Take a Mini Break

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Today’s activity probably sounds like an easy one to most parents – but it’s the hardest kind for me! It challenged me to take a mini break, not only to help Veronika out as she enters the phase of separation anxiety, but also for me, the caregiver. We tend to forget to take care of ourselves, or quite simply don’t have the time to, but it’s important to remember to take a time-out every now and again.

So I stunned my husband announcing I’d be taking a ten minute break.

I waved bye bye to Veronika, who was playing on daddy’s lap. The goodbye is important here, instead of sneaking away.

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Then I shut the bedroom door, and this is the key; don’t be available for a full 10 minutes. Do something just for you. Here’s the chair where Veronika normally sits when I shower. It entertains her fantastically, but it also means I’m still “on” even during shower time, frequently singing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ from behind the curtain.  So wow, a baby-free shower!

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I had time to read a magazine and pen in a journal.

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Oh wow, this is almost relaxing. Are those my feet, up off the floor?

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I’m exaggerating somewhat, but you get the idea. That ten minute pause was amazing, and then I headed back out with renewed energy for my little one. And Veronika did great in the separation! If your spouse isn’t home, consider this activity with a grandparent or babysitter, and enjoy the pause.

Rainbow Breadcrumb Edible Sensory Tray

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Aside from a simple bowl of cooked pasta, this was Veronika’s first sensory tray, and the first that I truly prepared for her. At this age, edible sensory trays are best, especially when you have a baby like Veronika who puts everything in the mouth.

The prep for this was so fun. Divide a loaf of bread into equal portions – as many portions as you want colors. You can make a full rainbow, but I stuck with the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.

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Place 1/3 of the bread in a food processor and process until you have coarse crumbs. Stir 2 to 3 drops of natural food coloring into 2 tablespoons non-dairy milk. Add to the food processor and pulse until the crumbs are coated.

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Transfer to a plastic bag and let dry out. Repeat for your remaining colors.

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Once the bread had mostly dried, I arranged it on a baking tray for Veronika, and sat her down on a blanket; we were prepared for a mess!

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She knew what to do instantly.

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Little hands pulled up big fistfuls of the crumbs.

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They went right to her mouth, which was precisely the point, so I didn’t have to worry one bit.

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I showed her how to run her hands through so that the colors mixed.

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But mostly she was content to reach in, squish the mixture in her hands, have a nibble, and begin again. This one will keep your baby entertained for ages!

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Edible Parts of the Plant

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To complement a recent Strawberry Shortcake recipe from Raddish Kids, Travis and I had fun with this homeschooling lesson on the various edible parts of a plant.

Ahead of time, I gathered two examples of each of these six plant categories:

  • Roots: carrot and potato
  • Stems: asparagus and celery
  • Flowers: broccoli and flowers
  • Seeds: peas and pinto beans
  • Leaves: spinach and lettuce
  • Fruit: tomato and apple

I hid all of these under a blanket, and called Travis over.

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He was immediately intrigued, of course, checking out the blanket with his hands and using his nose, too, when I invited him to use all his senses. Could he guess what was underneath? Tada! The big reveal.

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I challenged him to put the items into pairs, using whatever criteria made sense to him. This confused him a bit, but he began to match them up. Some he got correct without understanding why; it was easy to see that the spinach and lettuce leaves were similar, for example, or that the tomato and apple were both big and round.

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When he was finished, I shifted his answers around slightly. Aha, the asparagus and celery went together… because they were both the stems of plants. Same for the potato and carrot – both roots!

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I ran through a quick definition of each of the six parts. As a bonus, I asked him why the mushroom was leftover. Aha – a fungus!

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Big kids may want to pause here and make a chart and then brainstorm other foods that fit each of the six categories. But Travis and I hopped right along to the next activity: artwork! We used all of the items to make a picture. I gave him complete free reign, which meant that at first he wasn’t depicting anything, just enjoying the materials. He discovered, for example, that you can pull strings from the celery that glued down nicely.

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Then he got a bit more purposeful. There was a flower rimmed in pinto beans with a celery stem and mushroom center. And orange carrot curls for a sun.

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This, he proudly informed me, was a whale.

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Big kids may want to make a plant with their plants, or perhaps a funny plant person!

