Curb the Summer Boredom

I joined the hosts of Fox6’s Real Milwaukee this morning to talk about adding a bit of flexible structure to the lazy days of summer. The producers have not linked to the resources I mentioned yet, so I wanted to publish a quick post to so you have what you need at your fingertips!

Click here to view the segment.

Screenshot 2016-06-23 11.11.50

Here are the links that will help you get started creating your own summer sanity saver (aka: Summer Binder):

Easter | Spring Sensory Bins in a DIY Sand & Water Table

Easter/Spring sensory bins in a DIY sand/water table @ jaxinthebox.com I think spring has finally sprung. Not only is Easter around the corner, but the snow has melted here in Southern Wisconsin and green blades of grass are trying to muscle their way through the hay-like mat of sod in my backyard. My head is swimming with visions of fun outdoor summer activities. While it’s still too cold to put our DIY sand & water table to use, I’ve prepped some sweet Easter and spring-themed sensory bins (more…)

Pinterest to Real Life: Water Wall

Water Wall

I’ve vowed to stop using Pinterest unless I actually attempted some of the super-cool looking ideas just sitting (and sitting) on my boards. I’m happy to report that, this summer, I’ve cooked, baked and crafted some pretty amazing finds that I’ve pinned. The  [Water Blob]  was such a huge hit that I was eager to try another outdoor kid-centered activity via the 20 Moms’ ebook, [Camp Mom]: the Water Wall.

My favorite activities are ones that my 8-year olds, Chase and Noah, and my 18-month old, Jax, will all enjoy. The hope was that my big boys would get a kick out heading up the construction phase, and they all would love playing with the finished product.

Materials List

1. [2×6 or 3×8 wood lattice] $8-15 at your big box store (or you can use any old piece of wood you have lying around or a section of your

We only purchased the lattice for this project.

We only purchased the lattice for this project.

backyard fence if you have one)

2. Several plastic bottles, funnels or tubes (we only had bottles, so that’s what we used)

3. Thin, bendable wire, twine or other means of securing bottles to lattice (or small nails if you are using a solid board). We used gardening wire because it is coated and won’t rust.

4. Hack saw and scissors for cutting your bottles

5. Rubber mallet and Philips screwdriver for piercing holes in your bottles

6. Tub or other plastic container to catch the water at the bottom of your wall for re-use

Constructing the Water Wall

1. Stand your lattice (or board) upright.

Constructing the wall was the best part for the big boys.

Constructing the wall was the best part for the big boys.

2. Cut the bottoms off your bottles with the hack saw or scissors. We found that the hack saw worked well for large juice bottles and to start the initial hole in the bottles made of thinner plastic. Using scissors to finish cutting those thinner bottles worked best.

3. Starting from the top of your lattice or board, secure your first bottle. Keep in mind that your

kids will need to be able to reach the top to pour the water. We started ours as high as we could because our older boys thought it was fun to climb the table (or stand on a chair) to dump the water.

4. Continue securing bottles down the lattice, testing your water path as you go. We wanted a few “water entries” so we added two additional ones off the side of the lattice as we went, ensuring that the water paths from the different entrances met at some point.

5. Secure your lattice or board so it won’t fall over when used. We tied our lattice to the edge of our cedar plank-topped table with twine.

My Review

Fun Meter | 5 out of 5 stars for the little guy; 3 stars for the big boys

water wall.play

Jax definitely has more fun using the constructed water wall than the big boys. The fun for the big boys came from building the project, but they lost interest in the final product after a while.

Jax, however, loves watching the water pour from the higher bottles as his big brothers experiment with pouring water at different rates from the three “entrances.” But, his favorite activity is filling up the pitcher and pouring the water himself. We made sure to make an entry at a Jax-friendly height. While we’ve only been using the wall for a couple of days, he never tires of the filling and pouring ritual — and the pride on his face when he watches the water drain from bottle to bottle is heart-warming.

To conserve water, we use our rain barrel water. If you chose that route, just make sure no one drinks it! By placing a tub under the last bottle on your wall’s path, you can re-use the water for another tumble down the wall or to water your flowers.

So far we’ve only poured plain ol’ water down our water wall, but here’s a few ways we might use it in the future:

1. Have contests to see whose pour reaches the bottom of the lattice the fastest.

2. Add small objects (counting cars, marbles, rocks) to the water and see if they make it to the bottom of the wall. (Make sure that your littlest people don’t put those tiny objects in their mouths.)

3. Using those same small objects, experiment with tossing them down the wall with no water and see which ones make it to the bottom.

4. Pour different colored water (colored with food coloring) into two different entrances simultaneously to see what color water results when they are mixed at the end (e.g., yellow and blue water to make green).

5. Experiment with using different pouring angles to determine the technique that results in the least amount of water “lost” over tops and edges of the bottles.

