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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sponge Balls!

I saw these the other day on Tatertots and Jello's 20 Summertime Projects, and decided it was something to try.  I bought two 4-packs of the cheapest, plain kitchen sponges and got to work.  The directions from the tutorial said to use three sponges for each ball, cutting in half and half again.  I decided to make mine slightly differently so I could get more balls out of the sponges.

I chose two instead of three sponges for each ball.  I cut each sponge in half width-wise instead of length-wise, and then cut the halves into thirds.
I stacked the sections like so, alternating colors...
I tried the first one with dental floss, like the directions on the tutorial, but it was really tricky to get it tight enough.  Hurt my hands like heck, too, pulling on it so hard.  The rest of them I twisted some light gauge wire around the centers instead.  I had my son grab the ends of the stack of cut pieces, squish them down tight together, and twist the center...then I quickly wrapped wire around, twisted it tight, wrapped a second time and twisted on the opposite side.
I trimmed the wire close and rolled the end under.  Then fluffed out the sponge sections into a ball.
Then I saw this post at Laugh Loud Smile Big, where Vicki showed what happens to these sponge balls after a few rounds of water fights....they get hard and misshapen.  You can see it in this pic.  She then hunted for a different kind of sponge to use that would hold up better.
I didn't intend for mine to be water fight balls.  I've mentioned in other posts that we have special needs in our family.  We are a sensory household, and I just thought these would be different textured and fun balls for my boys to play inside with.  They like to slam balls at each other in wild bombing chase games, so soft is important ; )

However, after seeing Vicki's post, I happened to be at the Dollar Tree and found the same sponges that she used.  I thought, you know, they really would have a blast with these in a driveway water fight with their neighborhood friends!  I couldn't pass up a $1 10-pack, especially since I had already tried making them with two sponges instead of three and knew it worked just fine.   I got two packs to make ten more sponge balls.
I gotta say after trying this with both kinds of sponges, the Dollar Tree ones are definitely better (plus you get more for the money!)  They are easier to make (I can do these without an extra set of hands), and turn out so fluffy!  You hardly have to shape them at all!  They will hold their shape great after being water-logged.  Thank you Vicki!
I think I will make up the sponge balls with a tag attached as an invite to a water fight.  My boys can walk them to their friends' houses and leave it in the mailbox or on the doorstep - "Wear your trunks and grab your squirt guns ~ Water fight on Tuesday!  Bring your Sponge Bomb and have a ball with us!"  I'll move the cars and fill the baby pool in the driveway.  Easy Peasy.  $2 for 8 kids to have a lot of fun is a good deal : )

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sidewalk Chalk Paint & Drink Caddy Gifts

I have been seeing this pop up here and there on crafty blogs lately and decided to give it a go.  I used this recipe from Frugal Family Fun Blog.  So quick and easy to whip up!  All you need is cornstarch, water, and food coloring!

I had saved this cardboard drink carrier from a gas station, and it was the perfect thing for my two preschoolers to put their plastic cups of paint in!  The only spill we had was when my five year old took the green over to another part of the driveway.  Two minutes later, he had knocked it over.  The carrier not only works great to prevent spills, but also you can just pick it up and carry it down the line as you paint!  I threw a few brushes into each cup so they wouldn't have to wait turns with each other ; )

I painted a message on the sidewalk to greet my seven year old coming home from the last day of first grade...
Together we decorated it with smiley faces, swirls, and splatters.  My boys had a great time with this, and it was really so easy to get it ready for them.  Super quick clean-up, too!

We will definitely be doing this again during the summer!  Besides being a cheap, quick, easy, and fun thing to do with kids, I can't help but think it would make a super cute gift set as a "Welcome Summer!" gesture for a neighborhood family, too.  You could cover the drink carrier with contact paper and make a kit out of it - add containers that have the cornstarch in the bottom, with a note for how much water and food coloring to add, a cute tied bundle of brushes, and tag....what a fun surprise to leave on someone's doorstep : )

Check out these drink carrier gifts for some inspiration...

Up-Cycled Drink Caddy
from dandee designs

Beverage Carrier Gift Tote for a Baby Shower
from madigan made

And this 6-pack Picnic Caddy

This adorable Cupcake Caddy from 
Dream a Little Dream...
A Teacher Appreciation Kit
that I saw on Girl Talk
Italian Night Altered Sonic Drink Box
from Tip Junkie
Some other ideas...
A Get Well Kit - with soup, tea, tissues, cough drops & a rolled up magazine
A Movie Night Kit - with micro popcorn, candies, two drinks & a DVD
A Gardner's Kit - with a trowel, baggies of potting soil, seed packs & cute garden gloves, all in little pots
Hot Chocolate Kit - with bottles full of cocoa mix, mini marshmallows, peppermint sticks & chocolate chips

I'm sure there are many other ways to upcycle drink carriers into something fun.  Guess I need to start saving them ; )

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shapes Carpet Picnic

My youngest two are now finished with preschool for the summer.  It's only been a few days of having them both home all day and I'm already worn out!  I am going to need to be creative and fast on my feet to keep these kiddos happy for the next twelve weeks!