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We next checked out a few of Raddish’s suggested links, including a read-aloud of the very funny Tops and Bottoms. As he watched an informative clip about plants, Travis kept running over with tidbits. “Did you know rice is a seed??” I love seeing him so excited about learning!

We next made an art collage of the six plant parts using a grocery store flyer.

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After he cut out all the pictures of fruits and veggies, we talked through where on our collage each item belonged.

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This was also great for sightreading words!

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As a bonus activity, we tested out Raddish’s suggested Kitchen Garden Experiment to regrow food scraps. We read about how plants can stockpile nutrients to keep growing for a short time, provided with water and sunlight, even if they no longer have soil.

I set out three different vegetable scraps for Travis: green onion bulbs, the bottom of a head of celery, and the bottom of a head of romaine lettuce.

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We placed each in a container filled with water and set them on the windowsill. Travis’s hypothesis was that celery would grow fastest.

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Each day we changed the water and observed. It was immediately apparent that green onion grew far faster than the other two.

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After a couple of days, we measured the progress.

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We also drew a picture of what he had observed. Then Travis wanted to eat the green onion, so that was the end of our scientific method!

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There is so much more that older kids can do to learn about plants. Consider cooking a recipe that uses all 6 parts of a plant, or perhaps sprouting seeds.

Symmetry Kiwi Crate

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Kiwi Co dubs Travis’s latest kit the Kaleidoscope Puzzles crate, but more broadly, it was all about symmetry. It was more helpful for me to present it to Travis that way, and he loved the projects and lessons involved!

First, there were two versions of a kaleidoscope to make (which, I explained to him, is a devise that reflects materials in a pattern). The standard Spinning Kaleidoscope was up first. Travis peeled the backing from the rectangular mirrors, folded up the provided cardboard tube, and inserted the mirrors.

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I helped him to make sure that the three mirrors were angled the right way and he peeked inside – it already had a cool effect!

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Next we covered the provided clear wheels with stickers, and saved a few stickers to decorate the outside of the tube.

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Line up one of the sticker-covered circles with the hole in the viewing tube, then insert a brad and a foam bumper to hold it all together.

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Travis peeked inside and was awe struck!

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We had fun spinning it and handing it to each other for quite some time. “Look at this pattern, Mom!” he said in excitement, handing it over. Because the brad easily unfastens, you can switch back and forth between your two sticker-covered wheels.

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Next we tackled the Standing Kaleidoscope. This relies on a mirror placed at different angles to make patterns from whatever is reflected below. Travis again peeled the backing from the mirrors (square ones this time) and inserted them into the mirror book.

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This book then slots into the mirror base, which is helpfully labeled with the number of the angle – good math practice!

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We slipped one of the provided pieces of patterned paper under the mirror book and immediately saw that it turned into a six-figured reflection.

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Moving it out to 90 degree angle meant we only saw the pattern repeat 4 times – neat!

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We tried it with a toy just for fun. “There are three cars!” Travis laughed with delight.

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Your child might enjoy doing this with any number of small toys or coins, and playing around with various angles. The kit also includes lots of extra paper to color in your own patterns, which kept Travis happy for quite some time.

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I reminded him to use lots of color for maximum effect.

The third project was to put it all together in Kaleidoscope Puzzle Games. The kit included foam shapes and puzzle cards, with the challenge to match the design on the card.

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Travis being on the very young age-range for Kiwi Crate needed my assistance with this, but he definitely got the concept. It was easiest for him to think in terms of color, since the shapes were doubled on the puzzle cards (a triangle becomes a diamond, a trapezoid becomes a hexagon etc). But if I prompted him by color, he realized where he needed to lay down an orange piece, a blue piece, etc.

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He was thrilled each time we flipped over the card to reveal the solution. Parents take note: some of these are tricky even for grown-ups!

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Finally, there is a handy travel pouch to store all the pieces, meaning this would make a great game for car trips or vacations! The Explore magazine was full of fascinating tidbits about symmetry in nature (butterflies, zebra stripes).

We also checked out the suggested books, Let’s Fly a Kite by Stuart J. Murphy, and a coloring book on math and patterns (Patterns of the Universe) that he has been incredibly into, insisting we color one page before bed each night!

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I was so proud of Travis tackling this intro to a tricky math concept.

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Imaginative I

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I is generally an easy letter to trace, and Travis enjoys the motions of this letter. But after tracing over it in his workbook, he and I stretched our imaginations to make 3-D versions of the letter!

