Gift ideas that are low on cost but big on imagination!

Today Emily was re-reading one of her favorite books and it gave me a great idea.  I wanted to share this with you because it’s a perfect budget friendly gift idea that would be sure to please most young kids.  With Christmas coming, I thought it was the perfect time to share this.


The book is called Christina Katerina & The Box and is written by Patricia Lee Gauch.    (You probably already see where I’m going with this…)


As the story goes, Christina Katerina and her mother are both excited when the new refrigerator arrives in its large brown carton, but they are excited for very different reasons. Christina quickly claims the box, where she creates a castle, a clubhouse, and other fantastic playthings with her friend Fats Watson.  Every time her latest creation gets messed up, she simply turns it into something new until one day the box gets wet and Christina’s mother is all too happy to finally throw the box away.  That is, until Fats brings over 2 new boxes from his mother’s new washer and dryer!

This book is full of the imagination that should play a huge part in every child’s life.  Seeing something plain and simple and being able to turn it into something grand is a skill many have forgotten.  It is truly refreshing to see children get excited about something that doesn’t light up, make sounds or use batteries.

Back to my idea…

As parents we always joke that kids would rather play with the box the toy came in than the toy itself, right?  So let’s just skip the toy and give them the box!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pair this book with a huge cardboard wardrobe box as a gift for a child this Christmas?  Yes, I’m serious!  Give them a box.  I would bet that most children under 12 with any sense of imagination would love to have a HUGE box as an empty canvas for their creativity!  I know my 9 1/2 year old daughter would love this gift idea – if she didn’t already own the book, that is.  She’d still love the box!  If you really felt the need to dress up the gift, you could include a package of markers or crayons, but don’t go overboard.  The idea is to keep it simple.  Let them use their imagination to create – and re-create – new adventures. 

So skip the battery operated, noise making, video game playing gadgets and instead get to the dollar store for some extra wrapping paper.  You’ll need it to wrap that huge box.  Read the book together and turn them loose to see what they create.


My daughter, Emily, has always loved to play with boxes.  She has made everything from row boats to castles and race cars to animal shelters – all from cardboard.  She still tries to keep every empty box that makes its way into the house.  I hope that continues for years to come! 

Here are just a few of our favorites!


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Check out another one of my low on cost, but big on imagination gift ideas:  A Homemade Detective Kit!

3 family-friendly movies with cute dogs

It is so hard to find truly kid-friendly, family fun movies! I have no problem finding things for Lovebug to watch and enjoy by herself – she still loves Barney, Diego, Veggie Tales, and Clifford, and I am so thankful for that!   But what about when we want to enjoy a movie together as a family?  I am in the minority of adults because I actually like Barney, but I can really only take so much in one sitting.

What about sitting the family down with a bowl of popcorn and snuggling in for a full length movie?  Why is it so hard to find one that is appropriate?  I realize I’m more conservative than a lot of people, but is it really asking so much to have a movie without bad language or nudity, where the bad guys aren’t scary enough to give my kid nightmares, but still with a good story that the whole family can enjoy?

Recently, I stumbled upon THREE family friendly films as I was looking up another movie on Netflix (which turned out to be one to avoid!) and the website recommended these. 


What I loved:

* No bad language

* The bad guys are bad, but not horrifying.

* In the end, the bad guys get caught! We don’t see the full punishment and consequence, but they are caught and the good guys win!

* Good life lessons to discuss as a family.  In my opinion, good examples of temptations and actions that all young children will encounter, so a great chance to address them in a light-hearted setting.

* There are lots of cute dogs in all of them!



Miracle Dogs


Cute puppies bring health and happiness to the denizens of an Ohio hospital in Miracle Dogs. When young Charlie Logan (Josh Hutcherson) and his parents (Kate Jackson and Ted Shackelford) accidentally run into a stray Springer Spaniel, the injury is minor but the dog turns out to have cancer in one of her forelegs, which has to be amputated. To save the dog from euthanasia, Charlie smuggles her into the Cleveland Clinic, where his parents work, and keeps her in the basement with the assistance of the cantankerous custodian (Stacey Keach). But in no time the dog, now dubbed Annie by Charlie, starts wandering through the hospital, miraculously healing the patients. Hospital rules and miraculous healing collide in this adaptation of the popular children’s book Annie Loses Her Leg But Finds Her Way, which is sure to warm the heart of any dog-lover.

