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5 non-messy arts and crafts activities for your child

by Lisa on 

Water Painting Doodle MatEvery child needs to explore arts and crafts. Sometimes it gets messy (like it should!) And other times you just want the benefits without the mess.

Their little hands benefit from manipulating artsy materials. And creating a finished craft teaches kids valuable lessons in patience, creativity, perseverance, and how things work.

What’s a mom to do for those times you want the crafts without the mess? We put on our Thinking Caps (our Beanie hats, of course) and these are the products we came up with.

All the art, none of the mess

Wikki Stix

These little WikkiStix are soft and bendy and slightly tacky so they can stick together – but their stickiness doesn’t come off onto your little one’s hands. Kids can curl them up, twist them together, bend them all around and even stick them onto a page to create images and scenes, letters, numbers and shapes. And then use them again whenever they feel like it! No residue and no cleaning required.

Write with water

Does your little boy or girl love to write but make you nervous when the markers and crayons come out? Try this neat water painting doodle mat that comes with a pen you fill up with water.

As your child “draws” over different sections, colors appear, making it look like he or she is using markers. The pen is easy to hold and draws nicely.

No erasing is required, as the water dries and the writing/drawing disappears in five minutes. (If you want to preserve one of her creations, you’d better take a picture!)

Magnetic drawing board

A classic toy that makers got right a long time ago, magnetic drawing boards now come with all kinds of bells and whistles. However, the fun remains writing, drawing and using your imagination – all without any chance of spills, stains, or mess.

My son received one for his birthday when he was two and he is still using it every day at four. (He used to draw cars, now he practices writing numbers.) These are great for travel, as the pen is attached and can’t be dropped or lost.


We got this foam craft set at our local supermarket one time when my son was allowed to pick out a toy for himself. It took me a long time to actually bring it out to use it with him, because it just looked daunting. But boy was it fun! And it was much easier than I thought.

You basically use a little damp sponge (so the water can’t even be spilled!) to wet the foam pieces and stick them together to create shapes. You can press shape templates onto them, cut them, and even reshape them to really get creative!

Sticky Mosaics

Creating messy mosaics were so fun when I was little. Now my son can do it all by himself using stickers and a cute template. This sticky mosaic kit lets him use his tiny fingers to pull apart stickers to fill in the corresponding shapes on the picture. When he finishes one, it has a tab for hanging the complete mosaic and a spot for him to write his name and the date on the back. I hang them in his room, they’re that cute!

Disclosure: I (the blogger at Beanie Designs) have used all these products with my son, to great success. Beanie Designs is not affiliated with nor receiving any sort of compensation for the product links above – except for the satisfaction of being helpful to our customers. Learn more about Beanie Designs.

Do you have any more non-messy craft activities to add?

The power of dress-up play

by Lisa on 
Last minute pirate costume

Little kids love to dress up in costumes. From dashing superheroes in capes to dainty ballerinas in frilly tutus, a new identity emerges when little boys and girls dress up.

In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a full-on costume for kids to feel the excitement of a disguise. Our animal ear hats are a great way for babies to start. They know that something is different – Why are there little ears on top of my head suddenly? - and they thrill to look at themselves in the mirror.

In my circle of play date friends, many kids as young as three years old know Spider Man, Batman, and other famous characters.

However, my son had never been one for dressing up. With vague disinterest, he would wear dutifully anything I put on him (a fireman’s hat after visiting the fire station, a train engineer’s hat and scarf at a friend’s birthday party, a homemade Pinocchio costume last October). Though he always passed by the costumes if it were his choice.

It wasn’t until preschool that my little boy really had to dress up.

It started with summer camp. His Montessori teacher was so enthused about dress-up play that she herself dressed up most days, and there was a mandatory dress-up day for the kids once a week.

We pulled together a pirate costume one morning from odds and ends around the house )pictured above). A t-shirt with a panda bear’s face on it sufficed for animal week. And his Pinocchio costume won him an award and rave reviews.

Now, at four years old, he has a favorite TV show: Super Why. When he found out he could wear a costume to dress up like Super Why, he nearly jumped out of his pants then and there! When it arrived, I had to put it on him immediately, and he even wore the mask for the rest of the day.

I must say I’m glad he is showing interest now. I think the excitement of dressing up should be part of every child’s young years. outlines some of the reasons why dress-up play is so important for our kids.

