Creative Building Block Ideas for Kids

We love LEGO bricks, they love LEGO bricks, but sometimes you want your budding builders to try something new. Getting creative with at-home or easy-to-find materials can be just as easy as LEGO and we promise, just as fun. So ditch the blocks, just for the day, and get busy with marshmallows, cardboard and more. Read on for our 9 favorite ways think outside the blocks.

photo: Modern Parents Messy Kids

1. Use Your Extra Newspapers
Got a stack of newspapers lying around, ready to be recycled? Don’t toss them yet! This genius idea from Modern Parents Messy Kids uses rolled-up newspaper to create geometric forts. Drape a blanket over the top and it’s an instant hideout. Get the super-easy instructions here.

photo: Hungry Happenings

2. Graham Cracker Houses
It’s the holiday season, which means gingerbread houses are in abundance. Break out the graham crackers and let your little architects have a yummy good time with this adorable (and delicious!) idea, courtesy of Hungry Happenings.

shoebox blocksphoto: the stay-at-home-mom survival guide

3. Shoebox Blocks
Here’s a great excuse to buy more shoes: Turns out, shoeboxes make great DIY jumbo building blocks! All you need is a little wrapping paper, tape, and a big batch of boxes. Get the details from the stay-at-home-mom survival guide.

kids with giant lincoln logsphoto: Bob Scroggins at Instructables

4. Build a Log Cabin…without the Logs
Lincoln Logs are great and all, but it would take a whole lot of them to make something big enough to climb inside and get cozy. Why not jumbo-size your logs with this project, courtesy of Bob Scroggins at Instructables. Note: Mom and Dad are going to have to get in on the building; these giant cardboard logs (made from old carpet tubes) require a few hours of prep time—and a saw—to make.

Kids-Made-DIY-Toys-Building-Blocks-from-Recyclables-at-B-Inspired-Mama photo:  B-inspired Mama

5. One Man’s Trash Is a Little Builder’s Treasures
Turn your boxes, toilet paper rolls, and cans into building blocks— then recycle them when your kids are done building. Get the scoop from B-Inspired Mama.

photo: Melissa Heckscher

6. Cardboard Cut-Out Construction
Love cardboard box projects but don’t love the space the boxes take up in your house/yard/ garage? This project from Inner Child Fun uses only the flat sides of boxes to let your kids create three dimensional structures. That means, when all is said and built, you can stow all your building materials easily in a closet. Get the details here.

toothpick sculpturesphoto: The Artful Parent

7. Toothpick Towers
Got a box of toothpicks? Stick them into a marshmallow or gum drop, or cheese cube—you get the idea—and get ready to make skyscrapers. Get some inspiration from artist and author Jean Van’t Hul at The Artful Parent

Parental note: If your tots are too small for toothpicks, you can do the same thing with pretzel sticks. Get some examples here.

photo: Melissa Hecksher 

8. Sponge It Up
Who says your little builders have to give it a rest when they’re in the tub? A few packs of colorful sponges and your kids have a new set of water-friendly blocks. Whether in the bath or out — these super-soft shapes are especially good for little ones who love to throw their stuff at unsuspecting siblings. Mother-of-two, Valerie Deneen, shares some tips at Inner Child Fun.

cardboard-petstorephoto: Billy Brown via Youtube

9. Cardboard, Cardboard, Cardboard! 
What’s better than a cardboard box? A cardboard rocketship! Or elevator car! Or stuffed animal hotel (see the super-cool building featured above, with the kitty)! Get your boxes together and find all the ambitious building plans here.

Will you try any of these creative building materials? Share in a comment below.

—Melissa Heckscher

featured photo: Mitch via flickr 

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Vegetable Recipes that Kids Love

Good news: dinnertime battles over broccoli and beets are about to become a thing of the past. Below are our favorite veggie-ful recipes that we (and yes, we promise, our kids) love. From artichoke pie to quinoa-stuffed zucchini, these easy veggie-centric recipes will have you breathing a sigh of relief that your kids are now getting the vitamins and nutrients they need. Click through the slideshow to get meal planning!

