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    A minimalist’s guide to children’s books

    I am four years into motherhood and there is a very small collection of children’s books that don’t drive me insane by this point. I have donated TONS of titles over the years. I know it may come as a surprise that an English professor would get rid of books, but I believe in only keeping favorites in the house. If a book isn’t worth re-reading, it doesn’t get a place on our shelves. Plus, the library allows us to try out new stories and authors without having to store books long-term. Though I’ve grown tired of many children’s books since becoming a mom, about 10% of the books we’ve received over the years have wiggled their way into my heart. No matter how many times I read them out loud, I still love them. Today, I am sharing my favorite kids books to help you shop wisely this holiday season. (You can also check out my minimalist’s guide to toys!)

    0-12 MONTHS

    • Snuggle Puppy – I’m not sure why, but babies love this book. I think it’s because it’s meant to be read in a sing-song voice and has a fun whisper part at the end.
    • Brown Bear, Brown Bear – This is another one babies love because of the rhythm of the text and the brightly colored animals.
    • Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? – I’m going to honest… most Dr. Seuss books are really long and a little bit annoying to read out loud, but this one is great for babies. It teaches lots of sounds like knocking and mooing and buzzing.
    • Where is Baby’s Belly Button – This is the first lift-the-flap book that my girls interacted with. They loved it right around age one, and it helped them learn their body parts.

    1-2 YEARS

    • Alphaprints ABC – This is darling animal ABC book with playful pictures.
    • Pete the Cat – I don’t even like cats, but I never get tired of this sing-song book that reminds readers to be joyful in every circumstance.
    • The Very Hungry Caterpillar – This is one of the classics I love. Toddlers get to practice counting and learn to identify different foods.
    • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Another classic filled with sound effects. This one is fun to read aloud.
    • Is Your Mama a Llama? – I love books with strong rhyming schemes and this one is well done.
    • Dear Zoo – A cute flap book that introduces young readers to various animals.
    • Cars and Trucks and Things that Go – This isn’t a book we actually read word-for-word, but our girls are OBSESSED with finding the tiny, hidden “Gold Bug” on each page.
    • Everywhere Babies – I like this book because it illustrates diversity. It shows white babies, black babies, brown babies, skinny babies, and fat babies. It talks about breastfeeding and bottle feeding and car seats and slings.. and almost convinces you the “mommy wars” don’t exist.
    • Farmyard Beat – Everyone needs a board book that reads like a rap song.
    • Little Mommy and Daddies – If you are grossly offended by gender stereotypes, avoid these books. They were written in the 50s and depict moms staying home with babies and dads going off to work each day. However, I love that they acknowledge the value of homemaking and child-rearing and also show how dads work hard to provide for their families.
    • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – One of the most fun ABC books ever written.
    • Lucy Darling Board Books – We have the All Aboard to California book, but there are books for many regions around the U.S. The author is a friend of mine and her illustrations are gorgeous.

    3-5 YEARS

    • The Wonderful Things You Will Be – I have been disappointed by many best-selling children’s books, but this one is wonderful. It encourages children to dream about the future and the pictures are beautiful.
    • When We Go Camping – If your family goes camping regularly, your kids are sure to love this book. It reads like a song and tells of adventures such as shooing flies, catching fish, cooking over the fire, and even peeing in the outhouse.
    • “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” – I have no idea when or where we got this book, and it sat on our shelf untouched for some time. When I finally read it, I was delighted by the long, silly narrative about an elephant’s powerful sneeze.
    • Lost My Name – Zianne got a Lost My Name book for her birthday, and it really is darling. Each book is custom-made and teaches children how to spell their name, while introducing them to many unique animal species at the same time. Use this link for $5 off this excellent Christmas gift.
    • Beezus and Ramona – I just started this book with Zianne, and she was instantly hooked because Ramona is four years old. I’m excited to read the whole series with her over the next few years.
    • Charlotte’s Web – This the first book Micah read out loud to Zianne. The story is a classic and the gospel allusions are so good!

    Christian books about anatomy/sex

    • God Made All of Me – This book teaches about God’s design for the human body and informs children on how to protect themselves from assault and abuse.
    • The Story of You – This is the first book in the God’s Design for Sex series. It’s intended for ages 3-5 and teaches about the human body. The rest of the series is written for older children and teaches about sex, pregnancy, childbirth, marriage, and puberty in a Biblical, age-appropriate way.

