Small Space Family Gift Guide

(This post contains Amazon Affiliate links!)

As a young family living in a small space, Christmas and birthdays can be tricky! I love to shower my kids with gifts, but the truth is that they don't need it and we don't have the space anyway. Here are my best tips for shopping for a family who lives in a small space:

Gift Buying Tips

1. Pay attention to their interests. Because of our small space, neither Austin or I have many hobbies that take up space. We're careful with what we keep and buy and appreciate people who shop for us the same way! For example, while I enjoy knitting, it's not a hobby I'm focused on right now, so gifting me yarn and knitting books would be thoughtful, but difficult for me to find a space to store it. 

2. Add on. Our kids have toys in three categories: Duplo, Magnatiles and animals/people (Playmobil and schleich animals) and it's perfect when they're gifted toys that fit in to those bins! While I'm sure there are many other toys they'd love, it's so much easier to just stick with the toys we have. 

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3. Consumable. Cookie decorating kits, craft projects and treats are gifts that I appreciate for myself or my kids. We don't have a lot of craft supplies so I especially appreciate those little craft kits that include everything you need! 

4. Easy to store. Toys or gifts that can easily be packed away are ideal. If it has a bunch of pieces, does it also have a carrying case or basket? 

5. Ask. I'm the worst at having gift ideas ready for my kids, beyond letting people know which toys we already have, but I know lots of people who are very organized with this! Maybe they'd like some cash to put towards a family outing, a membership to a zoo or museum or a specific gift they'd appreciate! Just ask! 

Gift Ideas: 

I'm not the only one who hasn't started my Christmas shopping, right? I've been browsing Amazon and searching for the perfect gifts for the kids and our family and I thought I'd share some of the ideas I've found that would be great for a family with little space! 

We already own some of these things, and others are things I've considered for our kids! 

- Osmo

If you already own an iPad, the Osmo is such a great addition. We have the Creative Set and Pizza Co. and both kids LOVE them! I love allowing them to have screen time without worrying about which apps they're using. It takes up very little space, and grows with your child so it's a wonderful gift for kids of all ages!

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- Fairy Garden

I'm excited about this gift for Lulu! I think she'll enjoy putting it together and it'll be fun to see if we can actually grow anything. I've been wanting to do a project like this with her for a long time, but I just can't find the time to put together a cute DIY version. This kit contains everything we need! 

-Happy Salmon

We love playing board games, they're a great way to spend time together as a family and again, it's a "toy" gift that doesn't take up a lot of space. Happy Salmon is a game we recently discovered and all 4 of us enjoy it! It can be learned in minutes - even Abram (3) could learn it and play in less than 5 minutes!

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- Grimm's Wooden Toys

There are a few different brands that make these kind of stacking toys, but the set we have is from Grimm and we've been super happy with it! We've had it for four years and it's a favorite of our kids and any child who comes to play! The great thing about these toys is that they stack together so nicely doing double duty as a toy and art piece! 

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- Flashlight

Always a favorite around here, a flashlight is an easy gift for kids of many ages. A cheapy dollar store light or a more expensive one - so many options!

- Special Treat

Consumables are a great gift idea for anyone living in a small space: hot chocolate, cider, beer or wine for parents.

-Felt Letter Board

 I love my felt letter board from Felt Like Sharing and think it would be a wonderful gift for almost anyone on your list! They've recently added different colored boards and letters, making it easy to choose the perfect gift! I love using mine to mark milestones, special occasions or just to adorn my shelf with a fun phrase! 

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- Meal Service

This would be a wonderful gift for a busy parent. A meal service like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron would be a huge help and since it's consumable, they wouldn't have to worry about where to store it!

- Outdoor toys

 Hammock, scooter, bikes, trikes, swings, etc. My kids might be less excited about these types of gifts at Christmas time, but they'll appreciate them all spring and summer long! 

- Audio Book or CD

My kids have a CD player in their room, so we love getting new things for them to listen to. They've recently started listening to Adventures in Odyssey and they also love music CDs, Lisa Loeb and Slugs & Bugs are their favorites!

 

 

Commuting with Kids

While we love our new home, it's a much longer commute than we had before. It's about 50 minutes to get to most of our activities. We've been getting used to the drive and I've started learning how to make our long drives more bearable with 3 young kids!

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-Carseat arranging. 

Felix hates being in the car. He often screams for a good portion of our drive. It's exhausting and frustrating for all of us. I've found that having him in the middle of the kids helps, even though it's more annoying to get him buckled. Lulu can help him find his pacifier back and Abram often holds his hand or strokes his cheek. It's not a complete solution, but it helps!

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-Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts and my kids love audiobooks! I got a little tired of listening to Frog and Toad a million times, so I spent some time one weekend finding some new podcasts to try out and the kids love listening to something new each time we drive! It helps the drive feel much faster! They're favorite is Story Nory

-Make it cozy

I try to avoid taking toys/games/books in the car because they never, ever come out. But I do let the kids take their blankies (we call them beep beeps) and that helps them get cozy and comfortable. We recently got a carseat coat for Abram, and he loves being able to be warm and cozy in his seat, and I like knowing he's still safe! 

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-Combine trips

I know it's kind of cheating, but the best way to make the drive manageable is to just not do it....Lulu has school twice a week and I try to get all of my errands done while she's in school. I could hardly make it home and back during the short time she's in class anyway, so instead the boys and I get groceries, and do everything else we can in that time. 

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-Snacks

I can't be the only one who gets hangry, right? Even if my kids can do the drive without a snack, I can't! I often buy an extra box of granola bars or crackers at the store just to keep in the car. Gum helps me stay awake and alert too, if I've been up thirty hundred times the night before. 

