Finger Paint with Pudding Cups

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We love making “paint” that’s good enough to eat, and today’s version was super-quick. Use store-bought vanilla pudding and the cups themselves make the perfect paint pots!

Zen company makes vegan pudding cups, though in a pinch, you can whip up a homemade batch and divide among ramekins. Still, I preferred store-bought here because of those individual pudding cups.

I wanted rich, deep colors for the paint, so used 20 drops of food coloring for each pudding cup. For purple, mix 10 drops of red + 10 drops of blue.

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I then laid down a big sheet of craft paper as Veronika’s canvas and set the pots around my little artist.

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She instantly asked, “Can I eat it?” Needless to say, the eating of the paint was way more fun than the painting with it. I quickly switched from paint brushes to spoons once I realized she wasn’t going to stop taste-testing.

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I did show her how to draw a few images with the paint, like flowers and a blue sky, but snacking won out.

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To mix it up, next I taped construction paper to the high chair tray, and this time I poured on blobs of the pudding paint.

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She dipped her hands in and did some swirling around.

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Needless to say, though, she still preferred to snack than to paint! So this was a delicious activity, if not a terribly artistic one.

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Packing Peanut Indoor Sandbox

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I rarely see packing peanuts anymore, so when we received a batch in a recent package, I instantly knew I needed to save them for an activity instead of tossing them. An indoor sandbox fit the bill!

I thought about how best to use the big puffy layers of peanuts to my advantage, and decided the material would be most fun to shovel through.

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To set up, I placed a few of Veronika’s Duplo toys in the bottom of a bin, then covered with the packing peanuts. Colorful pom poms added some visual pop!

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I handed over a sand shovel, and it was time to dig. Veronika loved the way the peanuts felt (they are a recyclable material, not Styrofoam, and squished nicely if pressed in the hand).

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She liked the feel so much that she was soon more interested in using her hands than the shovel.

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She was quite determined to find her Duplo people, since she had seen me bury them, so I helped her dig down.

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Peek-a-boo toys!

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Then she loved having the toys either “sleep” or take a bath in the bin of puffy peanuts.

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This was a nice way to keep her busy at least for a little while on a lazy Sunday morning.

Leaf Scrunch

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Unseasonably warm and dry weather has meant the leaves are slow to change this autumn. Finally we’re spotting the first of the fall color, and we celebrated with a nature walk and leaf activity!

First up was a walk in the woods. We brought along a paper bag to fill with leaves, and Veronika loved dropping in our treasures.

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She also discovered the delightful crunch that the leaves made if she scuffed her feet through them!

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Once home, we dumped out the bag of leaves so they filled an old box. I showed her how she could simply scrunch her hands through the leaves…

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…or toss them out and then fill the box back up again.

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The drier leaves crumbled in her fingers, to her delight. Or, she could rip up the softer ones into small pieces, which kept her busy for quite some time.

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Thanks to a gentle breeze, she soon had the idea to toss the leaves off our patio. I loved watching the wheels of her brain turn as she discovered that leaves don’t go as far as other things she can throw, like pebbles and acorns!

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Then we picked up armfuls and tossed them over her head, where they scattered to the patio.

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Or landed right in her hair.

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As a final component of the activity, we took some of the prettiest ones inside and I showed her how to press them onto sticky contact paper.

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Fold the paper over itself, and you have an instant autumn placemat!

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In sum, there was so much joy to be had in this first batch of fall leaves!

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Learn from Sesame Street

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Believe it or not, my kids have never seen Sesame Street, even though I remember enjoying it as a child. I thought I would test out a few clips with Veronika today and see what she thought. We added an activity to each clip, too, to make the play hands-on.

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First up was the theme of friendship. We watched Sesame Street‘s “What is a Friend“, and then we made very simple friendship bracelets, threading pony beads onto pipe cleaners.

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Veronika loved the activity, and even lovingly helped me put a bangle on my wrist. Toddlers can make these for siblings or friends, too!

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Next up was a clip about emotions. Try “Happy/Sad Balloons“, featuring Big Bird. To help Veronika further understand the concept, I repeated an old craft, Feeling Friends.

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For healthy eating, head over to the clip “Hurray-Hurrah for Broccoli“. After watching this one, Veronika helped polish a shiny tooth with white paint. Your toddler might also enjoy making a happy tooth/sad tooth food collage.

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For a quick video about family, try “Five People in my Family“. We then drew a family tree and talked about everyone in it. For a more intricate version, try a photo family tree.

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For a Sesame Street segment on recycling, try “Mayonnaise Jar“. If you have an old mayonnaise jar on hand, you can quickly make the lesson a reality! Lacking that, I wanted to show Veronika the value of recycling, so we made a quick recycled box guitar!

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The verdict after all that? Veronika does not like Sesame Street any more than big brother Travis. I think both of my children are afraid of the puppets and voices. “I not like the video,” she said each time. So… a lesson learned for mommy, too!

Designer Pancakes

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Today was Veronika’s first time at the stove! She’s not quite yet 2, so needless to say I supervised this activity very closely. But dripping pancake better is an excellent first stove-top activity, and will make toddlers feel like big helpers in the kitchen.

First up was whipping up a super simple pancake recipe, by whisking the following together in a big bowl:

1 and 1/2 cups almond milk

2 Ener-G eggs

4 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 and 1/2 cups flour

Toddlers can help with this part, too!