Black Bean Falafel Sandwich

If your kiddos haven’t discovered the awesomeness that is a pita pocket, then it’s high time they tried this new spin on the traditional falafel sandwich. Using black beans instead of chickpeas and topped with smooth avocado and stuffed into a whole wheat pita, this is one sandwich your kids will gobble up in no time. Click here to get the recipe.

photo: Daniel Means via Flickr

Leave us some ideas in the comment section below telling us your favorite veggie-ful recipes.

—Erin Lem and Susie Foresman

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Best Movies to Watch with Your Family

Picking the perfect movie night flick (one that everyone will sit mostly still through) is no easy task, especially if you have a comedy lover, a fairy follower, a suspense seeker, and a superhero admirer in the same family. But, we think we’ve cracked the code. From the classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original version!) to new witty, animated films like Zootopia, we’ve rounded up 19 family flicks that make staying in the perfect Friday night plan.


It’s a hard-knocked life! Everything about this movie brings you right back to 1982. The overwhelmed and over-served Mrs. Hannigan (played by Carol Burnett), Annie’s spunky red hair, and of course Daddy Warbucks. The movie based on the Broadway musical is a classic rags to riches story that every kid should see once and every parent can watch again and again.

Photo credit: IMBD

What’s your favorite movie to watch with the family? Share with us in a Comment below!

— Ayren Jackson-Cannady and Aimee Della Bitta

Feature photo: Personal Creations via Flickr

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Apps to Help You Organize

While there are plenty of all-in-one personal organization apps out there, few can match the simplicity, flexibility and visual appeal of Awesome Note 2. Building off the success of its nearly-as-awesome predecessor, the latest edition of this useful app features integrated note and schedule management that lets you add photos, voice recordings and even drawings to calendar events. Syncing via iCloud provides seamless access across multiple iOS devices and sharing notes via AirDrop is a nice, ingenious function that you never knew you needed. Whether you’re planning your next summer getaway or keeping tabs on the kids’ summer camp schedules, Awesome Notes 2 makes it easy.

$3.99 for iOS

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Water Games for Summer Birthday Parties

Ice cream? Check! Cake? Oh yeah. Now all you need for your summertime party are a few good water games to keep the outdoor games in cool-down mode. Read on for our favorite dozen games to bring out the child in everyone.

photo: Stephen Depolo via Flickr

Get ‘Em Wet with Water Balloons

A note about water balloons: they are fun as can be but please be sure to clean up your little pieces: they can be choking hazards for little birds. Have a few prizes as incentive to get kids in on a quick clean-up.

1. Water Balloon Basketball

This easy game is a slam dunk for any age, because all petite partiers need to do is point and shoot a squishy water balloon into a larger-than-regulation-sized hoop. To get the game started, have the birthday boy or girl hold a hula-hoop tummy level, the way you carry a laundry basket. Then line up mini guests for a turn to score two points. After each tiny baller sinks a splat-worthy shot, trade out the positions so everyone gets a turn. They shoot, they score on this one!

water balloon pinatasphoto: Shelley Massey

2. Water Balloon Piñata
Bye-bye piñata loaded with sugary sweets and playful trinkets; hello suspended deluge! String up an array of colorful water balloons in the yard (over a tree, from the swing set) to serve as the party piñata. Line up the Littles, bursting with excitement to try this creative alternative, and let each one take a swing in turn, with a plastic bat, or even a wrapping paper tube, in the hopes of hitting the delicate target, and letting loose the wild waterfall. Blindfolded or not, this is one guaranteed way to get wet! 

3. Water Balloon Towel Toss
Bust out beach towels for this easy-to-run toss game that’s a little like tennis, but without the net or the racquets. Kiddos play in teams of four, where each pair holds a beach towel gently between them, with a little bit of slack. The goal? To toss the balloon back and forth between two blankets without letting it drop… as many times as you can. The team with the most consecutive bounces (we’re betting they’ll be the driest of the bunch too!) wins!