If dress-up play is already a staple at your house, drop your favorite tips for the rest of us in the comments below!

And, finally, in case you’re just getting started, here are some of our other hats for dressing out of the ordinary.

Making a musical child

by Lisa on 

Children are drawn to music innately. You can see a ten-month-old baby rocking back and forth to the tunes on her toys. As babies get older, they naturally start to dance when they hear music.

My husband and I are musically challenged.  I can’t keep a beat to save my life. But I always wished I learned to play an instrument like the piano.

So, here we are with our own kids now, wanting to give them the gift of musical talent. tells us some of the major benefits of music for kids: it helps develop their brain, memory, confidence, social skills, patience, discipline, creativity, and more!

I talked with a musical friend who plays the piano, guitar and flute. Here are her recommendations for a place to start with your child’s musical education:

  • Introduce your child to the beat.

Kit Eakle, a violinist and music teacher, says on his website keeping a beat is at the very heart of music making: “Many professional musicians will tell you that the distinction between a good musician and a poor one is most accurately assessed by the strength of his or her feel for the beat. This “feel” is crucial and it is strongly affected by early childhood experiences.”

See his principles for keeping a beat and then his recommended activities. Find opportunities for your child to keep a beat as you go about your day.

  • While they are young is the time to try out a variety of instruments. Make sure you have some of the basic music making toys around your house, and make time to play on them with your child. Even if you aren’t able to create a song yourself, you can at least have fun exploring the different sounds together. Start with very affordable instruments like a wooden drum, xylophone, clackers, shakers, tambourine, harmonica, clarinet, etc.
  • Pick an instrument and let your child take lessons. Many instructors will start teaching the violin as early as three! Even if they don’t fall in love with that first instrument, your child will have learned about music and can transfer that knowledge to another instrument.
  • Listen to different kinds of music and talk about it. Try to pick out the different sounds of instruments with your child.
  • Watch videos of musical performances on Or, even better, attend live performances. What really gets young kids interested is seeing other children playing instruments. Then they know they can do it, too—its not just something for adults!

Share with us how you’re inspiring your child to be musical here, too.

What no one tells you about preschool

by Lisa on 

So, you wait until your child is four years old, or thereabouts, to enroll him or her in a great preschool. You do your research, then sit back and look forward to it, anticipating more time to yourself while your child is learning great things and making new friends.

But wait. The hard part is just beginning. There is a learning curve to getting along in preschool for mom, too.

Weird new behavior

Your kid may bring home strange sayings picked up from her new friends. His potty habits may pull a reverse on you. If you suddenly notice your child acting strangely in these first few weeks of preschool, you’re not alone. Some kids have tantrums more often. Others fall asleep by 5 pm if they’re not getting naps at school.

Your little boy or girl is entering a whole new world, and it feels strange to see the effects as they learn to step out on their own bit by bit.

Morning madness

Mornings just become a whirlwind when you have to get your child out the door by a certain time. There’s lunch to pack, breakfast to be eaten, little arms and legs to be clothed.

Preschoolers venturing to school for the first time can be known to drag their feet just when you need them to hurry up. Suddenly, they forget how to put their own shoes on, and of course they insist that mommy do it for them.

The drop-off and pickup

It’s not like you’re walking your child to the end of the driveway to get on the school bus. You’ve got to pile him or her into the car, along with any younger siblings you keep at home with you… and then all get out on the other end, too.

You walk your child to the classroom, and then pile yourself (and the others if you have more kids) back into the car and go home. The whole procedure is repeated again in a couple hours. If you’re lucky, your husband may do the drop while you do the pickup.

Parent involvement

Scholastic Book Club order forms, fundraising activities, festivals, volunteering, donation signups, parent-teacher meetings, orientations, field trips, spirit days, dress-up days, school pictures… it seems there is something new every week that requires a bit of effort.

Of course you want to be involved for your child. It’s just that you picture it more like helping out in the classroom, so you don’t see all these little things coming.

Sick days

You’re paying thousands of dollars for those first few months, but it seems your child is home more than at school! She picks up every bug going around, since it’s her first time in a group childcare setting. And it spreads through your family, leaving that first school year a blur for all of you.

After six weeks as a mom to a new preschooler, this is what has hit me. How about you? What took you by surprise?

