Monday, October 13, 2014

Best Gear, Part III: Ages 2-5

Previous Best Gear posts: Part I (the first 8 months) and Part II (the first 2 years - including a few newborn ones I’d forgotten)

Time Timer
Classrooms often use time timers so kids have a visual reminder of how much time is left before transitioning to another activity. I began using it like that so James and Julia would know how much time they had left to play, but they transitioned so well I stopped using it. However, it still has been super useful. When my kids are eating particularly slowly and we have to be somewhere, I’ve put it on the dining table to let them know that when time’s up they have to stop eating. (“Hey kids, you’ve been sitting here not eating lunch for long enough. You have five minutes and when the red is gone we’re leaving for school.”) It also has worked well for time outs.

What it’s been invaluable for, however, is quiet time. No longer do I have kids yelling, “Is quiet time over yet?” Instead, much like a Ronco Rotisserie Grill, I can set it and forget it, and they don’t bother me from my busy schedule of watching What Not to Wear, photo-editing, and checking Facebook. I even bought one for each kid. So worth it!

Similarly each kid has a cheap digital clock in their room so they can look at it instead of calling out, “Is it time to wake up yet?”

Time Timer. $23.99 on Amazon.

Responsibility Chart
The Melissa & Doug chart includes responsibilities that are applicable for 3-year-olds on up to high schoolers. Right now my kids can achieve circles for “No whining,” “Set table,” and “Get dressed,” among others. Effective parenting is supposed to be more positive and reward-based. With the chart I can dangle a reward for them - a circle (yippee!) - so they’ll do what I tell them to. And once they’ve collected enough, they can redeem circles for prizes. Their preschool basically does the same thing - when the kids got enough pretend M&Ms in their jar they chose to have a pajama party.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Responsibility Chart (shown above). $17.99 on Amazon.
(My friend Sara created a version, too: Stinkerpants Reward Chart and Magnets. $12 on

My kids (or at least Julia) can’t reach the faucet without dragging over a stool. I got sick of the stool dragging so I had Mark install Aqueduck. Basically it’s a faucet and handle extender. It confuses anyone else who doesn’t live here, but it makes our lives easier and stool-dragging free.

Potty Seat Overlays
If I had to do it over again, I would skip the little potties and go straight to having the kids use the big potties with stools. The little potties always just cluttered up the bathrooms and were kind of gross since we had to empty them out each time. There are little boy overlays (with splash guard) and little girl ones. And if you’re really enterprising like Mark, you can install a new toilet seat that includes a seat for a little girl.


The First Years Soft Grip Trainer Seat (shown above is the one for boys that we have). $8.80 on Amazon.

Sunglasses and Hats
Start putting sunglasses and hats on your kids as early as possible. The earlier you start the more likely they are to wear them. (I wish I’d taken this advice with Julia with regards to pigtails since she refused them until she was four.) Everyone knows why hats are important (UV rays on the skin, duh), but cataracts come from cumulative lifetime exposure. Why not eliminate all those years of exposure from their childhood when they’re outside all the time? (Okay, public service announcement over.)

Make sure you find good quality sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays. I discovered My First Shades and bought those as the kids’ first sunglasses, and there are lots of colors, patterns, and styles to choose from. One option is to have a soft, elastic, adjustable velcro band so the glasses actually stay on the kids’ heads. The band is a little big for two year olds but I just wound it around itself several times. James still wore his until age 4 and he has a gigantic head, so I think you can pretty much wear them from ages 2-7. Recently he graduated to a pair without the band. The velcro strap didn’t work so well with Julia once she started wearing pigtails so I bought her a pair of different sunglasses at REI.

As hats go my favorite sources are the San Diego Hat Company (often via my mom who goes to their clearance sale near San Diego and scores hats for $5 each), REI, Gymboree, Wiggy Studio, and Hanna Andersson.

My First Shades
Plaid banded bucket hat from Gymboree

Wallaroo Petite Nantucket Rainbow Tones hat

Wearing hats early on and matching Papa: Julia at 1 ½ and James in his first hat at 6 months.

James at 2 ¼ at Gymboree in one of his San Diego Hat Co. hats.
Julia at age 4 in a Wiggy Studio hat (purchased on Zulily)
People can always tell my kids are twins - not because they look alike (they don’t), but because they’re the kids wearing the sunglasses and hats. Julia is wearing her rainbow hat and James is in his plaid bucket hat (details for both below).

My First Shades Ages 0+.  $12.95 at Real Kid (also carried at Ambassador Toys in Palo Alto)
Plaid Banded Bucket Hat. $5.99 at
Wallaroo Petite Nantucket 2.5” Rainbow Tones girl’s hat. $20.95 at (We purchased ours at REI.)

