Cartons of Fun

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This is the type of activity that’s great to do when you’re using up the odds and ends in your craft bin before restocking. Any clean and washed food containers make great bins for small hands. I used empty non-dairy yogurt and sour cream containers, but juice cartons would work, too, with the tops cut open.

Simply fill each container with a different craft material. I presented Veronika with an assortment that included fabric scraps, felt pieces, ribbon, buttons, beads, and stickers. Then I set these down for her along with glue and pieces of construction paper.

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Older preschoolers can take it from here solo! If your child is old enough, you can also provide safety scissors. For Veronika at age 2, I had to supervise the activity a bit more closely, but I tried to sit back and see how she wanted to use the materials, instead of guiding.

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She liked the buttons best and wanted to glue them down. I helped her make dots of glue that she could press the buttons on. We added a few bits of fabric and ribbon to this first creation, too.

Then I made a “cake” for her with fabric scraps for the cake and ribbon as candles. This time, I added dots of glue so she could add “icing on the cake” with more buttons and beads.

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For the final creation, I smeared glue all over a piece of construction paper, This meant that no matter where she pressed down an item, it was sure to stick. This page was soon covered with the fabric and felt scraps.

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And don’t discount just letting your toddler fill a page with stickers. That counts as art, too!

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Pool Noodle Games

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We had a few pool noodles in the closet that were left over from summer fun, so today Veronika and I found a few indoor winter ways to play with them!

First, we tried making a pool noodle “necklace”. Cut pool noodles into smaller pieces so they are like giant beads and then give your child twine (or a rope) and thread them on.

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Preschoolers can get in some great threading practice by doing this activity solo. I helped Veronika by inserting the twine into the hole of each pool noodle piece, and then she would pull it through.

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At first this made a fun pull toy! She loved dragging it along behind her or wiggling it in the air.

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Once we had enough of pieces looped on, I tied the two ends of twine together to form a giant dress-up necklace.

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Next, I cut out slightly larger pool noodle pieces, and these were great to stack like blocks!

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These towers were particularly fun to push over, because the soft foam won’t hurt a thing.

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I loved that we found a way to reuse a summer material on a winter’s day!

Unpoppable Frozen Bubbles

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My philosophy about really cold weather with kids has become not to shy away from it, but to embrace it. That’s exactly what we did today with frozen bubbles; this is the kind of trick that can only work once the weather dips down low.

The secret to making this activity a success is to leave a bottle of bubble solution outside overnight so that it’s chilled and ready to go when your bundled-up kids get outside.

The second trick is to wave the bubble wand, instead of blowing through it. With those two modifications, the bubbles will act differently, freezing in kids’ hands or in the air (if it’s cold enough!) instead of popping.

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The first time we tried this, our solution wasn’t quite cold enough.That meant the kids could still pop the bubbles on their fingers.

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But they lasted and froze over if they landed on cold surfaces, like our plastic slide. This was mesmerizing to watch!

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Travis wondered if this particular bubble might just last forever.

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The next night was even colder, so we headed outside for more everlasting bubble play.

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And this time they were so cold that sure enough we could poke at them without making them pop!

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Is it cold enough for frozen bubbles in your area? Please share in the comments!

Match the Tracks

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This winter twist on hide-and-seek is fantastic for early hiders and seekers (think preschoolers and toddlers), and you don’t even need much snow to play it; even a light dusting on the ground will do!

As soon as we saw it was snowing, the kids were eager to head outside, so I challenged them to find mommy… by following my tracks. Leave nice, clear footprints in the snow as you head to your hiding place. You can make your actual hiding place easy to spot or hard to find, depending on your child’s age.

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Veronika grinned as soon as she had the gist of the game, and eagerly followed along my prints in the snow.

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Peek-a-boo! She found mommy behind a tree.

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It was harder to get her to understand being the hider, but she did love noticing her own tracks in the snow!