    Biblical Books

    • Hug-a-Bible – Eisley just received this Bible and it’s absolutely precious. The text is made up of cute (theologically-sound) poems about different Bible stories, and the outside is fuzzy like sheep’s fur. It’s perfect for baby hands and mouths.
    • God Knows You – This is a lift-the-flap book filled with God’s promises. It helps children understand how much they are loved by the Lord.
    • Lift the Flap Bible – This is a basic lift-the-flap Bible with lots of fun pictures.
    • Jesus Storybook Bible – This is the best Bible for kids aged 4-8, although we start reading it to our children when they are toddlers. It retells Bible stories in beautiful language young kids can understand and shows how the whole Bible — from Genesis to Revelation — is really one long story about Jesus.
    • Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing – This is a children’s devotional book by Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author of the Storybook Bible. The pictures are beautiful, and it offers bits of Biblical truth in compact readings.
    • The Biggest Story – This is another gorgeous picture book that shows how Jesus is the focal point of Scripture. I would say this one is for a slightly older audience than the Storybook Bible – probably best enjoyed by kids aged 6-10.

    This might seem like a lot of books, but this probably covers about 60% of what we keep on our shelves. I let other titles trickle in and out, but the volumes listed here are the ones I would probably pay to replace if they got ruined. I hope this helps you add a few new books to your collection this Christmas!

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    A minimalist’s guide to children’s toys

    We have truly become minimalists in our house, especially in the toy department. Our church just moved to a new facility and needed toy donations to stock the children’s rooms. I gladly filled a few bags full of toys my kids hardly play with and rushed them off to our children’s director.

    I like my home neat and tidy, so we have always operated with far fewer toys than most families in our demographic. I hate seeing toys littered around the house, so I figure if we don’t have many they won’t take long to pick up.

    When I observe my children play, they don’t actually use very many of their toys. Sure, they might get out ten toys, but nine of them will simply make their way to the living room and get neglected in a corner until bedroom. Very few toys actually engage my kids for a sustained period of time, teach them something new, or invite them to use their imaginations. Toys that can’t pass the time, teaching, imagination checklist have officially been exiled from our house. 

     

    I have curated a short and sweet list of the toys we love and actually use in our home. As you are shopping this holiday season, here are some toys that kids enjoy and that don’t drive moms insane.

    Baby favorites – Clearly, babies can’t interact with toys very much, but we have a small collection of items that all our girls loved as infants: Baby Einstein music box, Freddie the Firefly, classic stacking rings, and the Indestructibles books.

    Touch and Feel Flash Cards – We have used these flashcards since Zianne was a baby, and our set probably needs to be replaced. This is a fun way to teach new words and the touch and feel aspect keeps young children engaged. This is our favorite gift for a one-year old.

    Roll and Play Game – This is a great first “board” game for toddlers. Children roll a giant colorful dice and then pick a coordinating card that asks them to perform a learning or motor activity such as find a certain color around the room, make an animal noise, or spin in a circle. This is our favorite gift for a two-year old.

    Play Kitchen – No toy gets used more than our play kitchen. The plastic food gets carried around the house daily, “restaurant” meals are served regularly, and baby dolls often get tucked in for a nap in the kitchen sink. If you were to pick a single toy for 1-5 year olds (male or female), this would be my vote. Here is an affordable option on Amazon, but I would also suggest scouring Craig’s List or OfferUp for a used one. That’s how we got ours.

    Duplos – If my kids are quietly entertaining themselves, it’s likely they’ve gotten out their Duplos. The bigger block sizes are easier to use than legos, making them perfect for kids five and under. We have the Doc McStuffins set. These blocks keep my kids busy, teach them to build creatively, and then get tossed back in the container for easy clean-up.

    Magna-Tiles – These magnetic blocks are spendy, but every parent will tell you they are well worth the money. These blocks encourage creativity, teach building strategy, and even look pretty. We only have one set so far but would like to add to our collection.

