Tree Texture

I love working natural science into everyday outings. To wit, a walk in the park today was the perfect chance to review all the different parts of a tree, with a little art thrown in, too!

The tree in question was our family tree, for Travis’s tree journal, and we stopped by to see how it was looking in midsummer.

Then Travis went on a search to identify all the tree’s parts. For each one, he held a piece of paper to the tree and rubbed with the side of a crayon. How neat to see the different prints that emerged for each, including bark:


And leaves:

You can have your child point out features they can’t reach, too, including branches, flowers, or fruit if any.

Don’t forget to give that tree a hug before you go!

Box Bowling

If heavy bowling balls at the alley or giant pins at home are too big for your toddler, try out this cute suggestion from High Five magazine. Upcycled tissue boxes are just the right size for tot-sized bowling fun.

To start, I saved up old tissue boxes until we had three. You’ll need at least three, but continue saving boxes until you have five, seven, or even more for extra fun!

I initially thought we might stick with a red-white-and-blue patriotic palate for our box bowling, first wrapping the boxes in blue paper and intending to add red dot stickers. Veronika had other plans, though! I loved the multi-colored crazy dot stickers that she ended up plastering all over the boxes.

We then set the boxes up in a pyramid, and I handed her a large ball. Take aim and bowl!

Veronika squealed with delight every time she knocked the boxes over.

And of course immediately wanted to stack them up again.

In sum, this is the perfect toddler-sized bowling game, no heavy balls required.

Animal Piles

We were doing a stuffed animal reorg today, which was the perfect chance not only to toss everything into a giant pile and remember every one hiding in there, but also a chance to throw in some learning! This was a riff on a previous animal sort activity Veronika and I did, but today she was a full year older and wiser about it.

First, I sorted the animals into piles, roughly categorized as: Giant, Big, Medium, and Small. Veronika’s challenge was to find an animal from the pile I asked for.

“Where’s a big animal? I asked, and she waded right through the piles to bring me one that qualified.

“Can you find me one that’s teeny tiny and small?” I challenged next. “Ladybug is small!” she chirped up, and proudly presented it.

Then we tested out the concept of length. I lined up all of our snakes (since it turns out we have way more snakes than I remembered!), and asked her to show me the longest.

And then the shortest!

You can also have fun sorting the animals by home or habitat. It turns out we have very few animals that live in the water, but many denizens of farms and forests.

What other ways can your toddler learn with stuffed animals? Please share in the comments!

Write a Mystery

Here’s a fun way to keep your kids’ writing skills fresh over the summer, even during the months away from school. To set up, I went through a magazine and clipped intriguing images in three categories: people (characters), places (setting), and objects.

I arranged the piles for Travis, and his task was to select one image from each category. He chose a baby as his character, a forest for the setting, and a motorcycle as the random object to come into play. Now his task was to write a mystery story involving all three.

I was thrilled when he immediately went racing for paper and said, “I know what I’m going to write!”

Admittedly his story was short, as he’s still building his story-writing stamina. Older kids can run with this idea and write a whole mystery chapter book! Simply have them add images and prompts from the magazine pile any time their creativity falters until they’ve finished a full-length mystery.

Meanwhile, I was so proud of Travis for his one-page short story and he was proud, too.

Go Fishing

Veronika has been loving her water table this summer, and today we found yet another way to play with it: we went “fishing”!

My kids are often frustrated by attempts at magnetic fishing, so today we used a much easier hack: mini fish nets from the pet store. I filled the water table with water and added easy little “fish” to catch: ping pong balls and old wine corks!

Veronika immediately loved scooping these up with the nets. She was so proud each time she made a catch!

It was nearly as much fun when a ball would go bouncing away and she had to retrieve it in her net.

For some early number recognition, I labeled the balls with a sharpie, too, so she could should out the number of each “fish” she caught. Older kids can riff on this idea by catching two balls and adding up the sum!

She was less interested in the corks, but still managed to snag a few in her net. Overall, a simple and watery way to keep pool on the patio.

Rainbow-Style Water Table

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Acting on a suggestion from Parents magazine, today we made Veronika’s water table full of all the colors of the rainbow!

The key to this fun activity was colored foam soap, a product I’d never used before, but which was worth the cost of a few bottles for the fun. To set up, fill your water table with a little water, have buckets of extra water or a filled watering can at the ready, and let the foamy fun begin!

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Needless to say, Veronika was delighted as soon as we squirted out the first batch of foamy soap. “More blue! More red!” she insisted.

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She loved filling up a mini bucket, then scraping off a layer of foam with the shovel and filling the funnels and water slide on her table.

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She could pour water onto the soap to make it dissolve, or swish it around in the compartments of the water table for a sudsy layer.

