Easy Spool Speller

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Here’s a fantastic tool for kids who are learning to read and spell, made out of just a few upcycled items in your home!

Because Travis is a novice speller, I made a speller that featured three letter words, but bigger kids can accept the challenge of four spools!

On the empty spools, I wrote letters in permanent marker. Do try to think strategically for this: I had common beginning consonants on the first spool, vowels on the second, and common ending letters on the third.

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Note: If you’re having trouble with this, download the template from Family Fun magazine’s Dec/Jan 2016 back issue.

Next I threaded the spools onto two pencils. Ideally, your empty spools will have small holes and fit around one pencil; however, I taped two pencils together, since my spools had wider holes. Secure the ends with eraser toppers.

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Now twist and turn to make some words!

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The speller worked in two fantastic ways for Travis. First, I could make a word and have him sound it out. This is great if you switch rapidly from one word to another. So if I have c-o-t it says cot…

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…but if I twist just one spool, we have h-o-t hot.

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More challenging was for Travis to try and make his own word, which he still needed some help with.

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In sum, a great toy, and we’re thinking this will be perfect for car rides!

Up-Down Walking Tour

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As your baby grows more aware of how his or her body moves through space, you can play games that strengthen the notion and help develop balance, too! One fun idea is to give a tour of a visually striking place, playing around with movement and altitudes. For a change of scenery from our house, we headed to a local garden!

Since it’s winter, we made this a trip to a greenhouse instead of an outdoor botanical garden. As we walked around the lush plants and vibrant flowers, I moved Veronika’s body up and down.

Look up at the red fronds.

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Look down for these amazing coffee-colored flowers (mmm, did someone say coffee?).

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Look up to the mango fruit in the tree!

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Look down to this blazing pink flower.

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I even said the words “up” and “down” as we walked, to help build her vocabulary.

To be honest, there was so much to take in that Veronika seemed a little overwhelmed, between the movement and the sights. But the whole family welcomed a trip to see such lush colors in the middle of winter!

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If you don’t have a garden near you, try this up and down “tour” in a house, whether your own home or a historic home in the area. After the greenhouse, we headed inside, to see tall sconces and bookshelves, and low period-piece armchairs and trinkets.

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Make a Splash

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Veronika has officially graduated from the infant tub to a mid-sized option. One clever hack is to place a laundry basket in a full-sized tub so your baby still feels safe and confined. (Bonus points: you can wash bigger kids in the same tub at the same time, this way). I also have an inflatable tub that’s just the right size for a baby until about age 1, and today Veronika moved up.

The nice thing about the new tub is the ability to add little toys to the water. I added not just the classic rubber ducky, but also other farm friends, like a rubber horse, pig, owl, sheep, and cow.

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These seemed to really help Veronika feel comfortable despite the very new bath setting.

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They’re also just the right size for her little hands to hold, and hopefully will soon encourage her to splash and play.

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And simply seeing the bright colors entertained her, as the animals floated around.

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As a reminder, make sure one hand is always supporting your baby’s head, even as you add in these toys, and never leave a baby unattended in the bath. What does your infant play with in the tub? Please share in the comments!

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He’s Got the Whole World

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It was the perfect lazy Sunday morning for some music play with Veronika! Today, I taught her a new song. This particular tune is great not just for melody and instrument play, but also for talking about the members of your family.

First we sang the song with the normal lyrics:

He’s got the whole world in his hands x 4

He’s got the tiny little baby, in his hands x 4

He’s got the whole world in his hands.

He’s got you and me, brother in his hands x 4

He’s got the whole world in his hands.


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I shook instruments like bells and maracas for Veronika as I sang, and offered her the chance to hold and shake these, too.

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Next came singing the verses about the people closest to her. We sang “He’s got Travis and Veronika in his hands…” and “Mommy and Daddy in his hands…” and mentioned grandparents and even our cat!

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Songs like these are great for building familiarity names of those your child will interact with the most. Plus fun simply for singing!

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French Almond Cakes

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Travis and I were eager to try the bonus recipe from his French Cafe Raddish Kids, but the recipe relies heavily on 3 egg yolks. We set out to veganize it, using two different “yolk” methods, and were thrilled with the results.


  • 2 tablespoons Ener-G egg replacer
  • 3 tablespoons warm water, divided
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons melted Earth Balance butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 raspberries
  1. In a large bowl, mix the Ener-G powder with 2 tablespoons water for two “yolks”. Make a flax egg yolk in a second bowl with the flaxseed and 1 tablespoon water. Combine these three “yolks”, and whisk in the powdered sugar.Almond Cakes (1)
  2. Add the butter, vanilla, flours, salt, and baking powder.
  3. Grease 8 muffin cups, and add about 2 tablespoons batter to each cup. Top each with 1 raspberry.Almond Cakes (4)
  4. Bake at 400 degrees F for 12 minutes, until browned at the edges.

We were so pleased with how these came out! They have a subtle almond flavor and great texture. An elegant little bite.

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Play Patty-Cake

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Babies generally can’t clap until they are about 8 or 9 months old, but they sure do love clapping games long before that. Today, we simply played patty-cake, a perennial favorite of parents for good reason. It had Veronika giggling and wide-eyed as I guided her hands through each motion.

As a reminder, here are the words:

Patty-cake, patty-cake, baker’s man

Bake me a cake as fast as you can.

Roll it, pat it, mark it with a [child’s initial]

Put it in the oven for [child’s name] and me!

