Gummy Ocean Vacation

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This snack idea from Highlights magazine is pure summertime fun! We adapted it slightly for our vegan family, and Travis loved the results.

Prepare 1 package of orange-flavored vegan jel dessert (such as Simply Delish) according to package directions. Pour a layer into clear glasses and chill for at least 1 hour, until firm. This will be your beach “sand”.

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Prepare 1 package of clear vegan jel dessert according to package directions. Add drops of blue food coloring a few at a time until desired color is reached.

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Cool slightly, then pour a layer over the orange dessert. Let chill and set for at least 1 hour.

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Now for the real fun! Top your “ocean” with a little swimmer. We used peach gummy rings from Smart Sweets as life preservers and vegan gummy bears from Whole Foods.

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Travis absolutely adored watching his bear go for a swim.

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These were arguably more fun to play with than to eat… but good for eating, too!

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Rearrange Your Kitchen Cupboards

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If you’re having trouble making meals (or cleaning up after them) with a baby around, then it’s time to rearrange one of your cupboards!

When Travis was little, I used to keep an entire bin full of Tupperware and other safe items (small loaf pans, spatulas, various gadgets) that I could pull out for him.  Today I made a simplified version of that for Veronika, clearing out one cabinet and filling it with our motley collection of food containers.

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She was thrilled! You could just tell she was so proud that she got to rifle through mommy’s kitchen.

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There was immediately lots of reaching, bouncing (which is how you know she’s happy), and tapping the items against the cabinet.

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This is also a quick opportunity to use language about putting things in and taking things out.

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She gazed at me as if to say, “Mom, I’m helping out in the kitchen today!”

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Don’t be surprised if big siblings want to join in (although Travis preferred metal items to plastic ones).

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I also filled a small cardboard box with a few items for her to scoop up, including pom poms and soft balls.

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This little busy box added fun variety.

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In sum, having a child-safe cabinet will keep your whole crew busy while you cook!

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Bugs vs. Birds

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To slip some subtle math and science into your child’s next summer nature walk, turn it into a tally hunt for bugs and birds. I told Travis we’d be counting both, and asked him whether he thought he would find more birds or bugs. He quickly replied birds, but then thought about it for a moment; we passed a bunch of flowers, already teeming with five bees. “Bugs!” he guessed.

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To prepare a little scientific notebook, print out a picture of a bug and a bird, and tape or glue down to notebook paper. Now you can tally as you walk.

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This will also be a great lesson on tallying and making marks in groupings of 5 (good for skip-counting!).

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As we walked, Travis sometimes forgot to count, since there was so much else to see. Eventually we decided he would look out for bugs, and I was in charge of birds.

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It quickly became apparent that bugs were far more abundant…so much so we eventually stopped our tally at around 35. Although hard to see, the picture above shows two beautiful dragonflies perched on a limb.

In short, this game is a great way to get your little one noticing nature on a closer scale, as well as to think about the differing populations of species within an area.


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Tessellations are geometric patterns that perfectly fill an area with no overlaps. I remember making them using a computer program back in middle school, and marveling at the way the patterns could rotate or connect. Here is a highly simplified version that even a kindergartner can grasp, which can gently introduce your child to the concept.

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To make your tessellation, draw a line along one edge of a post-it with marker, in any shape, as long as the line extends from corner to corner.

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I had to help Travis a bit with this slightly odd instruction.

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Cut out along the marker line, then tape that piece onto the front of the post-it. Your tessellation is ready to go!

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Now trace this in a line across a piece of paper.

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Once you’ve filled in the paper, color each portion, ideally in a pattern.

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Travis did great careful work to color within the lines, and thought the final result looked a bit like the scoots on a turtle shell!

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Osmosis vs. Diffusion

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The final lesson plan to go with Travis’s Backyard BBQ Raddish Kids kit was quite scientific and a little over a five-year-old’s head. But thanks to two yummy experiments, even my kindergartner could keep up with the concepts involved.

First, I came to the table with a cup of clear hot water and a tea bag. I put the tea in the cup and asked Travis what he observed happening. “It’s turning golden,” he noticed.

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I agreed, and more specifically told him he was seeing diffusion: molecules moving from an area of high concentration (close together) to low concentration (further apart). This actually wasn’t too foreign an idea for him, since he loves a book about Albert Einstein pondering molecules.

Explain to your child that osmosis is a specific case of diffusion, having to do with the movement of water molecules. Two suggested clips on diffusion and osmosis helped Travis understand a bit better, though to be honest, this part was over his head. To make it more accessible, you can give examples of each. Diffusion might mean:

the aroma you smell from a cake baking

food coloring dispersing in water

Osmosis might be:

wrinkled fingers in a bathtub

rehydrated dried fruit

Now it was time to experiment! For diffusion, I asked him what he thought would happen to a scent if we trapped it inside a balloon. Would we be able to smell it? His hypothesis was yes! We carefully added a few drops of vanilla extract to a balloon.

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Inflate the balloon and tie the end into a knot. Place it in a closed box and let rest for 10 minutes or so.

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When we lifted it out, the box smelled a bit like vanilla; in other words, the scent had diffused. The result was subtle, which I think underwhelmed Travis.

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You may want to leave your balloon inside longer, or put more vanilla in it, to wow your kids with the results.

Next up: osmosis! For this one, we tested out the affect on gummy bears of being in plain water, salt water, and no water.

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We filled out the provided chart with his guess for the results. After some prompting about those plump rehydrated raisins, he was able to surmise what might happen.

