mindful living, effortless style

I mentioned last week that we’d be covering various “life hacks” this month in the areas of parenting, organization, meal planning and memory keeping… True to my word, today we’re talking about mindfulness and it’s role in parenting.

Mindfulness is certainly a buzzword that gets tossed around quite a bit these days (it’s even part of our own tagline – mindful living, effortless style). But what, exactly does it mean?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), it’s about paying attention to the present, on purpose, without judgment.

To apply it to parenting, you focus on being fully aware and in the moment with your kids in a non-judgmental and presumably calm manner.

Of course if you’ve been a parent for literally any amount of time at all, you know that is much, much easier said than done. Kids can be – in a word Read More

Happy New Year’s Eve guys! Any big plans? We highly recommend a DIY balloon drop, some kid-friendly mocktails, and filling out our free year-in-review/family resolutions printable for a fun-filled night with the kids.

Then, once those shannigans are through and the kiddos are finally in bed, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on the year-to-be.

What are you hoping to accomplish in 2015?

A more simplified home? More time to connect with the kids? Or maybe you just want to finally do something with all those photos on your phone? Whatever it is – we’re here to help.

It’s become a bit of a tradition around here to focus on some helpful life hacks in January (it’s a nice compliment to our annual Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life printables and eBook sale this time of year).

This year we’ll be focusing on 4 main topics:

  • home organization (of course!)
  • mindful parenting
  • meal planning
  • memory keeping

Today we’re kicking it all off a day early (see how organized we are already!) with a simple and modern POYEL project that will help you get your kitchen in order.

Along with tidiness of it all, I also love that this one encourages me to keep all the healthy stuff – quinoa, barley, steel-cut oats, protein powders, etc. – out and and proudly on display. (An idea I’ve been big on ever since we made our DIY Clean Eating Gift Pack).

Here’s Julee with the goods…

Over the holidays I decided to tackle a project that was on my to-do list since moving into our new home last year: make better use of our open kitchen shelves.

When we first moved in, I went the decorative route. I displayed vases, candles and rarely used items like pitchers and cocktail shakers. Very quickly, however, I decided Read More

If simplifying your life by organizing yourself and your family is on the top of your wish list, we’ve got a great deal for you just for being an MPMK reader.

Get all three of our top-selling MPMK e-products for one amazing bundle price – $16.99

That’s 26% off the regular retail value of $22.97!

I want this to be the year that we all finally slow down and find some extra time to connect with our families and I truly believe these are the tools to help you do it.

Our Quick Start Guide eBook, along with our 2015 daily/weekly/monthly planners, cleaning schedules, meal planners, kids’ routine charts, budgeting sheets and more are all designed with you in mind.

They’ll help both you and your kids get organized and even introduce the kiddos to important money management concepts including saving, budgeting, and giving back.

We know how busy you are. The goal of all of these printables is not to have to learn a whole new system but simply to help you streamline your everyday tasks. If we can do it with some cheerful colors and pretty fonts – then that’s just icing on the cake!

In case you’re not familiar with the Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life products, here’s a little more on each of them. (You might want to bet comfortable – this bundle contains A TON of great stuff!)

First up is part 1 of The POYEL Bundle Sale and our most popular product…

The Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life printables

When we launched our handbook to leading a more simplified life, Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: The Quick Start Guide. It was a huge success and we’ve since sold well over 10,000 copies.

But I also heard from you guys that you would like some handy-dandy printables to go along with your newly-formed action plans. So last year I worked really hard to make that wish a reality.

And now, I’m happy to announce, the 2015 printables are here!

Awesome 2014 printable pack for your home management binder, personal planner, or sheets just to stick on the fridge.  Includes menu planning, calendars, cleaning checklists and more!

The 2015 Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life Printables Pack

Only $7.99

Get the PDF file:

Add to Cart

Inside our 38 page printables pack, you’ll find everything you need to manage every aspect of your day-to-day life from cleaning and meal-planning, to scheduling and that never ending to-do list.

There’s something for everyone here including two different cleaning systems (are you more of a checklist person or a calendar cleaner?) as well as all the printables in both an 8.5″ x 11″ size AND a 5.5″ x 8.5size.

So whether you’re looking to create a home management binder, want to use these in your personal planner you carry around in your bag, or just want a meal plan/to-do list/cleaning chart to stick on the fridge – we’ve got you covered!

There are tons of options in this 38 page printable pack – use them all or pick and choose exactly what you need. There’s even a suggested daily cleaning checklist, weekly cleaning schedule, and master cleaning list included.

Here’s a look at everything you’ll get:

Awesome 2014 printable pack for your home management binder, personal planner, or sheets just to stick on the fridge.  Includes menu planning, calendars, cleaning checklists and more!

