U Week!

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Welcome to U week! Wait, you might ask, if you’ve been following along… What happened to V? I skipped it on purpose, since so many V suggestions relate to Valentine’s Day; we’ll revisit the letter in February. In the meantime, we had lots of fun finding out what begins with U.

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Up/Under: We started our week on an UP note discovering things we could go up and under. That meant setting up a big pile of pillows in the living room for climbing of course! We followed that with tunnels, and looking for other places in the apartment that Travis could go either up or under.

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A parachute is another obvious choice for up and under play. If you don’t have a parachute, a beach towel or sheet makes an easy substitute. Travis loves to help shake while we sing parachute songs with “up” and “under” in the lyrics. Might I suggest the following?

The Itsy Bitsy Spider climbed UP the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out

Out came the sun and dried UP all the rain

And the Itsy Bitsy Spider climbed UP the spout again

and

Come UNDER my UMBRELLLA umbrella umbrella

Come under my umbrella it’s starting to storm

There’s thunder and lightning

The weather is frightening

But UNDER my UMBRELLA it’s cozy and warm.

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There’s lots more you can do with UP of course. Pull out all of your airplane or helicopter toys and see what flies up up up!

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Or bring out block sets to see who can build the tallest tower up up up!

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Uniform: I hid a new toy UNDER the couch early in the week to help Travis with this new vocabulary word, introducing the idea that policemen and firemen (among others) wear a special outfit called a uniform. The Melissa & Doug Joey doll was a big hit, and Travis liked dressing him in various combinations. If you have dress up clothes at home, dress up in uniform!

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United States: I intended just to gently introduce the name of our country this week, but Travis loved our puzzle of the U.S. so much that we dumped out the pieces and put it back together multiple times. He was very interested in hearing which states mommy and daddy have been to. And as a wonderful coincidence, one of the few states Travis has visited is U-u-utah!

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Utensil: Your toddler may know the words knife, fork, and spoon, but here’s a great new word… All three together are utensils! For fun play, Travis helped me select food pictures from a magazine, and then we glued several “meals” to paper plates. I set him up with extra plastic utensils from the pantry to play restaurant and food games.

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If that’s too complicated, you can’t go wrong with a toddler, a pot, a lid, and plastic utensils.

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Uncle: To talk about his uncles, Travis and I made a family tree! Because it’s U week, I only labeled his uncles, but I’ll fill in the names of the rest of the relatives later.

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Universe: Travis loves learning about the planets, which okay, means we’re technically talking more about our “solar system,” but this week I used the bigger word universe. We had so many universe games that I put them into a separate blog post. You can have fun with planet books, planet toys, galaxy playdough, and more.

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Umbrella: We got lucky! With a very rainy week, it was the perfect time to talk about umbrellas. That meant we strapped on our rain boots and went puddle stomping, and Travis was so proud to carry the umbrella while we were outside.

A few more suggestions…

Fine art: We continued the theme of umbrellas in our artwork. Travis was very intrigued when we glued down fabric scraps (from an old sack of mine) for umbrella tops. Then it was time to attach raindrops! Instead of using a glue stick, encourage your child to squeeze a glue bottle. Dotting glue is great practice for strengthening little hands. Each drop of glue got a sparkly sequin “rain drop” to complete the project.

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Food: There were very few options for a snack beginning with U! (I tried and failed, alas, to find ugli fruit). So although not the kind of fare I normally buy, Utz chips it was. Travis’s delight both at the funny name and at the taste of his first potato chip was worth it.

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Books: The clear favorite this week was a book I randomly pulled off the library shelf for its U title – The Bear Upstairs, by Shirley Mozelle. Other favorites included The Umbrella Day, by Nancy Evans Cooney and Uncle Chuck’s Truck, by Hope Norman Coulter. Look for “unicorn” books too if your child likes unicorns!

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Song: You might play your child Under the Sea (the lyrics feature several U words!) but Travis wasn’t interested. A bigger hit by far was playing him songs featuring the ukelele. We also have a ukelele at home which is a perennial favorite, so needless to say it got a lot of strumming this week.

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Math: There’s not much to work with for toddlers and U when it comes to math. I only briefly introduced the concept of “uniform,” which made for a cute game sorting buttons. Travis was very proud when he identified which buttons were out of place until he had piles that were “uniform” in color.

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Stay tuned for week T.

Broccoli Mac ‘n’ Cheese

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This homemade mac ‘n’ cheese comes together almost as quickly as packaged vegan offerings, like those from Earth Balance or Daiya, but you have much greater control over the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups uncooked whole-wheat elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded Daiya cheddar
  • 3 tablespoons plain non-dairy yogurt
  • Cooked broccoli or other veggie of choice
  1. Cook the macaroni according to package directions; drain and set aside.
  2. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, whisking to combine. Gradually add the almond milk and continue to cook for about 1 minute, until thickened.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar and yogurt. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat.

