Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Game of the Month: eeBoo's Pre-school Lotto Game

Welcome back to our Game of the Month series! We absolutely love board games and play them often. Our kids share our love of games and this series is meant to share with our readers our favorite games. Our hope is to help you find awesome board games for your children. We will go over who makes the game, how the game is played, and our favorite features of the game. We also include any hiccups we may have had along the way, as far as rules go and young children being able to follow them. If that's the case, we will share the modifications or rule changes we have made for the game so that younger children can play with their older siblings.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

This month we are featuring eeBoo's Preschool Lotto Game! eeBoo makes some of our favorite games and we picked this one up for Christmas. We own a handful of other games made by eeBoo and they are always at the top of our list when we are choosing a new game to add to our collection. eeBoo is a boutique manufacturer of well-made educational toys and games. They are 100% original and feature beautiful illustrations and unique art! eeBoo's products are wonderful for promoting literacy, story telling, drawing, imaginative play and basic math skills. Many of their products have won Oppenheim Best Toy Awards, including the Lotto Game!

eeBoo's Lotto Game is great for children ages 3 and up. A 2 year old who is familiar with matching activities may be ready for this game. We have a stack of other matching games, but they are only tile games. We love that this game comes with a cards for the tiles, which is ideal for younger children to practice their matching and recognition skills. This way they aren't trying to match two random tiles in a pile. It's a wonderful beginner game and there are many ways to play!

The game can be played by 2-6 children, but honestly you can use it for solo games too. The game comes with 6 different picture cards and tiles to match each card. Each card has a set of 6 pictures on it (themes include: fruits and vegetables, toys, vehicles, farm animals, jungle animals, and pets). The cards and tiles are color coded for easy sorting (this will also help younger children recognize the groups). 

How to Play

1 - Select a Lotto Card. Players can choose at random or pick one they prefer. 

2 - Tiles are placed face down and in reach of all the players. Use the tiles that match the cards being used. For added difficulty, use extra tiles from the unused cards. 

3 - The youngest player goes first and selects a tile.

4 - If the tile you chose matches your card, you may place it on your card, otherwise place it back face-down in the spot you picked it up from. If you are playing with younger children and their first tile does not match, they can choose a second tile. Show each unmatched tile to the other players before returning it face down to the table.

5 - The player on your left goes next. They choose a tile and either match it to their card or show it to the other players and returns it. 

6 - Play the game until one child fills up their entire card. They can then call out, "Lotto!" (My kids usually just say, "I'm done!" or "I win!")


- Early learning concepts that promote family interaction and fun.
- Visual discrimination to match tiles to Lotto cards. 
- Critical categorization skills - evaluate whether their chosen tile matches the theme of their Lotto card. 
- Keeping track of the tiles replaced - remembering the location helps build their memory skills.
- Social skills - taking turns, experiencing winning and losing in a supportive environment. 

eeBoo's suggestions on adding more elements to the Lotto Game:

- At the end of the game, ask the player's to name a few other things that could have matched the theme of their card. Example: fruits and vegetables - broccoli, banana, apple. 
-  Ask the players to explain why they are returning a tile to the pile. Example: it does not match the theme, the color does not match, the animal does not belong with this group, etc.
- Tell a short story after the game using all the tiles on one card as objects or characters in a story. 

These are wonderful way to promote social and literacy skills in a fun, gaming environment!

In particular, we love how durable the tiles are. They are made out of thick cardboard and I don't have to worry about a toddler picking them up (unless it's to put them in their mouth - I wouldn't suggest allowing that). The tiles and cards are bright, glossy and sturdy. They are easy to pick up and the box is pretty compact. I love that the box isn't huge and there's only a small amount of extra space inside (great for people who already own a ton of games and need to fit them on the shelf somehow). The box is also sturdy and opens slowly, so if a child is carrying the box, it's very unlikely that the button will fall out and scatter the pieces everywhere. Overall, it's a wonderfully designed game and we really enjoy it. 

Here are a few ways we have used this game:

Pattern Making - Each row is treated as a pattern to match. The tiles are mixed up and placed face-up in reach. The child has to make the pattern below the card. 

Theme/Color Matching - Skip the cards and just play with the tiles. Each child can choose a color and practice matching the other tiles in their group. (Munchkin will often use all of the tiles and line up each color in rows. He will then name each tile and then count them, either by row or all of them.)

