Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors


My child loves to invent, explore, and create and we’ve been doing fun activities together since she was just a wee tot. Now that she’s a little older, she is starting to experiment on her own. I love watching her make connections and try new things — and then taking pride in the results. But we sometimes get a bit stuck, searching for new adventures and activities to explore together.

If you’re not sure where to start or how to get the creative juices flowing (because it can totally be a challenge!), I have the book for you. Rachelle Doorley, the smart and super-talented mama over at Tinkerlab, shares everything you need in her new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors. And what I love about Doorley’s book is it’s so easy to read, motivating you to start creating right away.

Along with sharing ideas for exciting activities you can do with your child, Rachelle shares tips for starting the process, creating the right space for your child’s tinkering, and ideas for getting kids involved — even with the clean-up process. Doorley also includes interviews with experts, such as education professors and nursery school directors, sharing personal stories and experiences that add just the right touch of guidance and coaching throughout the book.


This book? It’s awesome. It’s motivating. It’s encouraging, smart, exciting, fun, silly, and also simple. Make your own paste and mix with paint for creating textured designs? Yes. Construct structures with gumdrops and toothpicks? Of course. Take apart an old computer? Sure! You don’t have to be an expert to do these activities with your child — just a willing participant in the journey of discovery. You might find yourself learning something new too.

Buy your copy here.

Just so you know, I wasn’t asked by anyone or compensated in any way to write this post. I purchased the book all on my own because I knew it would be beneficial — and read from cover to cover. OH and I knew I would USE the information in the book with my child. (And I have.)

Observational learning (That moment when you realize your kid listens and watches everything you do)

observational learning

Observational learning is exactly what it sounds like — learning through observing. And let me tell you, there’s been so much more of it going on at my house than I ever realized. So my tot’s now not such a “tot” anymore since she turned four a month or so ago, and I’ve been seeing some serious attitude, behavior, growth, development, and all-around-cool stuff happening lately. I wrote this educational post for Funderstanding awhile ago and felt it was a good one to revisit, mainly because I caught my four-going-on-full-grown-year-old testing out a few of my favorite adult sayings the other day.

But there is more to it than that. With the child’s internal motivation to learn and accomplish new things, observational learning is the first way of exploring her abilities. She see’s a sweet smile and reciprocates it. She hears her parents’ voices and mimics the sounds. Observational learning allows the brain to tap into its inner need to excel and advance at the most basic level through watching and doing. And if your child is anything like mine, she’s watching and learning more than you even realize.

Observational Learning and The Brain

Okay, here are the facts: Albert Bandura, a leading researcher in the area of observational learning, is well known for his bobo doll studies dealing with observational learning in the early 1960’s.  He created a movie of a young woman hitting, kicking, and yelling at a blow-up doll.  After showing the film to a group of young kindergartners, they were sent to a playroom filled with bobo dolls. And, of course, the children copied the modeled behavior, aggressively hitting and kicking those adorable bobo dolls. The realization that the children changed  behavior even without reward didn’t fit with traditional behaviorist thinking of the time, and Bandura labeled the learning “observational” or “modeled learning.”

Along with observing and doing, Bandura combined the cognitive and operant view of learning to formulate a four-step pattern seen in observational learning.

Attention: Your child notices something within her environment and  is attentive to it. From the television to your cat to you, anything exciting and new is going to capture your sweet child’s attention.

Retention: As soon as she gloms on to that thing or person or behavior, it’s duly noted in her ever-growing brain.

Reproduction: Guess what? Your little one’s going to try out whatever caught her attention, without concern of repercussion.

Motivation: Depending on if you freak out or overly praise the behavior determines if it happens again. But, guess what? Sometimes even if your little one is treated negatively as a result of her tested-out behavior, she may do it again.

