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Did you know that within each of the 15 MPMK 2016 Gift Guides, there are several mini-gift guides?

Actually, let me back up a second and say how much I’ve enjoyed all the feedback I’ve been getting from all of you on this year’s guides.

As you know if you’re a regular reader here, our mega gift guides are a true labor of love. I spend A LOT of time researching and putting them together.

When the work is finally over and I start to get feedback that they’re truly helping parents to find high quality, engaging and stimulating toys it feels great. So THANK YOU!

All of that being said, I do realize that the gift guides are a lot to take in- detailed descriptions and age recommendations of over 400 toys, books, games, and more takes some concentration to get through.

I’ve heard from several moms in fact, both via email and in real life, who have already spent a good hour or two immersed in them.

So this year, I thought I’d try to help you guys navigate the guides even more by highlighting some of my favorite parts. That’s where those mini-guides I was referring to above comes in.

Over the next few months, I’ll be stopping in every once in a while to showcase a favorite section from one of the 15 guides. My hope is that it will help you find the perfect gift for under the tree this year.

Today I’m starting with the 6 – 12 month old set.

Keep in mind that this is just one section from our Best Toys for Babies and Young Toddlers Gift Guide (0 – 24 months) and be sure to click through for more great finds!

Ready? Here we go…

Ages 6 – 9 Months

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Bug Jug Fill & Spill Soft Baby Toy $18.43 (6 months – 3 years)

It’s truly mystifying how endlessly entertaining putting things in and taking them out again is to babies. On top of that, these bugs provide lots of opportunities for sensory exploration. They’re multi-textured and rattle, jingle, squeak and crinkle in little hands. All those textures and grip-able legs help develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, plus the self-storing set is great for travel.

Learn & Groove Musical Table $59.99 (6 months – 6 years)

This toy has lots of ways for baby to interact and I love that the legs allow babies to play while seated but later transition to a table they can use standing.  This was a favorite of both of my kids once they started pulling up and at 7 months, baby M was already playing on it while standing with assistance or while sitting on his own on the floor.

Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes $6.69 (6 months – 2 years)

You know those lovely early months when many babies scream just about the ENTIRE time they’re in the car? This musical toy that’s easy to hold and has button big enough for baby to push on his own was the only thing that ever got my kids to stop – it was worth it’s weight in gold I tell ya. It was also great for getting my babies’ attention in times of non-stress.

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Click ‘n Learn Remote $9.74 (6 months – 3 years) 

This looks like it serves a similar function as the Take Along Tunes and also gets great reviews. With this one, baby can learn about numbers, opposites, colors, greetings and first words. Buy one of each and keep one in mom’s car and the other in dad’s just to mix it up.  You won’t be sorry.

Infantino Textured Multi Ball Set $8.92 (6 months – 4 years)

Balls are excellent for open-ended play and motor development for babies and younger toddlers – truly, every child should have a set. The varying textures, colors, and sizes of the balls in this pack make them extra great for sensory engagement.

Babybug Board Book Magazine Subscription $21.95/12 months (6 mos – 3 years) 

Babybug, is a unique board book style magazine full of the highest-quality content available from the world’s best children’s writers and artists. The subscription series progresses to enchanting stories, poems, and activities with Ladybug (3 – 6 years) and Spider (6 – 9 years) and fiction and classic literature as well as nonfiction stories on culture, history, science, and the arts for preteens in Cricket (9-14 years), which means your child may very well become a loyal subscriber for over a decade. Read More

 

Every once in a while my team and I put together a resource that I am especially proud of– this simple round up is definitely one of those times.

As straight-forward sounding as this list is, Kaley has really done an incredible job of rounding up 30 recipes that are as healthy as they are varied and (most-importantly) uber kid-friendly.

Reading through Kaley’s list I got so excited to try each and every one, and not only for my 1 1/2 year old, but for my 5-year-old and 7-year-old too!

I think you’re going to want to bookmark this one and share it with your friends– ASAP.

There are a ton of resources out there for what to feed your baby when they start eating solids. We even wrote a whole guide to making your own baby food.

But now your sweet little baby has turned one and you are at a loss for what to serve him for dinner.

