Brilliant Ways to Use A Visual Timer with Your Child

Visual timers are a GREAT tool to use with children, whether special needs or not. We’ve actually owned a Time Timer ™ since my oldest was a toddler and it’s one of my very favorite parenting tools.

Typically developing little kids, and developmentally delayed older kids, struggle with understanding time. It’s very non-concrete and kids just aren’t developmentally ready to tackle abstract things like time. And yet time is such a big part of our lives. The visual timer helps kids to SEE time, which helps them to learn how time works, and which also helps them (and you) navigate their day a little more smoothly.

Timer options

There are several options out there for visual timers. In my experience, a 60 minute timer works best in a wide variety of situations. I love the Time Timer ™. It’s rugged, it’s easy to put back together (yes, lol), it has a clear display, and it’s easy for kids to set themselves as they gain skill. There are other options for physical timers, as well. I advise staying away from oven timers and the like – they tend to have a very unpleasant ring.

I also have a few visual timer apps on my phone, one is called OK Timer and the other is just called Visual Timer (both android, I have no idea if they’re available for Apple). And we have a one-minute timer of the colored-liquid-in-clear-plastic variety.

Using the Timer

I’m not going to pretend to know the best way to parent your child. I can tell you that with my three kids, I’ve had two who needed the rule to be that when the timer went off, it was time to do whatever they were to do when the timer went off. I’ve had one who sincerely needed another five minutes after the timer went off. We just set the timer for  5 minutes less than we really wanted, then let him set it for another 5.

I’ve had two kids who just generally cooperated with the timer. And one kid who needed rewards to cooperate with the timer.

I’ve had two who really came to rely on the timer to measure progress through the day, keep track of time on tasks or until events, etc., and one who really didn’t care for the timer and only used it for “you can do this for x minutes” or “you have to do this for x minutes” occasions.

So, do what works for you and for your kid.

Brilliant Ways to Use A Visual Timer


Moving from a preferred activity to a nonpreferred activity, such as stopping playing with toys and taking a bath, or turning off the TV (set the timer to coincide with the end of the show) and coming to eat dinner.

Ending an Activity, like turning off the iPad, turning off the TV, getting out of the bath.

Starting an Activity, like homework, a bath, getting dressed, taking medications.

How Long Until…

The timer comes in really handy for those times your kid knows something is going to happen in the near future, but they can’t quite hang on to the idea of exactly how far in the near future. Once it gets to be less than an hour, set the timer and refer your child back to the timer. They can actually watch the minutes passing.

How long until we get in the car? How long until my friend comes over? How long until dinner? How long until bedtime?

Independent Play

I’m working on a future post about teaching independent play to children, but a visual timer can really help with this. You start out by getting your child involved in an activity he or she enjoys and can do without help. Bring in the timer, set it for a short period (2-5 minutes). Explain that you need to step away quick but you’ll be right back. He or she needs to stay in the room and play, but you’ll be back before the timer goes off. Step away, wait, come back, and praise the child for playing by him or herself before rejoining the play. Repeat, slowly increasing the minutes on the timer.


We use the timer in the car to help manage the “are we there” and “how much longer” issues. Currently, I can set the timer for an hour, and then set it for additional time and that goes OK, but that was tricky for a while, and we just would wait to set the timer until we were about an hour out from making a stop. We tend to stop every hour and a half when everyone’s awake, and having the timer REALLY helps with the repetitive questions.


Waiting is SO HARD when you don’t have a good sense of time. The timer helps with at least two waiting-related issues.

Learning to wait. When the child asks for help with a non-urgent task, let him or her know that you can’t help right then, but you can help in 2 minutes. Set the timer. (Eventually, you can work on waiting patiently, but don’t expect that to happen right off.)

Managing anxious feelings when waiting. Waiting for a favorite TV show. Waiting for a parent to get home. Waiting for a snack to cook. Waiting is just hard, but using the timer lets the child see the time passing and makes waiting a bit more manageable, because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to last for eternity.

Completing an Activity

Kids tend to rush through nonpreferred activities. For one of mine, it’s the bath. He hates the bath, so his baths tend to consist of squatting in the water, then bouncing back out and declaring himself clean. Ummmm….no. So we use the timer. You have to sit all the way down, and you have to stay in there for 5 minutes and then I’ll come in and help you wash. (Note: he hates it in the sense that he’d just rather be doing something else. He doesn’t hate it in the sense that it really genuinely bothers him. I wouldn’t force him to stay in for five minutes if it was an actual issue.)