Water balloons in buckt eflon Flickr CCphoto: Eflon via Flickr

4. Water Balloon Pop!
Silly party games are always a hit with the tot lot; they’ll clock plenty of giggle mileage when they play this fast-paced game. Break your group into two teams, each with a heaping bucket of fully-loaded water balloons. When you say go, one member from each team grabs a balloon, races down the yard and tries to pop it with his or her body (think stomping, sitting, or even laying on it!). Guarantee a dousing by making petite partiers break balloons on a chair, or, let the ground take the brunt of the splash. Once the balloon is popped, it’s back to the start to tag the next kiddo. On your mark, get set, go!

Boy with squirt gun Dan Zen on flickr CCphoto: Dan Zen via Flickr 

Soak ‘Em with Squirt Guns


5. Balloon Shooting Range
For this game, think carnival shooting range—floating balloons being used as target practice. For the set up you’ll need lots of helium balloons, and weights that are strong enough to hold the balloons in place when they take direct hits. Spread the targets out on the playing field. Three rows—each a different height and different distance from the shooting line—works well. Then, have kidlets step right up and take their best shot; each time they get a hit, they get a prize. We love using this game at the end of the party as a way for kiddos to “win” their party loot. Bullseye!

6. Squirt Gun Soccer
You should probably start stockpiling super soakers for this one. Little athletes will get a kic…er… have a blast with this no-kick version of soccer that trades feet for squirt guns, and traditional soccer balls for a lighter-than-air beach ball. To start this wannabe match, break the party group into two teams, and arm each player with a fully loaded squirt gun. They’ll use the stream to move the ball around the field as they try to score (or block) a goal. Set up sports cones at either end of the field so they know where to aim, and then it’s time to play. Go team! 

All for the Boys blog water cup racesphoto: All For The Boys 

7. Cup Races
Think NCAA tourney when you whip out cup races at the party. All the tiny guests will get a chance to work their way through the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight for a shot at the big time—the Final Four—as they compete head-to-head, racing plastic cups down a string, using squirt guns. Allison spells out the set up and racing deets at her blog, All for the Boys so you can run the races like a pro.

Splat ‘Em with Sponge Balls

8. DIY Soakers
Just say no to broken water balloon bits littering the yard; use sponge balls instead! Just as throwable, just as drenchable, this soft alternative won’t leave behind a colorful mess for you to pick up when the party’s over. Aimee at It’s Overflowing has the DIY know-how you need in order to make your own colorful soakers for the big bash.

spongeballs_jenniferfeuchter_summerbirthdaygames_redtricyclephoto: Jennifer Fuechter via flickr

9. Sponge Ball Relay
Wring the energy out of your party animals post-cake sugar high with a simple sponge ball relay race. Divide your group into two teams, then set up two empty buckets on one end of the yard, one for each team. Place another two buckets, full of water and sopping wet sponge balls, on the opposite end. When the whistle blows, one player from each team grabs a soaked sponge, runs it lickety-split to the empty bucket and wrings out as much water as he or she can before running back to tag the next player. It’s easy to play this one with a time limit—the team with the fullest bucket wins! Or, until one team’s bucket spills over in victory.

10. Sponge Ball Toss
Got buckets? Then you’ve got all you need for a tot lot sponge ball toss at your bash. Line the kidlets up facing each other a couple feet apart, in two straight lines, Madeline style. One holds a bucket, the other a sopping wet sponge ball. The object? To toss the sponge ball into the bucket. The catch? With each successful toss, the bucket holder takes a step back. It’s a toss till you miss kind of game, then you know it’s time to switch places. The prize? Soaking in the fun of it all.

What’s your favorite water game to play at parties? Tell us about it in a comment.

—Allison Sutcliffe

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The Top Page-Turners from BookExpo 2017

We poked our noses into the latest reads for kids at Book Expo2017 and couldn’t be more excited. Our list of must-haves includes big anniversaries, celeb authors, and bold new protagonists. Scroll down to see what caught our eye.

