Play-Doh Fairy Tale Sets

Here is a link.

In a more perfect world we’d just play this way without the need for the specialized molds – but I really think these are brilliant and smart marketing for Hasbro.  A very good preschool birthday gift idea – includes parental involvement, reading, acting, emotion and improvisation.  That is the makings of a quality toy.


A Month Of Things To Do with your Preschooler

Previously titled Things to Do with your 2 year old – too narrow, on second thought 🙂

Today I made this chart showing a month (or more) worth of weekday activities to do with a young preschooler.  This may be handy for yourself or another caregiver you know (like when Grandma or a sitter has the kiddo for a while and could use some ideas).

If there is enough interest, I’ll make new editions available.

You can click on it, click the magnifying glass and drag it to your desktop to print.

Your feedback and comments are very welcome.

Having days free with our young children is more and more rare – those of us who can do it, more and more fortunate.  They grow up fast.  Savor the time.

Lunchbox Notes

We decided to skip the “nutritious” school lunches offered in our district (entrées include: Fried Pizza Sticks – a breaded stick of fried pizza ingredients) and opt for nutritious (sans quotation marks) packed lunches instead.

I’d like to go into this in more detail on another post, a dozen things come to mind (like the joy of Bento Boxes and helpful standards like frozen juice boxes as ice packs) – but right now I’ve got lunchbox notes on my mind.

Here is a site where you can get some generic notes (for free) to print and put into your child’s lunch.  I’m considering making a bunch of my own.  You can gear them towards what is going on in their lives right now.  I’ve found dozens of sources for buying this kind of note system for packed lunches – and many seem clever and warm, but I’m left feeling it’s lazy to spend more than a couple bucks on something so simple.

Some ideas on how to make them:

1) Use a business card template in any typesetting or graphics program – or just make your own template (dragging guides or putting card border outlines on a layer).

2) Use a sharpie to rule out 10 rectangles on a sheet of 8.5 x 11″ paper. Take it to a copier and make 15 of them to last the whole school year.

Things to put on them:

 – personal notes

 – uplifting quotes that your child can relate to

 – photos or pictures of your child’s favorite people and characters

 – facts/trivia related to your child’s interests

 – question prompts to be used at your child’s lunch table (If you could be a different animal, which would you be – and why?)

 – comic strips

 – “coupons” for something special at home (a treat, an outing, guaranteed one-on-one time, extra story time, etc.)

– small puzzles (word finds, crosswords, sudoku, etc.)

 – jokes and riddles

 – stickers

 – a month’s worth of valentines in February (those little inexpensive mass-produced cards are a great size for this)

The key is probably to produce a big batch – maybe a month at a time.  Depending on your skill-sets, hand-writing them or typing them will be most efficient.  Sitting at the dinner table one evening with a joke book could cover a month or more with minimal effort (check out a joke book from the library that your child hasn’t read).

Collectible card sleeves (available where game or baseball cards are sold) would do a good job of making them water resistant.  Page-A-Day calendar pages could be great, too (available cheaply after Jan. 1 – – you can likely still get 2011 sets for next-to-nothing)

I’m going through some separation anxiety now that my oldest is a full-day student – I see this as a way to help me stay connected through the day that both of us will appreciate and remember fondly.

Let me know how this works out for you – especially if you have other ideas and approaches that work well!

To Easy Bake, or not to Easy Bake?

This shouldn’t be such a hard decision.

Bee has this at the top of her list of gifts she’d like for the holidays.  Our hesitation isn’t because the toy oven has an age recommendation of 6 and up.  No… wait, is it 7 and up?  I’ll go look… hold on… holy cow, you aren’t going to believe this – they have it as 8 and up!?  You should be 8 years old to be able to place your hands carefully near a lightbulb?!

Anyway, no, the reason is that she made pancakes on the stove top just this morning (she’s 4), and has been cooking with me since she could stand.  She helps cook everything already.  It is true that she can’t reach the oven to put things in, or take things out – – but it is also true that the Easy Bake oven says that adult supervision is required (so that oafish 8 year old of yours doesn’t get in trouble with a lightbulb).

She wants to bake independently – and the toy isn’t even recommended for that.  It costs a good 6 bucks every time she’d want to make a cookie-sized little cake (pro-tip, you can make 3 actual cakes for that money).

