13 freaky challenges that make the kids squeal


Sara McGinnis

posted in Life & Home

Whether bad weather has you stuck inside this winter, it’s Halloween time, or you’ve got a kid set on a Fear Factor birthday party, there are plenty of freaky-fun challenges out there to entertain a crowd. How far is your child willing to go? Find out!

Thanks to years of running weekly Fear Factor challenges at the YMCA youth center, I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve, and know a few tips on how to steer clear of trouble. Here are 13 of my favorite freaky challenges for kids:

1. Afraid of frozen toes? Find out who’s tough enough to put their tootsies in an ice bath. Fill a large bowl with half ice, half water, and a few small toys (marbles, game pieces, plastic spiders). Each participant is given 30 seconds to fish out as many items with one foot as possible. Each ice cube knocked out of the bowl negates a retrieved item, however! (Prevents wild splashing)

2. Jell-O jiggles, wiggles, and makes for a great memory game. Mix up a batch of a light-colored flavor, but drop in an assortment of odds and ends before allowing to harden. (Dice, toothpick, small toys, bread tag, etc.) When it’s game time, keep the concoction out of sight until everyone is seated with paper, pen or pencil. Everyone gets 30 seconds to look before the Jell-O collection is hidden again. Give one more minute to write (or draw for non-writers) down everything they can recall. For more fun pull each object out of the squish as you check off the lists!

3. For a round of survival of the quickest, give balloon stomp a try. Blow up as many balloons as there are participants. Tie a string around the balloon knot, and another around a child’s ankle. When someone says ‘Go!’ try and pop others’ balloons while keeping yours safe.

4. Bobbing for apples may be a time-honored tradition, but there’s not much fear to freak-out over there. Try bobbing for “monster eyes” (Brussels sprouts) in a “blood bath” (water with red food coloring).

5. Make like a mummy — the classic race to wrap someone up with toilet paper like a mummy hasn’t gotten old yet. To make sure everyone has a hand in the process, divide kids into two teams, each with one volunteer to be wrapped. Using a stopwatch, give each person 15 seconds to wrap and roll before being tagged out by a teammate. Best mummy wins!

6. Boil some spaghetti, break out the blindfold and toss in some tofu. Each participant gets one minute to reach into a bowl of cold, oiled noodles to fish out squishy squares of tofu. Ramp up the freak-factor by using basil pesto to make your batch green and gooey, while telling a tale of monster brains. Tofu too hard for your age of kids to pick out? Try paper clips or Legos.

7. Stick with it! Divide participants into two teams that will compete in a relay race. Each team needs one pair of chopsticks and a bowl of mini-marshmallows. Some distance away, place a cup or bowl to drop them into. First team to get 10 marshmallows (or double the number of participants on each team, which allows everyone to have at least two tries) to their goal using just one hand wins!

8. Tape 10 cups to a table (or onto a piece cardboard placed on the table). Number each cup 1-10. Have each participant take a turn bouncing 5 ping pong balls into the cups and add up the points. For bonus creativity points, decorate your ping pong balls with monster eyes or another theme.

9. Slurp! Eating Jell-O may not be hard, but downing a small cup of the jiggly stuff through a straw is a different challenge entirely. First one to empty their glass wins.

10. Candy toss — the mess is up to you. Each child gets 5 pieces of candy. Have one volunteer (an adult makes the game extra fun for the kids) sit in a chair, holding a cup on their head, 10 feet away. To keep it clean, each kid gets a point for each candy they can toss and land in the cup. To make it messy, fill the cup with liquid! Water, soda, juice, milk?

11. Is there a strong boy or girl among the crowd? Find out by having a yoga-inspired pose-off. Who can hold Tree or Triangle the longest?

12. Let the food fight back! Tie mini powdered donuts on a string and hang from the ceiling or an entryway so that kids on their knees can reach with their mouths. First person to eat their donut while their hands are behind their back wins.

