Build Science Skills

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The title of this post is meant quite literally; to build your child’s science and engineering skills, help them… Build! For a long time, Travis has enjoyed playing with Lego figures, but preferred to leave the actual building to me. I’ve been thrilled then to see a difference in his Lego play lately, insisting he do each step himself and learning to read and follow the diagrams in each instruction booklet.

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Yet while there’s nothing wrong with building a Lego exactly according to plan, you can give things a STEM twist by building off-book. I set out a bunch of Travis’s Lego pieces and challenged him to make a bridge. How wide could he make it go?

At first he wanted it to span from a stool to a side table, but he quickly realized that the distance was too great.

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Dialing back expectations, he moved them closer together an next puzzled out how to build up supports, then started laying the longest pieces across the gap. Black rectangles helped piece it all together.

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We encountered a glitch when the table was lower than the stool. Thinking quickly, I helped him build up a base for extra height on that end. Success!

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He was so proud of this construction, and continued to build a structure around the base of the bridge. When it tumbled to the ground at one point, I was so proud that he didn’t grow frustrated and used it as a chance for improvements.

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Any Lego engineering challenge like this will work those STEM skills. Consider asking your child to build the tallest tower he or she can, or seeing if a bridge or roof can support a weight like a toy ball. Happy building!

 

Nordic Cinnamon Buns

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Known as kanelbullar in Scandinavia, these twisted cinnamon rolls were the first recipe from Travis’s Swedish Eats Raddish Kids. What a sweet start these give to a weekend brunch!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup oat milk
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 packet instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons melted Earth Balance butter
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. To prepare the dough, heat the oat milk in the microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the milk and canola oil, stirring to form a dough.Nordic Cinnamon Buns (1)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth. Raddish always gifts us with the most wonderfully workable dough, neither too sticky nor too floury!
  4. Roll the dough until you have a rectangle that measures 8 inches x 20 inches. Don’t worry if you get a tear or two; you can easily patch this dough from a thicker portion.
  5. Brush the melted butter over the dough. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the dough.
  6. Fold the dough in half, then use a pizza cutter to cut into 8 strips.Nordic Cinnamon Buns (2)
  7. Working with one portion at a time, twist the strip, then fold into a knot and tuck the ends under (almost like a soft pretzel shape). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
  8. Let rise for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can stop here, cover the dough, and let rise overnight in the fridge).Nordic Cinnamon Buns (3)
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 17 minutes. Immediately transfer to a platter and dust with 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, if desired,

Travis was a huge fan! As a fun bonus, Travis learned a bit about Scandinavia and a few Swedish words on the recipe card.

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Popsicle Stick Drop

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Coordination, learning colors, and the endless surprise of watching a stick disappear and then reappear; this game has it all for toddlers!

As prep, simply use masking tape to attach an empty paper towel tube to a wall. I recommend using multiple strips of tape for extra security. I then provided Veronika with craft sticks to drop into it and placed a bucket at the bottom to catch them. That’s it!

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The game will have the most visual appeal if you use a rainbow assortment of craft sticks (which you can purchase already colored at the craft store).

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It took Veronika a few tries watching me release a stick into the tube before she realized she needed to release her grip to achieve the same affect. And then she was hooked!

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Of course toddlers will also just love playing around with the sticks in the bucket at the bottom.

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For a touch of color learning, I sorted the sticks for her into different colored piles. Needless to say, they didn’t stay sorted for long!

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Creamy Pasta Salad

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A creamy dressing is a nice way to dress up pasta, making this one appeal to the whole family!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy ranch or goddess dressing
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 and 1/2 cups rotini pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 cup quarter cherry tomatoes
  1. In a bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, dressing, milk, vinegar, and mustard. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta and carrots in boiling water for about 7 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and the carrots are tender. Drain.
  3. Add the pasta mixture to the bowl with the dressing, along with the cucumber and tomatoes.

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Contact Collage

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Sticky contact paper might just be the perfect medium for art projects with toddlers; everything sticks instantly but there’s no glue required (i.e. no mess and no drying time). This particular project also incorporates great ways to talk about shapes, build vocabulary, and more.

To start, I taped a piece of contact paper up to the wall, and peeled off the backing so the sticky side faced Veronika. You can make this surface as small or as large as you want. Feel free to cover the full length of a wall! Veronika trotted over and was quite curious about the way the paper stuck to her fingertips.

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I gave her a pile of things to stick up on the paper, including pictures cut from magazines and fabric scraps in various textures, everything from soft cotton to bumpy burlap to fuzzy felt.

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She immediately began sticking things up, declaring, “Sticker, sticker!”

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I let her select which items to put on where. The magazine pictures interested her far more than the fabric to begin with, and I said the name of each item (“dog!”) as she applied it.

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For a little learning, I cut some of the fabric scraps into squares and others into triangles. I also pointed out the different textures as she hung them, using descriptive words for how each one felt.

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She was so proud arranging and rearranging her canvas. Although the magazine pictures were stuck in place, the fabric could be pulled off and moved elsewhere.

