Set up a backyard festival

When Julian was a toddler, entertaining him in the afternoon was best done outside. Inside he was totally crabby from about 3 to 6 pm. I discovered outdoor toys and activities that kept him busy, and was lazy enough to just put them all in the backyard at once so that he could roam from activity to activity over the course of an hour. It worked so well that I have invited other people to bring their babies over to enjoy our backyard festival.

10 ideas for backyard fun with toddlers

Here are the ingredients I rely on for backyard play.

  1. The key to the party is water. I have had enormous success entertaining a little dude as young as 10 months with a large plastic mixing bowl full of water and some measuring cups or spoons. That’s the first station.
    A list of backyard activities for toddlers
  2. The tunnel. You’ll use this thing for YEARS. That happy kid is Holden – he’s a tunnel man. (Great deal on a play tunnel from our affiliate Amazon.)
  3. Level up with a kiddie pool. You can get away with putting just a few inches of water in it. (And once you do that, you are now on lifeguard duty, so I would only do it with two adults present. And if you do have two adults present, one of them can drink a margarita with her feet in the pool.)
    Must-have backyard toys for toddlers
  4. Bubbles. These require some actual effort on your part. Unless of course you buy an automatic bubble blower. Which is fun until it’s not. It’s not fun when the batteries die or the bubble juice spills out and you don’t have anymore. Ready yourself for a tantrum in that case. But before that? Bliss!
  5. If you like the tunnel idea, or already have one, kick it up a notch with a tent. We have one that is made for kids for this crawling around purpose. You might have a real tent that you don’t use too often. If so, consider setting it up in the backyard and leaving it for a few weeks of summer fun. The one in this picture pops open with no effort and collapses down to store against the wall in your garage. My eight-year old still uses it.Backyard activities for toddlers
  6. Other features of my festival are a large inflatable ball and some push toys. The Little Tikes Push & Ride Racer is good because it rolls well over grass and is pretty durable. Also, if you have two toddlers at your festival, one can push and one can ride. When this gets boring, marry your water station with the car, and let the kids “wash it”. (See our car wash activity >)
  7. For older toddlers, chalk is a lot of fun. It costs around a dollar for a box. Pour a pitcher of water over the drawings to erase. Julian likes this part just as much as the scribbling. Crayola has made all sorts of variations on chalk with kits that promise to be 3-D, glittery, and other advancements, but I have found those are usually disappointing. Stick with plain old sidewalk chalk.

What do you get the most use out of in your backyard?

7 fun backyard activities for toddlers

Activity #146: Set up taste tests for picky kids

My older child has asked that I not call him picky, specifically that I don’t tell my friends or readers that he is picky. It’s a fair request. I wouldn’t want my mom to tell her friends that I’m controlling, cheap, or some other personality trait that is maybe good and maybe bad, depending on the context.

A more positive spin might be to say that he has strong opinions about eating. Like, based on this food’s appearance, I am definitely not going to put it in my mouth.

So, if you have a child with strong opinions about food, you might try this activity: Set up a taste test for comparing foods.

Recently as part of an event for our other website, a hyperlocal Bay Area blog, we hosted an outdoor playdate, sponsored by CLIF Kids.

In order to make the sharing of ZBars more fun, we turned it into a taste test. We encouraged the kids to try bite-sized pieces of the food and vote for their favorite.

Setting up a taste test for kids

I noticed that the kids seemed more interested in experiencing differences because they were voting. I thought about how much they like having their opinions valued. Instead of us pressuring them with bribes, threats, and other tools commonly used by parents (ME!) to convince children to eat, we moms who were running the taste test really didn’t care if they liked grape Zfruits more than cherry Zfruits, and I’m sure our nonchalant attitudes helped make it fun.

I thought, I should give my kids taste tests all the time! I was fantasizing that they would dip chicken into ranch, barbecue sauce, and ketchup, one after the other and report the results. But then I got real, because pigs will fly before one of my kids would put chicken in her mouth — and the other would eat grass before he put a sauce of any kind on his chicken.