13. Frog egg munch time! Have each participant roll a die to find out how many servings of “frog eggs” (tapioca pudding with green dye) they have to eat. To easily serve, spoon your green goop onto saltine crackers.

Over the years, I have found the best way to play a Fear Factor-style game is to award points along with each challenge. That way, everyone gets a chance to participate in everything (no one is left out of the game for losing the first or subsequent rounds), and a winner is automatically decided at the end.

My rules:

– Check on everyone’s allergies! I never used peanut butter while at the Y, but didn’t found out about one boy’s gluten allergy until he was elbow deep in a bowl of spaghetti. Yikes. Everything worked out fine, but it reminded me it’s always better to ask first.

– Expect a mess: Double check that you’re prepared for your challenge supplies to be squished, splashed and mashed into clothes and onto the floor.

– No one has to do a challenge: Got a kid who’s too freaked out to taste frog eggs? No big deal. I don’t think forcing anyone into what is supposed to be fun is the right approach. They can pass on any challenge and still be in the game, they just won’t get any points for that round.

– Getting hurt isn’t fun: Being pushed to the limits is an adrenaline-pumping experience, but mouths burnt with hot sauce or children made ill by handling raw eggs/meat makes what should be a perceived threat too serious.

– Play it by ear: Challenge too hard for the kids? Change the rules. Have a little one who can’t keep up? Bend the instructions for different age groups. You’re the boss, feel free to take liberties as necessary!

Take photos! Smiling pictures are a must for any parents, but there are other facial expressions that ought to be considered priceless too. Shock, horror, disgust and out-right excitement mixed with mess and commotion make great keepsakes when put into photobooks.

Images by iStock

This post was originally published October 29, 2012

5 things to know about baby’s coming-home outfit


BabyCenter Guest Blogger

posted in Life & Home

By Sharon Schneider, Moxie Jean CEO

Each time I’ve brought a baby home from the hospital–I’ve done it three times now–I learned something new about what we really needed.

First, you will be relieved to know you don’t need baby clothes for the time you are in the hospital. The nurses dress your baby in a little onesie and keep him/her wrapped up in a thin “receiving blanket.” They also put a little hat on the baby’s head to keep it warm, as babies aren’t great at regulating their body temperature and they lose a lot of heat through their heads.

So the time actually in the hospital is taken care of. But what about departure day? Here are my top 5 tips for when it’s time to go home:

1) Bring layers: For that going home outfit, you will want something picture-worthy. But remember it has to be comfortable, too. I put a plain onesie underneath, and lean toward one-piece outfits on top.

2) Watch the head:
Or better yet, avoid it. For new parents, dealing with the floppy head of a newborn is scary stuff! They just seem so delicate. Think about the neck opening of newborn clothes. You want a nice roomy neck and preferably something that buttons in front so you don’t have to fit it over their head or figure out how to get snaps done on the baby’s back. I also avoid lace or other fussy stuff around the neck as it is more likely to just be annoying or scratchy for that precious sensitive skin.

3) Bring a backup outfit:
Your baby might be a cute little 6 lbs 5 oz. munchkin. Mine were not. They were all over 8 pounds at birth, and my son was almost 10 pounds. So they wore size newborn for like five minutes. Go light on the newborn-size clothing and bring a back-up outfit in size 0-3 mos.

4) Keep it simple: Look, you have to put the baby into a car seat in whatever cute outfit you dress him/her in. Remember that means a buckle between the legs and over the shoulders. Too much frill and fuss will not make your baby happy.

5) Bring a blanket for covering the baby on the ride home:
Even if it’s 90 degrees out, you are going to want to cover those delicate, tiny little legs. And the hospital won’t let you take theirs.

Bonus tip: Pack up all the stuff the hospital gives you. Washcloths, wipes, diapers, creams, soaps and lotions, pacifiers. Hospitals are like restaurants and if you don’t use whatever they put out for you, they just throw it out. So clean out the bottom of your baby’s hospital crib: you can use the supplies when traveling and to stock your diaper bag.

