Kids’ Valentines Using Toys

Looking for a Creative Solution for Valentine’s cards for your kids’ classmates that has a personal touch?

Use their favorite toys and take a picture!

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My boys love LEGOs, so we spelled out our greeting on an extra-large base plate.  My older son built the heart.  My younger son selected the minifigs and helped find the bricks.  Then my husband snapped the pic.  We don’t attach treats or toys to our V-Day cards; it’s just a fun message of love for friends and classmates.

Valentines Cards 4

I equipped each boy with his own roll of double-sided tape and a large bin of neglected scrapbook paper so that each could create his own cards.

Valentines CardsValentines Cards 2

The end result was far from Pinterest-looking-precision, but the kids actually had fun doing them… and it was also a far cry from last year’s bout of misery, nagging, and day-drinking.  


The reason I think this Creative Solution worked is because:

  1. They were involved in the creative process–not just the handwriting part.
  2. It involved their favorite toys.

Happy Valentines Day to you!

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LEGO Storage

Organization, containers, storage of things… these are a few of my favorite things!  One of my boys’ favorite things is LEGOs.  This Creative Solution offers suggestions for LEGO organization and storage.

Rather than a “formal living room,” we use this space as the kids’ playroom.  THIS is where they play with toys.  Not in the family room.  Not in the bedrooms.  For toy storage, we use some old bookcases that line the walls.  That’s my starting point.

Now, a reality check.  My kids’ playroom almost always looks like this:

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It is very,very played in.  Actively.  Always.  By my two boys and their friends.  Let’s be real: organized does not mean “always clean.”  So as I offer these organizational strategies, remember that it’s not going to miraculously translate into a tidy room.  What it will be is a room that should be logical to straighten up in about 20 minutes.

Reality check in place, let’s ground ourselves in a few guiding principles:

  1. Location: The goal should be that everything has a place  so that when it’s time to clean up, there IS a place for everything.
    • If kids need to dump stuff out to find the thing they’re looking for, unnecessary mess is being made.  Ideally, I like to avoid that.  So when I suggest “a place for everything; everything has a place,” there is a golden zone of efficiency that we’re aiming for.  Less dumping; more playing.
  2. Self-Sufficiency: The kids should be able to easily find what they’re looking for and put it away themselves
  3. Form and Function:  The storage containers you use matter.  For the most part, I’m going to recommend clear containers that are not too tall/deep.

We have a lot of LEGOs.  Here’s how we organize them:

Loose Bricks

IMG_1075One of the two ways we organize loose bricks is by color.  I bought a bunch of these storage bins at the Dollar Tree a while ago, and have since ripped the lids off each box (I’ll explain why in a moment).  Clear shoebox sized containers should also work for this.  It’s important that the bins are clear so kids can see what they’re looking for without pulling things out.  It’s also helpful to label the name of the contents.  In addition to colors, we have one box for wheels and pieces of vehicle (like steering wheels), another for trees and flowers, and another for doors, windows, and glass.


The second way we organize loose bricks is in one big box called “Random LEGOs.”  This really helps make cleaning up random bricks on the floor quicker and easier.

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Why even bother to sort by color?  We have far too many bricks to for us to just have boxes of “Random LEGOs.”  Additionally, sometimes a set will fall apart and my older son–the 7 1/2 yr old Master LEGO Builder–will need to rebuild.  Or while building a set, one piece will get lost.  Have you ever spent an extended period of time looking for a gray piece the size of your pinky finger nail… the one that’s the flat slant… or the square with the u-shape connector that goes sideways, not up and down?  Right.  That’s why we primarily have color sorting… for FINDING those pieces.  Our house rule is once the Random LEGO box gets full, it’s time to sort into colors.

Some criteria for a good “Random LEGO Box” 

♦ A clear box – so if it’s on a shelf, it’s easily recognizable.  Avoid fabric bins.  

♦ Low sides – makes it easier and more functional for smaller hands to reach in, grab what they want, and build.  (Less dumping.)

♦ Large surface area – while you don’t want it to be too deep, you do want as much surface area space as possible.  Way easier to find what you’re looking for.  Avoid shoe-box sized containers… too small.

The most ideal container I have found for the Random LEGO Box is the Snapware Snap ‘N Stack Sqaure Layer Storage Container, 12-Inch by 12-Inch.  I purchased mine at JoAnn’s on one of their regular 50% off sales for $17.49.  It comes with one lid and three latching containers.  (We use the lid and the other two latching containers for keeping their LEGO train sets safe from “rough play” when not in use.)  Like I said, we intentionally limit the Random Box to one bin because that’s the Creative Solution that works for us.  Maybe all you need is one of these for three bins of randomness?  

Pro-tip: if you’ve got regular LEGO builders, do not try to store the lid on the Random LEGO Box.  The kids will rip it off and leave it on the floor.  It gets in the way.


photo 5We have lots of sets.  I’ve got two boys who have basically requested LEGO sets for every gift for every holiday from everyone for the past four years… and spent their own money on sets… and have sold old toys to buy sets…  My boys play with their sets in-tact.  Some kids enjoy building and destroying.  Mine enjoy building and playing with the buildings. It doesn’t matter which ethos your kid employs.  Just organize around their preference.

