Alphabet Light Table Play {Fine Motor Fridays}

By on Friday, February 27, 2015 Be the first to comment!
Dollar store ice cube trays look fantastic on the light table (see here). Yet, they're even more fun when you turn them upside down. These particular ice cube trays are like buttons just waiting to be pressed (so you could pop out the ice cubes that I will never make - haha). So I decided to turn them into a keyboard of sorts to practice matching uppercase and lowercase letters, spelling words, and searching for particular letters. It may be a simple light table activity, but it encourages literacy and fine motor skills. And seriously, what kid doesn't like pressing buttons?!

Turn dollar store ice cube trays into alphabet keyboards for the light table from And Next Comes L

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

For this activity, I used three translucent ice cube trays from the dollar store and some dry erase markers. I wrote uppercase and lowercase letters on the ice cube trays with the dry erase markers. I can easily wash the marker off so that I can reuse the trays for another activity in the future.

Alphabet "keyboard" on the light table from And Next Comes L

Turn dollar store ice cube trays into alphabet keyboards for the light table from And Next Comes L

I just love how these ice cube trays look on the light table, but they're even more irresistible when they are alphabet buttons waiting to be pushed. We played a few different games with these:

  • I would call a letter and then K would press the letter that I called.
  • K would match uppercase and lowercase letters by pressing the letters at the same time.
  • I would help K spell words by dictating the letters while he pressed them.

He had a lot of fun with it!


Pushing buttons on a DIY alphabet "keyboard" on the light table from And Next Comes L

Pushing buttons on a DIY alphabet "keyboard" on the light table from And Next Comes L

We love the Fine Motor Fridays series. Here's what my co-hosts were up to this week:

Name Recognition using Beads from Powerful Mothering
Popper Ball Game from Little Bins for Little Hands

Fine Motor Fridays at And Next Comes L

Fine motor alphabet activity for the light table from And Next Comes L
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Pot of Gold Fine Motor Sensory Play

By on Thursday, February 26, 2015 Be the first to comment!
One of the reasons why I made metallic dyed beans in the first place was so that I could make a pot of gold inspired sensory activity for St. Patrick's Day. I ended up creating two mini sensory bins, one for each of my boys, using the golden beans. Here's our simple fine motor mini sensory bins inspired by a pot of gold.

St. Patrick's Day fine motor sensory activity for kids from And Next Comes L

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

To recreate our mini pot of gold sensory bins, you'll need:


I draped the pipe cleaners over the edge of the bowl so that it looked like there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

St. Patrick's Day fine motor sensory activity for kids from And Next Comes L

Both boys loved to scoop up the gold using the yellow scooper/tweezer thing. We love it because it is so great for encouraging fine motor skills.

Scooping golden dyed beans from And Next Comes L

Scooping golden dyed beans from a St. Patrick's Day sensory activity from And Next Comes L

Scooping golden dyed beans from a St. Patrick's Day sensory activity from And Next Comes L

The boys also loved to dig in and play with the "gold" too.

Golden dyed beans for St. Patrick's Day sensory activity from And Next Comes L

Finally, J really enjoyed making rainbow sculptures with the pipe cleaners. Here he is building his sculpture.

Rainbow and pot of gold sensory play for St. Patrick's Day from And Next Comes L

Looking for more St. Patrick's Day activities for kids? Try these:


Pot of gold fine motor sensory play for kids that's perfect for St. Patrick's Day from And Next Comes L
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Metallic Dyed Beans {How to Dye Beans for Sensory Play}

By on Monday, February 23, 2015 Be the first to comment!
I'm slightly addicted to metallic liquid watercolors. So I couldn't resist dyeing some sensory bin fillers in gold, silver, and copper. The result: metallic dyed beans. Quick and easy to make, these shimmery metallic beans are so much fun to play with. I'm kind of obsessed with how they turned out. "They're magical," as my five year old likes to say a lot lately.

