Easy DIY Photo Prop to Keep Your Toddler Entertained For Pictures

Ever since the Dumpling became mobile, she doesn’t stay still in one position for more than a few seconds. This makes taking photos tricky because she’s constantly trying to break free, and I end up with pictures that look like I’m torturing my own kid.

These days I often look to distract her with things that she can hold, but the challenge is to find something that doesn’t look like an out-of-place prop in pictures. The answer came to me during the Dumpling’s birthday weekend when I gave her a pom pom wand from her decoration display, and she waved it around like a happy cheerleader for a good five minutes! That’s almost like forever in hyperactive toddler time.

The wands make pretty party decorations.
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They also double as fun, colorful photo props!

I subsequently used the wands again at her daycare birthday party and ended up with a squad of little cheerleaders!

Pom Pom and Tassel Wand Instructions 

Supplies:

  • Tissue paper
  • Decorative straw (Mine came as part of a decoration kit I bought for the Dumpling’s party, but regular straws would work too )
  • Scissors

Assembling the wands are easy and mirror the construction of a regular tissue paper garland (there are tons of tutorial online.) The only difference is that instead of stringing them together, I tuck each tassel into the straw.

  1. Cut a piece of tissue paper to approximately 5″ by 12+”. Exact dimensions are not that important since I made the pom poms in varying sizes. I had fun experimenting with different lengths and found that shorter fringes make fluffier pom poms while longer fringes make flowier, streamer-like ones.
  2. Fold the paper in half.
  3. Cut strips about 1/2 inch wide towards the fold to form the fringe, but don’t cut all the way! Leave about 1 inch uncut before reaching the fold.
  4. Open up the tissue paper and roll.
  5. Fold in half and insert (more like forcefully shove) the folded end into the straw.

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My Halloween Mommy Fails

Halloween was never a big deal in my family while I was growing up, so I’m having a tough time being a spook-tacular mommy. My attempts in doing a few Halloween activities with the Dumpling didn’t end quite well, but that’s parenthood! You win some and lose some.

I thought the costume just ran small
I bought a Tigger costume for the Dumpling back in September and never took it out of the bag until this weekend. When jigg was trying to put the outfit on our daughter, he called me over because he was unable to button the bottom of her one-sie. I looked at the size on the hanger again, which read 12-18 months. Odd…it should have fit the Dumpling perfectly since she’s on the tiny side.

It was too late to pick up another costume, so we improvised by leaving the bottom flaps unbuttoned and tucking them into a pair of brown tights we found in the Dumpling’s closet. Other than the sleeves looking a bit short, we couldn’t tell that anything was off.

Fast forward to later that night when I was taking off the Dumpling’s clothes for her bath…and saw the tag label that was sewn onto her costume; it read 3-6 months.

I made pumpkin decoration boring
Three days before Halloween, I realized that I needed to put up a pumpkin. I had zero intentions of carving it because de-seeding is too much work. My plan was to stick pom poms on as a mess-free activity.

The problem was that I didn’t have pom poms. After a bit of improvising I made a few dozen by breaking apart a cotton ball and reassembling them into smaller ones. I wrote”BOO” on the pumpkin with a glue stick and asked the Dumpling to help me stick the “pom poms” on. It was a fail-proof in my mind because it really didn’t matter where she aimed; the cotton would only stick to where the glue was applied.

The Dumpling was not impressed; she did one and wanted nothing to do with the pumpkin decoration afterwards.

The Dumpling can’t have her cookie and eat it too
My local bakery sold un-decorated Halloween cookies that came with a “paint palette” the kids can color in themselves. This activity, I assumed, would be a guaranteed hit with the Dumpling because she loves to paint and eat!

Unfortunately the Dumpling thought she was going to paint and eat the cookie at the same time. Waterworks ensued when I explained the sequence of events again, but she assumed I was being the evilest mom in the world: dangle a treat and won’t let her have it.

I had to bribe her with animal crackers before she willingly picked up the paint brush. I guess she got her cookie and ate it too.

My decoration looks almost Christmas-y
I dug out two old “ghost” night lights from Ikea to set the spooky mood. The lights were green and red and way too cute.

Finally a win with the “Cheerios Halloween Play Book”

Grandma saved the day by bringing over a fun Halloween-themed Cheerios Play Book. The premise was to fill any missing graphics with Cheerios. We had a lot of fun finding the missing “O”s, counting, and building up the Dumpling’s Halloween vocabulary words.

