Dirt Balls

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This was my first recipe not just for Veronika, but with Veronika! Yes, even a 16 month old can help in the kitchen, given a simple enough task. In this case, I involved her hands-on during several steps, including crushing graham crackers in a zip-top bag with a rolling pin, rolling sticky balls of dough, and more.

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During steps that she couldn’t help with, I sat her in the high chair with a few ingredients to sample. She loved nibbling on graham crackers and putting raisins in and out of a snack-sized box!

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For the actual recipe, you’ll need the following:

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup vanilla-flavored vegan protein powder
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
  1. In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, agave, protein powder, and raisins. Note: If you do eat dairy, you could make this recipe with dry milk powder; however, I like that using protein powder adds an extra nutrient boost to each serving!
  2. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs until you have a workable “dough”; you may need to add a little more or a little less.Mud Balls (3)
  3. Roll the mixture into small balls. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until ready to eat.

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Note: If you want to make “Mud Balls” instead of “Dirt Ball”, you can roll these in a little cocoa powder.

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Tie-Dye Cloth Napkins

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This fun tie-dye project is a nice way to intro the method to kids, smaller than tie-dyeing a full t-shirt. As an added bonus, you can tuck one of the napkins into a child’s lunchbox for a sweet reminder from home while he or she is at school!

We actually started with blank handkerchiefs from the craft store, not technically napkins. Twist them tightly and secure with elastics at several intervals.

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We purchased two bottles of dye that came ready to mix in a squirt bottle, one blue and one green, which made the whole project extremely easy.

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Travis thought it was fun to wear plastic gloves as we mixed the solutions, then dyed sections of the napkin in alternating colors.

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Seal the napkins in a zip-top plastic bag and let dry for 6 to 8 hours.

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Ring out the extra liquid over a sink, then wash in the laundry machine in cool water.

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Tumble dry, and repeat if necessary. We thought these came out so pretty!

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Heavy Bubbles

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This neat experiment with oil and ice is a great way to teach kids about density. If your child has ever noticed how oil and water don’t mix, they’ll love what happens when you try to melt ice in oil.

To start, Travis helped fill an ice cube tray. For fun variety in our final results I colored some of the compartments green with food coloring and some red, and left others clear.

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Next we filled three plastic cups with vegetable oil.

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Add an ice cube to each, in your different colors. The ice will start melting off in big blobs. Because water is more dense, those blobs sink down to the bottom of the cup. What fantastic oozy fun to watch!

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I was glad we colored the ice, because the clear ice cube was rather underwhelming to watch, but Travis thought the big globs of green and red were super cool. Quick and easy science, in sum!

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Turn the Beat Around

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I recently read that recognizing the patterns and rhythms of music can help children with gross motor skills, everything from walking to jumping to dancing. Did this game today actually tip Veronika over the edge into a true walker? I’ll never know for sure, but I think it did the trick!

Veronika has been hesitant to walk, but I noticed a few times that the “stomp feet” verse of If You’re Happy and You Know It had her lifting her feet and almost walking forwards. Today, I was determined to get those feet stomping into a walk.

We started off with the above-mentioned song. Getting your toddler to clap along at this age is great fun, too.

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Then it was time to stomp. She gamely stomped her little feet, which she accompanied with a little pat pat to her belly. Still no steps though…

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After that we danced to a few more favorite songs, each time choosing something with a strong beat. We clapped our hands and wiggled and tapped our toes.

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Well wouldn’t you know, a few hours later I turned around and Veronika was walking. She was so proud of herself and spent the rest of the evening doing circuits of our apartment.

So if you have an almost-walker, I’d love to hear if a similar activity also helps with first true steps! Please share in the comments.

Splish, Splash

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The next time your toddler takes a bath, take a moment to focus not on the feel of the water, but on the sounds that you can make with water. This is a great opportunity for some auditory sensory play.

First, I filled the tub with warm water and got Veronika in her bathing suit for a little added element of difference and fun.

Turn the tap on very lightly and allow just a trickle of water to come out. We listened to the light plip plop sound this made, and Veronika reached curious fingers under the stream.

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I paused before I turned the tap on to a full roar. I thought this might alarm her, but she stared at it, mesmerized. Encourage your child to run a hand under this strong stream, too, as you listen to the roar and whoosh.

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Finally, I turned the tap off and helped her discover other ways we could listen to the water. Tapping the surface made a delightful slapping sound.

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And pouring water from a cup made a lovely splish splash.

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Have fun using lots of onomatopoeia as you play! In sum, this was an auditory delight. If you want to continue the fun outside of the tub, consider playing soothing water sounds on the computer while your child plays.