Car Bed
What kid doesn’t want a novelty bed? Unfortunately there aren’t nearly as many novelty beds specifically for girls. We got James’s car bed on Craigslist for under $100.

The official Little Tykes car bed photo. (Not James.)
James playing in his big boy bed for the first time!
Jumping together on the bed
Little Tykes Sports Car Twin Bed. $448.95 plus shipping at Amazon. (Get it on Craigslist!)

IKEA Bandaids
Kid’s bandaids usually run $3 for 20 of them. At IKEA you can get a box of 50 cool rocket ship ones for under $1!

Patrull bandaids. 50 for $1 at IKEA.

Gerber Training Pants
When you’re starting potty training and about to make the transition to underwear, invest in Gerber training pants. They are much thicker than typical underwear, and if your kids pee in them the pee doesn’t always saturate their clothing. Hanna Andersson sells something similar but you can’t beat the price of Gerber’s.

We got these blue and pink ones but the prints now are different.
Modeling training pants while playing Elefun.
Julia models her training pants around her ankles.
Other Gerber training pants options available on Amazon. Prints have changed since ours were purchased.

Kids’ Yoga Videos
It may seem super granola-y but kids’ yoga videos are great, and so much better than cartoons. It’s adorable to see my twins run excitedly to get their yoga mats. The videos help give them body awareness since they have to follow directions on moving their bodies. That’s something that’s not totally second nature at this age, and it’ll be helpful when they play sports. It also encourages mindfulness - good for helping them calm down on their own - and targets their balance and strength. Some nights I have my kids get all ready for bed, and then they do yoga so it’ll relax them before tuck in.

Plus, seeing your kids sit cross-legged saying, “namaste” is pretty ridiculous and cute.

I’ve heard Yoga Kids is a good video. We just use the free Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventures on You Tube. Each video lasts around 15 minutes.

A typical Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventure complete with Aussie instructor.
Doing yoga in pjs

Badger Baskets
Everyone loves those Land of Nod Storagepalooza wooden toy storage containers with good reason: they’re attractive and hold a lot. I wasn’t so sure about the $199 price tag, and when I asked around online someone directed me to these cheap knock-offs. Badger Baskets aren’t quite as nice but are a good deal. The only small problems have been the brown screw covers coming off and a little paint melting onto a few toys. (This sounds worse than it is.) Anyway, really I’m writing this in favor of Badger Baskets. Really!

Badger Baskets. $62.00-$71.27 (depending on a 2-bin or 3-bin configuration) on Amazon.

Portable Potty
During that first year of potty training it’s good to have a travel potty for when you’re out and your kid suddenly needs to go. It takes a lot less time than finding a bathroom (which they might not get to in time anyway.) Basically you set up the potty so that they essentially pee in a trash bag (which isn’t nearly as hobo-like as it sounds). I was so happy we had this on our drives to San Diego since the bathrooms near I-5 in the Central Valley all had industrial strength hand dryers (which frighten the kids) and long lines.

Julia happily uses her portable potty outside Children’s Fairyland.
Kalencom 2-in-1 Potette Plus. $11.89 on Amazon. (We have the Fisher Price 2-in-1 Portable Potty but it’s no longer available on Amazon.

Monday, September 22, 2014

J+J Birthday Party 2013: It’s a Puppy Party!

I follow James and Julia’s wishes and organize a puppy-themed birthday party (originally suggested by Teacher Mindy from Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool). Unfortunately, I make the mistake of mentioning the possibility of a Cookie Monster-themed party early in the planning process, and after I switch to a dog party and stuff is already bought, Julia isn’t so happy. However, when I mention that she’ll get a dog bowl she’s on board.

A Julia with a dog bowl is a happy Julia.

Our guests include kids from our old Mom’s Night Out playgroup (Josh, Sam, and Ronan), kids from Mountain View Parent Observation Preschool (Lyra and Phoebe), and kids from both (Zoe and Zachary).  I actually invited four sets of twins (not including mine) but two sets couldn’t come. Julia plays in the leaves with Lyra - our first guest to arrive - and Papa greets guests from his chair on the porch.

Signs on the front door

Lyra and Julia play in the gingko leaves.

Upon arriving to the puppy party the kids visit four stations.

Adopt a Puppy
Each kid gets to pick one puppy to adopt and bring home from a box of stuffed puppies. (Unfortunately the Beanie Baby ones I bought on eBay didn’t arrive in time so I had to scramble the day before the party to buy 10 more. Of course later I have 10 Beanie Baby puppies that the twins end up getting from Santa.)

