mindful living, effortless style

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Now that we’ve all stuffed ourselves and, hopefully, had a great day with the family – it’s time to get a little Christmas shopping done.

I stayed up extra late last night/this morning to scour Amazon for Black Friday deals they’re running on any and all of the 350+ Toys featured in our gift guides this year. I really hope this goes a long way to saving you a little time and money today!

You’ll find the toys on sale from each of our gift guides below – each currently 15% – 45% off. Before we get to that though, here are the standout deals…

*note: These deals aren’t specifically labeled as “Black Friday” sales, so I’m not exactly sure when they end, could be today, could be this weekend – consider yourself warned. Also, for more deals, be sure to follow our facebook page – which we are continually updating with the latest sales through December!

Top 11 Deals Today from all 350+ Toys

  1. Playskool 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector $50.21 $38.99 (3 – 7 years) – Photography is an amazing art to introduce to your children at a young age.  Encouraging them to get behind the lens gives them a different perspective on their surroundings as well as control of their world. Plus, if you tend to take a lot of photos of your kids (ahem), getting them into photography will make them more likely to put up with your shutter bug tendencies. We’ve had a few digital kid cameras in the past and, while the kids have always been excited about them, they all were difficult for the kids to operate on their own and broke easily.  So I’ve been on the lookout for a better designed kid camera for quite a while and this Oppenheimer award winning version is it!  We got it for the kids for Christmas and their favorite feature has to be that with the flip of a switch this camera will instantly project captured images up onto a wall (cool!). Coming in a close second are all the funny clip art images you can superimpose onto the photos within the camera. Big buttons and screen, along with durability, good photo quality, storage of 1000 photos at a time and those instant special effects means the kids continue to reach for it for play time again and again.
  2. Kidkraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set & Table $170.99 $119.97 (18 months – 8 years) – We bought our son a train table for his 2nd birthday and we always say it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.  Over four years later both he and his sister still play with it several times a week.  At 4 he was able to completely construct the track by himself using the map and that added a whole new level of building play to this fantastic toy. I think the model we bought has been discontinued but this one has all of the same key components: a bridge, waterfall mountain, helicopter landing pad, and the all-important drawers for storing all the little pieces. If you’re going to be putting your train table in main living space, you may want to spring for the more expensive and KidKraft Metropolis Train Set Table with Trundle Drawer.  It’s got a nicer “furniture” look (and that double-decker bridge is pretty cool too). Also, over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection of Thomas trains to go with this table.
  3. Leapfrog Leapreader Reading and Writing System $37.49 $29.99 (3 – 8 years)  – The leapreader has been a leader amongst educational toys since it’s debut, and with good reason.  My son first got his when he turned 4 and not long after we decided to get one for our 3 year old too.  Both kids (now 4 and 6) still spend large chunks of time “reading” stories with the pen and they used it to practice their letters as well.  This is one of our top tier toys that has really helped instill a love of reading in my kids and never really makes it out of rotation.
  4. Crayola Inspiration Art Case $39.99 $19.97 (3 – 12 years) – This 150 piece art set gets great marks for everything from it’s special looking case that keeps all the components snapped in place to the quality of the art supplies inside. If your child is getting serious about art, this gift will show them you are proud of their burgeoning skills and it’s sure to thrill.
  5. Tinker Toy 100 Piece Essentials Value Set $28.99 $16.49 (3+ years) – Tinkertoys are a total classic. My grandparents had a set I used to play with whenever I would visit them as a little girl and now both my 4 year old girl and 6 year old boy love them whenever they discover them at friends’ houses at play dates. I’m thinking this one may be under our tree this year.
  6. K’NEX 375 Piece Delux Building Set $19.97 $14.97 (6 – 14 years) – My son spotted this at a consignment store shortly before his 5th birthday. When I went back to get it for him the very next day, it had already been snatched up – a sure sign of a good toy. K’NEXs have been around for a long time and with good reason. If your child loves LEGO, this is a natural next step for him or her. The pieces offer lots of flexibility and many of the guided builds have dynamic, moving parts. This set includes a variety of builds including a Ferris Wheel, helicopter, train, etc. Also don’t miss: K’NEX Education – Kid Group Set $49.99 $32.90 and/or K’NEX Education: Transportation $76.99 $52.49 (3 – 7 years) –  I also love that K’NEX has an entire educational line of sets that teach specific scientific principles such as the Intro. to Simple Machines: Gears and Intro. to Simple Machines: Levers and Pulleys.
  7. Playskool Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo $48.42 $29.99 (18 months – 6 years) - Elmo has once again managed to land himself a coveted spot as one of the hottest toys around. Parents report that this dancing, singing, sleeping and hugging super-sized Elmo outshines his tickle-me predecessor.  I especially like how he encourages imaginative play with scenarios revolving around astronauts, rabbits, frogs and horses and how his affirmative words and hugs will help kids build emotional intelligence as well.
  8. Diggin JumpStart Trampoline $65.40 $49.99 (3 – 7 years) - Every day around 4:30 PM I wonder why we haven’t bought one of these yet.  Two of C’s buddies have one and they each love to jump and jump and jump on it.  Chances are very high Santa will be bringing the kids a trampoline this year and if he does it’ll be this one due to the good reviews and space saving design.
  9. Mini Micro Scooter $79.99 $63.99 (3 – 5 years) – Hailed as “the quality choice in 3-wheel scooters for young children” this scooter has more than it’s fair share of rave reviews and awards (the Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Gold and Platinum Award Seals for Best Toy, the Parent’s Choice Approved Seal, ‘Best Pre-School Scooter’ by Toy Report, ‘Best Outdoor Toy’ by Learning Express Stores and was featured on the NBC Today Show as part of its ‘Best Toys for Summer’ series). The key is the “learn to steer” design and back brake, both of which grant preschoolers an extra element of stability. Also, the Mini can be ridden inside while learning (or waiting for Spring) as the quality wheels, made especially for Micro, are non marking. Also, don’t miss: Micro-Mini 3-in-1 Kick Scooter $114.99 $91.99 (1 – 5 years) – lets even new walkers in on the fun. 1 year olds start out sitting on the scooter with the seat attachment and using it as a typical ride-on toy. Later they advance to the O-bar (which is lower than the traditional Mini Micro Scooter) and eventually graduate to the real deal.
  10. PlasmaCar $60.80 44.99 (3 – 8 years) – Check out the stellar reviews on this one and you’ll be sold.  It’s a cool space-age car that’s powered solely by wiggling the steering wheel.  This multi-award winning toy is one that will be enjoyed by kids of all ages for many years.
  11. Hasbro Furby $52.99 $29.99 (5+ years) – Dolls don’t have to be just for toddlers.  Older kids flip over this tech-based friend. Feed it, speak to it, tickle it, play music for it, and shake, tilt or turn your FURBY upside down. But be warned – how you treat your FURBY will shape its personality.

