Keeping Your Kids’ Toys Clean

Has your child’s teddy bear attended one too many tea parties? Could those muddy action figures use a bath before returning to combat? Different playthings require different kinds of care, so follow our tips to prolong the life of your child’s favorite toys.

Stuffed animals. When your child’s favorite lion, tiger, or bear gets dirty, place it in a lingerie bag or pillowcase that’s knotted shut and wash on gentle with a liquid laundry detergent in a fun, invigorating scent. If hand washing is recommended, wet a washcloth with water and mild soap, rub the fur gently, and wipe clean with a damp cloth. Tumble dry at medium heat, or allow to air-dry in the sun. And be sure that the stuffed toys dry completely, to prevent mildew from forming.

Wooden toys. Avoid soaking wooden items in water. Instead, wipe all trains, pull-toys, play fruit, and dollhouse pieces with a damp cloth, then dry well with a soft cloth. For stubborn marks, add a drop of dishwashing liquid to the cloth and rub gently before rinsing with a clean, damp cloth and drying.

Action figures. Gather action figures, pretend tools, and other plastic toys in a sink or tub filled with warm water and a few squirts of fresh-scented citrus liquid dish soap. Submerge toys and agitate for a few minutes, then rinse well and dry with a soft cloth or towel. Keep an old toothbrush on hand for scrubbing hard-to-clean crevices.

Vinyl dolls. To clean vinyl baby dolls and fashion dolls alike, gently rub with a damp cloth. Wash dirty tresses with shampoo, and tackle tangles with conditioner and a fine-tooth comb. For marker or crayon smudges on a doll’s skin, rub with a paste made from baking soda and a few drops of water, then rinse well and dry.

Tub toys. Every few weeks those rubber duckies and plastic submarines may need a scrub of their own. In a sink or tub filled with warm water and a few squirts of liquid dishwashing soap, agitate the toys and rub clean with a soft cloth, then rinse well and allow to air-dry. If mold is present, scrub the toys with kosher salt and a bristle brush, then soak overnight in a bucket filled with water and vinegar. In the morning, simply rinse and dry the toys in preparation for their next splashdown.

Help Your Teens Earn Money for Prom

Last year the average family earmarked $1,100 to cover prom expenses. This year, get smart: Soften the blow on your wallet by having your teens contribute to the kitty. Read below for money-earning ideas that also teach valuable lessons.

Chores can add up. No question, you can give them a few bucks for routine chores like mowing the lawn or doing the dishes. Or sign them up for laundry duty.

Think group effort. To help your teen and her besties earn big bucks, encourage them to “crowdsource” their prom fund by taking on larger endeavors with friends. If they like to cook, have them grab a few culinary-minded friends to host a dinner party/fund-raiser for the parents. The parents buy a ticket to the party (say $25–$50) and are treated to a night out with a home-cooked meal (and no cleanup!). If the event goes well, your teens can do it again with a breakfast or dessert theme.

Teach them to market their skills. Is your teen a stellar soccer player or a piano prodigy? Encourage them to approach your friends that have younger children and offer to give the kids after-school lessons for a small fee.

Go old-school. If your town allows it, help your teen and her friends organize a car wash or bake sale in a central location. At the end of the event, the teens can divvy up the earnings or put them toward a collective goal, such as the cost of their prom-night ride or the after-dance festivities. There’s no question—working for their ultimate prom will make the night even more memorable.

Share the Joy: Fun Family Photos

Another holiday season brings mailboxes full of cards, packed with updates and photos from family and friends. As you’re planning your year-end update, take a few pointers from our crazy family to yours.

Do your research. Before picture day, peruse photo-driven blogs or photography Websites. You’re likely to find a concept or post that you really like and can execute yourself. A little planning can go a long way.

Pick a prop. You don’t have to be at a party or in a photo booth to work this trend. Find something that screams fun—and captures your family—and incorporate it into the photo. Matching winter hats, wrapped boxes or strands of lights are a few good options.

Get moving. Try an action shot and play with poses and positioning. Shoot the family making snow angels, riding a sled, or doing a jingle bell jog in matching sweaters.

Make a scene. Literally. You don’t have to live in a snowy climate to create a winter wonderland—think paper snowflakes, hats and gloves. And don’t forget the beloved tacky sweater.

Ham it up. Let individual personalities shine through in the photos. Don’t discard the outtakes—you might find they’re the most fun to share.

Create a collage. Getting the extended family together for a photo can be tough, but don’t despair. Rather than one shot, splice together pictures from the whole year to fashion a family tree. Others can catch up on what you’ve been up to for the past 12 months.

Rainy-Day Activities for the Whole Family

The good times don’t have to end just because of a little rain. These activities make it easy to enjoy fun and games—regardless of the weather.

Great skates! Who says you need actual skates to go skating? Just place an empty shoebox on each foot, then glide around the room to some upbeat songs. Your kids will have a blast, and you won’t believe how much exercise you’re getting. Crank up some Top 40 tunes to feel like you’re really at a skating rink.

Pitch a tent. So what if your cozy campsite just happens to be in the family room. Spread blankets across chairs, side tables, and couches. Then equip your pretend tent with games, flashlights, and a snack or a picnic lunch.

Bag of tricks. Go to your bedrooms, kitchen, family room, or basement, and place five things in a paper bag. Then use the items in the bag as the inspiration for a play or story. The challenge: making sure each and every one of the items is included in the plot.

Water play. When all else fails, make going outdoors the game.  Get out your most serious rain gear—including rain jackets, waterproof pants, and rubber boots—and go puddle jumping or frog hunting with your kids. See how long you can stay out there without wanting to run back inside.

Off to the races!  Use a couple of rolls of masking tape to create a giant play racetrack for your kids’ toy cars, boats, trucks, and airplanes. Have the kids place the toys at a starting line on the track, and delight as they race them to the finish time and time again.