We’ve got you covered with 30 awesome meal ideas!

Let me start by saying that 95% of the time, my baby eats what the rest of the family is eating. It has been this way since she was about 9 months old.

Unless we are eating something that we haven’t introduced to her yet (i.e. shellfish) or something super spicy (i.e. Thai curry), we all eat the same thing. We will just cut everything up nice and small for her, and on her plate it goes.

I have found that this is the easiest and quickest way to ensure that baby’s palate matches that of the rest of the family, and it discourages picky eating. Plus it makes my life a lot easier, since I am only preparing one meal for everyone.

However, if we are eating something that she can’t eat, or she is eating earlier than the rest of the family, I will usually turn to number one, below, which is a muffin tin meal.

You basically fill each little cup of the muffin tin with a different food cut into little pieces. Think cut up fruits and veggies, tiny crackers, plain pasta, cubes of cheese, etc. I love this because it is so easy to throw together random things from the fridge, and my baby loves it because she likes all the choices.

My six year old still asks for muffin tin meals all the time, so this is something that you can keep in your back pocket for those nights that you need to get the kids fed, fast!

Below you will find my top 30 dinner ideas for a one year old. Many can be made ahead, frozen, and then used in muffin meals too.

They all also work equally well for lunches and snacks. And these recipes aren’t just for babies. Your whole family will love most things on this list!

Last Note: I always add cut up fruits and veggies to whatever I serve baby, and try to stick with what is organic and in season. But I like to keep frozen peas and a few other basics on hand for those times when I couldn’t get to the store.

Read More

The holiday season, and all the fun that comes with it, is here!

Just in case your weekend to-do list has “decorating for Halloween” on the top of it in big bold letters like mine, here’s one of my all-time favorite decor projects.

These Mason Jar Mummy Votives are super, super simple to make and I love that it’s one of those projects you can jump into with the kids without having to commit half a day to completing it.

More MPMK DIY Halloween Decor

DIY Spider Sacks

Mess-Free Pumpkin Decorating

Duct Tape “Wicked” Inspired Doormat

Halloween Paper Bag Luminaries

Simple Outdoor Halloween Garland

Stand-Alone Cheesecloth Ghosts

 

We are just over a month into the school year and lunches have already turned into a major chore.

It seems that every morning, a few minutes before we are supposed to be leaving for the bus, I am frantically trying to throw together a nutritious lunch for my daughter- racking my brain as to what I should include. All the while, she is standing beside me telling me that she is bored with what I am packing for her.

Does this sound familiar? If so, don’t despair, I have a few tips for you to make packing lunches simple and easy. Read More

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?

I’ve got some HUGE news today friends! Drum roll please…
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The 2016 Toy Gift Guides are here!

A month early this year– can you believe it?!

I heard you last year when you guys wrote in and asked me to please, please get the guides out in October.

I have to say I’m in awe of all of you that are that organized with your holiday prep and I worked LIKE CRAZY to try to accommodate you this year.

In case you’re unfamiliar with our famous 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.

400+ selections viewed by thousands and thousands of parents each 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 the Gift Guides page to your favorite gift board here or bookmark this page now (and share it with your mom friends – they’ll thank you!).

I’ve spent months 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.

Ultimately, it’s what my kids are into that most motivates my purchases and I constructed these guides because I know that’s what you care about too.

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 shopping – getting 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 couple of months I’ll be highlighting all 11 of our gift guides but you don’t have to wait. You can see them all right now!

Plus, bonus, I’ve now got lists for each age group too.

Just click here for each of the complete guides… Happy (early) shopping!

I’m so happy to introduce you guys to Billy today. He has some really interesting things to say about self-care, and what that really looks like when you’re also responsible for the daily care of a young child.

I especially connected to the part about modeling (and, sadly, the part about the dentist as I had a similar experience. NO. FUN.)

Don’t forget, we are always looking for new parenting perspectives to share. Learn more here.

Here’s Billy…

“How long can this wait?” I ask. Before answering, she turns off the glaring, operatory light hanging over my face. Mint rinse lingers on my tongue.

