Friday, August 21

Great Two-Player Games (a.k.a. Games I Can Win Against My Husband)

My husband and I are competitive. No, make that VERY competitive. We play to win, and we talk "smack" (as the kids call it these days) all along the way.

But I usually lose, and I'm tired of it. We play tennis, he kills me. Golf, no contest. I get excited if I actually get to play a full hole out before I have to pick up my ball in humiliation because the next group is waiting to play through.

I don't fair much better at card and board games. I refuse to play chess with him any more. Really, it's just too painful. I even went so far as to check out a couple of strategy books from the library. Have you ever looked at one of those? My eyes glazed over in boredom before I learned even one combination. When I caught my husband perusing it, I promptly dumped it in the drop box at the library and declared I would never play him in chess again. Yep, I'm that mature.

So I've been on a quest to find games that I can actually have a chance of winning. See, I understand why my kids cry when they lose. I feel the exact same way after awhile. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but I do get frustrated. So I've been checking out different games for those evening hours after the kids are all tucked into bed and there's nothing on tv. Here are some games we found so far that lend themselves nicely to just two players (and that I can actually win once in awhile!):

1. Visual Eyes: I love this game! I think it is one of the most creative games on the market. You roll big picture dice. Then using the pictures, you try to create well known phrases and compound words. The pictures can mean different things to different people, making this game all the more interesting! For instance, a picture of a watch could mean time, watch, or clock. So a picture of a watch and a tall building could be used to form the idea "watch tower." It's hard to describe how cool this game is.

2. Goblet: This game is a twist on getting four in a row. Not only do you have to think about where to place your pieces to be the first to get four in a row, but you have to decide which size of piece to play. Some pieces can get "gobbled Up" when your opponent places a larger piece over yours! So you might be tempted to play your large pieces early on, but then you won't be able to gobble up your opponent later to block him or her.

3. Cosmic Cows: This game is the most unique dice game I've played by far! You line up cows in the middle of the board. Then you take turns rolling to see who can move the cows down their paths to the home zone first. It's harder than it sounds since you both keep moving the same cows back and forth on the board. And there is strategy to it, too. You have to decide when to advance a cow into your home zone or when to try to move one away from your opponent's home zone. Great fun, and the little cows are so darned fun to look at!

So I don't win every time, but these games at least give me a fighting chance. Try one and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, August 12

Are We There Yet?: Survival Tips for Traveling With Kids

"Are we there yet?" "How much longer?" After the excitement of loading up the car fades, and you're facing the reality of being stuck in the car for 8 hours on the highway, what do you do with the kids?

We thought we'd conquer this problem last year by borrowing our neighbor's portable dvd player system. It helped, I guess. But I didn't really like the extra noise of a movie playing, or trying to skip the movie back into place every time after a pit stop. And to be honest, the kids were tired of it pretty quickly, too.

So this year, we're taking a different approach. Yes, we're still borrowing the dvd player, but here are the three other things we're going to try to make the trip more fun for all of us.

1.) I made a map of a big mountain, and I cut out a car out of cardboard. The bottom on the left side of the hill is home, the bottom of the other side is our destination. The plan is to tape the car on a different spot each time we stop. This way, the kids will have a visual as to how much farther we have to go. When we're at the top of the mountain, we're halfway there!

2.) I'm making little goody bags for specific stops that I know we will make: crossing of a state line, getting to a major monument, etc. Each bag is marked with a child's name and the destination where we get to open it. Inside the bag are little fun things I know they like. I've put everything in there from Japanese puzzle erasers, to Smencils, to mini mandalas, to Calico Critters, to little sticker books, to a kaleidoscope--anything that I think will entertain them for a bit.

3.) I'm packing a box of toys that can be played with in the car. Here's what's in my toy arsenal so far:

- Magnetic dolls: boy and girl
- Find It!
- Moody Bear puzzles
- See and Spell
- Potholder Loom

I know that traveling with three kids will still be tiring and frustrating at times along the way, but I also know that I'll have fun ways to help us all cope. It also means we'll have easily portable activities to keep us busy inside the hotel room or grandma's on the inevitable rainy day. I hope it helps someone else out there, too.

Wednesday, August 5

Taming the Toy Beast: Getting Kids to Clean Up Their Toys (Win a Gift Certificate!)

I just survived the annual summer visit from my in-laws. I'm fortunate; I truly adore them. But it's stressful nonetheless. I stayed up late to scrub the house only to have the kids promptly destroy it within an hour once they started playing. The living room floor quickly became Playmobil land, and the kitchen table was covered in zoomorphs.

Which brings me to this week's topic: cleaning up the toys. It can be a daily battle in our house. I try to allow enough mess-making for the kids to be truly creative in their play, while keeping enough rules in place so the house doesn't become a giant toy pit. But it's a struggle. And as embarrassed as I am to admit this fact publicly, I have threatened to throw toys in the garbage after stepping on a castle figure in bare feet.

Such threats often just get me pleading sobs, rather than the cooperation that I'm really after, though. Also, let's face it. If I throw away their toys or give them away to charity, I'm just going to be out at some point buying replacements. Not a good plan. No, I just want to keep the toys under control so I can vacuum without first spending two hours putting everything away. I want the kids to happily put their toys away without a single request from me. Sigh. A mom can dream, right?

I've tried putting toys in boxes and rotating every few months which boxes are available for play. This failed for us because the kids would always want (or in their words, need) one specific item from a box that wasn't due back out for another month. I never knew what the right answer was in these situations. If I said no, often the play stopped and many tears were shed. If I said yes, then they wanted another box and another box until all boxes were down. Even when the rotation method "worked," it didn't work. As soon as the boxes that had been stored for a bit were put back in the play room, they were suddenly greeted as "new" toys that all had to be dumped at once like on Christmas morning. I really wanted to scream.

We have finally figured out some better storage options that work for us. For instance, I bought plastic see-through containers with snapping lids. The kids can see what goes in each bin. So when I ask them to pick up their toys, they know where they go. The bins also stack neatly inside their closets and on the playroom shelves, so space is conserved.

But that is only part of the solution in taming the toy beast, as any parent knows. We still face the difficulty of getting the kids to put toys in the buckets. I won't bore you with all the bad things I've tried to get my kids to pitch in; I'll just share one trick that has worked really well for us, and beg for others to chime in with techniques that work for them.

Okay, so here is mine. I decided I had to try to make cleaning up fun. So I got the kids these robot grabber hands. Somehow, it's more fun to pick up toys with these than with your bare hands. I lined up the bins for the toys that were left out, I handed each kid a hand, and we raced to see who filled up his or her bin first. It really worked, and it continues to work on the days that chores just seem too daunting to my little ones. I think it helps them to know one specific task at a time (e.g. pick up all the Groovy girls and put them in this bin), instead of just telling them to clean up their toys, as well. We use our grabber hands to pick up dirty laundry, clean sticks out of the yard, put stuffed animals in the top bunk, just about anything we can think of. It's been a great addition to chore time!

I know there are other fun, creative ways to help get kids to clean up around the house. I'd love to hear yours! In fact, I will give the 5 best tips submitted to me between now and next Sunday (Aug. 15, 2009) a $5.00 gift certificate to use at one of our stores! Not a coupon, no minimum purchase required, just a straight $5.00 gift certificate! You could use it to get your very own robot grabber hand if you wanted! Simply post it, and I'll announce next week the winners out of all the comments.

So let's hear your ideas!