Winter Treasure Hunts

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It can be tough to motivate kids to get outside on cold days (and let’s be honest, to motivate ourselves as grown-ups, too). But even the simplest suggestion of a treasure hunt can serve as enticement! To wit, Veronika and I did two quick hunts today, the first for nature treasures and the second for toys.

For the first, I simply set her the task of finding various nature items around the yard, ones I knew she could spot easily. Her first task was to spot the bright pop of red berries.

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Next up was to find a prickly pine cone! Add anything to the list that your child can find easily in winter. If your kids are older, you can make a scavenger hunt sheet or index cards with images of each item to find.

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For the second “hunt”, I hid a few of her favorite toys (like little bunny figures) around the yard, then told her that the bunnies might be hiding. Could she find them? She was so surprised and delighted when she spotted them!

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We weren’t outside for long, but these two little hunts helped us get a bit of fresh air!

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Rainbow Toy Scavenger Hunt

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Here’s a great color lesson for toddlers that’s interactive and hands-on!

To start, I drew a rainbow with markers on the biggest piece of paper available, in this case an old paper grocery bag that I opened up to lie flat. Ideally I would have made the rainbow even bigger on poster board or butcher paper, but the grocery bag worked in a pinch. This was a fun chance for a little art side-by-side, since Veronika wanted to color, too.

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Once the rainbow was complete, it was time to make it 3-D! I curated this activity slightly for Veronika since she’s so young, gathering a variety of toys in easy-to-spot solid colors, and placing them in piles near the rainbow. These included blocks, toy cars, dominoes, plastics fruits and veggies, and bean bags.

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Now I asked Veronika to help me fill in the rainbow! She quite quickly grasped the idea, reaching to put items on the line of the same color. Our bumpy rainbow quickly took shape.

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Even better, the completed rainbow is likely to invite your child to play solo for some time after, since all those toys are now right at hand!

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Older toddlers and preschoolers can make this more of a true hunt, and trot all about the house looking for one color at a time before lining up the items they’ve found on the rainbow lines. But even this sit-down “hunt” was great for my two year old!

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2 Ingredient Homemade Snowballs

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There’s no need to wait for the next snowfall before your kids have a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Make your own snowballs at home with just two ingredients in this hands-on activity!

To make the snowballs, you’ll simply need 1 (16-ounce) box cornstarch and 1 (7-ounce) can shaving cream. Combine these two ingredients in a craft bin and stir.

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I wish I had photos from the exuberant mixing session that followed. This is messy toddler play at its best, and Veronika was up to her elbows (literally!) in the mixture. Unfortunately, I was up to my elbows in it, too, so couldn’t grab my camera in the moment.

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Once the mixture comes together, it is shockingly not messy at all, but rather squeezes together into perfect “snowballs”. We headed outside with our ammo!

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Older kids will no doubt want to have a real battle. In that case, you’ll probably want to make a double batch, and then each team can make a fort and pelt away. The snowballs are so soft that there’s no need to worry about anyone getting hurt.

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For toddlers, the delight is more sensory. Veronika loved the way she could hold one of the soft snowballs carefully in two hands. But the second she tossed it to the ground, it splattered into crumbles.

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She loved doing this off our patio, or even sending snowballs down her plastic slide.

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Once everything was in crumbs, she kept playing for a long time. She enjoyed picking up the leftover bits of the mixture and then sprinkling it down to make it “snow” all over the yard.

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Although I wouldn’t recommend regularly sprinkling a shaving cream mixture on your grass, it doesn’t hurt once during the winter season!

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Washing Vegetables

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If you have a toddler who’s eager to help in the kitchen (say while an older sibling is cooking by your side), here’s the perfect task that he or she can tackle solo!

I set out a tray with just a little water, along with a cloth, a vegetable scrubber, and a few extra veggies. Use fruits and vegetables that you know you’ll peel later (think russet potatoes, eggplants, or citrus fruits), so it doesn’t matter if your little one actually makes the vegetables dirtier on the floor rather than cleaner.