Finally there was an activity with instant gratification where the Dumpling can eat and do at the same time.

Best Party Favor For Under $1

Finding the right gift to use as a favor has always been one of my biggest party planning hurdles. It feels like I’m searching for a unicorn when I’m looking for something that meets ALL three of my following criteria:

  1. Practical: The gift should be useful, not something the kids play with once and toss into recycling.
  2. Fun for most ages: Since my guests range from babies to toddlers to young children, the gift should ideally be appealing to a wide demographic.
  3. Affordable: My goal is to keep each item under $3.

My strategy is to come up with a list of things that I use with the Dumpling on a regular basis, then filter out items that are too age specific, and try to purchase them in bulk for volume discounts.

For example, I gifted headbands and bow ties for the Dumpling’s first birthday last year. Both have re-use value, are available in sets, and can be used with children of all ages. (I use the Dumpling’s headband as a scrunchie …and I’m 32.)

Cookie Cutters Are Useful, Fun, and Cheap!

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I dropped a cookie cutter into a handmade gift bag labeled with the child’s name.

Cookie cutters made the cut for the Dumpling’s party favor this year because they knock all three criteria out of the park. I thought of the idea after an old set unexpectedly received a lot of mileage in our household recently. While prices range drastically depending on shapes and materials, I opted for a box of 24 stainless steel cutters for a whopping $8.50 on Amazon. (I didn’t purchase a replica of what I have since I didn’t need 100 cutters!) Because the package comes in an assortment, I labeled each gift bag with the child’s name and assigned a pattern for everyone. This ensured that the design is gender appropriate and siblings do no get the same thing.

The cost of each favor came out to $0.35 each!

My original set of 100+ cookie cutters.

Activities With Cookie Cutters

Teach ABCs, Shapes, Numbers, Etc.

I initially dug my cookies cutters out because the set contains plastic molds of all 26 letter that I wanted to use as alphabet “blocks” with the Dumpling. They served my purpose because 1) they look enough like toys to pique my toddler’s interest; 2) they are light and easy to grab; and 3) they are movable to form short, simple words.

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The Dumpling is starting to get into her ABCs.

Cut or sculpt food

I subsequently found myself using the other shapes to make meal time more interesting. They can be used to cut through bread, pancakes, cheese, sliced fruits, or anything soft.

Cut heart shaped sandwiches for a ladies’ tea party.
Make heart shaped pancakes.
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Mold rice into fun animal shapes.

Stamp and Stencil

The Dumpling used the shapes as stamps to create repeating pattern with finger paint.

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Simple shapes work well.

Ideas from Around the Web

Turn cookie cutters into ornaments

Hang them up as they are (thediydreamer.com)
Wrap the cookie cutters in baker’s twine (cutesycrafts.com)
Add washi tape for decorative effect (anightowlblog.com)
Add some decorative background with festive prints (itallstartedwithpaint.com)

Use cookie cutters to shape other materials

Shape pipe cleaners to create bubble wands (redtedart.com)
Shape pipe cleaners to grow crystals (onelittleproject.com)

Use cookie cutters as molds in other projects

Upcycle old crayons (onelittleproject.com)

 

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Kid’s Birthday Parties Are Stupid But I Keep Throwing Them!

The Dumpling is turning two years old in less than a month, and I’m currently in a full party planning frenzy. My dining room table is taken over by scraps of paper, half assembled favor bags, and experimental decorations that are at the edge of becoming either Pinterest wins or fails.

I often question why I invest so much effort into something that the Dumpling won’t remember. Before becoming a mom, I thought that kid’s birthday parties are stupid. Now that I have a little one, I still think they are. jigg is personally against the social extravagance and wants nothing to do with them. As a result, leaving me alone and babysitting the Dumpling are his forms of support.

A Look Back at the Dumpling’s First Birthday

Planning the Dumpling’s first birthday was my first DIY project after an almost two year hiatus. It was also a personal test to see if I still have any creative juice left after exhausting all my energy into motherhood. I always thought having children was another milestone to a fulfilling and meaningful life, but motherhood ended up feeling more like a chore. Since giving birth, my days revolved around nursing, pumping, changing diapers, and working. In a depressing reality that I didn’t want to admit, I felt tied down because of the things I gave up to make room for my daughter. I never thought of myself as an “I can’t” person, but I became one.

