If you have duplicate cookie cutters (for some reason I have three snowmen and four stars of slightly different sizes) or just don't use them for baking anymore, there are two crafty ways to give them a second life.
The first is to use them for a painting project. Just grab some paper and choose your paint colors and dip your cutter into the paint for a quick masterpiece. Wash the cutters when you're done and you can use them again and again. Depending on the shape, you can create a paint project for a particular holiday or just for fun.
Use the cookie cutters for play doh or clay. Your child can roll out the play doh and then use the cutters to make their different shapes than what came with the play doh set.
If you are working with baking or air-dry clay, then you can use the cutters to make clay jewelry, clay coasters (if the shapes are large enough) or fun art objects.
There are some great options for plush toys, whether you're shopping for the Christmas holiday or another occasion. (For more gift ideas check out our gift guide).
Noukies Dolls and plush animals by Noukies is the brand I am most familiar with (and they have been in business the longest) so I admit to being a little favorably biased. My daughter was introduced to the Noa doll (see photo on right) when she was an infant and now more than 4 years later, this doll is almost as soft as when we got her. She has been washed multiple times, thrown, caught in a door, tossed in the tub and has held up very well (her skirt had a mesh-type lining that frayed and had to be cut out but the rest of her looks wonderful). We have since bought Lola the Cow and Paco the Donkey and although they don't get as much abuse they are still very well made.
There are a host of characters from hippos and lions to other dolls and more plushes for boys and girls (although I think there are more choices for girls). Besides plush toys, they offer blankets, rattles, pull toys and rockers. The one major down side is since FAO Schwarz stopped carrying the brand, it can be difficult for U.S. customers to locate and buy them. There are several British online merchants who will not ship to the U.S. and Amazon rarely has them, leaving parents with the option of having a friend in Europe or the United Kingdom buy and ship for you or purchasing them on ebay. There are often items on ebay but if you're searching for a particular character (such as Noa who is not readily available), you could be waiting a while and paying a hefty price tag. However, I think the cute factor, durability and the fact that my daughter still adores her Noukie dolls 4 years later (she still snuggles with Noa every night) makes it worth the effort. Prices varies from $8 to more than $100 depending on the character, its size, the toy (ie rockers are expensive) and merchant location.
Uglydolls These dolls are so "ugly" they're cute! The Ugglydolls tend to look like little stuffed monsters but like those found in Disney's Monsters, Inc, these cuddly creatures are not scary. They're covered in a soft fleecy material and the stitching is very kid-friendly (although I still wouldn't leave an infant with any stuffed animal unattended).
We've only had two Uglydolls for a few months, the Pink Ox for my daughter and Little Ugly Turny Burny for my son, but they're popular toys in our household. My son is only a few months old and the Little Ugly is a great size at 7-inches tall and light enough for him to grasp during playtime. Ox is one of the larger plush toys at 14 inches tall and is perfect for a toddler or preschooler to tote around. My daughter plays with Ox, sleeps with her and sometimes even uses her as a pillow.
Because we've only had them a short time, I can't say what their lifespan will be although there's no reason to think they can't hold up being washed and handled for years. Like Noukies, there are several characters that will appeal to boys and girls. They also make other items including clothing, blankets, adorable action figures, tin toys and more. Their site also has a fun arcade section with games for older kids.
Unlike Noukies, you can find these dolls fairly easily: directly through the company's website, on Amazon and through other specialty stores in your area. The Little Ugly Dolls tend to cost around $10 while the larger ones are sold for about $20 and there even 2-foot dolls for $50 but you can find them for less, particularly on Amazon, depending on the character. Little Ugly Dolls (7-inch) tend to be about $10; 14-inch dolls are usually $20 and 2-foot plushes are typically $50.
Pook-a-Looz Disney's Pook a Looz are a snuggly addition to any child's household for a reasonable price (for most characters). I don't own one but I have seen them and they appear to be kid-tough and kid-friendly. The really neat thing about these plush dolls besides the cuddle factor, is the wonderful selection of favorite Disney characters for boys and girls. Just some of the Pook-a-Looz character lines available include:
Mickey Mouse and friends Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto (who I think is the cutest)
Winnie the Pooh and friends Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger
Future characters include Miss Piggy, Sorceror Mickey, Gepetto, Stitch and Jiminy Cricket.