Because the finished product is more successful at holding the interest of the little ones, it gets 5 stars from Jax. While older kids enjoy it too, it offers less in the form of attention-staying power, thus earns just 3 stars from the 8-year olds.

Ease of Construction | 3 stars

While I thought both the twins would love constructing the water wall (I even let them use tools including a hack saw!), only Chase sincerely enjoyed it. After Noah cut a few bottles and secured one, he asked if he could be excused to read a book. So, Chase (who’s generally more into engineering-type play anyway) and I worked together to finish the project. And we really did have a blast creating the water path together. It was fun watching his excitement as his strategy came to life.

I did, however, think this was going to be a much easier and quicker project to complete that it turned out to be. Because we were always trying to keep Jax entertained and out of harm’s way (think hack saw, scissors and sharp screw drivers), progress was slow. It was also tricky to determine where exactly to pierce our bottles and secure them to lattice so our water would flow how we wanted it. I let Chase do much of the cutting, piercing and path mapping. While it would have been quicker had I done it myself, the construction was part of the fun and the primary learning experience for my older boys.

Ease of construction with kids assisting gets 3 stars. Doing so sans kids would earn 4. While it’s not all that hard, it’s still a process that takes some time.

Go Ahead, Make Your Own Water Wall!

Even though my big boys aren’t head-over heels with the final product, it was definitely worth the cost and effort. Because we saved bottles that we would normally recycle and used gardening wire we had on hand, we spent less than $10 on this project. Building it with Chase was a quality, bonding experience, and I predict that Jax will gather and pour water down the wall all summer long.

While I’ll probably store the wall in our backyard shed as-is over the winter, you could take the bottles off and construct a different water path each summer if you felt up to it.  While it’s possible we’ll mix up our path next summer, I think I’ll need the 10 months or so in between to forget how challenging it was to help Chase while wrangling Jax at the same time before I approach that again!

Pinterest to Real Life: Water Blob

blob mainIf your Pinterest boards are anything like mine, they are full of amazing ideas that are collecting virtual cobwebs. While I have intentions of actually cooking quinoa in 35 different ways and making all my cleaning products from scratch (actual pins on my boards), I never seem to get around to it. So, one of my goals this summer is to bring some of my Pinterest finds to life (see this post for more on our summer plans: [How We Do Summer]).

I first saw the idea for constructing a Water Blob on the 20 Moms’ ebook: [Camp Mom]. Since then I’ve seen it floating around Pinterest twice more. I’m always on the hunt for activities I think will tickle the fancies of all three of my boys, 18-months and 8-year old twins, and the water blob looked like it fit the bill. I mean, what kid wouldn’t love to play on a super-sized water bed in the middle of his backyard?

Materials List

1. [10×25 feet of 6 mil plastic sheeting]

2. 1 roll of [Scotch outdoor duct tape] (get the roll with the highest waterproof rating you can find)

3. water hose

Constructing the Blob

1. On a flat surface, preferably a driveway or garage floor, unroll the plastic sheeting and fold it in half.You’ll end up wrestling with grass blades when taping the plastic if you choose a grassy surface.

2. Starting on one end, tape the edges together, creating a water-tight seal. The best method is to work with 2-feet sections of tape at a time. Cut 2-feet of tape, then apply the top half of the edge of  tape horizontally to the edge of the top plastic sheet, then wrap the lower half of the tape around the edge of the bottom plastic sheet. To ensure a tight seal, rub the tape back and forth with hand pressure, or use a soup can or similar item. Water will find any “bubbles” in the tape and leak through your seal.

3. Work your way around the blob, leaving a small hole at one corner into which you will insert the hose.

Filling the Blob

1. Put your blob on a very flat surface. Even the slighted slope will cause it to inch toward the bottom of your hill as it fills with water.

2. Insert the hose into the opening you left, and push it into the blob about 2 or more feet. This will ensure your hose stays in as it fills. Find a large rock, low bin or other object with which to prop up the corner of the blob with the water hole. This will prevent water from spilling out of the “bag” when it is nearly full. We used the cover to the [Little Tikes green turtle sandbox], which worked perfectly.

3. It took about an hour to fill, but we liked our blob really full. Toddlers would probably still have a blast with less water, so you could get away with 40 min. or so with younger kids.

4. When your blob is as full as you’d like it, cover the hole with a good amount of tape.

My Review

Fun Meter | 5 stars

Ready. Set. Go.

All three of my boys and their friends had serious fun on this thing. Jax and his little friend loved rolling around on it. (No, I didn’t make him wear the bike helmet in the pictures, he simply insisted on wearing it ALL that day!) The little kids enjoyed trying to walk across it and giggled with joy when they lost their balance and fell.

The little kids loved rolling and and falling on the blob's cool surface.

