DIY Play Mailbox

If your toddler is like mine, he or she loves putting things in and taking them out again.  What better place to do this than a mailbox?

We go outside to get the mail together most days, and “J” seems to like it a lot, so I made him his own play mailbox.  It was intended to go on the door to his playroom closet, as though that were his “house,” but when it was attached to the wall, he could pull it apart too easily, so I took it down and just use it unattached.  If your child is a bit older and/or you make sure to tape it more securely, you could probably adhere to a door or wall without a problem.


Used (or new) U.S. Postal Service mailing box
Scrapbook or other nice-looking paper
Paste or other type of glue
Stickers for decorating (optional)
Additional pieces of cardboard for making “postcards” (optional)


1.  Deconstruct your cardboard box and cut off unnecessary sides.


2.  Cover the outside with paper as desired, making sure to include enough of an extra amount on the inside so that you will see a continuation of the nice-looking paper when you glance inside (rather than unfinished cardboard).  You could meticulously cover every inch of the box with paper, but neither you nor your child will really see into the deep inside, so it’s perfectly fine to be a little lazy in your covering.


3.  Put the box together using paste and/or clear tape.  I used paste, but it was not very strong, so although tape would ruin the line a little, I think it might be a good idea to use some clear packing tape.

4.  If desired, add stickers or other details to the box.  I had some extra scrapbook stickers, so I used them to write “Mailbox” and “123 Main St” on the one I made.

5.  Optional:  Use cardboard and extra paper to make postcards or “letters” that can be put in and taken out.  Alternatively (or additionally), you can let your little one put other little things into the box, or you can use real envelopes or junk mail.

Happy mailing!


Recycled TP Roll Flowers

Instead of recycling your toilet paper rolls, make them into flowers!  This could be an activity you do to decorate your child’s room, or an activity you do together with an older kid.


Step 1: Cut your TP rolls into smallish strips


Step 2:  Using a hot glue gun, put a dab of glue in the middle of one of the strips. If you are working with kids, this is something you should do rather than them. It’s very easy to burn yourself doing this.


Step 3: Position another strip on top of the first at a roughly 90-degree angle.


Step 4: Continue to adhere more and more strips at 90-degree angles until you have a flushed-out flower


Step 5: Cut a piece of scrap fabric into a circle and use your hot glue gun to adhere it to the middle of the flower.


I’m making several of these to put into a pretend flower box that will hang on my son’s closet door, leading to his “playhouse area.”  You could also use these for a million other purposes:

  • Use these as packing material when mailing a gift
  • Attach them to pipe cleaners or glue to wood sticks and use as fake bouquets or flower arrangements
  • Put velcro on the back and use as pretend corsages
  • Put them into a pot or other container for a doll garden
  • Hang them on a string or ribbon as a room decoration



Colorful Water Fun



I love food coloring.

Today we took it outside and played with colorful water.  Because I didn’t want my toddler (“J”) to squeeze an entire vial into a small cup and then immediately dump it on the ground, I put them up on our fence and was personally in charge of adding them as needed.  This was a great way for him to practice the names of colors: “Green!  Blue!  Yellow!”  For some reason, he never asked for red.

This was definitely messy and wet.  I brought out the garden hose and turned it on very low so J could use it himself without getting very wet and we weren’t wasting a ton of water.  To be honest, I think J would have been just as happy with the water alone, but the food coloring made for a fun change of pace.



Garden hose or other water source

Food coloring

Containers and spoons, etc., to play with (we used pots/pans and utensils from Goodwill)


  1. Dress yourself and your child for the possibility of getting wet.  It’s best to do this on a relatively warm or hot day.
  2. Collect your containers and utensils, and set up a play area in a place that is accessible to your water source.
  3. Put some water in some of the containers, add a little food coloring, and have fun!

Washing the Floors — It Can Be Fun!


All you need is a little vinegar and water, rags, a bowl, and a pitcher!

Wash the floors?  Yuck.  Definitely one of my least favorite things to do and the last thing I want to do after my toddler (“J”) goes to sleep and I have a few hours to myself for the first time all day.

But what if I invited J to help me wash the floors?

Genius!  He loves playing with water and frequently dumps our dog’s water bowl onto the floor before I can get there to stop him.  He likes to sweep, vacuum, and wipe off the table.  And now, I know that he likes helping wash the floor!


