mindful living, effortless style

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.

Since we’ve already done a round-up of her favorite Thanksgiving books, I thought a collection of books centering on strong families from our resident children’s librarian, Janssen, would be perfect for this time of year.

We went with chapter books so big kids can read them on their own or families can read a chapter together each night. Enjoy!

With the holiday season just around the corner, family is on everyone’s mind, whether it’s making gift lists for siblings or visiting relatives across the country.

There are so many great books about families, whether it’s families with magical powers, siblings who alternately get along and fight bitterly, families with health problems or disabilities, or families struggling through difficult circumstances.

These titles are perfect for kids to read on their own or to read aloud, snuggled up together. Add a little hot chocolate and, voila!
Instant quality family time. Read More

‘Tis the season for pumpkin and apple recipes!

If you’ve taken advantage of the seasonal grocery sales or done some apple picking at your local orchard, chances are you need some apple inspiration. This recipe is for you!  Read More

Can you guys believe it’s nearly November already?! You know what that means… time to start thinking Christmas shopping. Although the process can be overwhelming, it can also be a lot of fun hunting down the most exciting, enticing and developmentally appropriate toys for your littles.

I know I always feel a great sense of anticipation and accomplishment when I’ve finally settled on my top picks and placed my order.

Today we’re hoping to help with that and Alli is here sharing one of MPMK’s all-time favorite sponsors and maker of handmade educational toys, Mama may i and they’ve got a special gift for you:

MPMK Readers Get 15% Off with code: MPMKHOLIDAY

This is the biggest discount the shop will offer all year and is good now through Dec. 9th, 2014. Here’s Alli with the goods on these awesome toys…

I love handmade toys. I mean, LOVE. When my firstborn was a baby, I had this fear that he would come to loathe wooden toys…because that’s all I would buy him!

Fortunately for us, that’s not been the case. Quite the opposite, actually. Not only do both of my sons love classic-style toys, but they are the only toys that seem to withstand their – well – vigor, shall we say?

So when we had the opportunity to review a toy from Mama May i, I leaped at the chance.

We were so excited to get our Shoot for the Rainbow Play Set in the mail. And from that point on, it was pretty much impossible to Read More

I don’t know about you guys but it’s been an eventful couple of weeks around here lately! Along with turning 6 (what?!?!) my oldest lost his first and his second tooth.

He opted to leave the first tooth for the Tooth Fairy but to keep the second. I lived for Tooth Fairy visits when I was his age so I couldn’t quite fathom this idea but, hey, to each his own. This led to a rousing discussion on how much $$$ the Tooth Fairy leaves on the MPMK facebook page.

Also this week, I shared 20 Treats Perfect for “Booing” Your Neighbors. Do you do this in your ‘hood? If you do, then you know it takes the perfect compact, portable and yummy treat – all 20 of these finds fit the bill perfectly.

Until next week!

P.S. Don’t forget MPMK readers can enjoy $5 off their purchase exclusively at Munchkin.com using the code: MPMKXMCK. The coupon is valid for U.S. residents only and expires November 30, 2014.

I’ve got something great to share with you guys today. In an effort to continue to fill our photography & memory making section with do-able ideas for busy parents, I’ve persuaded Andrea Genevieve Michnik from the Tiny Prints Blog share with us a really lovely family tree project.

You can do this one on your own or with the kids and there’s even a free printable template to make sure you can’t mess it up. That’s my kind of project!

Here’s Andrea…

Teaching kids about their heritage is a great idea during the family-centric holiday season, and making it a hands-on activity only takes a few simple supplies.

With this easy project, you can get everyone involved at your next holiday gathering, or create a family tree to put on display for aunts, uncles and grandparents to see when they visit. Family trees also make great gifts!

Just download the free printable template, print a few family photos and gather some supplies from your local craft store to be all set to make your own. Read More

If you’ve never heard, can I introduce you to the concept of ‘dump cake?’  While the name is quite unflattering, the concept is genius! 

The cake consists of several pantry ingredients and some eggs…involves a few stirs and about an hour in the oven.  And all the busy moms rejoiced!  Any time I have to make a dessert on the fly, it’s a dump cake.

This particular cake is of the pumpkin variety.  And hold the term cake loosely, because this tastes like a pumpkin pie married a cobbler and had a baby.  The pumpkin pie layer holds up, but there’s no flour in the mixture to make it a true cake.

Either way, serve it with ice cream and you’ll have everyone cheering your name. Read More

Our resident professional organizer, Annie, is here today with our latest Project Organize Your ENTIRE Life post.

She’s going to help you tackle your kitchen in 5 manageable steps. Do one a day and by the end of the week you’ll have the organized kitchen of your dreams!

Every project seems daunting until you break it into small, manageable parts. Regardless of how badly your kitchen needs decluttering or how intimidated you’ve been to begin, today’s post is designed to get you going and show you how easy it can be if you take it one project at a time.

Day 1 – The Tupperware

If there’s one category of belongings in the kitchen that’s consistently an issue for people it’s tupperware. Tupperware is picked up rather thoughtlessly at the grocery store to begin with. The collection quickly gets added to with restaurant take-out containers, grocery store salad bar tubs, and so on, and simultaneously loses a few parts here and there to doling out leftovers at social gatherings.

The constant state of food storage flux means you’re probably the (not so) proud owner of bottoms without tops, tops without matching bottoms, and total head-scratchers, whose origin you have no clue about. Read More

Hey everyone, how’s your week going? Mine has been crazy busy!

Mostly, I’ve been working like a madwoman on updating all 10 of MPMK’s Infamous Toy Gift Guides for Christmas. Yes, that’s right, Christmas – already!

(Psst – I’m updating them as I go this year. That means some of the guides like,”Best Toys for Building S.T.E.M. Skills in All Ages“, “Best Toys for Babies“, and “Best Building & Construction Toys” already have some new additions… Go check ‘em out if you’re dying to see what’s fresh this year!)

So – of course – the kids got sick. It always happens at the worst possible time, doesn’t it?

The combination of sick kids and a hectic work schedule left me in need of some serious comic relief, so I vented some of my stress via a tongue-in-cheek piece I wrote for eHow’s Mom’s Channel entitled, “10 Ways Having Young Kids is Like Being Held Hostage“.

Go check it out. Then throw me a bone in the comments and tell me you can relate!

Happy weekend.

Between the candy overload of October and the present overload of December, November is the perfect time for families to focus on what they have to be thankful for

And today’s free download is just the tool you need to help!

Simply print and keep near the dinner table, then pick a “thankful conversation starter” each night in November and discuss – easy peasy! And we’re giving it to you now so you’ve still got a few weeks to get yourself set up.

Here’s MJ with the details…

Anticipation is a powerful emotion in childhood. So why not use it to foster a spirit of gratitude?

As an adult, I have come to love Thanksgiving, with its focus on home and family as well as its minimal commercialism and this year we’re making thanksgiving an entire season with these printable conversation starters. Read More