Creative Play: With Hot Wheels Cars

My son used to love Hot Wheels cars. He wanted a new one every time we went to the store (and for only $1, I have to admit that I sometimes used them as a bribe reward for good behavior!). But as he has gotten a little older, he has found new toys like Beyblades and Legos and any sort of sports equipment he can get his hands on that have taken over his interest. His huge bin of Hot Wheels cars have fallen by the wayside and been slightly forgotten. He will still get them out for a race down his ramp occasionally, but nothing like he used to. I suppose this is just the natural effect of a little boy growing up and forgetting his first fascination with cars. I’m sure that fascination will come around again by the time he’s 15 or so…

Until then, I wanted to try giving our Hot Wheels collection a new life. For a more creative play experience, I added some unexpected materials to go along with the cars. It really makes their little minds stretch… And parents’ minds too, for coming up with the ideas! 😉

Create Your Own Hot Wheels Dirt Track


-Empty egg carton filled with “dirt” materials (I used coffee grounds, unsweetened cocoa, and flour)


-Empty shoebox lid

-Spray bottle with water


-Hot Wheels cars

I set out all the materials, and when my son (6YO) came home from school, he asked (somewhat skeptically), “What’s this?”


So I said, “It’s a Create-Your-Own Dirt Track and Car Wash for your Hot Wheels cars! You can play with it however you like.”

“Oh. Okay!” he said, and he got right down to playing. Since there was mostly snow on the ground at the time, he wanted his track to have a lot of flour in it for some snow. Once he had his dirt track made, he raced and crashed his cars, demolition derby style.


I think he enjoyed getting them dirty just so he could wash them off in the “car wash.”


Build Your Own Hot Wheels Town


-Large piece of butcher paper (you could also use the white inside of wrapping paper)

-Hot Wheels

-Markers, crayons, or colored pencils


First, I drew a road, making sure that the lanes were large enough to fit the Hot Wheels cars. Then I made a couple of buildings and labeled them. I also made a couple of trees out of the blocks and drew a few flowers for decoration on the town map, to encourage my son to add more.


However, he was much less interested in this activity. He barely played with these materials, only wanting to build a few more buildings out of the blocks and then move on to something else! The baby boy, however, really enjoyed it! He colored on the roads with the colored pencils and pushed the cars along the streets with me. Never underestimate the little ones!


Even though my older son was much more excited about the dirt track than the town building, I wanted to share both ideas with you in case your child is the opposite of mine! What I love about these play “invitations” are that they are a simple way to encourage creative play, without demanding it and without too much adult structure or intervention. You can simply set out the materials and let them create (or not create!) as they like. If you’ve never tried something like this with your children, I encourage you to give it a go! You can find many more awesome ideas on Instagram using the hashtag #invitationtoplay or #invitationtocreate. You can also follow me on IG @closefamilies. 🙂

Happy playing!
Domestic Superhero

Cultivating a Green Thumb

Happy Feel Good Friday, y’all!

This gorgeous spring weather is bringing me out of the funk that I was in. I’ve learned since my last post (with the help of your comments, thank you!) that even if I seem to be going no where right now, I’m making small steps in many directions. I’m planting the seeds in many areas of my life, and sometimes I just need some patience to allow them to grow and bloom.

Speaking of seeds and growing, we have started growing our vegetable garden this week! Yes, it’s adding one more thing to my sometimes overflowing plate of commitments, but it’s another step in the direction of healthy living for my family, so it is worth it. Not only is growing a garden as a family fun, but it’s educational and gives us some quality bonding time. There are so many benefits in the process of growing a garden that the end result of being able to eat homegrown fruit and veggies is just a big bonus!

This is our second year of attempting to grow a full garden. Though I’ve grown tomatoes and flowers before, our first attempt at a vegetable garden as a family was last year. Although it started out well, May was hot and dry. When it came time to start transferring the three inch tall sprouts outside, we were supposed to leave the plants out during the day and bring them in at night. We had their spot in the yard tilled up and ready for them to be planted in the yard, once they had completed their transition period. However, one Monday morning we left them outside when went to work, but we didn’t come home until three days later! That was when my little one was unexpectedly born! By the time we came home from the hospital, the little green sprouts were dried up and brown. It was a huge bummer, but in hindsight, having to take care of a newborn and learn about the complex disease of cystic fibrosis that he was born with, it would have been stressful to take care of the plants on top of it all last summer anyway.

