Sensory Play Ideas

By: Jenna Mahoney-Pierce


My husband purchased a book of activities for our daughter’s first birthday.  Being a daycare teacher, I love having a new ideas to bring to my classroom, and a girl can only use Pinterest for so long  The main reason he got this book is to be the one to come up with and plan activities for a change.  

I love how interested my husband is in creating new experiences for our little girl. He has been a hands-on dad every step of the way and he has acquired many new resources. This book is a wonderful example. It spans multiple stages of development and in most cases each activity has variations to accommodate multiple needs (whether its age, allergy, even down to what supplies you have in your home.)  

I am going to focus on the sensory activity we tried about a week and a half ago. My husband cannot wait for our daughter to play with doughs, clays etc. He loves being just as creative as I do and wants to give different creative outlets to our girl (we have been painting for a while now and want to mix things up. Due to a few variables (i.e. 1 year old puts things in mouth, and the supplies that we currently had in our house), we decided to make a variation of their Cloud Dough. It is taste safe and hopefully peaks her interest to play.

Taste-Safe Sugar Cookie Cloud Doughingredients

4 cups flour

2 Tablespoons cinnamon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Mix flour and cinnamon in a bowl

2) Mix oil and vanilla in a separate bowl

3) Combine oil mixture into flour mixture stirring/kneading

dough1The book notes a few things:dough2

The dough is moldable under pressure but should crumble

Reusable if kept in airtight container; if storing for additional play times check for signs of spoiling before use (mold, odor, etc)

My Personal Review:

The “dough” was more crumbly than anticipated. This could be due to the taste safe variation I used, vegetable oil instead of baby oil. My daughter tried it, so I call it a successful activity. She of course tried eating it after about ten minutes and even though it’s taste safe and smells amazing, consuming a handful would leave your mouth very dry…and yes I ddough3id try it.

 It can be put in molds for a “sand castle” appearance, which is what my husband ending up trying to do several times. 

 I did find the consistency better suited for making tracks with cars and texture balls, which is what my daughter and I stuck to doing. Easy clean up and after a week I am happy to report that this Mommy just checked the batch we made and it’s still “playable.” 


150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids: The Very Best and Easiest Playtime Activities from by Asia Citro, 2014

Summer Fun For Kids

By: Cassie Van Der Hyde


It’s nearly the end of the school year, somehow, despite the endless snow days that have accrued during this past weird winter. While my friends and coworkers are lamenting that they will soon have their kids home all day long and will have to keep them occupied all those hours, I always like to remind them that mine are home all day long… every day… all year. This is Real Homeschool Talk here! I could go on and on about finding extracurriculars and constructive activities to occupy my kids during the weekdays of the school year, but now that school is ending, all parents–public, private, and homeschooling–are in the same boat. We’re in this together, guys!

Let’s talk a little about beyond the playing outside in the yard, going to the park, summer sports leagues stuff, here.

Lowell Summer Series

                   Lowell Summer Music Series

During the sunny days, I’m going to be taking my kids to all the free stuff I possibly can. We are steadfast attendees of the Free Fun for Kids series that the Lowell Summer Music Series puts on twice a week in the mornings at Boarding House Park. Bring a donation if you want to and enjoy keeping your little gremlins busy with a craft, snacks, and a show. My kids look forward to this every summer, and while it’s mostly geared towards the younger set, even my nine year old has a lot of fun. On the inclement-weather days, they move it to the local high school auditorium, so don’t stay home and miss it if it seems a little too hot or a little too rainy outside.

Another mostly free fun thing we do is to check out the Junior Ranger programs at all the national parks in the area. We go to the indoor exhibits on the yucky days and outdoor ones on the sunny. Every program is different, and some are just workbooklets and a pencil that kids can use to earn a badge and be sworn in as a Junior Ranger, but they’re all fun. Our favorite local-ish program, so far, has been Saugus Iron Works. We were in the area to pick up some donuts at Kane’s (not free, but also highly recommended! Yum!!!) so we decided to make a pit stop and check it out. It was free and totally amazing! The kids got to sign out little backpacks full of ranger supplies like notepads, colored pencils, binoculars, and magnifying glasses and use them to answer questions and make observations about the wildlife at the park. I’ve never had such quiet, intensely focused kids as during those few hours there.

