On The List… Straws & Connectors

From now until Christmas, I will be featuring our all time favorite toys!  I always love getting recommendations so I can get the Christmas gift idea lists to the grandparents in plenty of time!  That’s why I am starting early this year with some individual toy features.  I will update our gift recommendation posts {tot, preschool, boys, moms, Jesus} for 2013 and publish those in early November, but wanted to get started with these features of our favorites now.  I will feature 10 different gift ideas between now and Dec 21, every Saturday.

{disclaimer ~ affiliate links are used, thanks for your support!}

Up first, if we didn’t already own them Straws and Connectors would definitely be on the list!On the List ~ Straws & Connectors

We bought our first set of Straws and Connectors back in April, and bought our second set in May.  This is probably the most loved toy we have right now, by all three kids.  They all build some amazing creations, both individually and together as you can see…

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Summer Challenge 2013 -5156

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In My Opinion…

  • Ideal Age Range 4-11 {the box says 5+}
  • Widened Age Range 3-13 The tiny connectors are small and I definitely would not recommend this toy for any child that still puts anything in their mouth. The connectors can be frustrating sometimes for my daughter but she really enjoys this set and has since she turned 4.  An easily frustrated 3 year old might be too young. Pac is 11 1/2 and still loves building with these.

Which Set?

  • We bought the smaller set first {a gift for P on his 11th birthday}, and within a month {for K’s birthday} we got the big set.  They use ALL of them.  If you only have one child and aren’t sure this will be a hit, just go for the smaller set and add on later.  If you have more than one child using the set, just get the bigger one!
  • We store all of ours in a clear plastic container from Costco, you can see it in a photo above sitting near Ladybug.

We got ours on Amazon, I haven’t seen them anywhere else {I am sure they are, I just have yet to see them in a store}

Straws and Connectors 230 piece    Straws and Connectors 705 piece

Do you already have Straws and Connectors?  Are they on your list?

See more gift ideas On the List…

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Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Favorite Learning Toys

I get asked all the time about learning tools and toys for tots.  I have had this post in the works for awhile now, making sure I was remembering our very favorite items. 

Before I begin, please know that although I am sharing many ideas, I believe LESS is better!  I have a lot of stuff that has been accumulated through various methods {former teaching days, generous grandparents, blog review items, hand me downs, and consignment/thrift}. I am always simplifying and giving away school tools, and I love that I can bless others, but it does get overwhelming at times to have a lot.  So, I definitely recommend having less and not over-buying/collecting too much!

First, I highly recommend using what you already have!  I consider it “free” if it is already in your home.  Below is a list of items that my tots have enjoyed, all items I gathered from within my house! I am sure I am forgetting many items, but this should get you started!

Favorite FREE Tools {since you probably already have it at home}

  • A bin of rice, beans, or something fun to dig little hands in!
  • cups for pouring
  • cardboard boxes
  • straws, stirring sticks, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks
  • empty containers {of all sorts}
  • lids
  • tubes Use What you Have!

    Be creative when you browse through your house, so many items can be used for tots.  You can see more about using household items in my Tot Trays series! There’s even a PDF download with a list of things to collect!

    Tot Trays for Tot School

In order to make this list below,  I narrowed it down to a few requirements.  All toys on this list have been:

  • played with by my children for more than 3 years {meaning one child enjoyed the same toy for at least a 3 year span}.
  • at least 2 out of 3 of my children consider this a favorite and have chosen it on many occasions.
  • no characters are involved {or lights, noise, batteries}
  • largely open ended and encourage creative play
  • durable, can easily be handed down even after my kids have enjoyed it for many years.
    Favorite TOYS
    {Disclaimer: links below are affiliate links}

All of these toys can be bought early on {even if they are labeled for older kids} and used for Tot School fun, under adult supervision. I searched back through my photos to find images showing Ladybug using these toys when she was a young tot. All of these toys are still played with and used on a regular basis by her and the boys today!  If you click on the image, it will take you to Amazon.

Foam Blocks

Stacking Pegs




Learning Links


Wooden Blocks

I did a survey of my kids {currently 4, 7, and 11} asking them which was their VERY favorite from the toys pictured, here’s what they said…

  • Ladybug, age 4 ~ foam blocks
  • Krash, age 7 ~ small wooden blocks
  • PacMan, age 11 ~ foam blocks
  • Mom, age 37 ~ my personal favorite is foam blocks, partly because they are quiet, and because we have simply used them SO much for so many things! I am in good company with my selection too!

All toys shown above were purchased personally or given as gifts to my children, with the exception of the small wooden blocks {they were a review item that we fell in love with}.