This year, we are excited to start fresh, and I want to share our gardening experience with you all. I have a feeling that many of you will give me many more helpful tips than I can give you, but that’s one of the best things about blogging for me is not what I can teach you, but what you can teach me. So if you see something we should or shouldn’t be doing along the way in my garden updates, please don’t skimp out on the advice! And if you’ve never grown a garden before, then we are technically in the same boat, and we can float along together!

Close Families Garden 2013: The Beginning
We began with a plan. We decided what we wanted to grow (what we like to eat), bought the supplies, and researched when and how to plant each type of plant. Some required starting them indoors eight weeks before planting them outdoors, some at six weeks, some at four weeks, and some directly outdoors. So I made a list of what and when to plant.


Next we planted the first group of plants. My six-year-old helped a lot with this, and although getting the soil moist enough and using a pencil to make a little hole for each seed was time consuming and messy, we had fun! I let him use a spoon to dump the soil in, help pour the water on the soil, use a pencil to mix the soil with the water and make the hole, and then dropped two seeds in each section. Then we covered the seeds lightly with more soil and sprayed it thoroughly. This first group is broccoli, green peppers, onions, banana peppers, and jalapeño peppers. I used blue painter’s tape and permanent marker in front of each row so that I know which row has which type of plant.


All that’s left to do after the planting (besides cleaning up a big mess!) is to keep the soil moist. We use a spray bottle of room temperature water to spray them lightly once or twice a day as needed. If they get too dry, the seeds won’t start growing so remember to water them!


Just five days after planting, we have tiny little broccoli sprouts popping through the soil! Beautiful!


I also sing and talk to the plants, which my husband thinks is strange, but he plays along anyway. God love him. 😉

After we plant the second group in another week, I will give you another garden update and hopefully we will have a lot more green things growing!

Happy Friday!

Themed Play vs. Free Play

When it comes to planning activities for children, one thing that parents, teachers, and children seem to enjoy is a fun theme. Whether we are deciding nursery decor, planning a birthday party, or just a simple craft on a Saturday afternoon, many of us like to utilize a good theme. Right now, Pinterest is full of Valentine’s day themed projects and learning activities for children. Next week, we will start seeing a lot of green art projects and flowered crafts for St. Patty’s Day and spring. I’m no exception. In fact, I’m working on an idea for an activity planner for young children, and how is it organized? By themes!

Themes can make playtime more exciting. Having a theme is a good way to explore one subject in many different ways. That’s especially beneficial for families with more than one young child, or for a group setting like a preschool or child care center. One child may not be too fond of journaling about the weather, but making her own tornado sensory bottles might be most fun she’s had all week! And when your son loves to put together his own mini-pizza for a snack on Little Chef day, your daughter might prefer to create her own restaurant menu with a piece of paper and crayons.

And yet sometimes, our children want nothing to do with a theme. We may have spent a lot of time and effort putting together a Pirate theme day, filled with homemade pirate hats and eyepatches, decorating our own paper towel tube spyglass, following a treasure map using our directional skills, and count and sort our treasure after we’ve found it. We just knew it was going to be the best day ever! After all, little Betty Boop from the Super Happy Blogging sure loved it! Instead, our little ones complain that the felt eyepatch is itchy. They slop a little paint on a paper towel tube and announce, “I’m done!” after a record time of 10.8 seconds. They whine that they’re too tired to follow the treasure map, and they’re disappointed when they finally find the treasure and realize that it’s only card stock with gold glitter and not real treasure!

So what can we do?

Here’s my best plan:

-Have a plan. I’ve found that if I don’t have a plan and the materials for the activities ready to go, interest on the children’s behalf fades fast. From a child’s perspective, nothing is more boring than waiting!