“I can’t go to happy hour because I have to go home to take care of my daughter.”

“I can’t meet you for dinner because the Dumpling’s bedtime is 7pm.”

“I can’t go shopping because I have to pump/nurse every three hours.”

“I can’t meet you in the city because I can’t carry the baby, the stroller, and the diaper bag on the train.”

“I can’t leave the baby at home because I want to spend more time with her.”

“I can’t take on this project because I don’t have time.”

“I can’t [insert activity] because I’m so tired.”

Even as I revisit my reasons now, I still believe they were legitimate and can sympathize with my past self. However, I knew that if I didn’t drag myself out of this mentality, I would eventually lose myself.

My road to self re-discovery started with crafting because it didn’t violate my “I can’t” reasons; I had no excuses. Honestly it could have been anything – cooking, baking, photography, writing, piano, etc. I used the Dumpling’s birthday party as my objective and immersed myself into making it happen. Again, it could have been any occasion; it just happened that the Dumpling’s birthday was around the corner when I had the epiphany. I took every opportunity during the Dumpling’s nap times on weekends to create banners, tassels, favor boxes, and other party decorations. I could have easily bought everything on Amazon or Etsy, but I was insistent on making my own. In the end, I managed to pull together a not-so-scary Halloween-ish themed orange and black celebration.

The truth was that the party was as much for me as it was for the Dumpling. It boosted my confidence and helped me rediscover the things I loved before my daughter overtook my life.

It turned out that I can!

As I undertook new arts and crafts projects, I began merging my hobbies with spending time with my daughter so that I was able to derive fulfillment simultaneously in both. I sculpted with play dough, built a cardboard theater, penned a silly poem, made a board book, turned my daughter’s finger painting into a coffee table book, and started writing again. One project led to another, and I’m now an aspiring mommy blogger who sees the Dumpling as my muse.

As unnecessary and extravagant as I still think kid’s birthday parties are, I will continue throwing them as yearly celebrations of everything my daughter and I have achieved together. I also look forward to the day when the Dumpling is old enough plan and bring her own parties to life. The task my seem daunting for a little girl, but I will be able to teach her that she also can!

My Kid Is A Terrible Dresser

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When the Dumpling picked her own clothes.

Several days ago the Dumpling insisted on wearing this monstrosity of an outfit: a red San Francisco 49ers jersey paired with patterned green pants. She ran around the room with only her diaper on, dramatically screaming “No! Nooo! Nooooooo!” to every alternative except for what she picked out.

Before becoming a mom, I always wondered why parents would let their kids out of the house in cringe-worthy ensembles—jarring color combinations, socks with sandals, dresses over pants, epileptic inducing LED-lit apparels…just to name a few examples.

Like many things, I sing a different tune now that I have a small toddler with a big personality.

Whatever fashion aspirations I had for the Dumpling were short lived. At its height, I dreamed of her living up the kiddy fashion hashtags on Instagram where she would wear trendy miniature versions of adult clothes, or we would twin with mommy-and-me dresses. The reality, however, is that children’s apparel is expensive for the number of wears that she would get out of them. It also didn’t help that the Dumpling hates getting dressed, so my bare standard these days is just to get her to wear pants. At 22 months, my daughter already has strong stylistic preferences that she is vocal about. This often translates to her picking out clothes that have clashing combinations or are out of season (she wore Christmas pants all year round).

The Dumpling may refine her taste as she grows, but in the meantime I implemented a strategy to combat her fashion faux pas. I would have a few pre-selected backup pieces for her to choose from in case she rejects my initial offering. This would give her the opportunity to make decisions under a controlled setting. Sometimes she would go with my first choice with minimal resistance; often it’d be a compromise where I picked the top and she picked the bottom; on occasions she would reject both and put something together entirely on her own.

When I picked the outfit.
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When she dressed for both Christmas and Easter at the same time.

Looking back at her old pictures, I realized that the Dumpling rocked whatever she wore. Her big smile and personality outshone even the most mismatched outfits.

If she asks about her choice of clothing in the future, I will just say that she was an accidental hipster.