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Big kids can really get scientific with this, filling in measurements before and after for color, length, width, thickness, and mass.

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For the set up, you’ll need three clear jars. The first simply received a gummy bear. The second had the bear plus 1/2 cup plain water. The third had the gummy in a saturated salt solution; add 1 teaspoon salt at a time to 1/2 cup water until no more will dissolve.

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We left them overnight, then checked in on the bears the next morning! Again, the results were a bit underwhelming, which may have been the vegan gummy bears we were using. But our plain water one looked a bit more plump, and our salt one looked a bit scrunched.

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Well, if all else fails, you can watch this osmosis rap video!

Wonderful W

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Ok, we didn’t make W with any materials that begin with the letter, but Travis had good fun tracing and crafting this letter-of-the-day.

He loved discovering that double-u actually is more of a double-v. As he traced, we said, “down, up, down, up,” which served as a good reminder once the tracing line was removed.

This verbal cue also helped once we set out to make 3-D versions of the letter.

First up was markers! He positioned them as two v’s (down, up, down up) and so was able to see how the four markers should come together.

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Next, we used two pairs of pants, as we did a few weeks back for the letter M.

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Again thinking about “down, up, down up”, he was able to position them correctly.

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Baby’s First Tunnel

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Do you find yourself trying to encourage a budding crawler these days? Then make the temptation irresistible with a tunnel!

Right now, eight-month-old Veronika loves leaning forward to get to her toys, and my hope was that creating a tunnel archway would encourage her into a true first crawl. First, I tried to entice her with an open box.

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Hmm, the box looked interesting, and got lots of smiles.

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But she didn’t actually try to crawl through it.

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Next up was a mommy tunnel! This definitely got her attention.

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She played with my feet at first, but then made moves to go through the archway. Still, she gave up after a few tries reaching for a toy on the other side.

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This is also a great game for getting siblings involved, who may want to make a leg tunnel, or perhaps do a backbend and see if baby goes through that way! We’re hoping to have a true crawler soon!

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Story Time with a Twist

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Story time is so important even with the littlest babies, but you may find at around eight months old that your baby is far more interested in chewing on the pages or playing with toys than paying attention to the words. This has definitely proven to be the case with Veronika, so today I made story time a bit more interactive, thanks to the help of a few stuffed animal friends!

How is it that babies amass such huge collections of stuffed animals? I’m not sure I’ve ever bought one, but through gifts, prizes, and more, we have quite a little community.

I pulled out a few and narrated a story. Veronika and her friend frog woke up and decided to go on an adventure through the forest.

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They set off for the forest, but a big noise made them stop. They looked around and heard a growl. But it was only their friend bear, who wanted to say hello. Hello bear!

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They kept walking and saw a stick move. It was their friend snake! Hisss, snake said.

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I had a few more creatures meet her and frog on the journey before the story ended and everyone went home for lunch.

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Veronika was delighted at all the colors and soft stuffies to hug, whether or not she was listening to the “story”.

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Next, I grouped some of her stuffed animals by category. Since we have a lot of dogs, I made up few stories around this puppy “family.” First, one puppy was lost, oh no!

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Could Veronika help mommy dog find her puppy? Hurrah, a family reunion. Next, the puppies went for rides in cars…

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…and then we had a story about a stuffed animal parade.

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Later in the day, we continued the fun with a “birthday party” for a few stuffed animals. I set them up with pretend food and sang the happy birthday song.

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Veronika loved this “story”!

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In sum, you can involve stuffed animals as actors in your baby’s story time in so many ways. What will your animals do next? Climb a hill? Go on a journey? It’s a little different than reading a book and will engage your little one’s imagination and senses.

Hooray for Helpers

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The Gallant challenge in Travis’s Highlights magazine this month was about thanking community helpers, the people who make a community run smoothly and safely. The magazine offered several ways to thank these helpers, but Travis had already done many of these activities! We’ve thanked librarians, brought brownies to our local fire station, and given cards to the mailman.

So for something new, he chose to honor the construction workers in town! The town happens to have a big project laying new pipe along an entire road, and we see the workers out in the hot sun every day. So I knew water would go a long way.

At breakfast, Travis put together a thank you card.

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I was so proud of him writing the words himself, then a drawing two construction workers beneath a hot sun. On the inside, I penned a more proper “thank you for all you do,” signed Travis age 5.

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Our original intent was to leave the water while the crew was at work, but it turns out the timing was always at odds with Travis’s camp hours. So we left the water where we were sure they’d see it the next morning, along with the note and cups.

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This was a great way to get Travis thinking about those who do the hard work in a town and to give back.

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Outdoor Peekaboo

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Parents, let’s not forget the original purpose of peekaboo: to help a child remember that even when you disappear for a moment, you always come back! So here’s a fun outdoor variation on the game, in case you’re tired of hiding your face behind your hands at home.

While in the park, I first hid my face behind a big straw sunhat.

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Peekaboo! Veronika was immediately delighted.

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After a few rounds like this, I knelt down beside a picnic bench. I stayed where she could just see the tip of my head and she leaned forward eagerly from her stroller.

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Peekaboo! This was rewarded with huge smiles.

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She liked our final version best of all. I went behind the trunk of a nearby tree. Say peekaboo first from one side…

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…then the other.

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It was so fun to see her delight! Veronika loved guessing which side I would pop out from next. In sum, this easy game will take your next park stroll to the next level, for parent and baby both. You can try lots of variations, too, popping out from an umbrella, a playground slide, etc.

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