The beauty of this game is that each round will gets successively harder as the tracks start to get muddled. You can challenge older kids to make a giant maze of footsteps by the end! And while they’re at it, keep an eye out for any other animals that might have left tracks in the snow.

Seek and Find Shapes Water Activity

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Toddlers always love the chance for a little splashy water play, and here’s a way to combine that with shape review!

To start, I used marker to draw a few shapes on a regular piece of white paper. I also labeled them for early sight words, although Veronika is a ways off from understanding that.

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Place this piece of paper under any clear baking dish. Ideally use a large casserole dish, but even my smaller cake pan worked in a pinch. Fill the clear dish with a shallow layer of water. If your child wants colored water, go ahead and add a few drops of food coloring! But Veronika wanted to leave it clear.

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Now, simply call out the name of a shape and your child can pinpoint it under the water! If you’re using a large dish, you could have a clear cup on top that your child moves from shape to shape. That wouldn’t fit in the cake pan, so Veronika used a shiny pipe cleaner as a pointer instead.

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She aced this test in moments.

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Even once we quickly ran through the shapes, she had so much fun looking at the shapes and swirling around the pipe cleaner for a while. Because as mentioned, toddlers always love water play!

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Flying Fish

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Before you recycle whatever magazine you’re currently reading, rip out a page or two and you’ll be able to make a quick batch of fish to delight your toddler!

On the magazine pages, I used a ruler to mark off one inch strips and then cut them out. Next, mark 1 inch in from both the top and the bottom. Cut a slit at this one inch mark from the left at the top and from the right at the bottom. Now, you can fold the strip of paper over itself so the notches slot together, making a fish tail shape.

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I recommend not just one, but a whole school of fish for maximum effect!

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When I had about a dozen “fish”, we let them fly! If these catch the wind just right, they flutter end over end until they hit the ground.

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Cue Veronika’s delighted squeals and eager cries for more!

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Needless to say we launched our fish to “swim” in the air many times before she tired of it. Your toddler can get in some good tossing and throwing practice, too!

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Restaurant Play with Italian Bruschetta

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Not only did the kids help make an elegant Italian appetizer today, but they opened up their own “restaurant” to serve it! This was all part of Travis’s latest Italian-themed kit from Raddish Kids. Before opening up that restaurant, though, it was time for some cooking!

To prepare the bruschetta, slice 1/2 a baguette into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on a baking sheet. Brush evenly with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees F for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop 2 large tomatoes and thinly slice 6 fresh basil leaves. Combine the tomatoes and basil in a bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut a garlic clove in half; rub the cut sides over the warm baguette slices, then top evenly with the tomato mixture.

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Before we sat down to enjoy, Travis and I went over the concept of a restaurateur, and the idea of creating a restaurant from the ground up. He’d need to think about location, name, decor, and more! Travis immediately had an idea, although admittedly it was a 1st grader’s idea of a restaurant.

He proudly wrote the sign for: Darth Vader’s Bistro. He then planned out a nearly all-black menu, including black tomato soup and chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles for dessert. The exception was our bright red bruschetta!

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The decor was predictably Darth Vader-themed.

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The kids loved dining at this “restaurant”, and pretending to take each other’s order.

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Of course, older kids can take this idea much more seriously, creating a whole restaurant concept and layout, carefully selecting the restaurant name, designing a logo, or even making a banner before welcoming family members as guests.

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Consider adding tablecloths and fine dinnerware and then let your little chefs cook and open up shop! I leave you with this image of Darth Vader enjoying his bruschetta. Who knew?

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Touch and Feel Shapes Board

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Veronika loves the bumpy feel of hot glue, so when I spotted this fun, tactile way to help a toddler learn shapes, I knew we had to try it!

Ideally I would have liked to make the shape outlines on sturdy poster board, but construction paper worked fine in a pinch. Using hot glue, make the outlines of as many shapes as you can fit on your piece of paper.

Of course the wonder of hot glue is how quickly it sets and cools, so within moments, I set this down in front of Veronika to explore.

