What to Do with Toddlers in Texas

Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I’m not exactly a “stay-at-home” stay at home mom. I don’t work in the traditonal since and yes, I’m “at home” with my boys, but…we are NEVER at home! Life is too short! We’re adventure seekers and we treat everyday like a new opportunity to see and do. I’ve visited every major city (and many small towns) in Texas with my boys so I can tell you the best things to do and places to go with little ones. 

I’ve done nearly all of these with my twin boys, who are almost eighteen months. We started really enjoying these things around nine to ten months, and even more so after they turned a year old. Many of these tings are perfect for toddlers all the way up to early school aged. My best advice is to look up the place you want to go to, make note of prices & hours, and then decide if you’ll need a stroller or carrier. Then, will you need a lunch, water, or just cash. Pack a few diapers and hit the road. Pura Vida! Enjoy.

My favorites in Austin include:

  • Barton Springs
  • Zilker Zelphyr & Zilker playground
  • Austin Natyre & Science Center
  • Lions, Tigers & Toys train table
  • The Dino Park (Bastrop)
  • Liz Carpenter Fountain at Butler Park
  • Botanical Gardens at zilker
  • Westbank Public Library
  • Graffiti Wall on Baylor
  • Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad
  • Twin Falls or Sculpture Falls
  • Thinkery
  • Toybrary
  • Mount Bonnell (hike)
  • Belterra (splash pad, trails, parks, and ducks to feed)
  • HCG splash pad
  • Catch Air (only ok, a little overwhelming)
  • Locomotion (ghetto, but worth a stop)
  • Founders Park (Dripping Springs)
  • Enchanted Rock (hike)
  • Pease Park
  • Circle C playground, trails and creek
  • Treaty Oak Brewery
  • Little Land Play Therapy
  • Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • Austin Zoo

New Braunfels/San Marcos

  • McKenna Childrens Museum
  • Schlitterbahn
  • Wonder World
  • Float the Guadalupe
  • Wildlife Ranch

San Antonio

  • Doseum
  • Sea World & Aquatica
  • Rainforest Cafe

Marble Falls

  • Horseshoe Bay
  • Sweet Berry Farms
  • Park & ducks by Mamas Kitchen

Grapevine

  • Great Wolf Lodge
  • Grapevine Vintage Railroad
  • Nash Farm
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Sea Life Aquarium
  • LegoLand Discovery Center
  • Vetro Glass Blowing on Main St.

Dallas/Ft. Worth

  • Dallas World Aquarium
  • Dallas Zoo
  • Ft. Worth Zoo
  • Childrens gardens at Arboretum
  • Watermark Church indoor playground
  • Ft Worth Childrens Museum
  • Berger’s Lake Ft. Worth
  • Perot Museum
  • Klyde Warren Park
  • Ft Worth Water Gardens
  • Botanical Gardens Ft Worth

Chappell Hill/Brenham

  • Blue Bell Ice Cream factory
  • Fireman’s Park
  • Public Library (toys and play space)
  • Oil Ranch
  • Antique carousel at Firemans park

Waco

  • Cameron Park zoo & splaspads
  • Magnolia Market
  • Mayborn Childrens Museum

Houston

  • Discovery Green
  • Houston Zoo
  • Houston Childrens Museum
  • Kemah Boardwalk at Galveston,
  • Dewberry Farm
  • Houston Aquarium
  • Houston Nature & Science Center
  • Splashway Family Waterpark

Lets be real, here! What are you really doing everyday?

Laundry: Laundry takes about 5-15 minutes total. Less than a minute to drop it into washer or dryer and about 5-10 minutes to fold. Add a few more minutes to put away.

Dishes: I don’t have a good dishwasher so I hand wash ALL of my dishes. THREE times a day. I can get a sink full of dishes, including pots and pans done in about 8 minutes. So, let’s say I spend about 20 minutes a day doing dishes.

Cleaning: I can clean my entire house in about 20-30 minutes including sweeping and vaccuuming which I don’t do everyday. Your house is probably bigger and if so…put cleaning off and go have fun! It can wait.

All of the above adds up to about an hour. Add in 15-20 minutes for meltdowns and blow outs. Add about 15-20 minutes for getting you and your crew dressed, bags packed, and loaded in the carseats.