To serve, stir in about 1/4 cup steamed and chopped vegetables of your toddler’s choice into each serving of pasta. Travis loves broccoli, which works great in this recipe, but you can mix and match as much as you like!

All About the Solar System

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Travis has been very into the solar system ever since receiving a book on the planets for his birthday. Following a visit to the science museum this past weekend, we had fun continuing the planet-themed games at home!

One neat idea is to make “galaxy playdough.” Alas, I did not have black food coloring, but we managed to have fun with the playdough I made following the recipe in the above link, minus the coloring. Then it was time to add “stardust”! Travis loved sprinkling in tons of blue and gold glitter to make our galactic creation.

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We used props like model planets and star toothpicks to “explore” our galaxy, making for great fun.

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To talk about the relative size of the planets, I set up a simple tracing game. Travis is still getting the hang of tracing, so the result wasn’t as neat as yours will be if your child is preschool aged or up, but we had fun all the same! Cut colored circles from construction paper in various sizes, and tape to a second piece of construction paper, in a different color. Let your child trace around the circles with chalk.

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Remove the circles, leaving only the outline of the planets behind. You can smudge the edges of the chalk with your finger for a pulsing planet effect. We finished our “universe” with star stickers.

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What other fun galaxy games have your played with your child? Please share in the comments!

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Plant a Family Tree

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I’ve found that kids love looking at family pictures – and often not just their own, but other children’s families as well! I’ve kept a little photo album of close family members since Travis was little, which he loves to flip through on occasion. To build this project, we had to chop up a few of those photos into headshots, but we can always find replacements!

Draw a brown tree trunk with limbs on white poster board, adding enough limbs for the “branches” of the family that you’ll include. I set up the poster board while asking Travis to go through his album and select pictures of the relatives we’d be adding, and he loved being set this task!

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I cut out the faces of the family members, and we glued them to the poster board. We added a few crumpled pieces of green tissue paper for leaves (mostly done by me, although Travis liked squeezing out the glue) to complete our tree.

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Once the glue dries, you can label all the relatives and hang in your child’s bedroom. This project is especially nice if you have relatives who live far away!

Celery, Cucumber, and Pineapple Smoothie

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This fruit-and-veggie slushie has all the frozen goodness of Italian ice without any of the sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups frozen pineapple cubes
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

That’s it! Serve by the spoonful or with a straw. For adults, consider adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime juice for a refreshing afternoon treat.

Maple-Soy Tofu

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Travis has loved tofu nearly since he began eating solids, so I’m always looking for ways to make it new and different. This sweet-savory glaze gets the toddler thumbs up. You can cut the tofu into small cubes or leave in slabs or triangles for older children.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu
  1. Combine the soy sauce, maple syrup, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Drizzle over the tofu cubes and let stand for about 10 minutes to marinate.
  2. Cook the tofu in a skillet over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool slightly before serving.

Add rice and wilted chopped spinach to complete the meal!

Baby Bird Alphabet Game

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I promise this is going to be my last bird-themed post for the time being, after our Koala Crate sparked a whole host of ideas. I’ve been working with Travis lately on recognizing lower case letters, in addition to the upper case ones with which he’s become quite familiar. To make a game of it, we “fed” alphabet worms to a very hungry baby bird!

You’ll need an empty tissue box to put the game together. Either wait until you have an empty one lying around or… let your toddler have what I refer to as a “sacrificial” tissue box – the magic of watching your child play with the tissues as a special treat is worth the waste on rare occasions!

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While Travis played, I cut out a circle and two triangles to be the bird’s head and beak, and 26 little strips of paper for “worms,” adding both the upper and lower case letter to each strip.

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Once the bird was taped in place, I told Travis his baby bird was hungry. He’s familiar with the idea of baby birds eating worms from our summer balcony residents, so latched right on to the game. At first he was just stuffing in the worms, but he slowed down once I asked him which worm his bird was eating.

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It dawned on him that each was labeled, and he was very excited to report what he found. “Big H and tiny h!” he would say, before adding to the box, and so on. He dumped out the box and played several more times before moving on to other toys, and also returned to it later in the day… a sure sign of success.

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Bird Nest Counting

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This little project was so charming. Rather than just teaching toddlers to count by rote, it’s a great way to teach the concept that each number is one greater than the number before.

Roll brown paper snack bags over until you’ve made 5 (or more) little “nests.” Use a sharpie to number the nests 1 through 5 (go higher for preschoolers!). You can use whatever you like or have on hand as the eggs to fill your nests. We used marbles, because Travis loves to play with them, but because marbles are a choking hazard, please use judgment about your own child – pretty rocks or colorful pom poms would also make beautiful “eggs.”

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Now it’s time to fill each nest with the correct number of eggs! Travis gets a little fuzzy when filling containers as high as 4 and 5, but I could see his brain latching on to the concept that the nests with higher numbers required more marbles to be filled correctly.