Here are some taste tests you could run in your house.


A post on My Small Potatoes details a mom doing a variety of taste tests with her kids. She blindfolded them for extra fun. Spreads on toast sounds like a good warm-up exercise.

taste-tests-for-kids [Read more…]

BYOLG (Bring your own labor gown)

It is an uncommonly known fact that you can wear whatever you want during labor as long as it doesn’t obstruct your caregiver’s access to your relevant body parts. Regardless, most women wear the standard issue unisex hospital gown that opens in the back. This way, you cannot distinguish a laboring mom-to-be from a psychiatric patient.

Giving birth or having a psychotic breakdown?

Since nothing I’ve bought at Old Navy in the past ten years has offered strategically placed openings for fetal monitors or easy access to my vagina, I’ll assume your wardrobe is equally limited.


Hence, if you want to wear your own garment to give birth, it needs to be specially designed for the task at hand AND disposable. Even if it’s hiked up around your armpits, the stuff that gets on it will probably not wash out. I think you know what I mean.

Pretty Pushers is a line of labor and delivery gowns made of t-shirt material and constructed to allow movement, epidurals, pushing, and post-delivery breastfeeding.


The dresses are also made with as few stitches and seams as possible, so that they are comfortable and eco-friendly.


Who cares what you look like when you give birth? I’m not sure. But if you’re hanging around in a hospital bed for a days-long induction process or just want to post a lot of labor selfies (?) see what Pretty Pushers look like on Amazon.

This mama looks adorable, right? She posted on Instagram “Labor at last with the bossiest little doula in the world!”

A photo posted by @honeyrockette on

Note: Plain natural-colored cotton is less expensive than all the other options.

This one can be used after delivery as well, if you want a little more coverage for receiving visitors, but still need to nurse and check on an incision or make frequent ice pack changes.

Maternity Labor Gown

See what’s available on our affiliate >

How to make Minions cupcakes


Scarlett devoted her most recent birthday to the Minions characters, which surprised me, but was easy enough to execute.

I did two things to make her dreams come true. First, I responded “Minions” in a text message when one of the party guests moms inquired, from the aisles of Target, I presume, what Scarlett is into right now. (Minion-related gifts? Check. Thanks, Melanie!)

Then, we made Minion cupcakes.


Most of the instructions we found online involved the construction of the Minion eye from multiple pieces of candy. I was sort of settled on a version that involved slicing a marshmallow in half and garnishing it with a brown m&m for a pupil, but when we got to the craft store to purchase colored frosting, we hit the jackpot with these candy eyeballs.

How to make MINION CUPCAKES. Use candy eyeballs!

The eyeballs are made by Wilton, and I used a smaller version of them for Julian’s monster cupcakes years ago. Find the larger eyeballs on Amazon.

So, making the cupcakes was as easy as the instructions on the box (no shame, kids are totally happy with cake mix cupcakes) plus yellow frosting, black icing, blue cupcake wrappers, and candy eyeballs.

How to Make MINION Cupcakes


I mean beedo beedo! 

INGREDIENTS (affiliate links)

  • Plain cupcake batter – make or buy your cupcake mix and pour it into…
  • Blue cupcake papers – this package is the best value and has enough blue wrappers for 50 cupcakes and enough cupcake wrappers for the rest of your child’s birthdays under your roof.
  • White frosting – make or buy
  • Yellow frosting coloring – A few drops of this concentrated food-safe color is how you turn your white frosting yellow. I bought a 4-pack of primary colors, but you can buy “lemon yellow” buy itself. Again, the whole set is more budget-friendly if you might make crazy-colored cakes in the future.
  • Black gel icing to draw the hair, glasses strap, and face. Choose a squeeze tube that’s easy to draw with. I did pretty well with this one. Scarlett only wanted one-eyed cupcakes. I would have done a mix of two eyes and one eyes if she’d had allowed it. And a perfectionist might want silver or grey icing to outline the eyes with.
  • Candy eyeballs (change the size to LARGE on this page)

Hate all things DIY? This Twinkie Minion Decoration Kit can put all the work on the party guests. OMG, edible stickers? WTF, world?

