Thursday, June 25, 2015

Favorite Summer Toys + Gear for Toddlers

Today is Pinterest Day for the Babywise Friendly Blog Network and we're all sharing on the topic of Summer. Follow us on Pinterest for more great tips, or check out the posts from the other ladies directly on their blogs.


In anticipation of baby Mary's upcoming arrival, I've been thinking ahead as to how I want to manage Drew's time this summer. Toddlerwise talks about the importance of balancing your toddler's time between free play and structured play; today I'm sharing some of our favorite outdoor free play toys and gear. Once baby Mary arrives, the major change in Drew's daily routine will be spending much more time at home, which means less outings to the beach and park for outdoor play. Fortunately we have some great outdoor play spaces at my dad's house (where we currently live), so I've been busy setting up summer fun stations to keep him occupied over the next few months. Summer came early this year which means I've been able to test out the stations the past few weeks to ensure that the outdoor toys and activities we have on hand are going to keep him entertained for the long haul. So far, so good!

Note: You can find many of these items (plus additional suggestions) in the Giving it Grace Amazon Store.

{ Favorite Summer Toys + Activities for Toddlers }
{ 1 } Water play: toddlers love water play in any shape or form. We have a Step2 Water Table similar to the one shown above, and it's worth every penny (but do try to find a used one because they hold up great over time!). Last summer I also picked up a small hard plastic pool from Fred Meyer; I like the plastic over the inflatable because I don't have to blow it up or worry about it ripping. (photo source)

{ 2 } Sports equipment: anything goes in this category, so keep your eyes peeled at garage sales and local consignment shops. Drew has a random collection of sports balls that keeps him busy. He also likes the basketball hoop a lot, but only if you are there to watch him and applaud him when he gets the ball in (such a showman!). The golf club set is a hit because both my husband and my dad like to play golf, and Drew likes to be like them. So if Papa (my dad) has his golf set out then Drew wants to get his golf set out. My husband also really likes the little kid golf set, so he opts to play that often with Drew.

{ 3 } Hands-on activities: we have a plastic 3-drawer organizer in the garage that houses the sidewalk chalk, bubble machine and extra bubbles, and remote control cars. Those three activities keep him very busy!

{ 4 } Climb-on toys: whatever it may be, something to climb on really helps get the wiggles out. Some of my girlfriends have invested in small to large play structures, and this is something we plan to do once we have our own house with our own yard (unless you're giving us one for free...then we'll take it now!). For now this slide is enough to keep Drew entertained (I hope!) in the climbing department.

{ 5 } Pretend play toys: toddlers like to mimic what adults do, so when Papa is mowing the lawn Drew likes to get out his lawn mower and "help". We got this lawn mower from Zulily, but I always see them at consignment shops and sales. We also have a small toy rake that Drew likes to use to rake the driveway when he sees Papa sweeping - too funny!

{ 6 } Ride-on toys: anything with wheels! We have the Step2 wagon and use it frequently either for wagon rides or for Drew to just push up and down the driveway. We don't have a Cozy Coupe, but I know they are wildly popular for toddlers and I do hope to find one at a garage sale over the summer!

{ Favorite Summer Gear for Toddlers }
{ 1 } Sunscreen: always a hot topic for moms as soon as we have our first nice day - amIright?! I chose to go with Blue Lizard after reading the recommendation on Lucie's List and then looking it up on the EWG website. It's not too thick or too oily, and they offer all of their sunscreens in a variety of sizes. You can order directly from their website (which I do), or from Amazon if you need it Prime. I generally place a large order in the spring time and then stock our various sunscreen stations around the house and in the car.

{ 2 } Outdoor lounge chairs: We purchased two Tommy Bahama outdoor lounge chairs using our Costco rebate last summer, and I just love them. Maybe it's because I'm short and regular size chairs always end up hurting the underside of my legs after a few minutes? I couldn't find them on the Costco website but last week I saw that they have them again at our local Costco, so I'm guessing most Costcos have them in stock right now. (photo source)

{ 3 } Beach towels: always good to have lots of these on hand, and ones you don't mind getting dirty. I keep these scattered throughout the house and car to avoid wet and dirty feet needing to go upstairs to the hallway closet to get one. 

{ 4 } Outdoor blanket: somehow we have several brands of this same type of blanket, but the JJ Cole one is my favorite. It's easy to fold up, easy to carry, and easy to wash down.