Splashes, Smudges, and Spills: The Dumpling is Now a [Self-] Published Artist 

When the Dumpling first started finger painting, I didn’t have high expectations after seeing that her primary techniques consisted of slapping, smearing, ripping, and crumpling paint and paper together. She proved to be a prolific artist and whatever survived the production process was whimsically lauded as “abstract art.” jigg and I proudly framed and shamelessly shared our daughter’s colorful messes with family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who was willing to admire them. They played along in our ruse by comparing her work to modern artists, asking for copies, reserving future pieces, and even offering commission.

Since everyone seemed to be on-board the “fake it until we make it” boat, I wanted to take the game to the next level: convert the Dumpling’s work into a book and enable her to claim the title of being a published artist. Besides, I have been looking for a good coffee table book lately.

After laying each painting out, I saw how much of the Dumpling’s personality embodied her work, from her obsession with a particular color (she went through a phase where she only wanted blue), to her impatience with dotting paint (she preferred pouring it), to her stubbornness to follow my instructions (hence the mess). The compositions also showed an amusing progression in her thought process. The amount of paint used was indicative of her interest level; white space showed trepidation while total color coverage signified her full embrace of the medium. In one instance, the Dumpling was looking for fresh space as every inch of her work area was used. Without missing a beat, she flipped over her existing piece of paper and continued on her newfound, blank canvas. Although unintentional, it produced an unique effect.

My DIY book binding project.

What started out as ordinary toddler art turned out looking like a legitimate portfolio. In hindsight, we never had to fake it. It just took my mommy goggles time to focus, some proper image cropping, and several hours of my labor (which mommy normally charges a pretty penny for) to bring out their fully glory.

To capture the spirit of her work, I titled her book, Splashes, Smudges, and Spills.

Click here to read Splashes, Smudges, and Spills

I already have plans to have the next edition of her book professionally printed in hardcover. Let me know if you want to get in the pre-order.

(I’m being serious!)

Encounter with Mean Kids at the Playground

The Dumpling’s social development has always been a priority for jigg and me. Ensuring that she has regular interaction with other children was one of the main reasons why we started her at daycare when she was only six months old. Her caregivers have done an amazing job in teaching our daughter the concepts of playing together, asking for permission, sharing, ownership, and boundaries. As a result, the Dumpling generally gets along with most kids and holds her own on play dates.

There have been incidents when one child would act out aggressively towards the other because kids will be kids. The adults, however, would step in to right the transgression. Everyone [eventually] got along because of the mutual understanding that respect and cordiality would be enforced.

Playing in public areas, like the playground, is a totally different game. Unlike play dates, the environment is unstructured, and I have limited control over whom the Dumpling will be interacting with.

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Grandma and the Dumpling having fun.
Last weekend, our family was in Boston where Grandma and I brought the Dumpling to the community playground. One family had set up a tiny inflatable pool in between sprinklers, but their kids have lost interest and were playing elsewhere. The Dumpling, of course, was naturally drawn to it. Every time she got close to their pool, however, the kids would quickly run back, shouted “Don’t touch my water!” and shooed my daughter away by aggressively kicking and splashing water.

The Dumpling would then run towards us for safety while the other kids returned to whatever they were playing with before. The kiddy pool was set up in the middle of the sprinklers, so there wasn’t an effective way to keep the Dumpling away. Within minutes, she would run back and the entire episode would start again. The kids continued splashing even after Grandma asked them to stop, and their guardians idly watched as everything unfolded.

I felt helpless and annoyed. These kids had every right not to share, and it was not my place to tell them otherwise…especially when their parents didn’t feel the need to. They were not bullies (otherwise my claws would have been out); they were just mean.

It was also difficult to explain to the Dumpling why she can’t play with their pool. While my daughter understood ownership, she was also taught that others would share if she politely asked. In return, she would do the same. Reciprocity formed the basis of the Dumpling’s understanding of social interactions. In an environment where everyone abided by the same rules, like at daycare or home, things worked out. “Playing nice”, however, is open to interpretations at the playground.

Luckily the Dumpling has not yet developed the self awareness to realize that the other kids didn’t want her around. Although there was no physical and emotional harm inflicted, it was difficult for me to watch other kids being mean to my own child. A small part of me (actually a huge part) wanted to run into the nearest store, buy the biggest and best inflatable pool money can get, set it up right next to theirs, and bar these brats from going anywhere near it.