Playing with metallic dyed beans - gold, silver, and copper colored sensory play for kids from And Next Comes L

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

To make some metallic dyed beans for sensory play, you will need:


Put some beans in a bag, add a a few squirts of liquid watercolors, and then shake. Regular liquid watercolors don't seem to dye beans as well as food coloring. However, I find that these metallic liquid watercolors have a thicker consistency, so they did a great job at dyeing the beans. Once the color was evenly distributed, I placed the colored beans on some paper towel to dry. They dried pretty quickly, within an hour or so. Once they are dry to the touch, they are ready for play.

Oooh la la! Aren't they pretty?!

Metallic dyed beans sensory play for kids from And Next Comes L

Time for some close up shots. Bam!

How to dye beans in metallic colors for sensory play from And Next Comes L

How to dye beans in metallic colors for sensory play from And Next Comes L

Now how about some photos of all those metallic colors mixed together? 
 
Close up of metallic dyed beans sensory play from And Next Comes L

Sensory play for kids using metallic dyed beans from And Next Comes L

Sensory play for kids using metallic dyed beans from And Next Comes L

J loved them so much that they literally had him seeing hearts. "Mom, mom, mom! It's a heart!!"

Playing with metallic dyed beans - gold, silver, and copper colored sensory play for kids from And Next Comes L

What do you think? What's your favorite color of the metallic dyed beans? I think I like the gold best.

Be sure to check out these other colorful sensory bin fillers:


Metallic dyed beans sensory play for kids: how to dye beans in gold, silver, and copper colors form And Next Comes L
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Calm & Focused Child DIY Essential Oil Blend

By on Sunday, February 22, 2015 Be the first to comment!
Essential oils have become a huge part of our daily routine in dealing with sensory issues, anxiety, and autism. After some trial and error, I have finally concocted the perfect blend for our family. I call it the calm and focused child essential oil blend because it does exactly that. It calms my sons' sensory responses, balances their emotions, and keeps them calm and focused. It has drastically reduced the number of "bad autism days" in our house. It is definitely my go-to DIY essential oil blend!

DIY custom essential oil blend that will keep your kids calm and focused - great for kids with autism too! from And Next Comes L

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

When we first started using essential oils about 18 months ago, we saw a huge impact in our daily lives. It has been a huge part of how we treat (manage or cope might be better words) with autism. However, I have been hesitant to share our story since there has been a huge essential oil movement in the kid blogging world, especially as of late. I won't get too much into it (trust me, you don't want to get my rant started), but oftentimes, these pushy multi-level marketing reps forget to mention important safety concerns. So here are just a couple of important reminders:

  • I am not an aromatherapist. I am just sharing a blend of oils that has worked well for our family.
  • This blend is meant to be diffused and/or mixed with a carrier oil before applying to skin. Never apply this blend to the skin without a carrier oil.
  • If you haven't already educated yourself on the safe use of essential oils with children, then please read up on their safety first. I recommend these books: The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy and Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child

I should also note that this blend does wonders on both children, autism or not. So it is great for all kids.


How to Make this Calm & Focused Child Essential Oil Blend

Here's what you'll need to make this essential oil blend:


I simply add the oils to 80ml of water in our diffuser and diffuse first thing in the morning.

Here's a breakdown of what each oil does. Lavender is great for calming and relaxing. Mandarin orange balances emotions (good bye autism meltdowns!), but I mostly add it because I like the smell. To be honest, I cannot stand the smell of any of the other oils individually. Frankincense has a sedative quality, making it great for reducing stress and anxiety. Cedarwood helps to focus the mind and balances emotions. Finally, vetiver calms the sensory system and stabilizes emotions.

When I diffuse this blend, I find that sensory meltdowns are reduced and that J focuses better on his schoolwork, both at home and at school. On days that I forget to diffuse this blend, J seems more agitated and more prone to autism meltdowns. It definitely helps balances his emotional responses when he is having sensory issues. So needless to say, I always make sure to have these oils handy.