-Start the activity as planned, but then hand over the reins to the children whenever possible. If you offer your child the opportunity to draw their own treasure map, but they prefer to draw a football field instead, let him! I recently borrowed an idea from Arlee at Small Potatoes to make homemade play dough and add some animals and trees for a fun winter animal play scene that I was sure my six-year-old would play with for hours! (Yes, I can be a bit delusional at times.) He was completely uninterested. He wanted to go back to playing floor hockey in the living room, which I reminded him was a bad idea since his dad and little brother were taking a nap. In an attempt to keep him at the table longer spark his interest, I started shaping a cave out of the play dough. “Great idea!” my son said. “Can you make another net on this end so I can play soccer with the animals?” For a moment, I was disappointed that he didn’t enjoy the activity in the way I had imagined. But I realized that he was enjoying the way he imagined instead, and that it was a much more memorable and valuable play experience for him. He played for quite a long time, whereas he would have whined and complained and shut down in about two minutes had I insisted on him playing my way.


-Be adaptable. That’s one of the best qualities that a parent or teacher can have. Children are so unpredictable. From the time they are first born until who-knows-when, just when we think we have them figured out, they change. It’s the ebb and flow of growing up, of a child’s discovery of who they are going to become. Our job as parents and teachers is not to determine WHO they will be, but to help them learn HOW they will get there. If our child wants to be a ballerina, but we are pushing them to be a soccer player instead, we’re not doing anyone a favor. If we’re trying to teach them to kick, pass, and shoot when they just want to twirl, bend, and leap, there is going to be a constant struggle. And they will probably still end up being a ballerina.

Now this isn’t to say that children should just have free rein of their world. Certainly, some limits need to be in place–for their benefit and ours. I certainly don’t mean that if a child isn’t interested in practicing math at home that we should ban math from our routine. It just means that if they want to make up a subtraction story about a basketball team rather than about spring chickens, let them! Another option is to let them know that as soon as they have completed the planned learning activity, they may have free play to explore the items any way they choose. They might just end up surprising you by how much they learn through their own free play.

Which do you prefer, themed play or free play? Which do your children prefer?

Last Minute Christmas Gift/Activity!

I say every year that I am going to start my Christmas shopping early. That I won’t wait until the last minute. And every year, I do buy a gift here and there in the fall to put away for Christmas, but somehow, I always end up scrambling at the last minute for SOMETHING. Whether it’s the stocking stuffers, the gift cards for those people that I just couldn’t come up with a better idea for, baking the cookies, or just a little extra touch of decorating, there is always something that I end up doing at the last minute before Christmas.

I want to share a couple of quick little gifts that I made for my children’s grandparents this year, just in case you are in need of a little something at the last minute too!

Angel and Rudolph Homemade Clothespin Ornaments

A few weeks ago, my dad gave me a bag full of old (vintage?) clothespins. I guess he knew if anyone could find a way to reuse them, it would be me! I painted one to look like a Rudolph reindeer and tied a ribbon around one of the “antlers” and I painted another one to look like an angel. I glued card stock wings to the back and then tied a ribbon around the “neck” for hanging on the tree! So simple, and yet I love that they made nice little gifts for grandparents and my son’s teacher.



Santa and Reindeer Handprints

This one is my favorite, and even if you don’t need it for a gift, you can also use this as an activity for the little ones at your family’s Christmas party! Both of my boys just love getting their hands painted and my oldest was amazed at the way they turned out when I added the finishing touches!

For a Santa, paint bottom of the palm and thumb red, leaving just the tip of the thumb to paint white. Then paint a stripe of white above the red, right across the middle of the palm. Paint the next 1-2 inches of the palm a flesh color (mix brown and white paints until you get a color you like for the face). Finally, paint the remaining four fingers white for the beard. Press the hand upside-down on the paper and you have a Santa! When it dries, you can add eyes and a nose (and a mouth if you want a child-like look).


For a reindeer, simply paint the whole palm brown, press upside-down against the paper, and let it dry. Add the eye, hooves, and antlers with black marker when the paint dries, and a dab of red paint for his nose!


I taped both of them onto a piece of card stock and added a message to turn them into a homemade Christmas card for our children’s grandparents!


Cute, huh? 🙂

Do you try to get all of your Christmas prep finished early, or do you end up doing something at the last minute like me??

Family Game Night: “Minute to Win It” Theme

Here is another fun idea for a family game night. Like the last post about game nights, I didn’t come up with this idea. But it was so much fun for the adults and kids alike that I had to share it!