We had a few extra eggplants and I showed Veronika how to scrub at the skin with the vegetable brush.

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She was an eager helper and liked dabbing at them gently with a cloth. When the eggplants were “clean”, I showed her how to pat them dry, too. This little activity is so simple but made her feel just as important in the kitchen as big brother.

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Beginner Object Line Tracing

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Here’s a neat hack that allows a toddler to practice following lines like tracing, but which doesn’t require holding a pencil or marker: “Trace” with objects instead!

Great first letters for toddlers are always their name, since this is often the first world they’ll have to write. I like to use Veronika’s nickname so she’s not overwhelmed too many letters, so I spelled out V-I-K-A in blue painter’s tape.

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Next, I showed her how to arrange our set of colored dominoes along these lines.

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She caught on quickly, and although her focus often wandered (she was very interested in talking about the colors of the dominoes, too), she was easily redirected to the task and followed along as I helped her fill in all the letters.

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This was a great chance to say the name of each letter, too, and the sound it makes. The giant size of the tape letters definitely invited interaction! She loved standing in the empty space of the V…

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…or walking along the lines of the A. In fact, you could encourage your toddler to trace the letters with his or her feet!

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Just to gauge where she’s at with pen control, I did give her a marker at the end of our play to see if she wanted to follow the big lines of tape with it. She preferred drawing small circles or loops on the tape instead, so we’re not quite there yet!

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Winter Snowflake Slime

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We don’t make slime often, so this winter snowflake version today was a real treat for Veronika! I did use borax powder for this particular slime recipe, but there are lots of alternatives (including saline solution or liquid starch) if you’d rather not. Since I knew Veronika would be using craft sticks to play with the material, and not her hands, I felt comfortable about the borax.

To make the slime, combine 1/2 cup white glue and 1/2 cup warm water in a bowl or tray.

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Next, add silver glitter: lots! I used large flakes of silver to make it look like snow in the wintry white slime. You could also search for glitter in the shape of actual snowflakes at the craft store! Finally, dissolve 1/4 teaspoon borax powder in 1/2 cup hot water. Add this to the glue mixture and it will seize up instantly.

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Our mixture turned out almost like ooblek, running back towards a liquid when we didn’t touch it, but seizing up as soon as we stirred or scooped. Needless to say, Veronika was fascinated. She loved watching me lift up big handfuls of it.

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She would stir with her craft stick and then lift it to pull up big globs before watching it dribble back down.

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If we touched our two craft sticks together, the mixture was so sticky!

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And of course the silver glitter and white color made us think of sparkly snow. If you want, recite your favorite word play or nursery rhyme about snowflakes while your toddler plays and stirs.

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Here’s one we like, which you can say as you flutter your fingers like snowflakes.

Softly, softly, falling so,

This is how the snowflakes go.

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter,

Pit pit pat,

Down go the raindrops

On my hat.

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Little Passports: Israel

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Travis latest package from Little Passports was all about Israel; the activities for this particular country were less hands-on than previous packages he’s received. Still, Travis is always excited for the latest from “Sam and Sofia”!

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Through the booklet, he learned about ancient artifacts that have been found in Israel, sea creatures of the Red Sea, shuk shopping markets, and more. Most were age-appropriate for a 1st grader except a tough mystery to solve using Hebrew letter characters.

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Souvenir:

I wish Travis had received this particular kit back in December, because the souvenir was a game of dreidel, complete with a spinning top and a set of felt gold coins. Even though it wasn’t Hanukkah, Travis loved playing a few rounds!

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Further Activities:

Of course next we needed to color in the flag of Israel, and there was also a coloring page to teach about the holiday of Tu B’Shvat (new years for the trees), which Travis colored quite carefully.

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Next up was a science experiment to see what salt does to objects in water, as with the salty Dead Sea. The original instructions were to do this activity with an egg, but we used carrots to make it vegan. Fill each of 2 glass cups with 3/4 cup warm water. Add 1 baby carrot to the first cup. Ker-plop, it sinks!