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I poured the batter into a liquid measuring cup and helped Veronika climb on a stool by the stove. Together, we held a big ladle and dripped the batter into a heated pan coated with cooking spray.

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When it’s your toddler’s turn, chances are the “design” of the pancakes will be completely random. But Veronika loved that she made “baby pancakes”, and we thought one looked like a caterpillar.

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Some of the small ones looked like little clouds in the sky.

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While she enjoyed sampling the first batch, I prepared a slightly more deliberate design: a pancake gingerbread man! Chocolate chips made eyes, a nose, and buttons.

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Veronika absolutely loved this activity, both the cooking and the eating of it.

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Mirror Play

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Like most toddlers, Veronika is fascinated with body parts and walks around hiking up her sleeves and pant legs asking, “Mom, can I see my arm? Can I see my leg?”.

Well, yes of course! To double her fun today, I stood her up in front of the mirror. We found her arms and legs, of course, and so much more.

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Including honking our noses.

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While in front of the mirror, encourage your little one to dance! Veronika loved watching her reflection wave hands and tap toes and copy every move she made.

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“Reach up high!” she said, and mirror Veronika did, too.

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She even went in for a silly kiss.

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Mirror play is great at this age because Veronika is old enough to recognize that she’s seeing herself in the mirror. And since two-year-olds are fascinated with themselves, there’s probably no one else she’d rather see!

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A Day at the Races

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Veronika loves zooming toy cars around the playroom, so today we made up a new way to stage a “race” at home.

I marked a start and finish line for our race track with strips of masking tape, then set out a few cotton balls (our cars!) and straws.

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Veronika was immediately interested in all the materials, and it was time to start our engines. I showed her how to huff down into a straw, which is great practice for kids.

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Together (because she couldn’t do it alone yet), we raced our cotton balls from start to finish.

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Preschoolers will probably want to make it a true competition, racing their cotton ball against a parent or caregiver!

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Veronika soon wanted to add her toy cars to the race. Whoops, she couldn’t use the straw to move the car, but she tried. Which was faster: little red car or mommy’s cotton ball?

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A race to the finish!

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Don’t be surprised if all the materials are just as exciting as the race. Veronika loved playing with leftover cotton balls, making this a sensory game in addition to the imaginative play.

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Overall, you probably can’t expect a true race against a 2-year-old, but you will have silly fun.

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Matching Craft Stick Shapes

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In addition to making for a great learning activity, foam craft sticks are also a fantastic tub toy! You can tailor this game for toddlers up to elementary school kids.

Ahead of time, I labeled various craft sticks with the names of shapes, as well as the symbol of that shape. Make sure you have enough of each to actually form that shape So for example you’ll need 3 labeled craft sticks for a triangle and 4 for a square.

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At bath time, at first I simply tossed in all the sticks! Elementary school kids can hunt them down, finding the name or symbol of each shape and then forming it on the tub wall.

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For Veronika as a toddler, obviously I had to guide her through the activity. We looked at each craft stick and I asked her what shape she saw. Then I guided her hands to build them against the wall.

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At first she was more interested in the colors of the sticks. But once she saw the shapes take, well, shape, she began naming them with interest. “Rectangle!” she chirped.

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We went up as high as a pentagon, which was a new shape for her vocabulary, but she soon start saying, “Let’s make a pentagon.”

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Both Veronika and big brother Travis loved seeing if we could make a circle, using enough craft sticks.

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And after that, the extra craft sticks are just gloriously fun in the bath.

Color Hunt

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Today Veronika and I went on a safari. Not for animals, but for colors!

I started off the game with a big smile and told her we needed our hunting hats. She immediately picked up on the excitement, and we raided the dress-up box for a few styles.

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She needed her safari gloves, too!

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I gave her a little bag to fill, and told her we were hunting for colors. Since she’s not yet 2 years old, I made the game very easy for Veronika with a pile of colorful toys (balls, bean bags, blocks). First we hunted for red!

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We dumped out all the red items at the end, and started again.

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Could we hunt for blue?

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Older toddlers can wander all over the house with this hunt, filling their treasure bag as they go. Other items Veronika could easily spot were colorful magnets on our fridge, or foods from the toy bin.

Happy hunting!

Find the Oddball

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This quick activity is a nice early lesson for toddlers on spotting the difference (a.k.a. the odd one out), which is a starting step for later visual perception and attention to detail.

For this super-simple toddler version, I put stickers on index cards, always using several of one kind and one oddball.

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I started with a version that focused on color difference, using all star-shaped stickers: 4 of one color and the outlier hidden somewhere among them.

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She was quick to tell me the dominant color out loud (i.e. “Green!”), which told me that her eye was quickly spotting the majority. Each time I told her, “Look, the purple is different,” to bring her focus in that direction.

Then we moved on to a version with vehicle stickers. Here, I had three of a kind and one oddball. Again, her eye always went to what was dominant, naming it for me. “I see a car!”

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Sometimes I almost felt like she couldn’t see the oddball at all, even after I named it!

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It became clear that the game was a little advanced for her, too, because inevitably she wanted to hold a sticker, and this was a bigger draw than my insistence on, “Look, the bus is different. There’s only one bus.”

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Note: You can also draw the images, if you don’t have stickers on hand. Try smiley faces with one sad face, for example, or circles followed by one triangle. If you want your cards to be more permanent, cover them with contact paper.

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One way or another, this is a fun intro to the concept.