The mirror neuron theory along with observational learning encourages your child’s desire to sympathize and also respond similarly when behavior happens. Mirror neurons are a collection of brain cells that fire when an individual observes someone making the same movements as her own, causing a reaction. For example, when observing someone folding a sheet of paper and receiving a paper cut, one often flinches in sympathy. This plays a role in observational learning. Just as a child learns from observing others, her brain is ready to respond in ways from observing other’s responses from actions. Also, mirror neurons are fired when making faces in response to others, such as smiling when someone else smiles, or frowning in disapproval as someone else does.

Observational learning takes place automatically, and begins at birth, which means it is a powerful learning tool and way to shape a young child’s mind. A parent is the first model to a child, and in later years, friends and other adults offer the child models for establishing learning and behavior. And observational learning can be one of the most powerful strategies for modifying or shaping behavior, which means once your sweet child starts repeating swear words you begin to realize how important observational learning really is.

Behavior and Observational Learning

Now when a child is in a situation where a peer or an adult exposes her to a new behavior, she is attentive to what is new and often tries the behavior for herself, sometimes with not such positive results. As adults, it is our role to jump in and model the behavior desired to assist with promoting appropriate outcomes. But, let’s be honest. We become frustrated when our child misbehaves and forget to look at our own actions. So we start  yelling and carrying on, and then punish our child when she yells in anger.


Modeling behavior is the first step in observational learning and is sometimes hard to remember to follow our own rules and regulations. If you ask your child not to eat in her room, but she sees you enjoying a snack in bed, she’s getting mixed messages. A child often benefits from observing others perform tasks successfully, encouraging her own behaviors and decision-making. Aiding a child in accomplishing a challenging task, like tying her shoes by modeling how it is done, is an example. It is beneficial for the child to be exposed to several models, which helps break stereotypes and preconceptions.

Along with holding attention while modeling behavior, following with proper motivation is key. Setting realistic expectations for children, and explaining them in detail, offers the ability for the child to feel she can succeed along with building self-esteem. Also, clearly defining consequences can aide in increasing positive behaviors.

If you’re feeling heated the next time your tot misbehaves, take a deep breath and think about how you’re expressing your feelings. By modeling a calm put direct way of dealing with the situation, you’re helping your child do the same in the future.

Bribery (and a Dream Lite)

Dream Light

First and foremost, I was not paid in any way, coerced, asked, suggested, or even chatted with about this post from anyone at Dream Lite. Nope. In fact, the last thing I would have ever imagined picking up for my tot this weekend WAS a Dream Lite. And it all started with a bit of bribery.


That’s right.

I bribed my tot.

There’s been a lot going on lately, between starting a new preschool, having a new schedule, me not having as much time for her lately, and my husband’s commute pretty much being THE WORST lately, I was starting to seriously twitch every night at bedtime when she tossed her regular nightly fit.

We try to stay away from watching the big TV. We catch Sesame Street in the morning, maybe a bit of Sprout in the afternoon, but not much else. So when my tot started asking for this so called “dream light” thing, I had no clue. I made up songs, hit her up with some imaginary play (still trying to figure it out) and then one afternoon I finally caught the commercial (after I had left Poppy Cat on too long…). Dreeeaaaam liiiiight, DREAAAAAAM light. You know it if you’ve seen it.

And then it got it.

This was a great opportunity to bribe my tot with a toy (which is something I really haven’t done before) and go with it. I was done with the hours of listening to the whining, the trying talking to my tot in the same tone of voice she was using, the yelling, the serious grey hairs that were popping.

So I did it.

I told her if she behaved herself at school like a big girl, was nice and quiet at bedtime, I’d pick her up a Dream Lite. Well, low and behold, the tot held up her part of the bargain, so the husband and I found ourselves searching around our non-box-store-allowed town for a crap-tastic Dream Lite. After picking the coveted thing up, we headed home, loaded the thing up with batteries, and then listed to the tot complain about how it didn’t work AT ALL.

Finally it got dark out and then the magic happened.

It worked.

She was amazed, in love, in awe. Honestly, we were too.

There’s no way you can share pictures (because taking pictures in the dark just doesn’t work) but all I know is that my tot LOVES going to sleep, falls asleep, and the husband and I sneak downstairs to check out the glowing stars too.