When a set is not being used, store it on a shelf.  We have added a layer of shelves to the bookcases to make better use of the unnecessary “tall” space.

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We have also hung random shelves at varying heights for additional “safe” storage.

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Instruction Manuals

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If you’ve got sets, you’ve got instruction manuals.  Originally, in my “less unnecessary stuff” mode, I’d suggest tossing the manuals after the initial build, and just accessing them (if needed) through the LEGO website.

We currently have over 3300 building instructions available online which date back to sets packed in 2002…

To search, enter 4 or 5 digit set number or a keyword e.g. airplane, car or hero.

You don’t have to know the set number… just enough descriptive words for you (or your kid) to recognize the set through their website.

For us, sets break all the time, and it’s a lot easier for my 7 1/2 yr old to be able to grab the instructions book when he needs it.  So alas, we are using them and I must store them.  First I stored all the books in one box.  Now we are at three categories: City, Creator/Technic, and Star Wars/Ninjago/Characters.  We have them in three open lid bins.

A side note about the instruction manuals and LEGO customer service.  If you’re ever missing a piece, you can find the piece part number in the back of that manual where it lists all the pieces.  Then call customer service or use the website.  Sometimes they’ll mail it out for free.  Sometimes you’ll need to pay a nominal fee.


My kids play with mini-figs like they’re action figures.  They. Love. Them.  We have so many that get played with so regularly that they need a place to live.

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I am just using an old box that possibly had a Melissa and Doug toy in it years ago.  The separate compartments might be good in theory (if your kid is like me and likes organizing… my boys could care less about that, so they all just get thrown in together).  But what’s most important is that the edge of the container is only a couple inches high.  The kids can see what they’re going for, which means less dumping on the floor.

Ideas Evolving to Meet Needs

My organization of LEGOs has definitely evolved over time as our collection has grown.  Deciding how to adapt these ideas to work for you begins with assessing:

  • What’s your starting point
  • What’s your goal

My goal of a clean playroom needed to be adapted to become a playroom that could be cleaned (or significantly straightened) in 20 minutes.  Every time we encountered an obstacle to that goal, we work on finding another Creative Solution in response (hang another shelf, find another box, etc).  It has evolved, and keeps evolving.

With that said, I hope you find a Creative Solution that works for you!

Homemade Lego Gifts

Here’s a Creative Solution for Lego-lovers; a crafty, homemade gift that is useful, fun, inexpensive, and pretty easy.

Assuming you have acrylic paints on hand, this Lego tray cost about $11 to make (even less if you can snag a baseplate from your kids’ playroom).

Lego Tray


The wooden trays are available at any craft store.  I got mine from Hobby Lobby ($7.99, minus a 40% off coupon).  Just be sure to get the large tray (10 3/4 ” x 14″) so that it will fit the 10 inch Lego baseplate.  The baseplates are available at Target, the Lego Store, or Amazon for $4.99.

  1. Paint the tray one color (avoid green since that’ll be the baseplate color).  Let it dry, then paint bricks around the outside border–a rectangle with dots on top.
  2. I like to finish any painting-on-wood project with some varnish or polyurethane.  This varnish is easy to work with, clean up, and dries super fast.  And it can be found in the paints aisle of the craft store.  Amazon has it for $10.99, but I’m pretty sure craft stores sell it for closer to $4.99.
  3. After it’s dry, hot glue the baseplate to the side of the tray.  Resist the temptation to center it.  The “loose” Lego bricks need space to go on the side.


Another easy homemade Lego gift is a Mini-Fig Hat.


You can purchase a white hat from a craft store and dye it yellow… but honestly that’s too many steps for me.  The colors of baseball caps in craft stores and dollar stores vary… and I haven’t found a yellow hat in either place years.  But lo and behold, Academy Sports has one!  Marked $4.99, but rang up at $2.99!

I have a lot of Acrylic paints and find it easier to simply use a fabric medium like this one from Amazon.  The instructions on the bottle suggest 2-parts paint to 1-part fabric medium.  Although you may want to sketch out your ovals in pencil before beginning, I just threw caution to the wind and had at it.  Since it’s a hat that will likely not be washed, I didn’t bother heat setting.

Painting on Glass and Ceramic

Painting glass is an inexpensive, easy craft.  Seriously easy.  And ridiculously inexpensive.  But if you’ve never done it before, it can be a little intimidating.

A while ago my Mom had asked her adult children, their spouses, and her grandkids to each paint a 4″ square ceramic tile so that we could provide a homemade tile countertop for an outdoor bar.  Mom asked that we consider going to a paint-your-own-pottery place.

Now I love those places, but they can get expensive.  I gleaned a tip from Pinterest that said you can buy the ceramic tiles from Home Depot or Lowe’s for $0.16.  So that’s what I did.  Next I found the kinds of paints needed for the project at Michael’s.

