Category Archives: Hands on Play

The most kid friendly museum you have ever seen is here!

Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium Baltimore Sidewalk View Joy Makin' Mamas ReviewWhen I was offered passes to visit the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium in Baltimore in order to facilitate a review, I was pleased, intrigued… and a bit skeptical. I wasn’t skeptical of the quality of the museum, but many outings with my kids have proven that they are the ULTIMATE litmus test for how family friendly an activity is. If it’s not going to hold a kid’s interest or there is some major flaw in the execution of the activity, my kids will be the ones to exploit it and take the whole thing down in (hopefully metaphorical) flames. And this is the part where some internet know it all usually chimes in to say I’m a terrible parent and that their children are perfectly lovely in every imaginable situation. I shall consider various responses, such as “yes I am,” “so what,” and/or “liar, liar, pants on fire”… And then discard them to point out that surely anything that has been tested and approved by my rowdy outlaws will be perfectly safe and lovely for any nonexistent paragon of ideal childhood. (Not that YOU would ever tempt fate by smugly pointing out that YOUR children of course are well brought up and would never embarrass you by misbehaving… because I know that you have met Karma and are too smart to fall for her wily ways.)Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium Stone Ball Baltimore Joy Makin' Mamas Review

I’m going to have a hard time not telling you about EVERY single thing that there is to see and do in the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium, but part of the fun is turning a corner into the unexpected. And I despise spoilers. So I won’t do that to you, but I will tell you that the museum starts pulling the kids in from the very get go. The Oddities begin out in front of the museum, and the front of the building is open to pull you into the experience. I loved the wooden automobile, but the dudes predictably went for the giant transformer made of old car parts. Ripley’s obviously had their number from the word “go,” and there was never a point where the kids lost interest, got bored, or otherwise wanted to go home. In other words, they didn’t flame out. We spent two hours exploiting the triple combo option to the fullest, and although we had several tired and hungry children on our hands when it was over, they were also smiling and cheerful. Our favorite highlights of the visit were Hogwarts (that’s all I’ll say…), the psychedelic dance room, the secret passage, and the mirror maze. The mirror maze is available as an add on or a stand alone option, and is closer than I ever thought I’d be to feeling like I’d been set loose to wander around inside the TARDIS. That’s only scraping the surface, so if none of those sound like your family’s cup of tea, never fear.Ripley's Believe It Or Not Baltimore Mirror Maze Joy Makin' Mamas Review

For help in planning your trip, let me talk about strollers. I have taken some variety of stroller to and into almost every place that they are allowed over the course of the last seven and a half years, and I can tell you that this is NOT a stroller friendly museum. I assume there must be an elevator somewhere, and I’m sure they conform to all the clearances specified by the ADA. I cannot find anything that says they are actually forbidden, but we went without our stroller and were glad we did. This was our first major expedition as a family of four with no stroller along to serve as a bag minder and emergency nap location. I was nervous, but we rocked it! Potty training may have scarred me for life while we were doing it, but there is no denying that it frees you up to travel light, at long last. All of which is to say, I cannot tell you what a visit to this museum would be like with a stroller, but my extensive stroller experiences lead me to recommend you go without it. If you can carry or wear younger ones, you won’t miss out on things like the musical staircase or worry that your parked buggy is blocking the traffic flow for other visitors. Part of the museum’s charm is that, since there are many “touch me” activities, there is very little “dead” space on the exhibit floors. And since you are continually pulled forward to the next fun surprise, you won’t want to backtrack to collect your empty stroller. And it WILL be empty, because even toddlers will want to be out and able to explore here. Stroller free is the right call here for most people.

The movie experience was the perfect finish to this adventure. Two animated shorts take you on a simulated 3-D “ride” along with kid-friendly cartoon characters. Sensitive kids may find this too stimulating, but be aware that if you want to try it out, there is nothing to prevent you from leaving at any point, and there is an intermission after the first (and shorter) segment to allow anyone who needs one a chance to exit.

Lastly, I feel like I should mention is that this experience is loud. I don’t mean rock concert or industrial manufacturing level of loud, I just mean that it’s pretty much always noisy. This is not a hushed, reverent museum experience. It’s very much a “loud thing” approved kind of place. Check out the slideshow for more highlights, and if you’ve been, let me know what your family thought!


Personalized DIY Craft Kit Gifts

Personalized DIY Craft Kit Gifts for Kids Joy Makin MamasI love giving kids creative gifts. I even more love giving them open ended creative gifts. A kit that makes a particular item if you follow the instructions is great for introducing new skills or for skill building- but sometimes what they really need is encouragement to take materials and use them in a completely open ended way. And kids like things that are personalized with their own names, so, HUZZAH! I came up with these personalized, DIY craft kit gifts that are perfect for birthdays and holiday gifts- or “just because.”

Each of these kits was packaged in a dollar store organizer. They’re about half the size of a shoe box, but use whatever size you like. Apply the personalized labels with double sided tape or hot glue. (I also hot glued the catapult on top of the catapult kit.)