Related posts:

How I saved Scarlett’s rainbow cake from dying a terrible death
Star Wars birthday party ideas (on a budget)
Second birthday party ideas
How to throw a third birthday party for $55


New skateboard-stroller allows parents to move faster — and be rad.

Quinny Longboard Stroller

Quinny, the stroller folks who brought us the Quinny Buzz and other slick folding strollers, has introduced something new: a longboard stroller.

Skateboard Stroller

How rad is that?

Skater moms, rejoice! Or, at least skaters in the European Union, because currently that’s the only place you can order the product.

Quinny is producing a limited run of this concept design, with no definitive plans announced to go global.


Ah, well a girl can dream.

More details and video on the Quinny Longboard website >

Whoops – if you arrived here in search of skateboard stroller attachments for your kid, browse here >

Activity #64: Photograph the inanimate objects, too

If your baby has a lovey, take a photo of it. We promise, it will get increasingly ragged over time as well as inexplicably smaller. You will both love to remember what its original shape was.

Lovey with sleeping baby

Here’s some ideas for how to capture the object of your child’s affection:

  1. For the sentimental: sneak into her bedroom and take a photo of her snuggling lovey while sleeping.
  2. For the artsy: take a roll of wrapping paper that’s white on the inside. Unroll a fair amount and drape it from the coffee table onto the ground. Position lovey on the paper and get down on the ground to shoot the photo. You might need to use the “macro” setting (usually represented by a flower icon on your digital camera) to get a clear picture close up.
  3. For the bizarre: photograph lovey outside, on grass, on a lounge chair or hanging in a tree.

linus and his loveyRelated: Why we think every baby needs a lovey, our favorite lovey is available as a pair and a spare (have one for backup — recommended! — or for each photo opp), and Linus.


How to bring the fantastic children’s book Not A Box to life in your living room

Activities to extend the book Not A Box

The clever children’s book Not A Box by Antoinette Portiss has a special place in my heart because it’s the first book title my son could read to me.


The theme of the book is a young bunny’s point of view that the box he is playing with is “not a box,” but rather a rocket ship, mountain, or skyscraper.

Not-a-box-full(It’s not a box. It’s a robot!)

Find Not A Box on Amazon.

When I saw photos of my friend Patti’s son being introduced to Not a Box at a bookstore event, I thought it looked like easy-to-execute toddler fun. Plus, if you’re lucky, once you introduce the box to your toddler, he’ll gravitate to playing with it on his own, and give you 14 seconds of peace each day.


Patti told me that at the bookstore, “They put a bunch of boxes in a line and had a kid sit in each one then pretended they were riding a train, on a plane, rocket ship, etc.”

Box party anyone? The publisher suggests having folks BYOB (that’s Bring Your Own Box) to a toddler party.

Not into hosting? Outdoors, my friends. Set up your box party at the park, and everyone who passes by will think you’re a total Pinterest mom. Hope no one slashes your tires.

Find the follow-up book Not A Stick on Amazon.

Photos by Patti Lew

How to create a supersized outdoor playdate for maximum summer fun (sponsored)

We are pleased to be part of CLIF Kid’s “Come Out to Play” campaign. This post is sponsored by CLIF Kids.

Sponsored by CLIF KIDS: Super fun outdoor playdate with a Wubble Bubble

My weekend ended on a high note as Heather and I partnered with Wendy from Wendolonia to host a supersized outdoor playdate sponsored by CLIF Kid. It was so much fun, I would love to do it every Sunday afternoon.