For the draggy rainy gross days, we make lots (and I mean lots) of library trips. Max out all your tax dollars, parents! There are so many free kids programs at the libraries. We love Pollard, Parker, Chelmsford, and Nevins! Some of them require a sign-up but many of the summer activities are drop-ins such as the reading olympics at the Parker Memorial Library. Kids read 15 minutes a day, get their little paper stamped, and pick out a prize every week. Super easy and sneaky-educational!  

Don’t waste away the summer listening to the kids telling you they’re bored and making endless trips to the same two playgrounds. Try something new, engage those little brains just a bit in the off-season, and maybe you’ll save your own sanity too!

Our Battle with Allergies and Asthma

By: Cyndy Muchine


Growing up in a tropical country was fun! BUT, the beautiful trees and flowers did not help when it came to allergies. I mean, I sneezed 24/7. My trip to the doctor’s office was a constant. He knew me by my name and diagnosis–funny huh?No, it was not. All my friends participated in all the sports.

I did not just battle allergies due to pollen, but asthma was the other culprit. I could not run a short distance without panting and wheezing and landing at the doctor’s office for a steroid shot! I hated allergies and worse off, asthma. I had no idea how long this would last in my system. I began tracking down my family history. I watched my family members only to realize that the one that carried the asthma gene was my father. He totally denied it, amidst coughs himself–funny man! I had a two very fantastic doctors and “my asthma” was fully contained.

I moved countries and the doctors that finally attended to me gasped and said, “How did you survive all this while? Let’s get you treated.” FYI, I now run and swim.

Life happened and I brought forth two children. Did I worry about passing the asthma/allergy gene down to them? YES! Well, my fears were true. Both kids developed asthma, but their reactions were so different. One was a wheezer and the other a hacker! I was a wheezer and hacker, great!

The doctors were kind enough to let me know that steroids and treatments were going to be the order of our lives. Seriously? No, I did not like that statement. I began seeking out home remedies. I recalled my mother using Vicks for everything. I became that mom, rubbing Vicks VapoRub on their chest and lower back. It did wonders. I steered away from the steroids, but some days the wheezing required them. Don’t forget, allergies were part of us too. I had no idea what food allergies they had. They had none, so I thought.

One fine day, my dearest son decided to hide a snickers bar from a party we’ had (I found out much later after going to hospital). He walked over, sat on the computer, and began throwing up. I had no idea what had happened, but quickly realized he had eaten something bad, right? Well, my son had limited speech at the time (Autism) and had no way of telling me what he had ingested. I took him to the shower, gave him a quick shower and that’s when it all went down hill fast. He began swelling; I began freaking out! I sent for Benadryl and then rushed to the emergency room. Thankfully, the hospital is literally behind our home. Nurses gave me the look of death and announced that he’d had an allergic reaction to something….OH! I remembered finding a snicker wrapper under my bed! Oh, you little sneaky child!injection_0

Fast forward, we have no peanuts/nuts in our home. Both my children have allergies to all nuts, environments, everything, and some fruits. My wheezer child found out after having a peanut butter sandwich and broke out in hives. She is really bummed because she wants to enjoy some nutritional bars but some have nuts. The only chocolate she can enjoy is KitKat and some Lindt chocolate.

Whenever we travel, we have to announce our allergy story lest we run into issues. But the good thing is, I have educated both my kids on their conditions. My son is more dramatic, and he tells his peers and teachers that “oh, if I touch peanuts I will die!!” We laugh so hard but that’s the literal child that he is, thank you Autism!

It is important for us as parents and educators–and the community as a whole–to be aware of allergies and their triggers. We walk around with epi-pens in case of emergency, but we have also learned to keep our home nut free and those around us have done the same for our sake. Let’s be sensitive to those around us. We all need each other.

Much love! Oh, I do not have allergies to nuts, so I often joke with my kids telling them, are you sure ya’ll belong to me? LOL!!!

Nuts and Bolts

By: Sue Anganes


Shop Girl!Whenever my husband has his shop door open, my granddaughter is by his side. She seems to have a natural interest in working with tools and enjoys hanging around and helping when things are being fabricated or repaired.

Last time when she came over she said, “It’s always a treat to see Papou working in his garage!” That really made my heart melt!