A timer is good for tooth brushing, too. (I prefer the liquid minute timer for this.) We also use it for hair brushing, for daily chores (your bedroom will take at least ten minutes to clean. I don’t want to see you until this goes off), etc.


When we’re headed toward a sensory overload or a meltdown, we can grab the timer and the kid, and do some calming activities until the timer beeps. I don’t know about other kids, but MY kid with tends to think that he only needs to barely take one deep breath before he’s ready to go back to whatever he was doing. Using a timer helps in several ways – first, it actually gives him something to focus on that’s relaxing (we use the liquid minute timer and flip it 5 times), and second, it helps him know there is a definite end to the “time in.” He WILL get to go back to playing. Since he knows the break won’t be forever, he’s usually more cooperative with doing a few calming activities like rocking, deep breaths, massage, etc.

Taking Turns

Taking turns can be really hard. The timer helps. Not only does it keep the turns strictly fair, but it also helps the person whose turn it is NOT to see that their waiting will not be forever.


I hope this gives you some ideas on how to incorporate a visual timer into your daily life. My regular kids have really liked the visual timer throughout their day when they were younger. With Teddy, who has developmental delays and special needs, we use the timer almost constantly during the day. We’ve had times we’ve had several timers going, even. Once you start using a visual timer, you’ll start seeing all the ways it can help your child’s day go just a bit smoother.





Rethinking Childbirth

I don’t often share Christian articles here. I am a Christian, a conservative one at that, and that is essentially the reason why Wallypop exists in the first place. While I am not ashamed of my faith and do not hide it, I know many of you are not also believers, and see no reason to drive you away from the rest of my dazzling blog content (ha ha) by posting a lot of stuff you won’t be interested in.

So please respect that this is one of the few occasions when I WILL post something that is very overtly Christian. And also note that you STILL might be interested in reading it.

I don’t often share articles about natural childbirth here. blah blah, same disclaimer as above. I believe every woman has the right to make her own educated decisions about how she will birth her children, and those decisions should be supported by her caregivers and family. Unfortunately, relatively few women in this country get to experience what that’s like – making educated decisions and being supported.

And now, the link. Rethinking Childbearing, Part I and Part II.

I do not necessarily personally agree with some of the finer points of Christianity discussed in the article. I don’t even necessarily agree that childbirth is or must be painful. (Mine have been uncomfortable, but I associate the word Pain with having a kidney stone – and I’ve passed two. The experiences are nothing alike.) And, last, I find it annoying that the author seems to believe that medical interventions in childbirth are at a mother’s request. Certainly, they are at her approval (as the OB must have consent to treat), but I think the author underestimates the pressure put on women by their care providers and that, as a man, he also lacks a good understanding of the mental status of a woman in labor.

All that said, I liked the article because I’ve not read such a thorough examination of current childbirth practices from a Christian/Bible perspective.

“Many mothers-to-be today buy into modern medicine’s disdain for God’s natural, physiological processes, and in essence agree that God’s design is inherently defective.”

“The so-called “experts” in the field of obstetrical practice desire that families do minimal thinking on their own and submit to the superior wisdom of modern medical science.”

“Because today there is an unrealistic expectation on the part of parents and medical personnel as to how long labor should take, especially a first labor, the many ‘helps’ that are available from the hospital ‘pain reduction’ menu often are the very factors that lead to eventual C-sections.”

And particularly these questions, which I think hit that nail squarely on the head:

“Had adopting the hospital model caused women to lose their innate instincts of how to give birth? Had the shift
in thinking produced a generation of women who wanted ‘natural childbirth’  but found it difficult to proceed because their own perspective (as well as the hospital’s perspective) of ‘natural childbirth’  lacked a full understanding of the process?”

Vacation with cloth, without laundry facilities

Yes, it’s doable.

Here was our situation: Family trip (as in, us with DH’s parents and sibs). Cruise ship. No laundry facilities. (Obviously I did not choose the ship.) Genna is pretty much 100% potty trained at home, but she does not always tell us if she needs to pee when we’re not home. Additionally, she will often say “no” in response to “do you need to pee” when what she means is “yes, but I’m busy right now.” And she has a tendency to wait to tell us she needs to pee when she’s got approx. 8 seconds to get to the toilet. She’s dry overnight if she’s sleeping well, but has a tendency to pee in her sleep on nights when she’s restless. So – I had no idea what to expect on this trip from her.

