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Veronika is walking! Okay, maybe my girl can’t do so on her own yet, but holding on to her dolly stroller, nothing stands in her way.

To add some sensory fun to her new-found ability, I laid down a texture obstacle course for her today. Gather up a variety of different materials in your house and lay them in a line on the floor. Beginning walkers can simply toddle across. For Veronika, I set up her stroller at one end, and she instantly began pushing her way across.

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There was a soft fluffy blanket to start…

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…and then her little feet passed onto the nubby texture of a rubber floor mat.

I added in variety with cozy flannel and a velvet-like dress-up cape.

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Perhaps most surprising for her little feet was a sequined dress at the end.

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She sat down and let her little toes play on this one!

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If your child is already talking, encourage him or her to describe how each material feels. For Veronika, I simply narrated as she walked. Off she goes!

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Bathroom Exploration

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You might think of the bathroom as a fairly boring room, but for your baby, it’s fascinating. Just think of all the things to hear, touch, and see! Today, I set aside some time just to explore the room with Veronika.

We started with toothpaste of course, because that tube just begs to be squeezed. I set out a layer of paper towels so she could do this with no mess, and then we squeezed onto an old toothbrush. Let your baby smell the minty scent or feel the toothbrush bristles.

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Next I sat her on the counter. Of course there’s the fun of mirror reflections. She’s learning to wave, so loved saying hello to the baby in the mirror! I let her choose objects to touch, including soft tissues to pull from the box.

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Then I washed her hands under warm running water. Rub-a-dub-dub! Rinse off and towel dry for that nice sensation.

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Next up: the shower! Turn on the water, either in a shower or tub. We watched the water swirl down the drain together.

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And now the most splashy fun of all: flush the toilet a couple of times. She was entranced watching the water swirl down, even though the noise startled her a little.

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In sum, your baby will find delight in even the most mundane parts of the house. This turned out to be a great sensory experience.

Vegetable Barley Casserole

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Cooking barley in the oven, almost like an oven-baked risotto, makes a no-brainer out of this warm fall casserole.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 3 and 1/4 cups water, divided
  • 3 carrots
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  1. Wash the kale and remove the stems from the leaves. Place the leaves in a blender, along with 1/4 cup water, and pulse until you have a paste. Set aside.
  2. Peel and dice the carrots. Dice the onion.
  3. Meanwhile, bring the remaining 3 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the bouillon cube and stir until it dissolves.
  4. Combine all of the ingredients in a 3-quart casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 75 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.

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The kale will have formed a green layer on top; give it a big stir and reveal the perfectly cooked barley underneath. Yum! If you want to add a little extra protein, stir in cooked and chopped Gardein chick’n strips.

Fruit Ripening Science is Bananas

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Just before Halloween, Travis made Boo-Nana Bread form Raddish KidsSpooky Kitchen crate. Now we’re finally getting around to the fruit-ripening science lesson attached to it!

Before anything else, we needed to set in motion an experiment that would take 5 days. I purchased a bunch of (fairly) green bananas at the grocery store, as well as a few riper ones.

Ask your child to describe the differences they notice between the ripe and unripe bananas. Travis pointed out the obvious color difference, first. A little probing helped him go deeper: the ripe ones were softer, and smelled sweeter.

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I asked him if a banana needed anything other than itself to ripen. Somehow he knew it needed air (oxygen). Smarty pants!

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But for scientific backup to this hypothesis, we experimented by placing the following:

  • 1 green banana out on the counter
  • 2 green bananas in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 1 green banana and 1 ripe banana (for ethylene) in a paper bag, folded up tight
  • 2 green bananas in a sealed plastic bag
  • 1 green banana wrapped in layers of plastic wrap

That last was Travis’s favorite, pretending we were making a banana mummy!

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Meanwhile, it was time for a little science behind the lesson. I set out two plates for him, one featuring non-climacteric fruits i.e. they do not ripen after picking. Raddish provided a long list to choose from, and our plate included: a bell pepper, blueberries, cucumber, orange, and yellow squash.

The second plate had climacteric fruits i.e. ones that do ripen after picking. This plate held an avocado, a pear, and a mango.

