Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Milk Carton Bento Boxes

Another great idea inspired by Family Fun magazine.
I used 1 liter milk and juice cartons but any size would work.
The original idea is to cut off the top and then shape the sides into flaps. The flaps can be folded down to close the box. I use a rubber band then to secure it shut.
These boxes are great for holding food for picnics or messy things that are hard to clean up. They can also work as portion control for edamame, popcorn and other foods that are generally prepared in large quantities.
While cutting up a new set of boxes the little guy laid claim to some of them. He thinks they make great garages and tunnels for his cars.
We also discovered that they work well as marker holders while coloring!

There are so many great ways to reuse things like cartons!

Bubbles Galore!

Here is a bubble activity inspired by Family Fun magazine.
I saw it, thought "hmm..." and didn't get around to in until months later.
Take a "pet" bottle (cheaper, weaker plastic works best) and cut off the end.
Cut a a piece of an old towel to cover the newly opened end.
Use a rubber band to fasten the towel on the bottle.
Dip the towel end into water and then dip it into dish soap.
Blow into the drinking end of the bottle.
These bubbles can grow long, like a snake and at pretty strong so they are fun to touch and play with. While this is a great activity for outdoors we enjoy doing it in the bath on a rainy day.

I don't have any pictures of us playing with these bubbles because I'm too busy playing to take pictures! I'll try to remember to take some next time!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Here's another homemade "toy" for small babies. I had thought about buying a mobile when preparing for the little guy's arrival but some of the things we were doing in preschool at the time inspired me to make one instead.
What you see here is super simple! The shapes are made from paper dough cut with cookie cutters and decorated with glitter glue. They are attached to a hanger/popsicle sticks with embroidery floss. I also made the middle section removable by tying the floss to a clothes pin. This allows me to change the hanging objects for added versatility.
Another variation that we tried was using origami for the hanging shapes. Anything would work really as long as the weight can be balanced.
I'm not a super crafter but If I could figure this out I'm sure anyone can!

New Favorite Book

Zilla has a new favorite book and song. Take a look at "All God's Critter's".
I have no clue when I first heard the song as it must have been when I was really little. We sang it at camp growing up and probably in Sunday School or at VBS too. It's one of the songs that has always stayed with me.

Between the fun pictures and great song you can't go wrong!
I've discovered though that everyone has their own version of the song!!! Check out the following video to hear a recording of the song.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Our Newest Books

Christmas Around The World by Brenda Trunkhill
Christmas will be here before we know it! I hope to give the little guy a tour of the world this year through Christmas traditions.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
This is such a classic book! We read it over and over again as kids.

Baby's First Easter by Emily Tuttle
I like the "Baby's First" series because they are beautiful board books. The handle also makes it easy for me to hold the book while the little guy is looking at it.

Here is another series which focuses on bringing the basics of faith and Christian life to kids in a way they can understand. Since I know 4 yr. olds can recite the Lord's Prayer from memory and the little guy hears it at least twice every Sunday (in Japanese) we're going to start with it.

The Story of Creation from Standard Publishing
This was a gift and what a great idea! It is probably more for kids over 3 but with supervision we still enjoy it. Each page has a part of the creation story and a felt space for the objects of that day of creation.

Toddler Tote

The Toddler Tote by Lauri is one of the toys that I've avoided buying for a long time. I'm not a huge fan of plastic toys but as I've been looking at home school curriculums for 2 yr. olds the Toddler Tote has come up again and again. I finally gave in and the timing is perfect.
I've separated the contents into 4 activity sets to be rotated through on our activity shelf. The first set is the pegs for stacking. The little guy turned them into a golf club almost right away!
The other sets are the puzzles divided up by size. They haven't had a chance to be on the shelf yet but I anticipate that they will be well used.
The age on this is 2-5 years old. I think it's took easy for most 5 yr. olds but great for the 2-3 year olds!
While the package would fall apart quickly with our travel style it serves well as a storage container for the pieces not in use. Also, on the box it says that the pieces are crafted in the US and that lost pieces can be replaced.
I wonder if the Toddler Totes are being sold anywhere in Japan...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hanging Toys

