Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Playbox Subscriptions: Worth It?

It's fortunate that I have a day job, which allows my night-blogging to be without the pressure to earn.  Granted that I work in marketing and used to do the blog-sponsporing, nowadays as a reader I tune out from too many blogs for this reason.  (The irony of this has not escaped me)

For this reason I have decided that there aren't enough objective reviews out there, and being a single-job working mom gives me the luxury to do those.  The luxury of time is another story.  If I have any appetite to review something, it will be potential solutions for a busy working mom.   

In this case it's something very tempting : monthly play box subscriptions.  Are they worth it?



If you live in the Philippines there are two options: Kahone and Sandbox.  Wonderful idea, if you ask me.  But pricey!  Can't blame them, they're a business that needs to make maybe, 50% profit margin.  There are discounted subscription options but they require commitment.  Before you do, perhaps consider these three reasons:

1.  Can you DIY it?
In play box subscriptions, most of the activities are DIY-able.  I'm no creative genius, but I can certainly do an easy craft with my toddler/preschooler.  And you can do them at home with better quality materials.  Good markers and glue.  A glass jar instead of a plastic one.  You don't need more cheap stuff.  Or all that unnecessary plastic packaging used for the stuff inside. 

All you need to do is to invest in accessible craft materials around the house.  They'll pretty much last forever - longer than you think.  Buy the best you can afford and empower the kids to use them freely.

Make an accessible crafts shelf in the playroom with drawers full of stuff for creating
2.  Is it a special occasion or theme?
Kahone does a good job of special topics that would normally take a lot of time to research for DIY.  For Buwan ng Wika, I ordered a Filipino-themed box since I desperately want Ladybug to love her country and language.  It was also nearing her birthday so the package doubled as a special surprise.  

I just left it on her top shelf to discover after her bath.
She found it immediately and yelled "where did this box come from!?" 

I love the idea of gifting a play box and having kids get mail.  She loved seeing her name on the box.

3.  Will you make your child do all the activities?
Parenting style comes a lot into this.  Each play box will come with 4 activities or so, and the chances of consistent high interest in every activity will be slim.  Know that every box contains stimulus for play, but is highly parent-led rather than child-led.  If your child won't play, how will you react as a playmate?  As a parent?

My parenting style is child-led, since I've learned never to let the teacher role take over during playtime.  So that meant we only did half of the box and saved the rest for "later" (never).

The "sipa" activity was her favourite.  It was a great fine motor activity for her six-year old fingers, and a fun gross motor activity with the finished product.  We played with this for a week and it's still out in her shelf.
Some boxes seem to be very prepartion-intensive also.  We had to cut out the dresses to fit the paper dolls.

She did one at least, but lost interest in playing or talking about the traditional dress.
Sandbox seems to have less adult prep work needed.
The rest were too prep-intensive and even I didn't want to prepare them ahead.

***

The bottom-line when to pay for a play box:

... when kids will learn lessons more than just making "crafts" you can DIY
... when it's a very cool gift with no further expectations but to enjoy the moment


Personally here are the play boxes that I absolutely love investing in:

It's not a box, it's the panda's home in the River Safari zoo
It's not a box, it's the Antarctica continent
It's not a box, it's a treasure hunt chest
It's not a box, it's a "crystal palace"
It's not a box, it's some goods for our pretend toystore: "Fantastic Costumes for Cinderella"
It's not a box, it's an aquarium

Worth every peso, worth every minute.

***

Drop in a comment to share your own views!  

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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Simple Treasure Hunt

I love simple activities that can squeeze into that precious time before bedtime routines begin.  It lets me shake off office-mode and more importantly, get me into my child's world and reconnect.

But it has to be really simple - frankly, we'd never play on weekdays otherwise.  Like this:


All you need is a box of "treasure" (or whatever) and a map.

We drew this map together - which back then at three years old meant I drew while she guided me and chattered about it.  I used this chance to talk about spatial dimensions while I drew: round table, rectangle bed, curvy lines, and all.

A map of her room

It's worth mentioning that spatial skills training in this way starts around that age.   I may have started her on difficult puzzles too early because she shied away from them when she couldn't figure them out.  It was only later that I found out that puzzles should also progress from straight-sided ones, to the common jigsaw ones, to the cube ones.  So for a while, doing activities like this treasure hunt was the only thing that clicked for her.  