If you’re awake 12-15 hours a day, where does the rest of your time go? Get up, get out there, and do something! There are so many beautiful, wondrous places to explore to provide rich learning experiences for your children. Take time to meander, play, and enjoy every moment with your sweet kiddos.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

 

Finding the Perfect Child Care Program

When I heard they had a two year wait list and were a “Texas Rising Star” campus, I decided I just had to take a tour and get my boys on that wait list asap! I even took a tour  during nap time because I was so excited to see what they were all about. I was so thrilled to be a part of this campus…

…until I wasn’t!

I pulled up to the school and peered over the busted fence to see several four year old (or maybe even five year olds) playing on the playground, and in the sandbox, in their underwear! No shirts, no shoes, no pants! I felt my body immediately try to reverse and retreat back home, but the Austinite in me decided to be open minded and I decided to proceed with a willingness to find out what this place was all about (and why the students were playing outside in their underwear). This was problem #1.

Problem #2 & #3: We got out of the car and wandered around aimlessly looking for the entrance until a “teacher” dressed in vintage booties, an ironic tee, and daisy dukes led us through the gate. I’m all for showing your personal style as a teacher, but I also believe in professional dress for professional learners.

Problem #4 & #5: We enter the “office” and it reeks of poop. There are a bunch of two year olds using the office restroom with the door open for all to enjoy. And…the office is a DISASTER! Papers were piled high to the sky, file folders were jumbled up behind the desk, there was no where to sit, and supplies were randomly placed anywhere and everywhere.

I. Must. Proceed.

At this point I decided there was no way in hell my boys would ever attend this school, but it was like a train wreck I couldn’t turn away from. I found myself drawn towards the classrooms because I just had to find out what it was that made this place worth a two year wait? Perhaps I was the crazy one? Surely there’s something I just haven’t seen yet, right?

Problem #6-10: The director was a young gay man. This was a non issue to me until I met three more young, gay, male teachers. I’m in no wayhomophobic, nor do I think gay men can’t be day care teachers, but when 5 out of 7 teachers are young gay men, I wonder,”Is this diversity, or have you just replaced one sub-population with another?” I want diversity for my children, not only in sexuality, but in gender, race, culture…

I continued to tour the school although I found it obnoxiously overstimulating, dirty, and cluttered. My mind was racing from one sight to the next. What I fell in love with; however, was it’s ideals. It’s philosophies. It’s approach to learning. The biggest issue to me was the environment, but so much of a child’s learning at this age is environment so I still couldn’t consider this place. No matter what their educational philosophy is, a child just will not thrive in a school of chaos.

So…what should a parent look for when choosing a school, or child care, for their infant or toddler.

  1. An infant/toddler classroom should be tech free and battery free. No ipads, no computers, no smart phones, no tablets, and definitely no TV. This age group not only can become overstimulated, but they learn best from experience, not entertainment.
  2. There should not be discipline, time outs, or any consequences for misbehavior. This age group (baby-12m) does not know how to misbehave. Everything they do is driven from curiosity, lack of ability to communicate, and instinct. They need positive guidance, modeling, and redirection.
  3. Everything should be at the child’s level. Teaching decor, mirrors, sensory items, nap mats, toilets, even toys, should be accessible to the child and hung at the child’s eye level (not the adult’s). This shows the children this place was designed with them in mind and this is a place where they’re superior, not inferior.
  4. A child care center, or school, should not be sterile, but it should be clean. If it smells of lysol or other toxic chemicals, it’s not the place for your child. Ask the director what they use in cleaning and how they disinfect. They should be cleaning regularly, with help from the children, and using nontoxic, VOC free, fragrance free cleaners.
  5. Studies show that an organized room is an organized mind. Children thrive in an organized space! Areas of the classroom should be distinguished and/or framed using rugs, mats, or shelving. Perhaps various colors signal different areas, but it should be visible to adults where each area of the classroom is, and things should be labeled and clutter free. Each child should have a space for their own things as well.
  6. The environment should be calming and the colors should be neutral. Color is powerful for the mind and soul, therefore can be overstimulating to infants. Neutral tones should be used and a soft pallet of color. An infant classroom should also have furnishings made of real world, natural materials such as wood, or metal. This allows the child’s brain to take in new information from the learning activities, without being overstimulated/exhausted from it’s surroundings.
  7. Plenty of natural light and access to the outdoors is crucial.
  8. If the director, or teachers, tell you they have a curriculum for infants, RUN! This age group should not be “taught”, “educated”, or “entertained”. They should be provided an environment for learning to take place through sensing, exploration, and experience.
  9. Do they allow “drop in” care? If so, be prepared for random kids you don’t know to be included in your child’s class from time to time. This will not only disrupt routine and sense of security for your child, but will introduce new personalities, new germs, and new dynamics into the structure of their day. Not healthy.