{ 5 + 6 + 7 } Swim gear: Carter's is my go-to for Drew's clothes, and I've been happy with their swim gear. The shirt and shorts are both UPF 50+, so I put him in these when he's playing in the direct sun (along with the Blue Lizard Sunscreen - yes, it's my goal to make sure he's the palest kid on the block!). The reusable swim diaper I use when I'm taking him somewhere in public to play in water (like the pool or the splash pad). We cloth diaper, so it just made sense for us to also use the reusable swim diapers.

{ 8 } Hat: I've been training Drew to wear a hat almost since birth, and my diligence has paid off in that he never protests wearing the hat and thinks it's just a part of going outside - summer or not. I love the hat for keeping the sun off his head and out of his eyes (just gotta make sure to put sunscreen on his ears and neck!). I let him wear the hat in the water at the pool and at splash parks and then just hang it on the clothesline to dry overnight.

{ 9 } Waterproof shoes: I love Crocs for kids - they are easy to get on and off, easy to clean, no Velcro, and they protect his toes.

Whatever you choose to keep your little ones busy during the summer months at home, I recommend setting up several outside play stations if you have the space for it. I try to limit Drew's outside play to one area per chunk of play time so that he's not playing with all the toys everyday and then getting bored with them. Fortunately he's two and has no concept of time so this tactic works well right now! I look forward to someday in the future when we have our own house where I can really organize the play spaces for maximum use and then have all the neighborhood kids over for summer play all summer long!

Anything I missed? What are some of your favorite outdoor summer toys, activities, and gear for toddlers?

This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Happy Father's Day Kyle!

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:3-5). 

To celebrate Father's Day, we took a ferry ride over to Kingston for dinner. It was Drew's first time on a ferry, and he was excited to be on a boat (he even wore his sailboat shirt!). It was so great spending family time together honoring Kyle and his role of father in our family. We love you Kyle!

We finished the evening by watching a train go by (boats and trains in one outing - Drew was over the moon!), and then having ice cream at a local ice cream shop. Perfect evening :-)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Toddler Table Time

Part of my weekly routine with Drew is a set time a few days a week that we sit down at his little table and do art or activities. This idea of parent-led play time is a suggestion from On Becoming Toddlerwise; the main idea being that mom picks the activity and the duration. This helps prepare toddlers for preschool or kindergarten (or life, really) where you don't just get to do what you want all the livelong day.

I call this part of our day "table time" and Drew calls "art? art? do artttttt?!" (in the cutest little voice possible!). On the mornings we do table time, it comes directly after his independent playtime in his crib (around 9AM). That way he's just come off of some alone time (and so have I) and is freshly ready to interact with mom, not tired, not hungry, and it's not quite warm enough to play outside yet. My entire goal at his age is to teach him how to sit at a table for a set amount of time and not get (too) distracted. We started at 10 minutes around 12 months old, and we're now up to 30 minutes at almost two years old. Eventually I plan to use table time to actually start teaching him things during this time (counting, letters, etc), but we are still working on staying engaged at the table for the whole 30 minutes for right now.

Here is a look at what is in our table time bins (as a side note: you can find many of these products - or similar products - in my Amazon Store if you want to try some at home with your toddler). (Psst - and here's a post I wrote about how to get started with Table Time!)

Button Art: great for fine motor skills, learning colors, matching colors
Letter magnets: for learning colors and letters (and spelling, eventually)
(or just for organizing, as Drew would prefer)
Card matching: I picked these up from the Dollar Store. One set is "things that go",
and the other set is animals. There are two of each picture so it's really
a card matching game but Drew just likes to organize the cards right now. I do try
to teach him "same" versus "different" but I don't think he's ready for that concept yet.
More cards from the Dollar Store: we just use these to name
objects that he knows the name of. And, of course, to organize.
Felt scenes: I got this idea from this blog. It took me a few hours one evening
to create all the scenes from left over felt I had on hand. He doesn't love this activity,
but I don't know that he totally understands how to use his imagination to change 
the scenes around yet.
Washable Crayola Markers: he would do markers at any moment of any
day, forever. Key word; washable. We're working on coloring 
on the page, but I learned quickly that washable markers are a must.
Crayons are out now that markers have been discovered,
but I'm still holding out hope that they'll come back around...
Tip: do not go cheap with the Dollar Store crayons, they don't work well at all!
Stickers: it has taken many months, but he's finally able to peel
the tiny stickers off and then place them on a page. I get all the stickers
from the Dollar Store.
The only thing not pictured is Play-Doh. We just have two mini tubs of Play-Doh right now, but that's enough to keep him busy. I have a few more activities I'm waiting to add into the rotation until after Baby Mary arrives (you'll see those in my Amazon Store) as I want to have some new things to do in the bins to freshen it up over the summer. .

