Random Shit to Entertain Baby

It’s a little known fact that the less toys a child has, the more they play. Now, I won’t lie to you and say my boys have nothing but a cardboard box and some crayons. In fact, they have a whole playroom; however, they’re also toddlers. When they were babies, I kept things minimal on purpose!

Babies don’t need toys. Babies need freedom to explore.

The infant brain is has more neurons that stars in the galaxy! These neurons need to excited, or used, otherwise they die off. When a baby is given a toy that does the same thing repeatedly, we’re limiting the brains capability and allowing the “use it or lose it” phenomenon to lessen our babies potential. So, avoid gimmicky battery operated toys, definitely avoid screen time, and instead provide rich sensory experiences with a bunch of random crap!

Materials to keep on hand for babies:

  • clothespins
  • craft poms
  • ribbons
  • ziplock bags
  • cardboard
  • egg cartons
  • cans
  • spoons
  • pots, pans
  • strainer
  • pipe cleaners
  • pasta
  • stones
  • finger paint
  • playing cards
  • muffin tins
  • sand/cornmeal
  • sponges
  • pillow cases
  • empty water bottles
  • mirrors
  • beans
  • waterbeads
  • parachute
  • bubble wrap
  • duct tape
  • food coloring

There’s probably more I could add to this list, but my brain is fried. Did I mention I have toddlers now? LOL

Besides reading stories, singing songs, wrestling, and baby dance parties get creative with these materials. Allow baby to explore them with no “point” in mind. Set the stones out with a pot and see what baby does. Perhaps they’ll have fun moving stones from a pot to a pan. Maybe they choose to throw them into the pot and laugh at the noise, or maybe they’ll bang the pot like a drum.

Set playing cards out next to a toaster or ziploc bag.

Put beans into an old sock for a sensory toy.

Use the clotespins with craft poms to make paint brushes and let baby “paint” with water onto a cardboard box.

Stuff things into a pillow case and let them dig them out.

Throw poms, bottle caps (supervised), beans, and stones into the muffin tins.

The sky is the limit with these materials and that’s the point! Let baby explore their world, and their abilities, creatively without rules or judgement. My boys are two now and will play with just about anything and I marvel at their creativity! They’ve never required “toys” to stay busy and explore. They create fun with whatever is around!

Sty 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


Let Your Child Play ALONE

Before you freak out and get all up in arms, hear me out. I’m not saying ALL THE TIME, goofballs, I’m just saying there’s a HUGE benefit to allowing your child independent play. Take it from a Play Therapist (muah). 



When your child plays with you, another adult, babysitter, or even another friend, their creativity is sometimes swayed. They might make decisions based on what they think the other person wants. Perhaps in their imagination they really want to build a candy house with their legos, but they think dad wants them to build a big tall tower so they go ahead and build the tower so dad will be pleased. When they play alone, they are free to make their own decisions.


I cringe sometimes watching adults “play” with their children knowing they have ulterior motives. Play should not be a time of teaching or lecturing. For example, when your child is playing with the barnyard animals, it’s not a time to teach them the proper names of the animals and the sounds that they make. Remember that in your child’s imagination, these might not be barnyard anmals. They could be monsters, soldiers, fairies, or aliens.

Also, I often see parents using play as an opportunity to teach life lessons. Just because your child is making people fight in his play doesn’t mean he’s going to be a fighter or grow up to be violent. Play is for expressing in fantasy what cannot happen in reality and it’s perfectly healthy to explore all sides of the self in play.



Play is intrinsically motivated, meaning there are no rules and there’s no final product. A child needs permission to play freely, make decisions on their own, and problem solve independently. Even the most well meaning adult can say or do things that interrupt the natural flow of the play and can sometimes distract the child.


Children often play out tough experiences and give situations they struggled with alternate endings. Perhaps they play out the scene where you made them clean up their mess and they want to yell and scream at you. This can only happen if they’ve had opportunity to play privately.



Children learn through play. They need the opportunity to do things the wrong way, spell incorrectly, read the wrong words, and make mistakes. Play is a natural part of growth and development and ironically, more growth and development occurs during independent, free play.


Now, it is also a great bonding experience to play with your child occassionally too, so here’s a few rules of thumb to follow:

Don’t ask questions: If you have enough information to ask a question, you have enough information to make a statement. Questions stunt imagination because there’s the pressure of answering “correctly”. Rather than, “Why is the princess locked away,” try “The princess is locked up.” When the child hears you acknowledging what’s occuring in the play, they’ll likely provide more information for you to follow along.