Anniversaries Galore

Little Golden Book is 75 in 2017! The iconic series has a year-long celebration lined up, including a nationwide bus, author tours, events at bookstores, and more. Check out for the details.  

The Boxcar Children series also turns 75 this year. In honor of the anniversary, your little readers can join the Alden kids for more thrilling adventures in a new mini-series that’ll take the sibs to all seven continents. You can buy the first in the series of five books on Amazon now. There’s a movie coming out this fall and, as if that’s not enough, there’s a fully illustrated edition of the first book coming out in November. More info can be found at

Where’s Waldo is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year, and they have a special 30th Anniversary edition out. 

Candlewick Press is celebrating its 25th Anniversary with the launch of My First Book Club, which will feature books geared towards early readers and aims to ignite a lifetime of loving to read.

Disabilities Are Mainstream

Books about kiddos with disabilities were plentiful, and it was great to see how inclusive authors are trying to be with new books.We loved the new series Celebrate! from MVPKids, in which 16 characters (either with a disability or have a sibling with one) are featured in nearly a dozen books celebrating different traditions and cultures in everyday settings. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus comes out in September and features not one, but two lead characters with disabilities. The main character was born without arms and soon discovers her biggest challenges are those she gives herself. A must-read for middle graders in your life!

Celebrity Authors

Savannah Guthrie showed off her new book, Princesses Wear Pants, to show little girls everywhere that dresses, sparkles and ruffles don’t have to reign supreme in their closet. Isla Fisher’s new book, Marge in Charge, was inspired by the bedtime stories she makes up for her kids at night about a mischievous babysitter with rainbow-colored hair.

Other Reads That Caught Our Eye

Our Indie Favorite
The Adventures of Cloud Girl is a new independent book from two first-time authors. We were charmed by not only the refreshing way the story encourages the use of imagination but the lovely illustrations, too.The protagonist of the book (Susie) wants a pet but instead, adopts a cloud and names it Fluffy. Susie realizes Fluffy can become anything she wants it to be as it shifts shapes. This is is a bookshelf must.

The Book Written by the Author of Your Favorite Beach Read
In 2016, Jennifer Weiner (author of Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, etc.) started a kids’ series called The Littlest Bigfoot. The sequel, Little Bigfoot, Big City, comes out in October 2017.

The Most Buzzed-About Book
The Wonderling is a book about a one-eared, fox-like animal with a desperate desire to belong. It’s a debut novel from a new author, and it’s already been picked up by a movie studio, so you know it’s good. It will be released in September.

Everyone’s favorite childhood dentist office magazine is not only still around (and awesome), but it’s launching a whole new line of educational books to make learning fun and help kids succeed in school. And the books are amazing—lots of pictures, color pages, fun activities. The Big Fun Pre-School Activity Book was a favorite.

The Best British Book
Lucky for everyone on this side of the pond, after a video of Tom Hardy reading a copy of You Must Bring a Hat! went viral last year, the adorable book from the U.K. was finally picked up for distribution in the U.S. It comes out in August 2017 and is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

Which new book are you most excited about? Share with us in a Comment below!

— Jennifer Silverstein with Gabby Cullen

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Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD)

Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD)

Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District serves more than 220,000 residents in the Beaverton metro area. Since 1955, the Park District has provided family-oriented programs and activities that promote health, wellness, life enrichment, and personal development.

THPRD provides unparalleled opportunities for indoor/outdoor fun, fitness and year-round activity. Team sports, swimming, tennis, camps, after school care, and nature education are just a few of the many programs that keep young ones entertained at THPRD’s well-maintained parks and facilities.

The district serves kids (and adults, too!) with recreational leagues in baseball, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball and other sports.  If team sports isn’t your game, choose from among hundreds of fun, engaging classes posted in the quarterly Activities Guide or check out the annual Summer Camp Guide.