Spatial skills are also one of the intelligences that are neglected in traditional school.  I should know - those were my lowest test scores when I took aptitude tests in high school.  If like me, your curiosity makes you want to read more about spatial intelligence and activities, this article was helpful.

I asked her to go outside the room while I hid the treasure and marked the spot where I hid it

 You can make this as hard or as easy as you like to adjust to your child.
"Can you find where the treasure is?"

"Here!"



I let her lead, too.  She hid the treasure, marked the spot and called me back into the room to hunt:

X marks her spot.  In her trademark purple.

And that was our floor-time for the day.  

You can read more about floor-time as a "hands-on working mom hack" in the article I wrote for The Learning Basket.   And then head on back here to check out the growing gallery of after-work play ideas in the archives:

Click HERE or head to the galleries buttons on the upper right side of the blog.

My list is short so I'd love to learn with you.  How do you squeeze in play with your kids?


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Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Working Mom's Choice


Twice a day, my decision to be a working mom is put to the test.  

The first is when I leave home in the morning.  The energy needed to overcome the inertia of being mommy-mode at home takes lots and lots and lots of coffee.  

The second is ironic because it's when I leave the office.  Because of traffic.  Manila traffic mocks me everyday:  you asked for this.  this is living the dream, baby.
   
So why do I do it?  

Mariel and Sanne of The Learning Basket asked me to write about why I made the choice to be a working mom.  These two moms are amazing homeschoolers, but we met purely through our online discovery of surprisingly common passions.  I've always been vocal that homeschoolers are my inspiration and I use many of their principles in my life as a working mom.

My answer wrote itself, and turned out to be intensely personal and related to the picture above.  Haha!  If you read it, I hope sharing its message brings you purpose and peace whatever life path you're on.  Thank you for being here, learning along with me!

Click here to go to the post on The Learning Basket.  


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Sunday, 28 September 2014

DIY Minions Halloween Party

Halloween stuff are out in toy stores and this year I'm hoping for a little less stress.  It has quickly become a holiday where  unless your child has two costumes, goes to at least three trick or treats, and gets as much candy as the next child, you have mama-FOMO*. (google it)

Last year my husband, who volunteers as a director in our subdivision, volunteered me to stage our village Halloween festivities.  Good God.  I may like kid's activities, but I actually don't like children's parties.  Nowadays the planning standards are wedding-level!  Totally intimidating to DIY.

With three weeks to go and not a lot of budget, we came up with some super-easy activities around the theme of Minions.  The party had some disaster areas as you'll see below, but the kids had fun.



#1 Turn a (well-lit) corner into a costume photo booth.

The clubhouse is huge but only half-built
Find a wooden frame.  I had one from a cheapo artwork that didn't survive a roof leak. 
Also find a willing helper:


Enlist willing helper to paint the entire thing yellow.  
This is just some poster paint sprinkled with gold glitter (purely for fun):


Find and print some minion goggles on the office laser printer.  Hush.  You do it too, admit it.
Have willing helper paint the top beam black.

Accept there will be mistakes and it's fine.  No one but you will notice.
There's even some red glitter in that yellow paint because she thought it would be fun.

Hang it up with some white shower curtains and you've got a photo booth!

Don't forget to hang it kid-height!  It's the detail most overlooked.
It looks super cool.  Here's her cousin in it:


#Bonus: Enlist willing helper in making the poster signs, too.

This is just paper from her art easel

#2 Make-Your-Own-Minion with a yellow balloon

How to fill that huge dreary space?
With fifty yellow balloons hung from the top!

Our very own minion army in-the-making. 

I put out poster paint but permanent markers may be better.  Especially if you're using another kind of paint in another activity - it prevents mixup.

#3 Kiddie Floor Painting.

Soooo much space!  I meant the floor.
The kids thought the wall.  Horror.
This activity takes the most preparation, more than I had anticipated.  We whizzed up a batch of cornstarch-and-food-coloring "paint" in the kitchen:

We put out lots of minion-yellow

But this goes fast.  I ended up having the kids make their own paint on-the-spot:

 

Win some, lose some.  Might have worked if we had more paint out and it was outside, where clearly "floor painting" meant floor painting.