The marketing and package design are sexist and entirely dismiss boys as a consumer.  Cooking isn’t for girls any more than it is for boys.  That notion is absurd and reflects an ugly history of keeping women tied to the home while men go out and earn – as offensive to the men who would prefer to be caregivers as it is to the women who want to pursue careers.

To some people, that is going to sound unfair. It turns out that (according to the reviews I’ve read) a big audience for this toy is the mothers that wished they had it as a child and now want to live vicariously through their children.  That it doesn’t occur to them to just bake with their kids is odd to me – but I know how nostalgia can be a heavy motivator.  There is the underlying point that their own parents didn’t get the oven for them for some reason.  I’d be willing to bet that ability to afford the toy isn’t the main reason (though it may have been the main reason given) – I imagine that since their own parents did a lot more cooking than parents do today, they had similar reasons for denying this toy to their kids:  they cooked regular food with the child instead.

And there is the problem area.  The “we’ll just cook normal food together, honey” solution didn’t satisfy the children in question (the one’s desiring to live vicariously through their kids today).  Maybe it is a sort of desire to do miniature cooking – maybe the tiny frivolousness of the venture is the main attraction and shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly?  Or – maybe it’s the advertising blitz this toy relies on.  Bee doesn’t watch commercial TV much at all (only on occasional Saturdays does she watch network cartoons) – and yet the commercials she’s seen for the EBO have made a big impression.

I don’t want this to be her Red Rider BB gun – the thing that she sits back and says “yeah, these are wonderful presents, but what I really wanted was that Easy Bake Oven”.  I’ve heard some interesting arguments for allowing your child to pick out trashy toys from time to time, so that they get a sense of self-determination and learn that sometimes things look better than they are – and that mom and dad are sometimes right about something being a piece of crap.

A substitute idea we have had is to get quality kid-sized baking impliments for baking real food in the real oven.  She already has a few – and we’ve seen some good ones out there.  The play kitchen, while not a complete waste of time/money/space has not turned out to be something she’s very interested in.  She wants to do the real thing – and more power to her.

Here is the part we came up with that I think might be brilliant:

Some complaints about the EBO are that it is too expensive, and that you can get a good quality toaster oven for that price.  Do see where I’m heading?  The mini muffin trays and cake pans we’ve seen on the market could fit in a toaster oven (I’ll check on this to be certain, but I know at least a mini cookie tray would easily fit).  We could also use it for strictly practical uses – heating/baking small things at lunch time, etc. (with more energy efficiency).  So – what if we had a chat with Santa about getting a real oven for Bee instead of a plastic piece of crap with a lightbulb in it and decals for temperature gauges and timers?  It wouldn’t cost any more – she could make a wider variety of things – it won’t end up unused in a closet somewhere even if it didn’t hold her interest.  So – a couple of kid-sized pans, good children’s oven mitts, and a run-of-the-mill toaster oven could be ideal.  Rational compromise.

We’ll run it by the man up north.


While you can get a regular toaster oven for less than an EBO – it would be of poor quality or too small a size, so we are 86ing the EBO subject in favor of just using the kitchen as usual.  Some kid-sized muffin pans and oven mitts are in order, though – hopefully they will scratch some of that EBO itch for the Bee.  Also, the notion of losing more counter space was weighing me down.  Maybe the suggestion would work for someone in other circumstances, though – and it seemed like a fun, smart alternative at the time.

stop the press:

Here is exactly what we wanted. Real non-stick cookware, real recipe cards with scaled ingredients.

Li’l Gourmet is the brand – they have some real sets and some play ones, the real ones are right on the money for us.

They also have a cupcake making set, a cake baking set, and others – – each have more decorating accessories than the Easy Bake brand, and they make food with ingredients you have in your cupboard, in actual batches.  The price is lower as well.

Free Site For Make-Your-Own Comic Strips is a website I came across after reading a short piece about it in Family Fun magazine.  You choose a from a few panel options, 15 character options, and loads of editing choices.


This is exactly the kind of thing Bee is getting into right now, and I think we’ll have a lot of fun with the site.  They also offer a lot of pre-designed layouts, lacking only dialog – so you can use them as a creative writing exercise.  Pretty brilliant!

Here is a tutorial.