DIY custom essential oil blend that will keep your kids calm and focused - great for kids with autism too! from And Next Comes L
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DIY Wooden Math Dice

By on Friday, February 20, 2015 Be the first to comment!
Looking for another easy math idea for kids? Well, these DIY wooden math dice are a great way for kids to practice their math facts and obviously, my number-loving five year old loves them (see hypernumeracy). I really like that these math dice are simple to make and can be tailored to fit your own child's abilities. I'm also really excited that I get to share this easy activity on one of my all-time favorite kid blogs, The Imagination Tree. So pop on over and check it out!


DIY wooden math dice for elementary math learning from And Next Comes L


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10 Pinterest Tips for Bloggers: How I Got 200,000 Followers in Less than Two Years

By on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 12 Comments so far
Pinterest is my favorite social media platform. It also happens to be my best social media platform for driving consistent traffic to my blog. Here is how I got 200,000 Pinterest followers in less than two years. In the summer of 2014, I did a lot of experimenting with Pinterest to see what would and would not work for me. In the fall of 2014, I was chosen as a featured pinner and my following exploded. Today, I am just shy of 200,000 Pinterest followers. That's 200,000 followers in less than two years (I joined in either June or July of 2013).  Sure I got featured by Pinterest, but I also spent months building, tailoring, and experimenting with my account to prove to Pinterest that I am indeed an awesome, authentic pinner worthy of being featured. So here are my tips for building a Pinterest strategy that works to drive consistent traffic to your blog.

10 Pinterest tips for bloggers: how to get more followers on Pinterest and how to get more traffic to your blog from Pinterest from And Next Comes L

To give you a reference point, here's my top referral sources of all time and how much traffic they provide:

  • Pinterest: 36%
  • Direct: 27%
  • Facebook: 16%
  • Organic Search Results: 6%

When I first joined Pinterest, I basically pinned everything and anything that I saw. Growth was slow, but I also had no idea what I was doing. And some of those early pins were...umm...embarassing, to say the least. As a research driven person, I decided to do some Pinterest research of my own to see if I could determine a pattern at all. After conducting my research, I started experimenting. Here are 10 helpful tips that you can use to help grow your Pinterest following based on what I discovered.


Pinterest Tip #1: Study & Analyze Top Pinners in Your Niche

Since I am in the kid blogging niche, I started off by studying the profiles of the top pinners in that niche. I was particularly interested in all pinners with over 50,000 followers. Things I was looking for:

  • How many pins did they have?
  • How many boards did they have?
  • What kind of boards did they have?
  • How many collaborative boards did they have?

After studying about 10 different big pinners in my niche, I noticed that:

  • All the top pinners in my niche (with the exception of one) had less than 100 boards. Most of those big pinners hovered around 80 boards.
  • All the top pinners in my niche had less than 15,000 pins.
  • A majority of the top pinners in my niche had more general boards like food, math, activities for toddlers, etc. vs. cake recipes, a specific board for numerous preschool themes, etc.

My findings suggested that less was more. Fewer boards with a more general theme and fewer better quality pins seemed to be the answer. Depending on the niche you are in, you may find different results.


Pinterest Tip #2: Delete Things That Aren't Working

After discovering common patterns in my niche, I did a big spring cleaning of my Pinterest profile. And I still do this purging process every couple of months. I started leaving collaborative boards that either weren't performing well or that I wasn't pinning to that often. I left all seasonal collaborative boards too since they were only beneficial to me for 1-2 months before the particular holiday. I needed boards that would be performing well all year round.

I started merging related boards by moving pins to one board and deleting the now empty board. I lost a lot of followers in the process, but it was worth it, for me. I also scrolled back (like all the way back to the beginning) and started deleting pins. I had so many broken pins in those early days. And I had some really ugly pins too. They all had to go. I also deleted all pins that had less than 10 repins because clearly, they were not performing well. It was also at this point that I started to be more picky about what I was pinning.


Pinterest Tip #3: Be Picky When Pinning

After cleaning up my boards like I mentioned in tip #2, I started to be picky. I refused to pin round-ups. I never clicked on them, personally, so why would I pin them? Please note that I do pin some from time to time, but they have to be pretty spectacular round ups to be worthy of my repins.

