Bug Fossil Play Dough

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We’ve used playdough to make dinosaur footprint fossils in the past, but today Veronika had fun making full body prints of something much smaller: bugs!

A set of plastic bug toys was perfect for this activity. I showed Veronika how to flatten playdough into little pancakes, and then to press down one bug at a time.

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Lift up…

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…and reveal the imprint! Because the full body of the bug will fit on the playdough discs, these really do look like fossils of ancient creepy crawlies. It also turned into a fun matching game, helping her match each imprint to a 3-D object. I would hold up one “fossil” and ask her which bug it matched. Was this one the ant?

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No, the cockroach! Next she found a match for the centipede.

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Of course bugs aren’t the only thing that leave fun tracks in play dough. We finished the game by rolling a bumpy ball over some of the play dough discs. Perhaps this “fossil” belonged to some very mysterious ancient creature.

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And then she made her toy figures walk through the playdough and loved seeing their footprints!

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What fossil will your mini archaeologist dig up? Please share in the comments!

Make a Masterpiece

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Here’s a fun way to turn the side dish at your next meal into arts & crafts! Not only will this cooking project engage children’s artistic side, but you might just get them to try a new food, too.

To start, I sliced a variety of veggies and fruits (yes, you can roast fruit), resulting in a hodgepodge of rutabaga, beets, apple, pear, and oranges. I tried to cut each item into different shapes, like triangular rutabaga pieces, semi-circle beets, circular orange slices, and apple wedges.

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I then set everything out for Veronika alongside a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and encouraged her to arrange the items however she wanted. She looked so proud as she chose where to place each piece of food.

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She especially loved the beets because they made her fingers pink!

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I demonstrated how some of the items could be arranged almost like images from a kaleidoscope (oranges surrounded by apple wedges were pretty, for example), but mostly I left the design up to her. She talked about the shapes as she worked; meanwhile ‘rutabaga’ and ‘beets’ were new vocab for her and she quickly latched on to these new words.

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When her design was finished, I drizzled with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkled with a dash of salt, then roasted at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.

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The resulting mix made a perfect side dish to a winter meal! You can try this with any number of root veggies or fruits, and see what combination your little artists like best.

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Penny Playdough

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This simple twist on playdough play turns your toddler into a mini archaeologist!

Veronika has wanted to play with playdough every morning this week, so today I wanted to make it a little different. I took the loose change from my wallet (a mix of pennies, dimes, and nickles) and “buried” them in pieces of play dough. I made sure she saw so she knew that “treasure” was waiting for her, although you could also keep it a surprise.

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I then pulled out a variety of playdough tools, including plastic knives, forks, chisels, and spatulas. The challenge was up to her to see if she could dig to the coins!

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She immediately was into the game, testing the different tools to see which worked best. Or sometimes she just used her fingers!

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We tried burying the money in different ways, too, sometimes balled up in the middle, sometimes stuck in like little quills that she could pull out. “Help, help!” she pretended the little pennies were crying.

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This was a great game for imagination and fine motor skills, and kept her so busy for over half an hour!

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Turn Soy Milk into Tofu!

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Travis and I spotted a neat way to turn cow’s milk into cheese on Kiwi Co’s website, by adding an acid (lemon juice) which makes the proteins clump up (the curds) out of the leftover liquid (the whey). All thoughts of Little Miss Muffet aside, we wondered if we could make this work with soy milk!

To start, place 1 and 1/2 cups soy milk in a pot over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the soy milk is frothy and hot, but do not let it boil. Immediately remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Travis and I were thrilled to see it seize up immediately, like tiny flecks of crumbled tofu.

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We strained the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, resulting in a small bowl of fresh soy “cheese” left behind in the sieve. We added a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of agave nectar, and did a curious taste test.

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Travis’s expression pretty much says it all; he declared this simultaneously “good but weird”. I don’t recommend this over purchasing tofu at the store, but it was a neat chemistry experiment!

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Monday Through Friday Letter Learning

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When Travis was two years old, I embarked on an ambitious Letter of the Week curriculum that took us on a journey from Z to A (yes, we went in reverse) full of activities, games, and field trips each week. I have beautiful memories of it, but it’s far too ambitious a project for child #2! That said, Veronika is very into letters right now and I want her to be able to devote a week to each letter, even if not in so immersive a fashion.

