Reviving Ideas for the Second Child

Oh, the plight of the second child.  You never get to do anything first.

As much as parents try to treat siblings equally, sometimes the second child can feel like his interests are second fiddle.  If you are like me, you find it is easiest to focus on an activity the whole family can enjoy.  But that means the littlest one might miss out on some of the fun.  In our mind, we have already done the craft or activity, since we completed it with the older sibling.  We forget to complete it a second time around once the younger sibling is of age.

My oldest son, Liam, had a fascination with the movie Cars when he was around three or four years old.  We had a collection of the Cars gang- multiple ones actually, because if we lost Lightning McQueen there would be no rest in our house until we found him.  But Cars gave way to Ninja Turtles, and super heroes, and Legos.  I pretty much forgot all about Lightning and Mater.  Until this past summer.

We stayed at a VRBO in Wyoming on a vacation.  We decided to have a family movie night, and came across a dvd of Cars.  We popped it in and a new fan was born- Kellen.  He may have watched the movie before, but he was too young to remember it.  The film was all new for him.  Once again, it was Lightning McQueen mania at our house.  After assembling another collection of the gang, we began to dream up ways to put cars into all of our activities.  I was reminded of a few activities I did with Liam, that could be reborn with a Cars twist.


I cut out some simple shapes, and asked Kellen to make pictures with them.  Sure enough, he made cars.  I did this activity with Liam a couple of years ago.  Liam made pictures of Ninja Turtles brandishing swords.  Kellen makes cars racing along a track.  The pictures look simple, but the stories are elaborate.  You may not realize it, but the small yellow car on the right of the top picture won the race by spinning around and driving backwards! Get ready to hear some tall tales when you start this craft.


Liam and I used to cut pieces of paper to make paths to connect various superhero lairs.  Kellen used the same idea to make long racing tracks.  I simply cut some pieces and gave him a roll of scotch tape.


He even got some writing practice in by making start/finish line signs.


Revive those old ideas and give them a new twist.  Instead of playing second fiddle, your youngest will feel like first chair.


Let the Paint Fly- Giving Over to Method not Results

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  If you google something along these lines, you will be met with multitudes of inspirational quotes by everyone from Maya Angelou to Drake.  Yesterday, I received a personal reminder of the power of this phrase.

My friend, Lala, had jury duty and needed a sitter for her four year old son, Alex.  Lala had just done me the awesome favor of watching my cats for an entire month.  How could I say no?  I wouldn’t anyway because I adore her son.

Alex is one of those children who is so full of energy and ideas.  You have to keep your eye on him every second or you’ll find him lining up chairs to climb from the table to the counter and beyond.  I used to joke with his mom that I wouldn’t recognize him if he didn’t have some sort of cut or bruise.  He’s just in a constant state of exploration, with no desire to heed caution.

As a parent, I’m sure this can be exhausting, but as his babysitter, it’s a lot of fun.  I’m always curious to see where his mind is going to go, what things he is going to try.  Yesterday was no exception.

We started off by assembling a track for the Hot Wheels.  The track is the same orange track that has been around for the last twenty years.  It has a little launcher on one end, powered by stretching an interior rubber band.  We placed a car in the launcher, pushed the car back to stretch the band, then hit a button to release the tension and propel the car forward.  I have played with the track countless times with my own boys.  We test all the cars to see which will go the farthest, and then we are usually done.  We might build the track another way to see how that changes things, but it is always cars on the track.

Alex did this.  Then he looked at a Bingo set I had near by, complete with the metal rotating cage and plastic balls.  He said “I want to play with this now.”

Great, let’s play Bingo.  Instead, he took a ball out of the cage and placed it on the car launcher.  Instant gratification- the ball was significantly lighter, and shot across the room.


“That went really far, Miss Kat.”

Yes, it did.  I began to worry that I might be cleaning up a lot of little balls off the floor, but after a few more launches, he grew tired of it.  Tried that, saw what happened, done.