Solo Game - Played just like the regular game, except with only one player. Mix up the tiles and place them below the card face-down. Flip one tile up at a time and match them to the correct picture. You can make it harder and try to match them in order, meaning you'll have to remember where some tiles are.

When two players play, let them choose their cards (unless you're working on a particular theme). Flip over the matching tiles and mix them up. You can make it more difficult by adding in tiles from the other cards. 

My children prefer when the tiles are lined up. It's ok if some of the tiles aren't facing the right way. Younger children may end up turning them around a few times to find the correct way  to match their tiles.

See, those peas don't match either card. So now they know not to choose that tile!

This is a great game for toddlers and preschoolers! Kindergarteners may find it too easy, which is why I sometimes try to make it more difficult for Bean. Older children will likely prefer a tiles only game.

eeBoo has a bunch of lovely memory games to choose from, such as Life on Earth Memory GamePre-School Animal Memory GameeeBoo Number Memory GamePreschool Nature Memory Game, and I Never Forget a Face Memory Game, just to name a few!

I encourage you to check out eeBoo's shop and I hope you find unique games for your children!  Happy Gaming!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hydroponics at Home

Welcome to the A-Z Kids STEM Activities Series! Today I will be sharing a lesson on Hydroponics!

We first started learning about hydroponics last spring when my aunt gave us a cutting of a Dracaena house plant. She told us to leave it in a pot of water until it grew roots. This literally took months. As of now, the roots are only a few inches long. Over the summer we experimented with adding soil and discovered that it grew better with just water. That's when we decided to look into growing methods that omit soil.

We started by checking out Instructables and found that they did in fact have some suggestions for growing using the hydroponics method at home. Hydroponics is basically growing plants without the use of dirt or soil and replacing it with a nutrient rich water. If you like DIY projects and growing your own herbs and vegetables, but have a limited space (live in an apartment, have a small yard, etc.) this is a great method to try out!

If you'd like to learn more about hydroponics on a smaller level, I'd definitely suggest the AquaFarm from Back to the Roots. It's a fish tank that allows you to also grow six plants right above the tank. You could have a mini herb garden in your kitchen! The AquaFarm is a great example of a small scale aquaponics system, which is a food production process that combines aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics. The fish feed the plants and the plants clean the water. This closed-loop ecosystem is also a great way to learn about symbiotic relationships in an environment!

Wikipedia image of a hydroponics system.

Wikipedia image of an aquaponics system.

To start your own hydroponics growing system, you'll need to choose your plant (it will be harder to start from seed), a bucket and/or Net Cup, a medium (could be sand, Clay, Rockwool Cubes, or nothing at all), and a nutrient rich water source (like FloraGro Fertilizer). You can easily find these materials at Home Depot, local gardening stores or even online (Amazon has some decent deals). It will cost about $30 to buy all the basic materials to start a small hydroponics system. Hydroponically grown foods are said to taste better and are more nutritious. You can also control what goes into growing them and you'll pollute less, which is good for the environment!

The method we use is the static solution culture. We plan to expand on our project in the spring and create a garden outside using plastic tubs to grow herbs and vegetables. Currently we have green onions, celery and our Dracaena plant growing on our windowsill. We do not use a nutrient fertilizer, but we will once we set up the garden outside. The green onions and celery simply regrow every time they are cut (right above the bulb or 1-2 inches above the roots). We always buy organic vegetables that we plan to regrow in our windowsill. We replace the water at least once a week and clean the roots to make sure there is no algae growth or root rot. Too much water can actually damage the roots, so I always leave a small amount of the roots above the water to aerate them. Many people who use the hydroponics method at home use a bubbler system that aerates the water for them. We use a hand pump with a tube to add air to the water once or twice a day. The kids love helping! We only do this for the Dracaena plant.

Why do we learn about hydroponics at home? We are homeschoolers and enjoy learning about science in real life situations. Life science is especially fascinating to Bean and she likes reading books about plants and how they grow (her favorites are Science With Plants and How Flowers Grow). Hydroponics is relatively low maintenance (depending on the type of system you put together and how many plants you decide to grow) and is an easy way for children to learn about growing their own plants and food. We also feel that it is important to teach them how to care for plants at a young age so they will grow up knowing how to grow their own food.