CLIF KIDS sponsored #outtoplay Play DateHula Hoops – not just for your hips

Here’s what worked so well:

  • We agreed on a 2-hour window for playing and we each invited a handful of friends for our kids.
  • We selected a local elementary school playground that is open to the public on weekends, so we had plenty of space, and the kids had access to standard playground equipment and also a big blacktop area and grassy space to run around.
  • We brought some novel outdoor toys to engage the kids, from ladderball (for older kids) to a Wubble Bubble, pictured above (assume one-time use for this thing, but it’s worth it!)

My son said that what made it special was that you could “play and then get a snack and then play some more.” Admittedly, we wouldn’t usually set up such a fabulous snack situation for our kids, but since we were working with CLIF, and they gave us a supply of CLIF Kid Zbars and ZFruits to share, we turned snacking into a fun activity as well.

CLIF KIDS Zbar and Zfruit tasting station

We had such a variety of flavors that we set up a CLIF Kids taste test with samples of each flavor, and invited the kids to try them out and VOTE!

Sponsored by CLIF KIds - taste testing Zbars and Zfruit

We even posted the results so they could see if other kids liked the same things.

CLIF Kids - favorite Zbar flavors


Parents were pretty happy with this guilt-free playdate because our kids were getting exercise, the parents were socializing in the shade, and everyone was snacking on foods that contain no high fructose corn syrup, synthetic preservatives or artificial flavors.


CLIF Kid challenges families to get outside and play every day. (The CLIF Kid Play Hub provides tips and tools for parents and communities to promote play for kids of all ages.)

Where do you go to play outside? Show us how your outdoor play activities using the #outtoplay hashtag on social media.

All photos courtesy of Wendy Copley, author of Everyday Bento.

Activity #138: Plan an overnight getaway with another family

Here’s the thing. When you go out of town as just the family and the baby goes to bed before 8 p.m.*, the rest of the evening can be oppressively quiet for you and your partner, and sadly, not that different from evenings you already spend together at home.

One answer to this dilemma is to recruit another trio to go on a trip so that you can continue to socialize with grown-ups once the little people are asleep. Morning is also more fun —  your early-rising party of six can hit a popular restaurant before it gets crowded.  Those brunch places you enjoyed at 10 am post-baby? They actually open at 8, so if you’re already on your second diaper change by then, why not go out?

Rent a house

Why you should rent a vacation house with another family

We learned early on that staying in a hotel room with a baby can be rough. While my kids had no problem sleeping while we watch a movie on a laptop just a few feet away, many parents are not so lucky. Renting a vacation house offers a living room to escape for the evening. Maybe even a deck.

{Try our new affiliate VacayHero for searching for rental houses >}

Cook dinner

I’m not hugely confident in my abilities to cook for other people, but I do enjoy that the payoff for producing a meal for four adults is double what it is when it’s just me and my husband. And clean up seems less burdensome when it’s in a spartan rental kitchen with less clutter to navigate. Unless they don’t have a garbage disposal, of course.

*What? Your baby stays up past 8? The Rookie Moms are open-minded people except when it comes to babies and bedtime. Consult our bible to learn why we put our babies to bed so dang early.

This activity and 249 more things to do in the first year of motherhood are in our book The Rookie Mom’s Handbook, available for Kindle.

Water toys and gear that make swimming more fun for rookie moms

Puddle jumper swim floaties for kids getting more comfortable in the water
{Photo of Puddle Jumper in action by reader Kate Marzo}

When your children can swim independently, the word vacation takes on a whole new meaning. Relaxing at the pool while my kids wear themselves out with cannonballs is my happy place. Here are some fun items that I keep seeing at the swimming spots we’ve hit so far this summer.

1. Puddle Jumpers. Sold at Amazon, Target, Costco, and even Bed Bath and Beyond, this new-fangled life jacket allows kids to have the mobility their arms need to get used to swimming. If you’re looking to get your child more comfortable in the water, this is the swim-aid for you. For kids 30-50 lbs. Runs about $25; click to see all the color and design choices.