Peg people, if you’re not familiar with them, are dolls made from clothes pegs. One familiar version of this is the reindeer ornament, but they can literally be anything or anyone, with a little open ended creativity and some glue. Candidates for this kit are: Fabric scraps, glitter, beads, sequins, pipe cleaners, heavy gauge craft wire, and, of course, clothes pegs. Also called Doll Pins. Embroidery floss or fine twine would be great, too! 

As for the catapult kit, I included almost everything I mentioned in my post about building engines of minimal destruction, and then I topped the kit with one of our favorite designs. I created my kit labels to match the size of my containers. Lightweight card stock holds up well to being hot glued, and you can hand letter your label, cut letters from magazines, or use stickers or scrapbooking supplies if creating images or digital scrapbooking isn’t your thing.

More themes:

  • Gods eye/friendship bracelets can be created with craft sticks and yarn or embroidery floss and beads.
  • Gather old electronics and create a Robot kit for the serious tinkerer.
  • Build Your Own Rocket Kit (Some balloons, tape, string, rubber bands, cardboard toilet paper tubes, glue stick, foam craft sheets, glue, drinking straws, and Estes B4-4 Engine Pack (3-Each) will hook the recipient right up.)
  • Make a Rubbing kit- include newsprint paper and block crayons, colored pencils, chalk. Add a small thrift store frame to display the masterpieces- look for one with a plastic insert, or remove the glass.
    DIY craft kit gifts

Give your kids the universe… in a box!

Space Scouts Joy Makin' Mamas
If you think you don’t have the budget for international travel, well. Try outer space. (Obviously just kidding, I mean, you’ll be standing in that line a long time before the bouncer lets you on a space mission with a toddler, an elementary school kid, and the diaper bag.) I’ve always been fascinated by the constellations and the myths they’re named for, but even if you never see anything in the stars but shimmering dots, they are still pretty magical. And also entirely too far for a field trip. Even if you’re lucky enough to live within easy visiting distance of the Air & Space museum, you’ll probably still find that your kids have questions about the universe, and that your personal experience is a bit… limited… to just the one planet. (And if it’s not, please email me so we can set up a day for you to come visit my kids’ classes and talk to them, okay? No, I’m not kidding.)
Space Scouts Joy Makin' MamasThe Space Scouts monthly subscription service sent me two months of their program so I could share more about outer space with my kid. No bouncer required, and you don’t even have to drive to NASA. Not only do the activities talk about other planets and star systems, they also offer an opportunity to learn more about what it is that astronauts do. I want my kids to understand that the universe is vast and filled with endless possibilities- but I want to give them that information in installments they can absorb. (And yes, a great deal of their time has been devoted to the coolness of the bionic claw. That came in Month #2.)
Space Scouts Joy Makin' Mamas
In addition to some really cool fun stuff and a great science lesson, the activities in this box include problem solving, pattern recognition, reading, and abstract thinking. Compared to interstellar travel, the monthly subscription cost is a bargain. Your final cost varies depending on how you buy, but you can get it for as little as $14.25/month. Space Scouts is for ages 6 and up. Visit their website and learn more.

Your Little Passport to Virtual Adventure

Little Passports

I don’t have the budget for international travel. There. I said it. I KNOW YOU ARE SURPRISED. (Just kidding, you are all very intelligent people who have already figured out that if I was jetting off to Paris I wouldn’t be able to resist a few Eiffel Tower selfies, at least.) But my kids and I do harbor a lot of curiosity about all parts of the world, so receiving a sample of Little Passports in exchange for sharing our experience with you sounded like just the ticket. My second grader is at the point where he looks forward to every opportunity to practice his reading, and the Little Passports activities are just right for him. Older children will be less challenged by the reading level, but will still enjoy the code breaking, scavenger hunting, and other activities included.
Little Passports-001

Little Passports is new for kids aged 3-5.
Little Passports is new for kids aged 3-5. {Aff link}

We tested the version that is for children aged 5-10. This was complicated by my 3.5 year old trying to get in on the fun by pilfering the pieces. (I would say he’s probably a good candidate for the 3-5 year old Early Explorers activities, wouldn’t you?)

If you have children who are close in age, there are enough different things in one package to make it a shared activity. Obviously mine have a larger age gap, and can’t actively do the activities together, but little brother definitely listened and followed along in the discussion between me and big bro while we worked on the activities. I think he would get MORE benefit from doing activities meant for a child his age, but he enjoyed the togetherness and I expect he learned a bit from listening in.

Not only did we enjoy some really pleasant face to face time while working on the activities together, but there is a code on the luggage tag to allow him to continue the learning online. What’s great about that is it allows him to come back later and reinforce what he’s already learned- and THAT is how you make something “stick.”

Little Passports review Joy Makin Mamas
The carrying case (which your kid will get to customize with stickers that come in the activity kits) is cute, sturdy, and appealing. It is my experience that kids love the idea of cubbies and hiding places and special containers- and this one has the added appeal of looking like a suitcase, and being filled with virtual adventures.