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And of course then we’d squirt in more to start all over again!

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If you want to take the rainbow factor to the next level, add colored water beads into the mix. I was worried, however, that these would bounce off our patio and pose a threat to wildlife, so we quickly scooped them back out again.

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The other drawback is that the soapy water seeped off the patio and into the grass. So while it was fun for one summer afternoon, you probably don’t want to make this activity an everyday occurrence!

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Construct an Igloo

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What could be more perfect for cooling off in the summer than building blocks made of… ice? Freeze the “blocks” up the night before and your toddler can build their very own igloo the next morning.

To start, I filled plastic cups with water and added a bit of food coloring to each. I squirted the color in randomly (some red, some yellow, and some green) but you could have an even number of each color, a full rainbow, or even just leave the water clear! Freeze overnight.

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Veronika was immediately intrigued when I pulled the frozen cups out in the morning. Run a little bit of warm water around the outside of each cup and the ice blocks will easily slip free. I set them on a tray and it was time to build an igloo!

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We tried stacking them…

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…or just arranging them in a single layer to form a wall of ice.

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Either way, Veronika’s little toys loved to live inside their icy house. She soon had them leaping from icy rooftop to icy rooftop.

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She also loved using two forks as a tool to move the blocks around, which helped keep her fingers from getting too cold.

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If you have enough room in your freezer, consider freezing larger blocks in loaf pans instead. Or mix and match a few loaf pan rectangles with the cylinders from the cups. The only drawback to the game? One way or another the house won’t last forever, since the igloo is going to melt.

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Water Table: Pretend Salon and Sous-Chef

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Rainy weather means we’ve been bringing the patio water table… inside! Here are two fun ways to play with the table indoors that won’t create too much splashing. That said, you’ll probably want a beach towel underneath to prevent spills or slips!

Our first game was a spa day for Veronika’s dolls. We filled one compartment of the water table with soapy water and the other had clean water for rinsing.

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The dollies were soon loving their warm bath. This “spa” even included a water slide!

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Veronika loved giving them bottles of milk in the tub, too. How luxurious!

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Then they had full body wraps before being toweled off.

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Veronika then closed her salon business to open up a restaurant! Incidentally, this is the perfect activity to keep a toddler busy while you prep real food. I handed across a variety of toy fruits and veggies, along with our real vegetable scrubber brush, and she soon was happily preparing “soup”.

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Cups and a colander for pouring added to the splashy fun.

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In sum, we managed to enjoy great water play on a rainy day… without getting rained on!

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Sprinkler Fun, Six Ways

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Sometimes all you need to occupy those long summer days are an old-fashioned sprinkler and a hose. To wit, we headed outside today and found so many ways to get wet and wild!

First, I used the hose to fill up the baby pool with an ankle-deep layer of water. A toddler slide aimed into it plus a few hula hoops to jump through, and voila, it was an instant teeny water park-slash-obstacle course!

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The kids were hesitant about the splashy finish at first…

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But soon this was like their own mini trip to Disney World’s Splash Mountain!

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Then we set up the sprinkler on the lawn and tested out Freeze Dance. Just crank your kids’ favorite radio station from the car or a speaker, and turn down the volume now and then. Freeze!

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Next up was acting like an animal. Travis hopped through the spray bravely like a frog…

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…and trotted like a horse!

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Veronika was a little hesitant to run right through the spray, so we took it down a notch to try out some toddler-friendly games. She wasn’t brave enough to put her whole body in, but she was brave enough for the Hokey Pokey!

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“You put your left arm in, you put your left arm out…” Simon Says is ideal, too, for coaxing little kids to get wet one body part at a time. We ended with some final big kid fun, taking out our Twister mat but making the game extra slippery and tricky. Left foot on red everyone!

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What’s your family’s favorite way to play with a sprinkler? Please share in the comments!

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Science at the Kiddie Pool

It was a scorching hot day, so I filled the kiddie pool with a shallow layer of water and assumed Veronika would want to jump right in. When she was a little hesitant, I wondered what would happen if a few objects “jumped” in first.

I brought out a bag of objects and she began tossing them in one at a time. As each landed, we shouted out whether it sank or floated.

“It floats!” she said of a Duplo block.

“It sinks!” she called for a comb, toy car, and nickles. (And of course we made wishes while tossing in the coins).

A few favorite toys were next, all of which could swim i.e. floated. Now she was ready to climb in.

Pretty soon she was loving the way the water cooled off her little feet, and as a bonus, now there were tons of toys to play with in the water!

Between my big kid practicing his math with chalk games and my toddler practicing science at the kiddie pool, it was a day of fun and learning.