We moved on to painting.  If there is one thing I’m sort of known for when it comes to kids, it’s that I’m not afraid to let them get messy.

I gave Alex a piece of poster board, a plastic pallet with around ten paint colors, a few containers of glitter, and a cup full of various sized brushes.

I have painted with a lot of children.  But Alex did things I have never seen a child do.  I have had children dip all kinds of things besides paint brushes into their pallets- fingers, puff balls, leaves, rocks, cars, candles, pencils.  But I have never had a child ask this question:

“Can I turn it over?”

I thought about it.  The mom in me thought oh, that’s going to be a mess.  The teacher in me thought YES!  The teacher won out.

Alex first tipped it sideways, and giggled.

“It’s dripping!”


Then he tipped it completely over to see if he could increase the size or intensity of the drips.  We were both fascinated watching the paint stretch and fall onto the board.


Next he placed the pallet directly on to the canvas, lifting it after a few seconds to see what the result was.


He then began drumming on the pallet to see how much of the paint he could get out.


Feeling he had exhausted every possibility with the canvas, he moved on to the paint, running his fingers through the liquid and becoming delighted when it would squish through his hands.  20150806_115953

I asked him if he had ever written in paint, and used a stick to write his name in the liquid.  He quickly wiped the word away and laughed.  It became a game- i would write the name, he would erase it with a sweep of his hand.

Next, he wanted to try the sprinkles.  But it really had nothing to do with the look of the glitter.  He grabbed a glitter bottle in each hand and began to shake, moving his whole body in rhythm.  Every once in awhile he would stop to look at the mounting pile of glitter, but it really seemed to be more about the movement of shaking.


Last, he took about ten paint brushes in one hand, and began running them over the paint to create lines.


The painting was a pretty standard piece of kid artwork, if you were simply looking at it and didn’t know the method behind the piece.  I didn’t come away thinking he’s the next Picasso. But I did think if he could hold on to that ability to think in new ways, he’s going to become a heck of a problem solver.

As we get older, experience teaches us to let go of that type of ingenuity.  We focus on the result- a mess that will have to be cleaned, materials that were used, an end product we may or may not be happy with.  But the joy and creativity taken from the method is lost.  Who cares if we have to spend ten minutes cleaning brushes?  So what if we got paint on a shirt?  Maybe the painting is nothing to frame, but wasn’t it fun just to wonder what will happen if I do this?

We can’t do it every day, with every experience.  Yes, we are adults.  We have to keep some kind of functioning order.  Sometimes duty and responsibility win out over creativity.  But that’s not always the case.  Give yourself permission to do something purely for the thrill of it, without thought of how it will pan out.  Let the paint fly!


Painting the Bathtub Red, We’re Painting the Bathtub Red…

This is one of those ideas that will make you slap your forehead and exclaim “Why didn’t I think of that!”

Don’t worry, I didn’t think of it either.  All credit goes to my friend,  Dale.

I remember her telling me that she used to let her daughter paint in the bathtub.  I don’t know why it took me so long to try it.  It makes perfect sense for containing and cleaning up the mess of painting.

The boys had a case of Phoenix summer fever today- bored with being indoors, needing something new to do.  Dale’s idea popped in my head.

We started with Crayola Washable Kids Paint and a variety of brushes.



I had Kellen take off his clothes and climb in the tub.  I knew he would want to paint himself as well as the porcelain.  I imagine this could be a great way to tempt a reluctant child to take a bath.


I gave him a couple of rules- keep the paint out of his hair (he hates getting shampooed) and only paint on the white of the tub.  Other than that, he had free reign.

Liam did not want to get in the tub, but wanted to paint from the outside.  This worked just fine. I thought it was cool that he was painting from a different vantage point than he normally does.


