• Dharma Nemani

Meet my mom friend: Marisa Walker

Updated: Oct 8, 2019


I met Marisa at my second agency job in Chicago and we’ve remained soul sistas since. You’re probably noticing a trend among my mom friends: they’re all kind, wonderful and successful in their own right. Marisa is no exception. She’s a Harvard MBA with an impressive career in brand strategy. We chatted about how @rattleandrollkids came about, how she gets her boys interested and engaged in STEM activities and more…

Can you share your background? I am a mom of two boys, aged 4 and 21 months. I used to work in the beauty industry in New York, and now have a small retail strategy business, working part time while I raise my boys. I am half Mexican-American, was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, am married to a Canadian, and now live in the Midwest. So it’s safe to say we are an odd mix of international cultures – but that’s what gives us our flair!

What got you started on introducing sensory activities to your sons? My older son was born with a muscle condition called hypotonia (low muscle tone). When he was six months old, I noticed some developmental delays and got him evaluated by a physical therapist. That started our journey with pediatric therapy and early intervention. We were blessed to have met an incredible team of therapists who taught us so much about early childhood development. It was in those hundreds of therapy sessions that I began to observe the types of activities that helped my son progress. I started my Instagram account, @rattleandrollkids, as a way to create a library of activities for myself, and now, for others as well.

Can you give some examples of activities you do with your boys? My older son loves sensory play—which is a big deal, considering two years ago he wouldn’t have touched slime. So a lot of what we do is sensory based—for example, sensory trays with colored rice, water beads, homemade play doh, oobleck (just cornstarch and water—try it!), even just soapy water and sponges. We also do learning activities that practice literacy, math and STEM concepts – all wrapped up in fun, play-based themes.

How do you keep your little one from putting all the activity items into his mouth? Mishka wanted to put everything in her mouth when she was younger. The struggle is real. My little one is still tempted to put things in his mouth. During sensory play, you’ll often hear me repeat “NOT IN THE MOUTH!” a million times. If he does it repeatedly, I tell him I’ll have to put the activity away. And if it happens again, I follow through with my promise, and I do put the activity away. I also don’t introduce items that I think could be a hazard. For example, small wooden beads and small Legos are off-limits when he’s around.

How do you keep your boys interested in the activities you set up? How long do you guys do activities a day? The interest in our activities varies. Sometimes, a simple soapy-foamy-water bin will entertain them for 45 minutes…yet the beautiful sea-themed play tray with blue gelatin as ocean water will engage them for 2 minutes! I’ve learned to let go of “how long will this entertain them for”, and instead focus on “let’s have fun.” If the fun lasts for two minutes, so be it.

However, I will add that there are many things you can do to extend the play. For a sensory tray, for example, my power-formula is this:

- Multi-sensory materials: For example, a combination of rice, and play doh and stones/pinecones/leaves. - Scoops and cups: Kids love scooping and filling! This also teaches them pre-math skills, like volume. - Characters/figurines/vehicles: The moment I add a horse, a tractor, or a peg doll to a play tray, my older son converts it into pretend play. Pretend play allows children to role play, increase their vocabulary, and expand their imaginative skills. - Learning activity: Sometimes I’ll add a learning component to a play tray – like wooden numbers or simple addition. But this isn’t necessary for a great play experience. - Bonus surprises!: Adding a surprise, like my fizzy “dirt” or “sand” (see my Crab post @rattleandrollkids) will wow your kids with wonder!

Any words of encouragement for moms who are overwhelmed by the set-up of it all… any easy things they can do? First of all, don’t force yourself to do play activities with your kids. If you have a passion – like cooking, baking, acting, reading – share with them what you love. It will make both of you happy.

But if you are interested in engaging your kids in play, there are so many easy activities you can do – using materials you already have.

- Baking soda and vinegar volcanoes: Scoop some baking soda into an empty egg carton, add some food coloring, and let your littles pour small amounts of vinegar on top. (For fine motor practice, use a pipette for the vinegar instead). Older children can help with the entire setup. Ask them open ended questions like “what do you think will happen when you add vinegar?” to encourage curiosity and scientific inquiry.

- Oobleck: Simply mix cornstarch and water—add food coloring for fun. Let your littles add more cornstarch or water to change the consistency. Ask them open ended questions about what they think will happen when each ingredient is added.

- No Cook Play Doh: Search online for easy no-cook recipes. Older children will love helping with this one! Play doh is truly open ended—you can create shapes, letters, fake food, or animals that you can decorate with craft items like googly eyes, beads, pasta, pipe cleaners, beans—you name it!

- Dried bean sensory bin: Our first ever sensory bin was dried pinto beans, scoops and some funnels. That was it – and my son LOVED IT. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to be fun!

- Soapy foam: Put some water and a lot of gentle dish soap in a blender to make frothy foam. Pour the foam into a bin (add food coloring if you wish). Get some sponges and plastic cars/figurines and let your kids give their toys a bath.

My last piece of advice is…try to embrace the mess. Kids should get messy – it’s part of exploration and discovery. If an activity is too messy for inside, set up an activity outside and hose down the evidence ;)

How do you make time for yourself amidst the boys and your work? It. Is. Hard. Mommy-ing is hard work. I don’t make time for myself like I should. Even when the boys are at school, I’m always doing something (working, laundry, cooking, creating activities for the boys). I rarely make time to relax. The one consistent thing I do is get lash extensions! It is the one time that I have to close my eyes and put away my phone. And then I come out of the salon looking like a Disney Princess – so clearly, it is my happy place :)

You’re always so put together and glowy! What are your fav skincare products?

You are too kind, Dharma! My skin has changed so much as I’ve gotten older. I used to combat acne, now I combat wrinkles. I wish I could say I am loyal to one brand, but I’m not. However, for the past several years I’ve used Crème de la Mer (gifted to me by my skincare fanatic mom). I use La Mer every other night, then on the off nights either use BioRecept Neo-Bio from aylabeauty.com or Beauty Counter’s Overnight Resurfacing Peel and Countertime Supreme Cream. These products have AHAs or BHAs to renew skin cells and keep my skin glowy. Also I’ve worn sunscreen every day of my life since I was 15 years old. That is the #1 anti-aging advice I could ever give someone: use sunscreen. I had basal cell carcinoma in my 20s, too. So now I am even more invested in saving my skin.


Any products or rituals you have for the boys?

We love Bubbsi bath products. I worked with the brand’s founder in my beauty industry days, and she has created an incredible lineup of products that are beautifully fragranced, naturally-derived, and feel luxurious. The formulas are thick, creamy, and very moisturizing.

Our bedtime ritual is very predictable—and that’s what makes it run smoothly. It’s always a bath, brushing teeth, then books, songs and bedtime. With my older son, we’ve started the tradition of “talking about his day” before he drifts off to sleep. When he was younger, I would verbally run through his day. Now that he’s more vocal, he ends up telling me so much about his school day in those few nighttime minutes. It’s a special moment for us that I treasure.

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