A Daily Checklist

A simple one page form that breaks your day up into easily manageable chunks.  There are check-off boxes (for that sense of satisfaction when you complete a task) as well as designated areas for the day’s menu ideas and appointments.  This one is a great candidate for laminating and using over and over with a fine-tip dry erase marker.

Awesome 2014 printable pack for your home management binder, personal planner, or sheets just to stick on the fridge.  Includes menu planning, calendars, cleaning checklists and more!

Your Week at a Glance

Conveniently spread across two vertical pages, this gives you a spot to record all of your appointments for the week along with any special reminders you need to leave for yourself in the “notes” section.  There are also spots for your dinner plans and cleaning objectives for each day.  It’s everything you want to accomplish in your week all in one spot.

Awesome 2014 printable pack for your home management binder, personal planner, or sheets just to stick on the fridge.  Includes menu planning, calendars, cleaning checklists and more!

Weekly Meal Plan Worksheet

Designed to help you quickly and efficiently get your weekly meal planning done.  Includes sections for all 7 days of the week as well as areas for breakfast, lunch, and snack ideas so nothing gets overlooked.  Keep it in your planner or stick it on the fridge for a visual reminder each morning of what needs to be prepped for that night’s dinner.

Two Types of Weekly Cleaning Worksheets

In the Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life eBook, we cover two different types of cleaning systems for two different types of people: the cleaning schedule vs. the cleaning checklist.  In this printable pack, we’ve provided both so you can try each out and see which suits you best.

Weekly Cleaning Schedule Template

Much like the Weekly Meal Planning Worksheet, the cleaning schedule visually lays out everything you need to accomplish for the week to keep your house looking good.  Assign one major task or room of your house to each day of the week and complete with your daily and infrequent tasks (drawn from the master cleaning checklist).

Weekly Cleaning Checklist Template

While still including sections for daily and infrequent tasks, this option breaks down all of the cleaning tasks for the week into those that will take 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 – 60 minutes, or 1 hour or more.  The idea being that whenever you find yourself with a little time to clean, you can quickly check the list for what hasn’t been done yet that week and get to work.

*Printing Note: Since you won’t need both the “Weekly Cleaning” worksheet and the “Weekly Cleaning Checklist” – the intention is to choose one or the other and this must be done for double-sided printing to turn out correctly. When printing, in the pages box, either enter “1 – 6, 8 – 38″ OR“1 – 5, 7 – 38″.

Filled-In Weekly Cleaning Schedule & Checklist

Along with the blank worksheets, you’ll also get versions of both the Weekly Cleaning Schedule and Checklist filled-in with suggested chores for each section.

Awesome 2014 printable pack for your home management binder, personal planner, or sheets just to stick on the fridge.  Includes menu planning, calendars, cleaning checklists and more!

12 Months of Pre-Dated Calendar Pages

Along with squaring away your everyday and your week, it’s always helpful to get a look at your month as well so we’ve included pre-dated calendars for each month in 2015. Like the weekly calendar, these are spread out over two vertical pages (no turning to view required).

Awesome 2014 printable pack for your home management binder, personal planner, or sheets just to stick on the fridge.  Includes menu planning, calendars, cleaning checklists and more!

Master Cleaning List

Finally, to be kept as a reference in the back of your planner, we’ve included a Master Cleaning List with columns to categorize chores into “daily”, “weekly”, “bi-weekly”, “monthly”, “quarterly” and “semi-annual” tasks.

Filled-In Master Cleaning List

Just like with the Weekly Cleaning Schedule and the Weekly Cleaning Checklist, you’ll also receive a suggested list of chores for each of the categories mentioned above along with the blank template.


Remember, when you purchase the printables pack, you will receive all 38 pages (including the cheerful cover) in BOTH the 8.5″ x 11″ and the 5.5″ x 8.5″ sizes, all for one low price!

You can print the pages to be used individually.  Or you can choose the duplex/double-sided printing option on your printer (or at a local printing store) and pop everything into a binder or small personal planner – see note below on double-sided printing.

If you really want to get fancy, you can even invest in a discbound puncher (affiliate link) and use the 5.5″ x 8.5″ size with a planner like these Martha Stewart versions.


Printables for meal planning, cleaning schedules, Kids routines and chores, budgeting and more - everything you need!


Get all 3 products for $16.99 (26% off) here!


Next is part 2 of the The POYEL Bundle Sale, the Quick Start Guide that started it all…

Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: The Quick Start Guide



Only $6.99

Get the PDF file:

Add to Cart

Get the Kindle Version here.