I eventually calmed down and brought the Dumpling home. As much as I wanted to be vindicative, it wasn’t an example I wanted to set for my daughter. As recourse, Grandma set up a little bucket of water in the tub where the Dumpling had just as much fun as she did at the playground.

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The Dumpling’s personal pool.

The Dumpling Is Like the Cat I Never Had

Coming home from work is my favorite part of the day. It has been 12 hours since I last saw the Dumpling, so surely she would have missed me as I have missed her. The poor girl had probably spent her whole day waiting for mommy to shower her with hugs and kisses.

At least that was what I thought as I walked through the front door.

“Sweetie, Mommy is home!” Expecting the scene that I just envisioned to play out, I held open my arms and waited.

The Dumpling glanced at me and then continued watching The Secret Life of Pets for the umpteenth time.

“Sweetheart?” I called again.

My daughter didn’t even turn her head this time.

“Can you give mommy a hug?” I waited with my arms still wide open. I eventually gave up and went over to hug and kiss her instead.

Weekday evenings can be rough. It’s always a mad dash to leave work at 5:30 pm just to spend the next 1.5 hours sitting through New York City rush hour traffic. When I get home around 7:00 pm, it’s time to start my second job as the Dumpling’s mommy.

On this particular night, it was 7:30 pm by the time the Dumpling was fed and cleaned, but I needed to keep her occupied for another few minutes to vaccuum the trail of crumbs she left all over the house and pack her food for daycare tomorrow.

“Do you want to watch Masha and the Bear?” I asked her as I turned on Netflix. The Dumpling nodded and climbed on the couch. That would be approximately 10 minutes of uninterrupted free time I just bought myself, so I hurried back into the kitchen. After I was done, I peeped into the living room to check on the Dumpling. Finding that she was still content with watching TV, I rummaged through the fridge for some leftovers and popped the plate in the microwave. I finally had some time to myself!

I was maybe four bites in when the Dumpling scurried over.

“Ma-nye, poe poe!” She said with arms wide open and the saddest look on her face.

“Aw, sweetie! You finally want mommy to hold you?” I forgave all previous transgressions and scooped her up.

“Sit.” The Dumpling instructed while pointing to the living room couch. I carried her over and she snuggled up in between my arms as we watched TV together. When she made a silly face in imitation of the main character, we both giggled hysterically.

My daughter is like a cat that I never had: she demands my attention when it suits her but pretends that I don’t exist when it doesn’t. At that moment, all she wanted was her mommy, so I held her even tighter because moments like this were worth everything that I worked so hard for.

The Dumpling then perked up when she heard the front door opened.

“Daddy! Daddy!” She said with the biggest smile on her face and ran over with arms wide open…just like the scene I had envisioned for myself earlier.

For the rest of the night, I was relegated to nonexistent.

Mrs. jigg’s Lollipop Theater

The Dumpling got into nursery rhymes lately after watching The Mother Goose Club. To make storytelling a bit more interactive and personal, I decided to write my own and narrate it through a homemade cardboard stage. The plot is based on true events, although names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

(Visit my Instagram for videos.)

The Bunny Who Refused to Nap

There was once a little bunny who refused to nap.
He ran around the meadow and drove his mother mad.
He hopped with a frog.
He pranced with a deer.
He climbed with a squirrel.
He fished with a bear.

His poor mother chased him all around.
She couldn’t get a break
Because her little bunny wanted to stay awake.

The little bunny was finally tired by nighttime
And hopped straight into bed.
His mother opened a bottle of wine
And poured herself a glass…or three of red!

 


Behind the scenes:

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Building the stage: Cut open a side of a cardboard box and attach strips of self-adhesive velcro (side “A”)  to the back. Poke holes on the bottom.
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Gathering the talent: Print and cut out desired backgrounds and characters. (Freepik is an amazing resource.) Add strips of velcro (side “B”) to the back of the backdrops and cutouts. Wrap velcro (side “A”) around lollipop sticks and insert them to the bottom of the stage. Fasten the characters onto the sticks and let the show begin!

The Dumpling kept grabbing and putting the props in her mouth, so I ended up ditching the stage altogether and moved the characters around with my hand. She eventually succeeded in gouging the bunny’s eyes out and then kidnapping him altogether. I spent the next few minutes chasing her around the coffee table to rescue my blinded actor.

This play has indeed become a tragedy.