Archive for the ‘shopping’ Category

**Spoiler alert: it’s the Turbo Transit Pack by L.L. Bean. I am in no way affiliated with the company; I bought this backpack with my own money and am a very satisfied customer. 

I have found the perfect family/diaper bag for our large family.

I have seven children, two of whom are still in diapers, and a third who needs me to carry around a backup outfit. I have tried many, many diaper bags, and I have finally concluded that this bag is the best fit for our large family.

In this case, form wins over function – it’s not ugly, per se, but it’s not going to win any fashion awards. It’s a sturdy black backpack. You’re probably not going to pin this post. But you know what? It works. It carries everything I need it to carry, and because it’s organized so well with so many compartments, I can always find what I’m looking for. It’s easy to carry, gender neutral, and can be re-purposed when I no longer need such a large bag.

But why this particular backpack? There are certainly cheaper options out there. I know; I’ve tried them. But THIS one – it’s special. It’s the Turbo Transit Backpack by L.L. Bean, and at 2,592 cubic inches, it’s the largest backpack they make. Your college student could live out of this thing. What makes it unique is that is has a bottom shoe compartment (which I don’t actually use for shoes; see below for more info) that removes some of the depth from the main upper pockets. They are still deep enough for textbooks, but you no longer loose everything in a giant, cavernous compartment. Deep bags are great for carrying stuff, but not great for finding that stuff again. The shoe compartment has really eliminated that problem and makes better use of the existing space. It also has three main large compartments up top, plus three more smaller pockets, so I’m able to separate the content by person/function.

Giant diaper bags with tiny pockets along the sides don’t help me at all – I have two in diapers, and what if we need to change two at once? Keeping wipes and/or diapers in a nice little elastic pocket along the inside is fine for smaller diaper bags intended for only one child. But I’ve never found those elastic pockets to function well for me. I have separate bags inside that house a set of wipes, changing pad, diapers, and spare clothes for each child. My husband can grab one kid and I grab the other, and we don’t have to take turns with the diaper bag. I can’t tell you how many times this has come in handy. I know that when I grab that child’s changing bag, everything I need is in there. Also, did you catch the “seven children” part? Seven kids, no matter their ages, tend to need a lot of stuff. I’m able to organize things for all of them in my backpack, with room to spare for a couple of water bottles and other temporary oddities. I can even stash coats and sweatshirts by hanging them from the bungee outside.

Why L.L. Bean, then? There are other bags with shoe compartments. I do realize this. But I’ve not found one this big, nor this organized. And to top it all off, L.L. Bean has a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee – and it doesn’t have a time limit.  When my original Turbo Transit Pack (2012) developed a couple of small issues (top handle strap started detaching, and the reflective piping was worn off quite badly), they paid for me to ship it back to them. Four years later. But the really awesome part? My backpack never showed up at their returns facility. And they sent me a new one anyway! How’s that for customer service?

I lived for over a month without my Turbo Transit Pack. I used another large tote that I really like and normally use for overnights and weekend trips. And while it held everything, I found myself really missing my old backpack. I couldn’t find things easily. I’d yank on one changing bag and the entire contests of the tote would come flying out at me – because it was all packed too tightly in one large compartment. Up until this unintentional month-long experiment, I was rather ambivalent about our Turbo Transit Pack. It was so functional that I never had to think about it, but I was always on the lookout for something…cuter. And then discovered that using my cute tote bag, even with interior & exterior pockets, wasn’t as good.

Here she is: the World’s Best Large Family Bag, my L.L. Bean Turbo Transit Pack. Those bungee cords are great for stashing the shirt your toddler suddenly won’t wear, or the jacket your kid swears is smothering him with its heat and he can’t carry it because he’s so tired but can he go play?

Main compartment: one bag each for infant Sayer (green) and toddler Lyra (pink). I bought these from a company that is no longer in business (sniff; they were super affordable), but the are a lot like this wet bag (link): they have a loop strap and two zippered pockets. I can stash diapers, wipes, and a changing pad in the large compartment and clean clothes in the smaller one. If there is an accident or we’re using cloth, everything gets shifted to one pocket so the other can contain the dirty things. (Also located in this main compartment is a padded laptop pocket.)