-Enjoy it

I know it's not always possible, but I do try to take advantage of our long drives. We live in a beautiful area and I try to notice the scenery around me. Most of our drive is rural, I often only pass a few cars and the solitude is enjoyable. I pray, sing or mentally plan out my week while driving. It's also a great time to connect with my kids if we've had a rushed morning or rough few days! 

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Thanks to DriveShop USA and Mitsubishi for letting us test drive the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander for a week - We loved it! #mitsubishi #outlander 

Suite Little House Tour

We are enjoying our new little home, it's becoming a cozy, functional space for us. When my parents bought their home almost 15 years ago, this was a half-converted garage. They put a lot of work into it and turned it into a little apartment. Several people have lived in it over the years (us included!) and it's been a blessing to many people! It's around 500 square feet, which may seem small but right now it feels huge to us! 

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We gave the kids the bedroom and it's been fun for them to have a slightly bigger space to play. They share the full-sized bed and Felix has a mini crib in the corner. 

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Most of their books are on the shelf in the living space, but their library books are on display and easily accessible to them. The picture rails are from IKEA. 

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We pull Felix's tiny crib out of the room at night and he sleeps in it at the foot of our bed for part of the night. The peg shelf holds all of our baby carriers. 

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The sectional in the living room belongs to my parents and was there when we moved in. It's quite a treat to have a couch lounge on! 

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I'm still looking for a few things to hang on the walls, but I took our things out of the bus to hang up already! 

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The bathroom is right off the living room, complete with a flush toilet, hot water and a full sized shower! Can you imagine such luxury?? The woodstove needs some repairs, but we're hoping it'll be functional soon! 

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Just like in the bus, our bed is in the main living space. We upgraded to a king sized bed in the move and it's amazing! It's nice to have a larger bed since the kids all love cuddling and reading or playing quietly on the bed during the day. 

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I think the kitchen might actually be smaller than the kitchen in the bus, but we do have a full sized fridge and table! 

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The view out my (huge!) kitchen window is lovely, a big open field facing west so we can see the sun setting every evening. 

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Our closet is behind Felix's high chair and that pantry cupboard holds all of our dry food. 

We're enjoying our new home, and it still feels like we're at a resort or something with all of the amenities available! 

Five Awesome Amazon Purchases

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links!) 

I confess, I'm an Amazon junkie. You can't beat the convenience, especially when you live a ways from town, like we do now. I'm also pretty budget conscious, so most of my purchases are necessities or under $20. 

Here are five of my favorite (random) recent purchases: 

1. Bandana Bibs

Thank goodness Felix doesn't spit up much (Abram was a fountain of baby puke) but man, he DROOLS like mad! These bibs are perfect, cute and practical! 

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2. This adorable planner

While I have to admit, this planner hasn't completely taken all of my stress away, it has helped me feel more in control and organized. It's the perfect size to toss in my bag and take along and it's super cute !

3. Svan High Chair

I posted about this high chair on Instagram when I first got it and I still love it! It's tiny and perfect! I love the design and it's table height, so I can take the tray off and push it right up to the table with the other kids. Felix loves joining us at meal time, even if he's not eating yet! 

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4. Bento Box

Lulu brings a snack to lunch each day, so I was on the hunt for small lunch box that would be easy for her to bring along. I didn't want anything huge since she's only there for a few hours and rarely even eats her whole snack. I found these cute Bento boxes and got one for her and Abram. They're perfect for packing along a small amount of a variety of items! 

5. Battery operated candles

I love these. I bought a set of 6 last week and they make our home seem so cozy! They're battery operated, but really look like real candles! they flicker and glow like real candles and are made of wax! I love that they have a remote, one push of a button and they're all out! My kids don't know that though, and love "blowing" them out (while I secretly operate the remote)

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Update

Today is Tuesday, we found out on Wednesday that we had to move and pulled out on Saturday afternoon. 

Moving a 20 ton vehicle that's been sitting on soft ground for 18 months is no easy task. First we had to move everything around inside to get the bed taken down. Obviously, in such a small space, it's very hard to rearrange anything. Thankfully, my parents took Lulu and Abram for the night so we could have some space to work. After getting the living room cleared out, we took the bed apart (it's built over the cab) and checked to see if the bus would even run. 

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We both cringed as Austin turned the key but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it started right up! After 18 months of sitting, we just weren't sure what was going to happen. It sounded rough for a few minutes, but then seemed to work through that and purred like a kitten. 

The next morning Austin had to go to my parents house to pick up the driver's seat that we had stored in their barn. Then we had to figure out how to get the steering column hooked up again. Three trips to the hardware store later, we had all the bolts we needed. 

While it's different than packing up a home, it's still a lot of work to get everything ready for a move in an RV. Since we took out pretty much everything "RV" about it, everything has to be secured and tied down for a move. I zip-tied and taped every cupboard and drawer closed.

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After we had everything ready, we had to unhook the power, water and propane and get everything stored away outside. Then we used the jacks to get everything out from under the tires. In the process, one of the jacks sunk deep into the ground and we had to dig it out by hand. Finally, we decided to try to drive it out. After a couple failed attempts, Austin gunned it and Big Bluey backed right out! It was pretty crazy to see the space after we pulled out of it, 18 months of living left it's mark. 

We waited for my dad to come follow us to make sure we made it before we headed out on the road. Besides the cat yowling it's head off in the shower, the mailbox we took out and Hank pooping on the dashboard, we made it just fine! It's definitely not a vehicle I'd do long term travel in, but it did great for the 20 minute drive. 