We decided to take flat diapers, since they would wash the easiest and dry the fastest,  not to mention that they pack so compactly. I also took several pairs of training pants because those would be easier on the travel days than trying to deal with a diaper and cover in the airplane bathroom. We also decided that we would throw away any poopy diapers, rather than trying to get them clean by hand washing in water of unknown temperature. (I wasn’t sure how hot the water on the boat would get.) I packed enough diapers for two days of full-time diapering, in addition to wipes and a few covers.

I hand-washed wet diapers and training pants in the sink in our bathroom – one at a time – every time we had one in need of washing. I rinsed them out under running cold water, then let them soak in hot soapy water for a few minutes before agitating with my hands for several minutes. I rinsed in hot water, then cold water, until I didn’t see any more bubbles. We hung them to dry using clothes pins and skirt hangers. The bathroom was too humid, so I actually hung them out on our cabin’s deck. Our cabin mates (my MIL, FIL, MIL’s aunt, and MIL’s friend) were not super impressed by this, but *shrug.* There were a few days when we had oily soot from the ship’s smokestacks covering everything on the deck, and on those days, I hung diapers in the closet or in front of the window from the curtain rod. I brought clothesline, but was reluctant to just string it up somewhere.

Dipes drying on the deck

We didn’t have too many diapers to deal with, fortunately, but I think our system would have still worked out just fine even if she was in dipes full-time. Flats are not hard to wash by hand, they rinse clean fairly easily, and they dry fast.

I used flats that I made from birdseye fabric, in addition to some that I bought on clearance a little while back. We used some liquid laundry soap that I had sitting around the laundry room from our last trip last summer. It was probably Costco brand.


yes, we could have just switched to disposables. but I didn’t want to. (And Genna got a horrible rash the one time she wore a disposable.) Had we been using disposables, I would have had to devote a lot more suitcase room to diapers, since I would have needed to pack enough to last the whole 12 days we were gone. And I would have had to worry about running out! And I’m honestly not sure what I would have done with them on the ship. They don’t have plastic liner bags in the garbage cans, and I wouldn’t have wanted to smell dirty disposable diapers all day, either.

As it turns out, using cloth was not a big deal. It didn’t take up much time. It was no more effort than using cloth at home. It was not a big deal.

Dipes drying on the deck

Keepin’ it Cheap, Baby!

(or, how to keep your frugal ideals – or develop some – when it comes to your young’uns.)

Welcome to my post for Des Moines’ Frugal Blog Tour. I hope you can visit all the blogs on the tour this week and next.

The USDA, in its Expenditures on Children by Families 2009 report, estimates that parents spend an average of $11,700 for each baby in their first year of life. (Families in urban areas spend slightly more, and rural families spend slightly less.) I used the UDSA’s Cost of Raising a Child Calculator and discovered that, even after removing housing and child care expenses, I can be expected to spend about $4,000 on my two year old this year, and about $5,300 on my 6 year old.


The good news is that those statistics reflect the “average” American, not the super frugal American that you can become!

So let’s take a look at some of the major baby expenses and some practical ways you can reduce those expenses without sacrificing quality or safety.


Baby Equipment
Most “saving money with your new baby” articles give you lots of ways to buy baby “stuff” for less money, or will direct you to baby “stuff” that gets you the most bang for your buck. But few of these articles will challenge you to really consider how much “stuff” your new baby really needs.

I would encourage you, though, to really think through each and every purchase. For example, many “baby must haves” lists claim that an infant “bucket-style” carseat is an absolute necessity – but the vast majority of babies do not actually need an infant seat. Most convertible carseats can hold babies as little as 5 lbs rear-facing, and then can be turned around to front-facing for toddlers and preschoolers up to 65 (or more) lbs. Cutting out the “bucket” seat can save you about $200. (In addition, bucket seats are not safe places for infants when used outside of a car. They are heavy and awkward to carry around. Instead of carrying your baby around in a $200 infant car seat that will only fit them for 4-5 months, consider purchasing a $40 baby sling, which is not only lighter and less bulky, but will fit your baby until they’re in preschool – or beyond.) For more information about keeping carseats in cars, see this article at Mothering.

Strollers are often considered a Must Have. I’ll admit, we do use ours (I think we’ve used it about a dozen times with two children over six years) and they can be handy. Before you sink a lot of money into a fancy-pants model, though, seriously consider how much you’ll use a stroller. Where do you plan to take the baby where you’ll want a stroller? Particularly if you plan to use baby carriers or slings, you might not use a stroller as much as you think you will. Perhaps a better strategy might be to borrow a stroller at first, until you get a good feel for how much you’ll really use it. As an alternative, consider purchasing a cheaper (or a used) stroller, planning to move up to a more expensive model if you end up feeling like it would be a good investment after all.