I liked that this particular school described themselves as “child centered” and explained to me that they have a play based learning program. That’s generally what I want to hear. They also told me they don’t force children to apologize for behaviors because they believe a child will find their own way to communicate when they feel sorry for their actions. I agree with this. Children should not be forced to apologize, be affectionate, or make eye contact. The child’s natural feelings should always be validated and respected. I liked that they seek diversity in student make-up, but I would’ve liked to see diversity in the teaching staff as well. I also like the idea of allowing children to be free and make their own choices as much as possible, but whether or not they wear clothes at school was a bit too far for me.

Good luck…it’s a jungle out there!

Stay gold,

That Girl

 

Fall Portrait Party!

YOU are invited to a portrait party in the heart of the hill country! Ariel Rawlings, elite wedding and family photographer and owner of Evan & Marin Photography, is offering fall portrait mini-sessions for ONE DAY ONLY Oct 8 at Whole Heart headquarters (aka, my home). Picture two acres of Texas hill country with miles and miles of rolling hills behind you. imagine hay bales, quilts, pupkins, apples, wood crates…

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Ariel is super talented with light! She’s that photographer that reminds us all that it takes more than a fancy camera to be a pro; it takes artistic talent and an eye for detail. I’ll be setting up three pinterest-esque fall portrait backdrops on our property for you to choose from. Or, opt for no backdrop and just get down with nature!

It’s a party so come mingle with other mamas. Those that schedule sessions in the morning can enjoy pumpkin bread from Quacks Bakery (I think there’s crack in it as it’s SO addicting) and fresh coffee or mimosas. Those that schedule the afternoon sessions can enjoy wine from local wineries and a charcuterie board with fresh meats and cheeses.

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Bring the baby, bring the kids, bring your partner, or bring the whole fam damn! This opportunity is too good to pass up. Ariel is offering her services PLUS three photos at a fraction of her sitting fees. Sign up here for the time slot that works for your family. Should you sign up during the TX/OU game…yes, the game will be on our outdoor TV!

Stay gold, 

That Girl

The Case Against Toys

My mother texted me last week and asked me about a couple of gifts she was thinking about for my twins for Christmas (she shops early). I googled the items she was referring to and read about the products. When I read the words “teaches your child,” “educational,” and “your child will learn,” I knew the toys were not for us. Ironically, the toys that “teach” your child actually counteract learning and stunt development. Shocker, right?

I refuse to have toys in my home that teach my children.

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I texted my mom back and reminded her that I don’t allow toys that have batteries or electricity. In fact, I dont have toys in my home that “do” things. A toy that does for a child robs them of the opportunity to do. The play becomes limited by what the toy has been programmed to do. It does not require imagination, problem solving, creativity, exploration, or observation. It is entertaining the child, which is not what play is about. It’s not about entertainment or distraction.

Play is a child’s natural language. It is how they make sense of their world, how they communicate, how they express feelings, and how they process their experiemces. Play by definition is intrinsically motivated, therefore a toy that gives the same response each time a button is pushed, or a lever is pulled, trains the child to seek extrinsic reward, rather than introinsic. So, once again, play is negatively affected.

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As a Play Therapist I always felt saddened by the child who would come into the playroom filled with open-ended toys, pick up a toy and try to press a button. They’d search desperately for an off/on switch, something to push, pull, turn on somehow before finally looking at me and exclaiming, “It’s broken” or “What does it do?” This child has been programmed for toys to  do the work for him and he no longer knows how to play.