Products that make swimming more fun

2. Sunsuits. In my house we called this the “super suit”. You may find it dorky, but I found the peace of mind in having my child’s body nearly covered with SPF 50 fabric invaluable. A swim diaper under one of these babies from One Step Ahead (pictured) is our beach uniform for toddlers. Infant sizes come with snap up crotches for diaper changes. I also dig this striped one from Columbia Sportswear.

Sunsuits make a day at the beach more relaxing

3. Water toys for babies. For babies and toddlers, plastic cups and bowls from wherever you are visiting will suffice as water toys. Scooping and pouring is the work they’ll do. In the sand, those same cups can be used as sandcastle molds. Want to get fancier? One of these spinning wheels toys is a lot of fun. Pour water or sand to make it move.

Sand toys to make beach time with a toddler fun

4. Floatsuits. These swimsuits from Konfidence USA have foam inserts that keep children safe, like a life jacket, while allowing complete motility for arms and legs. As children gain confidence in the water, the floats can be removed one-by-one. I have not used this brand, but a few million years ago when I was a nanny during college, the girls I watched, ages 18 months and 3 years old, had bathing suits like this, and they were great. Also comes in many colors/styles for about $25-$35 (boys’ versions too).

Floatsuits make swimming safer

5. Portable shade. We own this “Sportsbrella” and so should you. It offers about 1 Million SPF because the fabric is coated and the sides can roll down further than I did in this photograph for more protection. Also, the red one is about $10 cheaper. File that under the Mysteries of Life. Find three colors on Amazon >


6. I-can-totally swim toys. My kids love to hunt for things to rescue in the pool, so we usually have a set of dive rings or sinking balls, and I’ve just discovered these Avengers dive characters. (Test any of your rubber action figures at home to see if they sink. Maybe you already own “dive characters”!)

Toys for the pool - you might already own some of these!

7. I-don’t-like-to-put-my-face-in-the-water goggles. Before my kids would willingly put their faces in the water, they wore these mega goggles by Aqua Sphere. Now, their inability to enter a pool without goggles baffles me, as I never wore goggles as a child, but they have graduated to normal smaller goggles. The bigger goggles come in many colors, including a 2-pack where one pair offers a tinted lens for the sun.

Gear to make swimming fun: huge goggles

8. I can, like, totally swim, so like, don’t even talk to me. My daughter and I watched with great interest as some older girls donned mermaid fins to swim in a hotel pool. Unfortunately these only fit kids who wear shoe sizes 1 and up, so it’s quite a few years away for my little girl who has her mama’s very small feet. But I’m tempted to try a mermaid monofin myself.

Gear to make swimming fun: mermaid monofin

{photo via}

Stuff parents with boobs should know about

This post includes some affiliate links.

I have four unrelated golden nuggets to share today.

First, I was treated to a bra fitting by Molly, the bra buyer for Title Nine stores, who made me fall in love with her and the bra she put me in by talking about how important it is for women to have access to the right sports bra, no matter their size. Not only did Molly direct me to the perfect bra in my hard-to-find size, but she sent me an email the next day with a list of bras to check out. (All from Title Nine, of course.)

My new favorite bras from Title Nine

If you have a Title Nine in your area, keep your eyes peeled (or go to this page) for one of their Fit Fest events, where they will have bra evangelists on hand to help you out.

Related: Nursing bras for running

Note: This next tip is not actually for parents with boobs, as dudes are equally invested in car seat selection. I was tipped off to this super-affordable carseat from Cosco (not COSTCO!) that is a) made in the USA b) less than $50 c) comes in a lot of prints d) is easy to clean and e) FITS THREE ACROSS in most vehicles.

Cosco Scenera car seat fits 3 across

If you can accept the idea that an affordable piece of baby gear is just as good as the overpriced, have a look at the Cosco Scenera NEXT. (More expensive on Amazon, but here’s that link, too.)

Quick – Father’s Day book alert: Our real-life friend Mike Adamick has released his third book in the Dad’s Book of Awesome series, Dad’s Book of Awesome Recipes. Look for his books at any retailer that sells books. My daughter loves paging through the Projects book.

