Tips for Playroom Organization

Many  happy hours have been whiled away in my son’s playroom, imagining and dreaming with little trains, planes and automobiles strewn in every corner.  It’s also been the site of a few mishaps – as cute as that little Mini Cooper is, stepping on it with a bare foot is a painful encounter!  After some trial and error, here are the organizing solutions that have worked best for me:

  • Before you embark on any organizing mission, if there is a closet in the playroom, clean it out.  That closet will become command central for your kids and their toys, and if they see it organized nicely and can find their toys easily, chances are (maybe) they’ll try to keep it that way.
  • Clear plastic shoe organizers hung on the back of a door or inside a closet door are great “garages” for little cars and other small toys.
  • For instant de-cluttering, make use of plastic storage bins or baskets that can be stored in the closet or under a bed.   Check out The Container Store or even dollar stores for colorful baskets in many sizes and shapes at reasonable prices.
  •  Make use of the vertical space in a room with wall shelves.  For a decorator look, paint the wall a funky accent color before you put up shelves.  I once painted a wall in the playroom fire-engine red and put up elfa shelves like these – they put the fun in functional.

  • Save those shoeboxes and the planet!  Have your kids color and decorate them for creative, homemade storage that can also be used to grace the shelves you just installed.  Nothing says “playroom” like a storage box with a big pair of jiggling googly eyes staring out at you.

  • Make use of double duty furniture.  When buying my son’s big boy bed, I made sure it was both comfy and had drawers for storage (his favorite place for stowing away Legos).  And that good old-fashioned toy chest?  Put a decorative pillow or cushion on the lid for extra seating.
  • Don’t overlook Ziploc plastic bags for labeling and organizing puzzle pieces and doll accessories (and more Legos).
  • Book cases are great for mixed use storage.  Add some baskets filled with toys alongside the books for a neat, organized look.
  • Repurpose what you have at home by thinking outside the box – in this case, tool boxes, old Tupperware, anything that’s not being used for its original purpose but still has storage capacity can be used to store dolls, action figures, whatever needs a home.

The idea is to mix and match the solutions that work for you.  Pay attention to how and when your kids play with and use their toys, and match your organizing solution to their usage.  If some toys are used every day, maybe an open basket on the floor where the toys are easily accessible (and can be put in a closet or rolled under the bed at the end of the day) is the right fit.  Perhaps other toys that are used more infrequently can go up on a shelf or in a closet.  And toys that aren’t used any longer and still in good condition can be donated to charity or, if your kids are older, check and see if their old preschool can make use of them.

Everyone is going to have a different take on organizing, but I’ve found that whatever works for you is the right solution.  Be creative, have fun, and happy organizing!

Tips to Help Your Child Write a Successful Book Report

Having a child who entered middle school this past September, I’ve found that completing those first middle school book reports can be a daunting task for any student, and if your child has an attention deficit as mine does, it can be even more challenging.  Reading through the book, keeping the sequence of events in order, identifying the main ideas and conflicts, even formulating opinions about the story can be very difficult tasks.  After some trial and error and, reflecting back to my own difficulties in this area, I found that employing the following strategies were essential to my child writing a successful book report.  Perhaps these tips can be helpful even if your child doesn’t have an attention deficit.

 

Select a properly leveled book to read

Make sure the book is at the proper reading level for your child.  A good rule of thumb that my son’s teacher follows is the “five finger rule” – if there are more than five words on the page that your reader is unfamiliar with, perhaps the material is too difficult and another book should be chosen.  Ask the teacher for guidance if you are unsure.

Read the book twice

If time allows, have your child read the book through twice.  I know, your child may balk at this idea (mine certainly did) but if the material is interesting enough, perhaps this won’t be a problem.

Take notes

Encourage your child to take notes on the material he’s just read.  Have him or her write down whatever captured their interest during their reading session and discuss it with them.

Keep a dictionary handy

If your child does happen to come across a word he or she is unfamiliar with during reading, encourage them to look it up.  It could help reinforce what they’ve just read, plus they learn a new vocabulary word.