Here’s what’s inside:

  • Within this easy 50 page read you’ll find a new approach to starting down the road to a simplified and more organized life.  Rather than instructions on how to fold your T-shirts or organize your pantry, you’ll take a look at your daily habits and weekly routines to start thinking differently about how to efficiently spend your time. Along the way we’ll conquer some of the biggest obstacles to living the simplified life you’re yearning for: decluttering, cleaning, organizing, meal planning and more.
  • Customizable strategies for it all.  We’re of the belief that one size does NOT fit all. Which is why the quick start guide is full of resources for a variety of lifestyles, schedules, and personalities.
  • A built-in support network.  Yeah, we know, a support system for organizing? Sounds a little over the top – but you’d be surprised how motivating a facebook group of over 13,000 fellow simplifiers can be.
  • No unattainable goals, only real-life expectations.  If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that simplifying and organizing is a journey, not a destination.  So we’ve set up our quick start guide accordingly.  By offering lots of different strategies for tackling a problem, we’re arming you with the tools you need to be successful when life changes on you.

Want a peek inside? Here’s a look at the table of contents and first few pages of the book…

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Screen shot 2012-12-28 at 3.24.15 PM 

Still not convinced?  Here’s what some of our favorite people have to say about the book…

I have moved over twelve times in the last ten years, once with only three boxes and know the freedom that comes from less stuff. I also know, that less stuff doesn’t equal being more organized, and that is what I love about this book.  I have the clutter down – but the cleaning, meal planning, schedules and overall sense of “got my act together” not so much. POYEL the book goes beyond being inspirational. It’s ACTIONABLE. Filled with simple tips, plans, and steps for any lifestyle that you can put into action immediately.

~ Destri Bumfack, founder of The Mother Huddle


In this crazy, busy world we all crave a little more simplicity and a life full of intention.  The first step to all of that is organization.  Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life: The Quick Start Guide breaks down what always seems to be an impossible and daunting task into manageable, bite-sized chunks that are easily applied in your own life.  Stephanie’s friendly writing style makes this an easy read and her brilliant twists on an old theme make for plenty of light-bulb moments that will leave you excited to jump in and conquer whatever chaos plagues you.  I’m coming back to it again and again as I work on my vision for this new year.  From dejunking to meal planning and schedule making there’s so much useful information packed into this one ebook (plus the online resources it connects you with!) —  it will be a resource you’ll keep coming back to as well.

~Amanda Morgan, founder of Not Just Cute


Project Organize Your Entire Life – The Quick Start Guide is more than an ebook, it’s a brand new way of life.  If you’ve been looking for a way to revolutionize your routines and your life with a family, start here.  Steph takes you through the process that worked for her family.  Thoroughly, she also lays out different methods to ensure that you will most definitely find a method that will work for your personality and style.  This is a must-complete process for busy families in 2013!

~Becky, founder of Clean Mama


Printables for meal planning, cleaning schedules, Kids routines and chores, budgeting and more - everything you need!


Get all 3 products for $16.99 (26% off) here!


And new this year, part 3 of The POYEL Bundle Sale, our Kids’ Responsibilities & Money Management Printables Pack…

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

What would you say if I told you that my 4 and 5 year old get up, get dressed, and even make breakfast on their own every morning – and have been doing so for over a year? Or that they already have a strong grasp on the concepts of earning, saving, budgeting and even giving money?

So what’s my trick? In two simple words: START EARLY!!

It’s all about empowering our kids from the beginning. We’ve made it a point in our family to help our kids learn autonomy early. We are firm believers that:

It’s not what you do for your children, but what you teach them to do for themselves, that’s most important.

I’m SO excited to unveil a whole new printables pack that will help you give your kids the gifts of autonomy, family contribution, money smarts, and a giving heart.

MPMK’s Kids’ Responsibilities & Money Management Kit

Only $7.99

Get your printable pack here:

Add to Cart



  • Morning Routine Checklist (2 versions – one with graphics for pre-readers and one with blanks to be filled out to fit your routine)
  • Evening Routine Checklist (2 versions – one with graphics for pre-readers and one with blanks to be filled out to fit your routine)
  • Family Jobs Worksheet
  • Money Jobs Worksheet
  • Spend, Save and Share Ledger
  • Savings Visual Goal Sheet
  • Printable “Spend”, “Save” and “Share” labels for DIY Banks

I wanted to make sure this printables pack was extremely flexible and could be used by family‘s practicing all types of chore and responsibility systems in the home.

So we designed it to be used in a variety of ways. Take each kid to buy a special binder and fill it with some colorful stickers to make their own personalized Responsibility & Money Management Book or laminate the sheets and stick them up around the house, on the fridge or the mirror of the kids’ bathroom.