We do not have many sunny windowsills in our house, so we reserve those for the vegetables and herbs. Our Dracaena does well in low sunlight. Bean wanted to be able to see the roots grow, so we chose a clear container. Unfortunately, our Dracaena is quite a heavy plant, so we had to use this sturdy glass litre mug.

We keep track of growth by measuring the roots, stems and leaves about once a week. If we are especially busy (like in December), we will skip the weekly checks and see what the end of the month shows. We track the growth using a calendar, noting the days that we change the water (we measure it when it is out of the water on a clean surface), along with the weather for the day. This helps us compare the growth, such as slower growth on cold weeks, and more growth on warmer, sunny weeks. This spring we will finally transition the Dracaena to a large planter. In the meantime we will continue to learn about hydroponics and try other techniques to see what system works best for us!

Be sure to visit Little Bins for Little Hands to find more posts in the A-Z Kids STEM Activities Series!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's to come in the New Year

My goal for this blog was originally to share our play activities, which I do, but not as often these days. I have found that many people prefer to see our felt crafts, so that is what I have focused on. I also share homeschool curriculum reviews for the TOS Crew, along with book reviews. And when I'm able, I still share a handful of learning activities, play activities or nerdy posts.

My goal for this year is to post many new felt crafts (including needle felting), more of my own crafts (like cross stitch projects), and some DIY projects.

What I'd like to know from our readers is what you would like to see more of or if you had specific ideas of projects you would like to see (one reader has asked to see a "my town" style play mat, which I am working on!). Feel free to leave your comments here or on our Facebook page!

Check out the New Listings in our Etsy Store!

If you are familiar with our Etsy store, you may have recognized some of our items! We are finally listing some of our most popular felt crafts on Etsy and they are completely made to order! That means that each order is custom made and unique - that's the awesome thing about handmade items! So head on over and check out our felt foods and felt play mats!

Soon to be available: felt cookies, felt bean bags (we will be offering children's names, lowercase alphabets, uppercase alphabets, and numbers), scented tea bags for pretend play, and hand warmers!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

10 Most Popular Posts from 2014

2014 has been a great year! Bean turned 4 in January (she'll be 5 next month!) and Munchkin turned 3 in August. We had a lovely year playing, crafting and learning together. I definitely devoted more time to making felt crafts, which my kids and our readers love! I also began writing reviews for the TOS Crew and Safari Ltd. - expect more from both this year! I also became an Independent Consultant for Usborne Books and More (check out our Online Store for awesome books!) and opened an Etsy store to sell our felt crafts. So if you ever see something on the blog and want it, contact us on Etsy and we'll create a custom order for you! We will also continue our Game of the Month series now that the crazy holiday season is over. In January we will be featuring eeBoo's Preschool Lotto Game! My top goal for 2014 is to make printables available for our felt crafts! (Hopefully this can be accomplished sooner, rather than later! Wish us luck!)

Here are our Most Popular Posts of 2014! And four honorable mentions, to round us out to 14! You'll notice that the majority of our popular posts are felt related... I guess I know what to focus on this year! So be on the look-out for more felt crafts this year, because there will be so many more to come!

Tetris-Inspired Felt Board - These Tetris pieces are simple to make and you can even use your collection of scrap felt! We love to use them for math and puzzle activities. They are great to take along on car rides, just bring a tray and a piece of felt to play with them on.

Here's a decent printable to make your own (scroll down to near the bottom, click on Tetris Designs - the first page has color Tetris pieces and the second page has blank Tetris pieces).

Felt Cookies - Felt cookies are so fun to make! Ok, I admit I am a nerd and I love to craft and hand sew, so yes, I do enjoy making them. But these were one of my favorite crafts to make this year, and now I make them as gifts for cousins and friends' children. They are great for pretend play activities and you can make them in all shapes and sizes. Design them anyway you like - chocolate or peanut butter, sugar cookie, frosted, etc. You can even add little stitches or beads for sprinkles. They are adorable! And also make really great color matching manipulatives for toddlers!

Felt Alphabet Bean Bags (lowercase) - I loved making these bean bags and I knew immediately that they were going to be used often. They are great for sensory play, and make spelling and reading activities more fun and relaxing.

