Upcycled Train Toys

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This craft might seem like an odd one for a vegan family, but fret not – no extra eggs were purchased in the making of this train! My (non-vegan) mother-in-law was kind enough to give me an egg carton once she’d used the eggs inside, allowing me to test out this fun idea from Hands On As We Grow.

To set the craft up, I cut the pieces of the egg carton apart, and poked two holes in each with the point of my scissors. I then presented the pieces to Travis, along with a pipe cleaner.

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For all the effort, Travis was less into the “train” than I thought he would be, despite helping me thread a couple of the carton pieces onto the pipe cleaner.

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I thought for sure he’d love to load his little Duplo people into the train for a ride, but he much preferred to fill it with mini pom poms from our craft bin. From there, he seemed unsure what to do with our creation.

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I’ve been fostering his imaginative play lately, and love seeing his inner world come to life as he grows, so I prompted him with the idea of “make believe” from Daniel Tiger. “Let’s make believe the carton is a train!” I suggested. Suddenly he got it, and began chugging it around our living room floor.

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What fun ideas can you think of for re-purposed egg cartons? Please share in comments below!


Memorial Day Boats

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Happy Memorial Day to all! Unfortunately our actual Monday is cloudy, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the sunshine over Saturday and Sunday. The pool opened for the summer at our apartment building, so Travis and I used the opportunity to craft toy boats for the water.

Travis doesn’t drink juice; so far he doesn’t know any beverage exists other than water and almond milk, and I’m happy to keep it that way for a while! But if I have a craft that calls for juice boxes, I prefer to buy R.W. Knudsen or Apple and Eve.

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I use the apple juice boxes to make apple cinnamon oatmeal for a few mornings in a row (cook the oats in a mix of half water/half juice, and sprinkle with cinnamon before serving), and then we have empty boxes to play with.

In the morning, Travis “helped” me make the boats, very busy with his safety scissors and scotch tape while I cut triangles out of red and blue paper (I chose those colors in honor of the holiday). Easier than gluing, I just taped the two triangle portions together, and then taped one “sail” to each straw “mast.” I punched a hole in each of the juice boxes and popped the straw in – voila! A little sail boat.

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Travis was delighted to try the boats in a basin of water in the kitchen right after we assembled them, and we added Duplo people for extra fun.

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Bonus points – he was having so much fun sailing his boats that I had time to peruse the New York Times, a rarity!

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Then it was time to hit the pool… Travis was more cautious in the water than I expected, because he loved swimming last summer. But I guess it’s been so long he needed time to – literally – get his feet wet first. He preferred just to stand on the top pool step and push his boat around.

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We were joined by friends though, including a girl Travis’ age who loved throwing a boat in, and two older boys who came up with all sorts of games for them – blowing at the boats to “sail” them, using the straw sails as squirters, and tossing the boats far away to see who could swim to them fastest. So it seems we’ll have to return to this craft in future Memorial Day weekends, as the fun extends beyond the toddler years!

Zip-Top Bag Painting

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Ever wish you could let your toddler paint without the mess?

I imagine we’ve all raised our hands! So this method is for you. Zip-top bags are actually how I introduced Travis to paints, around 15 months old; squirt a few different paint colors into large zip-top bags and seal. Let your child smoosh the paints around with their fingers, experiment with drawing shapes, or discover what happens when two or more colors run together. The game is particularly nice with colored construction paper under the bag, so that moving a line of paint reveals a line of colored paper underneath.

Today, I upped the ante, with Travis nearing his second birthday. Our “theme” of the week this week was the sun, and I wanted a fine motor painting activity, but wasn’t in the mood for a mess.

I cut out two suns, one white and one orange, and placed in zip-top bags.

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I then added a few globs of yellow paint and sealed the bags shut.

Now it’s up to your little one! Provide him or her with anything that rolls (old-fashioned clothespins worked great), and teach them to spread the paint around by rolling.

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Travis got the idea, but I had to help him spread/roll far enough for the paint to reach the edges. I also was low on yellow paint, so our sun received a bit of orange decoration!

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Once it dried, we hung the sun in the window, a nice pretend glow on a dreary, rainy day.

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Bubbles Bubbles Bubbles

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You quite simply can’t go wrong with children and bubbles, no matter the age. My favorite are the soap-free, sugar-based bubbles from Gymboree, since I don’t need to worry about stray bubbles popping near Travis’s eyes or mouth. These bubbles also have the uncanny ability not to pop while you catch them on your fingers, toes, or the ground.

Our favorite place for bubbles is in the tub, but in the interest of privacy, I didn’t want to take photos during bath time! So one sunny afternoon this week we brought the fun outside. It was quite windy, which meant Travis had to chase down the bubbles, quite different from when we blow them indoors! He seemed to enjoy the exercise involved, even if the pay-off of catching a bubble was not as apparent.

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Once he tired of running after bubbles, he wanted a turn with the wand! He first asked to blow bubbles himself about two months ago, and still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it.