Other baby equipment you could probably do without: Bassinet (babies can nap just as easily on the floor), changing table (babies can be changed on nearly any flat surface – including the floor or the top of a dresser), Exersaucer, Baby chairs and bouncers, baby bathtub (a sink, or mama’s lap works just as well), breastpump (unless you really have a need to pump, such as if you’re planning to return to work), and baby swing. Some families who plan to cosleep even forgo a crib (we put up a borrowed crib when pregnant with our first, but never used it, and never bothered to put it up with our second).

(Please note: I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of these baby products. If your family, your baby, your neighbor, your aunt’s second cousin’s baby liked them – that’s fine. There’s no judgement here. But if you’re trying to save money – you don’t NEED any of these items to have a perfectly healthy, happy baby.)

But what about saving money on the baby equipment that you really do need? It goes without saying that buying used or borrowing is better for your budget than buying new. (Check out any items against Recall lists, and be sure to check them over to ensure proper, safe functioning.)  Garage sales, Craigslist, Ebay, friends, family, and secondhand stores can all be great sources of previously-loved baby equipment. The good new is, most baby equipment is used for such a short time, it’s usually still in pretty good shape.

Baby equipment is one area where having a well-established “tribe,” or what I call “purposeful family,” can come in handy – many families who don’t currently have new babies will have the equipment you want just sitting around unused – and will probably be willing to lend to you. Frankly, I look for nearly any opportunity to lend out my baby swing (a gift), since it’s huge and I’d rather not have to store it.

Cloth Diapers.

Lest there be any confusion, I own a business where I make and sell cloth diapers. While I have no problem with families who make an educated decision that disposables are better for their family, there is just no question that cloth diapers are a more frugal choice. I have spreadsheets that drive this point home in a ridiculous amount of detail here. There are plenty of resources in the Des Moines area to help you learn more about cloth diapers – particularly, Des Moines Cloth Diapering is a great resource.

Want to go even more frugal?
– Using prefolds with covers are the least expensive diapering option – not only because prefolds are cheaper than other types of diapers, but because they tend to last the longest, as well.
– If you have any sewing skills, you could try your hand at making your own diapers, which will usually be less expensive than buying diapers (usually!). Using materials you already have on hand and sewing your diapers without fasteners cut the cost even further. Don’t think you have diaper materials on hand? How about old Tshirts and kitchen towels?
– Buy used diapers. I usually discourage people from buying covers used unless you know the seller, since there’s a risk that they’re being sold because they no longer work. However, buying fitted diapers or prefolds used can be a real money-saver. Our local Des Moines Cloth Diapering has a used diaper “garage sale” twice a year, where we bring together families with diapers to sell and families looking to buy diapers. This sale provides buyers with a relatively safe used diaper buying experience. Every once in a while, you can find cloth diapers at secondhand stores or garage sales, as well.


Clothes can be a major expense, but saving money here is so easy. Buy used. Borrow from friends or family with kids slightly older than yours. Ask family members for hand me downs. Buy clearance. There’s really no reason to ever pay full price for baby clothes.


Baby Food
Some families decide that formula is what’s the very best choice for their family. However, from a financial standpoint, you can’t beat breastfeeding. Not only is breastmilk free, but it also comes in attractive containers! Breastfed children also tend to be sick less often, resulting in reduced medical expenses, as well. Breastfeeding is not easy for everyone, but seeking help from the local LLL or a qualified Lactation Consultant (look for someone who is board certified – they will have the initials IBCLC) can definitely pay off here.

Once baby starts eating solid foods, making your own baby food will save tons of money, as will skipping the “baby” versions of regular foods. For example, they do sell “baby” fruit juice – but it’s just juice. Buy regular juice, and then dilute it half with water, and voila! Juice for the young’uns, and at a significant cost savings over the “baby” juice. Even better – skip the juice entirely. It’s a really concentrated source of sugar, and pretty unnecessary in a baby’s diet. For baby foods, there is really no need to purchase commercial baby food at all. Babies can eat what you’re eating – just smashed up. Are you having roast with potatoes and carrots for dinner? Scoop some out and mash it up for your baby, it’ll be healthier and cheaper than serving them jars of beef, potatoes, and carrots from Gerber.
Belly at 8 months

Prenatal care and Childbirth
I want to start off this section by saying that I totally understand that not everyone can have their “ideal” birth. Despite our best efforts, some women really do need a C-Section or other interventions.