Next compartment: a third waterproof bag for preschooler Silas. This is the same size wet bag as the other two, but it only contains spare clothes. Thus this emptier backpack compartment is where I also throw extra water bottles/sippy cups or other miscellaneous items.

Front zipper pocket: this one has a few organizing pockets in it, for holding pens and other small things. I still have my own separate zipper bags for organizing stuff: the colorful bag you see contains girl stuff that might need to be transported to the bathroom, while the clear zipper bag has things like wipes for faces, medicines, sanitizing spray, tissues, etc.  I also carry a small brush, a bib, three matchbox cars, a small set of wooden blocks, a New Testament, and a ring of daily prayer cards. Not bad for such a small pocket!

Device pocket: this handy little guy floats up high and has a hole for a headphone/earpiece cord. I have never used it for that, but I do stash my phone/money/keys in here if I’m wanting to leave my purse at home.

Front-front zipper pocket: this is another smaller, flatter pocket that sits in front near the bungees. Great for the husband’s wallet/keys, random kid stuff (“Can you carry this very special sticker and never lose it?”), and even one sippy cup will fit in there.

The Awesome Shoe Compartment: you could totally fit a pair of large adult shoes in here, if you were using this as your school/gym bag. But I use this big bonus pocket for a pullover raincoat, a travel sun hat, a nursing poncho, and a ring sling. That’s a lot of stuff!


Back Pocket: I just found a new pocket! My older version didn’t have this. It’s a flat, tall pocket in the back. You could fit notebooks or larger books (that aren’t too thick) in here, as well as a smaller laptop. 

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I just got a cute striped long-sleeved Hanna Andersson onesie from thredUP for baby Silas for just 95¢!  I am so excited!

How did I do this?  Since I just heard about thredUP, I was able to sign up and get a $10 referral credit.  Plus, this month they are offering a 20% discount when you use the code AUGUST20.  Here’s how to score an awesome deal like this:

  • Click through and sign up for an account at thredUP.  $10 will immediately be put into your account.
  • Place item(s) of choice into your cart – boys and girls clothes from infant all the way up to size 20!!  If you choose something that costs $3.80 or less, with your $10 credit and the 20% discount, you’ll get the item completely free.  (Silas’ onesie was $4.99, so I had to pay 95¢, all said and done!)
  • Head to checkout.  Your $10 will be automatically deducted.  Click on the “promo code” option to enter the code AUGUST20.  20% of the total price will then be knocked off.
  • Share your own referral code with friends on facebook and through email if you’re interested in earning more credit.

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**Scroll down to the bottom to skip the update and get to the big sibling gifts.**

Our new IKEA farmhouse sink (single DOMSJO), Delta Leland faucet, and butcherblock countertops (also IKEA, solid beech NUMERAR oiled with Osmo Polyx Oil). The drinking water tap will be changed to one that matches better - someday.

36 weeks! Things are getting down to the nitty gritty. Is the kitchen done? Nope. But we’re moved in and it’s functional (so functional, in fact, that I can’t believe I ever cooked in that other kitchen and got anything done). Do we have four bedrooms? Nope. Still two, with Mommy and Daddy in the living room, so we’re going to work on condensing all four kids into the big bedroom and giving the parents and new baby the smaller bedroom. I just need/want a bedroom for birth and postpartum; we’ll work on preparing the other two bedrooms and giving everyone a bit more breathing room this summer. With the kitchen emergency and resulting renovation, we haven’t had any time (0r money) at all to work on the two bedrooms and bathrooms downstairs, like we had originally planned to do before Baby Five’s arrival. Is the old kitchen transformed into the play room yet? Nope. It’s in progress. That’s the first thing that needs to happen so we can move the toys out of the kids’ room and move Cal  into the kids’ room. We are gutting cabinets, re-routing electrical to remove a half wall, removing plumbing, and then painting and flooring.

Last week, Asher fell asleep on the couch at 5:30, complaining of being cold. I knew then that we were in for the long haul...

In the mean while, we have to do normal things like homeschool, maintain some semblance of cleanliness and order in the household, work two demanding out-of-home jobs (Jason), go to school (Jason), and squeeze in family time. This is why renovations are at a snail’s pace. Oh, and did I mention I’m 36 weeks pregnant? And we just got over two weeks of some sort of bacterial plague? Yes, it’s been challenging. A test of patience and faith, for our whole family, and especially for our marital relationship. I think we are succeeding, but that success in our marriage doesn’t necessarily translate to completed home renovations. Even the awesomest marriages can’t squeeze more time and money out of nothing.