Basket of puppies to adopt
Julia with Pink Bunny and her new puppy
Make Collar for New Puppy
This station has foam strips for collars that the kids decorate with foam shape stickers and jewel stickers. The kids also choose names for their dogs and have grown-ups write them on dog tags. My parents graciously sit at this station and help the kids assemble their collars. James’s dog is named James Junior (J.J.) and Julia’s is Bunny Junior (B.J.).

Dog collar making station

Gaga helps string collars.
Papa helps Ronan.

One of the finished products: Lyra’s Ruffy.

Vet and Grooming

This is a place where kids can play with their new doggy with vet and doctor instruments, a vet’s lab coat (thanks, Tracy), band-aids, and grooming tools.

Phoebe gives Barkley (she calls it Coco) a check-up. My kids are prone to hiding this dog before Phoebe comes over for playdates because she loves it so much they think she’s liable to keep it.

Become a Puppy
There are headbands with dog ears (only Phoebe wears the ears for more than a minute), and a make-up kit and example dog make-up pictures so the kids could dress as dogs. The only ones to get make-up are Zachary and Zoe.

Puppy James with his dog ears (and if you look closely, Puppy Papa - or should I say "Paw-Paw"?)
Me and my puppies

And there were other activities:

Each guest gets a dog bowl (cleaned before the party) personalized with puffy letter stickers. They are surprisingly popular. The kids eat their snacks out of them (along with pizza, Jello, and cupcakes). Phoebe really gets into character and, unprompted, eats on the floor out of her bowl with no hands. As I write this, Julia and James continue to love their bowls and play with them all the time.

All the kids get their own personalized dog bowl.

Zachary sits on Sharon’s lap while eating snacks out of his bowl.
Ronan rides around on the Plasma Car with his bowl.

Feet out of the bowl, James!

No one is as committed to being a dog as Phoebe.

I present snacks in real dog bowls, which really help make the Cocoa Puffs look like real dog kibble. The similarity is a little disturbing. Thick pretzel twists double for rawhide chews, and graham cracker Scooby Snacks are our dog bones.


Sam holds up kibble.
Zoe gets a closer look at the snacks. 

Hunt for Dalmatian Spots Game
I drew a dalmatian on white foam core board with no spots and then hid black construction paper spots in the living room for the kids to find.

Ronan and Phoebe put the spots they found on my sad drawing of a dalmatian.

Lunch and Bone Jello Jigglers
Mark picked up lunch from Pizza Hut and the kids all drank from bone-shaped cups with straws. The second course is bone-shaped Jello jigglers. We made them in the hopes that the kids would eat them like a dog (a.k.a. with no hands), but Ronan is the only taker.

James with his bone cup and Jello jiggler

Jello jiggler close-up!



And then Ronan really digs in!

For the third year running we have mini chocolate and vanilla Whole Food cupcakes. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) The vanilla ones are studded with chocolate chips and Peppermint Patties to make pawprints. We sing “Happy Birthday” to each of our kids in turn. Since James and Julia were born at 12:13 and 12:14 p.m. respectively, and the party is on their true birthday, they turn four exactly during the party.

Vanilla pawprint cupcakes
Chocolate cupcakes, with and without bones

The doggy family

James’s and Julia’s candles are lit.

Julia listens to us sing Happy Birthday.

After two previous years of swiping Julia's cupcake when she didn't eat it, Ronan saunters over while the candles are still lit.
"Ronan, at least let me blow out the candles before you take my cupcake."

This picture makes it look like Julia ate her cupcake, but I’m pretty sure she barely took a nibble.

Dog-Related Activities We Don’t Do
We run out of time for some dog-related activities I had planned such as having a barking contest, a freeze dance to Who Let the Dogs Out and other dog songs, and having each child introduce their puppies and tell us what makes them special. I also forgot to have our guests bark instead of sing Happy Birthday.

I don’t have gift bags but each child gets a pretty good stash of dog-themed goods including an adopted dog with collar, dog bowl, bone cup, dog ear headband, and dog balloon.

Puppy balloons at every seat that guests could bring home
Puppy balloon close-up

End of the Party
For the last 45 minutes or so the mood is comfortable and chill, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to drag everyone together for another dog-related activity. The moms chat and the kids play. Papa wrestles with James and Julia and then Josh and Sam join in to try to take him down.

Sam pulls Papa’s beard.

Julia and James watch as Josh and Sam wrestle Papa.

Papa with James and Julia and Debbie with Josh and Sam, read a book together.

After everyone leaves my kids wrestle.

Later when I ask our kids, James declares the cupcakes his favorite part and Julia says “all of it.”

Happy grandparents with their grandpuppies.
Lilypie Pregnancy tickers