Water Wheel Kiwi Crate

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One of my favorite memories with Travis is a trip we took to an old saw mill when he was in preschool. I reminded him of the moment when his latest kit from Kiwi CoKiwi CoKiwi Coarrived, all about the Water Wheel! There was great STEM learning here about the power of water, all of which led to great play.

First up: the Water Wheel and Boat. To make the wheel involved slotting plastic paddles into the circular side pieces and holding it all in place with elastics. More and more with each crate, I sit back and let Travis handle the dexterity of all this.

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We then inserted the frame pieces into a foam base and again held it all together with elastics. A funnel goes on top, and can slide along on a foam donut.

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To make the “boat” simply involved inserting three corks into a foam frame, a good refresher on buoyancy and how cork is a material that floats.

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We inflated the provided water basin and placed the boat and water wheel inside.

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As Travis poured water into the funnel, the rope tugs the boat a little closer to the wheel each time. It required a little trial and error, but eventually our boat was taut against the wheel.

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We took our Water Wheel outside for a few additional experiments. First, we tested what would happen if the boat dangled over an edge, rather than floating in water. Even against the power of gravity, the boat rose upward!

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Then Travis tested filling the funnel with sand instead of water; I think ideally this would have worked, but he poured the sand in so fast that the funnel clogged, and we didn’t have great results.

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His Explore magazine also suggested testing the boat out in soapy water, though I’m unclear why. Was the soap supposed to hinder or help? In our results, it worked better, the fastest wind-up yet. Then we untied the boat and just had fun playing with the wheel as a water toy. Travis could test the power of the current that the wheel generates by floating other bath toys around it.

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The final project in this crate was Splash Art. Travis used the provided penguin background for his first try.  Add a generous squirt of the provided blue paint, then use the provided straw to blow.

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He was nervous at first that he would inhale the paint, so we practiced blowing air against our palms.

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Now he was brave enough, and I was so proud of him! There’s enough extra paper to make a few designs of your child’s own, and Travis loved adding lots of blue paint to these and blowing all over the surface.

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Have fun varying your method, including blowing hard or soft, or varying the angle of the straw. Just be careful: this one is messy!

Before wrapping up, we did a quick experiment to test the power of a vortex. First, fill an empty 2 litre bottle with water and pour it out normally over a bucket. Set a timer and see how long it takes! Ours emptied in 16 seconds.

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Refill it, but this time place your hand over the opening, turn the bottle upside down, and begin spinning in a circular motion; you’re creating a vortex. When you remove your hand, the water will whoosh out! I’d estimate it emptied in half the time.

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To make this more visible, first we added red food coloring, and then glitter. Travis was in charge of the camera, so unfortunately the pictures didn’t come out great!

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We ended the fun with two reads about water: Hi, Water by Antoinette Portis and National Geographic Kids’ Water.

Play with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s latest crate from Panda was all about encouraging solo play, something she’s already a champ at (much more so than big brother!) but it never hurts to foster it. I would recommend this crate for babies 10 months and older.

One: Wood Beads

First up was a peg board with pastel-colored pegs and corresponding wood beads. To start, we played with the set together; I encouraged her to match colors, showed her how to stack two beads atop one another, and counted them as she stacked for some early math.

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You can also make a tower of the beads off to the side, and see how high your toddler can make it go!

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She could then continue with all of these activities solo, and boy did she ever! She also loved the cloth bag that came for storage, and would pile the beads in, dump them out, and then start over.

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Two: Wood Bars

These discs also go with the provided peg board, but now there was a bit more of a challenge; could she align two holes so they slid over two pegs?

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The three-holed one was definitely a puzzle!

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As with the wood beads, she could easily continue the play solo, mixing and matching combinations of bars and beads.

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Three: Ribbon Pull

This toy is ingenious, a soft cube with ribbons that pull back and forth. First we played together in a sort of toddler tug-of-war. She pulled one end; I pulled it back. She pulled another tab; I pulled it back.

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And then I handed it over. The cube is great for a child’s development to coordinate holding it steady with one hand and pulling the ribbon with the other.

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Of course she wasn’t thinking about that; she just loved pulling those ribbons! There’s also great opportunity for pointing out colors with this toy, or talking about left and right hands.

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Four: Ball Drop

This was another ingenious inclusion. As the first challenge, your toddler needs to drop the ball through the hole in the top of a wood block. As a second challenge, there’s a pattern to pick up on, since the ball alternates rolling to the right and the left.

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As she tried it, she immediately trotted over to fetch the ball from where it rolled and inserted it again.

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Roll, trot, insert. Roll trot, insert. Solo play! We never even had a chance to use this toy together, since she was immediately so busy with it by herself!