So all this kept the kids busy until it was time for the program.  This time the willing helpers I enlisted were pros: My Masterpiece Movement.  Their stuff is original, intelligent and really catchy.  

The budget went willingly to them.

Anna and Rayyn Cortez of My Masterpiece Movement.  I like kiddie parties when they're around.
***

I felt like I totally squeaked by that party, but the kids had fun.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that kids can have fun without a lot of fanfare.


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Friday, 26 September 2014

Watercolor Art on Salt Tray

I must admit to a certain gigil with collecting art materials around our home.  When I was growing up, they were such a luxury!  Markers were expensive so I had hoarded away my one and only set and kept it unused until I found it years later all dried up.  Just like my interest in art.  

Today art materials are pretty accessible.  Which happily means that my little girl and I can experiment and explore art to our hearts' content.  Liquid watercolors are one such material.  Paired with an old favourite, the salt tray, it becomes a new favourite: sensorial art.


The photo above is our always-out-and-ready display of liquid watercolors on her art easel.  If you don't have liquid watercolors, a lot of food colouring drops mixed with water also works.

Here's how that whole thing was made : together! The idea is to set everything up first to look like an invitation to explore and any directions easy to show:

Liquid watercolor tubes from Daiso/88 Store; empty spare bottles, water to pour, pipettes for colour mixing, and paintbrushes for stirring. 

As much as it looks inviting to play with, to me this is "work".  A Montessori practice: preschoolers love to be empowered and feel like they are making meaningful contributions too (like a yuppie in a quarter-life crisis)!  And so I don't ask if she wants to play, I ask her help in my work.

"Mommy has to prepare some paint.  Would you like to help me?"

I tell her the steps, but she doesn't want a demonstration like a Montessori classroom would do.   For younger kids, it's best to demonstrate the whole thing first rather than teach step-by-step. 

Pour some water (not pictured).  Squeeze the colour tube into the jar.
Trusting children with normal household materials, like glass jars, is also encouraged in Montessori.  There's hardly any plastic in a Montessori classroom.  Even their drinking cups are glass.
Mix.  This is all excellent fine motor skills, which we need to work at.
For toddlers, this is great fine motor practice too.  Just adjust : you squeeze the tube ahead and have them pour a pre-measured amount of water into the glass.  Then mix!

The colour is so concentrated, we didn't even finish the whole tube
I let her test the colours out on watercolor paper for the best effect.  I love asking for art materials for her birthday or Christmas.  It's how we have that pricey paper around:

It's so vibrant that when the water in the bottles dry up, I just add more water or dilute when the water level goes low in the jars -- and it looks like fresh paint again.

We didn't have orange, so that's where the pipettes come in handy:

A color mixing lesson never gets old.
On to the art idea in this post!  Painting salt-over-glue designs with liquid watercolors is a popular idea that we tried that was 'just okay'.

Her finger strength wasn't up to drawing with a glue bottle so I made the design.

She is painting her name "drawn" with salt-over-glue.  The problem was that we left the salt-and-glue out for a week before we painted it, so sometimes the salt would come out when the paintbrush touched it.

I thought that a dropper would work better to spread the colour on the salt so I prepared this new invitation when we hosted her very first sleepover:

I poured salt on half of a "tray" (a plastic lid) as a guide for what do with the salt in those small cups on the left.

These cute droppers and pipettes are also from the Daiso/88 Store.
Do you get the idea?  You use the droppers and pipettes to drop some colour and watch it spread on the salt.  I had to explain this one, though.  It wasn't as intuitive an invitation as I hoped to leave-behind.  


The cousins each poured their cup of salt which interesting to feel (and taste).  I invited them to see what happens when they drop paint on the salt tray.  Ladybug Girl got started first since she's more used to these exploration activities and her cousin wasn't so interested yet.

Watch how salt absorbs and spreads the colour instantly.

Soon her cousin got into the action.  If you have a toddler, pre-fill the eyedroppers first : they'll love squeezing out the watercolor but will get frustrated if they work the dropper.

  


Ladybug Girl finished her art : a flower, she says.


And the girls proceeded to cover every inch of the salt tray in colour:


Later on I returned to the scene of the art attack and found this.  There's so much wonder in simple sensorial art materials that allow kids to explore:


Somebody got gigil too.  

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