This post was originally published in August, 2013.

Images from iStock

Sharon-profileSharon Schneider is co-founder & CEO of Upscale Resale web site Moxie Jean, which sells hand-picked newborn baby clothes from Newborn to Size 8. She and her husband are raising their three young kids in the Chicagoland area.

11 books to read with your kids for Black History Month


Laura Falin

posted in Life & Home

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve pulled together a list of books to read with your kids. From tales based on actual historic events to fiction featuring African American kids (who are still grossly underrepresented in children’s literature), here are some books here to get your celebration started.

Like any book list, this one was hard to narrow down. Hopefully this is a jumping-off point for finding more books you and your family can read together!

1. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier — A great introduction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for children. The book uses many of King’s own words to share his story and show how he changed the world. The book has beautiful watercolor illustrations and was a Caldecott Medal Winner. 

2. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats — This has been one of our favorites for years…a sweet book about a little boy out investigating his city on a snowy day. The beautiful collage illustrations are bright and unique. It’s a trailblazer as well — according to Horn Book Magazine, this was “the very first full-color picture book to feature a small black hero.” It’s also a 1963 Caldecott Medal winner. Just a perfect book.

3. What’s the Hurry, Fox? And Other Animal Stories by Zora Neale Hurston and Joyce Carol Thomas — Author Hurston, who also wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God, traveled through the rural south collecting stories and folktales. Thomas took those stories and re-wrote them to be easier for kids to understand. Discover “Why the Dog Hates the Cat,” and “Why Whitecaps Have Waves,” in this great collection.

4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson — Full disclosure: I haven’t read this yet. But everyone I know who has just loves it. It’s a longer book, probably for kids 10+, but there’s also an excellent audio recording so you can listen in the car with the younger kids. It’s a collection of poems written by Woodson about her experiences growing up as an African American in the 1960s and ’70s. By the way, if you’re looking for more books for older kids and adults (I still love YA novels), this podcast has some great recommendations.

5. Papa’s Mark  by Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert and Colin Bootman  — Samuel T. Blow participates in the first election where African Americans are allowed to vote. But he wants to write more than an “X” on his ballot — he wants to write his name. And so he turns to his son, who helps his dad participate in this historic event.

6. Please, Baby, Please! by Spike Lee , Tonya Lewis Lee, and Kadir Nelson — Filmmaker Spike Lee and his wife write a hilarious book that’s relatable for both kids and their exhausted parents (“Go back to bed, baby, please, baby, please. Not on your headbaby baby baby, please!…”). We follow the rambunctious toddler through her day, ending with a sweet moment between her and her sleepy mama before bed.

7. This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt and R.G. Roth — “This Old Man” is reworked to include some of the greatest jazz musicians like Satchmo (Louis Armstrong), Bojangles (Bill Robinson), and Charles Mingus. SNAP! BOMP! BEEDLE-DI-BOP! A really fun read.

8. What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld, Ben Boos, and A.G. Ford — The basketball star shares the stories of little-known African American inventors who created everything from the ice cream scoop to the cortisone shot. Funny stories that are easy for kids to read or listen to, and that will likely teach adults a thing or two also.

9. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Store of the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson, tells us the true story of Henry Brown, a slave who sees his entire family sold to a new slave owner, and eventually finds freedom by shipping himself in a wooden crate to a “place where there are no slaves.”

10. Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Bettye Stroud,  and John Holyfield — After Martin Luther King, Jr. visits Gee’s Bend to encourage black people to vote, the sheriff shuts down the ferry that would take them to their polling place. The residents refuse to be deterred and hitch their wagons to mules (including Belle) to head on a long journey around the river instead. Inspired by a true story.

11. Welcome, Precious by Nikki Grimes — This is sweet, lovely book about the arrival of a new baby. The illustrations are wonderful, the writing is poetic — it’s a perfect bedtime story, or a great book for child getting ready for a new little brother or sister.