The little kids loved rolling and and falling on the blob’s cool surface.

My big boys (and two of their friends) had big-boy fun! Here are some of the ways they used it:

1. They let the hose run on the top of it and used the blob as a cushioned slip n’ slide.

2. They used it as a wavy trampoline and got some serious air.

3. They balanced on an inflatable body board we have, and had contests seeing who could balance the longest.

4. They played King of the Blob.

5. They made up several games I couldn’t figure out the rules to, but wanted to be a part of, because they were laughing so hard their bellies hurt.

6. They turned the sprinkler on so it hit the blob and ran, jumped, slipped and slid.

7. On days when the blob was dry and they wanted to relax, they laid on the blob’s cool surface to read.

Blob boysOverall, the water blob gets 5 out of 5 stars for fun.

Durability | 2 stars

None of the water blobs on the Pinterest posts I read involved 8-year old boys, so I was curious about how the contraption would hold up to the abuse of two 60+ lbs boys and their friends.

Day 1. With three fourth grade boys jumping, sliding and wrestling on it, the blob wore it’s first hole about 1.5 hrs. into play. I could tell pretty much right out of the gate that a hole was only a matter of time as you could see the plastic stretching beneath their feet when they jumped on it. They continued to have fun despite the hole as plenty of water remained within the bag, but it needed repair for round #2 the next day.

Day 2. I patched the hole with my Scotch outdoor duct tape, and reinforced other areas that looked like they’d open up soon for our second day of play. This patch job did the trick as it took the boys’ abuse for an entire afternoon without wearing another hole. Some of the seems, however, were beginning to give way. These were easy to patch by simply slapping another layer of tape over the leaky areas.

Day 3.  The blob wore two more holes by the end of day three, after taking the abuse of my big boys and another one of their friends. I haven’t tried to repair these yet, but at first glance this may be the end of our blob as they appear irreparable.

While the blob would likely last the entire summer when used by toddlers or even preschoolers, kids who can jump with force will probably wear holes in the plastic after several uses. Because my big boys only got three days’ use out of it, I gave it 2 stars for durability.

How I Will Make it Differently Next Time

We will give this project another shot, but I will change my approach in a few key ways.

1. I will use stronger plastic sheeting. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a conveniently sized 10’x25′ roll of anything thicker than 6 mil. I have found 8 and 10 mil that comes in 100′ rolls and cost $150+. I have also found “reinforced poly sheeting” that doesn’t have a mil rating. Even after calling the manufacturer itself to inquire about how it stacks up to 8 and 10 mil non-reinforced sheeting, I still don’t know which product will be a better choice. Home Depot assures me that if I special order it, they will take it back if it doesn’t meet my standards. So, I’ve found a few moms whose big kids would love blobs in their backyards, and we are going to split the cost of the large roll. I’ll let you know the results of this second phase of the water blob when it we’ve put it to the test!

2. In another attempt to increase the strength of the top of the blob, I’m considering using the tape to create a grid pattern – think checkerboard. The places where I patched our original blob held up really well, so I’m thinking that the criss-cross pattern with the tape will significantly increase the durability of the plastic.

3. The other water blob posts I read suggested adding food coloring or glitter to the water for a fun effect. While I may add blue coloring, I don’t think I’d want the hassle of dealing with the glitter upon emptying the water.

All in all, the water blob was tons of fun, I just wished it would of lasted longer. It was enough of a hit, though, to motivate me to find ways to make the thing more durable. While I think the $30 I spent on the plastic and tape is a steel compared to the $65+ I would have paid for three days worth of passes to our community swimming pool, I’d like to get a bit more mileage out of the blob for my money.

DIY Sand & Water | Sensory Bin Table: 60 minutes + $50 = Done

DIY Sand/Water Table

DIY Sand | Water Table

Spring has finally arrived in Wisconsin. I actually whispered that because I fear if I speak too loudly snow will return and I’ll have to, once again, haul out the mittens and stocking caps. I’m giddy with excitement as I start planning summer fun for the boys and me. Mission #1: find a sand/water table for Jax.

Seven years ago I bought a water table at Toys R Us. It was too small, wobbly and just an overall disappointment. This time around I knew exactly what I wanted, but wasn’t willing to fork over the money necessary to purchase one commercially made.  An overview of the internet DIY offerings revealed several options, but none that were exactly what we were looking for. We then combined the aspects of the ones we liked best and came up with this version.

