Count with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s latest crate from Panda Crate focused on early math concepts, including counting, size, volume, comparisons, and basic geometric shapes. There was lots to like in this crate, which I would recommend for babies 1 year and older.

One: Stacking Cups

Although Veronika already owns a set of stacking cups, these were novel in several ways. First, the bottoms alternated bumps and holes, so there was a nice sensory element. We even lined them up in a pattern: bumpy, holes, bumpy, holes.

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I loved how easily these cups fit in her hands, allowing her to build towers with ease.

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We also made two towers side-by-side, one taller one shorter, to highlight this comparison. “Which is short?” I asked her. She nailed it!

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After your toddler is done stacking, use these cups to explore volume, with a Fill the Cup activity.

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As she scooped through a tray of dried beans, I talked about whether a cup was empty or full, or whether it had more, or less. Of course she was just having a blast with the dried beans, which occupied her for a full 30 minutes!

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To add to the idea of volume, I gave her an empty plastic measuring cup to fill with toys.

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This was an excellent way to keep her busy while I prepped dinner, and she loved the process of adding dominoes or cars to the cup and then dumping them out!

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We continued the volume lesson at bathtime. Simply add the stacking cups to your toddler’s tub for Math in the Bath. The big cups hold more, the little cups less.

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Two: Shape Puzzles

These three wooden puzzles – one each for circle, triangle, and square – are a beautiful toy. The smooth wood is fantastic for little hands, and each shape comes in a different color family with three gradations from light to dark.

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First I gave her only one shape. She puzzled through how to nest them from biggest to smallest.

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Then I upped the challenge. If I scatted all the pieces, could she sort them? The middle piece was usually the hardest for her to work her way around, but if we moved from big to small or small to big, she got the hang of it.

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Sometimes she tried to put the triangle inside the circle, etc., but she quickly realized it wasn’t possible.

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They look neat if you sort them by big and small, too!

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Three: Nesting Baskets

Of all the items in the crate, these were the weakest point. The three “baskets” are soft (good for toddlers), but that also makes them difficult to nest, as suggested. I would have preferred something with a bit more structure.

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Still, the bags are great for talking about size. “Medium” was a new word in Veronika’s vocab, but she soon was piping up happily with it: Big, medium, small. You can show your child the notion of volume by putting one small toy in the small bag… but look how many toys the big bag holds!

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We also used them to store the big, medium, and small pieces of the shape puzzles, of course.

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Four: Cylinder Blocks

This toy was a cinch for Veronika at 20 months, but probably a challenge for your younger baby to work up. I could set out the four circles in any order and she could easily puzzle which went where.

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Like the stacking cups, these are great vocab builders. Which was widest? Which was tallest?

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Five: Counting Cards

These were my favorite item from the crate, a set of 1 through 10 flash cards that featured every math concept a toddler could dream of. Lay the cards out and simply look at them first, numbered 1 through 10.

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Then flip them over. Each features not just a pip of the corresponding number, but different shapes and different textures. I could ask her to show me the circle, for example.

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Or explain to her that the squares were shiny.

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Or run her fingers over two fluffy hearts, to make counting a tactile activity.

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She loved to play with these solo, too, which is always a bonus.

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Six: Board Book

The book, titled ‘Poppy’s Surprise’ was a huge hit. Veronika loved the tale, about 10 turtles showing up for Poppy Panda’s birthday, each with a different item for the party. There was lots of vocab (lemonade pitchers, skateboards) and she soon was repeating it all.

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In terms of counting, it’s great. The numbers are on each page both as a numeral and spelled out, and each turtle as the corresponding number of dashes on its shell. She picked up on this and loved tracing the lines with a finger! I encouraged her to count the turtles on each page out loud, too. A tactile element would have been nice, to make this book even better.

There were so many suggestions for additional activities in Wonder magazine, including old favorites like “what’s different”: if I placed three red blocks in front of her…

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…and then added a blue one, did she notice the difference? Yes! The blue immediately caught her attention.

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Next up was a suggested Building Up activity.

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Building towers never gets old, but I love that Veronika is becoming more sophisticated in her abilities. To wit, today I gave her a mix of things to stack, including two sets of blocks plus plastic containers from the kitchen. She mixed and matched and stacked with such dexterity. “Let’s add this one!” she said proudly, as she built up up.

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And of course she enjoyed the knock down.