It can be hard to find interesting toys for little babies.
One of the places we go to play inspired this idea. They have silk scarves hanging from the ceiling on bungee cords. Here is my own version of that. This simple toy can serve so many purposes!
For babies who can't roll over it is good eye and hand exercise to have something to look at or just out of reach to try touching. With moving babies (crawl/walk) hanging things are a great motivation to keep moving. Even a toddler can have fun swatting at a ball or learning what happens if you pull and let go!
This is so simple to make. All you need is a clothes pin, some elastic cord and a soft object for the end. The ball is actually a dog toy with a jingle bell inside. It had a little loop to tie the elastic to. The other thing is a bandana. A light weight silk scarf that will move with the slightest breeze would also work well.
Tie one end of the elastic to the clothes pin and the other to the object.
Use the clothes pin to clip onto a curtain rod, door frame, etc.
As with any long string supervision is important. If the child manages to get a good grasp on the object he/she could also get wrapped in the string. I regularly shorten the string to keep the challenge in the activity.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Clothing Size Chart

On of the greatest challenges I have in finding clothes for the little guy is figuring out what size he is. Compared to the average Japanese baby his age he's on the tall side. His body shape is a bit different. I guess that's to be expected when neither of his parents is "normal"!
So, for the curious and for my own records here are the sizing charts in our local baby store. These vary from US and European sizing.
Baby Girls and Baby Boys
Newborns are listed but they are 50-60 cm (20-23 inches)
70 cm - 27 inches - 6 months
80 cm - 31 inches - 12-18 months
90 cm - 35 inches - 24 months
95 cm - 37 inches - 36 months

Boys and Girls sizes
100 cm - 39 inches - 3-4 yr. old
110 cm - 43 inches - 4-6 yr. old
120 cm - 47 inches - 6-7 yr. old
130 cm - 51 inches - 8-9 yr. old
140 cm - 55 inches - 10-11 yr. old

Monday, September 14, 2009

Signs at a Glance

This is the Signs at a Glance chart made and sold by Baby Signs. It lives on our fridge.
It came in the Baby SIgns started set that we got when the little guy was born. It has come in handy many times!
The words/signs that are included focus on what a toddler will probably want to share the most. Recently the little guy has even started going to it when he isn't sure about a sign!
The pictures are in the same style as the rest of the Baby Signs program so they're pretty easy to understand.

While on the topic of useful signing things to decorate your fridge...
Here is a flyer with important vocabulary for cold and flu season!
Of course if you want these signs to be useful if/when your child gets sick you'll need to start using them ahead of time. I've used them while reading a book where one of the characters is sick or when seeing a hospital or doctor on TV. Talking about potential situations like a visit to the doctor can help your little one to be less afraid when it does happen!

Magnet Sheets

I've recently found these magnet picture sheets at Daiso - the 100 yen shop (think dollar store). They jumped out at me as something that could be used in many different ways. The first use is as a vocabulary list. Each week I rotate through the ones that I keep on the fridge. This keeps the little guy interested. When he's a bit bigger I think they will make a nice puzzle. The third use will be making a copy of each sheet, laminating the copy and then using it for a matching game.

The little guy often "reads" the sheets to us. Tonight he was signing all the things he knew. However, once I turned the camera on he stopped! Even with prompting it was still cute!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Felt Sandwich

This is a project that I've wanted to work on for a while. Whenever possible I like for the little guy to have toys made of natural products such as wood or cloth. I've seen food made of felt by other people and wanted to give it a shot myself. So, here we have my first attempt - a ham sandwich with lettuce, cheese and tomato.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rainy Day Play

Before I get into things to do with a toddler on a rainy day I wanted to show you this simple toy that the little guy loves.
It's the bottom of a milk carton with holes punched in the side so a string can be attached. I decorated it with duct tape (one of the best inventions ever!) so it would look a little less milky. The idea actually came from a friend who makes these with her hoikuen (daycare) kids. She encourages the kids to put their little treasures in the box instead of in their pockets. An especially great idea when at the park!
Of course you need to supervise carefully when a toddler is wearing this because of the string. You also might need to keep an eye on you cell phone because it might get picked up as a treasure!