They endured a long car ride meandering around different neighborhoods this morning to look at houses with us (we have to move out of our rental this summer).  This was drive-by looking, so I wanted to do something special for them when we got back, for being troopers in the car!  I came up with a themed, spontaneous, living-room lunch picnic.

I made one plate up with all square foods - peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut into four squares, scrabble cheeze-itz crackers, a slice of cheese broken into fourths, and some diced watermelon.
The other plate was all circle/round foods - peanut butter sandwich cut into circles with a biscuit cutter, slice of bologna, town house crackers, and blueberries.
To make this more fun, I gave them ruffled toothpicks to eat their fruit with, moved the coffee table aside, and spread a picnic blanket on the floor in the living-room.  They were very excited to have their shapes picnic, look at all their foods, and trade a few things back and forth : )
They had lunch with a Blue's Clues DVD about shapes and colors.  A win!

Afterward, we played some shapes games together on our picnic blanket : )



 and circles...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sweet Lunchbox Messages

I started sending these easy and quick, edible "notes" to my boys in their lunch boxes.  They were so surprised by the first one, and then would be jumping up and down trying to see what I would write for the next day!  I tried to not let them see, and keep it a secret that they would discover at lunchtime during school.

One bag of jumbo marshmallows can go a long way for lunch dessert!  You could use regular marshmallows, but there is something extra fun about the super-sized ones : )  I used those with some Betty Crocker Easy Writers, which are food coloring brush pens to write on icing with.
The markers are easy to use.  You just dip the tip in water to get it started, and then you can write with it.
I've done smiley faces, hearts, and various phrases... I {heart} you!

You Rock!

Also:  I'm proud of you!  You can do it!  And their names.  They are not artistically stunning, mind you, but they are fun (and tasty) which is all the point : )

Monday, May 16, 2011

Snake Cake

My oldest turned 7 last week.  I can't believe it was 7 years ago that I first saw his little eyes blinking up at me after he was born.  Seven years!?  Squeeze your little ones, they change so fast!  Our past two years have been a particular challenge with him - full of evaluations and therapies (I blog about this at Our Life with SPD).  I wanted to do something special for him for his birthday.  If you've read much of my other blog, you'll know that my son is intensely passionate about snakes.  It permeates much of our daily life with him.  Since I had made a special cake for my 3yr old last month, I decided to do a special cake for my 7yr old, too - a snake cake.  Of course!

I used:  one boxed cake mix, one bundt pan, one can of buttercream frosting, gold and silver decorating sugars, some black decorator tube icing, and part of a fruit roll-up.

I baked the whole cake mix in a single bundt pan and then let it cool.  I put it on a wire rack into the deep freeze in the garage for fifteen minutes, to speed up the cooling and make it firmer for the shaping part.

Then I did the cutting with a long serrated knife.  I sliced it across the center, like a bagel or burger bun.  I then cut each of those in half.  Half of the halves I also cut in half one more time.  Confused?  Maybe this picture will help.  There was 1/4th of the top leftover, much to the delight of little brothers who could snack on chunks of plain cake before my oldest got home from school.
I arranged the sections like so (see above) on a large baking sheet covered with foil.  Then I shaped the first and last sections into a head and tail.  Hard to see the shape of the head, but it sort of gets narrow and then curves around into a diamond shape.

I did a quick crumb coat of buttercream icing, which I had tinted with food coloring to be a light tan-ish color.  I put the whole pan back into the big freezer for about 15 more minutes.  Then took it out and spread the rest of the frosting on.  I made a few adjustments here and there to slice off a large curve.  It's a fat snake, but there are several books in our house that show short, wide snakes ; )
To make this more snake-y, I used black squeezy decorator icing to outline some saddle-shaped bands down the snake.  I filled these in with a sprinkling of silver sugar.  On either side of these, I sprinkled a thinner band of gold sugar.  It still needed something....I put a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder into my  flour sifter and sifted it over the top of the sections in between.  Where it got on too thick, I just poofed it off with a good blow.
I made two circles of black frosting for eyes and patted them full of gold sugar, then did a stripe of icing down the center for the pupil.  The tongue was cut out of a fruit roll-up.  I used a sharpie to write a birthday message right onto the tin foil that lined the pan.
Well, for a first go at an animal cake, it's not too bad.  Say yes ; )
I think he liked it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Creative Chore Plans for Kids

We have attempted a few different plans for chores in this house.  Mainly, 1) sticker charts with a goal reward for so-many-stickers earned, and 2) a magnet chart where we can choose chores for each person and mark them complete with a magnet.

