Sometimes being trapped indoors can inspire some great bouts of creative play. Last Saturday was one of those days. The temperature was in the negatives, a storm that locals were already calling the wrath of Elsa was headed our way, and we weren’t about to go anywhere. I was in need of some indoor activities to occupy both the kids and myself, so I turned to the ever-growing stash of cardboard paper towel and toilet paper tubes that I’ve been saving. There never has been a real plan for this pile of trash, but I clung to the idea that eventually I’d think of something fun to do with them. A marble wall run turned out to be the perfect idea for a day of inside play.
With a scant plan in place, we excitedly grabbed our cardboard tubes and painter’s tape and went to town securing tubes to the wall. The next time we try this, we’ll definitely start by sketching out a detailed plan on paper, but sometimes it’s just more fun to jump right in.
If you’re working with a combination of clumsy hands and walls that you’d rather not wreck, I suggest using FrogTape Delicate Surface. Its adhesion is not as great as other tape, but it won’t peel off your wall paint either. If you’re not too concerned with your wall’s well-being, then any painter’s tape should do the job.
In order to keep young minds interested, work backwards and be sure to do LOTS of testing each step of the way. We used a bell that came with a board game so we could hear a satisfying ding at the end of every successful run. If you don’t have a bell, try finding something else that makes a fun sound, like a toy xylophone or drum, or even a tin can.
The rest of the build is pretty straight forward and limited only by your imagination, although you won’t get very far without having to do some problem-solving.
For instance, we had to figure out how exactly to get the marble to drop from one tube into the next, something we initially overlooked. Cutting them in half lengthwise, like a half-pipe, made for a simple drop from chute to chute, but we found the tubes were much harder to tape to the wall that way. Instead, we cut out small notches for the marbles to pass through. We also had to plug the end of a few tubes to stop speeding marbles from launching out the other side.
You can go crazy with incorporating other light objects into the design. We thought about using some kitchen funnels but our marbles wouldn’t fit through the small holes, so we improvised with a plastic milk jug and styrofoam coffee cup. We ended up liking these recycled items way better.
At one point, while my son and I were playing, we noticed that my daughter had ditched us. I figured that she hit her limit and finally got bored with the project. I was wrong! As it turns out, she left to design her own marble run without any help! I love the design she came up with, and how she sometimes has to jiggle one of the tubes when a marble gets stuck. A little more tweaking should solve that problem. This was a super fun project, and I think would appeal to all ages. I sure had fun! If you try it, please send some pictures our way!
This “Fast and Friendly” recipe is my favorite meatball recipe for kids. Parents will dig them, too. I love it because the end result is tasty but the cooking and prep is a cinch! Leftovers can be frozen and de-thawed later for a quick meal in a pinch. They can be eaten plain, tossed with pasta and spaghetti sauce, or combined with marinara and grated cheese to make meatball subs.
As your children’s taste buds develop, you can experiment with adding other ingredients into the recipe for a more complex flavor. Try seasonings such as salt and pepper, oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. I like to add parmesan cheese (2-3 tablespoons) and a just a dash of the herbs mentioned above. If you find that they turn out too dry for your tastes, you can also add a bit of milk or olive oil.
My kids like simple dishes, and they aren’t big on multiple items on the same plate. I can’t blame them because I’m in my thirties and still don’t like when my gravy touches my peas. For now we just serve these meatballs up plain. Hopefully we can level-up to meatball subs sometime soon. My son recently started dipping his meatballs in ketchup and barbecue sauce, but now the meatballs are solely a condiment transportation device (CTD) and no longer something to bite into for it’s own sake. Baby steps.
I simplified or skipped a few steps in this recipe to make it as quick and painless as possible. I mixed all of the ingredients and preheated the oven while I was forming the meatballs, using a small ice cream scoop to make uniform balls. I didn’t worry about preheating the tray. Then I sprayed the foil-lined cooking tray with canola baking spray and plopped on the meatballs and baked for the recommended 15 minutes.
These have been a big hit with my kids, so the last time I made them my wife had bought three pounds of meat and we froze a whole bunch. Now we can just take out a couple at a time, nuke them for a a few minutes, and viola – instant meal. Our next step is to convince our kids that the world would not end if we actually eat our meatballs WITH pasta, or, on a bun.
If you try this, we’d love to know what adaptations you made and how they turned out for you!
‘Tis the season’ for giving, and for being completely humbled by your own children.
