Storytime Crate

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My hunch seems correct, that these Koala Crates are growing more sophisticated as our subscription moves along. To wit: the storytelling box we received tackled excellent preschool skills, including the parts of a story, the flow of narrative, imagination, and basic letters/handwriting.

Travis carried the box in from the package room so there was no stopping him – nor time to gather myself together as the adult assistant! – and next thing I knew we were setting up our puppet theatre.

The theatre is easy to slot together, simply adding a white magnetic board background, scenery inserts, and a curtain to the provided cardboard “stage.”

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We talked about what might happen in each scene… What would he see in the city, for example? Lots of helicopters, he decided! Already I loved the dialog that this crate was opening up.

The curtain comes on a rod that slots into place and then is secured by foam circles, and can twist up or down.

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As a slight fault in design, the curtain is very easy to twist up, but was really frustrating for Travis to twist down. I managed to curb a tantrum and found that it worked best while twisting with one hand and gently tugging on the curtain with the other.

Crisis averted, and very quickly we were moving on to the Dress-Up Puppets. This craft would be hard to replicate at home – you’ll have to buy magnet sheets and do a fair amount of coloring and cutting.

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I was thankful to Koala’s efforts as we punched out all the characters, clothing, and props. The props stick right to the magnetic white board hiding behind our scenery!

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For the people, place on a magnetic strip, then dress them as you’d like.

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Travis and I had a great time selecting a background and discussing which props made the most sense in each scene.

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I loved the imagination that followed. Here was a story line about two friends who share a snowsuit when one was cold!

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He loved being silly, too, like putting a car in the icy mountain setting, having a crocodile chase people at the beach, and dressing this little character in a cloud:

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The third activity in the kit was alphabet cards and Alphabet Card Games to go with them. Mommy was excited about this one, Travis a bit less impressed. First, they are fantastic for handwriting practice. The white board slides out of the puppet theatre, and becomes an erasable board, thanks to the provided dry-erase marker. I was really glad for this prompt to practice handwriting. Show your child a letter, then either have them write it or guide their hand, for those just learning.

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Another option is to show your child the picture on each card, and have him or her tell you what letter it starts with, great for phonetic skills.


Or, ask your child for another object that starts with the letter. Here’s Travis drawing an ant for a.

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And of course he loved cleaning the board with a paper towel. I can see us having fun with this deck of cards for a long time to come!

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The Imagine booklet also included great creative prompts to get your little storytelling acting, like being in a dark cave, or eating a birthday cake.

Finally, we put together suggested monster bookmarks, great for marking your place in a book as your enjoy many a storytime together. First, trim the corner from a business envelope.

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Use remaining parts of the envelope to cut out teeth.

Travis made pink monsters, and I colored in a green one.

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To finish, simply tape the teeth on with clear tape, then glue on two googly eyes.

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We won’t forget which page we’re nibbling – er, reading – now!

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In sum, this felt like the most “advanced” crate in terms of topic. Can’t wait to see what’s next Koala!

Whoopie Pies

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This is the most decadent dessert I’ve cooked up in a while, but sometimes you just need a super-chocolatey treat. This recipe is made possible thanks to vegan marshmallow crème!


For the cakes:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Ener-G egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup vegan buttermilk*

For the filling:

  • 6 tablespoons Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 7 ounces Ricemellow Crème
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup mini non-dairy chocolate chips
  1. To prepare the cakes, combine the flour, cocoa, and baking soda in a large bowl; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the Ener-G egg and vanilla; beat until combined. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and beating well after each addition.
  3. Drop the dough by heaping tablespooons on greased baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.Whoopie Pie (1)
  4. To make the filling, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, ricemellow, vanilla, and cocoa; beat until smooth.Whoopie Pie (2)
  5. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons filling on top of half of the cookies; top with the remaining cookies.
  6. Place the chocolate chips in a bowl, and roll the sides of the whoopie pies in the chips. Delish!

* To prepare the buttermilk, pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice into a measuring cup. Fill with plain unsweetened non-dairy milk to equal 1 cup and let stand for 5 minutes.

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Pasta Shape Up

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Believe it or not, I’m 35 and this was my first attempt at homemade pasta. Because we don’t have a pasta machine, I knew we weren’t going to have a perfect batch, but Travis has adored playing with food and recipes in the kitchen lately, so we cooked up some fun!

First, scoop 2 cups flour into a bowl. We used whole wheat flour, but you can use semolina or regular white flour. Add 1/2 cup warm water, stirring to form a dough – we needed to add a bit more water before our dough was the right consistency.

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To my delight, Travis didn’t hesitate before getting his hands right in there. He loved kneading the dough!

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This was definitely his favorite part of the whole process, carefully working one portion of the dough while I demonstrated kneading techniques for him.

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We set the dough aside to rest for a few minutes (ideally you’ll want about 20 minutes, but that was long for this preschooler), then rolled the dough out as thinly as we could.