Here’s how it works…

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

First up are our Morning and Evening Routine Checklists. These are key for establishing great self-care habits with kids! Both have the activity to be checked off along the vertical column and the day of the week across the top.

For younger kids (especially pre-readers and emergent readers who like to practice), there is a version with colorful graphics and simple labels for each task.

Since each family’s routines are different, we’ve also included versions of each routine checklist with blanks that you can fill in. Sitting down with your kids and deciding on the order of morning and evening tasks together is a great way to get them invested in, and excited about, the process!

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

If you’re new to a morning and evening routine, my recommendation is to work on the tasks together in the beginning. As you and your child complete items together, make a big deal about marking it off with a sticker!

You can also make these sheets reusable by laminating them and marking each task off with a dry-erase marker. In the past, we’ve also put them on the fridge and used small round magnets, which we slide onto the appropriate circle for the day.

Once kids get in the habit of marking off their accomplishments, you can begin to encourage them to do some things on their own. It will give them a sense of pride to show you what they can do independently. Plus, kids absolutely LOVE IT when they’re allowed access to the sticker pile to check things off all by themselves.

Keep working on transitioning tasks from things you do together to things they do on their own.

You can help your kids succeed by making things in their environment as accessible as possible. For example, keep their clothes in easy to access drawers instead of hanging high in closets. If you want them to work on making their own breakfast in the morning, create a shelf low in the refrigerator with yogurt cups, berries, pre-sliced fruit, pre-filled milk cups, etc. Also, keep their bowls and plates in a low drawer that they can reach instead of in upper cabinets.

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

Getting kids to take on a few personal responsibilities is a great lead-in to having them take on some family responsibilities.

All families handle chores and allowance differently, and we’ve designed the printables kit to be flexible for that. Don’t do allowance in your house? No problem, just skip the Money Jobs sheet.

In our house we have a list of family jobs as well as a list of extra money jobs.

Since our children are young and, therefore, have different abilities, their family jobs sheets are customized to each of them. A few of the jobs are the same (putting clothes in the hamper, clearing your plate, etc.) and some are different (sorting the socks for little sister and folding clothes for big brother).

We’ve left the spots on these sheets empty so that you can once again sit down with your child anddecide together what their family jobs should be. This will really drive home the idea that the family works together and everyone in the family needs to contribute. It will also give your child a sense of ownership of his or her tasks.

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

Along with the family jobs that each child completes to help out the family, we also have a list of money jobs. These are extra chores that the kids can choose to do in order to earn some money.

Why do we want our young children to have their own money? Because it’s a great tool for teaching them important life skills like saving, budgeting, and giving. It also helps to teach them the value of money in a very real-world, hands-on way.

Again, you can approach money jobs in a variety of ways. The worksheet contains a spot for the job as well as a spot for it’s value (watering the plants earns our kids less than weeding and raking leaves).Each child can have their own Money Jobs sheet or they can all work off one common list.

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

Once the kids are earning some money, they need somewhere to put it!

Enter our printable labels for making your own Spend, Save & Share Banks. You can upcycle lots of things to create your banks – we like using glass or clear plastic drink bottles. Print the labels on cardstock and use decorative twine or yarn to tie them on or print on a piece of adhesive paper and stick the labels directly to the bottles. Helpful Hint: Let the kids decide what they want to use to make their banks and spend some time together cutting out the labels and decorating each one.

The idea behind these banks is to teach kids that all money isn’t for spending. It’s also important to put some aside for saving and for giving back. Letting your child pick what she wants to save for and a charitable cause he wants to give to is yet another way to get them excited about this process.


This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.

To give you an example of how we’re currently using these banks – the Spend Bank has been used for small purchases such as a $.99 app or an ice cream from the neighborhood ice cream truck.

It’s also being used to save up for a $20 LEGO set. The Save Bank is money that will be contributed towards a family trip to Disney Land and the Share Bank will be used to buy some school supplies for local foster kids.

This kit has made a huge impact on our morning and bedtimes routines plus my kids have learned so much about money management.
Another tool in the kit that the kids use along with their banks, is the Save, Spend and Share Ledger. We fill it out together and the notes section is another way of showing them how their money is accumulating as well as where it’s going.

So when my son wonders why it’s taking so long to save up for that LEGO set, he can see that it’s because he keeps buying ice cream!

MPMK Kids' Responsibility & Money Management Kit: Savings Sheet

The Savings Goal Sheet is another easy way for the kids to visualize how their savings is going. Simply pick an item the kids want to save for and fill it in at the top. Then write the total amount they need to save in the top space and fill in the incremental amounts they’ll need to save enough.