I preferred a table with two bins because I wanted Jax to be able to play with sand and water at the same time. I also wanted the flexibility of using it as an outdoor sensory table – adding whatever tactile-friendly elements to the bins I wanted. Finally, we needed it to be super easy to build — requiring a low-level of handiness. While my husband and I can install tile floors, plumb your new bathroom or paint up a storm, woodworking isn’t our forte. Thus, we opted for a PVC frame versus wood. Here’s how we did it:

Watertable suppliesThe supplies required  are minimal. We purchased all of them at our local big-box home improvement store: Menards. The total bill for our supplies was $49.88. I didn’t compare prices at Lowes or Home Depot, so you may get them cheaper elsewhere. We used a circular saw to make our cuts, but a hack saw will work just fine. Here’s what we paid per piece:

  • Bins: $5.97 x2
  • PVC Pipe: $2.72 x6
  • 90° Street Elbows: $1.79 x8
  • PVC Tee: $.73 x 10

I chose bins with lids because I like the option of covering the sand/water (or whatever I have in them) when we weren’t using it. If you opt for different sized bins, your measurements for your cuts will be different than ours — just make your cuts to fit your bins’ length and width. We chose Bella brand bins (because that’s what Menards had), which measure 24″x16.56″x5.88″.

PVC Pipe Cut Measurements

PVC Pipe Cut Measurements

While these are the cut measurements for our table, we recommend putting your table together as you go and making your cuts one at a time. This way you can adjust your measurements if necessary. When measuring and cutting, remember to account for the fact that you will be inserting your pipe into a fitting (either a elbow or tee). The overlap — or the number of inches your pipe will go into the fitting — is 1.25 inches. So, if the length you need to account for is 24 inches, you need to cut your PVC pipe 24 + (1.25 x 2) inches to account for the fact that your pipe will overlap into the fitting 1.25 inches on each side.

Step 1: Build the top frame. If you are using bins the size of ours, cut a “short base”, fit it into an elbow fitting on either end, add a tee fitting to each elbow fitting, and make sure your bin will sit securely on your partially-built frame. Use a rubber mallet to ensure that the pipes slide completely into the fittings. Then proceed to cut two “short top” pieces, fit them into the tee fittings on one end, then add another tee fitting to the other ends. Again, make sure your bin continues to fit. Now cut another “short base” for your middle support, and insert it into both tee fittings. You should now have the correct sized opening for one bin. Continue to cut PVC pipes and add fittings in this manner to support your second bin.

Watertable constructionStep 2: Add the table legs. Turn your frame upside down (so the openings in your tee fittings face up). Cut four vertical posts. Insert these into the tee opening at each of the four corners of the top frame.

Step 3. Build the bottom frame. Keep your table “upside down”. Add a tee fitting on each of the four vertical posts (table legs). Then add an elbow fitting to the outermost tee opening (to crease the corners of your base). To build one of the two the short sides of your base, cut a “short base” and insert it into the corresponding elbow. Working your way around the base, cut a “long base” and insert it into the corresponding tee openings. Then cut and install your final “short base,” followed by the final “long base”.

Step 4. Make final adjustments. Ensure all your pipes and fittings are tight and secure, then flip your table right-side up. Insert the two bins, and take a step back and ensure all your angles are at 90° and your table legs are straight. Make any necessary adjustments, which may include dis-assembling some table lengths and making minor cutting adjustments.

We chose not to glue our pipes into our fittings because our table is very sturdy (I could even sit on it). Because we have limited storage space, I like being able to take the table apart at the end of summer for storing over the winter months. But you could certainly glue it together if you wanted. The perfectionist in me wants to spray paint the frame, but I’m resisting. While using a paint like Krylon Fusion for Plastic will probably work, I’ve decided that I could better use the time I’d spend painting raking the snow mold off my grass.

We test drove this table the day after it was completed. Jax and his sweet friend, June, had a blast. It is the perfect height for these

almost 18-month olds. The two of them played comfortably around the edges, and I estimate we could have six toddlers playing around the table at one time. I predict we are going to get lots of mileage out of this project!

UPDATE: So we’ve been using our sand/water table for a few weeks now and have discovered a flaw. One day, the water bin fell through its hole and broke. As a solution, we simply bought strapping at our local big box store (we chose a $10 pack of two narrow straps with “claws” that ensured they would stay secure) that would sit under each bin to provide extra support. We  wrapped each strap around the top PVC pipe that supports the long side of the bin, strung the strap so it sits under the bin, wrapped it around the center PVC, strung it under the second bin, then wrapped it around the other PVC pipe that supports the long side of the second bin. Then we secured the strap into it’s “claw” underneath the bins. We repeated this same process with the second strap and positioned them parallel from each other near the top and bottom of each bin. Now both bins are supported by the two straps. So far, this solution has solved our problem.

** UPDATE 1 year later: I continue to be thrilled with our DIY table! We use it for sensory bins in the winter, and are now pulling it on our back deck for its second summer. We did end up using PVC cement to glue the pipes into their fittings. We found that the weight of heavy sensory bins (like rocks) were much better supported when the table was glued together. To see our spring and Easter sensory bins ideas, check out this post: Easter | Spring Sensory Bins.