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My girl looked so big, standing at her artwork. This one really made me feel like I have a toddler, no longer a baby.

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What a masterpiece!

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Crumple Crazy

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Glue + crinkly tissue paper? This art project is a toddler’s dream come true!

To make a glue solution that isn’t quite so sticky, I first mixed a little white glue with a splash of water in each compartment of a paint tray. This turned into a nice solution that was just sticky enough, but wouldn’t immediately do damage if Veronika got it on her hands or face.

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She was wild about dipping a paint brush into it! I showed her how to smear the gluey mixture over cardboard. (Note: Use any piece of cardboard from packaging for this project, or an old cereal box, or even sturdy construction paper).

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Next, I tore off pieces of white tissue paper and showed her how to crumple them into little pieces. These could stick perfectly onto her gluey cardboard. Could we hide all the glue?

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It turns out that she loved lifting off the crumpled pieces, pulling them off the sticky surface and then putting them right back on again. Or tossing them to the floor!

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Once there had been enough sticky glue play, the fun continued with extra tissue paper on the ground. Shake the pieces overhead, or crumple them close to the ear and talk about the sound it makes.

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I thought for sure she would want to tear the tissue paper up, but that didn’t interest her. Instead, we crumpled them into tight balls that were great for tossing… and kicking!

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How will your toddler play with tissue paper? Please share in the comments!

Doll Up Storytelling

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Travis has such an imagination, a beautiful thing to foster in children, especially when it comes to understanding narrative and how to build a story. Lately, Travis has bemoaned that he’s not sure what to play with his action figures, having run through the usual games. To engage those storytelling muscles, I pulled out this neat activity.

We filled a box with a few odds and ends from around the house, the more random the better, including toy food, swords, real avocado, and sunglasses.

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Next we made a pile of a few action figures, everyone from Star Wars characters to ninja turtles to superheroes. (Note: This game works equally well with dolls or stuffed animals, whatever friends your child plays with the most!).

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Travis and I took turns first selecting a character and then giving him or her an item from the object box. We then took turns narrating the next part of our story based on the character and item.

Things rapidly got very silly, of course, including energy smoothies drunk before battle…

 

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…sunglasses to shield off an attack…

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…and laser-blasting keys.

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Once the bin was empty, we immediately filled it with a new set of objects to continue the tale.

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Hopefully a game like this keeps your kids busy the next time they’re tempted to say, “I don’t know what to play!”

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Tea Party Dough

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Veronika adores her two dollies these days (or as she happily says, “Baby!”). So I thought today I’d set up a tea party for her and the dolls. This super-sugary dough can really be eaten, adding a new dimension to the pretend party!

To prepare the dough, stir together 1 cup almond butter (or peanut butter), 1 cup corn syrup, 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar, and 1 and 1/2 cups powdered milk. For a vegan alternative to the milk, I used a bag of vanilla protein powder I had on hand, which worked perfectly as a substitute. The dough comes together great, neither sticky nor gooey!

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I set out tea cups and plates and made sure to serve everyone.

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Veronika immediately leaped into the pretend play, helping to feed the dollies.

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She was quite pleased when she realized the dough tasted delicious.

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Candles were a wonderful addition to our play. I showed her how she could put them in the dough. It was far more fun to pull them out, of course.

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And she tried to feed the candles to the dollies as little treats!

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We also used cookie cutters, pressing fun shapes into the dough.

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In sum, I love that she’s now at an age where sensory play and imaginative play are starting to intersect.

Bucket of Balls

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While big brother and I were playing math games with balls, I tailored some ball play to Veronika. The set-up? Just grab a bucket and fill it with a variety of balls; that’s it!

From there, I had no agenda for her (like past games that worked on gross motor skills or vocab) but was interested instead to see what she would be inspired to do with this simple set-up.

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First she dug through, pulling out the balls in turn. Then it was so much fun to upend the bucket and watch the balls go rolling.

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I helped her scamper after the balls so we could add them back in one at a time with a “plink”!

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Of course the bucket itself was a toy, too.

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As she played, I did chime in with a few words about the texture of each ball. Some were squishy, some were hard, and there was lots of color variation to discuss, too.

The bumpy one on her belly was the most fun of all!

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Have a Ball with Math

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Travis has shown a keen interest in numbers and basic math lately. So today we had a ball (literally!), playing games that played around with numbers and worked his gross motor skills.

First up, we played backwards toss. Toss a ball back and forth, but instead of counting up each catch, count down. This is a great way to introduce the idea of subtraction, even before a child is ready for equations. Touchdown!

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Next we returned to counting up, but used skip counting. He loved grasping how the numbers went from 5 to 10 to 15 to 20 and so forth up to 100. Plus I noticed improvement in his hand-eye coordination even over the course of a few rounds!

After school, we played a kicking game. I cut three holes in a piece of cardboard, each hole worth different points, again using skip-counting by 5s.

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Travis was in charge of the tally!

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I showed him how to make tally marks in bundles of 5, which we then totted up to find out our final scores.

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Score one for the math team!