Every once in a while, get the kids to empty out their bank and color in the chart to see how much progress they’ve made.

Helpful Hint: The banks and goal sheets can be awesome catalysts for getting the kids to work together and share. Once my 4 and 5 year old saw how long it was going to take for big brother to save for the LEGO set, little sister decided they should pool their money since she’d likely want to play with it too. Similarly, my friend’s daughter recently used some of her “Share” money to buy her little brother an ice cream cone when he didn’t have enough money of his own.

That’s it! Everything you need to start raising some happy, self-sufficient, money-smart and generous kiddos!


Printables for meal planning, cleaning schedules, Kids routines and chores, budgeting and more - everything you need!


Get all 3 products for $16.99 (26% off) here!


Whew! That’s A LOT of stuff right?! This bundle is no-joke and really does provide a ton of bang for your buck.

Here’s to a great new beginning!!


I have never attempted to let my daughter stay up until the New Year before. I am actually contemplating it this year, so I am armed and ready with an activity that will keep her entertained through all the hours until the ball drops.

I made this fun poster with a little punch out circle for each hour leading up to midnight – kind of like an advent calendar for New Year’s Eve.

Each hour we have either an interesting question to discuss or an activity to do as a family. This is easy to put together with things you most likely have on hand. Just save a few empty toilet paper rolls and you are set!

Read More

Only 1 week left until Christmas!

Just in case you left some of your shopping to the last minute, we’ve rounded up the 25 best-selling toys this year from all 350+ of our picks across all 10 of the 2015 Gift Guides.

We’re really hoping this will help ease your stress by making toy shopping a total breeze guaranteeing happy faces come Christmas morning.

Oh, and in case you have gotten your shopping done but still need one or two small things for the stockings – we’ve got you covered there too. Just scroll down for our go-to stocking stuffers for every type of kid including the art lover, the chef, the learner, the adventurer and more.


Best-Selling Toys of the Year (arranged by age)

Read More

I mentioned last week that this is the first year our family is going to attempt some sort of New Year’s Eve celebration with the littles. Actually, a Happy Noon Year celebration may be what’s really on the docket. 

Regardless of when we do it, one thing is for sure- a tasty non-alcoholic drink (or “mocktail” if you will) is definitely making it onto the menu.

Today Natalie is here sharing a few of her easiest tips for quickly whipping up your own signature mocktails…

The kids might not make it until the ball drops this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun of their own before bedtime.

Why not add something bright to their sparkling juice to add a whole new layer of excitement to their New Year’s celebration? Read More

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve seems to get shorter every year. How is it possible that we can easily countdown the final days of 2014  already?  Whether I’m ready or you’re ready, the end of the year is quickly approaching.

It’s just about this time when I always ask myself: Should I make New Year’s resolutions this year? And if I’m making that plunge, which goals are both aspirational and approachable?

This year we’ve come up with a simple tool to help you and your family make some goals for 2015 while reminiscing all the happenings of 2014. Read More

As evidenced by our extensive toy gift guides, I have a passion for doing lots of researching and trying to find the perfect toy that’s going to stimulate and thrill my three kiddos.

That does not mean, however, that I don’t get a little freaked out by all the clutter that seems to come along with Christmas when said toys enter the house.

I often try to do a big house cleanse just before to make room for the new stuff but sometimes it still doesn’t do the trick, or I just run out of time to do it.

So today I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite kid gift ideas that still elicit shrieks of excitement but don’t take up much (or any) space. Ready? Here we go…

#1 – Art & Craft Books

I love giving my kids shiny new craft books because, honestly, I know that I’m going to get just as much out of this gift as they do. They get to be creative and have fun. I get lots of help coming up with ideas to help fill the hours and keep them occupied.

My friend Asia from the blog Fun at Home with Kids just released her gorgeous new book 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids and, just like her blog, it is absolutely fabulous.

It’s jam-packed with colorful, hands-on projects that kids of all ages will love (which is no big surprise given Asia’s background as a former classroom teacher with an M. Ed who now stays home full time with her 1 and 4 year old).

Check out the quick video above and I guarantee you’re going to want this book under your tree this year. (For more arts and craft inspired gift ideas, see also our Best Toys for Art & Crafts Lovers gift guide.) Read More

Do you guys celebrate New Year’s eve with your kiddos? In years past I’ve skipped it due to the whole, “there’s no way my kids are making it to anywhere near midnight and, if by some some miracle, they do – I’m scared to see what will happen the next day” thing. 

But then I stumbled on the concept of “Happy Noonyear”. Which is just what it sounds like, basically celebrating at noon instead of midnight. Kinda genius, right?

