Friday, December 28, 2012

Off the Topic: Toy Rotation and Our New Playroom

Every now and then I get a bit off the topic of arts and crafts with this blog. But I try to only do it when I find something interesting that I would like to share with people. I believe I've mentioned my son's sensory seeking tendencies before. He seems to be most calm and centered (as probably most kids are) in an organized and less cluttered environment. I hate to admit that it took me an embarrassing long time to figure out this is what he needed. We have three kids and my oldest is 9 years old. So multiply three kids in various stages of toy play x nine years of collecting said toys = house waaay too full of toys. We had just chucked any and all toys our son could play with in his room and starting at 18 months when he was in a big boy bed. He would take forever to go to bed. Go figure. He had a Toys R Us store in his room. What kid would want to go to bed with all those toys at their disposal? But, he also never played with anything. He just dumped everything out, made a huge mess and then called it a day. It was always very difficult to get him to engage in anything and he seemed to move on from one thing to the next after about 30 seconds. Very frustrating for me as a mom who couldn't figure out how to play with her son!

We discovered earlier in 2012 that our son has a speech delay and some sensory processing issues and I realized that he felt more calm and organized with less stuff around him. So we started to clean out all the extraneous toys in his room. As I was doing some online research to learn more about ways to help him at home with his speech, I came across a wonderful blog called Little Stories. It is written by Kim who is a licensed speech and language pathologist. She has some great posts to help parents/caregivers with ideas to help promote language development in little ones. In reading through her blog, I came across several posts on organizing toys and the idea of toy rotation. This idea was BRILLIANT! And really helped me realize this is exactly what my son needs. The whole idea of it is a bit daunting. You pretty much have to gather all the toys in your house and create an organization system.

First, I asked my daughters if they would like to help me organize the play room in the basement. We spent an afternoon one weekend organizing everything into piles. We put things in like piles and put all sets back together with all their pieces. I weeded out any baby toys we wouldn't need anymore. I also got rid of any toys I thought my son wouldn't really be into. We moved most of the girls' toys (the few that were left) into their rooms. Then I did a bit more internet research on toy rotation and came across a nice post on Triple T Mum with a great free printable checklist to help you categorize your toys (into thinking, moving and pretending toys) and keep track of when it is time to rotate the toys.

Our system is a bit more complicated because we really have three areas for my son to play (actually four if you count our light table/sensory bin corner): his bedroom, the family room, and the basement playroom.

So I created a checklist for each space and stuck to 8-10 toys/sets in each area. And one sensory bin and one thinking toy for the light table area. But we didn't really have a place to store all the extra toys when they are not in rotation. We also started this project in November just before the onslaught of new holiday toys. Luckily, I knew most of what the kids would be receiving from other people so I planned ahead to have those toys in the rotations. I told my husband I really didn't need anything for  Christmas this year and that what I really wanted was a "new" organized playroom. So we went to IKEA and bought a bunch of Expedit shelving. I picked out some bins and strapping baskets from Land of Nod because they matched our color scheme. We had some really great retro posters from my husband's company (they were hanging in the office before they remodeled) and I used the colors from these for the room.

The Expedit shelving is great because our son cannot reach the top two rows of shelves so we can store the bins not in rotation there. We can put the bins that are in rotation on the lowest row. And move bins easily throughout the house. I have certain toys that are really only for his room, some only for the family room, and some just for the play room. Then we have a few others that we'll rotate throughout the locations to keep them in the rotation more often but make them newer again because they are in a new location. I also split up his books so there would be a few in each rotation. Some would go with the toys in that rotation (ie: animal books in the same rotation as the Little People Farm set).

The other thing I did to make my life easier with this whole system is that I color-coded the rotations with the bins I got from Land of Nod. So all the red bins are one rotation, yellow is the second rotation and so forth. Then I don't even really have to think about it. I just have to know what color I have to switch to when it's time to rotate.