Last week, my son’s elementary school had a PTO meeting which was followed by a “Minute to Win It” themed parent involvement night. The kids and parents divided themselves into teams and used a map of the building to visit various rooms that had different challenges set up for the kids. Some of the ideas were from the game show, and some of them were tweaked to be a little more kid-friendly. Some of the challenges were easier than others for the young children, but all were fun and there was a TON of laughter. These kinds of challenges can easily be setup using household items for a fun family game night at home! Each activity is done with a one-minute timer. You have one minute to win it! Here were some of our favorites:

Game #1–Set up glue bottles (or other similar sized items around the house) like bowling pins on a coffee table. Put a soft ball or a ziplock bag filled with beans into the bottom of a panty hose. Tie around child’s waist. Be sure that the area is clear of any breakables, and stand back as the child spins and spins until their “tail” knocks down all of the items or until the timer runs out!

What’s at work here: Gross-motor skills. Depth perception.

Look out!

Game #2–Fill one empty soda bottle about 3/4 full of marbles, and then tape another empty soda bottle on top of the marble-filled soda bottle, so that the openings are taped together tightly. (Tip: Use duct tape!) Grab hold of the bottle with one hand (two for small children) and you have one minute to shake all of the marbles from the full bottle into the empty bottle. It’s harder than it seems, but my six-year-old was able to complete this one!

What’s at work here: Gross-motor skills.

Shake, shake, shake!

Game #3–Set up a stack of solo cups, with twenty cups of one color, and one cup in a different color. Start with the different color cup on the bottom. When the timer starts, you have one minute to move the cups, one at a time from the top of the stack to the bottom, until the different color cup is at the top. The hard part: You must switch hands each time you move a cup. Left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand. It’s tricky to remember that part!

What’s at work here: Hand-eye coordination. Memory skills. Balancing objects.

Game #4–Line up four forks, spaced slightly apart, and taped to the floor (needs a flat floor surface, or can be done on a tabletop). Tape another line a couple feet away for child to sit behind. Roll quarters to see how many you can “catch” in the forks within one minute. This is really difficult to do, and my son wasn’t able to get any in the forks, but he did come very close! I think next time he will nail it! Once they get the hang of rolling the quarters in the right way, it gets easier.

What’s at work here: Fine motor skills. Depth perception. Hand-eye coordination.

So close!

Game #5–Place a ball on top of empty toilet paper rolls. Blindfold child. Give child directions to the ball, “Forward! Left! More to the left! A little to the right! Right there, bend down and get it!” It was a little frustrating at times to not be able to see where he was going, and he kicked the ball away from him when he was so close a few times! But he did great!

What’s at work here: Listening skills. Spacial vocabulary. (forward, backward, left, right, etc. )Following directions.

There are so many good skills being practiced with all of these games, and it’s all in good family-friendly fun! Be sure to check out NBC’s Minute to Win It site for a complete list of these games and many more, or think up some of your own! Have fun!

Homemade Birthday Card

It’s an equal combination of being cheap and being able to add our family’s personal touch that I prefer to make our own cards rather than buying them. Here is a quick and easy tutorial for a homemade birthday card that I made for my mother-in-law last week for her big 60th birthday:

The “You’ve Touched Our Lives” homemade birthday card:

What you’ll need:

-a blank card

-ink pad or paint

-scrapbook paper/cardstock


How to make it:

-First, use the ink pad or paint to put fingerprints throughout the front and inside of the card, one fingerprint for each year of the card recipient’s age. If you’re making this for a parent or grandparent, having the children in the recipient’s life do this part is a sweet little touch. In our case, each of our two children did thirty fingerprints to make a total of 60 for my mother-in-law.

-Then use the scrapbook paper or cardstock to decorate the rest of the card. You could choose to do this step first and the fingerprints second, whichever seems easier for you.

-Finally, add the message to the card–the age on the front and the following on the inside:

This card was touched (#) times.

One touch for each year that your life has touched all who have known and loved you.

It took us about fifteen minutes to make this card (including setup and cleanup), which is less time than it would have taken to drive to the store, pick out a card, and drive back home. And the personal “touch” of a homemade card always goes over really well!

Do you usually make your own cards or buy them? If you have a link to a homemade card tutorial on your blog, feel free to leave a comment with a link to it!