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“Can I eat it,” he asked right away of the mango. “Is it ripe?” At first he was stumped about how I had categorized them, guessing I had sorted them by color. But hmm, why wasn’t the cucumber on the green plate?

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I loved watching him really ponder this! I guided him back to his very first comment about the mango. Was it ripe? Now he understood that one plate held fruits we needed to wait for; the other plate was fruits that wouldn’t ripen further after picking.

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Time to explore! I let him have at the food just for fun. He loved peeling the squash and taking little nibbles of it, plus practicing his knife skills on the bell pepper…

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…and crunching into the cucumber for a big bite.

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He decided to wait until the mango was riper before peeling it. Good choice! Plus he gave the unripe avocado a big squeeze and it was solid as a rock.

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Five days later, we finished with a little more science now that we had our banana results. Our finding weren’t quite as promising as hoped, likely because I had to start with green bananas on the verge of yellow and a yellow banana on the verge of green, based on what the grocery store had to sell. But we still could see that the countertop banana was the brownest/ripest and the plastic bag bananas had retained the most green.

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Interestingly, our plastic-wrapped banana had gotten quite ripe, so we must not have made the “mummy” tight enough.

The green bananas in the paper bag had ripened faster than the ones in plastic, since the porous paper gives them access to oxygen. But the one that also enjoyed the company of a ripe banana had both oxygen and extra ethylene, so that was riper still.

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Enough science; as it turns out, leftover bananas are lots of fun to play with, even for little sister!

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We enjoyed one final video of a similar experiment done with supermarket food. If your kids loved the banana experiment, try out an avocado one!

Travis and I also decided to check out the suggested book Science Experiments You Can Eat, by Vicki Cobb. We read through a couple of the experiments, but didn’t actually put any to the test.

Acorn Animal Craft Challenge

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Travis’s craft challenge from Highlights this month was to make little animals using nothing more than acorns, wiggle eyes, and paint.

We collected a whole bunch of acorns (about 20) from oak trees nearby, which was no easy feat in 10 degree weather!

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Inside, I asked him what colors he wanted to paint, thinking about what animals he might end up with. He opted for gray, so we mixed black and white together. Because he didn’t want to get his fingers messy on the small acorns, I held them while he painted.

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For variety, we made a few pink acorns as well.

Once the paint dried, we glued together a few simple creatures. The stems on the acorn caps made us think of curly pig tails, so two pinkish acorns were glued together as pigs. Travis glued on the googly eyes, although the large size of the eyes made it hard for them to stick while the glue dried.

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The gray acorns made us think of little owls, who also received eyes.

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If Travis were older, I would have encouraged him to paint on little feathers, but I knew that sort of fine detail was too much for him. In sum, a cute project but not our favorite craft challenge to date.

Autumn Potpourri

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How can you keep the house cozy for your kids when an early winter blast comes barreling through in November? Set this heavenly-scented potpourri to a simmer on the stove, and the whole house will be hygge in no time.

I gave Travis a quick reminder of what potpourri is before we set to work: any fragrant mixture of plant materials, like herbs, spices, fruits, flowers, or wood. Simmering the mixture on the stove gives a stronger scent than dry potpourri in a bowl, plus it adds moisture to dry air!

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Travis loved helping me slice up an orange to start. We added the orange slices to a saucepan, then added:

  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

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Take the time to make this a sensory activity, too. Travis loved smelling the spices, and even licking an extra cinnamon stick!

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Add water to the pot until it’s about 2/3 full. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simply let simmer. If the pot runs low on water, add more as needed. We kept ours on a gentle simmer all evening and hardly noticed the cold knocking at the windows!

 

Decorating Pancakes

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Anyone who follows this blog knows I love to cook with my kids, and I firmly believe in getting kids into the kitchen from the earliest age. It’s truly never too early; today Veronika helped me decorate pancakes, and she’s not quite 13 months old!

Okay, technically this was more of a sensory play activity than a real recipe, but we sure had fun. First, I whipped up a batch of pancakes. You can make some from scratch with your favorite recipe, but I took a shortcake with Cherrybrook Kitchen’s vegan and gluten-free mix. Veronika loved playing with extra measuring cups while I mixed the batter.