Moon Phases Felt Board - At the start of last year, I began making more themed felt boards and incorporated them into our homeschool lessons. This felt board was really simple to make and was a great hands-on tool to learn about the phases of the moon.

DIY Train Table Play Mat - Roads - We love our train table, but sometimes we like to find new ways to play with it. That's why one day I covered the table in green felt and created some roads for it. The kids have been able to find more uses for the train table. Sadly I haven't gotten around to posting about the other train table pieces I have made since then. I made mountains, farm land, a camp site and lake/river area. Look forward to seeing it soon!

Solar System Felt Board - This is one of our favorite felt boards and we still use for space themed activities. It's fun to name the planets and order them. It can also be used in play scenes.

Frozen Sensory Small World Play - Easily a super fun activity for winter days. We can't wait to set one up tomorrow, now that we finally have some snow on the ground. All you need are some toys (we used a Frozen play set), a sensory bin and some snow. You could also use a snow-alternative.

How to Make a Felt Teepee - Here's a simple craft to help learn about Native American history. You can also use them in themed small worlds using Safari Ltd's Powhatan Indians TOOB.

Apple Picking Math Felt Board - Here is a super fun preschool math activity that helps to practice counting. It is a great way to create a game of learning addition and subtraction.

Exploring Space - We adore Safari Ltd. and had so much fun reviewing their educational space toys! We created hands-on learning activities about exploring space.

Honorable Mentions

Here are a few additional activities that were popular on the blog this year, but especially at home.

DIY Felt Sewing Shapes - Bean loves sitting and crafting with me, so I created a few hands-on learning tools that will help her practice sewing and stitching. These colorful felt shapes were made using a Mr. Printables pattern.

Marvel Characters Felt Board Pieces - Bean has about 200 Marvel felt board pieces (yeah, being a crazy, nerdy mom, I made a ton). There are plenty of characters to create unique stories and go on superhero adventures in Marvel City.

Little Blue Truck Felt Board - While Bean loves the Marvel characters, Munchkin adores his set of Little Blue Truck felt board pieces. He adores this book and has so much fun playing with the characters and creating his own unique stories. Great for storytelling activities and you can use the same process with basically any sticker.

Felt Uppercase Letter Bean Bags - We made uppercase letters (and numbers) to go with our lowercase letters. They are great for toddlers and preschoolers. You can use them as sensory manipulatives that promote literacy skills. You can practice ordering and spelling. You can also practice writing by tracing the letters with your finger.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Felt Play Mats

Whew! It has been a busy crafting season for us! But it was all worth it! I love when children open their gifts and are surprised to see what they find (not many people I know actually make gifts) and then create fun ways to play with them! So I am very excited to see how the children react to their presents. Here are some more of our felt play mats (you can see our last batch of felt play mats here).

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. 

The last few felt play mats you saw that were only half complete came together really well. For this dinosaur world play mat, I added a sort of mud slide/swamp/rocky area in one corner. I made this by layering brown felt, gradually getting smaller as they get closer to the top. I needle felted them in place (yes, you can needle felt sheets of felt!) and then sewed Fun Fur Lime Green Yarn around the edge. If I could change one thing, I wouldn't have sewn the yarn all the way around and simply stopped at the edge of the felt.

I wanted to add a volcano to this play mat, but I wanted it to be removable as well, so I did not sew or needle felt it to the play mat. I used the same pattern from our felt teepees, and just sewed completely up the edge, instead of cutting a hole for the door and leaving space for flaps. The stitches were on the inside, but you could still see the line. So I got out red, orange and yellow Wool Roving and my needle felting supplies (Dimensions Single Needle Felting Tool and Foam Block). Sadly I was too focused on making the lava flow that I completely forgot to take pictures! I needle felted the red right down into the top of the volcano, so you can see where it is spilling out. I'm still new to needle felting, so it probably looks terrible to experts, but my 4 year old cousin loved it!

These dinosaurs look right at home!

Best part about leaving the bottom open - letting dinos hide inside or poke their head out of the top!

Here is Bean's play mat. It turns out the first two play mats I made became their favorites and couldn't part with them. :) Bean requested that I add a cave to this one. I cut out an oval shape and cut it in half (using the other half for another cave) and needle felted the edges to the felt bottom.