I’ve finally been sorting and washing baby clothes and diapers, and I was both delighted and sad to find all the things I had handmade/knit for Cal: pilot caps, wool diaper covers and pants, etc. It will be sweet to see them on another baby, but it really brought home how extremely busy and trying these past six months have been for us. So much so that I haven’t made a single thing for the baby! That is REALLY unusual for me; even in the busiest of times, I have always made something for the coming baby. But when more than half of your house suffers some sort of water damage within months of your fifth child being born, some things drop and new projects get picked up. Like I told some friends today: I didn’t knit for the baby, but I did design him a kitchen. Lucky baby, that one. And you know what? He doesn’t care. Not one bit. But for my own sanity and heart, I am making a simple quilt for him. And maybe I’ll finish the newborn diapers I started way back when. (Probably not.)

As for me and the baby – we seem to be doing just fine. The baby continues to feel bigger to me than the others, and for the first time in the three pregnancies she’s cared for me, my midwife commented the same: “Does this baby seem bigger to you?” Why yes, he does. I always feel like my babies are huge in the end, though, because I am small and they are filling me right up, but it seems especially true this time. Usually our midwife reassures me that the baby is a nice, normal size, and she’s always right. So that fact that she agrees with me on this baby being bigger (“Not TOO big, of course; just bigger”) has me thinking. I predict he’ll be a little bigger than his brothers (who were 8 lbs. 2 oz. and 8 lbs. 3 oz, respectively), but I’m more worried about his head/shoulders/chest than his weight. My babies all have huge heads, so there’s no surprise there.

I am feeling much more like Asher’s pregnancy than Cal’s, which is good, from a labor/birth perspective. Asher’s labor was just over an hour; Cal’s was 18 hours. (Which would you choose? Haha.) There’s a lot going on, lots of Braxton-Hicks, lots of cervical changes/pressure, etc. I predict Baby Five will come before his due date, but probably not very much so.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On to new baby gifts…

We like to get a special gift for each child, “from the baby” and from us, for right after each new baby is born. They know it’s really from us. The older ones remind the younger ones that it’s coming, so they really look forward to it. We try to pick something simple and small that will occupy their minds/bodies for a while after the birth. That way any caregivers coming to help out in the immediate postpartum have an extra way to entertain my children.

This time around, I chose two books per child: one activity book, and one story book. Here is what I chose:

Cal, age 2:

Let's Color
Let’s Color by Kumon

Angus and the Cat
Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack

Asher, age 4:

My First Book of Mazes
My First Book of Mazes by Kumon

Davy's Dream
Davy’s Dream by Paul Owen Lewis

Ellery, age 7:

Paisley Designs Coloring Book
Paisley Designs Coloring Book by Marty Noble

Next Spring an Oriole  Night of the Full Moon  Shadow of the Wolf
Next Spring An Oriole,
Night of the Full Moon, and
Shadow of the Wolf by Gloria Whelan

Maya, age 9:

Pinwheel Designs
Pinwheel Designs by Wil Stegenga

The Saturdays The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

I spent a lot of time carefully considering their personalities and current interests before choosing each book, and I really enjoyed the process. For example, Cal loves Angus books, and Asher loves mazes. The girls have both read so many books that I had to pull out my Honey for a Child’s Heart (a FANTASTIC book about choosing great literature for your kids, including book lists in back) to find something special for each of them. I’m normally not someone who enjoys shopping, but sitting at home on the couch with my feet up, thinking about my kids, and shopping online for books is something I can honestly say I like.

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Kids love to dress up. Whether that means pretty clothes for church or costumes to become a fairy princess or a spider, there’s something about wearing a special or not-everyday outfit that makes kids really happy. Our dress up clothes are one of our most-used play items around here; the only reason it didn’t make my top five is that I had too many good options to choose from! The energy, creativity, enthusiasm, and fun that is fueled by dress up is unparalleled. Dress up is often the catalyst for elaborate and extensive imaginative play schemes, games, stories, musicals/plays, ballets, etc. They just really enjoy it.