And here are the sales currently going on for each gift guide. (Hint: click on the title of each guide to see all 40+ toys in each one.)

Top Toys for Babies

  1. Lamaze Take Along Toys, Mortimer the Moose $13.99 $10.99 (0 – 2 years) – These lamaze toys were all the rage in the mommy and baby class I attended with my son and it didn’t take us long to figure out why. They have bold colors along with black and white contrast (great for baby’s poor vision) plus they’re oversized, plush, and have lots of fun stuff for baby to pull and chew on. They’re also durable – all of ours lasted through both kids and are currently being man-handled and mouthed by baby M.
  2. Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube $19.96 $15.00 (9 months – 3 years) – We received this as a hand-me-down and both the kids and I were pretty impressed by what it could do.  It’s essentially an orchestra in a cube. Press the sides representing different musical instruments (harp, french horn, piano, flute and violin) and hear 8 of Mozart’s masterpieces played by any combination of instruments you prefer. Babies and young toddlers enjoy experimenting with adding in and taking away the different instruments and, of course, each side also lights up along with the music.
  3. Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Love to Play Puppy $18.41 $14.79 (9 months – 4 years) – We got this guy as a hand-me down from friends whose kids had outgrown him. The puppy’s a cuddly and engaging first friend. He has two modes – learning and musical and identifies body parts, colors and sings lots of fun songs when various body parts are pushed. All three of our kids have loved him (even 7 month M already) and we whole-heartedly agree with one reviewer who wrote, “For $20, he is very interactive and elaborate…. he counts, names body parts and colors, has funny sayings, and sings many songs (ENTIRE songs). He’s funnier, more educational (and cuter) than “Tickle-Me-Elmo”–minus the annoying voice.”
  4. Melissa &Doug First Shapes Jumbo Puzzle $9.99 $6.99 (1+ years) – All Melissa & Doug puzzles are also great in my books, especially those for the really young kiddos.
  5. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Pound and Roll Tower $16.99 $11.89 (18 months – 4 years) – Like the geometric stacker and shaper sorter, this one’s a total classic. (My daughter has gotten months of enjoyment out of smacking away on these balls). Together these are the three top toys for kids in the young toddler age range.
  6. Shape Sorting Cube $14.22 $10.49 (18 months – 4 years) – Shape sorters are great for fine motor development.  This one has lots of play opportunities so kids don’t quickly conquer the task and become bored. Plus it’s wood, not plastic, which is always a nice bonus.
  7. Soap Soax $24.00 $18.00 (0 – 3 years) – These adorable stuffed animals are antimicrobial and made of terry cloth so they’re the perfect bathtime friend and bath sponge. You simply place your soap of choice inside the stuffed animal, then dunk it in the tub and squeeze for soapy, bubbly fun. This is the perfect gift for the baby who has everything as well as any little one that’s developed a fear of bathtime. I first saw these on shark tank and was super impressed by the creator, who came up with the idea through his work with young kids who had been removed from dangerous home environments.