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After we arrived here, we were pretty worn out and stressed from the week. Thankfully, we could spend the night at my parents' house. 

We had been trying to decide wether we should try to continue living in the bus or move into the suite at my parents' house. I was set on staying in the bus, Austin preferred the suite. We finally decided to see how bus living went in the new space, but when we went through the steps to get our home set up again, we ran into trial after trial. We struggled to get the bus level, and as a result, couldn't get the door to shut properly, the porch wouldn't fit, we couldn't get enough power to run our space heaters, we had trouble with the water, and finally, a new little leak showed itself and I finally admitted defeat. 

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We're currently in the process of moving into the suite. While I'm grateful it's an option, I'm feeling pretty bummed about it. It's a nice little space, but it's not ours. 

So another adventure in small living begins for us. The suite is about 500 sq feet, it has one small bedroom, a little bathroom and an open living space. It's been empty for a while and needs a little work before it's comfortable. I'll share some pictures in a few days! 

Thanks for the encouragement and support, it's been a long, strange week and we're all a little tired and battered. 

Changes

We got the news yesterday that we have to move. We are currently parked on private property and we knew it was possible that the county would require us to leave. But after 18 months, we've kind of forgotten that and settled in.

We just got all our winter prep done and were ready to cuddle in for our last 6 months in the bus. We're not sure what's next. We hope to move the bus this weekend, probably to my parents' house.

From there we have a few options:

-There's a converted garage/suite on their property that we can live in (it's around 500 sq feet), it needs a little work and I don't know how the space will work for our family. 

- We can attempt to live in the bus on their property, although they don't have the hookups we need to survive the winter comfortably.

- We could look for somewhere else to park the bus, which is nearly impossible, but with 6 months left until Austin graduates and we hope to purchase our own place, it seems a little silly.

- We could look for a rental home, but prices are so high here, we would barely be able to scrape by and definitely wouldn't be able to continue saving for a home of our own.

- Maybe look to buy something now? Although we don't really feel ready for that and definitely don't want to rush into it.

We're not mad, we knew this was a possibility all along and don't want to make any trouble for anyone. We're bummed about losing this space we've loved so much, and sad that this might be the end of our bus life.

Think of us over the next few days as we wrap our heads around this change and decide what's the best move and pack up and prepare for a move! Keep your fingers, toes and all other crossables crossed that the bus starts this weekend when we need it to, it's been stationary for 18 months and while we did drive it here, it was sketchy at best.

Tiny Homeschooling

I posted a while ago about how we taught Lulu to read when she asked us to at three years old. Since learning to read, she's been able to learn so much on her own! It's incredible how much she picks up from the books she reads, or even just signs and labels! I'm grateful that learning has come easy for her. In light of this, we decided to see about early entrance for kindergarten. Her birthday misses the cut-off by two months, but it became clear that Lulu was more than ready for kindergarten early. After talking with a few administrators and the kindergarten teacher, they all agreed it would be a good idea for her to start this year. 

We're 2.5 months in we're all enjoying the experience! 

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Lulu attends a local parent partnership program. It's a really neat blend of public school and homeschooling. She goes to school twice a week for a half day of kindergarten and we do the rest at home. We're partnered with a teacher who we keep in contact with and she's available to answer questions about Lulu's education. Once a month, we submit a progress report of the work we've done at home and we hear about what she's done at school. For this year, we're doing Math, Language Arts and P.E at home. 

The school provides us with curriculum and they have a huge library of materials available for us to check out: board games, flash cards, math manipulatives, etc. It's been fun to pick out a few things to supplement her book work at home! 

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Soon after we started homeschooling, our tiny homeschool cupboard was overflowing and such a headache to try to keep tidy! After some brainstorming, we decided to store our washer/dryer for the winter and use the space it opened up for a homeschooling cart. It works out well, because I like the visual cue it gives the kids as well: when the cart is out, it's school time. 

Lulu's school books are stored on the cart, as well as pencils, erasers, markers, scissors and glue. I also keep some flashcards and games on there for Abram to use while Lulu works on schoolwork. It's perfect because it's kind of a novelty for him, he can only use those things when the cart is out and it's school time.

We're pretty laid back about school this year, since it's our first year of it and she's only in Kindergarten. 

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Here's what we're doing:

Math: Math-U-See, math fact flashcards, Tangrams, Osmo (Pizza Co.), plus hours of "practical math": talking about prices at the grocery store, adding up items, counting things she sees, addition while cooking together, etc. 

Language Arts: Spelling You See, Handwriting Without Tears, LOTS of reading: Lulu reads out loud to us or we read out loud to her, listening to audiobooks, journal writing, writing letters, hours at the library. 

P.E (this is a class required by the district): Hiking, walking, running, playing, climbing, sliding, exploring. Meal planning and preparing. 

We've only been at it for a couple months, but I'm really enjoying watching Lulu learn and it's fun to see Abram following along too! 

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Up The Mountain

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We're blessed to live in an area that's bursting with outdoor activities and amazing places to visit. We love spending the summers at the beach, and we always try to make it up the mountain at least once in the late fall. Unfortunately, neither of our vehicles were up for the challenge this year. 

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When DriveShop offered to let us try out a 2017 Mazda GX-5 for the week, I was thrilled! Not only because I got to drive an amazing, sporty car for the week (for comparison, I drive a 2005 minivan with 225k miles on it....), but because I knew we'd be able to make our annual trip up Mt. Baker! 

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The drive is usually a little strenuous, but we honestly hardly even noticed it this time! The CX-5 handled it like a champ. It's a cool vehicle because it feels like you're driving a sporty little car, yet I could easily fit all three carseats in the backseat! 