That said, the way you plan for your child’s birth can have a dramatic impact on the cost of your child’s birth. Midwifery care, for example, is dramatically less expensive than OB care. (And don’t assume that just because an OB is in network on your health insurance that care with the OB will result in less out of pocket expense for you than a midwife. Our out of pocket, after insurance, cost for Wally’s basic hospital birth with an OB was higher than the basic cost for a midwife would have been. Still kicking myself for that one, and not just because of the money!)

Whoever your chosen provider is, it can often pay to ask about ways to save money. If you pay in advance for the birth at the hospital, will they give you a discount? If you’re paying with cash instead of insurance, will they give you a discount? If your chosen provider delivers at multiple hospitals, you can choose the hospital that charges less for the same services. You can even choose a provider partly based on their expenses – not all providers cost the same amount of money, and providers who charge more aren’t necessarily better. (Recently, my husband needed a sleep study to diagnose his sleep apnea. Calling around to a few different providers netted us a savings of over $1000.)

Planning to avoid many common interventions in childbirth  (such as pitocin, epidurals, etc.) or in prenatal care (ultrasounds, tests that are routine but not medically necessary) can also dramatically reduce the expense invovled in having a baby. Those things aren’t cheap, and they often lead to more things that aren’t cheap.

An interesting point here, though, is that sometimes spending money can help you save money. For example, taking out-of-hospital childbirth classes can help you learn to be an advocate for yourself, and save you money in the long run on unneeded tests, procedures, etc. Hiring a doula has been proven to help prevent interventions in childbirth – and will likely save you money in the long run, as well.

I know the idea of considering cost when talking about medical care is pretty controversial in this country, but it’s this attitude that has helped us land where we are with skyrocketing medical expenses. You wouldn’t take your car in for body work without asking how much it’s going to cost and doing some comparison shopping – there’s nothing wrong with shopping around for medical care, either.

Yes, Babies can be expensive. But they don’t have to break the bank!

Working at Home, with Kids

When I was pregnant and considering working from home (somehow), I read a few books about the subject. They all recommended sending kids to daycare, hiring a nanny, or at the very least, getting them into preschool programs and then regular school. Yikes. That didn’t sound good to me at all. I was, after all, staying home in the first place so that I could be with my kids – NOT so that I could put them in daycare. And preschool? Um, no. We’re homeschoolers.

Well, over six years later, I won’t say that I don’t know why the books recommend shipping the kids off somewhere else! However, it hasn’t been necessary. Though some days (weeks, months) are better than others, we get by pretty good here. I work with the kids with me. It’s a little chaotic at times, but here’s how we do it.

  • Keep a routine. If I’m not careful, I can work all day. My routine used to have me starting out the day in my office, but I discovered that it was too easy to never quit working. Now, our routine has us doing homeschooling and upstairs activities until after lunch, and working in the afternoon – hopefully to finish up by the time daddy gets home. This usually results in 3 or 4 hours of work time every day. (note: this is not to be confused with completing 3-4 hours of work every day, lol.)
  • Stock the office with lots of fun stuff. One customer asked me one day if I also run a daycare. Um, no. But I do keep a large variety of toys on hand. The widely varied ages of my kids makes the toy thing kind of challenging at times, but I keep three drawers of misc. toddler-type toys, then a series of bins full of older-kid toys. I have coloring books, paper, crayons, washable markers. There’s an easel with a whiteboard and dry-erase markers (out of Genna’s reach). We have play-dough and a variety of play-dough accessories. There’s a ride-on toy and dolls. I rotate the toys often. Even just moving something to a different part of the room makes them newly interesting. I try to switch things around every week or two, and notice that when I get lax in this department, it shows, since the kids get bored a lot faster.
  • Pillows, blankets, books, TV, and a computer. The TV does not come on every day. But now that I have a TV in my office, it does tend to come one once or twice a week, usually PBS kids late afternoon programming, sometimes movies on DVD. And Wally has a computer in my office, which we use as a supplement to homeschooling, or just for fun games.
  • Breathe in, breathe out. Patience, patience.
  • Stop whenever necessary to take a break to give the kids some attention. It’s sooo tempting to try to stave off children who want your attention, but in the long run, this is a losing strategy.

I also currently have two alone times to work – Sunday afternoon or evening, I process and pack orders from Thursday thru Sunday. And Thursday evening, I have the entire evening to work – I keep Genna with me while Wally’s at Kung Fu until 7, then Daddy takes both kids and I can work until I’m ready to come up – sometimes that’s 9:00, sometimes that’s 2:00. I like Thursday nights!