Top Outdoor Toys & Best Toys for Getting Energy Out When Stuck Inside

  1. Little Tikes First Slide $31.60 $24.00 (18 months – 4 years) – A few years ago when we had a 20 month old and a brand new baby, we bought an indoor slide and put it in the upstairs landing between the kids’ bedrooms. It was one of the smartest things we’ve ever done! A sturdy plastic slide used inside can be a life-saver when the weather is bad and the kiddos are restless. This particular slide – highly rated for durability and usability for kiddos young and old – also serves double duty outside as an excellent safe place for toddlers to play their big siblings scale taller play equipment.
  2. Educational Insights Magic Moves Talking Electronic Wand $14.06 $12.49 (3 – 10 years) – Normally I’m not big on electronic toys with lots of sounds and lights, but when said toy can help my kids get rid of all their pent up energy inside on a stormy day, it becomes my new best friend. This inexpensive magical wand uses 90 silly commands (sway, creep, stomp like a dinosaur, leap) and 26 songs, along with a light show to get kids moving. This is one of those rare toys that’s great for siblings of different ages to play together. It will keep the bigger kids interested (who doesn’t like having the mic and being the star of the show?) while developing listening skills in the younger set along with enriching their vocabulary and ability to follow directions.
  3. Diggin JumpStart Trampoline $65.40 $49.99 (3 – 7 years) - Every day around 4:30 PM I wonder why we haven’t bought one of these yet.  Two of C’s buddies have one and they each love to jump and jump and jump on it.  Chances are very high Santa will be bringing the kids a trampoline this year and if he does it’ll be this one due to the good reviews and space saving design.
  4. Mini Micro Scooter $79.99 $63.99 (3 – 5 years) – Hailed as “the quality choice in 3-wheel scooters for young children” this scooter has more than it’s fair share of rave reviews and awards (the Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Gold and Platinum Award Seals for Best Toy, the Parent’s Choice Approved Seal, ‘Best Pre-School Scooter’ by Toy Report, ‘Best Outdoor Toy’ by Learning Express Stores and was featured on the NBC Today Show as part of its ‘Best Toys for Summer’ series). The key is the “learn to steer” design and back brake, both of which grant preschoolers an extra element of stability. Also, the Mini can be ridden inside while learning (or waiting for Spring) as the quality wheels, made especially for Micro, are non marking.
  5. Micro-Mini 3-in-1 Kick Scooter $114.99 $91.99 (1 – 5 years) – lets even new walkers in on the fun. 1 year olds start out sitting on the scooter with the seat attachment and using it as a typical ride-on toy. Later they advance to the O-bar (which is lower than the traditional Mini Micro Scooter) and eventually graduate to the real deal.
  6. PlasmaCar $60.80 44.99 (3 – 8 years) – Check out the stellar reviews on this one and you’ll be sold.  It’s a cool space-age car that’s powered solely by wiggling the steering wheel.  This multi-award winning toy is one that will be enjoyed by kids of all ages for many years.
  7. Big Boomer Golf Set $19.29 $15.56 (3 – 8 years) – My parents (who are big-time golfers) bought this set to keep at their house for when the kids come to visit. When they were first introduced to it, both my 3 year old daughter and my 5 year old son were drawn to big bright clubs. Plus, they had lots of early success with the soft, over-sized equipment, which is key when introducing a new sport.

Top Toys for Fostering S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math) Skills

  1. Learning Resources Primary Science Mix and Measure Set $24.99 $18.77 (2 – 6 years) - This set includes a scale, bowl, 3 self standing spoons and 6 unique cup designs to help children visualize quantities as well as activity cards to guide children in making mystery goo, puffy paint, slime and more. Because it allows those not quite ready to experiment to get in on the fun, it’s a great toy for siblings of different ages as older kids can partake in real concocting while their younger counterparts pour to their heart’s contentment.  This is a fabulous toy perfect for playing with at the sink, in the tub, or at the water table.

Top Toys for Art & Craft Lovers

  1. Crayola Inspiration Art Case $39.99 $19.97 (3 – 12 years) – This 150 piece art set gets great marks for everything from it’s special looking case that keeps all the components snapped in place to the quality of the art supplies inside. If your child is getting serious about art, this gift will show them you are proud of their burgeoning skills and it’s sure to thrill.

Top Quiet Time Learning Toys (Single Player Logic Game, reading & writing games, top puzzles and more!)