Possible issues to discuss:

When these “miracle dogs” are around sick people, the people get better! Obviously, we don’t believe that animals can actually heal people (only God can do that!), but I do know that animals have been shown to make a huge difference in the recovery of sick and injured people. 

There were a couple of examples of the boy’s heart being in the right place, but his actions were still wrong (helping dogs escape from the shelter, hiding them from his parents), but I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss these with Lovebug and to let her tell me what he should have done instead. 


Miracle Dogs Too


Upon moving with his family to a new town and befriending a pair of magical mutts, a ten-year-old boy must choose between his love of animals and his desire to do the right thing in director Richard Gabai’s affectionate family adventure. Like any young boy, Zack is nervous about moving to a new town. After happening across a pair of abandoned dogs with surprising magical powers though, Zack discovers that his new home may not be so bad after all. Now, with a pair of determined criminals struggling to steal the dogs for themselves and a growing determination to return his four-legged friends to their rightful owner, Zack sets out to thwart the thieves and ensure that his remarkable story has a happy ending.


Possible issues to discuss:

In the beginning we see a couple of teenage boys stealing a car (which has the dogs in it), and one of the boys in particular is definitely on the wrong path making wrong choices along the way, but he is caught in the end.

As the troubled teen tries to convince others to do wrong things along with him, it’s a good opportunity to discuss with your kids how to handle situations like that because it is something that will happen in real life.

The opening scene introduces us to the fact that the mom is recently divorced and that is the reason for the family’s relocation. 

The subject of dating is touched upon when the teenage daughter (16) plans to meet the “bad boy” for a date, but in the end makes a much better choice.



12 Dogs of Christmas


In this heartwarming holiday tale set during the Great Depression, 12-year-old Emma (Jordan-Claire Green) brings the meaning of Christmas to a small rural town during a bleak season. Sent to live with her Aunt Delores (Bonita Friedericy) in down-and-out Doverville, the irrepressible Emma sets out to treat the community to an inspiring pageant starring some spirited canines — much to the dismay of the local dog catcher (John Billingsly).

Another description:

Upon being sent to live with her aunt in the small town of Doverville, 12-year-old Emma O’Conner finds herself in the middle of a ‘no-dogs’ law, Emma with the Mayor and town dogcatcher. In order to strike down their ‘no-dogs’ law, Emma must bring together a group of schoolmates, grown-ups and adorable dogs of all shapes and sizes in a spectacular holiday pageant. "The 12 Dogs of Christmas" is a fun, heartwarming story featuring a diverse canine cast of over 101 pooches, perfect for all those who love dogs, kids and Christmas.


Possible issues to discuss:

The young girl is sent to live with someone called her “aunt”.  The lady isn’t her aunt after all, and it’s insinuated that the woman is an ex-girlfriend of the girl’s father.  It turns out, the girl’s mother is deceased and she is only sent there for a short time, as the dad is taking care of some financial issues.

The “bad guys” get in trouble for holding dog fights.  No dogs are seen fighting at all, but you do see people standing around placing their bets and it is obvious what is about to happen – but it is interrupted!

Book Review: Special Diets for Special Kids

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I was so excited when I was offered a chance to review a new edition of the cookbook, “Special Diets for Special Kids” by Lisa Lewis!  This is an updated edition that combines 2 previous volumes into one book full of over 200 Gluten-Free and Casein-Free recipes.  I was extra excited because this came to me at a time that we were re-focusing our efforts to keep a gluten free diet, and I was anxious to have some tried & true recipes to make.  We are a gluten-free family and even though we are not casein free, I do try to control our dairy intake so I love using substitutes whenever possible.  If you are already on a GFCF diet, or if you are considering starting one – this is a must-have resource for your library!

This book is so much more than just recipes! The entire first chapter explains why this diet is so helpful for children on the spectrum, or for those that live with ADHD, Celiac Disease or allergies.  The information includes scientific information about how gluten and casein affect the body and why it is so important to clean up your child’s diet.

Chapter 2 goes on to describe vitamins and minerals, which ones are often lacking in children on the spectrum, and what they do for our bodies.

Chapter 3 is a great “keep it simple” guide to what foods to feed your child, and which ones to avoid.  In addition, she discusses different flours and how to incorporate baking into this diet.  This was super helpful for me as I love to bake! I didn’t want to continue to spend a fortune on pre-made GFCF baked goods, but wasn’t sure where to start baking GF products. This chapter gave me clear information that I needed to move forward with making some of our favorite foods.