Preparing your child for preschool

by Lisa on 

For a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), the first day of preschool is a big deal.  Your little boy or girl probably hasn’t spent much time away from you, and he or she looks to you to make the day run smoothly.

It’s scary for kids, and I was worried about how my son would do.

I didn’t expect him to embrace preschool readily, so I developed a four-part plan to ease him into it:

We started with some teacher-led classes at a local kids’ center

I enrolled my son in a few classes that would allow him to understand how a classroom works. A local activity center offered classes in everything from art to science and music for little kids. The classes were only 30 minutes long, and I could watch through the window to see how he was doing.

The key components were that Mommy was not in the class with him, and the class was led by a teacher. This gave him a chance to get used to following directions given by another adult, and to sit quietly with other kids.

I’m really glad I did this, because he needed a lot of guidance. He was so interested in the other kids that he would irritate them on purpose just to see what they would do, sometimes kicking their chairs or pulling little girls’ hair.

We had some great talks about this, and thankfully this behavior disappeared by the next step…

Next he started summer camp part-time at the preschool he would be attending

Summer camp is often a more relaxed version of school, yet the teachers follow the same basic classroom routines. (Here’s a handy worksheet for evaluating preschools.)

We actually let him start in the beginner’s class (ages 2-4), thinking it would be easier if he were in with a slightly younger crowd who were also learning the ropes. Though he enjoyed it, he found it a bit chaotic with the two-year-olds interrupting his “work”.

Also, thinking it would be difficult for him to adjust, we only enrolled him for every second week. To do it over, I might have done the entire five weeks, as it was tough to establish a routine with one week on, one week off.

He met the teacher and explored the classroom prior to the first day of preschool

Since he was moving up a grade, he would have a new teacher for his preschool class. She scheduled a day of orientation where the kids could all come in with their parents (four kids at a time, scheduled throughout the day) and take a look around. This really helped to alleviate anxiety, as he knew exactly what it would look like on his first day.

He practiced doing things by himself

While there, I helped my son go to the bathroom and get a drink of water, so he would know how to do those things by himself come Monday.

At home, we are helping him practice dressing himself, feeding himself, and going to the bathroom completely independently.

He isn’t staying at school for lunch, as he still needs an afternoon nap. But when he’s ready, we’re going to practice using his lunchbox and eating by himself at home first, start to finish.

So, how is it going?

Well, it’s only been three days so far. But he seems comfortable there, and he even knows some of the other kids from summer camp. He hasn’t cried at drop-off, though he has said he wants me to stay the whole day with him. Time will tell. The teachers say it takes about six weeks to fully adjust.

A fun side of all this for me has been picking out school clothes for him. Don’t underestimate the importance of helping your child look his or her best! A sweet little kids’ hat from Beanie Designs can add the feel-good factor to the day’s outfit as well as protect little heads and ears during outdoor play as Fall weather kicks in.

Your first day of preschool

by Lisa on 

It’s a huge day. Your little one is going to school for the first time. It’s the beginning of a formal education that may continue well into your child’s twenties.

That first day of preschool is full of meaning for us as parents.

It means your little boy or girl is growing up.

Someone else will be taking care of him and teaching him things for a large part of the day. It means he won’t need you quite as much as he once did.

It means she will have a chance to make friends on her own. She might be good at it, or she might not. But this first day of preschool means she will be attempting lots of new things – some will be met with success and some she will fail, at least the first time.

It’s hard to see our children take this big step towards independence. Until this day, we as parents have orchestrated their little days and nights as much as we could, attempting to expose them to experiences that would mold them into healthy, resilient, loving kids.

Now we let them out into the world to practice the things we’ve taught at home, and learn new things along the way, too.

The first day of preschool is not always pretty. It’s excruciating to watch your little girl crying on that first day. Perhaps even every day for the first week.

But take heart, parents. I stood side by side with other parents agonizing over their little boys’ and girls’ tears, as we watched through the blinds of the classroom out to the playground that first day.

A few parents cried. Some wondered if they’d made the right decision, if their children were really ready for preschool.

The teachers reassured us that the children would stop crying within 15 minutes, and then no longer cry at morning drop-off after a week.

It was hard to believe, standing there with your heart in your throat watching your little one bawling and trying to get back to the gate to run after you.

My son said one boy cried the entire morning. But then we saw that same boy at morning drop-off two weeks later, and he was running ahead of his mom to get to class!