I was thrilled, therefore, to find this activity-a-day program at Hands on As We Grow, and this week Veronika tested it out on letter A with a few adaptations for her young age.

Monday: Letter Poster

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I started the week printing a picture of an item corresponding to the letter (in this case an apple picture for A), then gluing it to a piece of construction paper and writing out “A is for Apple, a is for apple”. I then wrote a few capital and lower case A/a along the bottom edge of the paper and encouraged Veronika to add a paper clip to each for some fine motor skills.

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If your child is older, you can hide those As among other letters to make it more of a search. Veronika finished by coloring in the apple, then we hung the poster on the wall to serve as a reference point all week. I was so happy that she already recognized A, tentatively naming it for me when I asked.

Now that we had established A as the Letter of the Week, it was on to…

Tuesday: Stomp Obstacle Course

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Monday was fine motor skills and Tuesday was for gross motor skills, specifically: stomping! I wrote A and a on post-it notes (I used seven, but you can go wild and do lots) and placed them around the house. Veronika’s job was to tap them if they were against the wall or stomp them with her feet if down low. She loved dancing on the floor ones, and racing to the door to tap these two:

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As she found each A, I asked her if it was upper case or lower case, a great way to help learn both versions of a letter. Once she had collected them all, we put them on the coffee table for a table stomp, normally a no-no (you can see that big grin!)

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Wednesday: Write in Shaving Cream

This was Veronika’s least favorite of the week, though I thought she would love it! I squirted a thin layer of shaving cream onto a craft tray and then wrote out A and a. My intention was for her to trace over these since she’s too young to form the letters herself. But she was surprisingly squeamish about it and only briefly traced them with a paintbrush instead.

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Thursday: Follow the Letter Grid

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I wrote out a series of As (using only capital letters this time) on a long sheet of butcher paper, then added a few “false” trails of other letters off to the side. You can make this increasingly harder depending on your child’s age. Kids can either walk along the maze, tape along it with painter’s tape, or (in Veronika’s case), drive cars along it. She immediately recognized the A and loved scooting her cars on the “road”.

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Friday: Chalk Letter Search

This last activity was perfect when we got a burst of early spring weather! We headed out to the back patio and I wrote several As hidden among other capital letters. “Can you find an A?” I asked Veronika. “A!” she said proudly, pointing.

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I wondered if she could circle it with a second color of chalk, and then had to laugh when she took my suggestion to “put green on it” literally.

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Hands On suggested a few other letter activities like Bubble Wrap Pop or Follow the Tape Maze, making the full suite of activities take 7 days instead of 5. But Veronika is on the young side for those options, and I like that this set gives her the weekend off.

Will we keep this up for all 26 letters moving forward? I may simplify things, but overall this is a great and doable plan with a young toddler!

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Toddler Trampoline

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It can feel like a chore to lift down Veronika’s heavy crib mattress on sheet day, but here’s a way to make lemonade out of lemons if you find yourself feeling the same. While that mattress is on the floor, it becomes the perfect toddler trampoline!

Veronika is learning how to jump (right now she goes up to her toes but hasn’t gotten any lift yet), and is so proud of her efforts. So I when I set down the mattress today, I encouraged her to step up on it and jump! Of course there’s the thrill of jumping on the bed, since normally that’s taboo. She was quite impish as she started prancing around.

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Pretty soon, stuffed animals wanted to jump, too!

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Of course she needed a pause for a puppy hug.

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She loved “jumping” and then flopping down with a flourish.

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If you’re at all worried about your toddler falling off the sides of the mattress, just surround it with a few pillows. When the sheets are clean, the mattress goes back in the crib and the fun ends until next time!

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Mommy White Board Project

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This blog is almost entirely about the games and activities I organize for my children, but very rarely do we as caregivers remember to do something for ourselves. I’ve been wanting a better organizational system for a while (right now I scribble everything on post-its!), but it always felt too indulgent to purchase a big wall planner. Well, it was time to change that! I draw so much inspiration from the fabulous mom behind Hands on as We Grow, so when I saw she had put together this white board system for herself, I knew it was worth the splurge.

I purchased a wall organizer that is half white board and half cork board. You can get super-crafty and hot glue on fabric, or further subdivide the planner with ribbon or buttons. Not being nearly that artistic, I simply dressed mine up a bit with strips of washi tape and then used hot glue to add decorative buttons in a few corners.