  1. Playskool 2-in-1 Digital Camera and Projector $50.21 $38.99 (3 – 7 years) – Photography is an amazing art to introduce to your children at a young age.  Encouraging them to get behind the lens gives them a different perspective on their surroundings as well as control of their world. Plus, if you tend to take a lot of photos of your kids (ahem), getting them into photography will make them more likely to put up with your shutter bug tendencies. We’ve had a few digital kid cameras in the past and, while the kids have always been excited about them, they all were difficult for the kids to operate on their own and broke easily.  So I’ve been on the lookout for a better designed kid camera for quite a while and this Oppenheimer award winning version is it!  We got it for the kids for Christmas and their favorite feature has to be that with the flip of a switch this camera will instantly project captured images up onto a wall (cool!). Coming in a close second are all the funny clip art images you can superimpose onto the photos within the camera. Big buttons and screen, along with durability, good photo quality, storage of 1000 photos at a time and those instant special effects means the kids continue to reach for it for play time again and again.
  2. Leapfrog Leapreader Reading and Writing System $37.49 $29.99 (3 – 8 years)  – The leapreader has been a leader amongst educational toys since it’s debut, and with good reason.  My son first got his when he turned 4 and not long after we decided to get one for our 3 year old too.  Both kids (now 4 and 6) still spend large chunks of time “reading” stories with the pen and they used it to practice their letters as well.  This is one of our top tier toys that has really helped instill a love of reading in my kids and never really makes it out of rotation.
  3. Melissa & Doug Alphabet/Number Write-A-Mat Bundle $10.99 $7.69 (4 – 8 years) - I picked up this set of laminated mats with special erasable crayons for my son when his interest in writing was just starting to pick up, around age 4.  He really enjoys being able to follow the visual guidance on the mats to practice his numbers and letters without my help.  The coloring portion also extends his focus as he’ll often start-off writing, switch to coloring, and then go back… a great quiet time set.
  4. Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Books $4.99 $3.49 (3 – 10 years) – It will truly surprise you how engaged your kids are with these deceptively simple (and inexpensive!) reusable books. My parents gave the kids a couple a few years ago for Christmas and they’ve been a consistent stand-by for us every since.  Each of the books contain a series of background pages and hundreds of various sticker clings that can be positioned over and over on them.  There are tons of book themes to choose from too. Along with quiet time, they are surprisingly useful on long car rides (despite their large size) and we always grab them when heading to someone’s house who doesn’t have younger children and is without toys for them.
  5. Ravensburger 60 piece puzzle $8.88 $7.10 (4+ years) – Around the time our son turned 5 he was ready for these 60 and 100 piece puzzles. Ravensburger is a classic puzzle company that always gets high marks for quality and craftsmanship.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Santa left one or two of these under the tree for many years to come.
  6. Melissa & Doug World Map Floor Puzzle $12.16 $9.09 (5+ years) – Large floor puzzles are great to introduce around ages 3 or 4. We have several Melissa & Doug floor puzzles and our 5 year old has loved them for quite a while. The educational value is great too.
  7. Classic Etch-A-Sketch $14.99 $7.99 (3-10) – This quintessential mess-free art toy does double duty, serving as both the perfect quiet time toy and the ultimate travel toy.  Keep it on-hand at all times, you won’t be sorry.

Top Toys for Building & Construction & Top Toys for LEGO Lovers

  1. Melissa & Doug 60 Piece Standard Unit Blocks $57.99 $48.99 (2 – 15 years) – If I could buy my children only one toy, a large set of basic wood blocks like these would be it! They are the ultimate creativity toy – enough said.
  2. Tinker Toy 100 Piece Essentials Value Set $28.99 $16.49 (3+ years) – Tinkertoys are a total classic. My grandparents had a set I used to play with whenever I would visit them as a little girl and now both my 4 year old girl and 6 year old boy love them whenever they discover them at friends’ houses at play dates. I’m thinking this one may be under our tree this year.
  3.  K’NEX 375 Piece Delux Building Set $19.97 $14.97 (6 – 14 years) – My son spotted this at a consignment store shortly before his 5th birthday. When I went back to get it for him the very next day, it had already been snatched up – a sure sign of a good toy. K’NEXs have been around for a long time and with good reason. If your child loves LEGO, this is a natural next step for him or her. The pieces offer lots of flexibility and many of the guided builds have dynamic, moving parts. This set includes a variety of builds including a Ferris Wheel, helicopter, train, etc.
  4. K’NEX Education – Kid Group Set $49.99 $32.90 and/or K’NEX Education: Transportation $76.99 $52.49 (3 – 7 years) –  I also love that K’NEX has an entire educational line of sets that teach specific scientific principles such as the Intro. to Simple Machines: Gears and Intro. to Simple Machines: Levers and Pulleys.

Top Toys for Quality Dramatic Play

  1. Disney Frozen Travel Dress-Up Trunk $24.99 $16.74 (2 – 6 years) – Disney princess dresses like these are pretty much all our daughter wanted for her 4th birthday so she got several from friends. And, of course, the FROZEN dresses are always highest in demand. They have all held up impressively well amidst repeated dramatic play use (while I may not be the biggest princess fan, I do LOVE the creativity these dresses have brought out in my girl).

Top Toys for Vehicle Lovers

  1. Kidkraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set & Table $170.99 $119.97 (18 months – 8 years) – We bought our son a train table for his 2nd birthday and we always say it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.  Over four years later both he and his sister still play with it several times a week.  At 4 he was able to completely construct the track by himself using the map and that added a whole new level of building play to this fantastic toy. I think the model we bought has been discontinued but this one has all of the same key components: a bridge, waterfall mountain, helicopter landing pad, and the all-important drawers for storing all the little pieces. If you’re going to be putting your train table in main living space, you may want to spring for the more expensive and KidKraft Metropolis Train Set Table with Trundle Drawer.  It’s got a nicer “furniture” look (and that double-decker bridge is pretty cool too). Also, over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection of Thomas trains to go with this table.
  2. Playskool Heroes Transformers Rescue Bots Starting at $13.61 $9.99 (3 – 6 years) – The perfect introduction to transformers, these rescue bots have a great book series of the same name and are easy for small hands to manipulate.
  3. Playmobil Rescue Ambulance $19.99 $15.00 (3 – 10 years) – I’m eyeing these sets for my 5 year old son this year. He’s in a rescue phase and I think he could set up some amazing scenarios with a few of these together (may have to recruit the aunts or grandparents to get him some too).
  4. Melissa & Doug World Airplane and Luggage Carrier Set $19.99 $17.49 (3 – 6 years) – This simple set is charming.  It’s the perfect thing for promoting lots of imaginative play and I’m smitten with the little wooden luggage and luggage cart.