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Toys do not need names either. A toy that comes with a name, or a label, pulls the child from fantasy and anchors them to reality. This is not a good thing. I don’t want my children growing up thinking a stick is just a stick and a box is just a box. The possibilities for items like this should be endless to a child’s imagination. I once put a whisk on the play tray of my five month old son’s walker and my stepson said, “Why did you give him a whisk?” I told him it’s not a whisk to the baby, it could be anything the baby wants it to be. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind and said, “But what else could it be?” Again, how sad. This child has lost the ability to imagine.

So…what do they play with?

  • ribbons
  • tin foil
  • bubble wrap, corks, sponges
  • spatulas, whisks, ladels, egg beaters
  • Measuring cups
  • salad spinners, drainers, muffin tins
  • egg cartons, boxes
  • bags
  • blocks
  • balls
  • cars, trains, planes (wooden toys)
  • books
  • crayons, shaving cream, play doh
  • musical toys, wooden toys
  • blankets
  • bubbles
  • swings, slides, ladders, jungle gyms
  • hula hoops, jump ropes
  • figurines

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If you buy your children pop up tents how will they learn to build forts? If you buy them the bubble machine how will they learn to blow bubbles? If you buy hot wheels track you’re limiting how far and which direction the cars can go? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates did not grow up using iPads and tech toys…they grew up playing with what was around them and as a result they learned how to think and they became creators.

So, my children will not watch TV. They will not have ipads. They will not use smart phones until age appropriate and they will not play with toys that need batteries or need to be plugged in. They will learn to be resourceful, creative, and imaginative to play and to make sense of the world around them.

Stay gold,

That Girl

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Lorena Canals Rug: The Machine Washable Wonder

When I first heard about a rug that could be machine wahed at home I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. I thought to myself, “Oh sure, it can go in the machine, but I’ll bet it comes out fluffy, pulled, and faded”. But, then one showed up at my door from Lorena Canals, and I got to try it for myself…game changer!

Soft & safe!

I believe the secret to life with twins is places to set them. You need rockers, bouncers, swings, walkers, chairs, and playpens. Places that you can strap them into or safely lay them to play unattended while you tend to the other or tend to the house. We have blankets and rugs EVERYWHERE! I like being able to get up in the morning, lay the boys on a blanket to roll around and play, and have a few minutes to myself to make breakfast and get my coffee. Before this wonder-rug, I was getting up, strapping them into a swing and laying down blanket after blanket after blanket to provide cushion on the hardwood before unstrapping them and laying them on the floor. The Lorena Canals rug; however, is super soft! It stays in place (no rug mat needed) and it’s fluffy enough for them to roll around on without bonking their heads.

Lorena Canals Dark Grey Ombre

Lorena Canals Dark Grey Ombre

Lightweight!

The twins also LOVE to play in their walkers and scoot around all over the hardwood. The rug is lightweight enough that I can put them in their walkers and one-handed (while holding a 20lb baby boy) fold it up, scoot it out of the way, or even kick it out of the way so they can run around. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but have you ever had a rug that was super heavy you couldn’t move it without a helper, or two? Have you ever had a rug that was so flimsy all your guests tripped over it? Or, what about the rug that needs a rubber mat underneath it to stay in place, which makes it difficult to move? Trust. Having a play area rug that’s easily moved when you have twin babies is a huge deal.

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Not Min-Numbingly Colorful

I gag when I walk into someone’s home and 80% of it looks like a high-end designer showroom, but the other 20% looks like Barney vomited. The mismatched patterns of the children’s toys, the cartoon characters, the cheesy animals, and the primary colors on all the gear…blaech! That’s not for me and it’s not good for babies either. It’s overstimulating, unpredictable, chaotic, and frankly it’s not modern. My home is greys, whites, beige, and classic black and white stripes. Therefore, I opted for an ombre grey rug and it’s beautiful. It takes the place of a coffee table so we don’t have to worry about bumped, scraped heads as much and it’d not distracting from the overall ambiance of my home.

Washes so easily!

We use the rug for storytime, playtime, feeding time, and I even change their diapers on it from time to time. After about a week of being scared I’d ruin it if I washed it I finally decided to bite the bullet and just go for it.

Step 1: Put it in the washer.

Step 2: Put it in the dryer.

Need me to repeat that? It’s that easy. A gentle, cold cycle and a low tumble dry and it was stain free and pull-free! It looks the same, if not better, than it did when we first got it. I will likely be purchasing several more of these rugs…one for every room of the house!