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I love that I can wipe off every item of my To Do list now, and I blocked out sections of the white board for our daily schedule, chores, and work-related items.

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The cork side is for pinning up current project or recipe ideas, or school-related notices for the kids.

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Perhaps the best part is that this board is going to save me so much paper in the long run, making it environmentally-friendly, too! No more loose pieces of paper stuck under too many magnets on the fridge.

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Shaving Cream Bonanza

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Today, Veronika went bananas with a shaving cream bonanza! Much like finger painting in the tub, this activity is perfect because you’re exactly where you need to be to rinse off at the end. In fact, your tub may be cleaner than when the game began, thanks to the soapy shaving cream.

I dressed Veronika in her bathing suit and placed her in a dry tub, then simply squirted out shaving cream: lots! I probably used about three-quarters of a container, but this was so fun that I might use a full bottle or two next time.

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First, Veronika had fun with her tub toys in the oceans of foam. Plastic boats looked like they were in an icy sea!

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She also liked adding bath toys like a penguin and dolphin, which could romp through the soapy waves.

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Your kids might want to play with the shaving cream on the floor of the tub or to smear it on the walls. For the latter, you could even take the opportunity to draw shapes or letters, but honestly we skipped that part today.

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Instead, I placed a basin of warm water next to Veronika and she loved scooping water up in cups and pouring it over the toys. This was neat because it made some of the shaving cream dissolve each time. She then decided it was more fun to scoop up shaving cream in her hand, rinse in the basin, and repeat. She got into such a groove solo with this activity for a while, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

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As she was finishing up play, we turned it into clean-up, simply rinsing each toy and watching the shaving cream go in runnels down the drain. A quick rinse for her hands and feet and clean-up was done!

Free the Toys

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In my experience, toddlers love tape (tearing it, sticking it on things, ripping it back up again), and here’s a way to give purpose to all that ripping: trap small toys in the compartments of a muffin tin, then cover over with painter’s tape. Then tell your toddler it’s time to free the toys!

You can use just about any small toy for this game. I used a mix of Veronika’s Calico Critters and Duplo figures. Counting bears would also be great, as suggested on the blog Days with Grey, or tiny Shopkins figures if you’re using a mini muffin tin.

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I placed one toy in each compartment and then covered with about 6 pieces of overlapping tape. I wanted to leave some gaps so Veronika would see that there was a toy inside, but consider making a complete cover of tape for older toddlers or preschoolers. Or, make only a few lines of tape for older kids, but have them use scissors instead of their hands!

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Veronika quickly proved adept at ripping up the tape and even at getting the sticky tape off her fingers when it momentarily got stuck.

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She delighted in discovering who was in each compartment, calling out the names she has for them like Pajama Bunny and Crawler Bunny.

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When she was done, she immediately asked for a repeat: “Let’s trap them again!” I repeated the process, and this time she was able to replace some of the tape herself after, soon inventing a game that involved the bunnies taking a “bath” in the little compartments.

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It wasn’t long before she wanted a third round! This time she wanted to trap her fireman toys and I switched it up by making long lines of tape instead of trapping each toy individually.

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She wasn’t as pleased with this version, but she did puzzle out how to pull up the long strands, after a little deliberation.

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I can unequivocally say that this is a fantastic way to keep a child busy, occupying Veronika’s attention far longer than most games.

Movie Dinner Night

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Last week the kids loved a picnic dinner-and-movie night so much that today we took it a step further. We repeated the picnic, but specifically designed a meal to fit the movie we were going to watch! This would work for any movie your kids love, and in our house that means Star Wars.

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That meant we were soon dining on TIE fighters made from crackers and vegan cheese (original idea on the Star Wars website here), blue Bantha milk (recipe care of Baking Mischief), and Jabba the Hummus (a quirky idea from ASDA Good Living).

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Combine that with a pan of nachos (tortilla chips topped with vegan shredded cheddar, black beans, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, and non-dairy sour cream), and we had all the fixings for a galactic banquet.

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All of this literally came together in under half an hour.

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The kids couldn’t get enough of the Bantha milk!

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Again, it doesn’t matter what the movie theme is. Pick the one your family loves most, find a few easy recipes, and you have a dinner they’ll never forget.

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The kids loved it so much we might just make this a tradition, revisiting the idea once a month with a new movie each time!

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