Top Dolls & Accessories (for Girls and Boys) & Top Toys for Princess Lovers

  1. Playskool Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo $48.42 $29.99 (18 months – 6 years) - Elmo has once again managed to land himself a coveted spot as one of the hottest toys around. Parents report that this dancing, singing, sleeping and hugging super-sized Elmo outshines his tickle-me predecessor.  I especially like how he encourages imaginative play with scenarios revolving around astronauts, rabbits, frogs and horses and how his affirmative words and hugs will help kids build emotional intelligence as well.
  2. Manhattan Toy Snuggle Pod $17.99 $13.72 (all ages) – Looking for baby’s first doll?  This ultra soft baby complete with her own snuggle pod is a great choice. Huggable and washable, it’s great for babies and toddlers alike.
  3. Melissa & Doug Feeding set $13.12 $10.49 – This is a very nice feeding set (and there’s also a changing set that includes a diaper bag) that is great for some high quality dramatic play.
  4. Hasbro Furby $52.99 $29.99 (5+ years) – Dolls don’t have to be just for toddlers.  Older kids flip over this tech-based friend. Feed it, speak to it, tickle it, play music for it, and shake, tilt or turn your FURBY upside down. But be warned – how you treat your FURBY will shape its personality.

Top Kid Games for Family Game Night and Playing with Siblings

  • Chutes and Ladders $10.99 $7.98 (3+ years) - This game is a total classic and must-have because kids the world over love it and it doesn’t require reading or math skills so even your younger little ones can get in on the fun.

*Post contains affiliate links.

MPMK Black Friday Bundle: Hands-On Holidays eBook & Kids' Responsibility and Money Management Kit

Once you score some great toy deals today, we want to also help you to focus on more than just gifts, connecting with the kids and maybe even fighting the sense of entitlement that can come with the season. Sound good?

Today we’re offering a limited time Black Friday bundle of our Hands-on Holidays eBook AND our Kids’ Responsibility and Money Management Printables Kit!

Get both (a $17.98 value) at the bundle price of $13.98 now through Sunday, November 30th, using this Secret Link (but go ahead and share it with your friends if you want to)!

We’re teaming up with our newest sponsor, Bona, today to share our best tips on how to keep your home clean and clutter-free, but still super festive, for the holidays.

Before we get to the goods – don’t forget to click over and get

your exclusive $3 off coupon

 

on Bona’s awesome hardwood floor cleaning products.

Have you tried them before? My neighbor, who owns a flooring store, turned me on to them when we were selling our house and had a lot of showings. The results really were astounding!

Here’s Alli, with more tricks for keeping your holiday home clean…

Ah, the holidays, what’s not to love?

Okay. Maybe just one thing–one small, teensy tinsy thing…

The cleaning.

If you are anything like me (maybe a little bit type A?) keeping the house clean over the holidays is a challenge. Call me crazy, but I want my house to feel warm and welcoming all throughout the season. I want my decorations to sparkle and shine (because I didn’t hang them for nothin’, right?).

One of the first steps to keeping your house clean over the holidays, is containing the clutter. Which, can be pretty darn hard to do. Read More

Looking for a fun craft to do with your kids, that won’t add any more stress to the holiday season?

These little stars are festive, super quick to make, and just a little addicting. They are cute as ornaments, but work equally well strung together as a garland.

Plus, they are Read More

Here’s a quick and messy little art project for you to tackle with the family this weekend. I first did this at C’s toddler group years ago, but it wasn’t quite as impressive with only three handprints to fill it out. Now, as a family of five, we make quite the turkey – if I do say so myself. (Although I didn’t manage to get all the full cooperation of all three kids until after the project was photographed – imagine that – so you’ll just have to settle for a 4-handed turkey for today.)

Check out the full tutorial here and for a less-mess version with a very sweet little poem to go with it, see my friend Amanda’s family hand turkey here.

For more MPMK Thanksgiving fun, see:

DIY Gratitude Turkey

The Best Thanksgiving Books for Kids

Happy Family Habit #9: Teach Gratitude by Remembering to Thank Your Kids

One of my favorite parts of this strange and unexpected blogging career of mine, is that I get to play so many different roles. Some days I’m a managing editor, some days I’m a photographer and graphic designer, some days I’m even a coder (those are usually dark days indeed).

Some of my favorite days lately have been when I get to put on my “writer” hat over at eHow’s Mom Channel.

I’ve been stretching myself a bit this year and taking on more parenting topics (less crafts and DIYs). This month I’m tackling what it’s like to have three kids (something I couldn’t get enough info. on before actually having my third child) and I’d love for you to click over and check it out.

Here’s an excerpt…

…At the time, it felt like a monumentally important decision, perhaps one of the biggest of my life. So I did what I always do when it comes to the important stuff — I researched. I had heart-to-heart discussions with my close friends (and, I admit, cornered a few unlucky acquaintances).