The Pook a Looz plushes are typically 12 inches but there are some 10-inch toys and can range in price from about $12 to more than $30 depending on the character and its popularity. They can be purchased at the Disney Store, Toys R Us (although they had a limited selection of plushes) and Amazon. Right now, the Disney Store is selling certain Pook A Looz for 2 for $20.
As with many Disney themes, they don't stop at plush toys. There are Pook A Looz pins, keychains, Wobblers (which appear to be the Pook-A-Looz version of Weebles) and wind-up toys. Pook-A-Looz Plush Toys can range sell for about $12 to more than $30 depending on the character and the retailer although the Disney Store is selling some of them for 2 for $20. Pook-A-Looz Wobblers, keychains and wind-up toys tend to sell for about $6.
The Hey! It's Free! website is a great site for finding freebies in a user-friendly manner. You can periodically check the home page for the latest free stuff or visit the various categories, including children, to see what new offers there are.
For example, if your child is still in diapers, Hey! It's Free! often has codes that you can use for the Huggies Enjoy the Ride and Pampers Gifts to Grow rewards programs. All you do is copy and paste the codes in your account and you have free points. If you haven't signed up for either of these rewards programs and you buy Huggies or Pampers products, you should take advantage of the free rewards program (and Hey! It's Free! has a 100-point code for new Pampers enrollees by Nov. 30).
This site is a great way to keep informed of upcoming offers for free samples as well and you can check it as often as you like or even sign up for updates.
Those plastic containers for Jello, pudding or fruit (such as those packaged by Dole) are really handy for snacks on the go with your children - especially when you buy them on sale.
But I've always felt guilty about all that packaging, even though I've always put them in the recyling bin. So here are some ways to get a Second Life out of these containers before you toss them (hopefully in your recycling!):
They work well as seedling pots. Having your child help grow things is a great way to give them hands-on nature experience and even very young kids can put everything together with minimal assistance - giving you a break and your little one confidence. Put a little dirt in each cup, add some seeds and water and then wait. If you maintain the seedling, it will grow large enough to be eventually transplanted. Then use again for planting projects or wash and use for painting (see #2).
They make wonderful paint containers for your little artist. I have one of those art easels with the tray for paints but it was always such a pain to clean out the unused paint. Put the paint in these containers and then place them in the tray - or simply use them as paint receptacles - and when you're done, easily rinse out the leftover/dried paint to re-use.
Use them for cooking projects. I just hosted a cupcake decorating playdate with my 4-year-old daughter's friends and they came in handy for holding the assortment of sprinkles, colored icing and other toppings. Plastic spoons were dipped into the topping of choice and then spread (or dumped) onto the cupcake. Using these containers limited the amount of topping used (ie a kid didn't have the entire sprinkle jar to pour onto a cupcake) and reduced the potential mess. A quick rinse and they're ready to be used again.
Ok, first I have to confess that I am NOT fond of Elmo. His high-pitched voice and incessant laughter are grating to me so listening to any DVD that includes him - or worse, features him - is not appealing to me. But it's not always about what the parent wants because my 4-year-old daughter happens to like him. I tolerate him, not for her sake, but because I think the Sesame Street learning DVDs are entertaining and educational.
Let's get another confession out of the way: we all let our kids watch TV. I try to justify its use by trying as much as possible to steer my daughter towards programs that have some educational value. I've also realized recently after watching Preschool Prep's DVDs with my daughter that entertainment value is not to be underestimated either.
For example, repetition is the foundation of teaching a new skill or concept to children such as learning their numbers or letters, but I felt that Meet the Numbers and Meet the Letters by Preschool Prep were beyond excessive. The videos would show a number or letter and repeat it more than a dozen times (I stopped counting after that). Even my daughter asked, "Why do they keep saying the number over and over?" I'm not sure whether her reaction is proof that the suggested age range - 18 months to 5 years - for many of their DVDs is too broad but her response certainly showed she didn't enjoy it (and the fact that she hasn't asked to watch it since).
In contrast, Sesame Street's 123 Count with Me offers a kind of backstory to the numbers game with Ernie counting in real-life situations. There is repetition to enhance learning; however, it isn't delivered in a near monotone like Preschool Prep and the numbers are repeated in a larger variety of settings. Don't get me wrong, songs like "1 and 2 and 3" sung by three crows will certainly get stuck in your head but it didn't bother me as much as simply hearing a number said multiple times with basic animation.