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The kids appreciated the trunk space when they ran back to rest after playing in the snow for a bit! We cranked the heat and popped the back and they had the perfect resting place. There was even enough room for them to spread out and eat their picnic lunch! 

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After playing for a while, we headed back down a ways and ended up at Nooksack Falls. It was crazy how cold and snowy it was at the top, I was grateful for the heated seats and steering wheel! Austin (aka: Scrooge) even let us listen to Christmas music! 

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Since the mountain's not open for skiing yet, it was so quiet and peaceful! 

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The waterfall was cool and all, but I was distracted by this sweet baby and those delicious cheeks! 

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The kids loved hiking around the snowy forest and it was so gorgeous! We could have stayed all day!

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A quick nursing break for Felix and we were on our way back down! While the mountain is lovely, it's not my favorite drive in the dark! The CX-5 sure made the drive easy, though! It has auto-lights, even sensing when someone was coming towards us to turn off the high beams! The windshield wipers turn on automatically too! The kids thought it was a magic car, and I kind of agree. 

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Thanks DriveShop and Mazda USA for letting us enjoy this annual trip! We loved the Mazda CX-5

Tiny Space Kids

(This post contains Amazon Affiliate links)

After the kids' birthdays this past week, we organized all their toys to include their new things. It;s always a relief to have their room clean again, and to do a big purge every once in a while! The kids almost always help me when we decide it's time to purge and they've gotten really good at knowing when it's time to pass something on. 

These are the current toys: On top: Grimm's Rainbow blocks, Keva Planks, Play Silks (and basket), In the bins: Duplo blocks, Magnatiles, play animals. I also recently found the American Girl doll at Value Village and she's been a favorite. 

I'm often asked about the toy storage we have, the white bins are from IKEA and I built the shelf to fit them. We've found it's super important to have a place for everything to easily fit if we want the kids' room to be clean at all. 

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We rearranged the kids' room a few weeks ago and now Abram's bed is under Lulu's bed instead of against the wall. This gives us a little more floor space and gives each kid their own bed space. When we first moved in, we had a dresser under Lulu's bed, but we found the kids didn't need that much space for clothing so we put a bookshelf there instead. Eventually we moved the bookshelf so that it's more accessible and made a bed for Abram underneath. Lulu's bed is a crib/toddler sized and Abram's is a little smaller. We cut a piece of foam to fit just right in that space. 

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Their room used to be the master bedroom in the RV, the space where the platform is is the size of a queen sized bed and where their bed is is where the closet used to be. It's a tight space, but we make it work. 

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After we moved Abram's bed from under the window, we were able to move their bookshelf out so it's much more accessible. It was impossible to get to before, meaning that they would always take books off, but never put them away. We have gotten rid of almost all of the books we own and we use the library instead. It's so nice to have a rotating collection of books and the kids spend a lot of time reading. 

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Our hanging clothes are in the corner behind their CD player, the cupboards and drawers are full of their clothing and off-season items and we also store the laundry in the corner (under the coats). It's hard to tell, but the ceiling is only about 5 feet high in here, because the engine is under the platform. I'm grateful that the kids' have their own room, but it's a hard space to work with and I think I just have to accept that it will never be a cute "pinteresty" kids' room.

Halloween 2017

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I'm grateful my kids still let me pick their Halloween costumes (with some input from them). This year they/we chose Alice in Wonderland. 

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It's not as fun to dress up a baby who's not sitting up yet, but Felix makes a pretty cute white rabbit! 

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I found Lulu's Alice dress on Amazon, found thrifted shoes, and tights. Abram's hat is from Amazon, everything else is thrifted. His jacket is a girl's size 6 blazer. 

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Happy Halloween! 

Abram is THREE

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Abram joined our family three years ago today, 8 days after his due date. His birth was perfect and exactly what I wanted, he was born in our dining room. He has been a happy, chubby guy since the beginning, weighing in at 9lbs 12oz. He gained a pound a week for a while, and was almost 30 lbs by the time he was 6 months. I'm so glad I have Abram as my son, he entertains us, loves us, challenges us and makes us all happy!

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Osmo

As we begin our homeschooling journey, I've been on the lookout for educational materials that don't take up a lot of space, that my kids will enjoy using and that they can use without my help. While we'll certainly be doing a fair bit of structured "book work", I like the idea of having several options for them to use while I'm nursing or making lunch, or getting the baby down for a nap. In my searching, I stumbled upon Play Osmo. It's an iPad add on, you use your own iPad and buy the base and reflector and any games you'd like from them.

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Osmo was kind enough to send us the Creative Set and we are loving it! I thought my kids would like it, but I didn't know just how much! Lulu (4.5) loves all of the games and I love that they're simple enough that even Abram (2.5) can participate, although he's usually pretty happy to sit back and watch too!

Masterpiece is a really clever app that allows you to draw whatever you'd like! You can choose from pictures that are included with the app, pictures saved on your device or take a picture of something around you! My kids love drawing the simple illustrations that are included and I like trying to draw something a little more complicated. The Osmo records a video of you drawing and it's fun to watch it when it's done! You can resize the images to fit where you'd like, so Lulu has illustrated some greeting cards and used it to practice handwriting! 

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Newton is my favorite app, there are 60 levels to beat, each one harder than the previous one! Balls fall from the top of the screen and you need to guide them to the appropriate area. Using the Osmo creative board, you can draw platforms, ramps, baskets, etc. for them to go through or use other objects (you hand, a Duplo block, the baby's pacifier, etc) by laying them on the board. My kids aren't quite able to beat the harder levels yet, but they love experimenting with different shapes and objects. They introduce new concepts and it takes creativity and critical thinking to solve each level. 

