Toy Airplane

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Here’s a trick for when you need to devote your attention to packing up for vacation – but have a toddler to entertain in the meantime! Pick an easy craft, ideally one where not only the end product but also the various components used during construction make for a great solo play.

Since we’re headed on vacation, I figured what better craft to make than a toy airplane?

Cut two slits in the sides of a paper towel tube. Cut “wings” from poster board, and slide into the slits. Squirt a little glue in the bottom of a paper cup and attach to one end of the tube as a “cockpit.” Make sure you let the glue dry before moving on to decoration!

Travis enjoyed helping glue on pieces of old tissue paper with a glue stick.

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If you have the time, add windows or other airplane embellishments with markers. We skipped that part, and probably for the best; in full honesty, Travis soon discovered it was more fun to tear the tissue paper off his plane than it had been to glue it on!

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As mentioned, although the assembly of this craft is largely for adults, the supplies (poster board, a few extra paper cups, tissue paper), are all materials that foster great creative play in toddlers. Travis was very happy with his crafty items while I went about packing. The paper cups in particular were a huge hit, both for stacking and for playing games of “kitchen.”

And then of course there’s the plane itself! Travis loved piloting his plane from on top of my suitcase:

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And while running around the apartment:

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It also makes for great shadow play. And now, bon voyage!

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Traffic Light

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This week, I made red, yellow, and green “traffic” lights, which lend themselves to so many games! The set-up is easy, although just for the grown-ups. Cut red, yellow, and green construction paper to fit paper plates, and staple on. If you like, secure a popsicle stick handle to the back of each with duct tape.

Travis’s favorite game by far with these props was to drive a “car” past the traffic lights. I made him a small cardboard “wheel” and he ran about the room driving an imaginary car. When he passed the green sign, it was time to Go! full speed.

But if he passed yellow, he had to slow down.

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When he reached the red stop sign, it was time to stop of course, until I shouted ‘Go!’ again.

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You can also make mini versions for toy cars. I taped small red, yellow, and green circles to a few of Travis’s blocks to line the roadway of the block city we built.

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Another fun option – and a way to get your kids exercising – is to play music while holding the signs. Your little one gets to dance fast when you hold up green and slow for yellow. Here’s Travis racing about in a fast jig:

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And here he is doing a very careful, slow bell dance:

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Then they need to freeze when you hold up the red. You could also press pause on the music you’re playing, for added effect.

Once all those games at home are done, tuck the signs into your diaper bag and bring along for a car ride. Ask your child to be your traffic cop, holding up the red sign when you come to a red light, and the green when the light changes.

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Ready, set, go!

Boxes, Boxes, Boxes

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Our great fun with a toddler-sized box car the other day had me thinking: What can’t a toddler do with boxes?

Next time you receive a package, wait at least a few days before you toss the cardboard into the recycling. The possibilities are almost endless! First off: color on them. In the past, Travis and I have drawn the dials and buttons of a “rocketship,” which then makes for great make-believe.

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Or if you have a box large enough, open it up and color each segment of the box a different “habitat,” such as jungle, ocean, or desert, adding a background and appropriate animals to each. Your child can step from location to location, and talk about the animals you’ve drawn in each. After the second time we played this game, Travis went to town on the entire piece of cardboard with a black crayon – very Jackson Pollock-esque!

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If you have a few medium-sized boxes, string them together and place stuffed animals inside, and then take them for a train ride!

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A large box is perfect for turning into a toddler-only house….

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…after you’ve decorated the outside of course.

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And smaller boxes make perfect garages and tunnels for all the toy cars in the house!

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What other ways have you found to play with your child and boxes? Please do leave your thoughts in the comments!

Coffee-Filter Butterflies

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I decided last minute to put together this craft today, but I’m so glad we did! Because there are various periods of drying involved (for paint and glue), we spread it out over most of the day.

First, lay coffee filters flat (I recommend a layer of newspaper underneath), and have your child use a dropper to apply food coloring in various colors. I only had yellow and red left at home, but I liked the uncomplicated designs that Travis achieved as a result. Squeezing the dropper to apply the color was great fine-motor practice, which Travis took very seriously!

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We finished with a paintbrush to apply the color more deeply in a few places.

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Make sure you let the filters dry completely before moving on to the next step.

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As a side note, extra coffee filters make for a fantastic toddler distraction while you get something else done around the house!

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I found various methods online for pinching together the “butterflies” around clothespins, and liked the following method best. You’ll likely have to do this part yourself, unless your child is pre-school age or older. Pinch the coffee filter in the center, and clip a clothespin vertically to the filter. Fan out the “wings” of the butterfly on either side.

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Clip pipe cleaners into 1-inch pieces, and let your child dip in glue before applying to the butterflies for antennas. (I had to help here as well, as the surface was very uneven for gluing, but Travis enjoyed dragging pipe cleaners through the glue nonetheless).

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Once the glue dries, you can finish your butterflies with marker designs. Travis had a little fun coloring randomly on one butterfly, but I added the faces to the others.

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The clothespins provide the perfect handle so your toddler can flit the butterflies all around your home. And they were quite simply magical in the window at sunset.

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Playdough Textures

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Travis was a little aimless this morning – time to pull out the playdough! I love using the all-natural Eco-Dough from Eco-Kids, which comes in a pack of 5 great colors, all dyed with natural pigments like annatto seed and curcumin (turmeric).

To make today’s play a little different, I pulled out a bunch of old kitchen tools to see what fun textures we could make in our dough.

A potato masher was mildly interesting….

