers are not cheap. They are an investment. If you buy a brand-name diaper like Huggies or Pampers, you will pay $0.18-$0.30 per diaper. If you buy a $20 cloth diaper, it will take you 111 diaper changes to just break even with what using disposables would have cost you.

And that is just for one cloth diaper. If you invest $100 in cloth diapers, it will take you 555 diaper changes to break even. And that is not taking into account the extra cost of laundry you will be doing (anywhere from $0.50-$1.00 per load).

See how quickly the costs can add up?

My total investment for twelve pocket diapers, disposable, liners, extra inserts, diaper pail liner, three Flip diaper covers, and twelve bamboo inserts was $254.79. If I use eight cloth diapers per day and do laundry every other day, it will take me 271 days of cloth diapering just to break even.

The point is: if you are cloth diapering to save the planet, awesome. (I am taking out so much less trash than before it is amazing.) If you are cloth diapering to save money, be careful not to over invest. Watch for sales, pick a more cost effective style of diapers (like the hybrids), and stick to your budget.

Conclusion

There is a lot to learn about cloth diapers. The research required to get started can be overwhelming. I wanted to share this story in case there are others like me who have good intentions for green parenting but are finding it hard to invest the time and energy into researching.

I read reviews after reviews and narrowed my selection of diapers, ointments, accessories, and laundry detergents down to the best balance of quality and affordability I could find. And I’ve been very happy with my choices. Having quality products and spending the time being prepared to make the switch to cloth has made it a wonderful experience. Honestly, I enjoy using them more than I ever expected to. So if you want to skip the research, the products I’ve listed above are a good place to start. Good luck and happy diapering!

 

Daily Photo – March 28, 2015

 

She likes to hold on to me. The first time she was in my arms, she held on to my finger with a tiny fierceness. Now she almost always finds a way to twist her fingers around my clothing. Sometimes I don’t even realize she is doing it. I look down to find her tiny fist gripping the collar of my shirt while she sleeps. What she doesn’t know is that she does the same thing to my heart. And that I’m holding her just as tightly, in my own way. 

Daily Photo – March 27, 2015

 

This photo is actually from last Wednesday. I’m posting it now because I’m behind on writing. There are spells of inspiration and motivation, and spells where I just can’t seem to find the balance. Can you guess which one I’m in? 

Last Wednesday, I didn’t pay enough attention to her. Ironically, we weren’t even that busy. Gymnastics has moved to Monday nights in preparation for soccer starting next week. So tonight was open. But somehow the evening slipped away and it was past bedtime and as soon as I tucked her in I could tell she realized it too. So I crawled in bed with her and we layed there in the dark and talked and giggled. Usually bedtime is a boundary I don’t break, but tonight I didn’t even look at the clock. I was simply present with her. It felt like our own sacred little slumber party. 

We joked about if we had a hundred kids. It made me laugh that she talks like “we” are having the kids, like she is on team grownup. Ah my sweet firstborn. We laughed at all the things we would need more of. More beds. More rooms. More plates. More swings. More underwear. It was silly and perfect. 

Eventually I had to kiss her goodnight and leave her to sleep. I don’t want the days where I can crawl in bed with her and giggle about silly things to ever end.