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Monster is the favorite of both kids. A big, friendly monster named Moe leads kids on an adventure, helps them decorate a house or puts on a magic show! The kids create all of the props for the stories! Using the Osmo board and wipe off markers, Moe tells the kids which items they need, they draw them however they'd like and Moe magically pulls them into the game! My kids LOVE this game, and I love that it promotes co-operative play, creative thinking and fine motor skills. The good news is that Moe doesn't care if your flower looks like a broom, or the broom is actually just a scribbled line, so Abram can play just as well as Lulu can. 

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Another really cool game I recently purchased is called Pizza Co. The kids (mostly Lulu) really enjoy it and it teaches so many good skills! It's a time management game where the player is managing a pizza shop. Customers come in and tell them what kind of pizza they want. The kids quickly make the pizza and slide it off the screen and into the oven! After the customer eats the pizza, it's the kid's job to collect payment and make change. After I bought it, I was worried it might be too tricky for Lulu, but I was pleased to find out you can play it on "junior mode". It's the perfect level for Lulu right now, which means she has lots of room to learn and grow! 

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I like that it introduces kids to the concept of money and making change. They also illustrate each math problem on a number line and write it out mathematically. It seamlessly introduces math concepts to kids in a practical, fun way! 

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My kids have also started to realize how important it is to keep the ingredients and money organized, if they don't it's too hard to find what they need quickly! Who doesn't want their kids learning that lesson?!

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The whole set up packs up so compactly and it's easy for the kids to put away and take out on their own. I love that I can sit down to nurse the baby and the kids can set up this activity on their own. It's also nice to know they're actually interacting and learning some new skills while playing! We don't have a TV or DVD player, so they spend very little time in front of a screen. While we still limit how much time they spend on the iPad, I love having these educational options! 

Another cool thing that Osmo just came out with is a base for the iPhone! It's nice to have a smaller option sometimes! Or I can let the kids use my phone while I work on the iPad. I love the portability and simplicity of the Osmo.

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We've loved the Osmo and I'm hoping to add a few more games to our collection as we get further into the fall/winter and our homeschooling year! 

Check it out here: PLAY OSMO

 

 

 

LULU is FIVE

Five years ago, I became a mother. It's hard to imagine life before this girl entered our lives, and I hardly want to. I'll admit, Lulu was a difficult baby. She cried inconsolably for hours a day and it was hard for me to feel like I was doing anything right. But since she turned one year old, she's been a dream. She's funny and smart, caring and kind. I don't know what I'd do without her help these days and I love the conversations we can have about everything! 

Here are a few (hundred...) of my favorite Lucille pictures:

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My "tiny" 9lb 14oz, 23" baby girl

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My Ta-da list

A few weeks ago, I read something about writing a "ta da list". 

Instead of looking back at your day and feeling guilty about what didn't get scratched off your to do list, write a ta-da list of everything you DID accomplish. 

Today was a rather frustrating day and I felt like I was spinning my wheels and not getting anything done, seems like the perfect occasion for a ta-da list!

TA-DA LIST:

- Changed and nursed the baby, emptied the dehumidifier and made the bed without waking up the kids.

- Did all the dishes before breakfast. 

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- Changed two Felix poops

- Kept Abram diaper-free all day with only one accident (including running errands all afternoon!)

- Got the baby to sleep beside me while I finished editing a wedding and responded to emails

- Made Lulu a good school snack 

- Helped the kids clean their room, which I've been avoiding for weeks

- Left for kindergarten with enough time to get birthday cupcakes for Lulu to bring in

- Remembered to get supplies to make Lulu a birthday crown, a tradition I didn't realize was so important until she reminded me today. 

- Helped Abram on the toilet in a tiny bathroom stall while wearing Felix

- Bought Lulu a birthday gift with Abram noticing 

- Got the boys in and out of the van 5 times in the pouring rain

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- Got to school early enough to pick up a few things from the school library

- Helped Abram go pee while juggling Felix and our library items.

- Got everyone and all of our stuff into the bus without tears in the POURING rain. 

- Cleaned out the litter box and took care of the cat

- Got Lulu's birthday presents from the mail carrier without her noticing

- Started dinner while keeping Felix happy on the floor

- Remained calm after discovering Abram hiding under my bed, pooping.

- Cleaned the house, with the kids help (harder than without!)

- Played "Mean Dogs" with Abram, until he actually bit me

- Had dinner ready when Austin got home from work/school

- Comforted Lulu when I wanted to laugh after she fell directly onto her face while doing a dance move I warned her not to do

- Took a shower and convinced Lulu to let me wash her hair (no tears!)

- Got Felix to bed while editing photos 

- Checked the whole bus for leaks during the torrential rain and didn't find any new ones. 

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It's still hard not to look back and think of the missed opportunities and failures of the day, the items I could have checked of my list but didn't, the times I was impatient or frustrated with the kids, but it does help to write it out and see that I did get something done! 

Hard Times

I've been thinking about this post for a while, but it just felt too whiny and silly to write. But I often receive messages from other families who are interested in living like we do, so I want to be honest about the good parts, but also the struggles. 

 When we moved into our tiny home, our goal was to live in here for two years. It’s been 18 months and we can feel our time running out. Our kids are getting older and I know they’d like more space. Felix is easy now, but once he’s a little bit mobile, I get the feeling it won’t be so simple. Whenever I mention to anyone that we’re ready to move on from our little bus house, they seem surprised. The thing is, this was never supposed to be our long-term home. When I named this blog, I called it ‘Tiny Home Dream’, not ‘Tiny Dream Home’, because this isn’t our “dream home”. We do dream of a tiny (or small) home of our own, and we’ve always known that this isn’t it.