What I love is his reaction when he lifts the wand to his mouth, attempts to blow, and nothing happens. Instead of getting frustrated, he says “I missed!” or “We tried!” – the two phrases I use when accidents happen around the house or events don’t go as planned. I hope that by saying these phrases with a light tone and a smile, Travis will learn how to manage his emotions when things go wrong, and to see that sometimes life is about trying but not succeeding, and that’s okay.

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Sorry to get a little heavy-handed in a blog post about bubbles! Needless to say, we tried and succeeded perfectly well with this activity today in terms of fun and joy.

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Exploring Pasta

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Various toddler books and websites promote the idea of pasta exploration as a sensory game, but I’ve hesitated to do any pasta activities with Travis ever since one attempt in January (18 months old), when he put a dry pasta shape in his mouth and then looked at me in horror. I was flabbergasted, as he has never been a mouther, and this confused attempt to eat pasta was literally the only time in his life I worried about him gnawing on something inedible.

So at 22 months, I decided to give dry pasta another go, with various goals in mind.

The first was simply for the sensory experience, providing him with a large basin and scoop. He quickly lost interest (a little too old now, I think), and decided it would be more fun to throw the pasta.

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Here’s one of those moments to keep your parenting cool! I turned his curiosity into a lesson on dynamics, telling him pasta could be loud or quiet, and we wanted our pasta to be quiet i.e. gently placed back in the container. When he got a little too toddler-y on me (those pasta shapes were just so intriguing skittering and breaking across the kitchen floor…) I moved the game to the rug.

My second goal was to have Travis sort the pasta by shape, so I provided him with 3 types I thought were different enough: rigatoni, fusilli, and rather fun tennis rackets (racchettes).

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Despite having learned his colors and shapes very early, Travis shows no interest in sorting, and ignored my attempts to encourage him to sort today, but I took the opportunity to discuss the differences between the shapes (curly versus straight, wide versus skinny), and I know he absorbed it on some level.

Once we moved to the rug, though, things got interesting. Travis became very concerned with clean up, and sang himself the Gymboree clean-up song while moving pasta pieces from the rug back to the box, which I’d left on the floor.  He enjoyed this version of the game for quite a while.

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He then stumbled upon the discovery that one of the shapes I’d selected (rigatoni) could fit on his finger and voila! He started having the pieces talk to each other like puppets (acting out Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, in fact). I was laughing hysterically, and joined in the fun.

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Who knew? Rigatoni puppets. Sometimes it takes an almost-two-year-old to have the best idea.

Paper and Water

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This activity was a fantastic reminder that kids will turn games into their own agenda – and usually for the best!

I got the original idea from Tinkerlab, and it sounded very simple: let your child put different pieces of paper in a tub of water until full, then remove with tongs. I especially liked that last bit, since I’ve been working with Travis on the pincher motion of tongs, and he still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it.

I neglected to think of my son’s personality though, that is: when he sees a bucket of water, he just wants to splash it! Every piece of paper I tried to put in the basin was met with a, “No, all done,” and he promptly removed it and splashed his hands about.

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Then things got fun… He asked to step in it, so I decided to indulge him and rolled up his pants and let him climb in. He tested the limits quite knowingly, pretending to hop, run, and march in the water, my little imp!

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When I coaxed him out, we now had piles of wet paper, so I thought he might like the sensation of ripping paper when wet. He took to it immediately. ripping increasingly tinier pieces, and delighting in how small he could make them.

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I asked if he wanted to dry the pieces out in his salad spinner like we do with lettuce leaves and he loved the idea! From here on out, it was putting the wet paper in, giving it a spin, then removing it, while keeping up a narration to himself about tiny pieces being wet or dry or getting closer to dry (“There we go!”).

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About a half hour in, I looked at his fingers and realized they were BLACK from newspaper ink. (Note to self for next time: stick to construction paper!). He got a kick out of rubbing his grimy hands together in between ripping the paper up when he saw my laughing reaction to the cleanup ahead of us. This picture doesn’t even do the extent of the ink justice.

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Start to finish, this activity lasted us nearly an hour – a sure sign of a hit!

Ice is Nice!

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It’s getting hot around here, so what could be more fun to play with than ice?

Ice is a great tactile toy even for babies younger than one: just fill a large paper cup with water and peel back the cup once frozen to let them touch, slide around on a plate, and otherwise enjoy. I recommend waiting a little longer before presenting smaller (freezer tray-size) ice cubes to your little one.

One simple idea for toddlers is to “paint” with ice cubes. Sprinkle a little jel dessert powder on a tray and then let your child slide an ice cube across the powder.

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The melting ice will make rivulets of color, and this game is a great way to introduce the scientific concept that ice melts into water. Travis eagerly lapped up this new vocab word, repeating “melt!” throughout the afternoon.

Even more fun, I thought, would be a hammering game from Teaching 2 &3 Year Olds. For set up, place any small toys in paper cups, cover with water, and freeze. When it’s time to stage a “rescue,” set your child up with a basin and toy hammers.

Well, the premise was great and Travis was thrilled to see his little dinosaur and panda bear (a current favorite) ensconced in the ice.

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I have to assume, though, that the kids from the original blog post were much older than Travis, or using stronger hammers, because it was tough to chisel our way to the toys – even for me as a grown up!

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Eventually, we both got impatient and I poured some warm water from the tea kettle into our basin to help the process along!