Let's get mom-real for a moment: table time can be boring for me at times. There, I said it. I do love watching the wheels turn in my toddler's head, or watching his tiny fingers place stickers, or how he loves to show me all his creations...but also there are only so many times a grown woman can "do markers" before she wants to dump them all in the toilet and watch them slowly bleed out (and that woman would be me). So a few weeks ago we skipped table time completely for the whole week; I needed a break from it. I'm revealing this because not everything goes according to the schedule all the time around here and everyone (including me) still survives. Schedules are meant to serve you, not the other way around! The next week we resumed table time, and the markers lived to see another day...

Moms of toddlers...any activities your toddler loves that we should try for table time? I'm always looking for new ideas!

This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Guest Post: Why I Keep Coming Back to Babywise

I'm very (!!!) excited to share that Giving it Grace has recently been accepted into the Babywise Friendly Blog Network (BFBN). This is a network of 10 women bloggers tied together most prominently by our affection for all-things-Babywise. If you're a fan of Babywise, you've got to spend some time checking out the other blogs in this network - such amazing gals with wonderful blogs on a variety of topics!

As part of the BFBN we get to guest post on each other's blogs from time to time. Today, Giving it Grace is enjoying a guest post from Emily at The Journey of Parenthood. Because I have not written extensively about Babywise on this blog before, I thought there would be nothing better than to hear from a seasoned mom on her choice to do Babywise for her sweet family (seriously - how cute are her kiddos?!). Enjoy!

(PS - I'm guesting posting about meal planning over at Apffle a Day)


I'm Emily and I blog over at The Journey of Parenthood. I'm super excited to have Stephanie join the Babywise Friendly Blog Network and am honored to be guest posting on her blog today :)

When I got pregnant with my first baby (back in 2008) I read all kinds of pregnancy books. I watched all the birthing tv shows. I jumped into all things pregnancy. What I didn't do, however? I didn't read up much about what it would mean to be an actual parent. Ya know...when the nine months of pregnancy ends and then you have a child to raise for the next 18 years?!?!

When our son, Kye, was born I assumed it'd just all "click" with me. Everyone kept telling me that motherhood would come naturally. That I'd just know what to do. Um. I didn't. And I'm not saying that I don't believe in motherly instincts, I just know I personally felt pretty dang clueless about the whole parenting gig.

Thankfully when Kye was about 3 weeks old a good friend of mine told me to order On Becoming Baby Wise. I remember the day I got it in the mail and after reading the first chapter I was sold. I immediately started to implement the techniques in our home. I found Valerie's blog and went through a big learning curve but still had a baby who slept through the night at 8 weeks old!

It was not easy to adapt to the Babywise principles. It was a lot of work and it was tough to get others around me on board. Family had a hard time not getting to hold him a lot due to his frequent naps. Even my husband struggled to understand the why behind what we were working so hard at doing. Eventually though, it clicked. And really I don't think we understood just how large a role Babywise played in our parenting lives until we had our second child.

When Britt was born (in Dec of 2011), I didn't feel clueless. I felt confident. I had a game plan. I knew what I was doing and I had my handy guidebook to lead the way. I also had an extremely well behaved, smart, happy, and great sleeper in my then 2 ½ year old who was proof to everyone that Babywise is legit. No one questioned what we were doing with our new baby. There weren't all the opinions or "helpful suggestions." People around us were more supportive, understanding, and even helpful in our Babywise journey with her. Having been through it with Kye helped others to see our "why" and to understand the importance behind good sleep habits, consistency in routine, and sticking to our eat-wake-sleep cycle.

Not only were others more onboard with Babywise when we had our second baby, but we were so much more at ease with the whole process. We knew what to expect and understood that the tough early days would quickly pay off. Even though Britt was (and still is) a much different personality type than her brother, she still responded well to Babywise principles and she also slept through the night early on and is now a very happy, well-adjusted, easily adaptable, and great sleeping 3 year old!