We have enjoyed our time living in the bus, and we still do enjoy it most of the time. But after 18 months, we’re growing weary of some aspects of it. I truly believe we could be perfectly happy living in a tiny space for a very long time, if it was designed to be lived in permanently and stationary.

I sometimes cringe when people comment that our life looks so simple and perfect. It is lovely, and we are happy, but this lifestyle isn’t always easy.

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We spent a fair bit of time and money replacing the roof of the bus this summer. Yesterday Austin and I talked about how cozy it will be when it pours down rain and we know we’ll be dry and warm inside. Last night we had a heavy rain and I woke up to find several small leaks. I have no idea where the water is coming from, it’s so frustrating I could cry.

We miss being able to close the door to drown out a tantruming toddler.

I wish I had a closet or dresser instead of a small overhead cupboard for my clothing.

Austin misses having space to easily store his instruments.

I feel bad that the kids don’t have their own spaces.

I wish we had a bathtub.

Our water heater doesn’t work consistently and our showers often consist of 30 second bursts of scalding hot water, followed by ice cold water.

The kids’ room is awkwardly shaped and impossible to keep neat and tidy.

Our kitchen cupboards are disorganized and crammed full because there’s not enough space to put things anywhere else.

The number of windows and poor insulating make it hard to regulate the temperature inside: it’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

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When it rains, we stress about leaks.

We need to have a heavy duty dehumidifier going all winter to avoid condensation and mold.

There’s little to no wall space available for pictures or anything else.

I stress about whether the bus will start up again when we eventually need to move it.

There’s no space for hobbies.

It’s difficult, nearly impossible, to have people over for dinner, a favorite pastime of ours

Our tiny oven doesn’t work well for most baked goods.

We miss being able to easily host overnight guests.

If one of us is in a bad mood, we’re all in a bad mood.

I had to laugh when I found this book back yesterday. (Read this post for context!) 

I had to laugh when I found this book back yesterday. (Read this post for context!) 

Austin looks forward to the day we’ll have a flush toilet again, he’s in charge of emptying the toilet and it’s not his favorite task.

I wish we had space for a homeschool room/area.

There are things I’ve gotten rid of that I wish we could keep, but I hate clutter and sometimes things have to go when there’s just not a good place to store it.

I’d love to have a bedroom with a door.

We rarely have reliable internet. It’s often not a huge deal, but frustrating for me when I do quite a bit of work online.

Our small fridge and freezer make it impossible to buy most things in bulk, or to plan meals too far in advance.

Somedays there’s just no place to hide when I just need a few minutes alone. I’ve spent time sitting in the driveway in the van.

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We look forward to the day we’ll be able to buy our own home.

I stress about house prices and wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford it.

There are days I find myself browsing Craigslist to see what’s available to rent.

I find myself longing for my own forever home.

Comparison and envy have been too present in my life lately.

If I’ve visited your home in the past few months, you can bet I’ve spent time imagining what it would be like to live there.

Fixing problems with the bus is frustrating when we know it’s not our forever home.

While I appreciate the ingenuity and creativity we’ve been forced to use to solve many issues that have come up, I often wish the solutions were more simple.

After discovering the leaks this morning, I hopped on Craigslist to look at rental houses. Housing prices are so high here and the market is so competitive, there’s no way we can afford to rent. We aren’t ready to buy, so it feels like we are stuck here.

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Please don’t read this and think that we hate living in the bus. That’s far from true and most days we feel very content and at peace with where we are. But the truth remains that this situation is temporary, was always meant to be, and we feel it coming to an end.

Tiny Home/Minimalist Gift Guide

(This post contains Amazon Affiliate links)

I recently asked for birthday gift ideas on my Facebook page and was so impressed by many of the ideas, I decided to compile some them here so I can find them again, or so others can get some ideas for their own kids! 

Lulu and Abram both have birthdays later this month (turning 3 and 5) and I've been stuck for ideas. I love the idea of experience gifts, but they like something they can open and play with right away (I get it!). 

Here some ideas I'm considering (and a few things we already have, but that would be great for someone else!)

I love these butterfly wings! They're pretty, simple and don't have wire that can be bent or broken. I like they are easy to store in a drawer or cupboard! 

Play Silks are a great, simple, open ended toy that I had forgotten about before a few people suggested them! They can be used as props, flags, capes, tents, costumes, etc. I think both of my kids will love these! 

Whoever suggested Walkie Talkies? GENIUS! I think we'll all love these! I'm sure my kids will find a thousand different ways to use these in their games, and I hope it'll encourage them to get outside and play! I can imagine them taking these to the park or the beach, or playing with them in the yard, or while one of them is outside, etc. I'm excited for this gift! 

Puzzles are another great gift idea! We love Ravensburger puzzles, Lulu and Abram can complete a 45-60 piece puzzle on their own, it's a great quiet activity for them to work on together. 

Another great idea, an Amish Marble Run is something I'm pretty sure Abram would LOVE. It's super simple and won't make a mess. We've had marble tracks before, but all of the pieces got lost one by one. I love that this won't take up a lot of space and is easy to store. 

We have a couple big empty planters and I'm thinking of getting Lulu the materials to make a fairy garden together! Amazon has a bunch of super cute accessories and kits to make them and I think it would be a fun project for us to do together! 

This Sunprint Kit is so cool, I want to buy it right now! I'm definitely going to get enough paper that I can try it out too!