Chapters 4-13 are filled with delicious recipes for all the typical kid favorites and many many more!  Armed with this book, you will be able to make muffins, pancakes, chicken nuggets, chicken & dumplings, snacks, sweet treats, and even condiments!  Any of your favorite recipes call for “sweetened condensed milk”?  No problem! She has a casein-free substitute for that.

She also includes an entire chapter (chapter 10) devoted to holiday fare so you can continue your GFCF way of eating easily over Thanksgiving and Christmas.  She offers recipes for 4 different types of dressing, tasty sides, and even gingerbread people & pumpkin pie!  There is no reason to stray from this diet over the holidays!  Arm yourself with safe and healthy food choices so that you can give your child a head start as they deal with being off their routine, having extra people in the house, and all the excitement of the holidays.

I was also excited to see all the sweet treat options in the book for those special occasions.  I always like to have safe recipes on hand for taking to a friend’s house or a potluck so that I know there is something my daughter can have without feeling left out.  Also, my daughter just started Girl Scouts this year and of course that means selling cookies!  Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts do not have a GF option yet, but have no fear! On page 311, there is a recipe for making your very own Thin Mints! You can bet your chocolate wafers that I’ll be making those to have on hand during cookie selling season!

Also included with the book is a CD full of all the printable recipes so you don’t even have to get your book dirty when you are in the kitchen whipping up that new family favorite!

If you want to get your hands on this incredible resource, just click here to order your own copy! Use the coupon code ARMY to get 15% off and free shipping!

The Berenstain Bears got naughty!

I grew up reading these books and had nothing but fond memories of them, so of course when Lovebug started reading them I was excited.  They were one of the few series of books that I didn’t feel the need to preview before letting her read.  Weren’t they all cute and funny with good moral lessons?


A year and a half or so ago, while browsing the library for another stack of books to take home, Lovebug brought me a book and said “I don’t think this is appropriate for me”.   She was right!


She was looking at the chapter books because she’s able to read them, and found this.  It’s about dating, and not only dating, but jealousy because Brother bear likes a girl that other guys like.  REALLY?

According to Amazon, the reading level for this book is 9-12.  What 9-12 year olds do you know that are allowed to date?  For that matter, do you know anyone that is allowed to date & mature enough to date that would be reading the Berenstain Bears?

I think not.

After looking through a few more of the Berenstain Bears Chapter books (more inappropriate topics, especially for this age group), I put a ban on those.  I told Lovebug we’d stick with the non-chapter, “wholesome” ones.   She moved on to some other series, and it hasn’t really come up again until yesterday.

We were at the local library and she came across a huge selection of the Berenstain Bears books again.  The smaller, paperback, “young reader” ones.  I even found a few that were of a Christian nature talking about God, good character issues and including Bible verses.

“Great!”, I thought as we picked out a stack.  Maybe they have made some changes and gone a new route.  We read the Christian based ones first, and things were looking good.

Then it happened again.  Right there in the middle of a seemingly innocent childhood book.




Yes, the kissing game.   No, this wasn’t another chapter book targeted at those “older” pre-teens.

This was Sister bear’s SIXTH birthday party.  What were you thinking Papa & Mama Bear??  Stan & Jan Berenstain, you should be ashamed of yourselves!


This one has a reading level of ages 4-8.   FOUR to EIGHT!  Poor Sister bear got upset at her party because she didn’t want to kiss anyone.  As well she should have!  Her parents were right there, so it’s not even like someone threw a party without permission and would be punished.

I also noticed that they have gotten progressively worse in making Papa Bear look extremely foolish, and in many cases it goes way past humorous into disrespectful.  I also dislike the use of slang in children’s books, and one of them had “I dunno” as one of the bears’ responses to someone.  I realize that with email and texting slang is common, but it is no way to teach a young child still learning to read and write proper language and grammar skills.

All of these issues combined, and I’m afraid I’m back to previewing each of the Berenstain books before she reads them.  They do have some great ones, and we have some favorite old classics by them, but that doesn’t mean we can trust them all.

Homemade Detective Kit

Since Lovebug’s birthday fell right in the middle of her Science Detective Camp I thought it would be fun to give her a present that went along with the theme.  I didn’t want to spend much money because the camp itself was her main present, but I also wanted something for her to open.  I was thinking something homemade would be great….but what?  Then, one day I was surfing around on the web and I came across this blog post describing a homemade detective kit they had made.  I was so excited and went straight to work making my own for my newest detective!