Sometimes she just hangs out and scavenges random old parts (shop treasures to her) and collects them in little baggies. Hanging out in my husband’s shop was never a boy’s only place. My husband is good at making sure that his granddaughter has as much opportunity to help in the shop as our grandsons have.Papou and Amelia enjoying her treasures

Back in the day, when my husband was my boyfriend and I was in my very early teens, I would spend hours with him helping while he repaired cars, radios, rebuilt motorcycle and car engines, and welded all kinds of stuff. I even became a ham radio operator at the age of fourteen because he inspired me to learn Morse Code and get my license. I helped him with his work and learned along the way, and I truly enjoyed it.

Passing on his interests to me was a bit odd back in the day; but hopefully, now we don’t limit what our girls become interested in. As a result of my early interests, I rebuilt the engine in my first car, studied electrical engineering in college, and am still known to swing a hammer, work on my own car, shingle a roof, and lay ceramic tile. Hopefully my granddaughter will continue to be a hands-on girl and learn some helpful skills in life that are often relegated to the boys.

Here’s to all the girls with grease under their nails!




My Sleep Training Challenges (and Resolution!)

By: Jillian


I have a son who cries when he’s tired rather than fall asleep. Sound familiar?

This infant is so resistant to sleeping that he has come up with creative ways to avoid nap time. For example, on multiple occasions  he waited until we did our nap time routine to have a huge poop. This pattern began when I started trying “cry it out,” Each time I tried letting him cry for 5 minutes, I’ve gone back into his room only to smell a dirty diaper. It’s like he waits to poop until nap time to get out of sleeping because he knows I’ll change him. Of course, if he didn’t also roll around on the changing pad while I tried to change him the process would not interfere with nap time. But he is so clever with escaping nap time that his skills have also included finding ways to escape being changed. I haven’t decided if this is a typical baby thing so if you Mamas struggle with dirty diapers at nap time and squirming at the changing table then maybe this is not just a clever little “my” baby trick! As I finished writing this my little one pooped and reset our bedtime routine! Babies…

bebe-3401066_1920So, strategy one–cry it out (CIO) isn’t for us at this time. When my son cries it is because he needs something–typically a diaper change! 

Our main hesitation to CIO is that our son  will scream for hours. He also keeps himself busy by standing up in his crib. I wonder if CIO would’ve been more successful if we started it before he was so mobile. 

Up until trying CIO we alternated between me nursing him to sleep and my husband using the 5 s’ from Dr. Karp’s “happiest baby on the block.” The reason I began trying other methods was because I was told our son needs to learn to sleep in his crib and the only way he can do that is if we put him down awake. Besides, I was getting tired of having him fall asleep and then trying to put him down like some sort of ninja–delicately and quietly so as to not wake him up. And when we got really desperate for a change the night he woke every two hours to nurse! Isn’t he supposed to sleep through the night at his age? Isn’t his belly full? In the midst of this nighttime torture, I read that during sleep regressions it’s typical for babies to be more needy. I know he has slept almost ten hours on his own in the past so he CAN do it, so I feel better going with my mommy instinct and just hugging and feeding him when he wakes up. I do wait five minutes just to see if rocking helps and sometimes that does the trick. 

We started strategy two after a few weeks of abandoning traditional  CIO. The plan was to lay him down and verbally soothe him and occasionally rub his back when he wasn’t crying. He cried while laying in his crib, but I felt better not leaving the room while he was crying. The first night he did eventually roll over and go to sleep! To my amazement. Luckily, my husband was in the room at that time rather than me because our son was crying hard right before he rolled over and fell asleep. I would have caved and picked him up when he was just about asleep! Even though he put himself to sleep, he woke up every two hours throughout the night after that. So we were right back to the reason we started trying this method of CIO.

The second night we tried bedtime routine and laying him down with verbal soothing. he went back to his old tricks and had a dirty diaper right before he fell asleep! This was an hour after my husband started sitting with him and verbally soothing him so we were very frustrated. I ended up nursing him to sleep. 

After trying method 2, I realized that our son may be in a growth spurt because he has been nursing a lot more than usual and eating solids more too. He also cut two teeth and learned to walk with support so it was a big week!