The first time, I simply said the words and did the actions for her: Clap during the first two lines, roll your hands for “roll it,” pat baby’s tummy on “pat it,” and trace their initial on “mark it.”

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The second time, her hands joined mine – clapping, rolling,  and patting. She looked so excited to be part of the action!

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I also broke my no-screen rule and let her watch a cute cartoon of the song, to increase her familiarity with the tune.

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In sum, this is a fun one to do throughout the day, or at diaper changesdiaper changes!

Design Your Own Palace

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Here’s to another clever lesson plan from Raddish Kids, one that I originally feared would be too advanced for a four-year-old, but which led to great fun and games.

The idea is to start with the Palace of Versailles specifically, and move on to what a palace is more generally. All in connection with the yummy Nicoise salad we cooked, of course.

I introduced Travis to Versailles through a few of the lesson plan’s suggested resources, such as quick videos and online books.

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Now that he had a sense of the place, I asked him what a palace was. We settled on a definition of a “grand residence” that housed a king or queen. (Note: Big kids can be more exact with this definition).

He seemed only mildly interested by the Versailles information, so I was delighted when he immediately stood from the table and said, “Let’s build one!” His preferred medium was magnatiles, and I was thrilled watching his design come together.

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He even added “rooms” inside his palace, since we’d rattled off fascinating facts about Versailles (700 rooms, 60 staircases, and 10,000 residents, oh my!).

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Now we needed to furnish our palace, and we followed Raddish’s suggestion for the youngest kids to make a collage. We went through a home decor magazine and I asked Travis what his palace needed.

He had very definite ideas, everything from a Corinthian column to a kitchen. “We need a fancy kitchen. And we don’t have a fancy stove yet,” he reminded me as we selected photos to cut out.

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We then pasted these down into a collage, which he loved so much we cut out more pictures and covered three sheets of construction paper!

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Finally, it was time for a royal gala. Travis dressed up in a cape and crown (mommy might have donned a second set…) to parade about our royal residence. (Note: Here’s where big kids can do this more as a presentation, and explain their palace to siblings or friends).

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What royal fun!

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Fideos with Chorizo, Spinach, and Chickpeas

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The spice in this Spanish take on noodles will challenge little taste buds just enough. But use a milder sausage if your kids don’t like spicy!


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 6 ounces angel hair pasta
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 vegan spicy sausage links, chopped (such as Field Roast Mexican Chipotle)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup frozen spinach or broccoli rabe
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Break the pasta into 2-inch pieces, and add to the pan; cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. (Note: work in 2 batches, if needed, so that the noodles cook evenly). Remove the noodles from the pan and set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in the pan. Add the onion and sausage; cook for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.
  3. Add the chickpeas; cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the spinach and tomatoes. Return the pasta to the pan, along with the water. Cover and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir, then cover and continue to cook for 5 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Season with the salt, black pepper, and oregano.

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Try On-Site Day Care

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Today’s activity with Veronika was more of a challenge for me than for her – could I leave her in the hands of strangers for about 30 minutes to work out?

This suggestion in my baby activity book was a needed push; three-months-old is a good age to test out time away from your baby. Separation anxiety has yet to set in, and truth be told, I waited far too long before parting ways with Travis, which made separations like nursery school much harder down the line.

So today, I sought out a gym in town where I could exercise for a daily fee, and my daughter could hang out with the other babies!

Here we go! She looked so innocent and trusting as we checked in, little knowing I was about to leave her side for 30 minutes.


But did the world end in the 30 minutes we spent apart? The answer was a refreshing…No! Not only was it nice to be in an adult realm…


…but Veronika did just fine. The excellent caregiver on duty reported she was fine for the first half, and then did get hungry and fussy toward the end. But I had peace of mind knowing that she was in a comforting embrace until my return.

In between, she got to watch other kids play, ranging in age from 9 months to 3 years. I didn’t want to violate the privacy of the other children, else I would have taken many more pics of the great playspace! It had safari-themed structures for bigger kids to climb on, and plenty of toys for the little ones.


Although I won’t necessarily be doing this again any time soon, it’s nice to know it’s an option. So challenge yourself, mamas! Whether it’s a solo workout, or an exercise class, or a dip in the pool, find a gym near you with a daycare center, and enjoy!

Varsity Tummy Time

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Veronika started with basic tummy time, moved on to advanced activities, and now she’s pulling out the varsity moves!

Once your little one is comfortable up on his or her elbows, try these tricks to encourage them to last longer on their bellies, and make the time more enjoyable. Ideally at 3 months old, you should be fitting in about 20 minutes of tummy time daily.

First, I held up one of her favorite toys, just above eye level. This was great for strengthening her neck muscles even further – a big first step before crawling!

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Next, we played games to encourage her to turn her head. Place a baby-safe mirror first on one side…

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then directly in front…

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and finally on the other side. Good turns, Veronika!

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You can also continue to get right on your belly, face-to-face with your baby. This time I made funny faces, puffed out my cheeks, and talked up a storm of encouragement. Don’t be afraid to get silly if it helps your baby stay a few minutes longer!

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Finally, we did another pre-crawling activity. I placed a toy with lots of colors and parts in front of her, but just out of reach. Well hello toy, Veronika seemed to say!

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I placed a rolled blanket behind her feet to encourage her to press her weight against it, and shift forward, pushing ever so slightly.

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She got the idea right away, although she isn’t quite strong enough yet! Later, I actually pushed against her bare feet and did away with the towel, and this seemed even easier for her.

Overall, have fun with tummy time, and your child will be loving it before long. What’s your favorite tummy time game? Please share in the comments!

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