Supplies to have…


Each year before Christmas time I update our gift ideas posts for tots, preschoolers, & boys. You can see more toys and tools we love in these posts!

Gift Ideas for Tot School

This post is #9 in my series for the iHomeschool Network Spring 2013 Hopscotch. Visit other bloggers participating here!


Links will be added as the series progresses!

Homeschooling-Tots-and-Preschoolers_Day 1 ~ Where to Begin with Tot School eBook

Day 2 ~ You Don’t Have to Do it All!

Day 3 ~ Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Day 4 ~ Time Invested in Tot Schooling

Day 5 ~ 10 Tips for Studying Nature with Tots

Day 6 ~ Exposure vs. Mastery

Day 7 ~ Why Themes?

Day 8 ~ Teaching Tots in a Large Family

Day 9 ~ Our Favorite Learning Tools for Tots

Day 10 ~ Early Childhood Theme Printables A-E

Christmas Gifts for Jesus

Christmas Gifts for Jesus

I wrote a Christmas Gifts for Jesus post last year, but this year I have something new to share about how we are now doing this as a family.  I can’t say it will be a yearly tradition, as this is the first year for us, but it is certainly something I hope works out as a family tradition in the future!

I was introduced to the book, The Sparkle Box through a reader who sent me an email about it {thanks!}.  I loved the concept and had never seen the book so I ordered it that night.  When it arrived I read it to myself and began to pray about what the Sparkle Box could look like for us. You can read more on The Sparkle Box website.

The Sparkle Box

After feeling God’s idea for our family in my heart, I read the book to the kids, which they loved, and then brought out the Sparkle Box and shared our family plan for it.

The Sparkle Box-5074

I handed each of them a World Vision Gift Catalog and told them that we are using our Sparkle Box to collect money to give a gift to Jesus on Christmas Day!

A few “rules” came along with this, to help them grasp the heart-meaning of giving. My thoughts behind this comes from the verses in the Bible about giving in secret.

Matthew 6

  1. Nobody can open the box to count the money until we all open it together on Christmas Day.
  2. Nobody can tell anybody else how much money they put into the box.
  3. When putting your own money in the box, do it in private, when no one is watching. It is between you and God.
  4. You can give money in honor of someone to replace a gift you would have given.  My oldest asked about this and I told him I would rather him take the money he would use to buy me a small gift and put it in the box, along with a simple note saying he gave my gift to Jesus instead. I made sure he knew I did not want him to tell the amount, that’s between him and God.
  5. No picking up the Sparkle Box, the box is fragile and as money is put in {coins} it will get heavy and could break!  No opening the box, even to put your money in.  The big red bow keeps the top shut, but there is a small opening in the box where it folds where we can easily slip our money in!
  6. The kids are browsing through our gift catalogs to see where their heart is pulled.  As Christmas approaches I will have them each share the 3 things they would love to spend the Sparkle Box money on.  As a family we will vote, or possibly draw randomly if there are too many suggestions.  I plan to have the item{s} we plan to purchase decided upon ahead of time.  If we have extra money we will go down the list we create together and buy more for Jesus! As a family we usually use the The World Vision Gift Catalog, but will also be looking through the Compassion Gift Catalog online, and our Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog to choose our gifts.

World Vision Gift Catalog 2012 gI_114455_Gifts-of-Compassion-Print-Catalog_150x195 

On Christmas Day we plan to sit together and open the box and count the money all together. We will then find time to get online and order our gift for Jesus. I am hoping this will be a special time for our kids, as they see the power of us joining together to make a difference.

I look forward to seeing how God uses this experience in our family. How does your family honor Jesus on His birthday? I’d love you to share some of your traditions in the comments!

Christmas Gift Ideas for Moms

Christmas Gift Ideas

This is my list of ideas for MOMS! Moms always come last, huh?  I meant to have this list updated over a week ago but life got in the way.  In case you missed my other posts, here are links: Gift Ideas for Tots, Preschoolers, & Boys. I link to everything where I find the best online price {most of the time it is Amazon}. Most links are affiliate links, some are not {if I am not affiliated with the particular company}. If you purchase anything through an affiliate link, you give back a percentage to our family…thanks!  

 Christmas Gift Ideas for Moms


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Little Stuff

  • Made On Hard Lotion ~ we use the hard lotion bars, goat milk soap, and chapstick. They have awesome gift sets available too! My son and my husband save their dry skin with these bars!
  • Easy Lunchboxes ~ I LOVE these things. Ask for 2 sets just to be safe! We use them in and out of the house. See my original review here.
  • The Vintage Pearl ~ I still wear my necklace every day and it is my absolute favorite.