Little Passports World Edition
Sign up for a Little Passports subscription! {Aff link}

This post contains affiliate links. I received a copy of Little Passports at no cost to me to facilitate my review. Other than the small commission I will receive if you purchase using one of the links above, I have not been compensated for this post in any way. The opinions in this post are completely mine and my son’s- your mileage may vary.

Diggers Playdate or Story Time

diggerpinThere is something about making big holes that is fascinating to people, big and small. Going to watch a construction site is a perfectly valid field trip option in our house, and yours likely isn’t much different. And the bigger the digger, the better the field trip!

Hands on play

  • Set up an indoor sand or rice box (unless you are lucky enough to have snow, in which case just fill your bath tub!) and add toy diggers. If you don’t have any, your local thrift shop can help you out, or I can personally attest that the Toystate CAT Mini Machine, 3″, 5-Pack set works, is hard wearing, and the perfect size for little hands. We’ve had similar items from the dollar store, but these hold up better.
  • Make play dough and add toy diggers. The more rugged the wheels, the better!
  • Save a box full of packing peanuts for toy digger play. I recommend you try the biodegradable ones and use them OUTSIDE. is an excellent source for things like this if you don’t get packages often. Post a “wanted.”
  • Pretend that you are diggers and use your “attachments” for cleanup time. Be prepared for cleanup to take a LOOOOOONG time.


These are my eldest truck lover’s hand picked selections for you. By the time you have read all of these, you will know more about construction equipment than the average construction worker.

Field Trips

  • Visit your nearest roadwork site. Use your local traffic website in reverse- look for construction delays and head straight for them.
  • Check to see if there are any quarries or mines in your area- either active or historical. Even an out-of-action quarry will be impressive.


How about your little digger lover? Do you have a favorite book to recommend? Have you hosted a diggers playdate? We’d love your feedback! Just use the comment box down there. Thanks! You’re the best.

Debt Free Holiday: Busy Play ideas to make

busyplaypinThere is nothing better than busy, creative, open ended play for child development or just for plain old happiness. The good news is, there are tons and tons of options for open ended toys. But… Have you looked at the prices on creative toys lately? For instance, wooden railroad engines based on certain popular shows could run you as much as $20, before you even buy any track or bridges or buildings or anything else fun. (And because they are “COLLECTIBLE,” used ones are as much or more than retail!) And Legos, that holy grail of building toys, are apparently crafted from the most expensive plastic on Earth, in addition to also being “collectible.”

If you’ve already spent your gift budget on one of these coveted toys, you may find yourself looking at an empty stocking and wishing you could fill it with something equally creative and fun, but on a much much MUCH smaller budget. Good news! You can, and it won’t even break your back. (And if you are lucky enough that your kid is not yet aware of these high ticket items, then save your $$$ and give them these instead!)

  • Build a cardboard play kitchen like this one from 42 roads. Improvise, or order plans from her Etsy shop. When they have outgrown/destroyed it, you can recycle it! (My father built me a wooden one when I was little. While most of the wooden playthings we had are still around, the word is that years of hard play completely totalled that wooden play kitchen. The plastic one I got my boys at the thrift store doesn’t hold a candle to it. I still remember every detail. It was a gift for my fourth birthday.) This would go perfectly with the felt cookie play set we featured in our DIY Felt Board post! Or you could pair it with these felt salad and pizza play sets from Munchkin and Bean.
  • You can make some modular fabric roads from scraps. Adapt Lil Mop Top’s idea using fleece, felt, or whatever you have on hand. It just needs scissors, a little craft paint, and some creativity. Make a drawstring bag to keep them in and add a couple of cars, and you’ve got a very clever take-along toy that is just perfect for busy toddlers at demanding holiday activities.
  • A Super Hero Fort Kit from Meg + Andy would be perfect for active imaginations and can easily be created using second hand or freecycled items. Who WOULDN’T love to receive a super hero fort of their very own?
  • Use up scrap fabrics to create a take along doll house, garage, or barn using this tutorial from a UK Lass in the US. A quick change in color or detail will make this little take-along building just right for any interest. Fill it with peg people or matchbox cars or toy animals. Scale it to size with the modular fabric roads you’ve also made and you can put them inside to create a complete play kit with endless play possibilities.
  • Got older kids who are more of a “board game” type age? Woman’s Day offers you this travel checkers game to sew. You could make this even simpler by using craft paint (Or applique- just use pinking shears to cut the contrast squares out, use a little fusible web to put them in place, and sew a straight stitch grid to make the bond more durable.) to create the checkerboard instead of quilting it. You could also vary this by leaving one side open, instead of binding all four sides, and adding velcro and a carrying handle to the open end so the board doubles as a carrying bag for the checkers. Not into checkers? Add a couple of dice and adapt the idea to Parcheesi.
  • If you’re digging the cardboard play set idea, you can also create a post office play set like the one we did here. No messy paint was involved… just a printed logo and a roll of blue painter’s tape. You could create a free printable letter from Santa as your little letter carrier’s first piece of mail!

I can’t wait to break out my sewing machine and my scrap stash and get started on a couple of these! Don’t forget to check out my DIYs board on Pinterest for more fun and budget friendly ideas!