Read the book along with your child

I know this can be tough, but if time permits, read the book yourself also.  This way, you can discuss with and help your child make connections and also get a sense of how much content your child is absorbing.

Rough drafting and editing

When it comes time to start writing, have your child do a rough draft first.  This helps them organize their thoughts and review for those pesky grammar gremlins, like punctuation and sentence fragments, who love to steal precious points from reports.  Reviewing and revising a rough draft also provides an opportunity to ensure that the questions being answered are the ones the teacher has asked.

I will admit that my child was less than thrilled using these techniques at first.  To him, it just seemed like a lot of extra work.  But when the grade on his second book report increased by a full twenty points, he was beaming and so proud of himself!  He now uses the rough draft technique to answer even homework questions – not a bad return for a little extra effort.

What tips or strategies have you employed to help your child with book reports or homework?  What has worked for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

It’s Just a Cough, Right?

My son’s friends came home with him after school today to hang out for a while.  As the boys tumbled through the door, divesting themselves of their jackets, backpacks and sneakers (no shoes in the house!!) I noticed that one of them was sporting a pretty nasty cough.

Normally I’m not paranoid about other kids’ coughs, sneezes, or runny noses – kids get sick, including my own –  I offer tissues and insist on hand washing to keep the germs at bay, and that’s usually enough to keep things under control.  But last week we got a notice from the school nurse that a case of whooping cough had been identified in the school, and in my son’s grade to boot.  I knew for sure that my son’s friend wasn’t the affected individual, but as soon as the boys were settled in I grabbed the notice and gave it another read.

I learned that whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes an uncontrollable, violent cough lasting several weeks or even months.  It can begin with cold-like symptoms or a dry cough that can progress to episodes of severe coughing.  It is spread from person to person by direct contact with mucus or droplets from the nose and throat of infected individuals.   At that point a visual of microscopic droplets, pregnant with pertussis, being hacked into the air popped in to my head.   In my vivid imaginings I pictured those droplets landing on the Legos and Nerf guns the kids were playing with, and then making their way into their noses and throats. . .

That’s when I went to the laundry room and grabbed my can of Lysol disinfectant and started spraying.  Everything.  Even those stinky sneakers by the door.  The kids didn’t seem to notice.

I asked my son’s friend how long he’d been coughing and he replied that it’s been a few days now, “but it’s not that whooping cough”, he insisted “I just have a cold.”  I simply smiled and kept on spraying.

After the kids left, my son remarked that his coughing friend had been uncharacteristically cranky today.  I explained to him that he probably wasn’t feeling well, and then I called his mom to let her know that he’d been out of sorts and coughing quite a bit this afternoon.  She thanked me and assured me that it was nothing to worry about.   Was I being a little paranoid?  Perhaps,  but I told my son to wash his hands and face thoroughly and continued to Lysol all the Legos and Nerf guns. . .

California Roll – The Gateway Sushi

Ah, summertime and the living is easy.  In between play dates, lazy afternoons at the pool,  assorted day trips and movies, my son and I ducked into the local Barnes and Noble to escape the summer heat.  Ignoring my gentle suggestions and the selections on his 6th grade reading list, my kid walked out of the book store with James Patterson’s Middle School, Get Me Out of Here! and. . . a sushi making kit.

My son loves sushi.  Okay, technically he loves California rolls, which perhaps for the true sushi aficionado is not really considered sushi; like the fortune cookie, the California roll is an American invention.  Created in the early 1970s by a sushi chef in Los Angeles, it consists of crab, avocado and cucumber wrapped in rice and nori (seaweed) and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  But, I like to think of it as a gateway sushi – if he’s enjoying this now, maybe as he gets older he’ll move onto a tuna roll or some hardcore sashimi.  Anything that expands a kid’s culinary horizons is fine by me, and $10 is a small price to pay for his delighted enthusiasm.

The Sushi Making Kit from Mud Puddle Inc. provides the essentials – recipe book, rolling mat, rice paddle, and two sets of chopsticks.  Most of the  ingredients are readily available at the supermarket in the Asian foods section, and I found the crab sticks at our neighborhood produce market.  The sushi rice is easy to prepare, and once all the ingredients are cut up and the rice has cooled,  you’re (literally) ready to roll.

