Popcorn Reef

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If your kids like to play with their food, permission is granted with this fun food-art-meets-snack.

To start, pop 4 cups plain popcorn; set aside in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter in the microwave. Add 1 and 1/2 cups mini marshmallows (such as Dandies) to the bowl. Microwave for 1 minute until the marshmallows are melting, and whisk to combine.

Pour the marshmallow mixture over the plain popcorn. Add a few drops of food coloring for pink coral! Once the mixture cools enough to handle, turn out onto wax paper and shape into mini coral reefs. We had some big blobs that looked a bit like brain coral, and some that was more like branched coral!

Popcorn Reef (1)

For fish, place an orange slice on each plate. Add slices of carrot for tail fins and a mouth, and blueberries for the fish’s eye (plus a few extra bubbles!).


Orange Beets

Orange Beets

If beets are a new veggie for your kids, familiar oranges and apples help make them not so scary in this recipe. Pre-cooked beets are a life-saver for busy nights!


  • 1 (8-ounce) package pre-cooked beets
  • 1 (11-ounc) drained can mandarin oranges
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  1. Thinly slice the beets and combine in a bowl with the oranges and apple slices.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil, orange juice, and lemon juice. Drizzle over the beet mixture, stirring to coat.
  3. Chill until ready to serve.

Solve with Me Panda Crate

Panda Solve final

Veronika’s latest Panda Crate, Solve with Me, was easily her favorite yet. With an emphasis on shapes, puzzles, and problem-solving for kids (aged about 18 months and up), here’s what she received.

One: Peg Puzzle

First up was a classic shape puzzle, with a square peg for squares, triangle peg for triangles, and so on. To start I simply laid out all the pieces and she had to figure out what went where.

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As soon as I asked, “Can you put the triangle on the triangle?” she had the idea. The puzzle is also great for colors (“How about the blue square next?”) and for counting, since it ranged from 1 circle to 3 squares.

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Two: Lacing Beads

This was the best child’s lacing toy I’ve ever seen. The “needle” is actually made of stiff felt, but pokes easily through the wooden beads. Peek-a-boo, pull it through!

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She loved that she could master this lacing all by herself. She also loved when I showed her a pattern (early math!): square, semi circle, triangle, repeat!

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The thread and needle also come with two giant buttons, so you can even teach your older toddler how to make a crisscross. Parent bonus: you can store the beads right on the lace.

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Three: Squishy Shapes

These giant shapes were Veronika’s favorite of the lot, first of all because they were just so squishy and big, like stuffed animal friends in geometric form!

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We laid them down and first used them for gross motor skills. Give your toddler instructions like “Hop to the triangle!” or “Run to the square!” and watch him or her happily comply.

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She had a blast with this game. Then I held her hands and helped her “trace” each shape with her feet, almost like mini balance beams.

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Toddlers can also trace a finger along the inside of each shape, which has immediate tactile rewards and larger learning benefit for pen control later on.

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Finally, we sorted the other items from the crate onto them, which was great for helping her categorize shapes.

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Four: Beanbag Shapes

These classic beanbags, one each for triangle, circle, and square, extended the squishy shape play. Firstly, each one nests perfectly on the inside cut-out of the corresponding squishy shape.

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“Let’s the put the triangle here!” Veronika proudly said, and narrated this play solo to herself for a while. Don’t forget to point out size comparisons, like how the beanbag makes a little circle and the squishy shape makes a big one.

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Second, we played hide and seek! I tucked a beanbag under its corresponding squishy shape and she proudly found it each time.

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Finally, it was gross motor skills time! Move the squishy shapes back a few steps and take aim with the beanbags. Veronika also adored this part, and we’ll work up to throwing from further away.

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Five: Board Book

As with past crates, I was disappointed in the caliber of the book. There was so much more that could be done for a shape-themed book, starting with having the book come in a fun shape. Still, Wonder magazine suggested using this book for a shape hunt.

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You can extend this idea to your child’s favorite books from home. Veronika spotted diamonds, triangles, and more in one of her go-to books!

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In Wonder magazine, parents can read more about the benefits of letting your toddler puzzle solo, as well as tricks for when those little brains get frustrated.

We did a final activity of a Shape Scavenger Hunt in two ways. First, I drew shapes on 4 index cards in big bold colors.

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Time for Veronika to pick a card! As we went through each one, we made a pile of items in that shape on the floor.

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Rectangle was the only one not included in the crate, so I could see her brain working extra hard when it came to finding items in that shape.

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As a variation, I then traced several shapes onto white paper, this time including heart and star for some outliers.

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You can head off around the house and find one item for each shape. Or, use the paper more like a shadow-matching puzzle and have your toddler fill it in with 3-D versions of each shape.

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Since music always aids in learning, we sang a shape song to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell:

A circle’s like a ball,

A circle’s like a ball.

Round and round,

It never stop.

A circle’s like a ball.

Make up verses for every other shape your toddler knows, too!

Finally, it was storytime. We had fun checking the following three out at the library:

  • Shapes, by John Reiss
  • Curious Baby Everyday Shapes Puzzle Book, by H.A. Rey
  • Sweet Shapes by Juana Medina Rosas