Let’s Count

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Counting out loud might seem silly when you play with babies who don’t have many words yet, but it’s never too early to learn! At one year old, here are some fun ways Veronika and I count.

First off, little fingers and toes practically beg to be counted.

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You can simply count them out with a touch or a tickle, or recite a classic rhyme like “This Little Piggy”, but add numbers for a twist. (“One little piggy went to market, two little piggies stayed home…”)

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Stairs are another fantastic place to count. Chances are your little adventurer loves climbing up these days. Counting helps cement the notion that numbers go in order, plus helps keep grown-ups patient since those little feet take longer than yours on steep steps!

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We also play with toys that involve counting, like a veggie farm set or Duplo blocks.

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Consider counting bubbles as you blow them. Or pop them!

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You could also try counting when you’re out and about, such as when you wait for a green light to change. Finally, read fun counting books together, especially ones with tactile elements.

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Before you know it, Veronika will be counting along! Once your baby does reach this milestone, don’t worry if he or she counts out of order. “One, two…five” will still mean he or she is learning these new words and concepts!


I Spy an Ornament

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Here’s a fun variation on “I Spy” to play around the Christmas tree after the sun goes down!

Turn off all the lights in the room so that the only illumination left comes from the tree lights. Take turns playing classic “I Spy” (“I spy something green”, “I spy something gold”,) and have the other family members guess which ornament it is.

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Travis loved being in charge of shining a flashlight on the guessed ornament if it was correct. Because he’s young, his clues are sometimes hilarious. “I spy something at the top of the tree with wings.” Our angel!

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This can also be a fun way to talk about family ornaments, for example explaining the significance behind homemade ones, family heirlooms, or those purchased on vacation.

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Travis loved the game so much we might just play every night until the tree comes down!

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Watch the Same Holiday Movie

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Holidays are rife with tradition and I love building these up with my children every year, sometimes continuing traditions from my own childhood, and sometimes creating new ones. One classic is to share a holiday film as a family and make it something special you only watch this time of year.

In our household, that means two Christmas movies in particular. The first is the wordless Snowman, with its stunning visuals and rich orchestral score. If you don’t know it, it tells the tale of a boy who makes a snowman that takes him on a magical flight to the North Pole. Spoiler alert: the sun comes out the next morning and you can guess the Snowman’s fate. It didn’t make me cry as a child, but it sure makes me do so when my kids watch!

For more fun, last year Travis watched Home Alone on repeat – literally – when he was sick just before Christmas. This year, we returned to it in better health, and now it’s linked with this special time of year.

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Chances are this one might get you a little teary as a grown up, too!

Of course it’s always fun to see new holiday movies. This year the extended family watched Elf.

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It sure got big laughs, plus had everyone gathered around one cozy TV set. Try out a few films and see which will become your holiday favorite. Next year, we even plan to serve movie-themed snacks!

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What’s your kids’ favorite holiday film? Please share in the comments!

Toys Play Hide and Seek

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Veronika is old enough now to enjoy games of hide and seek. Tonight, I put a fun spin on the game by taking it to the water!

Toss a variety of container lids into the tub at bath time. Ideally these would all be opaque with an older toddler, but with my one-year-old I didn’t worry that some were see-through. The lids themselves are half the fun of the game, since they will make excellent bath toys.

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While she was watching, I put a rubber frog under one of the lids.

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“Where’s frog?” I asked. She didn’t get it at first, reaching around for other lids. But I showed her how to lift the correct lid and declared, “There’s frog!”

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Now she was interested. I hid him under another lid, and this time she proudly looked around, then reached under.

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There’s frog!

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Needless to say, the lids and frogs made for a great bath time.

Beach Party

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If you can’t get some place warm and beachy this winter, here’s my favorite suggestion for entertaining kids indoors: Bring the beach to you!

This morning, we woke to gray skies and cold weather, so on a whim I set out a few beach towels, as well as all our summer beach toys. There were sand buckets and shovels….

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…a travel tic-tac-toe game…

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…inflatable pool toys, and more! Of course for added authenticity, we cranked up the heat a few degrees so the kids could put on their bathing suits.

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I had intended the game mainly for Veronika, but big brother Travis had to join in, and soon was “sunbathing”.

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If you want to go all out, there’s so much you can do here. Add tropical music, tropical snacks, or even real sand and real water for your little ones to scoop and play with in a sensory way.

Apologies for the dark quality of these photos; yes we played this game before the winter sun was even up!


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A play tunnel is a fantastic gross motor toy, and worth investing in (you can find them for under $20 on Amazon). Of course there’s just the fun of crawling through it, which Veronika loves endlessly!

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I like to put my head on one end, say “peek-a-boo”, and watch her proudly crawl to catch me.

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Another cute idea is to have your baby “commute” items from one end to the other. This helps with the idea of sorting and categorizing.

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We played first with her pretend food set, having her bring the food from a basket at one end to where I waited with a second basket at the other.

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Then we tried the game with puzzle pieces.

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Veronika trotted back and forth through the tunnel, filling in pieces to the base each time.

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What games do you play with a crawl-through tunnel? Please share in the comments!