Spanning 50 square miles, THPRD has a vast array of facilities, including the historic Jenkins Estate, 3 recreations centers, 8 pools, a senior center, and two 200+ acre natural areas.

Cooper Mountain Nature Park and Tualatin Hills Nature Park provide miles of paved trails among several distinct habitats. The Tualatin Hills Nature Park Interpretive Center offers nature-based pre- and post-school educational programs.

Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District connects people, parks and nature. With so many activities to discover – we didn’t even mention our summer concerts, special events and our annual Party in the Park – your family is guaranteed to be entertained year-round.

Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District
15707 SW Walker Road,
Beaverton, OR 97006
Phone: 503-645-6433

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5 New Podcasts to Try on Your Next Road Trip

Nothing says summer like hitting the road. But, if you’d rather donate a kidney than hear “are we there yet?” keep reading. With a spark of fun and a whole lot of inspiration, these new kid-friendly podcasts will keep your crew quiet and entertained, which means you might manage to get from point A to point B without hearing those dreaded four words. Scroll down to discover them all.

 photo: Jonathan McPherskesen via Flickr

1. The Candlewick Podcast
Have you ever wondered how a children’s book author comes up with all those creative ideas? Well, so did Candlewick Press. Their new podcast series pulls the curtain back and offers us an up-close and personal look at authors and illustrators. In an easy to listen to interview format, authors and illustrators share personal stories about their creative process, how they landed in the world of children’s publishing, and how they come up with unique concepts. This engaging podcast will capture your kiddos attention, and it might have you hooked too!

Hear it: on iTunes and Stitcher

2. Wow In The World
If you’re constantly listening to NPR, be prepared to jump up and down because NPR recently launched a podcast for kids. Wow In The World is chocked full of interesting topics like technology, human origins, and the answers to some pressing questions (like how astronauts poop in space). Not only is the show exciting and engaging for families, but it’s designed to get kids and grown-ups talking long after the podcast has ended. Now, that’s an idea that will make you say “Wow!”

Hear it: on iTunes and Stitcher

photo: Tim Samoff via Flickr

3. Stories Podcast
Hit download on this magical storytelling podcast and hear all the classics like Snow White and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, as well as unique stories from the author Daniel Hinds, about mermaids, dragons and more. With new episodes to play each week and dare we say, addicting series to return for, your kids will be totally hooked, We’re not making any promises here, but you may find yourself with some free time to sit back and relax or tackle your to-dos. And if you become obsessed like we did, be sure to check out the eBooks available for purchase on Stories Podcast’s website, and your kids can be happily following along with the story as it is read.

Hear it: on iTunes and Stitcher

twins and headphonesphoto: Eric Peacock via Flickr

4. Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child
Whether you’ve already got indie music-loving minis in your crew or if you’re desperately searching for kiddie tunes that won’t drive you totally nuts, Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child is a solid choice for listening ears of all ages. This family music show is produced and hosted by Bill Childs along with his own two kids, using studio quality sound played in weekly, hour-long sets. Your gang will love rockin’ to the best kindie bands around, like Dan Zanes, Caspar Babypants, and Recess Monkeys. They’ve even got some of our favorites including Ziggy Marley, The Replacements, Ella Fitzgerald and more.

Hear it: on iTunes and Stitcher

5. Sparkle Stories
Sparkle up! If you’re striving for a peaceful and relaxing road trip, calming tales from Sparkle Stories is a must. Storyteller and author David Sewell McCann tells original fables with moral twists (think realistic kids handling everyday issues like sibling rivalry) hidden deep enough in the narrative your little listeners won’t even know they’re learning. A handful of episodes can be heard from your favorite podcast app or purchase a $15 per month subscription from Sparkle Stories website and gain access to a library of over 900 titles (psst...they’ve even got their own app for Apple devices to make it easier for you to listen).

Hear on iTunes and Stitcher 

Do you and your kids have a favorite road trip podcast? Tell us which one in the Comments below.

— Meredith Mortensen,  Rachael Brandon, Shahrzad Warkentin

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