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!