“It can’t. If the infection spreads in your jaw, it can create an abscess,” she responds. Her furrowed brows and stern eyes leave no room for negotiation. Read More

Maybe it’s because of my past life as an elementary teacher, but I love celebrating holidays.

I’ll take any opportunity to be festive.

For Halloween, I have a fun little food activity that will work for little and big kids.  You can make this something that you do together on a weekend, or surprise them by packing this spooky sandwich in their lunch. Read More

About a month into the new school year seems like pretty much the ideal time to tackle a new project for our Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life series.

This week we’re teaming up with our new sponsor, DYMO, to put their LabelManager 160 to work whipping up a stream-lined mudroom that serves the needs of an entire family.

Here’s our contributor Janssen with the details…

Do you have a room in your house that has so much potential but just somehow misses the mark and ends up frustrating you instead?

I definitely do. We moved into a new home this summer with a decently-sized laundry room that leads to the garage. At first glance, it seemed like the perfect spot to act as a command center for our family.

Then, before I knew it, my oldest daughter started kindergarten and we were suddenly dealing with backpacks, lunch boxes, school library books, and papers for the first time.

Nevertheless, I was excited about the potential our laundry room/mudroom had to be a really useful spot for our family, and I got to work right away. Read More

I’m so excited about this Halloween project, it turned out even better than I’d envisioned.

 

It’s the quintessential MPMK project – easy enough for kids of all ages to get in on the action and the finished product is a decidedly stylish take on traditional Halloween decor.

 

And did I mention how inexpensive it is?

 

Image Credit: © Suzette – www.suzette.nu | found here | CC by 2.0 

Jessica is with us today discussing, once again, how do we really give our kids the kind of childhood we want for them?

I really love what she has to say, it reminds me of a great chapter from one of my favorite books, Nuture Shock: New Thinking About Children.

Like nearly every parenting issue, there’s a lot of gray area here and not a whole lot of black and white- I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Here’s Jessica with her story…

Last year, at the beginning of second grade, my son was flagged for his school’s gifted program.

At the parent-teacher conference, his beaming teacher showed us his test scores and other academic markers. He was leaps and bounds ahead of his classmates, showing comprehension several grades ahead. She told us he was exceptional, and that she wanted to have him tested right away.

I was sold. Immediately. My husband, not so much. Read More

If you’re looking for a simple DIY Halloween decor idea to try with the kids this year (one that – bonus – will keep them quiet and busy for a good chunk of time), check out my origami paper spiderweb garland.

The process for making these simple webs is very similar to paper snowflakes, find the full tutorial here.

More MPMK Halloween Crafts

DIY Spider Sack Decor

Mess-Free Pumpkin Decorating

Duct Tape “Wicked” Inspired Doormat

Dry Erase Ghost Votives

Halloween Paper Bag Luminaries

Simple Outdoor Halloween Garland

With that first snap of cool fall weather, all I want to do is cozy up with a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning.

Oatmeal is such a great breakfast option because it helps keep you full until lunch. I also love that oatmeal offers endless flavor combinations, from sweet to savory.

My favorite oatmeal company, The Quaker Oats Company, makes the most delicious steel cut oats.  Steel cut oats are simply chopped, while the regular rolled oats are steamed, rolled, steamed again and then toasted. The texture of steel cut oats is heartier and they have a nutty, rich taste.

I used to be a little intimidated by making steel cut oats. They definitely require more cooking time than the Quaker Quick Oats I was used to making. But then I stumbled upon an over-night recipe for steel cut oats and I was hooked.

The first thing I did was make my own recipe with apples and cinnamon for the cool fall weather. Of course you can make any good thing great, so I also decided to make a little serve-yourself breakfast station with the Quaker Steel Cut oats and some toppings.

It’s the perfect thing for ensuring the kids (and I) get an easy breakfast with little to no effort required

Here’s how I set it up…

Read More

It’s the time of year when I’m once again gathering my holiday resources and putting together a simple plan for making memories with the kids. (It might seem a little early, but I really find that things go so much more slowly when I get out ahead of it and just make a few plans).

