No-Cook Oats

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Here’s my new go-to oatmeal recipe. Because you prepare it the night before, mornings are a breeze. Use a different non-dairy milk in place of the almond if you prefer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dates
  • 2 teaspoons chia seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 and 1/4 cups almond milk
  • Mashed banana (optional)
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the banana in a large bowl, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. In the morning, stir and add a little more milk if necessary. Add about 2 tablespoons mashed ripe banana per 1/2 cup serving of oats, if desired.

With or without the bananas, Travis has eaten every spoonful from his bowl every time I serve this.

Cream Cheese and Cashew Sandwiches

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If you need to get out of a peanut butter-and-jelly rut, these sandwiches are for your child! Just different enough to taste novel, the flavors are similar enough to good old PB&J that even a picky toddler will be tempted!

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread, lightly toasted
  • 1 tablespoon vegan cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon strawberry jelly
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cashews
  1. Spread the cream cheese on one slice of bread and the jelly on the other.
  2. Sprinkle the cashews over the cream cheese, pressing in slightly. Top with the jelly slice and serve!

Treasure Hunt

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We were stuck inside from wind and rain – the perfect chance to brighten up the day and set up a treasure hunt! All you need is crepe paper and a treasure waiting at the end.

You can either set up this game while your child naps or is in another room, but I knew Travis would be very into the crepe paper itself, so he helped me roll it and spread it all around.

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You can make your trail as complicated or simple as you like. We looped around door handles…

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… and wound under pillows…

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…and crisscrossed multiple trails.

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Because we’re in the holiday season, the prize waiting at the end of our line was a candy cane – the first one Travis has ever had, leading to much delight! Any similar simple-yet-joyful prize is sure to brighten even the dreariest day.

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As a bonus, Travis then invented games with the leftover crepe paper for quite a while!

Popsicle Stick Christmas Tree

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Why stop at one Christmas tree when you and your child can craft together this adorable second? Travis was so excited when he realized what shape we were making with our popsicle sticks.

First, you’ll need to get good and messy with green paint. Paint as many popsicle sticks as you need to make a tree shape – be prepared for green fingers so you can paint all the way to the edges! Once the popsicle sticks dry, cut a few into smaller pieces so your tree can taper at the top. Leave two sticks unpainted to serve as the trunk.

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Have your child help you arrange your “tree” on poster board, then glue each “branch” down, starting from the bottom up. Travis loved seeing the tree take shape as he worked!

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Then it was time to decorate! Party confetti from the grocery store worked perfectly as ornaments and tinsel, but use any sparkly crafty items you have at home that can be glued on.

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For the star on the top, we traced a star-shaped cookie cutter on construction paper, then cut out and glued on. A very cute and festive project.

Dough Ornaments

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We decorated the tree early this year, and to get further into the holiday spirit, decided to make homemade ornaments of our own! Adding spices to the dough makes your whole house smell like Christmas. With holiday music playing in the background, it was the perfect project to kick off the festivities.

In a large bowl, have your child help you combine:

1 and 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup cinnamon and nutmeg

1 cup salt

1 cup water

If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour once you turn out onto a surface to knead it together. Travis adored mixing the dough, and couldn’t wait to get his hands messy when I showed him how to knead.

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We then rolled the dough to about 1/4-inch thick, another step Travis loved since I finally have a child-sized rolling pin for him.

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We used gingerbread men cookie cutters, but any holiday shape – or even just circles – would work great for this project.

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Using a straw, punch a hole near the top of each ornament so you’ll be able to hang it after baking.

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Transfer your ornaments to a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

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Once the ornaments cool completely, thread ribbon through the holes and adorn your tree!

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Paper Snowflakes

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Thanksgiving is over, and so although December is not yet here, we’ve shifted into winter and holiday mode in our house! We haven’t had snow yet, but I wanted to make our apartment into a winter wonderland for Travis, and that meant we would need snowflakes.

This project is definitely a grown-up one if you have a toddler or younger. Children in kindergarten or above will likely be able to help cut, curl, and glue the snowflakes, but it takes fine motor skills – even for this mama!

That said, Travis loved pulling out his safety scissors to “cut” alongside me as I worked, making it a fun family project even for the littles.

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Cut white paper into 1/4-inch wide strips, and then cut to 6 inches in length. Curl the end of each strip around a pencil tightly.

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To make one snowflake, glue together 6 to 8 long strips of paper. Fill in the middle of the snowflake with smaller pieces of curled paper.

If you have the patience, you can create dozens of these, and hang from a window. They also make a lovely addition to a Christmas tree.

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Fingerprint Heart

 

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This project is an adorable one to do with family or friends over the holidays – if you can wrangle all the kids together!

Ahead of time, trace the outline of a heart on poster board, and then make dashes below the heart, one for each child who will be helping with the craft.

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Bring stamp pads in multiple colors; each child gets to choose a different color. Dip little fingers or thumbs in the ink and fill in the heart with fingerprints, making sure to leave one on a dash labeled with their name, so everyone knows who was who!

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Travis and I gave the project a test run at home before bringing to Thanksgiving to share with cousins.