Do you have any favorite books you’d add to this list? I’d love to know what they are — we’re always looking to expand our reading lists! 

For more kids’ activities and easy recipes, you can find Laura at Peace but not Quiet, and on facebook and Pinterest.

This post was originally published in February, 2017


Celebrate the flavors of Hanukkah with your baby


BabyCenter Guest Blogger

posted in Life & Home

By Cheryl Moellenbeck Tallman

Some people know Hanukkah as the Festival of Lights. They know about the candles lit to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that lasted eight days, when it should have only lasted one day. What they might not know, is Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple after it was reclaimed from the Syrian Greeks more than 21 centuries ago.

Fried food is also often associated with this holiday to celebrate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil. Jewish families will light the menorah each night in celebration, exchange gifts, play games and of course, eat! If your family celebrates Hanukkah, here are some ideas and recipes to help include your little one in the flavors of Hanukkah. Enjoy and happy Hanukkah!

About 6 Months

First food purees with a Hanukkah flavor:
• Broccoli
• Green Beans
• Applesauce

Hanukkah Applesauce Recipe
Hanukkah Recipes for Baby's First Hanukkah

• 4 Golden Delicious or McIntosh Apples, peeled and cut into cubes
• 2 Tbsp. Butter
• 1/3 Cup of Water
• ¼ Cup of Sugar
• ¼ tsp. of Cinnamon

Place the apples, butter, water and cinnamon into a pan. Cook on low heat for 25-35 minutes, until the apples become soft. Makes 3 cups.

About 7-12 Months

Latkes are a traditional food eaten during Hanukkah. For baby, try making this delicious Kohlrabi-Potato Puree. This puree is healthy and delicious. Just be sure to look for kohlrabi bulbs that are 21/2 inches in diameter at the market.

Hanukkah Kohlrabi-Potato Puree Recipe
Baby's First Hanukkah Recipes

• 2 kohlrabi bulbs, with the leaves and stems removed – washed, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
• 2 medium russet potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
• 6 medium button mushrooms, sliced
• ¼ cup of diced onion
• 1 Tbsp. of olive oil.
• A pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
• ½ cup of chicken or vegetable stock

Add potatoes and kohlrabi chunks to a pot of boiling water, lightly salted. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. While the potatoes and kohlrabi chunks are cooking, heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onions, mushrooms and the pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes or until softened. Remove from the heat.
Drain the potatoes and kohlrabi and puree. Add the mushrooms and onions to the food processor or blender and puree with the kohlrabi. Adding the soup stock to achieve a desired consistency.


Older babies who are enjoying finger foods and self-feeding, will love these potato pancakes, served with the Hanukkah Applesauce recipe (above)!
Hanukkah Potato Pancakes with Applesauce
Baby's First Hanukkah

• 2 medium Russet potatoes – washed, peeled and grated
• 2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
• 1 egg
• 2 Tbsp. of flour
• 4 Tbsp. of vegetable oil
• Dash of nutmeg
• ¼ tsp of salt
• ¼ tsp of pepper

In a medium sized bowl, mix the grated potatoes, beaten egg, thinly sliced scallions, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Pour oil onto a large frying pan. Heat the oil on medium heat. Use 1/3 cup of the potato mixture and drop onto the hot oil and flatten with the back of the spoon or spatula. Fry for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Repeat until all of the mixture is used. Drain on paper towels to remove any oil.
Serve warm with applesauce.
Makes 8 potato pancakes.

CherylCheryl Moellenbeck Tallman is the Founder and CEO of Fresh Baby. Since Starting Fresh Baby in 2002, Cheryl Tallman has been honored with many prestigious awards, and is a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrition Education Strategic Partner. As the head of product and content development for her company, Cheryl develops innovative products and authors materials that inspire parents to raise healthier children. She serves as both a parenting and cooking expert for many high-profile online communities. Follow Fresh Baby on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for more healthy eating tips and ideas.

This post was originally published in December, 2015