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Whole Wheat Shells with Marinara Sauce

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This super-simple marinara recipe has just a touch of sweetness. In other words, perfect for babies eating pasta with tomato-based sauce for the first time!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Cooked whole wheat pasta shells
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, agave, basil, and oregano. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, as the sauce thickens.
  3. Serve over cooked pasta shells of choice! We like the very small cavatelli that are just the right size for little fingers.

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My Gingerbread House Kiwi Crate

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Travis’s kindergarten class is doing a unit on gingerbread houses, featuring everything from social studies (types of houses) to literature (stories featuring gingerbread boys and girls) to math (patterns and shapes). Who knew so much could go into a holiday project! So I purchased Kiwi Co.’s special holiday gingerbread kit to augment the theme. Travis was so proud of his creation.

To start, fold up the cardboard house and secure with a clear plastic sticker. Travis helped glue on the rectangle roof with the provided glue stick.

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Now the decorations are really up to your little creator! Travis and I followed some of the suggestions, including cutting white felt stickers into half circles for a “Snowy Rooftop”.

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Travis wanted to add colorful pom poms and felt shapes on the roof as well.

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You can also make “Gingerbread Candy Canes” by twisting together the provided red and white pipe cleaners. Travis decided ours should be straight, instead of curving into a hook.

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Next we made “Paper Candies” by twisting a sheet of provided tissue paper around a pom pom. We glued one just above the gingerbread house door.

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Finally, our window could be “Stained Glass” by gluing a sheet of tissue paper (Travis chose blue) to the inside.

Glue down white felt on the cardboard base for a snowy scene. Travis also wanted to glue green felt to the cardboard tree, which slots together.

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He loved wrapping the two provided gingerbread people in ribbon as decoration, and was particularly proud of himself for this idea.

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Additional pom poms and crumpled bits of tissue paper finished our gingerbread scene. We love that this creation will last, unlike houses meant to be eaten!

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What is Philanthropy

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Several of Travis’s subscriptions focused on philanthropy this December, and I was glad of it. I’m hoping to instill in him the idea of giving back: all year, but during the holidays in particular.

First up was this month’s Gallant Challenge in Highlights magazine. Two boys built a “Box of Blessings”, a wooden box outside their home that acted as a food pantry. Those who needed items could take them, and neighbors helped replenish it. We loved the idea, but don’t currently have the ability to build and mount a box.

Luckily, it tied in perfectly with a lesson from Raddish Kids to accompany the Corn Muffins we baked around Thanksgiving.

Start off with a read-through of The Very Hungry Caterpillar┬áby Eric Carle. As we read, I had snacks ready to go: apples and oranges to mimic the foods the caterpillar was nibbling. If you like, have even more of the caterpillar’s food items ready for snacking!

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Once the story ended, I asked Travis how the caterpillar felt at the beginning. Travis pinpointed his hunger, and we discussed times that he has felt hungry (like after school when he’s hangry for snack!). It helped him imagine what it might be like to feel hungry but not have access to food once home.

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With older kids, you can delve deeper into the idea of food security here, and reasons some families might not have it: illness, unemployment, old age. I tread lightly over all that with a kindergartner, but talked instead about how we can help: donating food to those who might need it.

Open Table in particular offers the option for Kids’ Bags. Travis and I went over the list of suggested groceries together and purchased the materials to stuff a few bags for our local drop-off center.

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Have fun decorating these! Travis then proudly filled them, assembly-line style, with items like juice boxes and packaged snacks.

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We finished by reading a few additional books including Beatrice’s Goat by Paige McBrier and One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice.

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Another great philanthropy project for even young kids is toy donation, especially just before the holidays. How do your children participate in charity? Please share in the comments!

Cheery O’s!

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O cereal is the deservedly one of the best first cereals for babies, and for so many reasons. The circles are easy for a little one to pick up with little fingers; they dissolve easily in the mouth, and those cute circles are just begging to be played with, too!

To wit, today at snack time I didn’t just set o cereal on Veronika’s tray; instead, I gave her two cups, one empty and one full, to turn it into a pouring and scooping game.

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She took right to it, and loved learning to pour directly from one cup to another, her best success with pouring yet.

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She also loved the small plinking sound that the cereal made if she dropped it into a cup by hand.

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And of course there is happy nibbling that takes place throughout the game! This is fast, fun, easy entertainment for any young toddler.

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Photo Fun

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School pictures are in this year for big brother Travis, which reminded me that I don’t have an annual photo yet of Veronika to capture time in the same way. So as I picked out frames for Travis’s photos this year, I made sure to include a few fun photo ideas for Veronika!

Find a picture that you love (I chose a shot from her first birthday), and have wallet-sized prints made at your local drugstore. Insert into mini frames, alongside the professional portraits of older sibs.

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The perfect thing to brighten up my kitchen window!

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For some additional photo fun, I also had prints made of family members at a recent wedding, and used Mod Podge to adhere these around an 8×10 inch frame (make sure you choose a frame with a flat front, and no raised bumps).

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Fill in any blank spaces with cute prints or pictures from kids’ magazines. Now you have a crazy collage that can frame a recent favorite picture of your baby.

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As time goes by, you can make a collection of these annual portraits. You could even keep them all in the same mini frame, one atop another, so you can flip back through the memories when nostalgia strikes.

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