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For extra learning, I cooked the pancakes in heart- and star-shaped molds so I could talk about shapes with Veronika. Regular circles are just fine too, though!

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I set the pancakes down on the floor on paper plates along with a few pouches of baby food. Look for bright colors like pinks and reds for this activity.

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Veronika only needed me to demonstrate once before she was eagerly “decorating” her pancakes. She proudly pressed the spout of the pouch down on the pancakes, and I think even tried to say “squeeeeze” back to me.

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Of course there was the necessary tasting, too. Veronika: meet pancake.

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And the pouch itself got a sip or two.

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I had fun decorating right alongside her, creating a make-believe bakery game.

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When you’re done, you have breakfast or snack built right in to your day. Or if the pancakes get very mushy from all that baby food on top, just consider this a sensory play activity and it’s still a win-win.

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Even the wax paper we had on the floor for easy clean-up was fun!

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You’ll notice that I had Veronika do the activity without a shirt, which seemed the safest way to avoid stains. Plus, I love that little buddha belly these days!

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Tofu Avocado Spread

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Tofu can be too dry for babies if just cubed or sauteed in oil. This avocado spread is the perfect way to make it creamier. You’ll sneak in protein, potassium, calcium, and more!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup firm tofu
  • 1/2 ripe avocado, mashed
  • 1/4 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mash with a fork until desired consistency is reached.

Toddlers might enjoy this best spread on whole wheat toast. My baby prefers to pick up big handfuls of it plain!

Do I Have a Story For You

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Veronika will not sit still for storytime, despite enticements like forts and cozy nooks; if your one-year-old is anything like mine, then you probably end up reading a book out loud while he or she scoots off to play!

So I’ve been looking for creative ways to weave storyteling into our day; it’s been a fantastic reminder that stories aren’t just in book. There is oral storytelling, too.

Take a day and practice using the moments around you as prompts for stories. Chances are you have lots of them stored in your memory, of things that have happened to you, whether factual or embellished. The more you dig, the easier this activity gets.

For example, the rain this morning had me remembering the time I ran through the streets of a French town in a warm summer rain to make it back to my hotel.

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I told her the story as we drove, and she soon was babbling back. The point isn’t for your baby to understand the words, but to share these experiences and practice listening to language.

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At the library, we paused before a mini diorama. I could use this to start a make-believe story of what was happening in the room… and also tell her the story of how I remembered looking at the same diorama as a little girl.

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Quilts have stories that will stir your memories…

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….and toys have stories that will stir your memories. How about that time I had a party at a pizza parlor when I was six!

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In fact after a day of consciously doing this activity I loved it so much that I hope to make it a ritual as we drive in the car!

 

Make Sunrise Special

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I’m an extreme early bird, and yet even I want to pull the covers over my head sometimes on cold mornings when my kids are up before sunrise. Those covers sure look inviting for just a little extra snuggle time!

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But I want to start the day on the right foot for my little ones, so I have a few tricks to make sunrise special. These little routines not only help me wake up, but also help them start the day on the proverbial right side of the bed.

Step 1: Open the curtains. Let in the light, even if it’s a tiny bit! Watch the light change from deep blue to pale gray, until pink and orange are in the sky. Plus, curtains are fun; Veronika never tires of running her hands up and down the slats, so that has become part of our morning ritual.

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Step 2: Have a dance party. You can’t go wrong with a light-up speaker and music while mommy puts in her contact lenses.

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Step 3: Listen to a sunrise chant. Tune in to a beautiful Native American sunrise prayer on YouTube and have these sounds in the background as the room moves from dark to light.

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Step 4: Have a special breakfast. “Special” doesn’t mean a complicated recipe (here’s Veronika having some almond milk yogurt and waffles); it just means sitting down together and taking a pause, even when you have to get everyone dressed and ready for the day.

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Step 5: Get moving! If it’s warm enough, go outside for a stroll. If it’s cold, be silly and have a sunrise stroll indoors!

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Older kids may also love reading stories or myths about the sun, which you can weave into breakfast time.

How do you make sunrise special? Please share in the comments!