First, I challenged him to seek out three things in the house that resembled an I. Basically, this can mean anything that’s long and straight.

It took him some wandering around the apartment, but he settled on a straw, a marker, and a piece of celery.

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Other good finds might include a stick, pencil, or asparagus spear!

For lower case i, we needed to be sure to include the dot. A baby carrot plus a grape on top did the trick!

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There are so many cute ways to come up with an i using found objects. What will your child choose? Please share in the comments!

Dressing with a Point

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I’ve always loved to narrate to my children during diaper changes, a moment that’s rife with opportunities for vocabulary-building: I point out the names of each article of clothing; use action words (taking off, putting on); and of course simply get silly to bond with baby. Today’s point was a little different; at eight months old, Veronika is nearly old enough to point, and I wanted to encourage the motion!

To do so, as I named each article of clothing, I also pointed to it. “Shorts,” I said (pointedly of course).

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Veronika didn’t point back, but she did do lots of grabbing for each piece of clothing, which is sort of the general idea.

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I pointed out pajamas…

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And onesies…

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And dresses in the closet.

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Keep repeating this game, and your little one might point before you know it. I think Veronika gets the point, even if she can’t quite mimic the motion yet!


Height H

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Travis and I focused on the letter H today; it’s one of the first that he mastered, so tracing was a no-brainer for this one. But then we played around with the concept of  an h word (“height”) to form both the upper case and lower case.

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First, I set out a variety of Legos in different heights for him. It was up to him to decide how they needed to be combined to form an H, using two longer and one shorter. Hmm, not quite right…

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Next, we played up the concept of height even more by using a ruler for the line of lower case h.

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A sock makes the curve, for a fun final result. He needed no help from me on this one!

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Rocking Horse Ride

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At almost eight months old, it was high time to take Veronika on her first rocking horse ride (or, in our case, a rocking lion!). As long as your little one can sit up unaided, he or she is ready for a ride.

First, I introduced her to the rocking lion.

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She was quite intrigued by this strange new creature!

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Then it was time to saddle up. Even though she can sit unsupported, I made sure to hold her firmly around the waist as she rocked back and forth.

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As you rock, sing fun songs for your little one. I sang “Giddy-Up Whoa Pony!” to her, as well as the gentler “Rock-a-Bye Baby”.

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Don’t be surprised if big siblings want a ride!

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Snake Lengths

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Travis has been quite into snakes lately and today I invited him to make a few from clay. Little did he know that I was sneaking in some math to prevent the “summer slide” with this little project!

First, he remembered that to make a snake coil, he needed to roll the clay between his palms.

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I challenged him to make three different lengths and had him name for me which was long, which was medium, and which was short.

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I suggested we measure the snakes next; of course we needed to check how long the biggest “python” was! First we used a traditional ruler, but then we grabbed other objects from around the house to see how the snakes stacked up.

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Pennies were his favorite; I showed him how to carefully line up the pennies and make sure the line was straight. The big snake was 15 pennies long, medium was 9, and short was only 5.

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We tried paper clips next and found that it was easiest to clip these into a chain so they didn’t slide around during measuring.

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The possibilities here are almost endless. Will you measure your snakes in units of dried beans? Of pasta? Of buttons? Have fun with this one!

Clapping Songs

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Veronika is nearly 8 months old and just yesterday she started… clapping! I was so excited about this milestone, so to encourage the action again today, big brother and I sat down to sing a few clapping songs with her.

First we sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” She sure was happy, but it didn’t inspire her to repeat the gesture from the day before.

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Next up was “Patty Cake”, an old favorite. Again, she smiled but just listened.

Then we sang this silly, sort of tuneless ditty:

Clap, clap, clap your hands

Clap along with me

Clap, clap, clap your hands

Until it’s time for tea.

Well this got her clapping! She was so quick with her movements that my camera only ever captured the hands clasped, not the full motion. But she was doing it!

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(Note: Repeat this ditty with “stomp your feet”, or “pat your knees” to encourage the next milestone movement).

Veronika also loves to clap hands after knocking down block towers, so Travis and I were happy to oblige.

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You can even see a quick clip of it about 4 seconds into this video.

When did your little one start clapping? Please share in the comments about this fun milestone.