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A mallet was fun, with Travis pretending he was making waffles…

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But the biggest hit was an old garlic press:

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Wow, spaghetti!

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And of course, you can’t go wrong by adding texture to your playdough with the easiest tool of all: fingers. Travis filled this whole disc of playdough with little holes and told me he’d made the Daniel Tiger crayon machine.

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Hey, not bad!

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Make a Shiny Picture

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This idea came to us care of High Five magazine – the younger sibling of the well-known Highlights (Travis has just “graduated” from his subscription to Hello, the very youngest magazine aimed at ages 0-2!). The shiny background plus paints in the hot color trio of red, orange, and yellow make it the ideal art project for a scorching summer day.

Set out plastic cups with red, orange, and yellow paint. Tape a piece of aluminum foil to cardboard for a sturdy work surface.

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Add 1 teaspoon dish detergent to each paint cup, stirring to combine – the soap helps make the paints extra shiny!

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Now set your child up with paintbrushes and the paint cups, and the rest is up to them! I told Travis he was painting the hot colors of the sun on his shiny canvas, which he was very into.

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I was particularly proud because this is the first painting project of ours in which I literally didn’t put down a drop of paint, not even one swipe as an example to get him started. Every single brush stroke was Travis’ own. He was so absorbed in his work, and clearly very carefully using the brushes in different ways – long strokes, short taps, running the colors together, etc.

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Without meaning to, I set the painting on a slight tilt to dry; the angle created tiny rivulets that I thought made it look even more like the sun! My husband loved the result so much he wants to frame it for our apartment. Thanks High Five!

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Toddler Car

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We had lots of indoor play today in the wake of a little illness, but thank goodness we had a toddler-sized box at home from a recent package delivery – it turned out to be the highlight of the day!

Early in the morning, I cut four holes in the sides of the box and told Travis they were the four windows of our car.

I left one flap of the box at the front end to be the dashboard, which I then decorated with a crayon wheel. Travis took over with the crayons, and the box turned into a beautiful canvas for his art and imagination.

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We added four circles of aluminum foil for the wheels, which I simply taped on. If you have a large enough box, consider stapling on foil pie tins for sturdier wheels. A wad of aluminum foil taped to the wheel was the finishing touch as the “horn.”

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Travis loved his car so much that he was in it for over an hour in the afternoon! We had to take many vroom-ing rides across the living room carpet, and continued the decoration with more markers and stickers.

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A sure sign that he’s feeling much better!

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Sticker Surprise

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Travis is under the weather, so needless to say we had a very quiet, snuggly day. The happiest and most alert he was all day, though, was when I suggested sticker play – he can’t get enough of his shape stickers! I decided to make things even more interesting with this painting “surprise.”

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Encourage your toddler to arrange stickers (big ones in interesting shapes work best) however he or she would like on a piece of construction paper.

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Next, let your child paint over the entire paper – stickers included! – with tempera paint. This was our first opportunity to test out the non-toxic tempera paints from Natural Earth Paint and they worked wonderfully! (Note: The paint is available in both vegan or milk-based versions).

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Travis chose purple and green and loved that his stickers were now “hiding.”

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Unfortunately by the time the paint dried and I did the big reveal – peeling off the stickers to show the shapes left behind – Travis was feeling even crummier. I hung our craft on the fridge, and hopefully he’ll look back on it in a day or two to remember the fun he had putting it together!

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Now it’s time for more toddler snuggles.

Letter Find

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The rice in our rain stick project this morning reminded me of a game I’ve played with Travis a few times before, one that’s well worth setting up again! Your child will absolutely love the tactile play with dry rice; meanwhile you’ll sneak in a little early learning with letter and word recognition.

Bury alphabet magnets in the rice and have your child dig through and discover which letters are “hiding.” A great first word to play with is his or her name. Travis correctly identified all the letters, and when I placed them in order, he was able to tell me it said Travis.

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We played with a few other simple words as well, like DOG and CAT, but after that Travis was more interested in pouring handfuls of rice in and out of the tupperware container. Fine by me, except that I didn’t want rice all over the kitchen floor!

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It turned into a great reminder of why I love signing with Travis. I pointed out that rice on the floor was a “no” and rice on the newspaper was a “yes,” saying and signing the words. He quickly latched on to the concept, and we had much easier clean-up that way!

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Rain Sticks

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Travis and I woke up to a rainy morning – so what better activity than to make a rain stick? You only need a few household items to put this craft together.

Start with a paper towel tube, and let your child decorate any way they like. I drew a few blue raindrops as prompts and told Travis we were drawing a stormy day, so he was very excited to use blue for rain, black for storm clouds, and white for lightning.

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Close up one end of the rain stick with a sheet of aluminum foil, and secure with masking tape. Parents, I learned through trial and error that a double (or triple!) layer of foil is a safe idea here, so you don’t get any pesky holes.

Next, shape a pipe cleaner into a loose coil, and have your child insert into the tube. Can I be honest? I have no idea what the pipe cleaner is for. To give the rice inside the rain stick something to fall down around, perhaps? Ah well, I followed instructions, so in goes the pipe cleaner.

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This next step was Travis’s favorite part. Let your child help you pour dry rice into the tube. Make sure you don’t add too much (in which case the rice can’t shake around enough); a 1/4 cup felt like a good amount. Seal up the other end of the tube with foil and tape, and your rain stick is ready for shaking!

Travis had some fun with the imaginative task of “raining” on flowers we have here at home..

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…after which he made it rain over his barn and animals.

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No matter what the weather, rain sticks make great instruments, so tuck this project away until the next time you and your toddler have a music-making session.