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She immediately started shouting out the names of the shapes she saw. I showed her how to run her fingers around the bumpy lines of each, and she delighted in the feel. Without knowing it, this can be your toddler’s first introduction to tracing, which itself is the precursor to someday drawing shapes with a pencil!

There was lots more we could do with this little piece of paper. Veronika liked filling in the outlines with dried beans since the bumpy hot glue made little “containers”. If your child is learning to count, you can also count out the beans as you add them!

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Next we placed a piece of white paper on top and I showed Veronika how to make shape rubbings.

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She wasn’t very interested in that activity, but did like using a marker to color directly in the lines of each shape.

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Overall, this was a simple activity that’s easy to set up and extend in multiple ways.

Sorting Blocks by Shape and Color

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Veronika received a set of foam blocks over the holidays that came with picture patterns to follow and fill in. The activity is still advanced for her at age 2, but today we found other ways she can play with the set!

First, we divided the foam pieces into big piles by color.

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I started the piles so she would understand what we were up to, and then she was a happy helper.

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Sorting these foam pieces by shape was harder because they come in so many different varieties. When I saw that she seemed confused, I winnowed our piles down to a manageable amount, including squares, triangles,  semi-circles, diamonds, and circles.

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Now she could help sort by shape!

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It was fun to make a big pile of each kind. Your child might even want to make designs or patterns, once the sorting is through.

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If you don’t have foam pieces like this, you could easily do this game with blocks that come in a variety of colors and shapes.

Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci

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Travis did a series of projects this weekend to learn all about inventor and artists Leonardo da Vinci, a lesson to go alongside an Italian culinary journey from Raddish Kids. Here’s what he uncovered!

First up he needed some basic background info on who da Vinci was. Travis watched a silly YouTube clip, as well as a read-aloud of Leonardo and the Flying Boy. Now he knew that Leonardo made early inventions of flying machines, mixed up his own paints, and more!

Time to act like da Vinci! First up was drawing from multiple perspectives, just like the artist. I encouraged Travis to first draw a toy that he loves… and then to draw it upside down! The most amazing thing happened during this exercise: this remarkable stillness descended on both kids as they concentrated so hard on their work.

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And Travis was so proud of the resulting side by side drawings!

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Next we wanted to see if we, too, could make our own paint! Obviously we couldn’t use chicken’s eggs like da Vinci, but we tested out a flax “egg” paint. I whisked 1 tablespoon flaxseed into 3 tablespoons warm water. Then we ground up chalk powder! Place a piece of chalk in a zip-top plastic bag and seal; whack with a mallet until finely ground.

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We mixed each chalk pigment with about 1 tablespoon of the flax mixture. It wasn’t as smooth as tempera, but it did make a rather neat paint. Little sister Veronika in particular loved using this all over a piece of poster board.

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Next up was a closer look at arguably da Vinci’s most famous work, The Mona Lisa. Travis watched a video about this enigmatic painting before we followed a step-by-step tutorial. This was fun for mama, too!

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We then turned back to da Vinci’s scientific side, learning more about some of his flying machines. Travis watched a video on the engineering of flight before we tested out our own: fold a rectangular piece of poster board in half, then fold each side in toward the half crease so it now folds up into a triangle. Tape shut.

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Add wings and a tail of any design, and see how your machine flies! Travis chose triangular wings, which might not have been the most aerodynamic, but he liked that this was bigger than a standard paper airplane!

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Travis was also intrigued with da Vinci’s left-handedness and backwards writing, particularly as a lefty himself. We turned this into a game of making secret codes for each other, and he loved checking them out in the mirror!

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To cap it all off, we filled out the provided Venn diagram, labeling one side Science, and the other side Art. Now Travis knew lots about da Vinci, including what fell in the overlap in the middle.

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There is so much more that older children can do with this lesson (learning more about the idea of the “Renaissance Man”, researching other Renaissance figures like Isabella d’Este, creating an art gallery slide show presentation, just to name a few!). But this was a great “first bite” of da Vinci for my 1st grader.