If we had an open wall, I would definitely get the kids a felt board like this one! They would love it and there's a million different things they could do with it! 

I've shared about these bird feeders before! The kids each got one for Christmas last year and they're still a hit! We've just recently filled them again and have all kinds of birds visiting again, right at our window! 

As much as I love the environment and love to reduce, reuse, recycle...I also love single use or consumable items. A cookie kit like this would be a big hit here and after you use it, it's done! 

Another cute, single use gift could be a craft kit like this. We don't have craft supplies at home (intentionally) and I have no desire to start collecting them until we have more space. However, my kids would love a project like this and when they're done, everything but the project can be tossed! 

We already have a couple hammocks and a swing and they're used constantly! A swing like this would be a great option for any kid! 

I'm hoping to get each of the kids one of these market baskets, I'm thinking they can use them when we go on our nature walks. They love collecting pretty leaves and plants, but get sick of carrying them. These are cute and functional! 

I've never even heard of a Solar Powered Rainbow Maker, and now I want one for every window in our house! Can you imagine how cool that would be? If you read the reviews on Amazon, these things are pretty much loved and adored by everyone who has bought one! 

OTHER IDEAS:

- Thingamatink

- Clothing

- Board games

- Audiobooks

- DVD/Movie night kit (we don't have a TV or DVD player, but would be fun for a family that does!)

- Grocery store gift card to pick out treats (My kids will LOVE this!)

- Seed Catalogue (Anna Poupa suggested letting each kid browse the beautiful (free!) catalogue, then they can pick out some seeds, then plan a garden to plant them in the spring!)

- Pottery date to paint something they can use at home

 

Seriously, SO many good ideas! Be sure to go browse the thread on my Facebook page and add your own suggestions!

5 on Friday: Five favorites

This week was long and definitely had some ups and downs. Here are my five favorite things about this week: 

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1. This past Sunday was especially restful and sweet for my little family. Felix was baptized, which was wonderful! Of course, the baptism of each of our children has been a special day for us, but this day was especially fun because Lulu and Abram were somewhat aware of what was going on. They were as excited as we were to see their little brother get baptized. After church, we enjoyed lunch at my parents' house and Lulu requested that we sing together afterwards. She's realized that she can read well enough now to follow along in the old hymn books and sang her little heart out (slightly behind and little off key) with the rest of us. 

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2. On Tuesday, a friend of mine and her two boys joined us on a nature walk. We bundled up for the chilly morning weather and walked 2 miles with our five little ones, before heading back to the beach for a picnic, where the kids stripped of their clothes and played in the water in the warm afternoon sun. It was such a peaceful day and it was so nice to have time to visit while the kids stayed busy on the beach! As an added bonus, I almost hit a bear on the drive home! 

3. I had a chance to chat with Lulu's kindergarten teacher this week and it was so encouraging! Since we decided to start her a year early (she's not 5 yet), I've been really wondering how she's doing in class. Her teacher was confident that Lulu is more than ready for kindergarten this year!

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4. After several rough days, Austin asked me how he could help lighten my load. I couldn't think of anything, since he's gone most of the day. We woke up in the morning to find notes he left for each of us, loving, encouraging words for me and a fun note and small list of chores for each of the kids. Not only did they love finding a letter written just for each of them, they were more than happy to complete the tasks he gave them. It was such a clever way for Austin to help out and really set the day off right. I'm so grateful for my husband and the way he loves me. 

5. I had an engagement session this week and we were able to do some rescheduling and make it work on one of the gorgeous days we've had! It felt so good to get out and shoot again! It was one of my favorite recent sessions and I left feeling so confident and inspired! 

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Lulu's Crown Braid Tutorial

I've been asked countless times about how I do Lulu's hair! The truth is, it's pretty simple so I never really think about it. The best thing about this hairstyle is that if I do it tight enough, it'll look nice (enough) for 2-3 days. It takes less than 10 minutes and keeps the hair out of her face, so she's usually happy to comply!

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By day 2 (or 3 or 4....) it' a little looser and fuzzier, but just as functional!

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Here's how I do it: 

1. Brush hair. This is the hardest and most traumatic step of the entire process. If you can make it past this without tears, you're golden. 

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For real though, make sure you brush it really well, otherwise it gets tangled halfway through and once you start the braid, you can't stop! 

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After her hair is brushed and tangle-free, I have Lulu tip her head all the way forward, almost resting on her knees. When I was slower at braiding, she'd complain this hurt her neck, but now that I can get this part done quick, it's no big deal. 

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Part the hair (as if you're doing two braids) and start with three small strands, only taking from the starting side of the part. 

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As you continue braiding, only grab strands from the one side of the part. As you get higher around the head, your victim can slowly raise their head from that torturous position. I usually have Lulu sit on a stool in the middle of the room so I can move myself around her as needed. I've also been known to use my knees to adjust the stool if need be. 

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Be sure that the hair remains pushed forward over the face, otherwise it'll get caught up in the braid at the wrong time and you'll have to redo it (much to the dismay of your 4 year old)

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At this point, I move myself all the way around her, or have her turn on the stool,  so that I'm still braiding towards myself (does that make sense?). 

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Do your best to keep the braid tight and close to the head, it's really hard to get it tight again if you let it get too loose!

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Once you get around the top of the head, it's pretty straight forward! Just braid to the end, pulling the remaining hair into the braid as you go. 

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When you get to the end, just keep braiding. Lulu's hair is the perfect length for this hairstyle, so I'm not sure how it would work with longer hair! 

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After I get to the end of the braid, I use a tiny little hair tie and don't pull the end of the braid all the way though, this makes it easier to secure with a bobby pin at the very end. 