Thank you Dream Lites.

Thank you.

Me time.

DoveWhen you have a toddler, you don’t get much down time. Heck, when you have kids you don’t get much down time (except when you’re sleeping). Things you used to take for granted like showering, grocery shopping, using an ATM, putting gas in the car, become a battle. Sometimes finding a moment of “me-time” is almost impossible.

Along with lacking some pretty serious alone time, I’m first to admit that I’m still rocking some natty clothes and my skin isn’t glowing at all. The few-and-far between quiet moments I do happen to miraculously get are filled with doing those things that are challenging with my toddler (like going to the bank, the grocery store she doesn’t like (but I do), and showering!).

Showering is one of those things that’s hit and miss. Either it works – and when it does it’s awesome – or it goes horridly wrong. For me to grab a quick shower, the tot’s favorite show has to be on, she needs some sort of food item to enjoy, the bathroom door has to be left open – as well as the shower curtain. Yeah, not really relaxing or successful. Sometimes I don’t even get to wash the shampoo out of my hair before some sort of drama unfolds (mainly toddler needing to poop, which seems to happen every time I am in the midst of shaving my legs or lathering that shampoo).

Okay, okay, here’s the deal. I had the chance to take one of the new premium body washes from Dove for a spin this last week. This meant I needed to blissfully shower for a week (YES, every day) to see if the stuff really works. I enlisted the husband to be on toddler watch for 10-minutes before heading to work so I could jump in and lather up without distraction – and it was THE BEST.

This body wash contains the greatest concentration of NutriumMoisture technology in Dove’s collection, and with three kinds, you can’t go wrong. I found that the Softening Body Wash totally delivers on its touts of being able to deliver softer skin with less dry spots in just a week. Just after one use, my husband noted how I looked nice. Summer means swimsuits and I need all the help I can get.

I’ll be honest, the body wash’s scent isn’t heavenly. It’s not like this stuff smells bad, but it’s definitely not blissful. With an almost generic lotion kind of smell, I found a spritz of lavender oil to help compliment my newly soft skin. Even my feet were nice and soft, ready to enjoy playing in the mud with the tot!

Head on over to the Dove website for more information and to enter for your chance to win free product and a $500 spa experience – or simply follow the directions listed below!

*Yes, I was provided with a sample of Softening Body Wash as well as compensated for this review but the opinions are all mine.

Visit Dove® VisibleCare® to get a coupon for $1 off!

Enter to win one of two $500 Spafinder gift certificates!



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Toddler drama

I’m no expert – just a mom. And I’m a toddler mom, so I guess I am an expert in some way or another. However, right now while I write this, my toddler is throwing a seriously epic tantrum. It’s putting a big halt to my afternoon plans, which included going for a jog, maybe some ice cream, reading a book while she played happily in the mud and so forth. My husband, as awesome as he is, can’t tolerate the toddler drama. His blood temperature rises (and sometimes his voice), so I usually shoo him outside or away when the tantrums unfold.


We were just about to walk into the store when it started. She didn’t want to sit in the cart – she wanted to walk all on her own. Because we were planning on doing a bit more shopping than toddler strolling allowed, we insisted she sit in the cart.


And things escalated from there.

Instead of trying to reason with her (really, I actually did so I’m kind of lying right now – there was total bribery involved but it didn’t work), I sent the husband inside to pick up the items we needed right now and took the screaming tot to the car.

Pummeling fists, kicking legs, and screaming ensued.

I shoved her into the car seat, locked her up tight, rolled down the windows, and hung-out around the car checking my Instagram feed while she SCREAMED AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS.

Sure, lots of people stared me down. I just smiled back.

Toddlers have drama, there’s just no way around it, and sometimes it’s best to just let things go.

I’m not going to hug and kiss her and offer her this or that to get her to stop. I’m not going to give in when she’s the one that needs to do the right thing.

I’m just as stubborn – if not more – than she is.