And, of course, I Googled. Terms like “what it’s really like to have three kids” and “can you handle three kids” were regulars in my search bar. The results were somewhat homogenous and not altogether encouraging. There were many mentions of no longer being able to “play man-to-man defense” and more than one blogger pointed out that the world, or at least this country, is basically set up for a family of four.

Now that I’m the proud mama of a 6-year-old, 4-year-old and, yes, a 7-month-old, I feel there are a few things I need to add to the Internet’s conversation on life with three kids. READ MORE HERE

 

Now that my months of research have come to a close and all 10 of our infamous Gift Guides have FINALLY  been published, I’m super excited to take a little time to tell you about each one.

After all, detailed descriptions and age recommendations on over 300 toys can be a lot of reading! It’s not a bad idea to break it down a bit and take it piece by piece.

Today I’m highlighting three guides that focus on active and family play (two of my very favorite kinds of play). Ready to see them? Here we go…

 #1 Best Outdoor Toys & #2 Best Toys for Getting Energy Out While Inside

If your little one has an adventurous spirit, I say run with it!  Whether their fascination lies in the stars above, their own backyard, or testing out their own speed and agility, our finds will help you milk their curiosity to keep them active all year long.

Subcategories of this guide include:

  • Top outdoor games
  • Best sports gear & toys
  • Toys to explore nature

Also included in this two-part guide are the best toys for burning off steam when you’re stuck inside and, let me tell you, these finds can be an absolute life-saver on a rainy day.

Whether you opt to play outside, inside, or a little of both – a pick or two off this list will keep the whole family happy and feeling good all year long.

Click through for the full list of over 40 top toys.

#2 Best Games for Kids & Families

Having a regular family game night is a great tradition to strengthen the family unit. Not only does it ensure time for connecting with each other, it also gets your kids in the habit of communicating with you – something that will pay-off big time when they’re older. Plus, with the right game, it can be really fun!

Just as valuable as popular family games, are games that kids will happily play alone or with a sibling so that you can get stuff done!

Below you’ll find a selection of games the whole family will love, games perfect for one or two players, and games ideal for pre-readers to help you start a game night ritual even with your youngest kiddos.

Click through for the full list of over 35 of my favorite picks for family game night, broken down into:

  • Highly Acclaimed Games
  • Games Especially for Toddlers & Pre-Readers
  • Single Player Games
  • Classic Games Recommended by Age

 

Don’t forget to check out all 10 of MPMK’s Gift Guides, covering interests ranging from LEGO-lovers and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to Arts and Crafts and Princesses.

The holiday season seems to be the time for DIY decor. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to avoid spending bucket loads of money on spendy store-bought decorations, or just the endearing memories that are created sitting around a table together getting our craft on, but even the most creatively-challenged amongst us seem to be up for a DIY or two this time of year.

I think it’s fantastic, of course, and today we’ve got the perfect activity to get your started. It’s one of those rare projects that’s simple enough for preschoolers to try, open-ended enough for bigger kids to get really creative with, and results in some truly stylish modern decor.

Plus, I’m dying to try it with our yarn block stamping technique. Here’s Julee with all the details on how the whole family can whip out some fabulous hand-stamped napkins for your holiday table this year…

Last year we visited relatives during Thanksgiving and traveled over Christmas, so this will be our first time celebrating the holidays in our own home. My daughter and I both love holiday decorating, so this year we decided to create our own napkin designs for our family gatherings.

This is a wonderful project because it can be as simple or elaborate as you want and can be adapted to suit a variety of age levels.

I started by choosing the color palette myself, mostly because I didn’t want to incorporate pink and purple into our holiday table decor. We have a set of polka dot linen napkins that I love but hardly use because we only have 6, which doesn’t seem to be enough for gatherings when we’re actually using linen napkins.

The napkins below, as wells as our striped placemats, were my starting point for the palette. Read More

Growing up my grandma made the most delicious frozen pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I’ve always thought her recipe couldn’t be topped… and then I saw this version from our contributor Natalie that adds in chocolate and Oreos.

 Sorry Nana, but I think I may have a new favorite. Read on for the full recipe.

Make-ahead menu items can be a total lifesaver during the holidays. You can plan and execute in advance and then look like a superhero at your holiday meal. And while an ice cream cake isn’t the typical thanksgiving fare, I like to switch things up and serve something unexpected.

With a frozen dessert, I’m guaranteed to have a beautiful presentation on the day-of (as long as it stays untouched in the freezer). Read More

Advent calendars have become such a HUGE part of Christmas these days – have you noticed? We’ve tried several variations over the years from our DIY Freezer Paper Stencil Advent Calendar and our Family Activities Advent Calendar to our Reading Advent Calendar. 

This year, though, with three kids including a 7 month old, I’m opting to go the super simple route. This free printable Christmas Joke countdown will take zero effort from me once it’s up and I can feel great about that because I know S and C will absolutely adore it. At ages 6 and 4, they just can’t get enough puns and knock-knock jokes

Print your free calendar using the link below and you’ll be all set for December. Here’s our contributor MJ with the details…

The countdown to Christmas is one of the most magical times of year in our house and every day leading up to the 25th feels like a day worth celebrating.

