Pond Play Dough Redux

This is an activity I did when Travis was a toddler. Today it was Veronika’s turn, but it looked so fun that Travis wanted a repeat, too!

To make the play dough, place the following in a bowl (do not stir):

2 cups flour

1/2 cup salt

1 and 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar

3 tablespoons canola oil

3 drops tea tree oil

Add 1 cup boiling water, pouring directly over the salt. Knead the dough until smooth, adding about 2 tablespoons more flour if it feels too sticky.

We divided our dough into 3 portions to color it the various hues of a pond landscape. Some was green for grass, some was blue for the water, and some was a yellowish-brown for stones or earth.

I set out all three colors on a tray, adding a few plastic frogs and lizards, and Veronika immediately came to see what it was all about. And Travis too!

Veronika loved just moving the toy animals around on the dough.

She clearly enjoyed the sensory elements, whether the way it smelled (the tea tree oil is so authentically earthy!) or the feel of pulling large portions of play dough into small pieces.

Travis enjoyed the imaginative elements that this particular play dough lends itself to. He made little “rocks” from the yellow dough, and set out the turtles and lizards to “sun”.

Next, he built a tree for a frog to hop up! I loved seeing his creativity.

In sum, this simple homemade play dough will be a hit for all ages.

Pinto Bean Burgers

These veggie burger patties are delicious, but don’t hold their shape that well out of the pan. The solution I’ve found is to tuck them into pita bread pockets for an easy hand-held meal.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, minced
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic; saute for 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl, along with the pinto beans; mash with a potato masher.
  3. Whisk together the flaxseed and water, and add to the pinto bean mixture, along with the breadcrumbs. Stir until combined. Note: At this point you can store the mixture in the fridge until ready to shape at cook the patties, which makes it a great make-ahead option for busy nights.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Divide the pinto bean mixture into six portions, shaping into patties, and add to the skillet. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side.

Funnels & Tubes

A few simple items were all I needed today to engage Veronika in great water play, no fancy water table required. To set up, I simply set out a bin filled with water and asked Veronika what color we should make it. She requested blue!

I then set out a funnel, as well as two lengths of tubing. The latter were about 1 and 1/2 feet long and 1/2-inch in diameter. (Note: you can get these for mere pennies at a hardware store, cut to size).

Although my original intention was for the tubing to fit over the end of the funnel, Veronika was completely untroubled by the fact that they stayed unattached. She could fill the funnel and then watch the blue water trickle down.

She used it to fill the tubes, or to let it rain right down on her hand.

She also enjoyed filling the tubing directly from the basin, then lifting it up to watch the water slosh back and forth before dumping it out.

Pretty soon she decided that a few toys needed to take a bath. “They’re in the tub!” Veronika said with delight.

It was her idea to go trotting over to our marble run set and bring pieces over. I didn’t even realize she’d done so until I heard her call out, “It turns green!”

Sure enough, the yellow plastic in the blue water made the water appear greenish. She tried other segments, including a wheel that could spin when she poured the funnel over it.

Thanks to a towel underneath to catch any drips, this was fantastic water play with easy clean-up to boot.

Outdoor Obstacle Course

A gorgeous spring day was the perfect chance to test all those gross motor skills in the backyard. For this game, we pulled out just about everything we could think of, including the following:

First up was a slide to climb up and go down.

Next, I stretched a jump rope between two cones for the kids to hop over.

Next, we arranged stepping stones (we have a great set made to look like turtle shells!) in a wavy line.

This area was by far the biggest hit of the whole set-up, and the kids often just played back and forth along the “turtles” for a while!

Next they had to land in hula hoops…

…before crawling through our play tunnel. At the end were a few pool noodles to jump over.

The kids loved completing the course, then racing back to start it again!

We ended the day’s “competition” with an Animal Run relay game! Place stuffed animals in a pile in one hula hoop (or similar target area).

Each kid picked a stuffed animal and placed it between their knees, then made their way to a second hula hoop to drop it down.

First one to clear all the animals in his or her pile wins!

Candy Color Sort

With lots of leftover Easter candy still in the pantry, I decided to sneak in a little learning (colors and mathematical sorting) while Veronika nibbled on a sweet snack!

I poured candy out onto a paper plate, making sure we had every color of the rainbow thanks to a mix of Giggles chewy candies and chocolate candies from Unreal.

I then set out a muffin tray, and put a few of each color in the muffin cups to get her started. “Where should this blue one go?” I asked, and she dropped it in with the blue.

Of course there was much snacking amidst the sorting, but she enjoyed the process! Every once in a while, I would trick her by deliberately putting a candy in the wrong cup. She very quickly spotted a yellow lurking among the green, and moved it to the correct place. Talk about a sweet way to taste the rainbow!

Earth Day Art: Caterpillars, Snakes, and Worms

 

Earth Day is just around the corner, and I wanted the kids to engage with the Earth using land art to mark the holiday. We needed an activity that would be simple enough for Veronika as a toddler to follow along, and what could be easier than lines in the dirt? We set off on a walk looking for ways to turn items into nature’s creatures that also come in long linear form: think caterpillars, snakes, and worms.

The game is great because kids can make long lines out of almost anything. First we tried pine cones. Veronika loved helping gather and arrange these.

Big brother Travis pitched in, too!

Next up we made a snake, and for this one we gathered sticks. We left it on a rock to greet the next family that wandered by!

Rocks looked a bit like a cute caterpillar, with a furry tail made from pine needles.

Sometimes, we found elements of nature that already looked like snakes or caterpillars, as with this root. We simply decorated it with some pine needles!

What will your kids use to make earth art this holiday? Please share your in the comments, and happy Earth Day!

