My plan for less stress this holiday season

Thursday, November 22, 2018

This post is sponsored by Red Baron but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Well, mostly. The holidays are upon us! (how does it always sneak up like that? Wasn't it just summer like 2 seconds ago?) I love Thanksgiving and Christmas and pretty much everything there is to love about this time of the year. 

Sometimes the role of "mom" around the holidays can make me feel all kinds of stressed out. It can get pretty hectic and chaotic, from cleaning and decorating the house and finding the perfect gifts, to cooking all of the yummy traditional dinners and making memories for my family to to enjoy. There's a lot of little things that "need" to be done and I always end up feeling a bit Scrooge-like by the time I'm done trying to create those perfect holiday memories. 

This year is going to be different though, because I've got a few little tricks of the trade that I've picked up over the years. I'm hoping to have a more peaceful and present moments with my loved ones this year and 

Keep the decorations simple

Clutter and messes are known to cause me extra stress, so keeping the holiday decor to a minimum is a must in my house. I love twinkling lights and tinsel and garland as much as the next person, but it can quickly get to be too much and soon I'm feeling like every surface has something dangling from it. This year I've really streamlined what I put up and I only use things that I really love or that have sentimental value or fond memories. I've actually thrown out a lot of old decoration because they just don't hold up or tastes change after so many years. Don't be afraid to toss things you don't love or are holding onto out of obligation. 

Give yourself a break in the kitchen 

Like I said- between all of the holiday dinners, cookies, and other yummy goodies it can get a little crazy in the kitchen. When I'm not cooking up a storm I like to keep some pizza stocked in the freezer for quick and easy dinner nights where I can just chill, unwind, and catch up with my family. Red Baron pizza is something everyone agrees on- it always bakes up crispy and perfect. 

I pulled these out of the freezer on Friday night because it had just been a crazy busy day. We had doctors appointments and speech therapy to get to (because real life still goes on this time of year) and I still needed to clean the house for company and finish my Thanksgiving shopping. Before I knew it, it was 5pm and I had no plan for dinner. Red Baron pizza was the perfect solution! I threw in a cheese pizza for the kids and a supreme for my husband and I and everyone was happy! 

Remember what the holidays are truly about

Try to remember what's really important this holiday season- time with family and the spirit of giving. At least, that's what it is to me. So I'm going to try my best not to stress this holiday season and count my blessings instead. Time spent with the ones you love most is what truly matters. 

How are you minimizing your stress this holiday season? 

Amazon favorites | toddler sensory play gift guide

Friday, November 16, 2018

This post contains affiliate links.

Today I'm sharing some gift ideas for toddler sensory play. Do you have a kiddo in your life who has some sensory processing "issues"? I know that's kind of a vague term, but sensory "issues" can fall under a huge umbrella of all kinds of disorders like Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD), general anxiety, over-excitability, and the list goes on and on. 

Whatever the cause, some kids just have different sensory needs, and that's OK. Because of that though, shopping for kids with sensory needs can be a little tricky because they might not play or engage like their peers. They may seek certain sensory input and avoid others. As a mom of a child with sensory issues I can tell you it can be challenging figuring out exactly what they need sensory-wise. Every child is unique, and often times kids with sensory issues also lack the ability to tell you what they like or dislike, which can lead to more frustration.

I started documenting my son Josiah's sensory stuff earlier this year on my social media and now I get tons of questions about some of the toys and activities I share online. Because of that I decided to put together this handy dandy toddler sensory play gift guide for my sensory-seeking mama friends.(all from Amazon too, because hello, free 2 day shipping)! This list is comprised of toys we have and  that we love or that we've played with in therapy and that are great for encouraging sensory play. By sharing these I hope to help other people with sensory-seeking kids in their lives. So whether you're mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, teacher, etc. - HAPPY SHOPPING!

If you plan on shopping from this gift guide, please consider using a web browser to check out & not in a Facebook or Instagram window or via an app. I do receive a small commission on purchases made via my affiliate links, but unfortunately do not get credit for any sales made in an app (including the Amazon app on mobile) or via Instagram/Facebook browser window. If a link here from Lulu & Sweet Pea is the last link you click before checking out, I will receive credit for your purchase. Thank you so much for your continued support of me & my little blog!

We were first introduced to these fun, tactile board books by Josiah's speech therapist and they quickly became the only books that he would tolerate being read to. Each book has these raised buttons to "pop" on every page, making it interactive and educational. Josiah is obsessed with popping and repopping every dot on every page, and it's a really fun and satisfying way for kids to pay attention to the story and learn to count at the same time. The books are sturdy and well made, and have thick, easy to turn pages and come in tons of different themes. We have Old MacDonald's Farm, Who's in the Ocean, Dinosaurs A to Z, & we just got 10 Little Monkeys- our current favorite! (Just a note- not all of them have Prime shipping all the time. I noticed the selection changes sometimes so check back if one you want is out of stock or doesn't currently have free shipping. It's updated pretty often! I've also seen them at Costco before too). 