This year we figured, why not take something as charming as lunchbox jokes and turn them into a fun way to laugh together throughout the season?

 

To make the simple Advent calendar:

  1. use the link below to print out the three pages of red and green ornaments.
  2. Cut these out and hole punch the top circle of each number.
  3. Cut out the jokes and glue one to the back of each ornament.
  4. For our calendar tree, we used floral wire to string the numbered ornaments on and added gold washi tape to hold both ends. The wire allows some space from the wall or poster board for kids to flip over the ornament and reveal the joke.

Read More

Now that all 10 of our infamous Gift Guides have been published, I’d love to take a little time today and introduce you to three of my favorites.

While each of these lists covers a range of skills, ages, and interests – they also all have a common thread. Each one highlights toys that do a particularly good job of teaching your child new skills and building brain power, all while keeping them incredibly engaged.

Ready to see them? Here we go…

#1 Best Learning Toys for Quiet Time

This list was a new category for last year and quickly became one of our most popular. When I came up with it, quiet time was on my mind quite a bit in preparation for baby #3. You see, one of the big things I learned about making sure all my kids felt loved once the baby arrived was the importance of just 10 minutes a day of one-on-one time with each of them.

With three kids, though, that’s easier said than done.  Which is why I stocked my arsenal with quiet time toys so awesome that my kiddos don’t even mind being shooed away to play with them when it’s not their special time with me.

As self-serving as this list is, I think you’re gonna love it too.  After all, what busy parent can’t use a stimulating educational toy their child can play with independently every once in a while?  Even if you only have one child, we all have to find ways to squeeze in cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, bills, etc.  How great would it feel to set your child up with an educational activity they love during these times instead of repeatedly defaulting to the TV? (No judgement, by the way, I’ve totally been there!)

Click through for the full list of over 40 of my favorite learning toys for quiet time broken down into:

  • Reading & Writing Toys
  • Single Player Games
  • Sensory & Mess-Free Art Supplies
  • Puzzles (Recommended by Age)
  • Magazine Subscriptions (Recommended by Age)

 

#2 Best Toys for Babies & Young Toddlers

Babies and young toddlers can be especially tough to shop for – it’s not like we can just ask them what they want.  Plus, kids develop differently and at different rates at this age.

Your best bet is to go for the tried-and-true toys that aim to build hand-eye coordination and fine and gross motor skills in an engaging but not over-stimulating way. Music is always good too.

In this list you’ll find my top picks for babies and young toddlers. They all cover a variety of developmental skills and ages and you should find plenty of options to make baby happy!

Click through for the full list of 40+ of my favorite developmental toys for babies & young toddlers, including:

  • Floor Toys
  • Riding & Walking toys
  • Music Toys
  • Toys for Developing Fine-Motor Control, Gross-Motor Control, Concentration and Hand-Eye Coordination

 

#3 Best Toys for Fostering S.T.E.M. Skills

With all the talk I’ve been doing on the blog about the importance of fostering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills, I felt I absolutely had to include a STEM themed gift guide.

I just keep hearing over and over how important cultivating innovation is in our kids’ future success.  So watching both my son and daughter excitedly engage with open-ended toys to construct, engineer, explore and experiment fills my heart with joy. I’m on a continued mission to find the absolute best toys to keep the innovations coming!

Click through for the full list of 40+ of my top Learning Toys for Fostering STEM Skills, broken down into:

  • Engineering
  • Robotics & Technology
  • Chemistry & Life Sciences
  • Single-Player Math & Logic Games
  • Multi-Player Math & Logic Games

Don’t forget to check out all 10 of MPMK’s Gift Guides, covering interests ranging from LEGO-lovers and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to Arts and Crafts and Princesses.

As I start the process of unpacking my haphazardly stored holiday decor each year, I always think to myself that there must be a better way. So this year I decided to do something about it as part of our Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life series. What did I do exactly? I turned to a pro, of course.

I asked our in-house professional organizer, Annie, for her favorite tips! Bookmark or pin them now and save yourself a lot of time and grief at the end of December.

It might seem as though this post is jumping the gun a bit, as the holidays still have yet to arrive. On the contrary, now is the prime time to discuss holiday decoration storage.

Now is the calm before the familial, shopping, gift-wrapping storm – the moment when you’re most likely to have the brain space to consider such a thing as being organized with the storage of your decorations.

You can stock up on the supplies you’ll need in advance (after being massively inspired by the following 10 examples) and then come New Year’s Day, your systems will be all ready for you.

Onto those 10 examples, then.

1. It’s impossible to fail storage-wise with the combination of plastic bins and labels. When it comes to holiday decorations, labeled, clear bins are exceedingly useful. Yvonne at StoneGable drives this point home; she uses smaller bins to store all her christmas decorations, thereby distinguishing between ornaments, pinecones, garlands, and so on, while maintaining a uniform system.

2. Aimee of It’s Overflowing employs the same storage principle as lady Yvonne (above) except that she opts for larger plastic bins and slightly broader labeling categories.