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Get your machine washable Lorena Canals Rug HERE

Stay gold, 

Chelsea Vail

Baby on a Budget

It’s true I’m a wee bit obsessed with baby gear, and have been since WAY before my boys were born; however, most of this gear is not considered a necessity. I even had some mom-troll comment on one of my posts one day, “Seems like you have to be a millionaire to have a baby these days”. I chose not to respond at the time, but here’s what I would’ve liked to say, “Actually, all it takes to have a baby is an egg, sperm, and a vagina”. But, tthat may have been considered rude, even though it’s true, lol. 

You don’t have to be a millionaire to have a baby. Here’s how to avoid breaking the bank when you’re preggo.

Breastfeed.

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Formula is not only lacking in nourishment and high in unnecessary toxins, but in pales significantly in comparison to breastmilk and it’s expensive! The sticky, stinky powder will empty your pockets so fast it’ll make your head spin, plus you’ll need bottles, nipples, warmers, bottle cleaner, etc. Something like 97% of the female population can breastfeed successfully so only 3% of you may have trouble. No need for fancy nursing covers either. If you’re shy, say goodbye…and walk away to somewhere peaceful and private. Otherwise, sun’s out? Boobs out!

Babywear

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A babywearing wrap can be as cheap as $40! Know what’s even cheaper? Fabric. It cracks me up when I’m out in public tying on my ACK Wrap or Happy Wrap and someone comments, “Wow, they didn’t have things like that when I had my babies.” Yes, they did! All over the world people have worn their babies using not much more than a bed sheet or cut of fabric. Tie your baby on and there’s no need for a fancy schmancy stroller.

Cloth Diaper

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Yes, there’s some money up front and it’s suggested to have about 24 diapers to start with, but you could get by with less than that at first and build your way up to more. You’ll just have to do laundry a bit more until baby is using less diapers per day, but the upfront costs of cloth will save you thousands down the road. Get a starter kit of 24 diapers plus diaper pail liners and wet bags from ShopWholeHeart.com

Feed the Baby What You Eat

Jarred baby food costs about $.50 for one little jar, but you may go through 3-5 per day, which adds up to $1.50-2.50 a day, or averaging about $40-60 a month. Yikes! Make your own for a third of that price or, even better, just feed baby from your plate. Around six months baby can start eating soft foods and doesn’t need purees. Mash up that banana, potatoes, avocado, egg yolk, or bone marrow delicacy you’re spreading onto your toast points! Studies show babies who ate what the family ate before two years of age are far less likely to be picky eaters.

Clothes

Hand me downs from...somewhere

Hand me downs from…somewhere

Facebook is your friend! Join local garage sale pages, or swap sites, and post every few months asking for hand me downs. Trust me-people don’t want to go through that big box marked for Goodwill and price everything out to sell you individually. They just want it out of their house. I’ve gotten stuff from Baby Gap, Janie and Jack, even Feather4Arrow for FREE!!!

Bathtime 

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You do NOT need expensive organic soaps and lotions. Babies aren’t dirty and their skin produces natural oils to moisturize and protect. For bath, fold up a towel in the kitchen sink, fill it a little ways with warm water and wash baby off with a washcloth and natural oil (such as coconut oil or almond oil) every few days.

Toys

The best toys for babies and toddlers are “real world” items found around the house. Commercial toys are often overstimulating, which can actually stunt imagination and development rather than enhance it.

  • Create a sensory board using plywood and attach things such as sandpaper, buttons, locks, zippers, old calculators, ribbons, cotton, or various fabrics with different colors and textures.
  • Create a “sandbox” with a large rubbermaid container and cornmeal (safe to injest).
  • Use kitchen utensils like spatulas, ladles, measuring cups, or measuring spoons to play in sand or water.
  • Make shakers with old pill bottles and fill with beans, rice, coins, or beads.
  • Save toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, ribbon, bubble wrap, yarn, egg cartons, and milk jugs. All of these things allow for open ended, creative play.

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I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t splurge on the top of the line baby gear for my babies. I did. My stroller cost more than most people’s first cars (I’m embarassed to admit that); however, at the end of the day it’s not about the stroller, the diaper bag, or the clothes a baby had. It’s all about the love they received!

Stay Gold, 

That Girl

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