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Next, add 1/4 cup salt to the second cup, stirring until it dissolves. We added a second baby carrot… and it floats!

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From here, we turned to Little Passport’s blog for a DIY Hanukkah Menorah. To start, cut a large paper plate in half, then mark 8 notches at the top with blue marker. Use the marker to connect these, so you have a series of increasingly smaller U shapes.

Next, we colored 9 clothespins with blue marker and decorated with silver glitter glue; let dry, then twist a small piece of yellow or gold pipe cleaner and use hot glue to attach to the open end of each clothespin. Cut a small paper plate in half; make slits in each half, as well as two slits in the bottom of the larger plate so they notch together to form a stand. Finally, attach the clothespins as the candles!

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Recipe:

It was time to end the exploration with dessert. We prepared a recipe for traditional Hamantaschen, a triangle-shaped pastry eaten during the holiday of Purim. Pinching the cookies into triangles took a bit of practice, but soon we had a knack for it!

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 cup jam, any flavor
  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and orange juice.
  3. Whisk the flaxseed into the warm water to make 1 flax egg. Add to the butter mixture and beat until combined.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to make circles. Spoon a scant tablespoon of jam into the center of each, then pinch the dough into a triangle, forming three corners with your fingers.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees F for 18 minutes. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

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Indoor Baseball

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Veronika played her first round of baseball today! Okay, perhaps not really, but here’s a version of the sport that works even for toddlers.

The inner tube from a roll of gift wrap makes the perfect, soft baseball bat for young children. I secured it at the ends and the middle with duct tape for durability, and then for the safest baseballs ever, I simply inflated a few balloons.

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Now all we needed were cushions as the bases, and we had the whole baseball diamond!

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Of course your toddler won’t understand the rules yet, but Veronika loved taking swings with the bat. Or just bopping the balloons along on the ground with it!

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You can also practice tossing the balloon in the air and keeping it up with the bat.

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She was an enthusiastic participant when I showed her how to run from base to base, too, even if she didn’t quite understand why. Don’t forget to shout “home run!” when you complete the circuit.

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In sum, this is a fun way to introduce the sport of baseball to your two-year-old, plus you’ll get out some energy in the process!

Apple Pear Crisp

Apple Pear Crisp (1)This easy dessert lets the natural sweetness of the fruit shine. Serve with your favorite vegan vanilla ice cream if your kids like their dessert served a la mode!

Ingredients:

  • 3 pears
  • 3 apples
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup melted Earth Balance butter
  • Cooking spray
  1. Peel, core, and thinly slice the pears and apples; set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, vanilla, flour, oats, and butter.
  3. Spoon the fruit into a 13×9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray, then top evenly with the brown sugar mixture. Bake at 400 degrees F for 40 minutes and let cool slightly before serving.

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Balls, Balls, Balls

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Veronika attends a toddler gym class once a week, and her favorite part is always when they bring out a big bin of balls and a hoop and she practices her “slam dunks”. The only problem is that she’s sad every day that isn’t “slam dunk” day! So today, we brought the ball fun home.

I wanted to try working on several different ball skills with her, so first we sat with our legs together to form a little enclosure and rolled a bouncy ball back and forth.

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Then we upped the ante. Turn a laundry basket on its side and roll the ball into this “goal”. She initially wanted to bounce the ball in, but soon switched her focus to rolling.

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Next, we turned the basket upright. Now she could toss or bounce it in!

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Time for slam dunks! Place the basket on top of any slightly higher surface, like a coffee table or stool, and let your toddler reach up high.

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Slam dunk!

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For a final challenge, we angled a couch cushion down like a ramp (you could also use cardboard or a wooden plank for this step). First we rolled the ball down into a waiting basket.

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And then she rolled it up to the tip top of the ramp so we could roll it back down again. This took great concentration, as well as dexterity, on her part.

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In sum, there are so many ways to play with a simple ball at home. What’s your toddler’s favorite ball game? Please share in the comments!

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