Regardless if you decide “Happy Noonyear” or stay up for regular New Years, we’ve got an idea that will make you an absolute rockstar in your kids’ eyes. Here’s Kristen with the goods…

There’s something special about ringing in the New Year.  The anticipation of the countdown and all the festivities always has me excited to do a special activity just for the kids.

Some years, I barely make it to midnight, so I’m happy to do an early celebration with all the little ones.  This year, I’m making my own balloon drop.  Read More

Happy Friday friends! I wanted to pop in quickly and share with you a post I wrote this week for eHow’s Mom Channel. It’s a personal one for me and I really hope you like it – here’s a preview:

…The perfectionist in me wants to slow down and make sure I do this parenting thing exactly right. But the kids, and their incessant growing, seem to have other ideas. In fact, I had the bone-chilling realization the other day that we’re already one-third of the way done raising our kindergartner!

It’s become clear to me that I’m just not going to have time to research and test the myriad of parenting techniques out there — I’m going to have to wing it. And, scary as that realization is, I’ve come up with a daily ritual that has put my mind at ease a bit about the situation.

Here’s how it works: Every night before going to bed, I ask myself one simple question for each of my children…  READ MORE HERE

Before I go, don’t forget – our 2015 Toy Gift Guides are now organized by both children’s interest AND age. Happy shopping and have a great weekend!

Image Credit: ©www.suzette.nu | Fingerpainting – text added| CC by 2.0 Read More

Image Credit: ©Donnie Ray Jones | Lego Feet – text added| CC by 2.0

After covering the kindergartners yesterday, we’re back today with our go-to gifts for 2 year olds.

We’ve narrowed it all the way down to the elite eleven and each and every one is sure to delight and engage the two year old in your life for hours on end. Enjoy!

  1. Mega Bloks First Builders Big Building Bag, 80-Piece (Classic) $14.59 (1 – 2 1/2 years) – I still remember my son receiving his first set of award-winning Megabloks for his first birthday. It took him a little while to figure out (kids typically grasp block building somewhere between 12 and 18 months), but once he did he started building like a mad man and never looked back! All my mom friends and I love Mega Bloks for our youngest kiddos, even more than the classic LEGO duplos (although we did use both!). The locking mechanism is just a little bit easier for beginners to put together and pull apart. Plus the colors are beautiful and the zippered bag is very handy.
  2. Kid-O Bilibo $29.14 (2 – 7 years) – This thing is kind of silly looking but my daughter loves it.  There were a couple at her toddler group and she always spent a considerable amount of time bopping happily away on one.  It’s like a one person teeter-totter, so I can see why a kid would think that was fun. I think the bright colors, small footprint, and reasonable price are quite fun myself and I’m not alone, this one gets tons of rave reviews.
  3. Learning Resources Primary Science Mix and Measure Set $24.99 (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 that cover a span of ages as older kids partake in on some 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.
  4. Learning Resources Mini Muffin Tin Match Up  $20.78 (non-mouthing kids – 5 years) – The first thing to say about this toy is, of course, not to leave a child alone with it if they still put things in their mouth. Once you’re out of that stage, though, this is a truly AWESOME way to keep young kids occupied for a really long time. Moms figured out long ago that letting kids sort things in a muffin tin is a great quiet time activity. This play set expands on that idea by adding in multicolored mini muffins, dice, and cards that can be placed inside the muffin tin for sorting and math purposes. There are also some interestingly shaped tweezers for fine motor work. All in all this one has A LOT of play-ability.
  5. Kidkraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set & Table $170.99 (2 – 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 is the same brand and 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 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.
  6. Haul and Ride Truck $34.99 (1 – 3 years) – This has been arguably the best toy our family has ever owned.  My son got it for his 1st birthday and for three years he played with it almost daily until the steering wheel finally snapped off.  Both he and my daughter loved to ride it, fill it up with stuff, tow with it, pull it, and push it all over the house.
  7. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel $58.99 (2+ years) – There’s nothing like an art easel always set-up and waiting to entice a child to start creating and the folding design of this one makes it easy to store when not in use. One side is a chalkboard, the other’s a dry erase board, and in between the two easel sides is a dowel for holding a butcher paper roll. Pull the paper through to either side of the easel for your child to paint or draw. Once the painting is complete, the paper can be torn neatly against the top of the frame and set aside to dry, and a new length of paper can be pulled down for the next art creation. The multiple options for making art will keep kids interested AND allow more then one child to use it at once so it’s great for siblings. From the Amazon review, “Our preschool-aged toy tester enjoyed working on the easel, whether she was drawing with chalk or painting with poster paints. In fact, her creative output increased significantly with the easel. She especially enjoyed mixing paints to make different colors. Like many children her age, she likes standing while engaged in creative play, and the easel makes it much easier for her to draw and paint large pictures without having to reach awkwardly across a table surface or kneel on the floor.” Read More

Image Credit: ©clappstar | Smiling Up – text added| CC by 2.0

One of the things I’ve really been wanting to do with the gift guides – and that I’ve heard from you guys that you really want me to do – is to lay out our top picks by age.