For clean up, I simply ran a bath and gave Kellen a variety of scrub brushes and sponges.  We did have to run two baths- the first was colored with paint, the second was mostly clear.  After draining the second bath, the tub was clean!  I love that this is two activities in one, and that the child is responsible for his own clean up (even if it is fun).


The boys were free to try different techniques, go crazy with paint, and not have to worry about a mom demanding “Be careful! Watch where your painting!”

Not the greatest way to create lasting artwork, but it certainly will create a lasting memory.  Paint the bathtub red! And yellow! maybe orange too…..


Light and Dark- Crafts that Glow

In one short week, the school year will end.  For many kids, that means summer camp.  I teach science and art camps for children during school breaks, so I have been hard at work planning my summer session of Kat Camp.  This year the theme is “Light and Dark.”  I love that this theme can be concrete, like learning about how blocking light produces shadow.  But it can also be abstract, like drawing to music that might be termed light or dark.

I’ve been playing around with different ideas, and thought I would pass on a few, in case you want to explore your own Light and Dark theme at home.

1.  Plastic Cup Suncatchers

I saw this post that produced a gorgeous rainbow suncatcher from melted plastic cups.

While the result is incredible, it is a bit more involved than I can do with a group of young children in a camp.  I decided to modify to a single strand.  If children want to produce more than one stand and put them together as a mobile at home, they would have that option.

I found plastic cups a the dollar store, but they were not the type 6 recycling plastic recommended in the post.  I gave them a shot anyway.

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They did not produce the perfectly rounded bubble as seen in the original post, but I think they look really cool!  I love how the irregular shapes- to me they look like interesting glass.  I also layered the cups to get different colors- putting a blue cup over a green cup to get turquoise.  I felt bad throwing out the bottom of the cups, so instead, I melted those too.  I especially liked when I layered the bottom of two cups- it created a neat bubble effect.


I attempted punching holes in the cups, but noticed that when these cups melted, the hole got covered.  Instead, I drilled holes after all the cups were melted.

On camp day, the kids will thread the pieces to make their suncatchers.  Easy, beautiful project- great for fine motor skills, and can be a vocabulary booster when you define words like transparent and illuminate.  If you do not like the look of the string, you could opt for fishing line.


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2.  Glow lanterns

For camp, we are going to make glow in the dark bouncy balls.  You can find the recipe here:

But I couldn’t wait to try out the glow in the dark paint, so Kellen and I made glow lanterns.

I saw this craft where the artist painted tiny dots of glow in the dark paint on a mason jar to create a starry lantern.

Another beautiful project, but my four year old is not precise and dedicated enough to paint all those dots just yet.  We opted for another version.

We squirted the glow in the dark paint inside of plastic bottles so that it would run down and stripe the sides.  In my experience, children enjoy squeezing the paint more than just about any other aspect of the project- I think because it is generally something they are not allowed to do.  We also added some glitter paint and regular glitter to the mix.



We sealed the bottle with cute tape, and then got to shaking up all the contents inside.

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The finished project was super cute, and really glowed!

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3.  Making Rainbows

No lesson on light and dark would be complete without making rainbows.  The class is going to do two experiments to learn how rainbows are made.

When I was a kid, I always wanted a prism because I thought they were so beautiful.  I really wanted to give each camper a rainbow maker to take home.  I contacted a friend who is a jewelry maker, and asked if she knew where I could get inexpensive, high quality crystals.  She directed me to a couple of websites for chandelier parts.

I was able to get huge, high quality crystals that make tons of rainbows for about $0.70 each! This one is a bit covered in dust because we were already playing with  it, spinnning it on the ground. I can’t wait to give them to the kids!



I’ve got more light and dark crafts for my campers, so be on the lookout for part two.  But hopefully these crafts will get you started on your exploration of light and dark.


Birthday Party Ideas That Can Adapt to Meet Your Theme

Birthday parties are out of control! To visit the “back in my day” territory, I remember having one formal birthday party when I was a kid- a slumber party when I was in fifth grade.  The other seventeen years of my childhood, a birthday party was my mom cooking my favorite dinner, my family singing happy birthday and eating cake, and opening a few presents.