Here are some before photos of our chaotic play room (and this is super clean for our play room--usually everything is everywhere on the floor). These sort of go around the room in order from one side to the other:
Here's an in progress photo. My husband was thrilled that I was taking a photo. But I had to document his hard work to make my play room vision happen. ;-)
 Now, here's the new and improved play room!
Above: This is pretty much our "thinking" toys corner. There's a magnetic board on the wall, a nice space to build blocks or lincoln logs on. I also put a few books on the shelf here.
Here's the overall storage system. Yellow is in rotation at the moment. This is the "pretend" toy side of the room. Right now we have vehicles in rotation with some wood pieces to build their own roads. The corner with the blue table changes to be the kitchen when play food is in rotation, or a construction site, or a tool bench, depending on what other toys are in rotation.
The swing in the middle of the room is part of our "movement" toys. We have two different swings we use here. We also have a pop-up tent system that is part of one rotation as well as a build-your-own-fort system.

Then just for fun, here is what we have in my son's room now. He has one bookshelf that has about ten toys on it. Here there are some books, our Christmas Little People set, a wooden name puzzle, a magnetic number maze, and some magnetic shape blocks.
 He also has a magnetic board in his room.
And a train table (sorry for the lack of pants on my son. ;-) He had just got up from his nap when I took this photo).
And that's it! We have one bookshelf in our family room where there are mostly thinking toys such as puzzles, blocks, sorting sets, etc.

I have to say this has been fantastic for everyone!!! Everything stays cleaned up more. It is easier to pick up when we do play with something. I will eventually put labels on the bins, but because everything in a rotation is one color and there are so few toys available at one time, it's pretty easy to remember where everything goes. And my son definitely seems to play better. He is much more engaged with the toys that are out. He is able to focus more on one thing at time and play longer with each thing. This has definitely made a huge difference in our house! I am so happy that Kim at Little Stories introduced idea on her blog!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Handmade Holiday: Faux Stained Glass Frames

My Grandma loved our foil-embossed canvases. She went on and on about how pretty they were when she saw them. So I decided we would make one for her for Christmas. And we will. But I came across this project on ADHD Crochet and thought she would like something pretty for her window as well. My other Grandma already has a few suncatchers in her window so I figured she would like one as well. Perfect. Two stained glass projects. Two daughters. One for each of them. :-)

This project was soooo easy AND cheap! I had almost all the supplies already. I just had to go and buy frames at the Dollar store. I also bought Gorilla Glue (for $4) to glue the glass to the frame. So all in all, each stained glass frame ended up costing me an average of $3.

Supplies needed:
--Dollar Store frame
--clear Elmer's glue (I used Discount School Supply Colorations clear glue)
--Acrylic Paint
--white Elmer's glue
--printable page
--Gorilla Glue
--Clear Acrylic Gloss Coat

I started by printing off a couple different abstract-design printables. I let the girls pick which image they wanted to do.

Take the glass out of the frame and place it over the printable. We taped it down so it wouldn't move around. Mix some clear glue with a few drops of acrylic paint. You really don't need much paint at all. If the color is still too light for you, add some more paint. We used disposable muffin tins I had laying around.
We found it worked better to sort of dab the paint mixture on instead of brushing it. We also found that the mixture spread as it dried. Some of the colors mixed together (this can be a cool effect if you want to use it). You can also combat the colors mixing together by painting on the black leading lines first, letting it dry, and then using the paint mixture. The black lines will keep the paint from running together. I don't know why I decided to do it the way we did. I'm sure I had a reason. It just seemed to make sense for us to do it this way. I think I didn't want to restrict them with my own lines. I wanted my lines to follow their work instead.
We started this project after school one day. They get tired out easily so they worked on it over the week. I simply put a damp paper towel over the top of each of their trays and that kept the paint mixture from drying out. I re-wet the paper towel once or twice a day. BUT, this actually helped us out!