At my son’s preschool, the teachers were affectionate and respectful of the children, carrying them if they needed a soft touch and using their names properly from even that first day.

As the first day of preschool draws near for you and your child, prepare your heart. Know that that day might not be easy, but such big steps rarely are. And even if your child is the one who cries the entire first week, she might be the one running ahead to get there faster a week or two later.


by Lisa on 

My almost-four-year-old son can’t wait to get home from preschool to practice tennis on the Wii. I tell myself that at least it’s a sport he’s playing, and not a shooting game. Albeit a virtual sport.

Our family really isn’t into video games. Still, golf and tennis on the Wii have become a daily bonding ritual for my husband and little boy. They keep score and compete, as boys need to do. My husband even practices after the little one is in bed! And my son practices while Daddy is at work.

With all the virtual fun they are having, should I be worried?

Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift, calls out video games as a factor contributing to the rampant lack of ambition among boys today.

He notes that the satisfaction of achievement without the real-world risk is helping create young men who would rather spend time in virtual reality than in real reality, and thus are lacking the drive required to succeed in real life. It’s part of the reason that “a third of men ages 22–34 are still living at home with their parents—about a 100 percent increase in the past twenty years”.

I can see just how it is addictive. My son watches as his score goes up, getting closer and closer to pro status. He feels like he’s really good at it, and that makes him proud.

A pediatrician who writes for The Daily Kos shares his observations from the 2,000 plus kids who pass through his pediatric practice. Nowadays half of the boys who come through his practice list their career aspiration to be in the video gaming industry.

He explains why this focus on video games is a problem for young kids in a follow-up comment to the original post:

“The largest problem inherent with video games and other forms of modern media is not so much what children are seeing, it is with what they are not doing, tethered for endless hours to their electronic gadgets and mesmerizing screens. They are not having conversations. They are not having family meals. They are not reading. They are not playing outside. They are not building, creating, or pretending. They are not taking time to just veg. And they are not getting to bed on time, or sleeping enough.”

As concerned parents, we are aiming for balance and a focus on physical sports. We make sure he plays with other toys and games, and we are probably not going to introduce other video games beyond sports themes.

My husband and I are hoping that our son’s interest in virtual tennis and golf will help fuel his interest in the real sports. After all he’s not even four yet, so for now, this is the version of the sports that he can do best. He has just gotten his own golf clubs and has started playing on the golf course with daddy. And for now, he prefers the real thing if given the choice.

However, when he gets a bit older and starts spending time at friends’ houses, I know it’s a possibility he could be drawn into circles that focus on video games.

We hope by then that his interest in real sports will help keep him on the real playing field.

What about you? Are video games a concern for you and your sons?

The stuff of summer memories – swimming with your little boy or girl

by Lisa on 

I can’t wait for every chance I get to go swimming with my little boy. He LOVES the water. And so do I.

It’s our special time. Little brother stays home with dad, and big brother gets to go swimming with mommy.

Now that my little guy is a preschooler (almost four!), he’s taking swimming lessons. He has only had four lessons, but he can float on his back, kick his way across the pool with a kickboard, climb out onto the edge of the pool, jump in (with me to catch him), grab dive rings off the deepest steps, and even doggie paddle a little when thrust forward.

I couldn’t be prouder or more pleased, since I love swimming, too.

But when I say I love swimming, I mean I love playing around in the water. Like a big kid.

I never understood the attraction to swimming laps. Who decided a pool should be for simply swimming to and fro? I figure water is meant to be splashed in, jumped into, log -rolled on, floated on, and playfully kicked around in.

My childlike appreciation of the water must be genetic.

An illustration of just how this runs in my family: One day my husband was standing by the pool having a very serious chat with a co-worker who also lives in the neighborhood. All of a sudden they hear a bellowing voice whoop out a giant “yippee!” They turn to feel a giant whooooosh as Grampie (my dad) runs full barrel past them, splitting the pool with a massive cannonball into the water.

Some of my fondest summer childhood memories are frolicking in pools, lakes and even streams with my sisters and dad. We would jump in over and over, do handstands, laze around in tubes. If there was a log for log rolling or a raft for tipping, all the better.

So the sooner my son learns to swim, the better. Plus, living in the South especially, swimming is a life skill no child should be without.

Are you enjoying swimming with your little girl or boy this summer?