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For shaping fun, first we tried bow ties. Cut a 1×2-inch rectangle, and pinch in the center. You can also make tubes by rolling rectangles around a straw.

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More so than shaping, though, Travis just loved playing with the dough. He tried a few raw bites (which he declared yummy!) and pretended he was drinking pasta “juice.” What an imp!

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If you really do intend to eat your pasta, cook it in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, and serve with your favorite sauce.

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Phoneme Week 12: Soft G


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Folks, I’ll admit it: this is the last phoneme we’re going to focus on. Travis understands phonemes solidly by now, and we simply don’t have time to concentrate so hard on one letter pair for a week or more. Instead, we’re going to delve into Usborne’s Starting to Read Pack, which will string together the knowledge Travis has gained on our phoneme journey.

So without much ado, here is a brief rundown of what we did for the soft g sound. As with soft c, we focused just on this specific letter sound, not a letter pair.

Words of the Week:

  • Giant: We started off with a read of Jack and the Beanstalk. Although “giant” isn’t in the title, Travis helped read the word every time it appeared in the text. Next we traced ourselves into giants! Phoneme G (1)Lie down flat on a piece of butcher paper or craft paper and trace your outlines. Phoneme G (2)We made one mommy and one Travis. Then we filled in our clothes and expressions – I was so proud of the face Travis drew on by himself. Our giants hung on the wall for the next couple of weeks. Fee fi fo fum!Phoneme G (5)We also made objects look giant with forced perspective photos; played with a giant alphabet mat; made giant Olympic medals; and used our bodies as giant playing pieces in a life-sized board game.Perspective Photo (2)
  • Gentle: Okay, this was a bit of a stretch, but I emphasized the word gentle while we were pulling gently on our moving dollar trick. We then also talked about other times you need to be gentle, and Travis helped make a great list: petting the cat, rubbing someone else’s arm or cheek, etc.Moving Dollar (2)
  • Gem: We made gem-studded felt crowns and then needed something to do with all the leftover gems! For creative upcycling, we saved the caps from gallons of almond milk, then used tacky glue to adhere the sparkly gems and make milk cap rings. Milk Cap Rings (1)Mommy even tried the rings on for size!Milk Cap Rings (6)
  • Geography: Our Usborne encyclopedia offers a great early lesson on geography. Travis loves hearing the names of different countries and continents.Phoneme G (7)
  • Genius: We covered this word in two books. First up: Big Words for Little Geniuses by Susan and James Patterson. Although not in the title, Travis also helped spot the word genius in a book about Albert Einstein.Phoneme G (6)
  • Germs: We recycled a fantastic old game that never grows old, and provides a visual of how quickly germs spread. Simply sprinkle your child’s hand with glitter. Phoneme G (8)Then shake hands and – oh no! – now mommy or daddy has germs too. This game is sure to elicit giggles, as well as teaching a good lesson.Phoneme G (9)
  • Ginger: First, we got out our cookie cutters to trace, placing emphasis on the gingerbread man shape. (This is – by the way – a fantastic, two-ingredient activity for any time: Set out a basket of cookie cutters and let your little one trace them, then decorate with faces or any other way they’d like). Cookie Cutter Trace (1)For our purposes, we focused on Mr. Gingerbread. Travis tried tracing, and I also made an outline for him to fill in. Cookie Cutter Trace (2)Then we had fun with our sense of smell adding ginger to oatmeal for breakfast!Phoneme G (11) We also read Gingerbread Christmas by Jan Brett.
  • Gelatin: We don’t use the real thing in this household of course, but vegan gel desserts were great for games. First we made homemade stickers. Next up: surprise juice cups and fun with homemade marshmallows, both made possible thanks to “gelatin.”Surprise Juice (4)



Destination: Stamford Museum & Nature Center

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I first read about this museum and nature center in Stamford, CT years ago. It’s a short-enough distance from our home to merit a day trip – as long as I timed things right around traffic – but the opportunity never seemed right to go. When I learned that the center would be hosting a special maple syrup workshop, I booked tickets and drove us the 90 minutes there.

We arrived early so we would have ample time to explore the rest of the nature center before the program began. First up was the museum, which features rotating exhibits.

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Older children will enjoy the well-curated but manageable size of the exhibits, and the nature themes will appeal to younger children. We were just in time for the opening of an exhibit about birds in art!

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Next we headed across the white bridge and pond, both beautiful even in rainy weather!

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I decided then and there that we’ll have to come back in other seasons. This place would be beautiful in summer and autumn! There are nature trails to walk, but our day was a bit too cold and drizzly. There is also a “nature playground” for children to explore, including a kid-sized bird’s nest, but rainy weather preempted the play.

Instead we headed just up the hill to visit resident farm animals, including a shaggy cow Travis fell in love with…

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…guinea hogs…

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…and the biggest horse we’ve ever seen.

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At the top of the hill was the maple syrup house. We not only learned about how the center collects maple sap from the trees on its property…

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but also got to collect our own!

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Kids were fascinated by the maple syrup boiling apparatus.