Then I added brown wool roving around the edge and a mix of dark green and light green wool roving across the top of the cave.

The green wool roving wraps around the edge in some places and was needle felted to the top of the cave wall.

Bean loves it! She loves hoping her toys across the rocks, stopping at the flower patch (french knots using embroidery thread), taking a quick nap in the cave, or visiting the mossy area to take a sip at the fresh spring.

I also added some needle felted parts to Munchkin's felt play mat. There was already a patch of flowers, so I just added some green and brown around the base of the cave.

He loves that you can see through the cave! Little animals can escape out the back if a big, hungry animal walks by (his observation).

Probably the hardest felt play mat to design and make was the Frozen inspired one. I debated between making a scene from the coronation dance hall, but most of the movie was spent outside on a snowy mountain, so I went with the mountain.

I found a picture online and drew my inspiration from it. I added needle felted clouds around the mountain, which was a dark grey color. I cut out two snowy mountains in the distance. I needle felted two green trees with snow on them near the bottom of the grey mountain. I tried to layer the snow/mountains around the big grey mountain to make it look like it was more in the distance... Not really sure how I feel about it, but it looks fine enough. I basically wanted the characters to be able to stand on that slopping hill and be able to "look up" and see Elsa and the ice castle.

Last but not least I had to create the castle. I reallllly wanted to painted details to the castle, but I was afraid of messing it up, so I kept it a plain light blue. Glitter felt would have been awesome to use for the castle, but there was none available at any of my local craft stores. Oh well. I also made a handful of felt board stickers (laminate the sticker, cut around the edge, glue to a piece of felt and cut around the edge - ta da!) to go with this play mat. The characters were Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Sven, and Olaf. I made sure to choose an Elsa that was using her ice powers.

Next was the second Marvel City felt board. This one I focused on making big city buildings. I also decided to try using glue instead of sewing. Elmer's Craft Bond Glue works wonderfully on felt and it's the only glue I use for my felt crafts. I only wish the windows were more uniform, but at least they look like comic book style buildings. This felt play mat can also be rolled up (another great feature of the craft bond glue - it's flexible!).

I also made two new batches of felt board stickers (directions on how to make them). For this batch I used red felt for the good guys and blue felt for the bad guys.

You can store them in a ziploc, a lunchbox (we use a Spider-Man lunch box for hours - it's full to bursting!) or a small tray. Or use whatever type of container you typically use to store your felt board pieces.

Here's my progress on the other Marvel city felt play mat. I added a street, three buildings and some needle felted clouds. And yeah. That is an orange sun. It will soon be yellow, now that I've gone to the store and picked up three new packs of mixed wool roving. More colors = more options.

I sewed on all of the doors, and I needle felted Dr. Strange's window. I tried for a psychedelic look, and thankfully the mother of the child who will be receiving this got right away that this was meant to be Dr. Strange's place! Phew. The door knob is also needle felted. The buildings are all slightly tucked under the edge of the road. I will be adding grass trim along this edge, though I haven't yet.

S for strange!

Ignore the cooked egg in the sky. The heroes look right at home! You can see the other buildings in our last update. This play mat is still in the works, so I'll share it again in another post when it is finally finished. :)

I started on this play mat, originally going to make a forest with a road through it. 

And then I scrapped the road and added train tracks and the edge of a pond. 

I needle felted the tracks in place (so much faster than sewing!), and needle felted a grassy patch between the tracks and a sandy shore around the pond. 

These last two play mats were for a pair of sisters. They like animals, especially big cats and monkeys. I paired these play mats with Safari Ltd.'s Wild TOOB and Zoo Babies TOOB, though I had been hoping to find the Big Cats TOOB and Monkeys and Apes TOOB. Sadly I could not find them at any of our local stores. The Wild and Zoo Babies TOOB have monkeys and tigers in them though, so that's why I chose those two.

I used our own Safari Ltd. animals for the pictures, to show you the size. I based this felt play mat off the rivers in China, so hopefully the tigers will like it! I added the fun fur green yarn around the edge of the river for grass.

For the second play mat I added a smaller water area with a grass trim and a big open space for animals to move around.

Hopefully everyone enjoys their play mats! I actually still have 3 more to make for Christmas!