This stackable peg and peg board set is at the top of Josiah's Christmas list! He played with one at the eye doctor recently and I had to pry it out of his hands when it was time to leave. I loved the concentration on his face when he poked the colorful pegs into the little holes, and I chose this particular set because you can stack the pegs together (not all are stackable). Stack, sort, count, and work on dexterity, balance, creativity, and so much more. This is going to keep my little guy quite busy!

I always underestimate the power of Play Doh, but it always ends up a win with my toddlers when I do decide to break it out. It's great sensory play for all kids and it helps build up hand and finger strength when they squish, smash, stretch, and pull it. You can get all kinds of fancy kits and play sets to go with Play Doh, but my kids love to just use their little rollers and plastic "knives" with some cookie cutters and little fake animals and other toys to squish around in the dough. This 10 pack of colors and this Play Doh Fun Tub is a great place to start. Need to just stock up on more colors? There's a 36 pack for that.

One thing we've learned about Josiah in all of this is that he needs to move...a lot! His little body is constantly seeking movement and he needs what occupational therapists call heavy work activities, or activities that pull or push against the body. All kids need to run and jump and be wild and active of course, but sensory kiddos like Josiah need it even more. I highly recommend parents get a climber and/or slide combo to provide a fun and safe place for the kids to climb, slide, crawl up, jump off, go under, etc. (unless you're OK with turning the couch or stairs into a slide/jungle gym- haha). But seriously- this little Step 2 Climber and Slide combo is small enough to fit in our basement playroom and lets Josiah play safely. If you don't have room for something like this then maybe try the Little Tikes First Slide- it's more compact and folds up for easy storage. (We have both of these and we bring the slide outside in the summer to make a "water slide" in the kiddie pool). 

5. Squigz
These little suckers are another occupational therapy find! Squigz are solid and flexible and have a little suction base on each end, allowing you to stick them to things like windows, doors, mirror, the fridge,  etc. Push them together and pull them apart and they make a satisfying pop sound that Josiah loves. Push, pull, pop! It's addicting! See if they'll stick to your forehead (a fun game we play over and over again, and they do in fact stick to MY forehead, much to Josiah's delight). Squigz come in a 24 piece starter set or a 50 piece deluxe set

Balls can be a great sensory tool for kids of all ages, and these spiky sensory balls became a quick favorite of Josiah's right away. They're small- only 2.5 inches, and bounce when thrown. Josiah loves to just hold and squeeze them, or pull on the little spiky tips. It makes for a great fidget toy too, so I'll often times hand him one when I put him in his car seat. I think it has a calming affect and helps with anxiety and stress too.

Josiah doesn't usually like toys that make noise, but this must be an exception because he loves to play with this piggy bank in OT. The oversized coins really make him focus and he loves trying to get them into the slot while the pig plays music, says phrases, and makes sounds.

We have a couple of shape sorters in our home and this one is probably my favorite overall. It's soft and has a handle on it so it's easy for even young kids to pick up and carry around (some of the wooden ones can be pretty heavy and clunky). It come with 9 colorful shapes with fun textures on them, and the back side of the shape sorter has another fun matching activity on it too. 

Santa is definitely bringing Josiah a ball pit for Christmas this year and he's going to love it! He plays in one at his occupational therapy appointments and I decided he needs his own at home. He loves the bright colors and it actually seems to be soothing for him when he gets in and "swims around" in it. I've seen in-home ball pits/tents done so many different ways, depending on the size and space. This hexagon shaped ball pit looks to be about the perfect size, but you could also just use a kiddie pool if you wanted something with a lower edge to step over. Just set it up any kiddie pool and add some plastic balls and you'll have one happy toddler!

Remember the movement I talked about? Swinging has so many benefits for kids- even ones without sensory needs. Swinging engages your vestibular sensory system, which is basically your ability to know how to use your muscles in correlation to gravity. I've come to realize that swinging is something that really calms Josiah down and allows him to a little sensory swing in the playroom (along with the slide I mentioned earlier) is a MUST. I shopped around and read reviews and decided that this 24 inch spinner swing would be just the perfect size for him and our space. It would be so fun for outdoors too- they make some bigger ones that seat multiple kids. You can install them to just swing front to back or spin and have full range of motion. I wanted Josiah to be able to swing every which way- side to side, front to back, around in circles, and spin, so I ordered this cool little swivel accessory for the installation. The swing has been an awesome addition to our expanding sensory play area we've been working on in the basement. I want to add a hammock style swing soon! Please make sure to follow all of the manufacturer's instructions, know the weight limit, and take the appropriate safety precautions. 