As much as I love having our 350+ toy recommendations organized by interest, I know it could be really useful to parents and other gift givers to also have them organized by age, especially when shopping for a birthday!

Today I’m happy to announce that we’ve finally made it happen. All this week we’ll be highlighting our all-time favorite gift ideas for:

  • 0 – 18 month olds
  • 2 year olds
  • preschoolers
  • kindergartners
  • elementary aged kids

As always, instead of focusing on the latest and greatest “it” toy, we’re highlighting the most engaging, entertaining (and even educational) toys for each age group. These are the gifts that have the highest bang for your buck and are going to keep on giving as kids return to them again and again for hours of continued play.

We’re mixing it up today by starting with the kindergartners. Happy shopping (and don’t forget to bookmark this list for the next time you’re invited to a birthday party).

The Very Best Toys for Kindergartners (5 – 6 years old)

  1. Snap Circuits Jr $20.55 (5+ years with parental help, 6 or 7+ for independent play), Snap Circuits $45.07 (8 – 15 years),and the Snap Circuits Student Electronics Training Program, down this year from $199.99 to $124.18 (8 – 15 years, younger with parental help). – This clever kit is another multi-award-winner that takes advantage of kids’ natural interest in building toys like LEGOs to teach the principals of electricity.  The components aren’t intimidating, snap together simply, and can be used to create a bunch of cool projects. The standard set comes with over 60 pieces to create over 300 different electronic projects. The pieces include snap wires, slide switches, an alarm circuit, a music integrated circuit, and a speaker and are numbered and color-coded to make identifying them easy. These components combine to create working circuit boards just like the ones found inside televisions, radios, and other electronic devices. For bigger kids, you’ll definitely want to check out the reduced priced Snap Circuits Student Electronics Training Program as well as Snap Circuits Lights. Just connect any MP3 player and be amazed as your music creates a mesmerizing light display. No two songs will ever produce the same light show. Includes prepunched patterns for motor, strobe light, and color-changing LED, lighted and glow-in-the-dark fans, strobe integrated circuit, color organ controlled by MP3 player, voice, or finger. Builds over 175 experiments.
  2. Qwirkle $19.21 (5+ years) – My son got this strategic domino and scrabble-like game for his 5th birthday and asks to play it during our one-on-one time or as a family several times a week.  Although we’ve altered the rules and points system a bit to adjust for his age, this Parents’ Choice Gold Award and Mensa National Competition winner is still fantastic for working on shape and color recognition as well as pattern perception and spatial and critical thinking skills. This is one that our family is sure to be playing for years to come.
  3. Robot Turtles Game $24.99 (4 – 8 years) – As one of the only products out there with the real ability to get preschoolers and kindergartners interested in programming, this is the new toy I’m most excited about adding to the gift guide this year! The most backed board game in Kickstarter history, it sneakily teaches preschoolers the fundamentals of programming, from coding to functions, while making silly turtle noises. Takes seconds to learn, minutes to play and provides endless learning opportunities. This game has been featured by NPR, Bloomberg, Make: Magazine, Boing boing, TechCrunch, Reddit, Geekmom, Geekdad and essentially lets kids write programs with playing cards. One reviewer wrote, “There are no winners/losers. (You could make a competition out of it with several kids, seeing who can make the shortest program/have the fewest bugs/etc., but it’s not set up that way.) But it does teach kids the basics of how computers think… Once he got the hang of it, we just let our son go nuts with it. He makes up his own boards and then “writes” a program to solve it. Finally, something he can play by himself that doesn’t have a ton of annoying noises/beeps/music!” You can read more about this game from The New York Times here.
  4. Crayola Inspiration Art Case $39.99 (3 – 12 years) – This 150 piece art set gets great marks for everything from it’s special looking case that keep 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 gift and is sure to thrill.
  5. Twistz Bandz Rainbow Loom $19.95 (5+ years) – Being billed by many as “the runaway toy of the year” last year, this award winning loom was the most exciting thing to happen to kid jewelry since the advent of the friendship bracelet. Using a special loom and the multitude of colorful twistz bandz that come in this kit along with a myriad of video tutorials available on YouTube, kids will spend hours happily creating with this fun kit. Both my son and my daughter love playing with it at their friends’ houses and will be getting one this year.
  6. Hot Wheels Track Builder Total Turbo Takeover Track Set $34.86 (4+ years) – If you do want to get yourself some tracks, this is my favorite starter kit. It’s well-priced and comes with not one, but two, loops – which always seems to be the kids’ favorite part – plus a “two way booster” that gives them multiple ways to race and launch the cars. This is an ideal rainy day toy and also great for multiple kids to play with together. The only drawback, is that this one can be noisy and you need a little more space – another great set that’s noise-free and has a small foot-print but TONS of cool options and tricks for the cars is the Color Shifters Flame Fighter Playset $27.99 (4+ years) (note: we don’t use the color-changing water features but may add it in as the kids get older).
  7. Marble Run – 103 pieces $34.95 (3 – 10 years) – This one is a classic for a reason. Kids have always loved (and will always love) building cool structures and watching marbles spin and drop down them. This is a perfect game to play alone or with others so it can be used for quiet time or play dates plus it’s great developmentally for fine motor skills, critical thinking skills, spatial awareness and more. My only caution is to be careful of small marbles that can be a choking hazard to young kids who still like to put things in their mouths, including younger siblings who may be nearby.
  8. Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Kit (3+ years), Dueling Double Stomp Rocket Kit $14.95 (3+ years) and Ultra Stomp Rocket $14.50 (8 – 16 years)  – My kids both got to play with this at science camp this summer, during their study of physics, and fell in love. They both, my son especially, get a little hyper in the afternoon and I knew we’d all love having this around for them to stomp to their hearts content in the backyard. Lucky for us, we got one for C’s 6th birthday and I was absolutely right. The concept is simple, stomp (or jump) on the launch pad to send a foam tipped rocket up to 200 ft in the air. I like that both sets come with 4 rockets so the kids get to launch multiple times before running around to pick them all up and do it all over again.  Obviously the glow-in-the dark aspect of the Jr. Glow Kit is pretty cool. Siblings will love going together, and not having to take turns, and hosting friendly competitions with the Dueling Double Stomp Rocket Kit. In summary, these simple battery-free toys are multi-award winners and get great reviews. Plus they’re cheap – gotta love that! Read More