But there are a few things you can do when your tot has a breakdown:

Take a deep breath! This sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to do when your toddler is screaming her head off, but just do it. After you get some air into your lungs, calmly tell your child what is going to happen – and stick to it. I told my tot that if she didn’t sit in the cart we would go to the car. She didn’t sit in the shopping cart so we went to the car.

Don’t bribe. Yeah, so I can’t really say I didn’t try, but when your child is already in the middle of a tantrum, most times she is so worked up even offering that bribe isn’t going to register. Older toddlers are starting to figure out that this type of behavior often results in receiving what they want, which isn’t great for us adults.

Try a distraction. If your child isn’t in the middle of throwing herself to the floor (which means she’s at the beginning stages of a total tantrum), offer a distraction. Sing a song, point out something amazing (LOOOOOK a dog!), or tickle her. This often works for us, but today things had already hit the uber tantrum level.

 Act like nothing is happening. Take it from me, removing yourself from the situation, while still being close enough if your child starts being a danger to herself, is a great way to de-stress the situation. After the husband got in the car with our essentials, we acted as if we didn’t have a crazed toddler in the back seat and, as soon as we arrived home, I deposited in her room and picked up my laptop. I’ve been typing away for about 20-minutes now and she’s starting to calm down.

Talk about it later. Whenever we have a breakdown like this I always make sure to talk about it later. I offer her the words she might need to tell me about why she got so upset. I also make sure to share how I felt frustrated with the situation and discuss how we can make things better next time. It’s important to give big hugs and kisses once things have calmed down to let your child understand you still think she is super special even though things weren’t so fun for a little bit.

What works at with your tot when it’s toddler drama time? DO SHARE!

I’m off to chat with my little creature so we can hopefully still have that ice cream….



Healthful Mondays – Eating with your kids

yogurt fettuccine

Things have been seriously crazy over here. I had an awesome job interview last week, the tot and I spent lots of wonderful quality time together (now that we stopped going to the preschool), and I made the big decision to have us start eating dinner together every night. What we had done was I fed our daughter dinner around 5 or so. Then, when the hubs arrived home at 6 – 6:30-ish, he’d have one-on-one time with her until bedtime at 7:30. But, by that time, she was out of control, not fun, and my husband wasn’t having any sort of quality time with her at all. Then, after we put the tot to bed, I’d cook dinner (and have a drink) and we’d have adult dinner around 8:30.


Since stopping the preschool (another story for another time) the tot’s behavior has been better, but we still seemed to be running into a bit of trouble during the last few hours of her day. And the two dinner thing wasn’t working. I decided we’d try eating all together around 6:30. I figured she’s old enough to start sitting with us while eating, and we’re old enough that we really should be eating much earlier in the evening, so we tried it for the entire week.

Some nights were better than others.

I’ll be honest, by the weekend I’d decided I needed a break, so the tot  enjoyed peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches (her new favorite) while I cooked our adult dinners that we enjoyed after she went down for the night.

The highlight? *Creamy yogurt fettuccine! Along with a more enjoyable time together in the evenings, our toddler loves setting out napkin placemats for us, learning more about table manners, and assisting with dinner clean-up!

yogurt fettuccine for toddlers

Eating together as a family has so many benefits, including an opportunity to really chat together about everyone’s day, and studies show eating family meals encourage healthy eating habits, better school performance, and positive behavior. I grew up in a family that ate together every night, which was sometimes seriously annoying as a teenager, but it worked. I sulked my way through many a dinner, but deep down I valued that time together with my family. Even after my sister had gone off to college, I sat down to eat with my parents most nights of the week.

On a side note, I had a tragedy over the weekend. My laptop crashed. This was seriously traumatic for me – resulting in a bit of crying and some serious brooding. Wonderfully, it was an $80 fix, but I lost everything on the computer. Everything. I hadn’t backed-up my pictures in months, resulting in hundreds and hundreds of lost pictures. Yes, I take a lot of pictures, and, now that I’ve got the fancy phone, many are on the phone, but I’m still a bit sad over what’s not there anymore. I got a seriously wrist slapping from the husband about how I hadn’t backed up. All I’m saying is invest in a small hard drive, or get yourself set up with a back-up system, and back your stuff up! This way if your computer decides to take a dive you won’t lose your precious stuff.