Ultimately, my son likes when we comfort him and I like to comfort him so it was a difficult thing to try variations of CIO. It doesn’t help that I worry he is crying for a reason–in pain from teething, hungry, needing a new diaper, or just wanting to be snuggled.

I found this post helpful for providing multiple options to sleep train:

How do I teach my baby to soothe herself to sleep?” via BabyCenter

The most useful idea is making bedtime earlier and feeding first rather than last; I have ended with nursing rather than a story. I’m not brave enough to wake him up from nursing to continue his bedtime routine though. 

Today at nap time, I nursed and switched to pacifier and put him down before fully asleep. He slept two hours after that! But then at bedtime that approach didn’t work so I nursed him to sleep and laid him down. About 30 minutes later, he rolled over and slept for 2 hours. Apparently, his sleep patterns and schedule is as variable as he is from one day to the next. Sound familiar??

Ultimately, I hope to one day have a baby who I can lay in bed and actually goes to sleep! But for now, we have abandoned those sleep training methods. This post made me feel better about my choice: 5111WMvH6cL._SX260_

“Night Weaning” via KellyMom

If you want to feel better about not using CIO, then check out this book. This is the cheapest I’ve ever seen it and worth way more than $1.99. The best part is that anyone can put baby to sleep. Mamas of the world rejoice, you can sleep BEFORE baby does!

Springtime Is Park Time!

By: Juli Couture


Spring has Finally Sprung!

After many months of horrific winter weather followed by equally miserable conditions during April vacation, we are ready to shed those winter blues and finally breathe in the fresh air! I have listed for you a few of our favorite spots to visit when the weather starts warming up. These places have a little something for everyone to enjoy while getting a daily dose of much-needed Vitamin D!



Field Of Dreams, 48 Geremonty Drive, Salem, NH
Field of Dreams offers a massive wooden play structure, with areas of play for all ages and ability, there are also little-wooded trails to explore and even grassy areas perfect for a picnic. In the summer months, they even have concerts on Thursday nights starting at 6:30 pm.

Castle in the Trees, 300 King Street, Littleton, MA
Castle in the Trees recently got a huge makeover and is better than ever before! They have a massive…you guessed it…CASTLE-themed play structure for the adventurous kids, as well as another attached play area for the 3 to 5 year olds. They are surrounded by grass and sporting areas. Plenty of room to burn off all that built-up cabin fever!

Veteran’s Memorial Park, 80 Broadway Road, Dracut, MA
As the weather gets warmer, there’s no better place to cool down. VMP has sporting fields, playground, covered picnic area, and the most cherished attraction of all – a splash pad! Bring some snacks and your sunscreen and let your kids run wild!

Lynch Park, 55 Ober Street, Beverly MA
While it may not be around the corner, Lynch Park is absolutely worth the drive and the non-resident parking fee. Lynch Park is an enormous, well-maintained park with lush green fields, a playground, a stunning rose garden, a beach, concessions (typically open during the summer only), and a wonderful splash pad! There truly is something for everyone and it is the perfect place to pack up a lunch and spend the day. Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy it.

Endicott Park, 57 Forest Street, Danvers MA
Lastly, Endicott Park has 165 acres of open space, fields, and woods with scenic trails. It also has a large playground, plenty of green space for running around and picnicking, and–best of all–animals! Endicott is home to a variety of barnyard animals; also, Danvers’ dog park is located within Endicott, so you can really bring the whole family! There is a small fee for non-residents to park and the barnyard will always gladly accept donations as well.


So whether your kids enjoy running wild through the grass, getting sandy toes, swinging to new heights, or simply taking in the beauty of nature, I hope you find this list of places to visit helpful and you discover a place you all can enjoy!


Mediterranean Diet Month

By: Cassie Van Der Hyde


Do you ever hear about those “awareness months” and think, “Are you kidding me? Who comes up with these things?” I do. Every time. I wonder who designates these days, how they could possibly gain traction, and why the world needs them.

My day has come, though! This month is International Mediterranean Diet Month and it combines three of my passions: cardiac health, supremely tasty food, and Being Greek!