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  • Laminator {everyone knows how much I love this, right?} I use these pouches.
  • iPod Dock {we use ours for school, we have this exact one but got ours at Target, it’s a bit pricey (it was a gift) but I bet a less pricey model would be equally as wonderful!}
  • Label Maker {don’t know how I lived so long without one-got ours and get our refills at Costco}

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The BIG Gift {just in case Santa still visits any of you}

iPad  The best price I have seen for iPads is straight from Apple’s site, we have a refurbished iPad 2 and got it for $349.  The refurbished stock varies, so you have to check back to get what you want!

  • iPad Case ~ if you have kids, I definitely recommend a sturdy protective case.  We have the Trident Kraken II and my husband recently got the Otterbox Defender {he needed one with a stand for his school}, and he loves it! I get asked about our warranty a lot, we use SquareTrade.
  • iTunes Giftcard ~ Looking for ideas for your kids to put on your new ipad?

Canon Digital Rebel {I personally own the 40D, but the rebel is the best starter dSLR} I get asked a lot about which model of Rebel is best. Honestly-if this is $your first dSLR, the lower priced model is great. If you can afford the higher priced model-go for it. BUT-it is not necessary. That is my personal opinion and I know others may disagree. I say the price difference isn’t worth it unless you have future professional plans-and then you’d more than likely move beyond a Rebel anyway. I don’t own either but have seen both and used older models of both.

Photography Stuff…

  • 50mm lens {if you like the blurred background and the ability to shoot in lower light without a flash, you want this lens!}
  • See all of my photography info here in my Behind the Scenes ~ Photography post
  • A great photography book is: Better Photo Basics, I have a few and this one is my favorite for beginners.
  • A Light Scoop is an inexpensive way to soften fill flash light indoors, I have one and use it in my schoolroom for most of my blog photos that are taken indoors.
  • Vitamix ~ I got mine from Costco about a year ago and I can’t believe I waited so long!  We use it almost daily, mostly to make healthy smoothies.  It is about the only way I can ensure green veggies get into Ladybug! Here’s a post sharing what I usually put in our green smoothies.
  • Keurig Since my husband and I like different coffee, a Keurig has been a lifesaver!  This is our 2nd one, the first one lasted about 2 years.  We upgraded to the deluxe model and got it along with a bunch of K Cups at Costco a few months ago for 149.99.
  • Dyson Vacuum {we own this exact one, the DC25 and we ordered ours from Amazon about two years ago. We LOVE it and yes it is all that. I hesitated for years to spend the $$ but I am so glad we saved up and finally got it!}
  • Projector ~ we got this for our schoolroom and watch all of our school PowerPoint shows on it, it also shows our Wii and DVD player. It is wonderful!

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Vitamix Keurig


Gift-Ideas...preschoolers4 Gift-Ideas..4Gift Ideas...boys Gift Ideas...Jesus

Christmas Gift Ideas for Boys

 Christmas Gift Ideas

I get asked a lot about gift ideas, so I thought it might be helpful to throw a few out there with some mini reviews on each item. We personally own everything I recommend, and I will never recommend something we don’t love! I am also a believer in LESS is MORE, so although I recommend things, please know that things don’t make us happy…they are just a small addition to an already full life in Christ. I don’t in any way believe that Christmas is about stuff. I realize gifts are a natural part {especially from grandparents!}, and I love getting recommendations also, which is why I share with you!

This is my list of ideas for boys, gearing towards ages 6-10. I will link to everything where I find the best online price {most of the time it is Amazon}. Most links are affiliate links, some are not {if I am not affiliated with the particular company}. If you purchase anything through an affiliate link, you give back a percentage to our family…thanks!

Christmas Gift Ideas for Boys

Bible for Preschoolers


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Music and DVDs for Preschoolers Books for Preschoolers

image  image_thumb70_thumbSeeds

Learning Toys for Preschoolers


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Games for Preschoolers

IMG_2541  image image31[1][3] image image  image[5]Connect 4 Launchers

Preschool Gifts

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IMG_4019  IMG_2556 Rip Rider

If you are looking for ideas for younger children, you can check out my Christmas Gift Ideas for Tots and Christmas Gift Ideas for Preschoolers posts!


Christmas Gift Ideas for Jesus  Christmas Gift Ideas for Moms  Christmas Gift Ideas for Preschoolers  Christmas Gift Ideas for Tots


If you are an Apple user, check out the app I use to organize all of our Christmas shopping. A fellow missionary and good friend developed it and I love it! Santa's Bag App_thumb[2][3]