Here is the end result!


I used a simple photo storage box that I bought at a local craft store for $2.00.  Then I decorated it myself by drawing footprints, and putting my own fingerprints on it.


Inside the box was this note explaining what was inside:



Here are some close-ups of the items:


1. Detective badge – I bought a “make your own keychain” from the craft store for $.99 and made my own insert.

2. Journal – Found a cute notebook in the $1 section, and glued my cover over theirs

3. Speciman swaps made from a travel size package of Q-tips



4. Evidence Bags – you can find these little bitty ziploc type bags in the beading section of your local craft store.  They didn’t have any small packages when I went, but I got 250 bags for $5.  I’m sure she’ll use them up!

5. Fingerprint lifting tape – just regular tape. Like I said, this kit requires imagination!  However, if you want REAL lifting tape, I found some here.  Might have to try that sometime!

6. Fingerprinting Kit – a pad of “washable” (but it’s not very washable) ink, and some blank index cards



7. Magnifying glasses – I found a package of 3 for $5.  2 of them are “secret” ones that fold out, adding to the excitement.

8. Brushes – Paint section at the craft store.  I think I paid $1.99 each to get decent ones.

9. Flashlight – already had at home



Everything together!


She absolutely LOVED it!! She told me over and over how much she loved this, and immediately got to work looking for fingerprints and collecting evidence.  I did have to make a rule that no food “specimens” could be kept in her room after she used ketchup as fake blood and was planning to keep it forever.

Who says kid’s toys need to be expensive? 

Helping your SPD kiddo & guests enjoy each other

Lovebug gets so excited when friends or family come to our house.  Over excited, actually.  For a long time, as soon as I opened the door to let in a grandparent, she would start running around in circles screaming or laughing hysterically while the grandparents stood patiently waiting for their greeting.  Not the warmest welcome!

I would have to literally catch her, and give her instructions such as “Say Hi Grandma” or “Do you have a hug for Granny?”.  She would barely greet them before she was off running again.


Now, we handle the greeting much better.  We’ve practiced social stories and walked through the scenarios before they happen. Before our guests even arrive, I remind her that when the grandparents arrive, we are going to open the door, use our words to greet them, and give them a hug if she wants one.  At the very least, we are going to open the door and nicely say hi to them.  Then, if she has something to show them or something she’s wanting to tell them she needs to wait until everyone gets ALL the way in the door and they all say their greetings to each other.  Then she can ask them to come play in her room, or show them her latest special treasure.

Once someone knocks on the door, I quickly remind her again, “Remember, we are going to greet them first with our words.”

It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

I also used to just let her have free time with the grandparents when they come over, but I’ve learned that gets her too wound up.  She gets so excited and she ends up bouncing from one thing to another, ending up in a high that is hard to come down from.

Now, I choose activities ahead of time and then adjust them as I monitor her mood.  If she’s in an imaginative mood and can handle some freedom to create, then Legos, Tinkertoys or racing die-cast cars are a great option.  If she needs to be focused on a specific task, we might read a book, do a puzzle, color a picture, or even watch an episode of a cartoon.  Sometimes a board game is the perfect thing to give her a task to focus on, while interacting with our guests.  Other times, her energy level is so high that a board game would be a nightmare.  Some games are more active than others too, so while sitting still for Candy Land might not work, something active like Hullabaloo or Super Stretchy ABC would be just right!

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Last time Granny was here, Lovebug wanted to keep our score while Granny and I played bowling on the Wii (She prefers other games, so when we bowl she prefers to watch over play).  She made a chart and wrote down every single score in her own code (S for strike, SP for spare, along with a number telling if it was our first spare, or third strike, etc).  It was perfect for her – fine motor practice, handwriting practice (that she thought was FUN!), and it kept her relatively still while providing her with enough input that she didn’t get too “low”.

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Today however, Granny was here again and we were bowling.  Lovebug wanted to keep score, but this time it didn’t work.  We’d had a busy morning, she missed her rest time, so her system was a little out of sync.  Her handwriting was harder for her, which made her frustrated with herself over every mistake.  Also, her focus was off, so she kept having to ask us over and over what she missed.

I finally suggested nicely that she take a break from keeping score and just color.  I told her that her brain was tired from such a busy day and probably just needed to do something more relaxing.  That worked wonderfully.