I still cringe at Elmo's rapping about the number 5 on this DVD but it happens to be one of my daughter's favorite parts. I tolerate it to humor her and because overall the program offers a storyline, jokes and cute characters to present numbers in a fun as well as educational format.
I do think Preschool Prep's DVDs might be more valuable for a younger child. Personally, I think Meet the Numbers and the like are more suited for children under 2 years old and they might make a nice introduction to the concepts of letters and numbers for that age. However, I still think if you had to choose, Sesame Street's DVDs have much more to offer and really can be enjoyed by children of various ages; and as a mom who is listening to this stuff, the Sesame Street format is easier to tolerate.
The New Jersey Festival of Ballooning (Readington) - July 23 to 25; parking at Solberg Airport in Readington; throughout the day there is other entertainment, including family shows, but the best time to come see the balloons take off is early in the morning to watch the 6:30 am ascension or in the mid-afternoon to watch the 6:30 pm ascension
Looking for a local playgroup for your toddler? Maybe you want to find other parents interested in exercising. Or perhaps you want to discover other families seeking to foster a foreign language.
Then you should check out Meetup.com, where you can search by location or interest to find like-minded groups. Many are run by concerned parents and are free to join. Some charge a nominal fee for membership. Several groups host activities and social events.
For example, some groups focused on play or socialization as well as a support group and adult-only events:
Well then you should check out Baby Book by Emmbook ($4.99), a new application for iPhone & iTouch users available on iTunes that I was asked to test by its developers. It is a simple yet comprehensive application for tracking your baby’s progress, milestones and more.
In the Diary section, you can input and track your baby’s growth, feedings and even naps & diaper changes in seconds (a little longer if you add notes to an entry)– which can all become a blur in those first months as a parent. This section also enables you to track immunizations, which I think is really helpful especially when you take your new baby to the doctor so often in the first several months. The one feature lacking right now is there is no way to remind you of upcoming visits or needed vaccines; however, the developers are considering it as part of future program enhancements.
For the on-the-go parent, you also can track your child’s “firsts” and “favorites”and you can add family members to your baby’s book, including their photos, gifts they’ve given and quotes you want to preserve.
You can add photos through your iTunes, sync with your device and then place the pictures where you want them. You can treat your child or friend to a slideshow of all the photos or select a category such as "Firsts & Favorites."
This app is geared for the baby years but I've actually used the "Firsts" for my daughter who is nearly four years old. There are default "firsts" such as smile, laugh, first steps, but you can also add your own. I included her first pony ride and I've used it to record the funny things she says when we're out. It takes me a little getting used to the keyboard entry - I'm not a texting pro - but I often don't seem to have a pen and paper and it's saved me from forgetting what she said at the time.
The only big drawback I found with the current app is that you can't really transfer anything you have in the Emmbook to your computer so you'd have to copy by hand anything you'd want to take from the app and say, put in your regular scrapbook. I'm new to the iPod Touch but with the Classic, the sync with your PC is usually one-way (unless you use some creative approaches). The good news is the developers say they are exploring the option of sharing notes and photos on the web, which would be wonderful for the parents who use photo-share sites and community sites like Facebook.
Overall, this is a neat program for the gadget-loving parent but any mom or dad can easily use it.
I am looking forward to stopping by for Hocus Pocus on Oct. 25, where kids will be able to decorate their own Halloween cupcake among other crafst and there will be storytelling. This event, runs from 1:30 to 4 pm and guests are encouraged to come in costume. The cost is $4 for children while accompanying adults are free.
The Miller-Cory House will host other events nearly every Sunday, including:
Nov. 1 - Visiting Westfield in Colonial Times
Nov. 8 - Colloquialisms - Expressions from the Past
Nov. 15 - Sweet Things - 18th Century Candy
The cost for each of these is $2.50 for adults; $1.00 for students; children under 4 free.
And there will be more to do in December, including Gingerbread Sunday on Dec. 6. From 1:30 to 4 pm, children will make a simple gingerbread house to take home and hear stories. RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED and space is limited. There is a cost for this program, which is recommended for ages 5-10.
People can call the museum at 908-232-1776 to register for programs or for more information.