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Take the tail and poke it through the braid as far as it will reach. Then I just use a single bobby pin and pin it in place. 

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That's it! It really is simple and the perfect way to keep hair out of her face when she's busy playing! Lulu gets compliments on her hair every time we go anywhere, and people always ask how I have time to do such an intricate braid. It always cracks me up because 1. it takes less than 10 minutes and it can stay in for several days 2. it's literally the only way I know how to do her hair. 

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There you go! Let me know how it goes if you try it! 

Five on Friday: 5 things that are stressing me out

(Random pictures from this week, not relevant to this post, but they have to go somewhere!)

1. Austin grabbed something from the basement (the underbelly storage compartment of the bus) and saw a RAT down there. I can't really think of anything worse. I'm paranoid it's going to find it's way into the bus and I will probably burn the bus down and move into a hotel room if that happens (hm.... bathtub, tv, reliable wifi, room service...besides the price tag, that doesn't sound too bad....). Anyway, my Amazon cart currently looks like I'm starting up my own extermination business. 

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2. Lulu has been talking about her birthday party non-stop the past few weeks. The birthday party I hadn't really been planning on having. If she had her choice, it would be a "Peacock and Camel, Spooky Costume Surprise Party". If I had my choice it would be a "Go to McDonald's with Our Cousins" themed party. Not sure how this is going to play out. I keep responding to her party ideas with "Well, we'll see", which obviously means "No" in mom language, right? I think she hasn't learned that yet. 

3. I'm shooting a wedding tomorrow. While I'm excited for the actual wedding (I love weddings!) I'm a little stressed about leaving the baby for that long, hopefully he takes a bottle...It's also supposed to be pouring rain all day tomorrow, which makes the plan for outdoor pictures slightly problematic.

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4. Felix is getting baptized (or 'bathtized' according to Lulu) on Sunday and I realized today he has very few things that fit him to wear. A onesie that says "Pants Optional" or a sleeper covered in baby elephants don't really seem appropriate for a baptism, right? I mean, he doesn't need anything fancy, but his signature outfit of fat naked thighs and a white onesie might not cut it. 

5. I'm already struggling to keep up with laundry now that we can't line dry it! Our washer/dryer washes but no longer dries, so without the ability to line dry, we're pretty much stuck. I'm really hoping to avoid spending hours and dollars at the laundromat, but it's not looking possible with two messy kids and a poopy, pukey baby. I check the laundry mountain every morning, but the laundry fairy still hasn't stopped by.

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Anyone want to solve my problems? 

Board Games for Kids

My husband and I love playing board games! I love anything from Sorry! to Settlers on the nerd scale and Austin's somewhere around Settlers to games that take up to 6 hours (aka: super nerdy). We often play board games together after the kids go to bed, especially quick two player games (Boggle or Lost Cities are two favorites!). We're both excited for the days when our kids can play more complex games, but for now we're doing our best to introduce them to a variety of games! 

I always look for games at the thrift store when I go, they're almost always under $5 and I've found a few really great games (and quite a few duds!) that way. I don't mind donating them back a couple weeks later if they don't work out for us. 

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I've noticed that so many kids' games are essentially Memory or Go Fish in some form, so I do my best to stay away from those. I really want to build a small collection of games that we all enjoy playing! I love that games give us a chance to focus on each other, chat while we play and it's fun to see the kids (mostly Lulu!) really pick up on the concepts! 

Here are a few of our favorites:

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- Gobblet Jr. 

I picked this one up recently and I'm really impressed with it! The concept is simple: Tic Tac Toe. BUT each player has two sets of pegs: big, medium and small. Big can gobble up medium or small and medium can gobble small. On your turn you can place a new peg, gobble up your opponent's peg or move a peg on the board. It's a really good intro to strategy (which peg should you use first? What happens if you move a peg? How can you block your opponent?). We've talked through it a lot with Lulu and she's surprisingly good! It's also a pretty quick play, which helps ease the sting if you lose a round!

 

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- Up The River

This is a clever, simple game that both Lulu and Abram enjoy. You place tiles on the table (the river) and move your boat from tile to tile as you roll the die. The strategy comes into play when you have to decide which of your three boats to move! The tiles move on as play goes around the table and several of the tiles involve special actions. There's also a fun "ill wind" component that the kids LOVE (bumping Dad back 3 spaces? Yes please!). 

Wig Out

Wig Out is pretty much as simple as it gets. We've been playing this game with Lulu for over a year and she's almost past it. It's a simple matching game that requires no skill (making it a good game for a 2-3 year old!). The illustrations are fun and it's a good game to start with. 

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Camp

Camp is a game that we all enjoy, it's a nature trivia game with different questions for each age group. Austin and I are both trivia fans and the kids are able to answer many of the questions in their age range, so they enjoy it too! It's a nice heavy duty game with a secret decoder that the kids are obsessed with!

Connect 4

Classic, simple. I'll admit, Lulu isn't very good at this game, but she tries and we often end up playing both sides together, discussing the best moves and recognizing patterns and options. While it's not necessarily my first pick, she really enjoys it and I know someday soon she won't need my help! 

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Spin Me a Rainbow

This is our kids' current favorite game, and mine too because I don't have to play it with them. It's painfully simple: spin the wheel and see which color you can add to your rainbow. Be the first to fill your rainbow card and you win! They enjoy it and it's a pretty game, perfect! 

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We don't have a lot of space for games (obviously!) but it's fun to have a small collection of favorites and a few rotating options as well. Do you play board games with your kids? I'd love to know what your favorites are so I can look out for them!