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At one point she tried a rectangle where it couldn’t balance, a great learning experience.

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I then built her a complicated tower with multiple shapes, and she looked at it with wonder, naming each shape she noticed.

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Then we played Line it Up, a classic of arranging items in size order. I used three items so we could focus on big, medium, and little. “That’s big!” she said of the ball.

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Could she show me little? “That’s little”!

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We scrambled the objects and now it was her turn to put them in size order.

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We also followed the booklet’s suggestion to talk about routines (such as your morning routine) in terms of first, next, and last, which is the math concept of sequencing. I talked her through the day: first we eat breakfast, then we get dressed, last we brush teeth!

The perfect song for this crate? One, Two Buckle My Shoe of course.

And finally, we read three early math books. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, is a classic for a reason. Veronika loved putting her finger on the dots as the caterpillar eats his way through the week.

Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert features fantastic shape play and Doggies by Sandra Boynton makes counting to 10 fun each time.

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Upper and Lowercase Letters on ABC Road

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Our alphabet mat has been taking new forms lately, and while it was stretched out more like a road, we turned it into a quick summer review of upper and lowercase letters!

While Travis was at camp, I set up all his toy cars, each with a post-it note containing a lowercase letter on top.

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This car army was ready and waiting for him when he got home!

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The challenge was to drive each lowercase car to its uppercase “garage”. Travis was up for the task!

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He loved starting each one at the same spot on the “road” and deciding if it had a long drive or short drive to get home. As an extra challenge, I didn’t have the letters in alphabetical order, so he had to search each time!

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By the end, he was justifiably tired, but our little lowercase cars had all found their uppercase “parents”.

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This was a great refresher to avoid the summer slide.

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One, Please

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Here’s a quick but fun way to get your toddler thinking about counting (just to one and two for now), as well as a first lesson on using fingers to count and represent a number.

I set Veronika up in her high chair with cereal puffs for a snack, an old favorite. First I gave her one. “You have one puff,” I told her. Whoops, which quickly was back to zero!

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Then I put out two puffs and counted them. One puff, two puff. To make it trickier, I then put a whole handful on the tray, but asked her to give me one puff. Success.

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Could she hand me two puffs? Double success! I loved that she did this two-handed, one puff per hand, which was a neat insight into her brain.

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Now we turned to the concept of holding up a finger. I asked if she wanted one cracker, holding up one of my own fingers to demonstrate. Then I helped her shape her hand so only one finger was up. Repeat the word “one” and the gesture; it’s okay if your toddler doesn’t get it on the first round!

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Repeat with two crackers (or a similar snack), and help your little one hold up two fingers.

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This was just a first foray, but a great foundation for counting down the road. Either way, my guess is your toddler will ask for more more more of whatever is on the snack menu!

Muffin Tin Printing

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Veronika is always eager to paint on new surfaces, and here was a safe and contained way to satisfy that urge.

Place a muffin tin, upside down, on a covered work surface. Then hand over paints and a paintbrush to your little one!

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I showed Veronika that she could dip the brush in a paint color and then paint all over the upside-down muffin cups. She looked worried for a moment that this might get her in trouble, but seeing my smile, she was soon happily painting.

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She loved making careful dots of gold paint. I demonstrated that she could smear the paint all over the cups, and then she briefly made bigger brushstrokes. She tested out other colors, but asked for the gold again, clearly a favorite.

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Once there is enough paint, press a piece of thick paper on top of the muffin cups and smooth down.

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You’ll get neat, circular prints as a result! We needed to repeat several times, of course.

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Pillow Towers

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Stacking blocks is great for a toddler’s fine motor skills, but some materials can lead to the occasional owie. Here’s a way to make the biggest, softest towers ever: pillow “blocks”!

After cleaning the living room this morning, all the couch pillows were on the ground, which immediately had me thinking we needed to play with them before restoring the room to order. We added a few extra pillows from the bedroom and I showed Veronika how to stack them one atop the other.

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She proudly added the final pieces.

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And then couldn’t resist jumping atop the pile…which is exactly what I was hoping for. “Cozy!” she said.

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Then we stacked them up and did it again.

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This tower never got very tall, because either she was tempted to knock those pillows down…

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…or wanted to throw her whole body into the mix.

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All of which confirmed my hunch that pillows make the perfect stacking blocks for toddlers.