As you know, times have changed.  Each birthday is a precious milestone, to be celebrated with its own theme, activities, and designer goodie bag.  You might think this post is going to be a plea for a return to simplicity.  Nope.  I’m right there on the crazy train.  I just put together a “Pandas, Dinosaurs, and Squirt Guns” themed party for my youngest son’s fourth birthday.  I have no room to judge.

Each year, my sons pick a birthday theme, and I scour the internet to find appropriate activities.  A lot of those activities are easily translatable to other themes, but you might not find them unless you are scouring every birthday board on Pinterest.  Here are a few of our favs to make your next birthday theme-tastic.

1.  Banners made with your child’s artwork- I am notoriously cheap.  I will not pay for something I can make.  I also love the idea of getting your child involved in the party preparation.  A great way to do this is to make banners with your child’s artwork.  If your child is not old enough to write or to draw a specific “thing” you can have them paint, and then cut the paintings into the letters of his or her name.

2.  Free visits- My husband’s all time favorite birthday party was from when he turned four years old.  His mother called a Caterpillar dealership, and asked if she could bring the children by to climb on the tractors.  She did a similar idea for her daughter, where they went to a bakery and watched them make bread.  Birthday parties are expensive!  I love the idea of free visits.  For my son’s third birthday, he wanted a fire fighter party.  I called the local fire station and arranged a free tour.  He got to climb in a fire truck, try on the equipment, and squirt the hose.  Doesn’t get much better than that! Use your imagination and make a few phone calls.

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3.  Punch prize boxes- I made these for a Lego theme party, but you could adjust for any theme.  Here is a blog that shows the step by step process.  The kids LOVED punching through the box to retrieve their prize.  For the Lego party, I made them look like Legos, and the prize was a Lego mini figure.  But I’ve seen rainbow boxes, boxes that looked like trucks- anything you can think of.  The important part is getting to PUNCH!

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4.  Homemade crayons- This is such a cute idea for goody bags, and is super cheap.  I used broken crayons and melted them in a cheap metal bowl over another pan of water, in the style of a double boiler.  I don’t recommend using your actual double boiler- cleaning the pan is a bit of a pain.  I simply threw away the cheap bowl after I was done.  I poured the melted wax into plastic dino molds I found at the dollar store- I believe they were actually supposed to be sand or playdoh toys.  I have seen these done with heart and butterfly molds.  You could use any mold.  Let the wax cool and pop out of the mold.  I do advise thinking through your set up and planning your molding area before getting started.  I just went for it and had a pretty big mess in my kitchen.


5.  Scavenger Hunt-  I like the idea of working for your goody bag.  For my son’s second birthday, we did an alphabet scavenger hunt.  You had to find the letters of the alphabet, and each letter had a prize starting with that letter.  You can see B was for beads in the photo below.  Another easy one to adapt for any theme, and takes care of creating a party game as well.

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6.  Seek and Find Game- I made these bottles to look like Lego mini figures, but I have also done this game with cut out pumpkins, and animals.  Simply make a lot of one item, hide them around your party area, and have the kids find them.  Easy, cheap game that the kids really enjoy.

7.  Theme cupcakes- Making a big beautiful fondant cupcake is a very daunting task.  Cupcakes are much easier to adjust to your theme.  I’ve done drum cupcakes, pandas, zombies.  A few simple tricks like pretzel drumsticks and Oreo ears makes for a simple, cute cake that any kid will love.


Hope you can use these ideas to make your next party a themed success!

Get Over Your Pinterest Complex- It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Fun!

I remember the first time I went on Pinterest.  I was putting together an alphabet-themed birthday party for my son.  A friend said “I saw the cutest alphabet cake on Pinterest.  I’ll send you a link.”