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She also loved putting the ball in and playing peek-a-boo with it, and had fun stuffing some of the wood beads and wood bars inside, too.

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Five: Board Book

This was the one weak point of the crate. In a kit devoted to occupying a toddler solo, I was disappointed to find a simple board book with no flair. Why oh why wasn’t it a lift-the-flap book? That would have encouraged greater solo reading.

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The Wonder booklet contained a wealth of information, including the benefits of solo play, ways to encourage solo play, and facts about toddlers and screentime.

We had fun watching a sing-along to This is the Way We Laugh and Play, then finished up the fun with a few suggested book:

  • Gus Explore His World by Olivier Dunrea
  • Dog & Friends: Busy Day by Emma Dodd
  • Mon Petit Busy Day by Annette Tamarkin

This last in particular is spectacular. I’ve never seen a book occupy a toddler for so long, and over multiple days.

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Shopping Green

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To go along with copious plant-based recipes from Raddish Kids this month, one lesson plan was about not just eating green but shopping green. Unfortunately, some of the suggestions are impossible under current coronavirus regulations. But the gist of the lesson wasn’t lost on Travis, even with a little improvisation.

This actually was a two-part lesson, spaced a week apart, and we began after my weekly foray to the grocery store last Sunday.

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Travis helped me unload the bags so we could look at how much waste we were generating. We laid out all the boxes, metal cans, and plastic bags full of fruits and vegetables. Travis helped tally up the total in a chart, including 21 boxes (!), 8 plastic bags of produce, and 7 metal cans.

I also had purchased some items with the intent of showing him how we could improve. Which did he think was better for the planet: a single-serve peanut butter pouch or the whole jar?

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Bottled water (which we normally never buy!) or the filter in our fridge? Individually wrapped snack bars or a bag of chips? Fruit that came in its own wrapper (a watermelon rind!) versus pre-packaged and chopped? I could see his eyes widen with realization a few times as we talked through all this.

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The following week, it was time to see if we’d improved! Travis’s hypothesis was that our cost would have gone down, too.

Again we lined up all the groceries and tallied on our chart. The biggest difference was in the number of boxes: only 5! We’d also purchased way less produce in plastic bags, choosing items deliberately in their own “packaging” like bananas, oranges, and avocados.

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Of course, as mentioned, there are certain things we just can’t do right now, like bring reusable shopping bags, buying from the bulk section, or bringing along our own glass jars.

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But we’re newly motivated moving forward! As a finale to the lesson, he watched an online read of Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel.

Black Bean Brownies

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Black beans in brownies? Yes! Sneaking a can of pureed beans into brownie batter means they’re packed with protein and added nutrition, but kids will never notice among all the chocolate-y goodness!


  • 1 (15-ounce) drained and rinsed can black beans
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy chocolate chips
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a blender and process until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
  2. Transfer the batter into a bowl and stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. Spoon the batter into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

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Finder’s Keepers

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With a large cardboard box in the house today, it was the perfect opportunity to play a variation on hide-and-seek. This time, Veronika’s toy was the hider, and she (the seeker) got to be the keeper.

I placed a favorite toy (a big stuffed puppy named Marshmallow) in the box, and asked her, “Where’s Marshmallow?”

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To make the search exciting, I draped a blanket over the opening and handed Veronika a flashlight. The flashlight was novel, so of course she had to check that out for a while.

Then the hunt began! I asked questions as she got closer. “Is Marshmallow behind the box? Is he on top of the box? Is he inside the box?”

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She’s getting closer…

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There he is! She was so pleased once she found her friend. Finder’s keepers!

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Of course then your toddler will probably want to play in the cave for a while.

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It was even more fun to shine the flashlight on the walls inside where it was darker! Next time maybe we’ll play this game after dark.

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Set Design

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Here’s an easy hack to turn empty cardboard boxes into play spaces with zero mess: use stickers as the backdrop to create scenery for a “stage”!

To put this together, I simply taped the background pages from a sticker set inside a large cardboard box.

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We started out with an ocean page, and Veronika could go “under the sea” simply by crawling in. She loved peeking out from this watery cave, and also adding animals to the backdrop. It was almost like a virtual aquarium!

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As an alternative, you can cut the box so it stands flat, and tape pages to the outside of it. In this way, the box now became her jungle! Use stickers or other pictures to create a farm, beach, or whatever else strikes your little stage actor’s fancy.

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This was a neat way to build on Veronika’s imaginative play as she becomes less interested in merely manipulating objects, and more interested in acting out stories. I talked about her trip to each place, and the various animals she could see.

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Other fun ideas? Use stickers to make a backdrop like a castle or outer space! If you’re more artistic than I am, of course feel free to paint these scenes. But relying on stickers was a great hack with no mess.

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