Don’t label things that haven’t been labeled: Remember, your child is using their imagination. If they haven’t labeled an object as a horse, a car, an apple, then it might not be. They could be pretending the horse is a dinosaur, the car is a spaceship, and the apple is a bomb that will wreak havoc on all in it’s path. Call it that, those, etc and leave things vague until the child tells you what it is to them. There’s no right or wrong in play.

Allow the child to lead: Do not involve yourself in the play. Let the child tell you what they want you to do, who they want you to be and what you say and do. This is the one place in their life where they’re in charge and it’s very empowering when mom or dad take a backseat.

Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality: Remember, play is about exploring imagination, processing feelings, and playing out difficult emotions. Allow them to be the bad guy, act silly, fight, shoot, kidnap, and be loud. Exploring this side of themselves in fantasy may even decrease the chance of violence in reality.


I use Sandtray Therapy and Play Therapy in my counseling practice with young children because children communicate through their play. Should you feel your child needs Play Therapy to process something difficult that has happened in their life, please email me at AustinPlayTherapy@gmail.com

Chelsea Vail, MA, CCLS, LPC-Intern

Under supervision of Karen Burke, LPC-S

The Burke Center, 8101 W Hwy 71, Austin, TX

I Want My Kids to Get Hurt

Hold up…before anybody gets up in a tizzy and reports me to the authorities for my title, hear me out. 

I Want My Kids to Get Hurt

When I was about 7 years old I stubbed my toe on our driveway and knocked about 1/8 of an inch off the top. No, it wasn’t a scratch or a stubbed toe; I’m talking O-F-F,  toe hanging by a thread.

When I was 8 or 9 I floated the river with my family and got separated from the group. They went right and I went left. I flipped out of my tube and was stuck in the undercurrent of the rapid for what felt like an eternity until a nice man put down his oar and pulled me out.

Jessica and Chelsea on bikes in Alaska

When I was 10 I let a friend talk me into “pumping” on her bike, which means you stand on the front or back pegs that stick out of the wheels while they drive they bike. Of course she wrecked while I was on the back and the wheels (very hot I might add), burned into the sides of my calf muscles. I still have scars.

In sixth grade I rode my bike down on hill behind our house in England and passed out on the bike due to fear, heat, and the rocky path and I slammed into the wooden fence of the neighborhood pub, flipped over the bike and landed in a thorn bush. Climbing out of the bush once I came to caused even more scratches.

In 8th grade I packed only my cutest outfits to youth retreats and was usually freezing my ass off every night, miserable, and getting sick.

childhood road trip

My sophomore year I attempted to dive off my friend’s decorative waterfall in the backyard pool and the rocks broke, sending me sliding rump first down the rocks and causing a bruise the size of the infamous one in “A League of their Own”.

I’ve been on bad dates, gotten food poisoning, been in horrendous car wrecks, fallen down stairs, bumped into walls, sprained ankles, and had close encounters with the death far more than I want to admit. But, the fact is- I’ve learned something from every mistake. People don’t learn from being told; they learn from experience.

  • I wear shoes when I’m outside and I NEVER run barefoot unless I’m on a beach.
  • I always hold someone’s foot or hand when approaching rapids and wear a lifevest whenever I’m in dangerous territory.
  • I never stood on the front of anyone’s bike again and in fact, I learned in adolesence that me and bikes don’t mix- period.
  • I always check the weather when I’m traveling anywhere and I pack for all possible scenarios. I’ve learned to agree with my dad that, “Warm is beautiful”.
  • I don’t dive, EVER. ‘Nuff said. I suck at diving.

Rollercoaster with mom

I’ve got stories to tell and I’ve learned to try new things, be adventurous, how to protect myself, and not be afraid. If you fall, you’ll get back up. If you get sick, you’ll heal. If you fail, try it differently next time.

I don’t want to be one of those parents who follows their kids around so scared that something bad will happen. I don’t want to send my kids the message that without me they can’t survive or figure things out. How will they learn to wear a coat if they’ve never been cold? Why would they eat a decent meal if I’ve always got snacks? Why pack their homework when they know I’ll bring it to them? How will they know what it feels like to get up if I never let them fall?

How can we expect them to take initiative if we’ve always told them where to go, what to do, what to watch out for, and what to be afraid of? How many times do you say, “be careful” to your child a day? I don’t want my kids to “be careful”! I want them to grab life by the horns and go for it! (within reason, lol)

The point is- we have to let our kids get hurt from time to time. Let them struggle. Let them fall. A stubbed toe, exposure to germs, or a broken limb are part of childhood.

A parent who always remembers, has a child who always forgets.