Red, Red, Red

Do you ever have to coax your little ones into getting started on a nature walk? My kids love the woods once we’re in them, but sometimes getting going can feel like a slog. Here’s a fun game (based on an idea from the Toddler’s Busy Book) that gets those feet moving!

The concept is a bit like Simon Says, in that children get to move only if you give them the correct cue. If you say a word three times (“red, red, red”), players advance. If you trick them (“red, red, blue” or “mouse, mouse, cat”), everyone stays frozen. Ready, set… “Red, red, red!” I called out.

And they were off!

Instead of regular words, we also like to play this game with silly ones. “Kablooie kablooie… ice cream!” I said next. They stayed frozen and cracked up.

“Kablooie, kablooie, kablooie!” Three times was the charm, and they were off and running!

Shout out freeze and then repeat as many times as your kids want to play. By the time they tire of the game, we’re usually deep in the woods for exploration. Note: If you’re playing the game in a backyard instead, have kids race to a specific point (like a fence or tree) and then back again every time you say the three words correctly.

Sparkly Spring Tree

Our neighborhood is resplendent right now with the pink trees of spring, dogwoods and magnolias in full bloom. Veronika and I came home from a walk to make our own, thanks to this idea originally spotted at Hands on as We Grow.

First, I drew a brown tree trunk on white paper. Alternatively, you could cut the trunk from brown construction paper and glue down.

Next, Veronika helped tear pieces of pink construction paper to the flower blossoms. You can encourage preschoolers to cut these out with safety scissors, too!

She loved being in charge of the glue for the next step; everywhere she dotted down, we placed a pink “flower”.

We then added a few strands of pink thread for additional flowers.

Of course what’s a spring tree without some glitter? Add a little glue and tap glitter onto it (or in Veronika’s case, dump glitter onto it), then shake off the excess and let dry.

This tree was definitely blooming!

Corn Pancakes with Black Bean Salsa

This savory pancake batter sneaks in not one but two vegetables. They make a great breakfast-for-dinner meal, especially when served alongside your favorite meatless sausage.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup butternut squash soup (such as Imagine)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • 2 teaspoons Earth Balance butter
  • 1 cup mild salsa
  • 1/4 cup black beans
  1. To prepare the pancakes, combine the cornmeal and flour in a bowl; set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flaxseed and water in a large bowl. Add the soup and soy milk, whisking to combine. Stir in the cornmeal mixture just until combined.
  3. Melt the butter on a griddle over medium-high heat. Add the pancake batter to form 4 to 5 pancakes. Cook for about 3 minutes, then flip and cook an additional 2 minutes or so on the other side. (Note: These won’t form bubbles on the top when ready to flip, as standard pancakes do).
  4. Meanwhile, stir together the salsa and black beans in a small bowl. Serve the pancakes with the salsa on the side, or dolloped right on top!

Making Faces, Five Ways

It can sometimes feel uncomfortable to talk with toddlers about emotions. In particular, I always worry that showing angry or sad faces will make my children mirror those “negative” feelings. But it’s also incredibly important to give toddlers the emotional vocabulary to understand their own feelings, and those of others.

Here are five fun ways to play around with faces and expressions – including those sad ones – to help demystify all those big toddler emotions.

Felt Faces:

For the first game, I relied on a felt set that we own to make round faces and pieces to mix and match as facial features. If you don’t own such a set, glue felt onto cardboard circles for each face, and cut additional pieces of felt into various shapes for eyes, noses, and mouths.

Ovals and circles were great for eyes or open-mouthed surprise. A crescent moon was a perfect smile, and then immediately became a frown once turned upside down!

After showing Veronika a few examples, I encouraged her to design her own faces. Of course hers weren’t always recognizable, but she had the idea. She said this one was wearing a hat:

Funny Faces:

For the next version, I cut eyes, noses, and mouths from a magazine until I had a varied collection. Ideally the images would have been larger, but even with small pieces, Veronika enjoyed starting to mix and match them.

I showed her how to combine the features into faces that sometimes showed multiple emotions, often with silly results. This one looked quite surprised!

She also enjoyed turning the game into sensory play, helping glue them down and then lifting them up again for lots of sticky mixing and matching.

Nature Masks:

For the next version, we first needed to head outside to gather some nature treasures. Once home, I cut two eye holes into a paper plate and then invited Veronika to arrange her treasures any which way.

We ended up with something vaguely human (and perhaps on the spectrum between happy and creepy!). Your child might also enjoy making an animal face for this craft, instead of a human one, thanks to all those fluffy furry nature bits.

Nature Mirror:

Mirrors are a fantastic way to let kids explore their emotions, so for the next round of face play we headed to the bathroom with our nature treasures. First, I invited Veronika to try out her expressions. Could she be happy and silly? Yes!

How about “slumpy” (her word for a mix of grumpy and sleepy)? Yup.

Now we made faces right over our reflections with shaving cream (you could also use washable paint). Now she could either play around with the shaving cream by hand or add a few more nature treasures to it, to alter the expressions.

Faces for the Trees:

Our final emotion game used nature, too, and this time we needed to make “forest putty” a.k.a. dirt mixed with water. We shoveled some dirt into a bucket and then Veronika watered it. Stir with a shovel or stick until your mixture looks a bit like brownie batter.

Now I asked Veronika if the trees had feelings, too! She decided yes, this tree was happy. We smeared on some of our forest putty, then gathered up treasures like dandelions and pine branches to give it a face. Our putty was a bit runny, so we had to make the face down low on the trunk, but if your mixture is more like clay, it might stick higher up on the trunk.

What expression will your favorite tree have? Please share in the comments!