We were going through the mountain of toys and stuffed animals that have amassed in the playroom, and we decided to clean out some of the clutter. The collection of stuffed animals, specifically, was squarely in my sights.
I said to my daughter, “We should give a few of these to another boy or girl to play with,” and just after the words flitted happily off my tongue, I realized what I had done. Four-year olds, as you know, take EVERYTHING literally.
I saw her eyes begin to grow wider and imagined the gears turning in her head, so I commenced with my back-peddling crusade. I tried to explain what it means to donate things to the Salvation Army, but it was already too late. She was dead set on going right out and finding a boy or girl to give her stuffed turtle and teddy bear to.
After a brief moment of reflection, I realized that this was a really good thing. It was a teachable moment and character building opportunity for my daughter. I recognized that this was a chance to be a really good dad, and I became very excited. We packed up the stuffed animals and headed off to the mall to look for someone to give them to.
Although there were lots of boys and girls at the mall shopping with their parents, we must have done five laps before she worked up her confidence and settled on the perfect girl to pawn off her old stuffed animals on. “Great,” I thought, “This is almost a wrap. Soon I can put another notch on my rad dad staff.” (I don’t really have a rad dad staff – see, I’ve become paranoid about being taken literally).
I bent over, smiled at my daughter, and said, “Go ahead, sweetie. Run over there and give them to the girl,” after which she completely froze. I tried encouraging her to no avail. She wanted to do it, but couldn’t work up the nerve. I could totally understand where she was coming from. That was when I came to the realization that I was going to have to do this myself. My gut instinct was to run. Instead, I took a few deep breaths and tried to think.
“Okay, I can do this!” I thought. I looked at the mother, who, as far as I could tell, appeared to be a decent and friendly person. I then looked down at myself. I was sporting my best pair of corduroys. OK, that’s good. No foods stains either, that’s also a plus. The best thing I had going for me, however, was having my daughter with me. That would have to lower my creepiness value significantly.
That’s when my brain began to riot against this dumb idea. Every ounce of me revolted against approaching this total stranger. I’d much rather be anonymous, so instead I briefly considered giving my daughter some cash to drop into the Salvation Army bucket out front, but I knew it couldn’t work. She just wouldn’t understand. No, I had to go all-in now.
I paced back and forth a few times, (you know, just to look even creepier to nearby shoppers) and then I made my move. I gripped my daughter’s hand tightly, not only for her support, but also in an effort to look less threatening. We were in this together.
I smiled and said, “Excuse me, but my daughter really wants to give away these stuffed animals to someone, and she chose your daughter. It really would make my daughter’s day.”
I then turned slowly to my daughter and said, “Open the bag, honey,” to show that it contained no rat poison, body parts, or other nightmarish items – just two cute and cuddly stuffed animals. I smiled again and waited patiently as the mom sized up the situation.
She started to say, “Well, she already has – ,” but I deftly and ever so subtly shook my head, raised my eyebrows as high as my face would allow, and tried to nonverbally communicate something along the lines of, “Dear God lady, please please please don’t make me have to do this again – you’ve got to help me. Just take the $%^&* bag of stuffed animals, have a Merry Christmas, and let’s move on!”
Just then her daughter said, “OOHHH, they are so cute!”, and my own daughter began doing that cute thing she does where she sort of dances in place because she’s so excited, shy, or in this case, both.
So the mom says, “Are you sure?”, and I volleyed back an immediate “Yyyy-ep!” Then Mother went on to say that it was very nice of her and all that jazz… Actually, my brain stopped processing outside stimuli at that point as my inner monologue began screaming, “WE DID IT! WE DID IT!”
After a quick goodbye and well-wishing for Happy Holidays, we went our separate ways, and I wiped the sweat from my brow. I gushed to my daughter about how proud I was of her for giving away some of her toys, and I offered to take her out to eat as a special treat. She chose the ‘dinosaur place’, which baffled me at first, but turned out to be the Texas Roadhouse right outside the mall. We had a great dinner and a discussion about the ‘fun’ we had giving away her toys and making another little girl happy.
I’m sure these sorts of things happen all the time, but this one really is going to stick in my mind for quite some time. It’s easily going to be my defining ‘dad moment’ of the year. Nothing else in the world could have given me courage to approach a complete stranger in such a manner, except for wanting to do right by my daughter. Both of us grew a little bit as human beings that night.
This story was featured as a guest post on The Real Matt Daddy, as part of his Real Fatherhood Stories series. Check out more Real Fatherhood Stories at The Real Matt Daddy, and see what Matt is up to on Twitter and Facebook.