The sticker charts lost their appeal after the first reward was given.  The magnet chart was tricky with multiple children, because they would argue over who had which chore, there wasn't much room on the magnet board to keep track for the two older kids, and the toddler always stole the magnets off.  Neither of these methods were really producing much headway and were eventually ignored by all, mom and dad included.

I followed a link yesterday to an on-line system called My Job Chart which I'm going to try instead.  My boys are now 7, 5 1/2, and 3.  They are into video games and computer time, and are pumped up about having a point system on a web site where they have their own log-in to check jobs off.  Hopefully this lasts longer than the sticker chart ; )

But being in the chore system frame of mind reminded me of all the saved bookmarks I had for crafty chore plans.  Some of these I've had my eye on since last year, totally intending to make them and put them in action in my own house...but alas, I still haven't gotten to it.  We're going to go with the on-line system for now, but the creative plans below were just too good not to share!

Clean Up Game from Infarrantly Creative
Check out how Beckie used laminated cards and bin labels to make a game for picking up toys.  A little competition might get some results!  I know my boys love a competition, but they are overwhelmed by a super messy toy room and don't even know where to start.  These cards let the kids know just what to pick up and where it goes to be put away!

Roll a Chore from She Wears Flowers
Tammy shares a great tutorial for making a cloth cube, using iron-on fabric to make different images on each side for chores that need to be done.  LOVE this idea!  Have more than 6 jobs?  Make a pair of dice!  I've used laminated picture schedules/routine reminders in the past year with my special needs child, and those PECS cards would be perfect for this.

12-sided Roll a Chore from Tethered 2 Home
Amy offers a printable template and tutorial for making a 12-sided paper die!  After some of the Mother's Day projects I did, I know I could easily make these 3D shapes.  You can print the template right onto any patterned paper or cardstock, and use scoring tools to get your folds nice and crisp for easy assembly.  Don't have scoring tools?  Check out my Paper Watering Can post for my redneck scoring method ; )

Bucket-o-Fun as seen on Carrot Sticks and Cupcakes
I remember seeing this idea in a waiting room magazine this spring and thought it was so smart!  Inexpensive, easy, and fun = a winner!  I couldn't find the original, but Diane at Carrot Sticks and Cupcakes did a post on it.  So simple - just use a sharpie to write chores onto ping pong balls, put them all in a bucket (or other container) and let the kids choose!  Better yet, Mom can choose and bounce the ball to the recipient ; )

Mailbox system from My Computer is My Canvas
This is one of the first creative chore systems that I bookmarked.  It looks so fun, and I know for a fact that kids get super excited about mail!  I still might set up a trio of mailboxes for my boys some day.  Even if they aren't used for chore cards, it would still be a neat way to give them special messages!  Colette even offers a printable bundle of job cards in her etsy shop

Felt Chore Charts from Childmade
Childmade is such a fantastic source for inspiration!  It's one of my favorite places to browse projects.  I had to show you the super cute felt chore charts that Sheri makes.  She has tutorials, plus also sells individual pieces to her felt charts in her shop on Childmade.  These are so adorable - the different layers have magnet strips on the back, and chore labels on the front.  When the chore is done, the layer gets stacked with the others.  Her Burger and Ice Cream Cone work this way....

...and she also has the sweetest little Veggie Garden, where the veggies have the chores written on the sticks and they can be "picked" from the garden.  The garden patch is made from felt covered cereal boxes!  It's personalized with a sign hanging on a picket fence at the bottom.  So creative!

Creative Chore Chart from Creative Kids Projects
I really love how simple this one is!  It looks easy to make, too.  This would be a great one for toddlers!
Flexible Chore Charts by Controlling My Chaos
This other magnet system also caught my eye.  1) because they are creatively and inexpensively made from craft sticks, 2) because this method only has one chore for each day of the week, and 3) because Jill's post really cracked me up!  Her girls are rewarded with a token that could be exchanged for cash later on.

Speaking of cash, here is something that could easily be paired with any chore chart/plan/system - money jars for your kids.  I especially love that these are sets of three, one for saving, one for spending, and one for giving!  I first saw these on Bits of Everything.  

Here is another fun version that kids can help make from Eclectic Chica.  I love how this set recycles cans!  We sure have plenty of those, and the wrapping and gluing of yarn around them looks like a great project for my boys to do this summer.  Go check out Kellie's tutorial!

There are so many more ideas out there - magnetic chore charts made with cookie sheets, pocket charts made on clipboards, tag charts that hang on key hooks, plus any number of printables that you can laminate and use dry erase markers with.  What do you do for chore plans in your house?  Have you found the secret through trial and error?  Please share!


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