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DIY Kid’s Desk Makeover

I’m always on the lookout for free and cheap stuff, particularly large pieces.  My toddler “J” has a ton of toys but not so many furniture items.

I was out walking the dog a few weeks ago and stumbled upon a kids’ plastic desk on the side of the street for free.  It would never have occurred to me to have purchased a young toddler a desk, but as soon as I saw it, I was sure it would be a useful piece.  We have a small table and chairs, but the chairs are a little high for “J” (who is not particularly tall for his age), and it’s hard for him to pull himself close to the table once he sits on a chair.  The desk is a perfect solution!  I also thought that the tilted desktop would be helpful for reading and drawing.  Sure enough, he LOVES it!

The desk was pretty ugly when I picked it up: it was dirty, not the prettiest in “style,” and had some stickers still have stuck on it.  I instantly went to work fixing it up.

I didn’t take the greatest pictures of it, but you can see it beforehand here:

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It’s in the bathtub because I was starting to wash off the dirt.  Not the most appealing piece ,but it was structurally sound and had a decent overall design.

Steps:

  1. Wash off the desk.
  2. Sand the desk so that paint will adhere better.  This also removed the stickers that were on it, which I was very happy about.
  3. Take the desk apart — I found that it was really easy to take off the side panels, so I decided to paint them a different color.
  4. Spray paint with paint that’s meant for plastic — I did two coats.
  5. Put the desk back together when it’s dry.  All done!  The paint says that it adheres to plastic best when it has a chance to dry for about a week, so I didn’t give it to “J” right away.

Here’s the final version!

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This was my first experiment painting plastic and using spray paint, and I think it turned out well.  The paint does scratch off a little, so it’s probably not going to hold up for years, but so far, we’ve had no problems.

A few tips I’ve learned from the process:

  1. Make sure you keep the spray can at a distance from what you are painting, and don’t hover over any spots too long.  I had a few problems with runny paint that would have been prevented by this.
  2. Spraying over runny paint drips actually works to fix them.  I was shocked at how well it fixed the problems and made the drips disappear.
  3. Be careful using a finishing coat.  I wanted to spray a clear coat on at the end to help seal it, but it just created a strange murky tint to it.  It was easy to spray more paint over the top when I realized I didn’t like this, but I would be wary of using a clear coat again as a result of this.  It’s possible that it didn’t work well because I sprayed it too soon after painting and/or because I did it in the garage when it was fairly cold out, and the paints usually suggest a somewhat warm ambient temperature.
  4. Consider using a primer first.  All the things I read online seemed to suggest that you don’t really need a primer, but since doing this, I’ve started working on another project painting plastic, and I’ve found that using primer has made a big difference in how well it’s adhering and how it looks.

Happy DIYing and upcycling!

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DIY “Books” or Cards

My toddler (“J”) loves looking at pictures in books, magazines, catalogs, and anything else he can get his hands on.  He particularly enjoys pictures of his favorite things (like electric drills, kitchen mixers, blenders, and trucks).

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The other day, he made a grab for the Crate & Barrel catalog and found a picture of a mixer, which has been his most recent obsession after seeing me use it to make cookies and muffins.  He also found a picture of a blender, a slow cooker, and a toaster.

“J” would flip through the magazine in search of his favorite pictures, always wanting to close it for some reason and then open it again and find them.  Of course, it was difficult for his little fingers to turn the very thin pages, and the magazine was not holding up well to a lot of handling.  When “J” nearly had a tantrum because he was having trouble turning to the picture of the mixer, I decided it was time to take the mixer out of the magazine.

And so, the “trading cards” were born.  They are sort of half books, half trading cards.  My husband says they are like toddler baseball cards and that it would be funny if toddlers carried these around with pictures of their favorite equipment and traded with their friends.  That sounds pretty awesome to me, so get your toddler on board with us!

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Materials:
Old magazines or catalogs with pictures of things your toddler recognizes and likes
Scissors
Cardboard remnants (I cut up an old box)
Mod Podge or other decoupage glue
Scrapbook paper, construction paper, or other colorful paper (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Choose the pictures you plan to use and cut them out in the shapes you like.  You can cut closely around the objects if you want or can cut out squares or circles leaving some border around your object.  What works best depends a lot on the type of picture you have.  I tried to cut mine so that none of the advertising text was visible.
  2. Cut cardboard pieces so that they are the size you want.  They should be big enough for at least one picture on each side, but you could also make them larger if you want to put more pictures on each page or if you just want a lot of “white space” around them.
  3. (Optional:  Cut scrapbook or construction paper to the size of the cardboard pieces.  This will be the background for your pictures.)
  4. Using Mod Podge or other decoupage glue, adhere the paper to the cardboard and then adhere the picture(s) on top.  I like to use decoupage glue because you can put it over the top of the pictures to seal them so that it won’t be easy for little fingers to pick at the edges and pull them off.  It also helps firm up the card/page a little and make it sturdier.
  5. Let the glue dry.  If you are making two-sided cards/pages, it’s a good idea to do one side at a time and find a place where you can dry them in between gluing.

All done!  “J” loves these cards and carries them around with him when we go places in the car.  It’s much easier for him than flipping through the magazine, and it’s fun for him to flip them over and even use them as toys (putting them in and out of his toy trucks, building little tunnels with them, etc.).  I’m planning to do more of this in the future with different types of pictures.