Dad's Book of Awesome Recipes

Crafts in a Box –  I received a subscription to Darby Smart as a gift from my husband. A new project arrived in a box every month – a craft project for grown ups. It’s kind of like Kiwi Crate, which is for kids, in that everything you need to create the project is included. No hunting for needle-nose pliers or a silver Sharpie if that’s what’s required for the project. It comes in the box.

Darby Smart Crafts in a Box for grownups

So that’s cool, but I wasn’t always interested in the project in my subscription box. Like I have ZERO interest in making a set of coasters, so that one sat around for months.

I did enjoy making a little neon sign that said “EAT” and sat in my dining room. And I attempted to use the metal stamping kit to make a birthday gift for Heather, but failed at coming up with a presentable product at the end. Sad face.

I would like to receive the kit to make this because I have a new obsession with air plants.

Darby Smart air plants

Then I discovered, who sells craft kits for adults in a marketplace where you can choose your own project a la carte. They sent me a kit for that owl pillow and I made it. Darn cute, too. There’s a diversity of projects, and for the uber crafty, you can create your own kit to sell on their site – they source the materials for you.

THEN I checked again and saw that they have added an online store where you can buy everything you need for any of the projects as kits — without a subscription. Excellent. Plus, if you know you already have that silver Sharpie, just delete it from the shopping list and save the money. They’ve won me over. If you have been jealous of your kiddos’ Kiwi Crates, check out both sites.

If you’re not crafty at all, check out Kiwi Crate, because they send everything to your kid in case it never occurs to you to use markers.

Calm-down practices for rookie moms from a family therapist

Rachel Tucker, a mom and family therapist in my community reached out to us with an offering of some best practices for managing the stress of new parenthood. She conducts home visits for new parents who are experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety.

“It’s such a common experience during the first year of parenting and many families really struggle to get help for a number of reasons,” she said. “I want to increase the mental health of rookie parents, so I am trying to make it as easy as possible for them to get support.”

In Rachel’s work as a family therapist, she gets to meet a lot of brand new parents. People who are just stumbling, bleary eyed, into the chasm between the fantasy and the reality of parenthood.

“It’s such a rich time of life. Everything is new. Everything is different. The learning curve is steep. The learning seems to happen all night long.”

“Some of us are comfortable in that place of learning. But most of us are used to feeling pretty in control, in charge, and rested. Then comes parenthood.”

Next time you look in the mirror

“There are so many more questions than answers in those first months. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t need some help along the way. I feel so lucky to get to be there for the families who I work with.”

Here are the top five things Rachel shares with every new family she works with:

Just as your baby is learning about life you are learning to be a parent. It’s a parallel process. Learning is hard. It takes time and it involves making mistakes. Try your best to remember this and have patience with yourself.

Give some of your love and nurturing to yourself. You deserve it. You are figuring this whole parenthood thing out. Next time you look in the mirror, smile. You are doing this!!

Connect with other new parents. They are on the same crazy and amazing ride. Having one other new parent to call, text, or meet up with is a game changer. My friend Kristina saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

When you’re having a particularly hard time, find a sentence to repeat. Here are a few mantras that have worked for my clients:

  • My baby is safe, I can sleep.
  • I am learning and doing my best.
  • I can do this.
  • One step at a time.

(Related: Mantras from a triplet mom. Spoiler: When it comes to triplets, humor is mandatory.)

Enjoy the good moments. Breathe them in. These are just as real and profound as the challenges. Learn as much from these as you do from the struggle.

Related: How to behave: a Mom’s Group toolbox

Rachel has a private practice in the East Bay offering therapy to children and families. Her areas of focus include postpartum support, parenting support, child and parent relational help, behavioral difficulties, and special needs support. She offers home visits as well as service in two offices located in Oakland. Families who work with Rachel share that she helps them to feel more connected more of the time.