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At that point though, Travis was able to proudly liberate panda and the other toys, with a very delighted grin.

The next night, he asked for panda in ice again – eek, I wasn’t prepared! I put panda in just enough water to freeze in about two hours, and then we set him free at bath time simply by plunking the ice block into the tub. Panda has been taking baths with us every night since!

Jell-O Exploration

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Kids and Jell-O just seem to be a match made in heaven, and luckily I don’t need to deprive Travis of the fun just because original Jell-O isn’t vegan. A few brands without gelatin are now on the market, my favorite being Simply Delish Natural Jel Dessert.

I gave Travis Simply Delish’s Jell-O to play with when he was quite young, as a very early sensory experience. A few globs on his high chair tray provided much amusement for poking and squishing.


This week, at 22 months, we made our play a little more tool-oriented. Travis loved using cookie cutters in star and circle shapes to poke at the Jello-O, which he quickly identified as “wibbly wobbly!”

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He was quite happy making shapes for some time, but very reluctant to poke at the stuff with his fingers. I did get him to try Jell-O “painting” by smearing some onto an elephant page from a coloring book he had started, but he quickly lost interest and went back to the cookie cutters.

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The Toddler’s Busy Book recommends letting kids explore Jell-O with a different part of the body, too… feet that is! I added some to our tub just before bath time, thinking if he got all messy I could give him a quick rinse before a proper bath. He giggled at the “wibbly wobbly” in such an unexpected place, but try as I might, I could not entice him to put his foot in – even once I used my own as an example!

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We finished the evening with Jell-O for dessert of course. Don’t worry: it was a different batch from the one that had all those hands and feet in it.

Flour Fun

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Travis and I have played with flour before, as one way to introduce him to the joys of cooking and the concept of working with food. Although I don’t bake as often as I did pre-motherhood, I always set Travis up with a bag of flour, a big spoon, and a few measuring cups when I do whip up a batch of cookies or weekend morning pancakes. I’ll tell him about what we’re doing, and he latched on to the concept right away. Now he tells me he’s making “hot cross buns” or “strawberry pancakes” (from Daniel Tiger) while he spoons into the flour.

Lately, I also turned to flour as an alternative to sand for an “indoor sandbox.” Travis has been on a sand-scooping kick but I’m not a fan of kinetic sand, and prefer alternatives such as uncooked oats, kosher salt, or even dried beans.

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Today, I upped the ante with additions to our flour sandbox aside from our usual spoons and measuring cups!

After some time spent with the usual scooping play, I added Travis’ construction vehicles. He immediately took to the idea of the flour as “dirt” in a construction site, and very soon was loading up dump truck with the help of bulldozer’s shovel.

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He also loved driving other vehicles through the flour, including a toy school bus and a blue jeep, although he was not impressed when I tried to help him see the tire tracks his cars made.

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Once we tired of vehicles, I smoothed the surface to draw a few shapes and letters in the flour. We’ve been working on recognition of the letters in his name lately (as well as B-O-O-T-S thanks to the Laurie Berkner song!) so those were two fun words to add to the pan.

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Travis than used the point of his safety scissors to draw and proudly told me he’d made an oval – his best yet!

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Hand prints completed the fun.

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While we worked, Travis was quite concerned that his trucks and school bus were dirty, so I promised him at the end he could help me give all the vehicles a bath. As soon as we’d wiped the flour from our hands and feet, I set him up with a small washcloth and tiny basin of soapy water, and he gave the trucks a little scrubbing (though in full honesty, this mama had to finish off the job as he got bored and wandered off midway through).

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Gooey Squishy Bag

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This past weekend, Travis and I woke up with a quiet Sunday ahead of us (my husband away on a business trip), and I wanted to set the tone for a fun-filled day. So immediately after breakfast, I asked Travis if he wanted to see something very cool.

The original idea for this craft (thanks to Hands on as We Grow!) calls for orange hair gel, as it was done around Halloween. But here in mid-May, I wasn’t concerned about color, just texture, and decided light corn syrup would work perfectly as the gooey base in which to suspend some googly eyes.

I filled a large zip-top plastic bag with the corn syrup, and then added the googly eyes from my craft bin. (Eek, there weren’t as many left as I hoped, since we used them recently during a contact paper decorating session. However, I decided this lack worked in our favor, as it really gave Travis room to move each eye around, instead of having them crowded or bunched together).

Travis was mildly interested while the bag was still on our kitchen floor…

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… But loved it once taped up to our window, where the morning light coming through made the effect even better.

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He loved squishing the bag, declaring, “Squishy Bag!” and “Gooey!” and enjoyed sliding one eye at a time all the way up to the top and then back down again.

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Taking a cue from Hands on As We Grow, I thought I’d see if he wanted to drive a car across the bag, for a funny squishy sensation. He gave his red jeep a few passes, but then preferred just to drive it along the windowsill.

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I left the bag taped up and he returned to it throughout the day for more squeezes and eye-moving. Note to self to try this game at Halloween, when he’ll be old enough to understand the spooky concept of the holiday for the first time. The eyes should make for a good, not-too-scary decoration.