Got a little reader on your gift list this year? Our resident children’s librarian, Janssen, here today with one of our favorite gift ideas ever – the series starter. Here are all the details…

Whether you’re looking for a book to give to a voracious reader or a struggling and reluctant reader, series are always a good idea.

For an avid reader, a series gives them not just one book to devour, but a whole set. While for the reluctant reader, entering a series means they can continue reading after the first book without having to be introduced to a whole new set of characters and world again, which makes the initial plunge into a book that much easier.

Here’s how a “series starter” gift works. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite books series and wrap up just the first book (or first few if you wanna go crazy) in each series, add a homemade bookmark or book light, package it with a note with the names of all the books in each series, and let them discover a whole new world to get lost in.

Not sure which series to go with? Whether you’re buying for a preschooler or beginning reader, a third through sixth grader, or a teenager, there’s sure to be a few series on this list that’s perfect.

Emerging Readers:

  1. Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems. It takes a master to use so few words to tell such hilarious stories, and Willems is just such a master. Some easy readers are mindless and plotless, but this series is anything but.
  2. Ling & Ting by Grace Lin. Ling and Ting may be identical twins but they aren’t exactly the same. Each book is broken into several chapters and readers will love seeing how different these two identical twin girls really are.
  3. George and Martha by James Marshall. These two hippo friends will have you in hysterics. These are great for early readers to work through on their own or perfect for reading aloud. Either way, prepare for giggling!
  4. Oliver and Amanda Pig by Jean Van Leeuwen and Ann Schweninger. This sweet series about a pig family has been one of my life-long favorites. With books correlating to practically every season and occasion, you’ll never run out of opportunities to pull out one of these titles.
  5. Penny and Her Doll by Kevin Henkes. If your child loves you reading aloud other Kevin Henkes titles like Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, they’ll love his easy reader series about a little mouse and her various light-hearted escapades.

Read More

You guys know I’m all about getting outdoors whenever possible! I’ll admit, however, that has been a little more challenging this year with the baby in tow – sometimes I’m just too tired to face arming all 3 kids in the layers and layers of outdoor clothes, you know?

So I’m over at eHow this week with my top 10, all-time favorite ways to keep the kids active when stuck inside.

These are some seriously low key and zero prep ideas that are sure to rescue you when the kids are bouncing off the walls – guaranteed.

Back tomorrow with something fun (she says mysteriously).