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In sum, the nature center is a fantastic outing for the kids – you could easily spend several hours here. As mentioned, I would make it a priority in a season other than winter, when children can fully enjoy the outdoor spaces.

Trip Date: February 2018

Ages: All

Useful Links:


Ricotta-Pea Lasagna Rolls

Pea Lasagna

These roll-ups are a cinch to throw together on a busy night, and also tuck easily into a bento box for lunch.


  • Lasagna noodles
  • Frozen peas
  • Kite Hill ricotta cheese
  1. Cook the lasagna noodles in boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the peas and mash with a fork to desired consistency.
  3. Spread each lasagna noodle with a thin layer of the Kite Hill ricotta, and add a layer of peas. Roll up tightly to serve.

Homemade “Marshmallows”

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Okay, so the following recipe won’t really make marshmallows… To achieve that, we probably need to get trendy and try using aquafaba. But really we just had a leftover box of vegan jel dessert in the kitchen and wanted to play with it – Travis has loved the wobbly dessert ever since I amused him with fake juice cups. The result was a goopy sugary mess that he adored eating by the spoonful!

To start, dissolve 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of your favorite vegan “gelatin” dessert in 1/3 cup cold water; let stand for about 10 minutes. We used peach flavor, which meant our “marshmallows” had a peachy tinge.

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Meanwhile, combine 1 and 1/2 cups sugar and 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Add the gel mixture to the sugar, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let boil for 15 minutes, without stirring.

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Remove from heat and cool slightly, then beat with an electric mixer on high speed until frothy. We were under no illusions that our mixture was going to get as thick as a real gelatin mixture would have, but we do love the mixer!

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Pour into a 9×9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray and let stand overnight.

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The dessert won’t set, but it will be wobbly and thick. We dusted the top with 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup powdered sugar before eating it right from a spoon!

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In sum, you’re going to stop eating after a couple of spoonfuls because this is pure sugar, but really the point is to savor moments together in the kitchen. I loved watching Travis whisk, stir, sift, and more. My favorite sous-chef!

Classroom or Naptime Keepsake

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A stuffed friend can make all the difference if your child feels anxious about school, or needs an extra snuggle at naptime. And when your child has a hand in making that stuffed friend, things are even better!

I am no sewer, so this craft was entirely new territory for me, requiring a sheet of cotton canvas from the craft store. First I asked Travis what shape he’d like his comforting keepsakes to be. The first was a small car, which we made small enough to fit in his school backpack. Then we traced a larger free-form shape for naptime, sort of like a cloud, but mostly abstract.

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Cut out your designs (you’ll need two of each, to be the front and back of the stuffie), and paint with fabric paint. This was a fun chance to use our paint roller! Let dry completely.

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You can decorate the keepsakes further before sewing and stuffing. Try gluing on pieces of felt, or coloring with fabric markers. Travis opted for the latter.

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Next it was time to stuff and sew! This meant a special trip to visit grandma and her sewing machine – Travis was ecstatic seeing the machine in action.

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At home, we finished the keepsakes with stuffing; Travis loved helping poke it into the furthest corners.

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He was so proud to set his naptime keepsake on his bed.

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Lastly we tucked the small car stuffie in his backpack, just in case he needs to give it a special squeeze at school.

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Cheesy Broccoli & Split Pea Soup

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This creamy soup might just convince your kids to eat their broccoli… and their split peas, too!


  • 3 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 1 small leek, chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 cups water or low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup green split peas
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup plain unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 and 1/2 cups shredded Daiya cheddar
  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leek and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic.
  2. Add the water or broth, split peas, and black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover, reduce heat, and cook for 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in the broccoli and almond milk; simmer for an additional 10 minutes, covered.
  4. Let the soup cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and process until smooth.
  5. Return the soup to the saucepan and whisk in the cheese. Heat over low heat until the cheese is stretchy and mostly melted.

We like this with a few Gardein chick’n nuggets on the side!

Surprise “Juice” Cups

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The jell-o surprise waiting in these clear plastic cups is sure to delight your kids! It’s a fun way to discuss the difference between liquids and solids, and of course they also get to eat a tasty treat. My favorite vegan “gelatin” dessert is the jel dessert from Simply Delish.

First, I prepared one package of the dessert according to package directions – in this case, dissolving the powder in 1/3 cup cold water, then adding 1 and 1/4 cups boiling water. Make sure you use a flavor with the color of juice! I used raspberry.

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Pour the mixture into clear plastic cups and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.

I called Travis over for a juice snack; that’s a special treat in this household, so he immediately trotted over. Just as he arrived, I pretended to spill one of the cups – oops Except nothing poured out.

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He was instantly delighted and intrigued, and had to test for himself if he could pour out the “juice.” He also wanted to know what it felt like (squishy)…

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…and if he could turn the cups completely upside down.

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He tried drinking through a straw next.

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But of course I had a spoon on hand, knowing the straw wouldn’t work.

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In sum, this game is sure to elicit giggles and delight.

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