My son quickly took charge, and following the easy instructions, here’s how it turned out:

The ingredients

Spreading the rice on the nori

Adding the filling

Roooolling along. . .

A little chunky but good!

Ready for slicing; he used a serrated knife

Nice!

Ah, summertime – and the sushi is easy!

All photos courtesy of Mom Meets Blog

Anatomy of a Playdate

I came home today to find my son’s cousins had come over to play for the afternoon. With my son suitably entertained for the time being and my husband on kid patrol, I comfortably settled in at my desk with a cup of hazelnut coffee and a croissant slathered in Nutella (what else?) and topped with apricot preserves, door tightly shut (should I lock it?), hoping to get some work done. My husband is supposed to be keeping the kids from killing each other watching the kids but I can hear that they are just about to begin a sword battle and I know that no good can come of this.  When it’s two 11 year olds against a 7 year old (or is it the other way around?) there’s bound to be bloodshed, or tears at least.

“Ow, that hurts!” I hear one of them cry out, I can’t tell which one.  I don’t hear my husband.  I hear the playing continue.  I hear a little body slamming, some running, jumping, banging, yelping and more sword clanging.  Still no husband.   I wonder if he’s fallen asleep on the couch.  I refuse to get up and check to see what’s going on.  I refuse to let my coffee get cold, and I’ve only eaten half my croissant.

I sit and listen, trying to discern whose voice is whose.  I hear some yelling, but can’t really make out what they’re saying. . . Uh  oh.  Now it’s quiet.  Too quiet.  I start to push back my chair. . .

Now they’re laughing.  Laughing is good, right?  Unless they’ve found something inappropriate on the internet (is that why they were so quiet?) and are now cackling hysterically over something that’s really funny or that they don’t understand – or both.

Good.  The sword clanging has resumed.  “I’m not kidding!  Stop!  Stop it!!” one of them bellows.  Still no reaction from my husband.  For goodness’ sake, what is he doing????

I am not getting up.  I can hear feet scurrying.  I hear rapid clicking sounds.  I wonder if my husband’s still in the house.

I take a sip of my coffee – still warm.  And then the crying begins.

It’s the 7 year old.  From what I gather about the melee occurring outside my door, he got pelted between the eyes with a Nerf gun bullet and didn’t like it.  When I came home I noticed at least five Nerf guns out and enough ammo to take out a small (Lego) village, with the younger one sporting multiple weapons, dispatching foam balls and bullets at the hapless two older kids.  Turnabout is fair play, little man.

“All right guys, that’s it!” I hear my husband parenting (finally!)  He tells one of the kids to put down the shield (?) and for everybody to sit down and watch TV.

It’s quiet again.

I polish off my croissant.  The doorbell rings – it’s the boys’ dad come to pick them up.  I can hear them all talking and saying goodbye.  I don’t move.  I finish this post.  And my coffee.

Photos courtesy of Google Images and Mom Meets Blog

The Birds, the Bees & Bye Bye Birdie

Last week we went to see the 7th & 8th grade production of Bye Bye Birdie at my son’s middle school.  I am particularly fond of this piece because, back in the day, I was one of the “screaming girls” in my 8th grade’s production of the musical.  I remember how much fun all my friends and I had singing the songs during rehearsals, and how exciting the performances were.  I felt that my son would also enjoy the play because, although it is set in the late 1950s, the themes still ring true today – bewildered parents, their hormone driven teenagers, and the maniacal worship of teen idols (paging Justin Bieber – or is it One Direction now?  Kids!).  My son absolutely roared with laughter at one point when, during a frustrating encounter with his children, the Harry MacAfee character sputters, “I didn’t know what puberty was until I was almost past it!”  I think he found that funny because there’s been so much puberty talk at school lately (it’s one of the units of study this semester) that he couldn’t imagine anyone actually missing it!