My little guy just loves miniature figurines and little toy animals, people, cars, etc. He was gifted this adorable Finding Nemo busy book and quickly fell in love with all of the little animated characters from his current favorite movie. Harper got the Disney Princess busy book set that came with all of the princesses and there's also a Mickey version, among others. I've also seen these at Costco! 

This 6 foot tunnel takes zero time to set up- just open and it pops right up. Quickly fold it away for easy storage when you're not using it. It's got a little see through window in the middle and is great for hide & seek, peekaboo, and promotes all kinds of fun sensory play and movement. There are so many different styles when it comes to pop up tunnels and tents, like this one that comes with a tent and ball pit you can add on to it. 

13. Fubbles
Bubbles are something that always get Josiah's attention and calm him down, so these no-spill Fubbles are a must. We do a lot of playing with bubbles in speech therapy because it's great for hand/eye coordination, visual tracking, oral motor skills, and so much more. Josiah loves to turn bubbles into a game where he has to sign more or please, then we work on counting to 3 and anticipate the bubbles (which is so hard & fun for him- waiting!) Then he gets to pop them! They're wet and slimy and just loads of fun. Seriously, if you have a toddler who loves bubbles then you NEED Fubbles because they won't spill or drip all over the place. I love this little 3 pack of minis too! Bubbles are great for playing in the bathtub too if you're worried about the mess ;) 

Another great addition to any play room or toddler bedroom, this little trampoline has been a life saver for me when Josiah gets really wild or amped up and it's too cold or wet to go outside and play. We actually own this 3 foot folding trampoline too and I think both work just as well but this one is without the little safety handle, and for a few dollars cheaper. The choice is yours! 

This busy board will keep curious toddlers busy and is great for building hand and finger dexterity. It's made of solid wood and features 6 different latches, locks, and snaps while learning colors, numbers and animals at the same time. The Melissa & Doug basic skills board is another great one that we have and love too. You can't go wrong with all of the little latches and buttons for busy hands.

OK, these are just the top 15 in my house right now! There are a lot of other great sensory toys out there and every kid is going to like different things, but I hope this gives you a good idea of where to start when looking for toys for sensory seeking toddlers. If you or someone you know has a child with sensory needs in their life please share this gift guide with them or keep it in mind when you need it. I hope it's helpful! 

What are some of your favorite toys or activities for sensory play? I'd love to hear some more ideas!

#ShareYourEars and Make-A-Wish

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This post is sponsored by Make-A-Wish Foundation but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

It's no secret that the kids in my house love all things Disney. You can probably tell by my four year old's pretty pink Disney Princess bedroom, or maybe by the play room downstairs filled with various toys from the likes of Monsters Inc, Toy Story, and Cars strewn about. If it's Disney, we love everything about it!

This holiday season Disney is looking celebrate 90 years of Mickey Mouse by helping Make-A-Wish. make life-changing wishes come true for children with critical illnesses. Together, Disney and Make-A-Wish have granted over 130,000 wishes globally! 

How can you help this holiday season? 
Disney is inviting all of their fans to celebrate with their Share Your Ears campaign. From November 18th to November 27th 2018, simply take a photo showing off your "Mickey Mouse ears"- or any creative "ears" and upload it to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. For every public photo posted with the hashtag #ShareYourEars, Disney will donate US $5 to Make-A-Wish®, up to US $1 million to grant even more life-changing wishes. Disney's Team of Heroes is committed to deliver comfort and inspiration to families around the world. 
Harper and I had to get creative with her "ears" when she recently sported some Mickey-esque ears for dress up day at school. She loves all things Minnie Mouse, so some "Minnie" ear buns were a must, along with her favorite pink Minnie Mouse shirt. 

To get these buns, simply section your child's hair in two equal parts, parting it straight down the middle. Make a high ponytail on each side and secure it with an elastic band. 

Depending on your child's length of hair, you can make your buns a few different ways. One easy way is to only half pull the ponytail through. Carefully fluff and pull the hair until it's just perfect.

Another method would be to twist the ponytail until it forms a little "bun", then twist an elastic band around it to secure it. Depending on how thick the hair is you might need a couple of bobby pins or clips to hold all of the little strands in place. 

How do you think we did?!

She was so excited! 

Don't have any ears? Get creative like we did! You can make ears out of just about anything. (you could even use a fun filter for some "ears", right?) Put them on and join your favorite heroes, celebrities and athletes in helping make wishes come true! I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Remember to use the hashtag ShareYourEars and make your post public so that Disney can see it and make their $5 US donation and make more wishes come true for kids in need this holiday season!

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