Here are my two no-fail fallbacks for indoor rainy day activities:

The little guy actually took the lego picture himself. He's very intent on learning to use the digital camera.
Legos in our house only come out on special occasions. It is hard to keep track of all the pieces if they are always out. Plus, that is something magical about *special* toys that makes them more interesting. I love that legos work both the fine motor skills and the imagination.
Blocks of all kinds - especially wooden ones - are great.
Pictured here is our new set of nesting blocks. I had hoped to get the Montessori pink ones but when I found these on sale for about $7 on the Japanese amazon I just couldn't pass them up!
I'm not much for the busy design but the little guy had great fun going through all the pictures and naming objects and characters that he recognized. He's picking up on the difference between letters and numbers. We even went from 1-10 tracing the numbers on each box. Next time we play with them I hope to introduce tracing the alphabet. Maybe he can learn a few letters besides A, B and W!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Musician at Heart

When it comes to drumming creativity abounds!
The little guy went around drumming on various items until he found just the right sounds for his set.
The music is in his soul!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Books We Love

Reading is so important but I'm sure we've all heard that.
I grew up in a house full of books with easy access to the city and school libraries. In Tokyo though I find it harder to get my hands on the books that I want. I have a difficult time finding good books in the variety of languages that I'd like to share with the little guy.
So, as I'm always looking for good book recommendations I thought I'd share some of the books that we love!
いろいろかくれんぼ」のシリズ by いしかわこうじ
This series of books draws in children with a plain page and a riddle followed by a page with a hole in it that when turned creates a picture and the answer to the riddle. An additional point of interest is that the color and the name (answer) to the riddle are given in English.
We started with こどもものしりずかん―にほんご+えいご (単行本) by 永岡書店編集部 and quickly got hooked on the series. I think we have 3, maybe 4 of these books. While they overlap a lot there are also enough individual differences between books to keep a kid interested. The little guy loves to point and ask us what the various pictures are.
I like the bilingual ones as they help build my vocabulary and the little guy can ask anyone to read them to him.

Fahr, Auto, fahr von Gregoire Solotareff

This is a book I've had since high school. I bought it on one of my trips to Germany. I also have another book from the same series. They are easy to read, have simple pictures and use fun action words.

Mein Finger-Nachfahr-Buch. Durch die Natur von Johanna Fritz

Can I just say that I love European books? The colors and ideas are great. This one is has an indented path on each page for the child to follow with his finger. It's great for pre-writing practice!

While I've seen the same book in English this is by far more fun to read in German. With the "lift the flap" parts and various animal sounds you can make, any kid could get drawn in!
On to the English books... Each of these is just one book from a great series.
Dry Bones by Kate Edmunds - from the series Books with Holes
Pat-a-Cake by Tom Brannon- from the series Sesame Beginnings
My Train - from a dollar store series
Things I Do in Church by Kathy Mitter- from the CPH Things I _____ series

Here are some of the miscellaneous favorites.

Drummer Hoff - a classic Caldecott Medal winner

Lisa's Airplane Trip - the perfect preparation and take-along book for long flights with small kids!
Last but not least - The Wiggles Wake Up Jeff! I found this on sale at the grocery store when I went home last summer. I'm probably the only person in the small town who knew who the Wiggles were... but what a deal! The clock hands move so we can talk about the time of the activity on each page!

As you can probably tell I LOVE books! I've always got my eye open for great ones.
Honestly though, how did people survive before Amazon? With I can get just about any book I want from anywhere in the whole world in just a few weeks!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Toddler's Mind

I've been noticing some changes in the way the little guy views things. Perhaps this is part of the mental growth spurt he seems to be having.
This week he lined up his cars and signed to me that he is playing with a train. He's figured out that trains consist of smaller sections - cars. He spent a while trying to figure out how to connect the cars to each other. When nothing worked he gave up on the train idea and returned to using them as regular cars.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Adapting to the Child

I've used milk and juice cartons to make a step for the sink. They can also be turned into stools for little kids to sit on and even a "stove" for him to cook on. The stove is a picture of our stove printed out from the computer and taped to the top of a box.
Allowing the little guy to reach the sink really wasn't to he could play... it was so he could put his dishes in the sink after eating and reach the water to wash his hands (eventually) by himself.
Since reaching the sink includes reaching the counter we've hd to be a lot more careful about what we leave out. Being able to see what we are doing on the counter though has helped to satisfy some of his curiosity about what goes on "up there".