We do have quite the collection of dress up clothes. Two chests stuffed to the gills; overflowing, even. But to be completely honest, I don’t think we’ve ever bought a single thing to contribute to our dress up stash. Really! It has all been acquired over time, from various sources, and it is just as good as if we had bought it all ourselves. (Better, even – repurposing, and all that.)

Even if you don’t have a stitch of dress up clothes for your kids, you can put together a really nice collection for Christmas, perhaps even for free! Here’s how:

  • Shop your closet. Or basement, or attic, or relatives’ house. You can simply let your child have a special time to try on any of your clothes he likes, and see what he comes up with. Just help him put it back in your closet when he’s done. Or you can collect castaways – like that outlandish jacket you wore in high school – and give him a special box of his own to use whenever he likes. Children tend to love colorful, crazy, snazzy, pretty, wacky, and/or weird stuff, but you never know; one of my kids’ favorite dress up items (for a while) was an old jean jumper of mine that Maya rescued from a bag marked “donate.” I have no idea why they like it, but they do. Don’t write off your old clothes for being boring; you just never know.
  • Get thrifty. You really can’t beat a thrift store for good deals and crazy finds – perfect for dress up. You could establish a theme and put together a princess box (or farmer box, or doctor box, or prairie girl box…) or you could just go in looking for things that grab your attention. Another idea is to look for the best priced items that day; often, thrift stores are clearing out old merchandise for half off (or even better). It’s the stuff no grown up wants, so it might just be perfect for dress up! Don’t forget to shop for accessories (hats, shoes, purses, scarves) or even household goods (small blankets and quilts).
  • Get the word out. Tell family and friends that you’re on the lookout for great dress up stuff; tell them you’ll take donations, or ask for dress up clothes for gifts. We have the most beautiful princess dresses and prairie girls dresses, all sewn by my mother-in-law, because the girls asked for them. Even the non-crafty can give you their cast-offs or shop for pre-made costumes/dress-up clothes.
  • Invest. If your family dresses up for Halloween, consider avoiding cheap costumes in favor of more durable ones that will last. Then they can be thrown into the dress up bin after the holiday is over.
  • Get crafty. If you (or someone you know) can sew, you can put together some simple clothes that your kids will adore. Investing a little time and money will net you some priceless results.
  • Shop. You can buy some beautiful stuff, and dress up clothes always make great gifts. Try shopping Etsy, Magic Cabin, and Nova Natural.

One last word: playsilks. These are such an open-ended toy – simple squares of silk, dyed in a variety of colors, become magical things to children. Our playsilks have been baby blankets, fairy wings, oceans, grassland, capes, dresses, hoods, slings, food, packs, shoes…they are so loved that they are holey and need repair/replacement, I think. Playsilks should be a part of every dress up bin, in my opinion. We hang ours on the wall (low, for little hands to grab), because not only are they used often, but they are beautiful and nice to display. You can buy them many places on line, like Etsy, A Toy Garden, or Nova Natural, or you can buy silk blanks from Dharma Trading and dye your own with Kool-Aid.

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High Chair Envy

Our tenth anniversary dinner table, decorated by our children. Our high chair is in the upper right; click to enlarge.

I’m really grateful to have a high chair. Babies and toddlers can be so messy, and a high chair not only gives them a safe and comfortable place to sit, but it also contains the mess. (Somewhat. I mean, please. I do have little boys around here.) I have been using the same plastic Graco high chair for eight years – the same one I got at my baby shower. I am thankful for it.

However, I have a few beefs with this high chair. First of all, it has a cloth cover. Cloth. Can I tell you how many times a week I should realistically wash this cloth cover? At least seven. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year, and multiply that by eight years, and you have nearly 3000. I don’t know many cloth covers that could with stand that kind of washing, even with the drip drying I do, so I have kindly spared the dear cover by only washing it when it gets so dirty that it threatens to walk itself downstairs and throw itself into the washing machine. (Ahem.) I’m thoughtful like that.