Then we moved on to one of my favorite tools for times like this…MODEL MAGIC!!  This stuff is AWESOME!  It’s more spongy than Play-Doh and it doesn’t crumble, even when it’s dry.  You can leave your creation out for 24 hours and it will dry for you to keep, or you can store it in an air-tight container to reuse over and over.  The color doesn’t come off on your skin, either.  It’s just great – you should try it.  No, I don’t get paid by them, I just love the product that much! (Although if anyone wanted to send me some, I’d take it!)

I put Lovebug and Granny at the table together and give them each some Model Magic and some tools.  They can work together or independently, while still getting to chat.  The molding and shaping are great for Lovebug’s hands – they give her hands something to do, and provide her with sensory input.  She’s not competing with anyone, and she doesn’t have to be coordinated.  They played for about an hour and we only stopped because it was time for dinner.

If I’m leaving Lovebug with a grandparent alone, I choose several activities and put them in a box for them to choose from.  That way, they have something specific to do and can change activities based on her needs.  I’ve seen, and I’ve been told from the grandparents that this works MUCH better than just “do whatever”.

Having a successful visit with guests at our home is all about monitoring, being proactive & being prepared! A little preparation ahead of time makes for a wonderful time and great memories.  Failing to do that results in chaos, tears and frustration.

What are your tips for helping your child enjoy visitors?

Lovebug’s New Toys

We did a great job at keeping it simple for Lovebug this year, and she ended up with some great things!

We filled her stocking with sensory appropriate goodies, and she loved them all!  Dye-Free bubble bath, stickers, chew toys (oral needs), a new vibrating toothbrush, some organic yogurt covered raisins, and an apple.

Other than the stocking, she received ONE gift from us.  Just one. A $10 LEGO set.  It was the one thing she told me over and over that she wanted.

I don’t know what about it she found so interesting, but she had been talking about it for weeks!  I was going to order it online, but it was backordered, so I took a chance and went to the LEGO store at a local mall.  I got the last one!!!  Praise the Lord!  I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t find it.  It was the one thing she was fixated on.

Needless to say, she was THRILLED Christmas morning.

From the grandparents, the LEGOs kept coming, and she couldn’t have been happier!  She is so excited about her new obsession and I’m just starting to think about how we are going to store all of these.

My parents got her a set of minifigures.  She loves the Lego people, and she almost drooled when she saw this set in the store.  I promptly told her to save up her money because I wasn’t buying it (I’m a mean, cheap Mommy!).  She was happily surprised when she opened this!


Hubby’s mom got the Star Wars LEGOS for our whole family, and I wish I had a picture of her excited face when she opened this.  She hasn’t seen the movie yet, but she’s fascinated with Star Wars because she has all of Daddy’s action figures from when he was a kid.  She has a ball playing with them.  We will have so much fun working on these together, especially Daddy & Daughter!! I love them too, but it’s precious to see them working together on them.  Daddy knows all the characters and Lovebug just eats it up listening to him explaining which ones are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys.

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Other than that, she got BOOKS from both grandparents.  She also got spending money from Granny, which she spent today at Half Price Books.  She made some great choices, and got the best bang for her buck I think!  She loves to read, so she’s just loving it!

Nice and simple.  Legos and books.  It was so nice to see her get things she liked, but also to keep it simple enough that she had lots of time to play with her new toys without being overwhelmed with too many.  She’s already logged hours reading books and playing with Legos, and we will enjoy these things for years to come!

Hubby and I didn’t give each other anything this year.  We were being frugal, and we ended up doing a lot of charity giving instead.  We both decided that while we definitely plan on continuing the charitable giving each year, it’s also fun to pick out a small gift for each other, and to work with Lovebug to make the other parent something like we did last year.  So, we’ll probably bring that back.  Even with a $10 limit or so, it’s fun to give the other person something to open too.  There can be a happy balance.

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect

“Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect” by Richard H. Schneider is a sweet tale of generosity, compassion, selflessness, and love.

I recently picked up this book from our church library.  The title caught my eye because my 6 year old daughter is a perfectionist and I’m always looking for ways to relate to her that no one except God is perfect, and that she doesn’t have to be.

This is a beautiful story!  All of the trees in the evergreen forest want to be the perfect tree in order to have the honor of being chosen by the Queen.  They need to have the best shape, perfect branches, and no gaps.  One small pine wants the same of course, and had worked hard to be the best it could be, but ends up sacrifices its perfect shape and the possibility to earn a place of prestige in order to help others.