Other Ideas:

  • Use markers to write the names of the objects on each card, giving your child increased familiarity with seeing the written word.
  • Cut up the cards, and use them as puzzles.  (Note: It’s difficult to cut these after finishing them.  I recommend cutting before gluing or using an X-Acto-type knife afterwards.)
  • Make a bunch of cards and use them for playing games like “Go Fish!” or matching.
  • Hang the cards on the wall as decorations.  You could use clothes pins and maybe boards nailed to the wall or yarn hung on the wall (as long as you make sure it’s not a strangulation hazard).  Your child could play with the cards and the clothes pins and enjoy putting them up and taking them down again.
  • If you have an older child, you could do this project together.  It’s very simple and safe, as long as you closely supervise the cutting.  I recommend that an adult be the one to cut the cardboard, since it is tough to cut and will require a sharper knife.
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Potato Fun

DSC03888Today was a snow day for us, so we were in search of things to keep ourselves busy around the house.  My toddler “J” loves his trucks and “boys” (as he calls his toy people).  Sometimes we play with them outside in the sandbox, sometimes with rice or noodles inside, and sometimes he likes to put his smaller trucks into his larger trucks and haul them around.

We have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture — we order ahead for the season and then pick up every weekend), so we don’t always know what we are going to get week-to-week.  Lately there have been a LOT of root vegetables, especially potatoes.  Our neighbors were gone over Thanksgiving and gave us their CSA share, so despite making a ton of mashed potatoes and potato soup, we are still overloaded with raw potatoes.

These potatoes are sitting in paper bags in the bottom of a rolling cart we have in the kitchen.  Today “J” discovered them for the first time and decided they were the best thing ever!  I would never have expected raw potatoes to be so much fun.

Reasons raw potatoes are awesome toys:

  1. They often have a little dirt on them still, which makes them very engaging for the senses and causes them to bring in a sense of the outdoors.
  2. They are something you often have around the house.
  3. They last almost forever before going bad.  If they have “eyes,” all the more fun to play with!
  4. You can easily manhandle them without causing major bruises or making them inedible.  Your child can play with them for hours, and then you can put them back in their bag and wait another month before cooking them!
  5. You do not need to worry about them getting dirty, since we would need to wash them before cooking anyway (and maybe peel them, depending on how you are using them).
  6. They are natural, , compostable, and environmentally friendly.
  7. They (probably) won’t be as appealing to your dog/cat/hamster as other foods might be.  Just to be on the safe side, we put our dog outside while we played (it’s okay — we have a covered porch, so he didn’t have to lay in the snow).
  8. They come in various sizes and look/feel a bit like rocks, making them great for construction play.

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“J” dumped them out of the bag, piled them into his play pots and pans, carried them around, took them out of the pots and pans, put them back in, carried the pots and pans around, dumped them out, put his toy “boys” with the potatoes, and generally just explored them and had fun.  Such an easy, fun toy!

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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.

Materials:

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)

Instructions:

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

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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.

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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!

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Playing with Rice and Noodles

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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.

Materials:

Uncooked rice (cheapest version you can get)

Food coloring

Mixing bowl and spoon

Cook sheet or waxed paper

Instructions:

  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!

Activities:

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:

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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)

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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.

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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!

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DIY Play Silks

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One of the most versatile toys in Waldorf education are the lauded “play silks.”  You can do a million different things with them, from use them as toy blankets to dress-up items to peekaboo toys.

Play silks can be purchased all over the Internet, and many of them are truly beautiful.  But why not make your own for free?  You can even work with your little one to decorate them in a personalized way!

Materials:

Old bed skirt (I used a queen-sized skirt)

Pinking shears

Instructions:

  1. Decide what size(s) you want your silks to be.  You can either “eye it” as you cut or measure ahead.  As you might guess, I “eyed it,” and they turned out fine.
  2. Use the pinking shears to cut large squares or rectangles from the center of the bed skirt.  You could do do this with almost anything, but I found the center of the bed skirt to be ideal because it’s just wasted fabric and is light and airy.  It’s not “silk” (at least in the case of my bed skirt!), but it works just fine.DSC03660
  3. Cut out as many silks as you can.  You can keep the leftover bed skirt part (the pretty part you see under the bed) to use in another project.  I plan to use ours to make valances for our living room windows.

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I plan to work with J to tie-dye these silks in the future, but they work just fine as white silks for now.  Here are a few things we are using them for:

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Hiding the clutter of extra toys when we want to focus on something else

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Good night, Snoopy!

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Hiding some balls — J loves to hide and find things

 

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DIY Toy “Salt” Shaker

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This is the easiest and most amazing (and free!) toy ever.  J loves the salt shaker and if I open the spice drawer, will scramble over as fast as he can and try to grab any spice he can.  He loves to shake them, which of course results in salt or spices ALL OVER.

I decided he might like to play with something like this using sand, dirt, or water, so I created a “shaker” for him.  You can play with it in the water (bathtime, water table, pool, etc.) or in the sand and dirt.  If you made the holes larger, you could even use it with small gravel or other substances.

Materials Needed:

Empty plastic container with lid (I used an old peanut butter container)

Electric drill

Instructions:

  1. Thoroughly clean the plastic container and remove any labels.
  2. Decide what size you want the holes to be and select the correct drill bit.  Be sure not to make the holes too small, or nothing will easily come out of them.
  3. Drill holes around the lid in whatever configuration you want, being careful to be consistent but not getting too close to the edges.

Super easy, super cheap, and super fun!