**Helpful hint** When we let the mixture sit more than a day, it thickened up a bit and didn't spread out quite as much as the initial day they used it. It might be beneficial to mix up the paint the day before and let it sit.
 This is my first grader's finished and sitting on our light table.
Once they finished painting the colors, I let it dry for a day. I used a small razor blade to clean up a few of the paint lines. I mixed a bit of black paint into a white Elmer's glue and put it into a fine tip bottle like this one. I put the project on the light table and painted black lines on the opposite side of the glass from the paint. When the whole thing dried I sprayed a light mist of acrylic gloss coat on the paint side to seal the paint. You can do this before you put the black lines on, I just forgot. :-)
Here's what my third grader's looked like before I put the black lines on. It looks cool like this too. :-)

And here they are in the frames in a window. I used Gorilla Glue on the back to adhere the glass to the frame. You do have to be careful though. The Gorilla Glue expands. You want to make sure you can't see it on the glass.

I love how they both turned out!! And overall, this was so easy! Just a bit of a process and you have to make sure you give yourself enough time to finish it and have it dry. It looks great with light shining through it and even without light shining through. Hopefully the girls' Great-Grandmas will love them!

Handmade Holiday: DIY Craft Gift Kits

I came across a blog post on Little Stories that talked about giving gifts. It was interesting to think about giving gifts that were more outside the box. However, a post in the comments really caught my attention. Someone suggested giving a project of some kind to do. A DIY kit. She suggested a t-shirt and fabric markers. BRILLIANT! My girls are in first and third grade. Perfect age for this sort of project! All of my daughters' friends will be receiving that as a birthday gift for the next year. :-)

You could put together the same thing if you have a grade-school age girl on your holiday gift list this year.

I also put together a DIY Playsilks kit for a friend's daughter this Christmas. It includes white playsilks that I ordered from Dharma Trading Company, packs of kool-aid, clothspins, and instructions that I printed from Vanessa at Tried and True. She also has a GREAT image of color combinations with the kool-aid.
I included clothespins to use to clip the playsilks to things. I also suggested adding in a bed sheet so she could make a fort.

I sent a friend who knits a DIY kool-aid dyed yarn kit. I wound yarn into long skeins for her already. I also included a couple squirt bottle, kool-aid and instructions from our blog post in July.

You can create DIY kits for just about anything as long as you know what the recipient is interested in. Get creative! You're not only giving them the supplies but creating an opportunity for a fun experience as well! Much more fun than just getting a store-bought gift. :-)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Handmade Holiday: Melted Crayon Ornaments

Remember our melted crayon pumpkin in October?? Well, the woman who posted that idea from The Swell Life, also tried melted crayons in ornaments! BRILLIANT! And though I LOVE how the pour paint ornaments turn out, they are quite a process with pouring paint, dumping paint, wiping off paint, waiting for paint to dry, etc. These, you can just make and hang on the tree immediately. Nothing else to them!

Just cut up small pieces of crayon. I found you truly need a tiny piece. Too big and I felt like it was too much. But you can experiment and see what appeals to your artistic spirit. I also used low on my hair dryer, but it takes a bit longer for it melt. You will need to be careful because the glass does get quite warm. I used a clothes pin to hold it and turn the ornament without having to touch it.
After doing a few abstract ornaments with color combos the girls chose, I realized that I didn't like when the colors melted together. Sometimes, the colors mixed together didn't look as pretty (to me) as the original solid colors. I was able to turn the ornament and roll the crayon in a manner that made a swirl on the glass. Oh, how I loved this!
You can do one color. Then place a new color in the clear part and make a new swirl between the lines you already made.
Here are our crayon ornaments!
I think the colors in the second set are my favorite, but I love them all. I REALLY love the rainbow ornaments. For the bottom right rainbow swirl, I made one swirl with tiny pieces of each color. I added the new color in a continuous swirl all the way around.
I could have kept making these all day! There was something uber relaxing about this process to me. Definitely more of these in our future!