I also started focusing on image quality. I wanted to pin the best and brightest ideas that I could find. If I liked the idea, but the image wasn't the greatest, then I simply clicked the like button instead of the pin button. See, I'm showing Pinterest that I'm social (see tip #7).

I also started pinning clean images. I stopped pinning really cluttered pin collages. They were not aesthetically pleasing, so why would I want that on my boards?

I also took the time to edit the pin descriptions of things I was repinning. If they had hashtags, then I removed them (see tip #5). If they had a person tagged, then I removed the tag. Did it have a keyword friendly description? If not, then I made it keyword friendly. The new Pinterest smartfeed thrives on keywords so make sure your pins are search friendly! Oh and if it had one of those "OMG I must try this...blah blah blah" kind of description, then I changed that too. I hate those cheesy descriptions. Besides, those cheesy descriptions usually aren't keyword friendly.

Bottom line: I wanted to pin the best ideas with the best images. I wanted to curate a beautiful gallery of images and ideas.


Pinterest Tip #4: Switch Up Your Look Occasionally

Another thing I started experimenting with was moving boards around, changing board covers, and trying out different collaborative boards. 

I always have my blog board first, followed by my best performing boards. After that, though, I like to move seasonal boards near the top a couple of months prior to the upcoming holiday or season. Once the holiday passes, I move them towards the bottom, just before all of my collaborative boards. Nearly all of my collaborative boards are at the bottom of my Pinterest profile. I like to highlight a few of my own collaborative boards near the top, but, otherwise, all other collaborative boards are at the bottom. In the picture below, you can see my blog board is first. I then have my most popular boards next (quiet books, music activities, light table play, food, sensory play, and fine motor activities), followed by a couple of seasonal boards.

Pinterest tips for bloggers: arrange your boards from And Next Comes L

I like to change board covers quite regularly too. Again, I am picky about what I choose. I avoid text based images for the board cover. Instead, I try to pick bright, well-lit images that really showcase what kind of pins will be on that board.

Going back to tip #3 of deleting things that aren't working, I try out new collaborative boards quite often too. If they just aren't resulting in good repins, I simply leave them and find a new one to try instead.


Pinterest Tip #5: Limit Hashtags

Unless you are required to include a hashtag for a sponsored campaign, just stop using hashtags on Pinterest. Yes, stop altogether or at least limit them to a tasteful amount.

"The same is true for hashtags—having too many of them in your descriptions may negatively impact your ranking." - via Pinterest blog


Pinterest Tip #6: Fill Out Your Profile Completely

Click the "Edit Profile" button and fill in all the relevant information. See the picture below.

Pinterest tips for bloggers: Complete your profile from And Next Comes L

Did you know that for every single Pinterest board you have, you can select a a board category and write a description for the board? Well, do it! Select a board and then click the "Edit Board" button. See picture below. Make sure to use keywords in your boards' descriptions. Avoid hashtags in the descriptions (see tip #5).

Pinterest tips for bloggers: Fill in board descriptions and categories from And Next Comes L


Pinterest Tip #7: Be Social & Be Authentic

Pinterest is a social network, so be social! Like things, follow people, repin things from other users, and even comment on pins. I hardly ever comment on pins myself, but I think it's likely one of those things that I should experiment with to see what happens.

Pin often and pin a lot. Pin organically versus using a scheduler. Pinterest wants, and will reward, organic, social pinners. At least, they did for me.

I like to go on pinning sprees, pinning dozens of things in a span of a few minutes. I also probably don't pin my own content enough. But you know what? Pinterest sees me as an active, social user and that's exactly what I want.

Also, be authentic. I could log into my Pinterest analytics and see what other interests my followers pin, but creating a board dedicated to hair styles or fashion just isn't me. I want my boards to be a reflection of my interests. I want my boards to be a reflection of things that I would actually make or do myself. So yes, I pin only the things that interest me. I don't pin things I think my followers will like. I don't create boards that I think my followers will like. I just pin what I truly love, kind of like I'm pinning as a non-blogger.