Second, underneath the cloth cover, there is a vinyl padded cushion with lots of cracks and crevices. So the crumbs not only get stuck in the cloth cover, but they also get stuck in the various hiding places in the seat pad. AND, they also slide underneath the seat cushion and hide there, on the plastic base. So I have not one, not two, but three surfaces to de-crumb and de-gunk and de-stain every time I want to clean the high chair (which is about three times a day, give or take a meal or snack). I usually need to vacuum each layer of the chair, then take a washcloth and wipe every layer down, including the two trays and foot rests.

Third, it is plastic. I didn’t have the same wooden high chair options when I was registering for my high chair nine years ago; the only ones available were in specialty stores, and expensive, if I could even find them. I really don’t like the aesthetics of a huge plastic high chair, but I can get over that. More than that, I don’t like my kids eating from a plastic tray. We don’t use any plastic for dishes or cups or cooking or utensils, either. I usually give the kid their food on a glass plate on top of the tray.

Well then, you ask, why didn’t you save up for a new high chair years ago? You’re going to complain about this now, after four babies? Please. And you’re completely right. That’s why I started with my thankfulness to even have a high chair at all, as I know that there are plenty of babies around the world who eat on their mother’s laps (and mine do, too, on a regular basis). I am thankful to have the option to have my arms free to assist my other three children, if needed, and to use my lap only when it’s convenient. I like having a safe place to plop the baby, buckle him in, and hand him a toy or a safe snack to allow myself a few minutes to homeschool or take a toddler to the potty. Really, it’s so handy.

But those negatives about my high chair? Are biggies. I really, really, really dislike my high chair. I probably should have bought a new one years ago, or looked for a solid vintage wooden model at a thrift store, but I never did. Let’s be real: I’m cheap. I like to use what I have, and if what I have works okay, I’m not likely to replace it unless it’s a health hazard or not functional in my life situation. The high chair technically works, so I haven’t replaced it.

But. I would totally love to replace it with one of these babies:

Stokke Tripp Trapp

I have many friends with this chair, and it’s pretty awesome. Both the seat and the footrest are adjustable, ensuring that your little one’s legs are never left dangling. The wood is, obviously, very wipeable (no cover to wash!). It has a small footprint, and tucks right up underneath your table, such that your dining table becomes your kid’s tray. One less thing to wipe! And it supports up to 300 pounds, so most adults can use this as a chair, as well. I’ve read and heard such rave reviews that I’d like one for all of my little kids, to elevate them to the proper height at the table for eating, artwork, schoolwork, etc.


For now, I am making myself be content with the high chair we have. At $250, the Stokke Tripp Trapp is not in our budget right now. But maybe someday.

What about you? Do you like your high chair? Do you have a Stokke? Tell me about it.

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Crayon rocks from Stubby Pencil Studio

My kids use their art supplies every single day. They are always making something (and I have the walls and refrigerator to prove it). It’s really a blessing to have too much art to deal with – I get precious gifts every day, and it’s tough to know what to keep and what to send to relatives/recycle/toss, etc. I know all parents have this struggle, but I think homeschooling parents have it especially tough. I mean, my kids have access to their art stuff every free moment of every day, by design, and they can crank out a lot of art! I love it, but it’s kind of a hazard for a born packrat to have such creativity and productivity to sort through daily.

First, a word about setup, and then on to the Top Five. The kids have a child-sized table set (made by their grandfather) right next to our family table in our great room. This is the center of activity around here; all the hubbub centers around here. We do school here, and they create lots of art here every day. The girls write stories here, too. I think kids are just more comfortable with things at their level, especially if their feet can touch the ground. Right next to the table is an armoire with lots of homeschooling stuff in it. There is one drawer devoted to easily accessible art supplies, and it’s low enough that everyone who can walk can pull the big drawer out and get what they need. In it, there are things like scrap paper, scissors (yes, I leave child scissors accessible to my toddlers), glue/glue sticks, colored pencils, crayons, pencils, markers, paints/brushes, stickers, etc. (There is tape in there when the girls guy their own; they used so much tape that I started making them buy it. They are a bit more judicious with it now.) Another shelf nearby has all of our coloring books (and there are many) and activity books (mazes, crossword puzzles, dot-to-dots). So that’s our basic setup.