The cake as indeed adorable- a cake replica of a wooden letter block.  But it was also well, and I mean well, out of my range of skill.  The alphabet party it was grouped with was insane!  Hand sewn goody bags made from alphabet material.  Nameplates for each child crafted out of wooden letters.  Giant letter pinatas that looked nothing like the newspaper/paste monstrosities I was used to crafting.

Pinterest is an awesome place for ideas.  It is also the website moms go to when they want to feel really terrible about the job they are doing.

So often I hear from moms “I’d love to do that, but I’m not really crafty.”  No one was born crafty (well, maybe those gals in the Austin Craft Mafia).  We all learn from someone.  I did not know how to sew until a few years ago.  The woman who taught me was a punk rock pioneer who I imagined had been sewing her own clothes for decades.  In reality, she learned to sew when her daughter needed a costume for school- not so different from other moms I know.

She taught me to sew, but I use the skill VERY infrequently.  I am the type of person who has to read the manual every time I break out my machine.  I have to do a LOT of test strips to adjust the tension before I ever touch an actual project.

Right now, my boys are very into the Wild Kratts computer game on  I have a tough time with this.  I like that they are learning about animals, and spending time together as brothers, but I don’t like the screen time. (Yes, I sort of want to punch myself when I say things like ‘screen time’.)

One day, my son said “can you make me a bat suit like the Kratt brothers?”  I didn’t want to say no because this was a chance to break away from the computer by capitalizing on his interest.  But I was prepping for an egg-dying party, and really didn’t have time to make a costume.  We compromised on a bat cape.

I had some black material on hand that I had purchased on clearance.  I cut the edges to look bat-ish.  All I had to do was sew some straps on.

I lugged out the machine.  It was already loaded with white thread.  Ok, it won’t match the black but no biggie.  I considered doing a test piece, but just decided to go for it due to the time crunch.  The straps were successful in that they were attached to the fabric.  However, I don’t think you are supposed to have half the spool knotted on the underside.


You know what?  He did not throw up his arms over the shotty quality of his cape.  He put it on.  He felt like a bat.  Ten minutes later, he decided he’d rather be a cheetah.


We didn’t pack the bat cape away lovingly, to one day be worn by his little Wild Kratts.  He might not even remember that I made him a bat cape.  But, hopefully I am instilling something in him that says whatever he can dream up, we can figure out a way to make it happen.

You too can be a Pinterest failure- and your kids will love you for it.

Oil and Water Can Mix- At Least When It Comes to Painting (With a Dash of Salt)

My kids have been painting since before they could walk (I have the photos to prove it.)  So when I say “let’s paint,” the expressions on their faces can read not again!!

Sometimes I run across a new technique that changes their minds.  This week I read a post for oil and watercolor paintings.

Kellen will engage in any activity that I call “an experiment.”  Rather than telling him we were going to paint (again), I advised that we were going to do an experiment.  I set up a  few small containers of color, vegetable oil, and rock salt, and gave him an eye dropper, so it certainly looked a bit more scientific than our standard paint sessions.


I ended up doing this activity twice- once with each child.  For the session with my younger son, I mixed food coloring with water to create paint.  For my older son, I gave liquid watercolors a try.  From what I could tell, the food coloring worked as well as the liquid watercolors, but the liquid watercolors do not stain your skin.

I placed a sheet of watercolor paper into a plastic container.  The boys used the eye dropper to squirt paint on the paper, and then oil on top of the paint.  The oil allowed some of the color to move, other colors to stayed put.  Some colors diluted, others remained bright.

We used the rock salt as a second form of resist.  The rock salt soaked up some of the paint, creating spots on the paper.  It also dissolved a little in the paint, giving our creations a shimmery look.


The finished projects turned out so beautiful!  My older son, Liam, was thrilled because the rock salt was dyed by the paint.  When we shook it off the pages, the salt transformed into magical crystals.


This project really captured their attention, kept them entertained for an extended period, cleaned up well, and left a great finished project- that’s a clear winner in my book!