A Magic Trick for Kids: Making Monsters Disappear

Our son is a pretty brave kid when it comes to things like going to the doctor, starting a new school, or running around and being a daring and active little youngster. But he has a bit of a fear of the dark. And people in costumes. And talking to people he doesn’t know. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by the way. He won’t even talk to strangers when Mom and Dad are with him!) With Halloween approaching, he has mixed feelings. He gets excited about dressing up in his own costume and getting candy, of course, but he isn’t crazy about walking around in the dark, amongst other strange and scary people in costumes, and having to talk to strangers at their door in order to get the candy. It does sound a bit creepy from his point of view!

Today, we did a little “magic trick” that you may have seen or done with your children before, but we put a little Halloween monster twist on it. And we used the opportunity to talk about how monsters are imaginary, that they are just creatures that people have created in their minds, and that he will be perfectly safe going Trick-or-Treating on Wednesday with Mom and Dad and baby brother. Sometimes a light-hearted activity mixed with a more serious talk can help to let your child relax. And hopefully, they will open up and learn in the process of both.

Here is our MONSTER, GO AWAY! magic trick for kids:

What you need:

  • coffee filters
  • washable markers
  • a bowl of warm water
  • newspaper (for easy cleanup!)

How to make the magic happen:

  • Lay out newspaper, and put out all of the materials on top. Give your child a coffee filter (and one for yourself, if you like! Who says these ideas are only fun for kids?!) and ask them to draw a MONSTER on their coffee filter, and tell them that you’re going to help them make that monster disappear! My son was skeptical. But he started to draw anyway.


  • While your child is drawing, it may be a good time to bring up any fears that they have about monsters, or costumes, or bedtime, etc. I opened our conversation with, “So what do you  think about monsters? Are they silly? Funny? Scary?” And let your child be the guide of the conversation. Try to keep it as light-hearted as possible. This is supposed to be a fun activity, but also a chance to reiterate that monsters are only something we create in our minds.
  • When your child is finished making their monster, ask them to soak, swirl, and dunk him in the bowl of water. Encourage them to be silly with it, swirling and swishing for thirty seconds or so, and let them shout at him. “Go away, MONSTER!” “Goodbye, Monster!” or as my son said, “This is for your OWN GOOD, MONSTER!!”




  • After thirty seconds or so, tell your child to take the monster out of the water and give him a big, strong squeeze!

  • Ask your child to open up their coffee filter, and watch him gasp! “He’s gone!” 😉


I hope you and your children have a happy, safe, (even if a little scary) Halloween!!





Homemade Halloween Card for Kids

Although giving children the tools to express themselves creatively–with no specific end result in mind–is important, it is also fun to occasionally create a project. I also love making homemade gifts for my boys’ grandparents. They are a huge part of our lives, and we love to make them feel special and to thank them for all they do for us whenever we can.

In the spirit of Halloween, we made a homemade ghost Halloween card that is super easy, and it cost us nothing, because we used materials that we already had around the house!

What you need:

  • cardstock (one piece of black + a couple of any fun fall colors/patterns)
  • blank card
  • white paint
  • black paint or black stamp pad
  • glue
  • pencil

How to make it:

  • Paint your child’s foot (or let older children paint their own!) with white paint.

  • Place the painted foot upside-down on the black cardstock.
  • Cut down the black cardstock to make a rectangle around the ghost.

  • Cut a couple more pieces of the fall-colored cardstock, so that they will fit into layers on the front of the blank card.
  • Glue all of the layers together.

  • Let it all dry, and then paint your child’s thumb with black paint or help them dip it in the black stamp pad. (Tip: Use a big toe with a baby. Since they like to clinch their little fists, it can be hard to get the thumb!)
  • Press the thumb/toe onto the top of the ghost to make two eyes and a big open mouth! I also dipped a pencil in the white paint to write the “Boo!” Again, older children can do this part themselves.

  • Once everything is dry, you can add your own personal touch to the inside by either writing a message like I did, “Have a SPOOKTACULAR Halloween!” or let older children practice their writing and spelling skills by writing their own message!

The finished product! Sure to make grandparents say, “Awww!”

He liked playing with the scrap paper while Mama put it all together! 😉


What do you think about this homemade Halloween card? Do you like to make your own cards, buy a card, or skip the cards for holiday gifts?