As we were creating all of these ornaments, I came across this on Pinterest, which inspired me to do this (please ignore my incredibly wrinkly tablecloth) in our living room/dining room:
It's fairly simple, but I LOVE it! And it shows off some of our ornaments on the main level (since our art tree is upstairs in our loft).

Handmade Holiday 2012: Pour Paint Ornaments

We have been on an ornament making frenzy around here! Not sure why this year we are so into making ornaments, but it sure has been fun! Maybe it has something to do with all the great ideas on Pinterest. ;-)

I've already written about pour paint ornaments in a post about my holiday craft workshop. But I thought I would elaborate more. The girls and I made quite a few more. We have two trees in our house. A large tree in our family room that has our Hallmark ornaments, ornaments from places we've visited, and special ornaments (like all of our Baby's First Christmas ornaments, etc). Then, we have a smaller tree that we usually put in our front window. I decided this year we should put it in our loft upstairs next to the art room. We usually have mostly cheapy, plastic-y, matchy ornaments on that tree that we bought a few years ago when we didn't have enough ornaments for two trees. Well, we've made enough ornaments this year to fill our small tree. And what fun to have handmade ornaments on a tree that is right next to our art room! :-)
 Hard at work!! Such concentration!
 Here are the pour paint ornaments that are now on our tree!
A few tips! Definitely put only a litle bit of paint in. You just have to be reeeeaaaallly patient. Just keep turning the ornament around and watch the paint swirl. The less paint you use, the more layered the ornaments will be. If you add a lot of paint, it won't be as swirled, just large areas of one color here and there.
And the best part is that we can enjoy them on our tree for a few weeks and then we can pick some to wrap up and give to people. And we can make new ones for the tree next year!

My daughter's girl scout troop also made some pour paint ornaments to sell at their holiday boutique. The girls did an amazing job! I was fascinated to see the color combinations the girls came up with. They also made super cute reindeer ornaments that I'll post about separately.
They put some colors together I never would have thought like red, metallic gold, and turquoise. I never would have suggested that and it turned out FABULOUS (see lower right in the photo below. Here are some of the more fun combos the girls came up with:
I also came across a glow-in-the-dark version of the pour paint ornaments! Oh swoon! Yes, I have already bought the paint, in case you had any doubt. Thank you Michael's 40% off coupon. I will update after we make some of these. I thought we might hang them in our south facing family room window. It receives full sunlight nearly all day! And yes, hello, my name is Holly and I'm officially addicted to making Christmas ornaments. I'm pretty sure my husband thinks I'm insane. LOL!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Toddler Sensory Activity: Holiday Sensory Bin

I collected a bunch of holiday themed items from Dollar Tree in November but I wasn't quite sure what I was going to use for filler for the sensory bin. Until, I saw peppermint scented rice at Growing a Jeweled Rose. PERFECT!

Here's the rice drying out:
I put a bit too much peppermint extract and thought it was a bit overwhelming So I added a bit of vanilla extract too and that made a perfect combination. My daughter came home from school and asked me why I made the rice orange. Nice! She wasn't supposed to notice that it was more of an orange-red rather than a holiday red. ;-) I had used our Colorations liquid watercolors to color it and I don't have a true red so I used the peach color. I guess it does look a bit orange. Oh well. :-)
Pretty much everything in the photos except the Little People and the ice cube tray came from Dollar Tree. LOVE that store! Above is the sensory bin and below is more of a sorting bin.
Kellan likes to combine everything though!
 Checking out the new bin after he got up from his nap.
 Oooh! What's in here?
 He immediately started playing with the little presents.
 And he was excited to show big sister when she got home from school.
 Jingle bells! Shake shake shake!!
 Shoveling with his hand
Both Kellan and Ella came back to this about three times that first day! So I'd say it was a big hit. And they have played with it pretty often since then.
They always like when the light table is on underneath the bin for an added sensory experience. And I loved that I could incorporate the sense of smell with the peppermint/vanilla extract and the sense of hearing with the jingle bells.