Like most areas of life, I try to keep things simple. I am not an artist, and I am not inherently an art project kind of mom. I feel badly about this, as I always imagined I’d try to do more fun art stuff with my kids, but it’s just not who I am. Crafty? Yes. Artsy? No. I have to be very intentional about incorporating art into our lives, and I also rely on my artistic hubby to balance me out in this area.  I also hope to enroll the kids in art classes from time to time, as money and time allow. Or get together with another more artistic homeschooling mom and have her teach art (and I’ll teach math or grammar or cooking) (and I’m looking for this “more artistic homeschooling mom,” by the way – wanna volunteer?).  But for now, I make up for my lack of talent by providing easy access to basic stuff so the kids can create on their own, and they seem to appreciate that.

Okay, so top five art-related things to have around so your kids can create to their heart’s content:

  • Colored Pencils – these are a fixture on our table. I don’t know why we even bother to put them away; they are used all day, every day. We store them in ceramic mugs, tips up, so they can be easily transported, identified, and corralled. Colored pencils are fantastic for helping children use a wide array of colors while also allowing them to make precise lines and employ shading. Crayons are fun, and we use them, but I’ve found that my children love to use nice, sharp pencils. You can’t draw small, detailed things with crayons or markers. Not only do I love their creative uses, but I also appreciate that they don’t get all over stuff like markers do. Quality is important here; just like Crayola crayons are pretty much the only ones worth buying, colored pencils also should be high quality. Crayola is just fine, and affordable (stock up at the back-to-school sales every summer). For every day use, these are my first choice, as we go through a set of colored pencils every month (and they get expensive). Rather than getting sparkly markers that glow in the dark or smell like peaches, invest in a wide variety of colored pencils (the more, the better, and make sure there are a variety of skin-colored pencils). Don’t forget a good pencil sharpener, too. I also like to buy pencils from Stubby Pencil Studio (okay, I would buy just about anything from this store, honestly) for gifts and such. The art supplies there are so great.
  • Paper – This may seem obvious, but kids need lots of paper for creating. One of our best inventions has been the Scrap Box, which I fill with all kinds of re-purposed paper that still has one good blank side. Most of their daily art goes on this paper. They also can have blank paper (printer paper), but they have to ask first. I nearly always say yes, but it makes them use the scrap first. I won’t stand in creativity’s way – if they must have blank paper, I give it to them. You can buy recycled printer paper now, and it doesn’t cost that much more than the standard stuff. They also have access to lined writing paper (good for writing and illustrating stories), card stock (for signs and cards), and colored construction paper upon request. Additionally, they know where the paper recycling bag is kept (next to the trash under the sink) and they can often be found fishing around in there to find something that suits their needs. (This is where they usually find their cardboard, from old cereal and cracker boxes previously destined for the recycling drop off.) We also gave Maya this set of sketch books for her birthday, which was a hit. It’s nice to have a special place to draw special things, and sketch books are very portable for drawing by a window or under a tree. 
  • Scissors – Kids need scissors that fit their hands. I let my kids start cutting paper when they’re two. Supervised, of course. Kid scissors are small and blunt-tipped. You can find plastic blade scissors that are supposed to cut only paper (not hair or skin), but I have not tried them. Standard kid scissors with blunt metal blades can be found very affordably at your local office supply store or Target. I think I paid less than a dollar per pair. 
  • Glue Sticks – These are so much neater than liquid glue, though we use both. I like the glue sticks that go on purple but dry clear, as it helps the child to see where they already put the glue.
  • Inspiration – Many children have an innate sense of what they want to create, and you don’t really have to tell them what to draw. However, we all draw our inspiration from somewhere, and some kids need more direction than others. If I see a bored-looking kid, I will often give them a good quality picture book and see if they can copy a picture from it, or draw something like it. Or I will casually observe something interesting or beautiful outside our window and suggest that they draw it. Or I will pick one of our how-to-draw books (a whole different post could be written about these, but my girls have been loving them lately) and have them pick something to draw. While free access to art supplies and free time to use them are fantastic, directed art time can be equally as wonderful.  I am reading the book Drawing With Children to learn how to draw with my kids, and I recommend that you read it, too. It came to me highly recommended, and I’m finding it a helpful and surprisingly interesting (for someone who’s never been interested in drawing before); I might actually try to learn to draw more than my standard cartoon figures and flower doodles. I also like to take nature walks with my kids, bringing along clipboards, paper, and pencils. They pick one thing they want to draw from nature that day, draw it, title it, and date it. It’s so fun to see what they choose to draw, and how they interpret things they see. 