Do it now.

(It was also my birthday and my husband bought me a cake – and lots of chocolate)

Happy Monday!

*I’ll share the recipe for yogurt fettuccine later in the week….


Toddler fine art

We had this cubby in our bedroom that needed something. I happened to have an unused canvas that needed a little something, too. It was also the perfect day for doing an art activity with my toddler. Mother’s Day is all about being a mom, celebrating mom, honoring mamas all around us, making special memories with your kids and remembering memories that you’ve had with your mom. Making something together that then would be displayed in our home was the perfect thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And, this is pretty much a no-fail way to create something seriously cool to hang in your house. Even if you’re not that crafty you only need a few things, it’s okay if things get messy and all smooshed up, and you can use any color combo you’d like. Older kids can get into creating patterns or intricate designs – or you can just go willy-nilly like we did.

Start by cutting lots of squares out of tissue paper. Older kids can be in charge of cutting tons of squares, big or small, and of any color. Once you’ve got a big pile, mix together equal parts of Mod Podge and water in a small container, get out a few brushes, your canvas (any size), and cover your work area with newspaper.

Now slather the canvas with Mod Podge and start layering on the tissue paper squares. This gets messy – and sticky – but it’s lots of fun. Your kids can watch as the tissue paper squares blend together and create new colors.

Once the entire canvas is covered, let the tissue paper and Mod Podge dry. What’s great is the Mod Podge gives things a nice gloss, creating a really finished feeling.

We decided on accenting our tissue squares with circles, but you can use any shape you’d like. Squirt a few drops of acrylic paint onto a paper towel to create a stamp pad. We found that paper cups created the perfect circle stamps and placed lots of black and white circles all around the canvas.

The finished toddler fine art fit our empty spot perfectly!

And I had a wonderful time spending Mother’s Day with my tot.


Carrot-yogurt faux mac-n-cheese

healthy homemade mac-n-cheese

I have a toddler that loves pasta. She could eat the stuff all day everyday and be happy. I’ve played around with different kinds of pasta with great success (homemade spaghetti-ohs, white bean mac-n-cheese) but she was ready for something different. After the fifth round in a row of homemade spaghetti-ohs, she was moping around and even asking for peeup-and-belly-witches.

So the other day, while she was chomping down her sandwich, I experimented with a new pasta dish for dinner. I had fresh carrot juice in the fridge along with a bit of Greek-style yogurt. Yes, they don’t sound like a good pairing, but along with the help of some cheddar cheese, anything is possible.

And, I was right.

This is a really easy recipe, you just need the ingredients. Most markets carry carrot juice, but make sure you don’t pick up a blend with orange or cucumber. If you’ve got your own juicer, you’re totally good to go.


8 ounces dry fusilli pasta cooked (which makes about 4-cups)

1/2 cup carrot juice

1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (you know, that Lawry’s stuff)

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Bring a big pot of water to a boil, toss in a bit of salt, and then your pasta. Any shape works, but the fusilli really is perfect. While things are bubbling away, mix together the carrot juice, yogurt, oil, seasoned salt, and salt in a bowl. Give things a whisk to make sure it’s all creamy. Go ahead and shred your cheddar, too.

Once your pasta is cooked and happy, give it a strain. While it’s hanging out, toss the carrot-yogurt mixture into your hot pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Give things a stir while the sauce starts heating up.

As soon as the sauce starts bubbling, add the pasta back to the pot. Stir to coat the pasta and then add the shredded cheese. Keep stirring and simmering until the cheese is all melty.

Now is the time for taste testing – this is a kid-friendly recipe, so it’s low in salt and also not too strong in flavor. If you know your kid loves garlic, add some in with the mix. Got a child that loves the spice? Kick things up with a few shots of hot sauce. Mine can’t get enough of that tangy yogurt flavor, so I added an extra dollop at the end, along with a dash of pepper (and another sprinkling of salt).