Medium-to-large unbreakable bucket or bowl

Pitcher or other container made with a spout for pouring

Rags (or scrubbing brush if preferred)


Vinegar (optional)


  1. Fill the pitcher or bowl/bucket with warm water and a small amount of white cooking vinegar.  Vinegar is safe in small amounts, especially if watered down, so this is a safe cleaning mix for your child to work with (provided they don’t start drinking large quantities!).  If you prefer, you can use only water.
  2. Be sure not to put too much water/vinegar into the bucket or pitcher.  It should be a small amount so that if/when it is dumped on the floor, it won’t be a big mess.
  3. Give your child the pitcher and bucket, as well as a rag.  Show him or her how to dip the rag into the water mixture and then scrub the floor.
  4. Your child may enjoy wiping the floor or may focus on the water, splashing it and/or pouring it back and forth.  Fine!  I let J pour the water back and forth from bowl to pitcher and then pitcher to bowl.  Eventually, he dumped it all on the floor and asked for more.  I simply put my rag into the water and used it to wash the floor after giving him some more water to play with!

Easy, cheap, and CLEAN!  Who doesn’t love an activity that leaves your house cleaner than when you started, rather than messier?!


Cheapest, Easiest Fall Toy Ever — Leaves!


Lest we forget the simplest things in life, I am writing this post about an abundant resource in the autumn (at least in much of the country).  Leaves!

It’s easy to see leaves as an irritation — a nuisance cluttering up your yard, a mess as they are tracked into the entryway, a frustration when they hide dog poop.

But to a small child, leaves are magical.  All of a sudden, the ground is overtaken by bright colorful things that are easy to pick up and have a pronounced texture.  The trees that seem so permanent and stalwart are suddenly looking very different.  The air feels cooler, and there’s a new sense of urgency among many of the animals as they gather food and prepare for the winter ahead.

Observing this childish perspective is an amazing change for an adult used to overlooking such “normalities” in the regular cycle of life.  It gives us a chance to renew our wonder about the universe.

So get out there with your children!  Here are a few activities that young children might enjoy:

  • Rake the leaves — get your big rake, and grab a small one for your little one, and show them how to rake.  You might be amazed at how good of helpers they can be.
  • Put the leaves into bags or cans — my toddler (“J”) loves to throw away garbage and yard waste.  Make a pile of leaves, find a bag/bin/can short enough for your child to reach into (or use a bucket that you transfer into a larger receptacle), and show them how you do it.
  • Throw leaves in the air — make a pile of leaves and gather around it.  Grab a handful and throw it into the air above yourself and/or your child.  The leaves fall slowly and catch the air as they go, blowing around a bit.  They also get stuck in your hair.  This can be a lot of fun for you and your child.
  • Bury yourself in the leaves — sit down or have your child sit down, and pile leaves around yourselves until you can only see your head sticking out.
  • Walk through a pile of leaves — a leaf pile doesn’t have to be particularly high for it to seem huge to a young child.  Rake some leaves into a pile, and show them how to run through it.  It’s fun to kick the leaves as you go and hear the swish as you walk through.
  • Make a fall “meal” — use the elements of fall in your outdoor play kitchen to make some new “dishes.”  Leaves can act as tortilla-like wraps.  You might pretend a branch of dead leaves is a kabob.  There are a million possibilities — just be sure no one actually eats them!
  • Compost — if you have a compost bin (or if you are willing to buy or make one and start composting now, your child can help add leaves to your compost bin/pile.  Explain to them what compost is and ask their help in turning the pile as needed.
  • Bring the leaves inside — collect a handful of leaves and bring them inside.  Press them flat by putting a heavy book on top of them for a couple of hours or more, and then make leave drawings by putting a piece of paper over the leaves and rubbing on top with a crayon.

Safety notes:
As always, you should take care to be safe in your play.  Watch your children closely so that they don’t eat leaves, nuts, branches, or other things in nature that are not edible.  If you have animals, do a preliminary search and remove any possible excrement from the leaves you’ll be playing with.  Supervise your children when using the rake, especially if it is metal.

What do you do with leaves in the fall?


The Library

Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget the simplest, cheapest, and funnest places to take our children.  One of those is the library.

“J” and I go to circle time at our local library almost every week, but we rarely think to go on other days and just explore the space.  We went a few times when he was smaller, and he spent the whole time clinging to me and/or pulling every book in the children’s department off the shelf and throwing it on the floor.

We are fortunate enough to live in an area rich in libraries, so we don’t have to travel far to find a variety of different choices.  I love our local library, but it’s not set up as play-friendly as some of the others nearby.  I’ve discovered that some have whole play areas with toys (baby dolls, trucks and cars, the proverbial wood block with beads on it, etc.), as well as comfortable seats for little ones and accessible board books so that they toddlers won’t pull down so many of the other books.  It’s actually pretty amazing.

