Discover with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika sure did love discovering the goodies in Panda Crate’s Discover with Me kit that arrived. This month’s theme was all about the ways in which kids learn (hint: repetition is key), and would be great for kids aged 20 months and up.

One: Animal Puzzles

This first toy was Veronika’s least favorite of the bunch. Four tiles match up on one side to make a park-scene puzzle. The reverse side shows 4 animal faces and the numerals 1 through 4. Even for a grown up, the puzzle was frustrating because there is no way to link the pieces together!

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That said, she loved playing “I spy” with the image in the puzzle oncce complete. “Can you find the tire swing?” I asked her. “Can you find the cloud?”

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She also thought the animal images were quite cute, and you can arrange them in numerical order to teach early counting.

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Two : Peek-A-Boo Base

There’s another use for those animal puzzle tiles. Put them in the provided base, and when you press on the top of one, the one adjacent to it pops up to say hello. If you do this fast and hard enough, it actually pops all the way out of the base!

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Veronika couldn’t muster up that much strength, but did enjoy pressing on them. Slotting them in and out of the base is great repetitive play, and older kids can work on adding them in numerical order.

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Three: Hide-and-Seek Mat

This one was definitely the favorite from the crate, combining imaginative play with symbolic thinking skills. Three wooden animals can hop around the playground scene or be used for hide-and-seek behind the flaps (a gate, a bush, etc.).

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Veronika loved narrating to herself as she played, repeatedly “finding” her puppy, cat, and bunny.

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These three animals also match up to…

Four: Animal Match-Up

… a set of cards featuring 4 different pairs of parent and baby animals: a bird, cat, bunny, and dog. Veronika loved the cute babies and the tiles are great for vocabulary (kitten and puppy vs. cat and dog for example) and for making animal noises to match each set.

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You can encourage your child to pair the parents with the babies, arrange them in big and little order, or even play a game of Memory!

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Five: Pop-Up Roller

This item seemed out of place with the rest of the crate, but is meant to teach cause-and-effect. The roller has tabs on each side; when one tab pops out, the tab opposite it goes in.

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It was good for talking about colors, and will make noises when rolled along a hard floor that likewise teach cause-and-effect. But Veronika didn’t like it as much all those cute animal toys!

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Six: Board Book

I remain disappointed in the book included with the crate, this time called “Where’s Poppy?” What’s more, the company already sent a book with a hide-and-seek theme in the Play with Me crate! We really would have preferred a book with a new topic or with flaps to lift and encourage interaction.

Wonder magazine this month featured tips about repetitive play, ways to encourage your child to try new things, and a cute sing-along to Three Little Pandas (jumping on the bed) as opposed to those familiar monkeys. We get why they chose this song: cause-and-effect again!

We also played a toddler favorite, Lights On, Lights Off with our light switches. Simply head to any switch in the house and let your toddler press and marvel at the result (either a dark room or an illuminated one).

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Veronika loves doing this in the kitchen, in particular!

We checked out three books from the library to finish the fun:

The Rain Came Down by David Shannon

Peek-a-Moo by Nina Laden

Before, After by Anne-Margaret Ramstein

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Exploring Marshmallows with the Five Senses

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I wanted to do an early five senses activity with Veronika, and thought about the most toddler-friendly material in the house we could use. What could be better than yummy, squishy marshmallows?

We used the large marshmallows from Dandies for this activity, which were better for exploration than the small ones in this case.

To start, I drew a cartoon face showing eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and then labeled each one, along with the word ‘Skin’ on the cheek for the sense of touch. This wasn’t necessary, but provided a nice visual as we moved through each sense.

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It was time to go through the senses one by one as we explored our marshmallows! First, I invited Veronika to use her eyes. She loved peering through a magnifying glass, and named the color (white). I had to laugh when my question “What does it look like?” received a very toddler-appropriate answer: “A marshmallow!”

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Next we used our nose to smell it. Sweet and sugary!

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Now, could we use our ears to discover what it sounded like? The marshmallow itself made no noise, but she liked the soft rubbing noise it produced if I ran my fingers over it.

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Time to use our hands! How did it feel? She discovered that it was squishy and plump to the touch on the outside.

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But once we broke one open, it was super sticky! “I got sticky on me!” Veronika declared.

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Now for the best part: it was time to use the sense of taste. (Ok, she might have been nibbling on another marshmallow during this whole exploration…).

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And it sure tasted sweet and yummy!

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Cheesy Soup Skimmers

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This quick kid-friendly cooking project makes a tasty lunch and has a little science lesson thrown in, too!

We wanted to test what could float in a bowl of soup, and decided to make cheesy “crackers”. (Note: I used Daiya’s shredded non-dairy cheddar for the experiment, which worked great. Other non-dairy cheese will most likely work, too, but I can’t say for sure).

Travis picked a few fun cookie cutter shapes, including hearts, stars…and Darth Vader’s helmet! Sprinkle a thin layer of the non-dairy cheddar into each cookie cutter over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. We also made a few free-form shapes for comparison on the side.

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Be sure to lift off the cookie cutters before baking! Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes, just until the cheese sets.

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Let cool completely, then carefully peel the cheese shapes off the parchment paper and slip on top of a bowl of soup. We particularly liked these with tomato soup.

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The kids loved seeing the cheese float. And then they tested out a few oyster crackers, too! That’s where the science comes in: if you press on the cheese skimmers, they will break the surface tension of the soup and sink to the bottom of the bowl. The crackers will always float for a different reason, though, namely density!

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Glue Dots and Buttons

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Veronika seems to enjoy art projects best when I squeeze out the dots of glue ahead of time and then she gets to press down materials on each little white blob. So today, with no other agenda or other final product in mind, that’s exactly what she got to do!

To set up, I used a piece of black construction paper as the background so that the white dots would show up clearly, and simply dotted all over it with glue. I set out a plate of buttons, pom poms, and dried beans for her. Anything else easy to glue down would be great in the mix, too.

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Veronika immediately began adding buttons, and wanted to name the color of each as she pressed down.

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For fun, I made some of the glue dots in a representation of other things, like a smiley face. She was delighted as soon as she saw what we’d made.

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She didn’t want to add any of the pom poms, but enjoyed pressing down the dried beans, too.

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This was a simple activity for fine motor skills, and would work well as a busy activity for preschoolers who can even make the glue dots by themselves.

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