Pinterest Tip #8: Create Pin Images for your Own Blog

Ultimately, the goal is to get more traffic to your own blog, right? So create pin images for your own blog posts that you would pin yourself. Make pretty, vertical images that don't give away everything about the post. Remember, you want people to click on that image and visit your blog. Important point to remember is that Pinterest prefers vertical images. Vertical images take up more space in the newsfeed, making your image dominate the newsfeed. Look at the picture below. Notice how that coffee cake muffins pin takes up a good chunk of the newsfeed? That is prime real estate right there!

Pinterest tips for bloggers: Create vertical pin images for your blog posts from And Next Comes L


Pinterest Tip #9: Leave a Breadcrumb Trail

I have a board dedicated solely to my own blog posts. So when I want to pin my posts to other boards, I always go to my blog board, find the pin I want to share, and click repin from there. Basically, I am leaving a breadcrumb trail. You'll see when I repin my own pin, I get a "via Dyan (And Next Comes L)" message at the bottom of the pin. That leads back to my account. Breadcrumbs, I tell you. Breadcrumbs.

Pinterest tips for bloggers: Create a breadcrumb trail from And Next Comes L


Pinterest Tip #10: Get Rich Pins

If you haven't already done so, then get rich pins! I'm a busy person (aren't we all?). So when I find a few minutes to pop over to Pinterest, I am more likely to pin something that has rich pins. Why? Because I know it leads to the correct source. What if the pin doesn't have rich pins? I will likely skip it if I don't have time to click over and check the source. Remember, I'm busy (and lazy too!) so I want to skip the extra step if I can. See the picture below to see the difference between rich pins and non-rich pins. Find out how to get rich pins for your blog here.

Pinterest tips for bloggers: Rich pins vs non-rich pins from And Next Comes L


Conclusion: Tips for Building Your Pinterest Following

I know that was a lot of information, but here are the takeaway points:

  • Study & analyze top pinners in your niche
  • Experiment
  • Delete things that aren't working
  • Be picky about what you pin
  • Make sure your profile is complete
  • Avoid hashtags
  • Make your pin descriptions search friendly with keywords
  • Be social
  • Be authentic
  • Create beautiful pin images for your own blog
  • Dedicate a board to your own blog
  • Leave a breadcrumb trail to that blog board of yours
  • Get rich pins
  • Have fun!
  • And most importantly, follow me on Pinterest *wink wink*

Are you on Blogger? I've got some specific Pinterest tips for you too! Check out these 5 Pinterest Optimization Tips for Blogger Users.
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Invitation to Play: Cars & a Magna-Doodle

By on Friday, February 13, 2015 Be the first to comment!
This simple open-ended car play idea was such a hit with both of my boys. It was a perfect boredom buster for a miserably cold winter day. Plus, it combined my boys' favorite toys at the moment: cars (for three year old K) and a Magna-Doodle (for five year old J). It encouraged writing practice for J and prewriting practice for K. It also encouraged creative play, storytelling, and problem solving. And it kept them playing quietly for up to an hour, which was great for my sanity...

Open-ended play for kids with cars and a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

For this car themed invitation to play, we used:


I originally drew roads for the boys to get them interested, but it wasn't long before they started drawing their own. Sometimes we would add extra details such as some trees. J even requested a road with a volcano. It was pretty awesome.


Drawing roads on a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

Playing with cars on a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

They also experimented with parking lots, which is great for one-to-one correspondence.

Open-ended play for kids with cars and a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

Open-ended play for kids with cars and a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

My boys particularly enjoyed drawing lakes, roads, and bridges for their cars. They would first draw a body of water and then the roads. J would ask, "How will the car get across? Oh, we need a bridge!" Then he would draw a bridge for the cars. It was a great way to practice his problem solving skills.

Drawing roads on a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

Drawing roads on a Magna-Doodle from And Next Comes L

Looking for more ways to play and learn with cars? Try these ideas out:


Open-ended invitation to play with cars and a Magna-Doodle - a great boredom buster for kids from And Next Comes L
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