Admittedly, group crafts aren’t always picture perfect. There may or may not have been some fighting over who got which color, and some attempts to dip whole hands in the ink pad instead of just a finger… but overall it was a cute diversion for the kiddos! You can even frame the project once complete, to gift to grandparents or other relatives for the holidays.

What group crafts have you enjoyed with family this time of year? Please share in the comments!

N Week!

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Even with the Thanksgiving holiday, we squeezed in games and crafts with a letter N theme this week, as we continue on our Letter of the Week journey. Highlights included…

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Nature/natural: This was really our key theme of the week, and we kicked things off with a gorgeous fall walk through a nature preserve before the weather turned very windy. With the collection of nature items we found, we came home and arranged them on contact paper. Simply fold the sticky paper in half when you’re finished and voila – a nature collage!

We also saved some of the leaves and flowers for a natural dye collage (and added a few store-bought berries because I knew their colors would be vibrant). We used cheesecloth, since I knew we wouldn’t be keeping this project, but make your dye collage on muslin or other cloth if you want to save it for doll’s clothing or another project. Once arranged, Travis loved pounding on the items with a mallet, and seeing the beautiful colors that (naturally) resulted.

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Finally, for all those events out in nature, we needed a trail walking stick.

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Nest: This word was closely linked to the nature ideas above. We used our air-dry clay to shape a nest, and pressed in more great finds from our nature walk – pine needles, grasses, and leaves. The process was so fun I devoted a separate blog post to it.

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Noise: Make some of course! Pull out whatever instruments you have in the house, or use items around the house to create instruments, or simply bang on pots and pans. However you make noise, Raffi’s “Let’s Make Some Noise” is the perfect song to do it to.

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Net: To play with a random butterfly net we own, I fashioned “butterflies” from construction paper and we set them aflutter for Travis to chase around. It was so windy that we were able to do this right at our windowsill, though we briefly tried outside as well. Nets are also great for bathtub “fishing” or just for letting your toddler collect little items.

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Newspaper: Old newspapers are the gift that keeps on giving. You can wad them up and use an old baby tub as target practice…

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…or roll into a “golf club” and aim golf balls at a target (such as an empty shoebox on its side). We also made newspaper hats, and Travis was so proud wearing his!

And our weekly extras:

Fine art: My intended project was a bit of a fail. I hoped to encourage Travis to make a necklace by threading o-shaped cereal (we used Freedom O’s) onto licorice (yes, Twizzlers are vegan) but he decided it would be much more fun just to eat the cereal and watch me work. Win some, lose some!

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Food: We had noodles for dinner one evening. Travis has also gotten a kick out of belly buttons lately, so what better snack than a navel orange?

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Books: Library picks this week included Jan Brett’s Noah’s Ark, The Napping House by Audrey Wood, and Dog’s Noisy Day by Emma Dodd.

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Songs: Give a listen to “These are the People in the Neighborhood.” Then follow it up with a walk or drive around your neighborhood!

Math: Nickles are an obvious choice. Travis knows quarters and pennies, so this week I taught him to recognize nickles as well, tough because they are the “medium-sized” ones!

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I also simply left out all his toys and books that feature numbers, so he could return to them throughout the week.

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One neat way to visually depict how numbers increase is to build increasingly tall towers (Duplo blocks are perfect) on a corresponding number mat or puzzle.

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Bird’s Nest with Miniature Speckled Eggs

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Adding natural elements to a make-believe bird’s nest makes it all the more special – both as a project and to play with! We used air-dry clay to shape our nest, but if you really want to be authentic, try using mud after a rainy day, or make mud by mixing dirt and water at home. Just be sure to place a piece of poster board under your creation to contain the mess!

To start, I helped Travis shape clay into a nest shape, and then we pressed on finds from a recent nature walk – pine needles, grasses, and leaves – for a realistic look.

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Travis loved selecting the items to use!

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As a finishing touch, we made clay eggs. Travis enjoyed rolling the clay between his palms to make egg shapes, but then also loved smooshing them, so I ultimately shaped the final eggs we used!

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I thought it would be fun to speckle the eggs blue, but the mechanics of this were a bit advanced for Travis. Instead, he smeared blue paint on some while I speckled a few others, and then rolled them between my hands for a more realistic look.

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Once everything dried, he loved playing with a clay bird inside the nest!

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We drew a tree on our poster board base to give his playtime a background as well.

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Overall, a very fun way to use our clay!

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Trail Walking Stick

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Travis could happily spend all day simply walking outside, digging in the dirt, looking for bugs. It has inspired me to slow down, to appreciate nature in ways I never imagined before being his mom. He also motivates me to get out even in chilly weather – something that never happened before his birth! – so we didn’t let a cold snap deter us from making a walking stick this week.

The first step is to find a good sturdy stick on one of your excursions. We brought it home and the next day I pulled out multi-colored yarn.

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Although the actual mechanics of wrapping the yarn around the stick are a bit advanced for Travis’ age, he insisted on helping every step of the way. I would tightly wrap one section, then he would “wrap” the next section before we took turns again.

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His eyes lit up when he saw the plain brown stick transform into a pattern of purple and white, and he took the whole business very seriously until our stick was complete!

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I added a smaller stick towards the top for a handle, but a simple straight stick would work just fine. And as I mentioned, a little cold weather didn’t deter Travis from testing it out!

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