One thing definitely on my list this year are these spooky, stand-alone cheesecloth ghosts I put together for eHow a few years ago.

Back then my kiddos were really too little to help much but this year I know they’re just gonna love getting their hands dirty and tackling the project with me. It’s the perfect mix of spooky and just a little bit of magic for them.

Plus anything with googly eyes is always a hit!

More MPMK Halloween Crafts

DIY Spider Sack Decor

Mess-Free Pumpkin Decorating

Duct Tape “Wicked” Inspired Doormat

Dry Erase Ghost Votives

Halloween Paper Bag Luminaries

Simple Outdoor Halloween Garland

 

The nature of blogging is so fast paced – always working to churn out that next post – that every once in a while, I put my head up and realize that there’s a lot of great stuff essentially getting buried here.

I try to help with menu bars and categories for things like Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life, In the Kitchen, or The Holidays– but the truth is a lot of you are viewing this on your phones and those menu bars are so teeny tiny they’re virtually non-existent.

So today, I thought I’d help steer you to a collection of some of our best offerings: free kid printables!

Read on, and click through, for a whole host of resources to help you keep your brood busy, engaged, and happy! (Be sure not to miss the knock-knock advent calendar, reading scavenger hunt, and kids’ clothing drawer labels– a few of my personal favorites.)

Playtime & Learning

B.O.R.E.D. Printable for the Wall

Reading Scavenger Hunt Treasure Map!

Homemade Learning: Big, Beautiful Counting Cards

Holiday

Free Prints: Winnie the Pooh Quotes for Kid Spaces

“I’m Thankful for…” Thanksgiving Conversation Starter Prompts

Printable Knock-Knock Joke Advent Calendar

Free Template for Making a Photo Family Tree

Free Print: Give Your Child P.R.I.D.E.

Kids + Organization

Visual Aids for Setting Up a Simple Routine with Kids

Clothing Drawer Labels for Kids

Easy Fill-in-the-Blank Thank You Cards

For the Wall

Free Prints: Winnie the Pooh Quotes for Kid Spaces

Free Print: Give Your Child P.R.I.D.E.

Things I Want to Teach My Children Every Day

I’ve written here already about how back-to-school always feels like a breath of fresh air to me – largely because we get the chance to establish some new routines and it brings a whole new flow to our family life.

One of those routines we’re currently focusing on are our chores. These include both family jobs AND money jobs. 

Side Note: For more info. on how we deal with chores and responsibilities, as well as an amazing 50% off deal on our Kids’ Responsibilities & Money Management pack, be sure to check out our limited-time Back-to-School Super Saver Bundle!

So far, it’s going really well. But one of the things that stumped me for a bit, especially when we first started to pay our young children for their “money jobs”, was where they could spend their earnings.

They’re not making a lot, after all, so saving up for a full-price item from the local toy store could take nearly an eternity in my kiddos’ minds.

Today our contributor, Alli, is sharing her thoughts on the best places for young allowance earners to spend some of that hard-earned dough...

My oldest son turns five this Christmas, which is when we were planning to start him on an allowance. And with every day that passes, he’s asking more and more about the money. Where it comes from, how much things cost, and even how it’s made. (Kids’ minds never cease to amaze me.)

He’s a little young to fully understand, but I’m well aware that the earlier we teach him about money, the better off he’ll be.

My parents did a great job teaching me about money. And by the time I was twelve, I was managing my own budget. I’m so grateful for what they taught me, because it’s saved me plenty of heartache in my adult life.

I definitely want to follow in their footsteps, and teach my son well when it comes to money. So I’ve been burying my head in “allowance research.”

10 Perfect Places for Kids to Spend Allowance - Love these ideas of where my kiddos can find  ways to spend small amounts of money they've earned - esp. #3 and #8!!

I’ve found plenty of tips on how much allowance is appropriate per age, and how to teach generosity (here’s a great resource for both of those questions) but there was a lack of good information on how to help kids spend their allowance in an appropriate way.

Which, to me, is a very important part of the money lesson.

So I put together a “go-to” list; 10 great places for young kids to spend their allowance, for anyone looking to guide their kids in the right direction when it comes to spending. Read More