Folk Art Enamel Acrylic Paint for Glass and Ceramics

Folk Art Enamel Acrylic Paint for Glass and Ceramics

The box of Folk Art paints was purchased at Michaels for $17.99, minus a 40% coupon ($10.79).  It has a great variety of paint colors and includes directions on the back for how to heat set.

First I had the kids paint some tiles, then I got my siblings and our spouses to sit down, drink wine, and paint two tiles.




It was fun, easy, and quick.  Here’s what we learned:

  • Have a bottle of rubbing alcohol handy.  First use it to clean / prep the surface.  Then if you make any mistakes, you can either use a q-tip with rubbing alcohol to erase or simply wipe it clean and start again.
  • Other supplies needed: paint brushes, paper towels, newspaper (or other drop cloth), water to clean brushes.
  • Wine is optional.

The instructions suggest either air dry for 21 days or air dry for 1 hour, then place in a cool oven, bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, and cool in oven.   Heat setting was pretty easy, especially if you let it cool in the oven overnight.  Start out in a cool oven so that the items slowly get hotter and won’t break.  Start the timer for 30 minutes once the oven comes to temp.  Then turn the oven off and let the items slowly cool (so they won’t break).

It was so easy that I decided to try painting on glass.  I purchased a few matching pairs of small glasses from the Dollar Tree and painted a couple of glasses for my kids,  I approach painting like glorified coloring.  I stick to basic shapes and patterns.


Lego Glasses painted on Irish Coffee Mugs


Train and Rocket painted on glass mugs

I chose these size glasses because they are appropriate portions for my kids.

Getting the glasses from the Dollar Tree meant that the glass itself was thicker and sturdy.  And they were inexpensive… if they turned out looking crappy, I wouldn’t be devastated,

Since the paints aren’t food safe, it’s recommended that you avoid painting along the top lip of the glass.

After heat-setting, the glasses are top rack dishwasher safe.

The kids loved them!  Coincidentally, the same Christmas I gave these glasses to my boys, my sister-in-law gifted our family with a set of drinking glasses from Uncommon Goods:


These are adorable!  The instructions recommend handwashing, but note they may be ok for top rack dishwasher.  Well, between wooden cutting boards, good knives, pots and pans, and special platters, I don’t have room in my life for more things that aren’t dishwasher safe.  So I decided to try the dishwasher…and 3 out of 4 glasses were fine.  But the decal on the 4th glass (my younger son’s) half peeled off.   And he was devastated.  While trying to figure out whether to spend $12 for a replacement glass, plus shipping, I accidentally knocked my older son’s glass off the counter and shattered it on the tile floor.

So that night, after FaceBooking my parenting fail, I grabbed two glasses from our cabinet and attempted to paint our own “Family Glassware.”  A very helpful tip here is: sketch out the drawing on a piece of paper, tape it to the inside of the glass, and then trace over it in paint.


Homemade “Family Glasswares”

The kids loved them!  In fact, I decided to start painting glorified stick figure glasses as birthday presents for my friends’ kids.


I’ll ask their Mom’s what their favorite colors are, and paint their clothing accordingly… along with hair the appropriate color and style,

When painting glass, the same tips apply:

Use rubbing alcohol to clean the surface of the glass.

Use rubbing alcohol to clean the surface of the glass.

  • Use rubbing alcohol  to clean / prep the surface.  Then if you make any mistakes, you can either use a q-tip with rubbing alcohol to erase or use a paper towel with rubbing alcohol to simply wipe it clean and start again.
  • Other supplies needed: paint brushes, paper towels, drop cloth, and water to clean brushes.
  • Heat-set the glassware the same as ceramic: either air dry for 21 days or air dry for 1 hour, then place in a cool oven, bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, and cool in oven.   
  • Since the paints aren’t food safe, avoid painting along the top lip (1/4″ to 1/2″) of the glass.
  • Wine is optional.

To help prevent the paint from chipping or peeling in the dishwasher, I have started to seal my painted creations with a clear medium.  There is a bottle included in the Folk Art kit I referenced above, but if you buy containers of the acrylic paint separately, consider getting this as well.mXQkJMzLzAtzQ368mJYpkJA

I’ve had such success with painting glasses that I decided to paint a slew of them for my son’s Lego birthday party favor:


First I printed a copy of the mini-fig head I would paint, and cut it out.

Then tape it to the inside of the glass.

Then tape it to the inside of the glass.

Then trace the border with the outline color (black) paint.

Then trace the border with the outline color (black) paint.

Fill in the rest of the color and design.

Finally, fill in the rest of the color and design.  And paint the “clear medium” to seal it in before heat setting.

I purchased these glasses from IKEA.  The GODIS glasses were $6.99 for a 6 pack of 8 oz glasses, which made for a party favor costing just over $1 per kid.  I painted their names on the glasses as well, which all the kids loved.

You can easily print and trace whatever design for whatever themed glassware you’d like.  For instance, superheros:


Or instead of glassware paint a vase…


So it’s up to you!  What kind of Creative Solution will you create with painting glass and ceramics?