Small Pine provided a hiding place for a rabbit being chased by wild dogs, cover for a mother bird lost in the storm,  and nourishment for a hungry young fawn separated from his mother.  In return, the pine received drooping and ragged branches with gaps in between.

Feeling that it had no hope of being chosen by the Queen, the young pine was surprised when the Queen recognized its flaws and knew the sacrifice that had been made, so she choose that tree to take home.

To be sure, it is an example of putting others before ourselves, but it is also a lesson that God uses the things we consider flaws to provide blessings to others.  I love that this story teaches that kindness to others is better than trying to gain glory for ourselves.  Putting others first is something that we know God wants us to do, but can also be hard to life out practically.  This teaches children that they will be rewarded for putting others first, just as we know we will be rewarded in Heaven for our love of others on Earth.

My eyes teared up as I read the last page of the book where it says, “For, as have many of us, the trees have learned that living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful in the eyes of God.”

I will absolutely be purchasing our own copy of this book and I look forward to reading it to my daughter for years and years to come!  This is definitely a keeper for generations to come.

You can purchase this book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or

The ADVENTure of Christmas

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I was so excited to see The ADVENTure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Whelchel on the shelf at my church library! I love Lisa Whelchel’s books and this was no exception!  For those of you thinking, “I’ve heard that name before….” – YES! She played Blair on the Facts of Life in the 80′s!

This is a book that you should pack with your Thanksgiving decorations so you make sure to get it out on time!  For each of the 24 days before Christmas, she gives us a fun way to learn the significance behind our favorite Christmas traditions.  For each of these customs, she provides historical information written in a kid-friendly, easy to understand manner, along with a craft or recipe to help make the point.  Your family will love learning the traditions behind the Christmas Tree, The Candy Cane, Christmas Cards, Angels, Caroling, and more.

When learning about the tradition of putting Lights On The Tree, you can follow her recipe to make a Christmas Tree Cake with Flaming Stars. Doesn’t that sound fun? You get to light sugar cubes on fire!  Or you can do a Candy Cane Science Experiment as you learn the tradition behind this yummy candy.  As she talks about Angels, she tells you how to make an Angel out of your child’s hand and foot prints – sure to be a great gift for the grandparents. Another fun one I can’t wait to try is making a Hug Through the Mail. I think this will be perfect for sending to Daddy while he’s away from home.

I love that the activities & recipes are simple, and use easy-to-find supplies, but provide a lot of hands-on fun for all ages.  With just a little bit of preparation time, you will have fun, family activities to do all month,  She also includes “Teachable Moments” for each of the customs, providing thought provoking questions for the parents to ask the children, and suggestions of topics to discuss.   These would be great dinner time conversations, or sweet, quiet talks at bedtime.  The ADVENTure of Christmas will provide you with years and years of enjoyment as your family creates new traditions through the activities shared here.  I especially love that she incorporates her faith in God and the true meaning of the season, while also including the custom of Santa, and the traditions of wrapping, giving, & opening gifts.

The artwork provided by Jeannie Mooney in this book is just as amazing as the content! Beautifully drawn, colored pictures relating to each and every custom just draw you in, and will make it fun for your children to enjoy as well!

Since I didn’t have this book on December 1st, we’ll just have to jump in where we can! I can’t wait to try the Candy Cane Science Experiment, learn how to say “Merry Christmas” in Italian, or make a Crayon Candle.

This book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, LifeWay Christian Stores or

Low-tech, low-cost gifts that kids love!

I’ve seen several “Best Gift” lists already this year, and with Christmas quickly approaching I wanted to offer you one of my own.  I worked together with my daughter to put together our own list of Top 10 gifts.  This one is a little different though.  You will not find the latest fad gift or cartoon character on my list.  You will not have to camp out at 3:00 AM or wait for backorders to arrive.

What you will find:

* No assembly required

* No batteries, cords, or wires required (therefore, no headphones needed!)

* Suitable for big or little kids – as young as 1 or as old as teenagers for many of these items

* Each gift could be purchased for $10 or less (with one exception that is $25 or less)

* Toys can be played with alone, or with friends

* Toys that encourage creativity, imagination & physical activity

* Receiving duplicates of these gifts is not a problem

Could these really be things kids would like? Not only would they like them, I dare say these are some all-time favorites of most kids! These are things that won’t just end up in the next garage sale after playing with them twice. 