Just be sure to take precautions and avoid the midday heat, use sunscreen, and top off your little boy or girl with a Beanie Designs sun hat or visor cap, whether you’re hitting the pool, lake or beach!

The first day of preschool – my little boy was ready, I was not!

by Lisa on 

My son started preschool this week. And boy was it an adjustment!

The adjustment was mostly mine. My little boy is almost four, and he was ready.

Let me backup for a minute. He is actually enrolled in summer camp at the preschool he’ll be attending from the fall. He’s in a class of 2-4 year olds, but he’ll be moving up to the slightly older preschool class when the real school starts. We started with summer camp to ease him into it, expecting tears and protestations.

Instead, he loves it.

Me? Well, I didn’t cry. I was on the verge, though. I saw plenty of red-eyed parents that first day, dropping off their little boys and girls for the first significant time they’ll spend away from their parents and siblings. But their kids were also crying. Mine was watching the grassy playground as it filled up with the other little kids, all seemingly frozen in their spots, alone, wondering what they should be doing on that first day.

One little boy cried the whole time, my son told me. He thought he was going to be going to school with his sister… Simply heart wrenching!

I went to bed at 7:30 that night, with our baby. I think I was more exhausted than my little boy, who was, unbeknownst to him, beginning an education that would continue at least another 20 years.

I had expected some emotions. That’s what everyone talks about.

What took me by surprise was the amount of physical effort now required of me. Instead of leisurely mornings playing and eating together, now I have to get my son dressed, fed, cleaned up and in the car, while I’m nursing and dressing a baby who is used to taking his first nap by that time. Oh, and I would like to have a shower by that time, too.

Then I have to get both of them out of the car and to the classroom, say goodbye, bring the baby back to the car, load him up, and get him down for his nap once we’re home. Then we do it all again two and a half hours later!

Yes, class is 9-12, which sounds great. But it takes 30 minutes to get there and back each time, and class actually ends at 11:45.

But you know what? I’m so proud of my little boy. He’s growing up into a world where he’ll meet new friends, learn new songs and games, and so much more. And the baby and I will find our groove as we revolve our routine around this new world that big brother has entered.

How about you? Is your little boy or girl making the leap to preschool this year? What are your hopes and fears?

Have I made my little boy timid by overprotecting him?

by Lisa on 

The doubts and guilt as a mom can be overwhelming sometimes. Along the way, I’ve made the choices that I felt were the best at the time. But now as I see my son budding into a little man of three-and-a-half, I am feeling there’s at least one major area where I have failed so far.

Have I ruined his innate enthusiasm for physical challenges? Have I made him timid by overprotecting him? Or is it just his nature to wait until trying out things, to hesitate when others run full tilt, and to give up when something isn’t easy? I wonder this a lot.

Today we went to an outdoor festival where there were a few bounce houses. My son picked one to try, but failed to launch. He couldn’t climb up the first little ladder inside. As kids 2/3 his size piled past him, he tried to figure out how they were doing it, but he just hasn’t gotten the hang of climbing yet.

I think this may be my fault.

We did everything for our little boy, right from the start. When most toddlers are demanding to do things themselves, he asked us to do it for him. And we played along, rather than letting him face and overcome challenges.

We spoon fed him until he was three. By that point, baby number two was here, and something had to give. So now he will actually pick up a fork or spoon and get most of his food in his mouth by himself. (It still is hard for me to sit by and watch sometimes, because it feels he doesn’t eat enough if I’m not doing it for him! This is a problem I have to get over, right?)

I’m also overprotective when it comes to running and playing. I always called out a warning to be careful when he would run, and he would stop or slow down. I couldn’t take those times when he fell down and skinned his knee (or his nose) and punctured his lip. It seemed he got hurt just walking sometimes. I’m always talking about safety, and I’m afraid I’ve crippled his ability to enjoy pure running around like he should.

As he faces the start of preschool in five months, he knows he will have to do everything for himself. That includes putting on his own clothes, wiping his bottom after the potty, eating, and so on.

I cringe when I think of him climbing on the playground equipment without me there to spot him. He may get stuck at the top or even fall off.

In many ways, it’s a good thing I’m not going to be there.

I have to let go and let him learn to climb, to run, to slip and fall and get up again… I think it’s going to be harder for me than for him. And I just hope it’s not too late for him to enjoy it.

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