The finished faux mac-n-cheese has an almost neon-orange color and is good hot or cold. My tot scarfed down 2-bowls for dinner, and happily ate a big serving cold the next day at preschool.

*The first time I made this recipe, I included shredded, slow-roasted turkey breast, which was out of this world. For an adult version, finish the pasta with a couple of good handfuls of spinach, top with extra shredded cheddar and pop under the broiler for a fabulous side dish.

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Sun, sun, sun with Suntan Stan

The last couple of days the sun has been a wonderfully vibrant thing up high in the sky. We have totally enjoyed ourselves gardening, playing in the wee kiddie pool, and soaking up the sun. I grew up in the baby-oil-for-sun block generation and am starting to see the wear and tear it’s left on my skin, so am making sure to do a bit extra to keep things as good as they can be by wearing sunscreen. But I do think it’s okay to let the skin soak-up about 15-minutes of that healthy vitamin D before slathering up.  After having a bit of fun in the sun, we get out the lotion and coat our bodies.

Sunscreen is an amazing thing – especially when you have kiddies that love being outside. My talented friend agrees, so he wrote a book about it with the intention of educating kids (and adults) on the importance of sunscreen. It’s a sweet little book full of cute and adorable – and helpful tips on sunscreen use.

Suntan Stan enjoys tons of fun outdoors while remembering the importance of keeping on the sunscreen. This book is a great way to introduce the concept of wearing sunscreen to kids – and how they can be part of staying safe while outdoors and in the sun. My friend Larry Cheifetz is seriously hilarious (and the parent of three lovely girls himself) and this book shares his personality and passion for keeping kids safe – and healthy.

And, along with writing the book (with his co-writer Jennifer Horn and illustrator Mike Ferrin), Larry self-published it. Check out Suntan Stan’s Facebook page for more information about the book and how to pick up your own copy!

*Just so you know, I was not paid for this post or compensated in any way. I wrote this review strictly because Suntan Stan is darn cool – and so is my friend Larry.

Toddler lunch date: Grilled cheese and apple sandwiches

So says Sarah...

For the last couple of days the tot and I have enjoyed some time off from the preschool. It’s spring break, which means doing lots of messy projects at home, cuddling with an afternoon movie, and making tasty stuff.


I’m kind of in love with spring break right now.

Today I decided we would have a lunch date. Instead of feeding the tot her regular side of apple sauce with a plain cheese sandwich – and making something for myself later while she napped, I mixed it up a bit by making a sandwich both of us would love.

Grilled cheese and apple sandwiches.

Yeah, this is a kid-friendly sandwich, but it’s also a wonderfully tasty and fulfilling adult light-lunch option. Enjoy with a small cup of soup or side salad and you’ve got an awesome lunch. Just go a bit lighter on the mustard for the kiddies.

What you need to make one sandwich…

2 slices of whole-wheat bread

Room temperature butter

Dijon mustard

2 thick slices of Jarlsburg (Swiss) cheese

1/4 a Gala apple thinly sliced (you can leave the skin on)

What you do…

Start by giving one side of a piece of whole-wheat bread a light coating of butter. Place that slice, butter side down, in a pan over medium-to-low heat.

Cover that slice of bread with one of the slices of Jarlsburg. Good Jarlsburg cheese is nutty and ooey-gooey, which blends wonderfully with the sweet Gala apples, and tang of the mustard.

Thinly slice one-forth of the apple, avoiding the core, and layer six to eight slices on top of the cheese.

Top the apples with the second slice of cheese.

Give the second piece of whole-wheat bread a nice coating of good Dijon mustard, place on top of the sandwich, and lightly coat the outside of the slice of bread with butter.

By now the sandwich is probably ready for a flip – do so gently with a spatula to ensure the whole pile of goodness doesn’t fall apart.

Let the grilled cheese and apple sandwich toast until the cheese is gooey – about 3 to 4-minutes on each side.

You know that melty-cheesy-oh-so-good thing?


Grilled cheese and apple sandwich