If you’re not as concerned with keeping the various types of decorations separated and more concerned with keeping them safely stored and easy to identify in your storage room, then larger bins are for you. Read More

I’ve got some HUGE news today friends! Drum roll please… the 2015 Toy Gift Guides are here!

How great would it be to get all of your Christmas shopping done ahead of time this year AND to feel confident your kids are going to love their gifts and keep returning to play with them again and again?

In case you’re unfamiliar with our infamous gift guide collection, this is not your average roundup of a few of our favorite things – Oh no. This is an incredibly extensive library of the most engaging, brain-growing, and yet still super-fun toys available, over 300 in all this year!

And here’s the best part, all of those awesome toys are arranged into specially themed guides with detailed descriptions of each and every toy and categorized by our recommended age ranges for the utmost enjoyment.

This is the only resource you’re going to need this year to nab the perfect gift for every child on your list – pin it to your favorite gift or toy board or bookmark it now (and share it with your mom friends – they’ll thank you!).

As I said, this is not your run of the mill gift guide.  I work on these babies all year long researching, cultivating, and fine tuning the gift guides until they’re just right. Where do I research? Everywhere.

I’ve spent hours upon hours talking to friends, school teachers and even toy store owners as well as reading reviews, polling our readers, and scouring toy award lists to come up with these finds.

Which toys should I spend my money on?,” is probably the question I get asked most often by you guys, especially right around now.

When I first started these annual guides, I considered grouping our picks by age, or gender, or even benefit – but then I got to thinking about how I shop for my own kids.  Ultimately, it’s what my littles are into that most motivates my purchases.

If they’re going through a constructing stage, then I want the goods on the most stimulating building toys out there.  If their creativity is blooming, I’m looking for info. on the highest quality and longest lasting art supplies.  And if they can’t get enough of role playing, that means I’m on the search for toys that do a superb job in supporting dramatic play.

In addition, I’ve got a few goals of my own when it comes to toy shoppinggetting in some solid independent play during quiet time, burning off steam when stuck indoors, and feeding their little brains in a fun way to name a few.

I’ve organized this year’s picks with all of these things in mind.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting all 10 of our gift guides but you don’t have to wait.  You can see them all right now.

Just click on the photos below for the complete guide… Happy shopping!

Best developmental toys for babies & young toddlers - great list for that tricky 0 - 24 month age range.

The most engaging S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Toys for Kids - Everything on this list looks awesome! Such great educational finds.

Best toys for keeping kids active - everything from yoga games to best beginner bikes and more!MPMK gift guides, Christmas gift guides, toy gift guides, the best toys for quiet time, best educational toys, best reading and writing toys

Top dolls for girls and boys - because playing with dolls builds empathy and emotional intelligence in kids.Best building toys for developing math, problem-solving, and spatial thinking skills - love that there are suggested age rangesMPMK gift guides, Christmas gift guides, toy gift guide, best games for kids, best games for families, family game night, best single player games, pre-reader games, best toddler games

Dramatic play promotes literacy through vocabulary and story-telling practice as well as social skills such as empathy, turn taking, etc.

Top toys for kids who love planes, trains, cars, and construction vehicles - great detailed recommendations here!

Gift guide: best art supplies for open-ended creativity - all great to have on hand for a rainy day!

 

Kristin, one of our professional photog contributor’s here, is back today with another super helpful iPhone camera tutorial. I’ve always wondered how to use those fancy tiltshift apps with my iPhone but have been too intimidated/busy to really explore them.

I’m super excited to have Kristin here to add to our Photography and Memory Keeping category by de-mystifying it all and show us exactly what we need to know to jump in and start using the feature today.

Have you ever noticed that when you take photos with your iPhone they look flat?

The reason is that everything in the photo is in focus.  People love fancy cameras because they can adjust the aperture, meaning the child is in focus and the trees behind them are soft and blurry.  We are drawn to these types of photos because that’s how our eye sees.

If you look at your child, your eye focuses and everything behind the child is out of focus.  While the iPhone camera takes a quality photo, it’s not able to create the depth of field that happens when you can adjust aperture.

 

How to take cool pics of people, places and more using the TiltShift generator - this is my new favorite thing!

But, that doesn’t mean all the photos taken on your iPhone have to be flat.  You can use an app, like Read More

Happy Monday guys, hope everyone had a great Halloween weekend!

It’s so hard to believe it’s already November… it seems like I just had baby M and he’s already 7 months old. And don’t even get me started on his older siblings – while M is busy growing his first tooth, his big brother has suddenly lost three in rapid succession.

As usual for this time of year, I’m feeling like things are moving too fast and I’m yearning for ways to slow down and be in the moment.

This Paper Leaf Gratitude Garland project I did for eHow is just what I need to help our family slow down and focus on each other this time of year. Hope you enjoy (and hope you try it out this month)!

Happy almost Halloween guys! I’ve got a lot on my plate between the big day tomorrow and wrapping things up to reveal our complete 2015 Toy Gift Guide next week, but I still wanted to quickly pop in and share what I’ve been up to elsewhere.

Just in case you need it, here’s a last-minute treat for a class party or impromptu, pre-trick-or-treating bash.

Hope you enjoy and hope your kiddos score lots of goodies tomorrow.