If you aren’t Greek, I’m sorry! I am, and it’s true that Greece was the cradle of democracy, Greek is a major root of the English language, and also that our food is so very, very tasty. The Mediterranean diet is not Grecian only, but growing up with a Yia yia and all the traditions that came with having her in my life has given me a special love for the food of the Mediterranean region in general.

Not only is it delicious, but many studies suggest that there are heart-healthy benefits to it as well. I started out my career as a nurse in a cardiovascular and cardiothoracic unit caring for post-op cardiac bypass and vascular bypass patients, so I love to preach those heart-healthy habits whenever I can!


The Mediterranean diet doesn’t have to be a list of do’s and don’ts to follow. It’s basically a reorganization of food habits:

1. Go heavy on the veggies, beans, and spices!

2. Make meat a garnish and not a main!

3. Go whole grain whenever possible!

4. Go vegetarian whenever possible!

5. Add in healthy fats for satiety–fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds!


After I had kids and I was starting to rethink my postpartum waistline and my own cardiovascular health as I aged, the first thing I did was start looking back to all the food I remember my Yia yia making when I was a kid. Things like lentil soup, rice with a bit of tomato-stewed chicken, salads, chickpeas, and lots of greens. All of these were great building blocks to a more vegetarian diet and a very simple, flavorful way of cooking that didn’t depend entirely on grains and meat to carry the meals. This had a benefit I didn’t anticipate at the time–not only was I eating healthier, but cutting out meat as a main and using so many veggies with all those beans really cut back on our food bills.

If you’re looking to start amping up your Mediterranean a bit, here are some of my very favorite simple staple recipes for everyday cooking. I make the horiatiki salad for at least one meal a day, sometimes two! Make sure you really beef up and diversify your spice selection and buy the best olive oil you can and you’ll be ready to chef it up!


Horiatiki (Greek Salad) –


Gigantes Plaki (stewed lima beans)


Tabboule (bulgur salad)


Fakes (lentil soup) –





What I Really Want for Mother’s Day

By: Sarah Powling


Recently my boys, ages 5 and 4, wanted to have a tea party for me in preparation for Mother’s Day. It was so thoughtful and cute, and I really did appreciate it, I swear. They spread out the blankets from their beds onto my kitchen table, brought every single stuffed animal that they owned, insisted on real tea cups, etc. IMG_3932

They really did go all out for me, while I stood there boiling water and fielding questions about why I didn’t have a real tea pot. It was so nice that I got to add these small tasks to my morning to-do list, while I packed lunches and made breakfasts. Oh how exciting it was when there was a spill on the table cloth bedding! I was hoping I could add more laundry to my list that day! And I can’t forget to mention how lucky I was to then get to hear the beautiful sound of my voice 5 different times as I told them that it was time to clean up. How fun to be able to experience the gradual increase in volume of my shouting!

Okay, all kidding aside, I actually did tear up, as I was truly grateful that my boys would even think to do this for me. I completely understand how lucky I am, and I wouldn’t change them for anything. I realize that what I’m about to say makes me sound like an unappreciative monster, and I promise I love my kids. But–for the love of God–why is it that even when they are being good and doing something for me, it still requires me to do extra work? I love them, and I honestly do hope that they want to have a tea party with me every year for Mother’s Day, but besides all of that cute stuff, here is what I really want for Mother’s Day.

1.) A clean bathroom. I would love to be able to sit down on the toilet without feeling some kind of wetness. I would love to be able to turn on the faucet without getting all goopy with toothpaste. I would love to be able to dry my hands on a towel that wasn’t brown and crusty from God knows what.

2.) No underwear anywhere except the underwear drawer. I would love to walk through my living room without tripping over tiny fire truck boxers. I would love to not have to wonder how on Earth underoos ended up in my kitchen sink. And I would love for my husband to actually use the hamper for once.

3.) A Mama Free Day. No, not the kind where mom goes to the spa and gets a day free of kids. Although, that would be lovely too. I’m talking about a day that is free of the word “Mama.” I want to go a whole day without anybody calling my name. No “Mama, why?” No “Mama, look.” And no “Mama, help!” Just a day free of hearing that word would do a number for my sanity.

But I realize this is not possible. And deep down of course, I’m happy and grateful that it’s not possible. Someday they will be grown up, and I know I’ll be missing them and longing for our Mother’s Day Tea Parties. So until then, pinkies up!