A Toddler must-have!

I found a most useful item on the Japanese Amazon site. I've often used it to help the little guy to sit safely in a restaurant high chair (they don't always have straps) or enable him to sit on a regular chair when there aren't any high chairs. When I saw this I had to order it and now I'm glad I did!
Once I opened the package I had a feeling of "I wish I'd invented this!" - another good sign. It's basically a piece of cloth in the shape of a cloth diaper cover with an attached strap which goes around the back of a chair to secure the little one in place. The velcro is in large patches and the material will wipe off easily. A great bonus is that you can fold the thing up to about the size of a digital camera.

Rice for Babies

This nifty gadget is for making okayu (watered down rice) for babies.
The glass jar goes in your automatic rice maker when you make normal rice. The rice to water proportion is different from the regular rice making for a softer cooked rice which babies can eat. You start out at 10/1 at 6 months and by age one the babies should be able to eat regular rice. The various measurements are written right on the jar.
The other pieces in the picture include a strainer, measuring spoon and a little rubber "pot holder" for taking the jar out of the rice maker as it is very, very hot after cooking. I'm sure I'll misplace the instructions at some time too so I took a picture of them.
While we don't eat rice every day we have found this to be a very helpful tool. I often would make a jar full and then divide it into smaller containers to have on hand for quick meals. The little guy liked rice mixed in with just about every fruit or veggie mush that we gave him.

Eating Out Bag

I have developed a bit of an interest in what everyone carries in their diaper bag. It's one way to get an insight into the life of the family. Here are the things I keep for when we go out to eat. This is for storing powdered formula or other powder. We don't use it much now but it was a very useful item![DSCN9435]
Here is the Bento Bag. While it doesn't have room for his lunch it does include the pieces he needs for a eating a lunch out.

From the top left there is the seat strap thingy for helping baby sit on a regular chair. Next is a baggie with paper towels, a pack of wet wipes and a spout with handle that fits on top of soda/tea/water bottles. The green thing is a spoon in a travel case, there's a disposable bib and a nifty holder for juice/milk boxes. I love the box holder thing since it prevents the little guy from squeezing his drink all over himself!
Last but not least is a pack of cookies. I try to keep a small snack on hand at all times.
Honestly this bag stays packed most of the time so I can grab it and go when the whim hits!

MagMag Cup

[DSCN9440]This is a cup with changeable tops. When you are short on space (or want to save money) this is a greata option. As you can see on the label it's designed to take baby through the different stages starting with drinking from a bottle around 2-3 months. At 5 months you switch to a sippy cup style top and at 8 months to a straw or open cup top. Little guy wasn't a huge fan of the first two tops but I chalk that up to his using a natural-style nipple bottle. Now he uses the starw top most of the time. I don't have a picture of the case but we did get an insulated case which can be used to keep drinks warm or cool.
This cup set is by far one of the most useful things we bought.

Baby/Toddler/Child Food Cookbook

On one of the yahoo groups I'm a part of there was an American book suggested as a "must have". I want just one good baby food book and after looking at this one online I had to get it... and am I ever so glad I did!
The book is called "First Meals" by Annabel Karmel.
The first thing that caught my attention about he book is that most of the recipes are the make from scratch kind. Since we often don't have the same products in grocery stores here as the ones offered in the US I'm often frustrated when I see a recipe that includes pudding, jello or some other hard to find ingredient.
I love that the book is not just a bunch of recipes. It includes nutritional information and guidelines for each stage of eating from first solids to 7 yrs old. There are example week-long meal plans in the back which are so helpful! I'm keeping one on the fridge to help me make sure I give the little guy a balanced diet.
I'm a "learn by seeing" person and the book has plenty of pictures! They were especially helpful in the beginning when making mushy baby food have the right consistency of mushiness.
A helpful thing for busy parents is that each recipe has details such as preparation time, suitability for freezing and various tips for preparation and presentation.
Some of the recipes look so yummy. It's great to find healthy things the whole family can enjoy!