Tattoo Your Eggs (and Yourself) with Printable Tattoo Paper

I am so behind on blog posts!  My camera is loaded up with pictures of all the activities we have been doing, but I have no time to create blog posts with them.  I guess that means we have been having a lot of fun.  But I did want to get this one out before Easter because I think it is such a fun idea!

My friend bought me some temporary tattoo paper.  The manufacturer wrote the instructions so it sounds like you need their specific printer and software to use it, but you don’t.  I formatted my pictures in regular old Microsoft Word, and printed on my Canon color printer.


The really cool thing is that because you are selecting your own pictures, you can choose anything you want.  I am hosting an egg dying party tonight, and the kids attending have a wide array of interests- Pokemon, Wild Kratts, Super Why, basketball, mermaids, dump trucks, Skylander, and My Little Pony.  With the paper, I am able to create tattoos to suit all of their wants.  This would be especially great when your child picks a random party theme that you will never be able to find at the store (like our upcoming Panda, Triceratops, and Water Gun birthday party).

You print the page and then stick another piece of adhesive over the top.  I had a little trouble getting the first one on straight, but had the hang of it by the second sheet.


Tested one on the hand, and it worked great!


The cool idea is that tonight at the party, we are going to not only tattoo ourselves, but tattoo our eggs with matching images!  It will work the same on the shell as it does on the skin!


Have a tat party with no needles required!

The Big Idea- HUGE Drawings

We do a LOT of drawing in our house.  It’s something I enjoy, so when my kids get bored, my solution is to draw.  It’s funny how simply changing the size of something reinvigorates interest- in this case, the size of the paper.  HUGE = AWESOME!

My son has a drawing desk in his room that houses a roll of paper underneath.  We took the paper out and rolled it across the floor.  I quickly wrote the alphabet down the line of the paper, and said to draw a picture next to the letter that begins with that same letter.  They quickly took to drawing vampires next to the V, and elephants next to the E.  We have since done another drawing of the solar system, and have started discussing ideas to recreate our vacation to San Diego.  It’s a great way to extend learning, reinforce ideas, and relive memories.

It’s not the most out of the box idea, but it’s amazing how literally thinking big can breathe new life into common pasttimes.

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Get Your Hippie Tie Dye Kid Style- Exploding Color T-shirts

My boys are big fans of experiments.  I have a whole shelf in the pantry dedicated to housing ingredients for experiments.  But I felt like we were doing the same old things.  I needed some new ideas, so I ordered a couple of kid-friendly science books.  One that I love is called Tinkerlab:  A Hands on Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley.

We’ve tried a lot of the ideas in this book with good results on most.  But my new favorite is color exploding t-shirts.  It’s easy, inexpensive and yields very cool results.  You need a white t-shirt (I found ours online for less than $2 per shirt), permanent markers, a piece of cardboard large enough to fit inside the shirt, rubbing alcohol, and an eye dropper.

The first step is to draw a picture or pattern on the t-shirt.  I explained to my boys that the colors would burst, so to draw something that might look good upon expansion- stars, flowers, fireworks, etc.  My youngest son made a random pattern.  My oldest drew lava, which was perfect.  We used a variety of permanent markers- some from the $1, Sharpies, and Bic.  The Bic maintained the brightest color upon washing.  The dollar store variety retained the least.  But all the markers worked.

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Second step is to use the eyedropper to place the alcohol on the shirt.  This is where the color starts to expand.  The more dropper you put, the greater the expansion.  Play with where you drop the liquid- what happens if you do it on the side as opposed to the center of the line?

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Last, dry, wash and wear!

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I made an example shirt for a class I’m teaching thinking I would never wear it afterwards.  But it actually turned into a cool t-dye tank, perfect for working out or as a swimsuit coverup.


You can take it a step further and discuss the science behind the spreading ink.  Don’t worry- if you’re not sure how it works, Steve Spangler has you covered.