As I was helping my son study for a test on that subject one evening, I could tell by my husband’s bemused expression that, like Harry MacAfee, he didn’t quite know what to make of it all.  Certainly our respective parents never quizzed us on the term for “the spurting out of semen from the penis” or the name of “the entire outside genital area of a female”.  In my experience, “the period talk” consisted of receiving an informative book and a box of pads courtesy of Kimberly-Clark, and where babies came from (and how they got there in the first place) was not a topic parents discussed with their children.  But there I sat, discussing testicles, vaginas, and nocturnal emissions with my son as though we were chatting about what he had for lunch in the cafeteria that afternoon, while my husband busied himself in the kitchen so as not to get involved disturb us.  I knew he felt uncomfortable, but he would have to get over that, and fast.

I will say that talking about puberty and the changes that both boys’ and girls’ bodies undergo in such a matter-of-fact way has so normalized this conversation that I feel it has opened the door for a kind of closeness that I’m sure many of us didn’t experience with our folks when we were growing up.  I want my son to know that he can talk to me about this or anything else that comes his way.  I certainly welcome and feel very comfortable with this new chapter in our relationship.  I remember reading about a Details  magazine article where The Avengers  star Chris Evans revealed that his mom was the first person he told when he lost his virginity.  I wonder if I will be privy to that information.  I mean, the kid just gave me a surprisingly accurate explanation of the process of menstruation and he’s figured out why mommy has a “stomachache” every month, so I guess anything is possible.

While I was making breakfast on the morning of the test, my son asked my husband to quiz him on the material one last time.  I held my breath for a second to see if he was going to lob this one over to me or whether he would bite the bullet and jump on the puberty bandwagon.  Without skipping a beat my husband said “Sure” and they sat down together for a final review.  And with that we all entered a brave new world.

Oh, and the test?  My son came home proudly waving it around yesterday.  He got a 95.  :)

Check out “What’s the Matter with Kids Today” from the 1963 film version of Bye Bye Birdie

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and Barnes & Noble

Boy Meets Italy

Dad gets slimed. . .

Last summer my husband, son and I went to Italy.  After two summers of vacationing with Spongebob Squarepants – one year on the Nickelodeon Cruise, and the next year at the Nick Resort in Orlando – I felt the need to plan a vacation that didn’t include cartoon character breakfasts, poolside shaving cream fights, and getting slimed (ok, my husband took the hit for the team and endured the majority of  the slime).  I wanted to stroll along ancient streets, marvel at sights I’d only read about or seen on television, dine on delicious food al fresco, and unwind with an authentic cappuccino and biscotti after a day of shopping in Rome.  In short, I wanted – no, needed – to have a grown up vacation, and prayed that my then- 10 year old might enjoy it too.  After taking him to see the Pompeii exhibit at Discovery Times Square, my son was intrigued enough to have a go at Rome, as long as we planned a day trip to Pompeii.  With the extra assurance that he could indeed get Lego minifigures outside of the United States and watch Spongebob Squarepants on TV (in Italian, of course) I booked the trip and we were on our way.  I’ve assembled a photo journal of our trip through my son’s 10 year old eyes (and sometimes smart mouth):

Rome Cavalieri Hotel

“Well, it’s not the Nick Resort, but this hotel’s okay. . .”

Barcaccia Fountain

“This water tastes awesome. . . and I can drink from any fountain????”

Spanish Steps

“Wait, we have to walk up all these steps???”

Colosseum

“That Colosseum was kind of cool. . .”

“Too much walking and talking at the Vatican. . . “

“Lacoonte” – Vatican Museum

“But that snake biting the guy statue  is pretty cool. . .”

“These bumpy streets are hurting my feet. . .”

Lighting candles. . .

“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. . .”

A final resting place. . .

“Wait, somebody’s buried in the floor???  AWESOME!!”

Pompeii

“Ok, I have to admit. . . “

More Pompeii. . .

“Pompeii was REALLY cool. . . “

“Shopping???   NOOOOO!!!!”

Delizioso!

“The food is pretty good too. . .”

“Alright guys, Italy wasn’t so bad, but next year we’re going back to the Nick Resort. . . um, can I have another gelato?”

All photos are the personal property of Mom Meets Blog