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As soon as we finished, he said, “let’s do it again!” Dumping the marbles was half the fun, and we played several more times. A great little game with a nice educational component.

W Week!

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Welcome to W week of our Letter of the Week play! W-w-what begins with w, you ask? We had lots of fun finding out.

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Wings: You might have noticed lots of bird-themed posts this week, and that’s because we talked a lot about wings. It was a perfectly-timed coincidence that our bird-themed Koala Crate arrived. That sparked great ideas throughout the week, including playing wing charades to kick things off on Monday. Travis soared like an eagle, fluttered like a butterfly, and flapped like a duck, to name a few.

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Wolf: W was a great reminder to pull out our Three Little Pig toy sets! We have two, one more meant for babies, and one for children a little older, but there’s no reason we couldn’t adapt them to suit Travis’ level of play, talking about wolves all the while!

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Watch: Travis loves watches, so he had fun trying on three different models. For preschoolers, definitely use this word/week to play games about telling the time with a watch!

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Wood: Not only did we have fun pulling out all the toys around the house that are made of wood – wooden blocks, wood instruments – but it was also a great way for Travis to do sorting or comparisons, i.e. which of his instruments were plastic and which were wood? “These are made of wood, too!” he exclaimed throughout the week, once the theme was apparent. We had fun with wooden block games like block bowling…

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….and block tunnels to roll a ball through.

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To make a challenge for older children, create archways from blocks that are increasingly smaller, and see if they can roll a ball through.

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Water/waves: These words prompted our field trip of the week, taking advantage of late summer weather to visit a nearby beach and watch the waves.

More fun, though, was water play at home. Please forgive the eco-infraction, but I let the water run in the kitchen sink for a short time and let Travis go to town with colanders, cups, and sieves.

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More eco-friendly by far was a game that worked his fine motor skills, with water in an eye dropper. First, he used the eye dropper to bleed the outline of marker drawings I made on paper towels, and loved watching the color run.

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Travis then amazed me using precision to drop colored water in the center of progressively smaller circles!

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Other water options include filling a basin and seeing what sinks and what floats, or simple games of water toys in the tub.

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Wind: This was unexpectedly my favorite of the week. We set up a fan and tested out what would happen to feathers, streamers, and other light materials. Travis tried placing an instrument on the fan and looked so surprised when it didn’t waft up, so it was a good lesson on density, too! He requested the fan the following morning, after I’d put it away! Watching him watch a pinwheel spin in the wind was just magical.

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And of course, don’t forget to head out on the windiest day of the week and fly a kite!

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Walk/wagon: Pull out the wagon and give rides of course! Or let your toddler push stuffed animal friends around, for great exercise. You can also go on walk with the wagon and make part of the walk into a “silly walk.” We took turns thinking of silly actions, like tip-toeing or taking giant steps (Travis’s favorite).

Here a few final items from our W-themed week:

Fine Art: My idea to make a wind chime was a little too ambitious. I encouraged Travis to thread beads, but I mainly had to put the craft together myself. He liked the end result though!

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Food: We had a W-tastic breakfast one morning, waffles and watermelon, which Travis loved watching me chop off the rind, first.

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Books: Playing off some of our themes, we enjoyed reading Spot’s First Walk by Eric Hill, Ten Dogs in the Window by Clare Masurel and The Wind Blew, by Pat Hutchens.

Song: I introduced Travis to the wonderful timbre of Louis Armstrong’s voice on What a Wonderful World. He didn’t really connect it to W week, but always worth a listen!

Math: It was the perfect week to teach the word… Week! We have a Wee Sing song that’s perfect for learning the days in order, and I sang it as I lined up our day-of-the-week magnets.

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The timing was perfect since we’re also counting down to visits with two relatives, one in one week, and the other in two weeks. So we made a countdown chart, and Travis has been adding a sticker each day that elapses! Consider making a chart for your toddler counting down to any similarly-anticipated event, like a playdate or outing.

What a week!

Salt-Container Bird Feeder

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Travis loves birds, so in hopes of attracting a few new feathered friends to our balcony, we cobbled together this very easy bird feeder. Most of the work falls to the adult, but everyone gets to enjoy the bird-watching that follows!

Clean out an old salt container (or save the salt and use for an indoor sandbox!) and cut a few additional holes with an X-acto knife. You’ll need one “door” along one side of the box, and two small holes (front and back) below the door for a perch. Remove the metal spout from the top of the salt container, and cut out a second small hole so you can hang the box.

Before hanging, invite your child to decorate with markers. We don’t use markers nearly as often as crayons, so Travis was thrilled! He made mostly abstract squiggle, of course, but preschoolers can plan out a more careful design for a bird “house” with windows or fences and flowers.

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Help your child insert a slim stick through the two holes below the door, for birds to perch on, and then thread wire or twine through the two holes on the top.

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Hang over a balcony or tree, or other outdoor perch, and sit back to wait for some winged visitors!