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Rainbow Rice Sensory Bags

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These easy sensory bags kept my toddler busy for ages… and they look so pretty, too!

If you are playing this game with preschoolers, definitely enlist their help when putting the rice bags together since it’s great scooping practice.

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With my 16 month old, though, I did the set-up solo. Here’s my little helper standing by:

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Scoop 2 cups rice into each of 6 sandwich-size zip-top bags. Pour a little paint into each in all the colors of the rainbow, using red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Seal the bag and shake until the rice is completely covered in the paint.

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It’s then helpful to open back up and squeeze out as much air as possible before resealing. Now you have a sort of rice “brick” for your child to play with. Repeat for the remaining colors.

Veronika couldn’t wait to come see what it was all about. She stacked them…

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…threw them…

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…squeezed them…

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…and of course tried to open them up (phew, with no success!). In other words, they kept her very busy. There was lots of talking to herself as she played, so she must have had some game going in her head.

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For a little learning, I briefly lined the bags up in rainbow order and took the opportunity to sing The Rainbow Song.

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You can also pile them in rainbow order, although don’t expect the pile to stay neat for long with a toddler around!

Easy Scarf Pull Activity

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This gross motor skill activity for toddlers is sure to tantalize!

For set up, attach containers to the wall with painter’s tape. These could be empty paper towel tubes or old bottles or really any container through which you can pull a scarf. For the bottles, you’ll need to cut off the closed end first. Make sure to tape over any sharp or jagged edges. I used two empty juice bottles, but water bottles or even an empty gallon jug would work!

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While Veronika was napping, I secured these to the wall and stuffed a scarf into each with the end dangling out.

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She came wandering over mildly curious. Because she loves draping herself in scarves, I thought she would be so into this.

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Surprisingly, she really only gave each one a single tug through its tunnel, but then lost interest. She showed a bit more interest about the containers themselves, and how they were stuck to the wall.

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Well, at least we got in a little gross motor play as she pulled those scarves. Your kids may want to stuff the scarves back into the containers and play this game over and over.

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Crinkle, Crunch

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Paper games never get old for a toddler, and while materials like wrapping paper and newspaper might seem mundane to a grown-up, they are a goldmine of fun for little ones. There’s sound, there’s texture, and there’s also fine motor skill building from ripping paper. So yes all this fun even has a purpose!

First up was the sound aspect. I set out three different kinds of paper for Veronika: brown paper bags, wrapping paper, and tissue paper.

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One by one, we crumpled them up. The brown paper was the loudest, and then the game grew quieter and quieter with the tissue paper making the softest sound.

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Of course then Veronika needed her own turn to take a piece of each material and crumple crumple until she’d formed a small ball in her hands.

A great twist on this auditory play is to hold one ball of paper behind your back and squish it so it makes a crinkle sound. Veronika came to find it!

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Sit back and watch what your child does with the paper. Veronika liked tossing it in the air, and wearing it as a hat!

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Then I demonstrated the sound that wrapping paper made as I ripped a piece in two. “More more!” she immediately asked. I had to start a small tear for her, but then she was able to wrench the two halves apart. Which she then did over and over, testing all three materials.

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What delight to learn she can rip! I thought she might enjoy returning to an old classic game, hiding toys in balls of the paper.

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But she was having so much fun ripping the paper she barely noticed the toys! (Okay, maybe one quick bus zoom).

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I guess that makes this game a winner.

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Red Beans & Rice

Red Beans and Rice

This mildly-spiced take on the classic pairing of red beans and rice is a sure winner with kids!

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup carrot puree
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the beans, marinara, carrot puree, wheat germ, oregano, basil, and thyme. Cook for about 5 minutes, until warm.
  2. Meanwhile, place the cooked rice in a large bowl. Add the bean mixture and stir to combine.

National Polar Bear Day

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I’ve wanted to introduce Travis to the idea of global climate change, and chances are other parents struggle with how to discuss the issue with their kids. As a citizen of the world, this is going to be a very real issue in Travis’s lifetime, but I also don’t want to alarm him. When I learned from Highlights that February 27 is National Polar Bear Day, I seized the opportunity to open the discussion!

We started off with a read of two picture books that gently address the warming Arctic and the threat to polar bears as a result. Check out The Last Polar Bear, by Jean Craighead George or Where do Polar Bears Live? by Sarah Thomson, or see what your library has to offer!

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After discussing his takeaway from the books, it was time to get crafty! This was a simple project, gluing cotton balls to a paper plate for a furry polar bear face.

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Add a black button for a nose, and glue on wiggle eyes. Finally, I cut two ear shapes from cardstock, which we glued to the plate and covered with additional cotton balls.

Want more polar bear ideas? Try a shaving cream version instead!