When it came to our third baby, my confidence was through the roof. People constantly asked if I was nervous about being outnumbered. Me? Nervous? No way! After being a "baby wise mom" for 5 years I felt like I had it all down and could sleep train a baby in my sleep. When Tess was born (in July of 2014) I not only had support from friends and family in my parenting decisions, but I had help! People knew how much we valued good sleep practices from early on and offered to come help care for our older children so I could focus on Tess and getting her acclimated to the world.

With each baby I re-read Babywise from cover to cover. And even though I used the same principles for each of my children, they all responded in different ways. Kye and Tess had chronic 45 min intruder issues. Britt loved sleep from the start while the other two were lower sleep needs babies. Tess hit the 4 month sleep regression early and it was a beast. I think it's important to know that no matter how many times you've sleep trained a baby, that they will all respond in different ways. I went into my third time around expecting it to be smooth sailing and I was shocked when it wasn't as easy as I'd anticipated. Sure I knew the book cover to cover but this new little person? She hadn't read it. Even when you know the principles and are confident in the benefits, it is still a learning process. There are still times when I'd break down in tears. Times when I felt frustrated or defeated or like it'd never click with her.

Now Tess is 10 months old. And like her older siblings she also slept through the night at around 8 weeks old. She wakes up happy from each nap, her little internal clock knows when it's nap time, she plays independently, she is always smiling, and is healthy as can be. When we have baby #4 (down the road!) I will go into that pregnancy with Babywise in hand. I will know to expect rough days, and tough times but I will also continue to be confident in the outcome that the hard work will provide. I am a true believer in the Babywise process and am thankful to have it as a guide in my parenting decisions.

This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend 2015

We've started a tradition of an (almost) annual trip to visit our friends in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. It's the perfect distance away where we feel like we're truly taking a trip, but not so far away that we need to fly. Although Kyle would probably tell you differently as he is the one who is always driving!


We love visiting the Boones because they have a daughter that's very close in age to Drew, so it's especially fun to get the kids together. We make the drive over and back at night, so that Drew can sleep in the car for most of the drive (wayyyy better than trying to entertain him the whole time!). This doesn't work perfectly, but it works for the most part. This time around, he actually stayed awake close to 10pm, thanks to his new found love of calling out "truck!" every time a semi drove by. That got old by the time we reached Issaquah.

Studying up on his book of trucks for the drive
We made a pit-stop in Ellensburg to refuel (us, not the car) and since Drew was awake we decided to go into McDonald's (don't judge) to eat.
Trending: crocs + jammies
First Happy Meal toy...welcome to childhood, buddy!
He promptly zonked out once we got back on the road. He did wake up when we arrived at Nick and Kaleigh's but then, per usual, went right back to sleep for the night once we put him down in the pack n' play. Yet another win for sleep training! And speaking of sleep training...little Neva slept through our entire arrival, dog barking and all. Happily sleeping toddlers are a glorious thing, people.

Nick and Kyle played with the kids down by
the river while Kaleigh and I chatted in the shade. The kids got soaked!
Walking home from the river. What a blessed day!
On our last night there, we all went out to dinner. Then Nick and Kyle took the kids home for baths and bedtime, while Kaleigh and I snuck off to see Pitch Perfect 2. Three cheers for wonderful husbands!
Drew and Neva, hanging out in the car.
Listening to the band at the Kootenai County Farmers' Market
It's no secret I love a good Farmer's Market - this place was awesome!
Sadly it rained on the afternoon we took the kids to the splash park. The kids were ok with playing with the rain, but then it started to thunder and lighting so we had to go home. Drew was pretty upset, but it was nothing a cookie couldn't cure!  We decided to forgo the teaching moment about patience and dealing with life's curve balls and just let the kid eat cookies that afternoon. I think that was the right choice, because it's been weeks since our trip and he's still talking about eating cookies on the porch with dad!

Drew and Neva working on their romance
Playing chalk with dad
I don't have any pictures of it, but on Sunday morning we got to visit Anthem Friends Church with the Boones. It's so great to be a state away and still have a wonderful, Jesus-loving church to attend!

I do admit that it was a little "much" to make this trip 30+ weeks pregnant, but I'm so, so glad we did. We weren't perfectly packed, Drew did not eat balanced meals, and I somehow barely had enough diapers to last the weekend for him (I swear I counted twice?)...but there was much laughter, afternoon naps for everyone, and not much on the agenda. I really do hope we can continue to make the trip every year - and every year we tease that we are going to just pack up and move there!