I know for my 6 year old daughter, the things on this list are always winners!  We’ve had some great gifts given to her in the past, but so often they get played with a couple times and then she goes right back to her old favorites.  Sure, the new toys are great for a few hours because they are new, but soon they are forgotten or become uninteresting.  This has happened multiple times over the past couple years.  I really don’t know why we ever steer away from this list because these are the things that she will ALWAYS play with.  She doesn’t outgrow them, they don’t become unpopular, they don’t wear out or get annoying.

I love the toys on this list because they are simple, frugal, & fun.  I like toys that will last and be played with again and again. 

We try to keep “batteries required” items to a minimum for a few reasons – 1) It stifles their creativity when they no longer have to say “Choo-Choo!” as they push the train because it does it all for them.  2) Too many noises, buttons & lights can easily lead to over stimulation – both for her and for me!  3) I don’t like to spend money on batteries if I can avoid it. 

Let me present you with our Top 10 Best Toys Ever!

1. Balls – Huge bouncy balls or ball pit balls for the smallest kids. Tiny super bouncy balls for bigger kids.  Sports balls, light up balls, sensory balls, tennis balls, golf balls – an endless supply of choices.

2. Stuffed animals – These are good for girls or boys, and I know many kids well into their teens that still enjoy stuffed animals.  Think beyond the teddy bear! There are farm animals, ocean animals, snakes, lizards, bugs, kitties, puppies – you name it!

3. Blocks or Legos – Wooden blocks, alphabet blocks, or Mega Blocks are great for the younger kids.  Legos are awesome for preschool up to adults.  You can get small, simple kits to put together or huge sophisticated structures that take multiple days to put together.  This is the option that is more expensive, and can go up into the hundreds of dollars if desired.  However, there are many, many options available in the $25 and under range that could satisfy most kids.

4. Playdough, Silly Putty or (my favorite) Model Magic – Soft, squishy, stretchy, moldable!  Who doesn’t like pressing Silly Putty on the Sunday comics to see it transfer onto the plastic material.  If you haven’t done that lately, you should!  These choices are great sensory input as well as a creative outlet.  If you don’t like the mess of Playdough, do it outside!  Or switch to my favorite – Model Magic.  No crumbs, no mess! It’s awesome! You can let your creations air dry and keep them forever, or store the dough to reuse.

5. Crayons, paper, & stickers, or for the more sophisticated artist you could use pastels, colored pencils, or watercolor pencils and a sketch pad.   Consumable gifts are a huge favorite of mine.  We can never have too much of these things because they get used daily!  For older kids, cute colored pens & cute notebooks could substitute for the crayons.

6. Books – Board books for the babies, early readers or storybooks for the young kids, or chapter books for the experienced readers.  You will not run out of book options, even year after year.  If you don’t want to risk duplicating something they already own, go with a gift card to a bookstore and they are sure to find something they like.

7. Cars – These are better for ages 3 and up, but Hot Wheels style cars seem to be a hit for boys & girls.  We have quite the stash of them at home.  No track needed, just set a box lid with one end on the floor and the other on the sofa for an instant racing track.  Place 2 cars at the top and let go!  These travel easy in the car or a backpack and are great for playing alone or with a friend.

8. Recycleables – cardboard boxes, empty peanut butter or mayo jars, egg cartons, etc.  We keep a huge box in one room that we fill with these treasures.  We build cities, playgrounds, animal shelters, race tracks!  Add some paper, scissors, tape, and markers to create anything you can imagine, while also conserving resources.  When it breaks, or someone loses interest, there is no guilt in tossing it in the trash.

9. Sand & Garden toys – shovels, buckets, rakes, gloves.  Little ones could play for hours in the sand or digging under a tree. Older kids like to help their parents in the yard, or could take care of their own herb garden.

10. Sidewalk Chalk – a long time favorite! Can be used for handwriting practice, an impromptu game of hopscotch or tic-tac-toe, drawing huge murals on the fence, or decorating the front sidewalk for a holiday.  Easy clean up with a water hose (or rain!), travels easily to the park, and is easy to share with friends that want to join in.  We recently took some to a local parade and the kids had a blast decorating the street while waiting for the parade to start.  Young and old joined in the fun!  Sidewalk paint is also a similar option, but without the travel simplicity.

I hope you’ll consider some of these “old fashioned” toys this year for the children on your list! 

What are some of your low-tech, low-cost favorites?