    Baby Doll – Our girls play with their dolls every day, whether cuddling up with them for a show or putting them down for a nap in the kitchen sink (see above). We do have some doll clothes and accessories, but our girls generally just carry unclothed baby dolls around the house all day long. (Black doll // boy doll options)

    Purses and backpacks– Zianne bought this pink Nike lunch tote over a year ago, and it never leaves her side. Every morning, she wakes up, stuffs it full of toys, clothes, and books and carries it with her everywhere. Now Talitha has started borrowing my lunch tote to do the same thing. Whenever something is missing around the house – a lovey, a pacifier, a certain book – I can generally find it stuffed inside one of these bags. Although preschooler hoarding habits are kind of strange, it’s actually quiet conducive to keeping our house clean. Small toys get contained in bags all day long and the girls use their imaginations, taking their totes to “school,” “work,” or in the “car.”

    Paper and crayons – Although we have a variety of art supplies – from coloring books to watercolors to play dough – nothing beats paper and crayons. My girls are most content to sit down with a box of good ol’ Crayolas and plain white paper and draw to their hearts’ content. We use computer paper most of the time, but we also love the Melissa and Doug Paper Roll.

    And that’s it. Other than a small basket of miscellaneous toys, some stuffed animals, and a whole shelf full of books, these are the only toys we keep in our house. Our girls play all day with a small collection of items that capture their attention, grow their minds, and engage their imaginations.

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    You know where I’m going with this one… EBATES!

     

    This is my third year in a row to devote a whole blog post to Ebates (see the series here), because as much as I keep shouting about how amazing this program is, I still have friends and family who don’t use it.

    Big mistake, especially as we head into the holiday season.

    I am currently working on a different post that discusses saying NO to the idol of consumerism, so please don’t read this and think I am telling you to shop more. I am not. I’m actually a big fan of shopping less over the holidays. But if you are going to be shopping at all, it’s foolish not to use Ebates.

    Even if you prefer a simple Christmas celebration, you are likely to spend a little bit of money over the next month on a few gifts, decorations, or greeting cards. Do you want to get money back for these purchases? The answer is yes.

    Ebates is a program that gives you cash back on purchases you make online (and in stores too), and it’s so ridiculously easy to use.

    Step 1: Sign up for ebates and install the cash back button to your browser.

    Step 2: Click the cash back button anytime you are shopping online. The button will literally pop up and tell you how much cash back the site you are browsing is offering. ALL you have to do – literally the ONLY thing you do – is click “Activate cash back” when it pops up in your face. The extension does the rest of work – tracking your purchase and putting cash back into your Ebates account.

    Step 3: Every time you make a purchase, you will get an email notification telling you which store gave you cash back and how much your rebate was.

    Step 4: Every quarter, Ebates will send you a lump sum for all your rebates – via a check in the mail OR directly into your PayPal account.

    Step 5: Delight in the fact that you got money back for purchases you were planning to make regardless.

    I always post about this in November, because the cash back amounts get crazy during the holiday shopping season. While a store might generally offer 1-5% cash back during the year, it is not uncommon to see rebates of 10-20% (and sometimes more) between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I figure most people are about to spend extra money on gifts and may as well get some (or a lot!) of it back.

    I just used Ebates today when ordering my Christmas cards. Etsy offers 1% cash back year-round, so before I clicked on my order — just a $13 dollar purchase — I clicked the “Activate Cash Back” button. Within minutes, I received an email saying I had a 13 cent rebate from Etsy. I know it’s only 13 cents, but I was going to order the cards no matter what, so I might as well add 13 cents to the big holiday rebate check I’ll get after Christmas.

     

    The above photo is a screenshot of my “Big Fat Check” from Ebates way back in August. Even during other times of year, when I’m not shopping as much as I do at Christmas, I am still able to rack up a nice rebate check every quarter.

    So what are you waiting for? I currently have ten names pending on my referral list in Ebates. These are people who have registered for an account, but have still never clicked the button to receive cash back!!! Some of the names have been on my list since 2016! I find it hard to believe these friends have not made an online purchase in over a year. The truth is… they’ve been shopping online but have NOT been getting cash back for those purchases. It’s so sad.

    Don’t make the same mistake. Stop what you are doing right now. Open an Ebates account, install the cash back extension, and click the “Activate cash back” button every single time you shop.

    Let me know when you receive your first Big Fat Check.

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