Today we ventured to a nearby library that had a nice but not outstanding play area.  Nonetheless, J had a fantastic time, and it was all for free!  There were several other kids near his age who showed up, and they all played together quite well.  There were some plastic magnetic letters they all seemed to enjoy, as well as bins to put them in and a magnetic board that happened to have a fun “pass-through inside it” (well, a pass-through only large enough for a child under 2!).  J also really loves books right now and enjoyed having me read him a few.  It was nice to get a little change of pace from the same few favorites he has at home.

Libraries are pretty amazing places.  They have so much to offer, especially for children, and they are designed specifically to build literacy and help your child become a lifelong reader and learner.  And they are free!  You can’t get much better than that.


Playing with Rice and Noodles



Colored rice = oodles of fun!

I stumbled upon a post on Childhood101 about using food coloring to dye rice.  The focus there was using it to mix into homemade playdough (a great idea!), but I decided it would be fun to dye it for “J” to scoop, dump, and pour without mixing into playdough.

It’s ridiculously easy and turns out so pretty that I’m considering dyeing some and putting it in the bottom of vases with dried flower arrangements or perhaps doing sand-painting-type things with it.


Uncooked rice (cheapest version you can get)

Food coloring

Mixing bowl and spoon

Cook sheet or waxed paper


  1. Put several scoops of uncooked rice into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add some drops of food coloring and stir until the rice is coated and the color is the density you desire.

    If you want to create colors other than red, yellow, green, or blue, it’s best to mix the food coloring before adding it to the rice (i.e. mix yellow and red first to make orange and then add to the rice).  However, it can also be fun to add the drops directly into the rice for a slight tint and some texture.  That’s how to made the purple and green rice in the picture above — although it’s hard to see in the picture, some grains of the purple rice were blue and others red, and some grains of the green rice were green while others were yellow.

  3. Dump colored rice onto a cookie sheet or waxed paper and let sit for about 1-2 hours so that the color dries and sets.
  4. Repeat this process as many times as you wish to make batches of different colors!


There are a million different ways to play with colorful rice, and your little one will probably need very little guidance.

My recommendations are to make sure you have a specific area cordoned off so that the rice doesn’t end up all over the house and to be prepared to do a lot of sweeping after the play is finished.  Oh, and also make sure your pets are not allowed into the space.  Our dog managed to eat his fair share of uncooked colored rice pieces before I got him safely in the backyard!

Take out a few containers, scooping devices, and anything else you think would be fun.  If you have a water table or water table toys (i.e. the spinning mills), those would be fun to try with the rice.  Funnels are also great, particularly for older kids.  J (who is 19 months) didn’t seem to quite understand the purpose of the funnel.

Then, let the kids go at it!  You will probably be inclined to join in because it’s just that much fun!  Oh, and the good news is that because the rice is not white or translucent, you can better identify where it is better when you are cleaning up!

Here are some pictures of the ways we used the rice:


Using an old cream cheese container and a plastic scooper that originally came with a jar of protein powder (we also got out the toy boats just for fun)


A taller plastic container and a large wide-necked glass container. J liked the containers that had lids so that he could put the rice inside and then shake it around. He also liked the ones that were clear so that he could see inside. I don’t highly recommend using a glass container like we did, but if it’s sturdy enough, it’s unlikely to be broken.


Using an old carry-out containers that had different compartments, J had a ton of fun sorting and mixing. We also added some uncooked pasta and kernels of uncooked popcorn to the mix, which he enjoyed. I recommend against the popcorn kernels because they are a terrible choking hazard. I had read a blog post earlier in which a mom let her toddler play with them and just watched him closely, so I thought I’d give it a try. I warned J ahead of time that he couldn’t put them in his mouth, so he repeatedly looked up at me during our play and said, “Mouth,” I guess to be sure I understood that he understood (or just to check with me to see if the rules had changed?). He did a great job of not putting any of it into his mouth, but when we were playing with it a few days later, he started putting it in his mouth, and I was really worried he was going to choke on it. I’m not going to give him popcorn kernels again — but I highly recommend the pasta and rice!

One of the greatest things about this activity is that you are likely to have some rice and/or pasta in your cupboards already, and after you dye it, you can keep it and reuse it again and again, as long as it hasn’t gotten wet and hasn’t gotten too mixed in with dirt from the floor (no matter how much I clean, our floor is always covered in some dog hair).

I’d like to try cooking the dyed rice in the future, just to see what it looks like when it puffs up and whether it maintains the pretty color of the uncooked rice.  Might be a fun experiment for Halloween or a birthday party!