That was just the tip of the iceberg, but those are the things we use most often. Simple and affordable, and I can’t tell you how much great stuff our kids have produced from such humble beginnings. I also recommend you look into getting a child-sized table and chairs, an easel, basic clipboards, and just about anything at the Stubby Pencil Studio. But overall, the key is to keep the art supplies accessible, because kids will get a flash of inspiration, but will quickly lose interest if they have to go 14 different places and seek permission before pursuing their idea. I used to keep art supplies under lock and key, basically, years ago – but no more.

For prolific art storage: consider keeping an Art Box, which, next to the Scrap Box, is the most genius art-related thing we ever did. Simply have a nice box or basket, and store all finished art there. At the end of the month, or when the box is full, sort through it and choose some for keeping/filing, some for sending to friends/relatives, and the rest for recycling. This has revolutionized the art clutter around here and kept our counters, desks, and drawers free for…other clutter. But really,  it’s so helpful. We still let the kids hang up their favorite pieces whenever they want (and there’s available space), and of course they can keep special pieces for themselves, but the rest goes into the Art Box.

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I have had a request to write a post on Christmas gift ideas for children, especially from a simple/natural point of view. I think this is a fantastic idea, so I’ve been ruminating on how to tackle this. I’ve decided to break it down into groups of fives, starting tomorrow: Top Five Most Played With (in our household). Stay tuned.

But first off, why simple?  Our goal in free play is to encourage our children to use their imaginations and creativity, to work their minds – not simply to keep them occupied. This is really an important principle to understand; I think many parents (myself included, at times) fall into the trap of thinking that if their children are entertained and/or leaving them alone, then all is well. Certainly there are times when you just need your kids to give you some peace for a while, but overall, I think childhood is about learning through play, not just keeping out of a grownup’s hair. Thus, we avoid all things with screens, like television and videos (except when we they’re sick, or educational videos for school for the older ones) and things that require batteries. (Notice I said “avoid.” We always make exceptions, like the little toy that plays music that Asher fell in love with, and the camera for Maya that obviously requires batteries.) If all they have to do is push a button and watch something happen, we avoid it. We like things that require imagination and creativity to make them come alive.

So then, why natural? Well, if you’ve hung around here much, you know that we try our best to keep things as natural as possible, especially when it comes to things that go in and on our bodies, and things that fill our homes. Clearly there are exceptions, and technology certainly has a place in our home (she says as she types away on her laptop). But I want to keep my family’s exposure to harmful substances at a minimum. I know that in today’s world, I can’t eliminate all toxic exposures, but does that mean I should just shrug my shoulders and give up entirely? I don’t think so. I might have a laptop, but I don’t let my kids play with the cords. I have a cell phone for emergencies, but I don’t let my kids chew on it or play with it. And as much as possible, I want the toys my children play with to be safe for them AND safe for the environment AND able to be ethically disposed up after it’s useful life is over. Think about it: things like wood blocks and wool stuffed toys can be ethically and sustainably produced and harvested,  safely and creatively used, last long enough to be passed down for generations, and can even be composted when they are no longer useful. You can’t say that about a bleepy, lighty, plasticky, noisy toy-thing.

I also think there’s something to be said for simplicity in general. For our family, it’s important that our money and energy be put toward experiences over accumulating stuff. Helping others rather than buying more stuff we don’t need. That means our goal is to not have a house full of toys at all,  natural or not.  I am constantly moving toward simplicity, not buying the newest green toy. Our children can be wonderful, intelligent, well-rounded individuals with only a handful of simple toys. They will have the rest of their adult lives to deal with technology, media, the accumulation of stuff, etc.; I want to try and give them a simple, natural, generous (with others) childhood as a good foundation.

This was quickly typed and probably not as cohesive as I’d like, but I think you get the idea. This is where I’m coming from when I recommend toys. A place of specific standards, but also with room for compromise, as you’ll see. Again, as I’ve said before, please don’t read what I say as judgement with regards to your playroom or your home. I want to get you thinking, inspire, and help those who want ideas for their own families.

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