I Think I Can

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Here’s a great activity to teach toddlers confidence as they learn new skills. In general, I love cultivating a “yes I can” attitude in my kids. And now more than ever, in this coronavirus-era, it’s a life skill that serves everyone well: my toddler, my big kid, and me as a grown-up!

To make the lesson toddler-appropriate, we started with a read of The Little Engine That Could. Now, the “I think I can” refrain was at the forefront of Veronika’s mind.

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After enjoying the story, it was time to encourage her to do big girl stuff. “Can you touch your toes?” I asked her, and then reminded: “I think you can, I think you can. I think you can.” She can!

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She could also tap her head, or spin around, or various other instructions I gave.

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You can play this game with all sorts of age-appropriate challenges. If you really want to brainwash your kids, make the game part of clean up. “Can we clean up all the game pieces?” I asked. “I think we can, I think we can, I think we can.”

We could!

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And of course, you’ll want to trot out this game in more serious scenarios for years to come. Whether a first day of school or a first time trying something new at a playground, your little one will start to repeat this mantra and believe it.

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Walking Through the Jungle

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Stuffed animals lend themselves so perfectly to imaginative play. Here are a few ways that Veronika and I turned our home into a jungle with them today!

We started out with a fun nursery rhyme. For each verse, swap in the name of a stuffed animal and the noise it makes. So, for example:

Walking through the jungle,

What did I see?

A baby monkey laughing

At me, me me.

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We repeated for a bear growling and an owl hooting.

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In between verses, we stomped like were on a jungle mission. Here was a slippery snake hissing! Encourage lots of animal noises or motions to mimic each particular animal.

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To continue the fun, stage a classic animal “safari” afterwards. Hide a few stuffed animals and have fun finding them with a flashlight just before bedtime.

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Big brother Travis loved being the animal hider, and guiding Veronika and her flashlight to the right spots in the room.

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Again, make lots of animal noises as you spot each one! We finished with a read of Way Far Away on a Wild Safari and used a flashlight on each page to “find” the animals.

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Today it was definitely a jungle out there.

Beanbag Toss

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Beanbags are such a versatile toy for kids of all ages and I highly recommend having a pile of them on hand. Today, Veronika used them both for target practice and shape learning.

I loved that the first part of this game was a chance to make art together. I unrolled a long piece of craft paper and set out markers.

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I had just started a green square when Veronika said, “Let’s draw a blue rectangle!” So a blue rectangle it was. She drew “shapes” alongside me while I made larger ones all over the paper, including purple hearts, orange circles, and more.

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Now it was time for some toddler sports! I asked her if she could toss a beanbag onto the blue rectangle. Easy shot! It was harder for her to throw towards shapes further back on the paper, so this game was great for strengthening little muscles.

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Sometimes she preferred to run and stand on the shape I named, instead of tossing the beanbag.

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Leave out your big piece of paper and the pile of beanbags, and no doubt your toddler will find ways to play with it solo throughout the day, too.

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Water Beads Sensory Bin for Boats

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How had I possibly forgotten about water beads? They’re one of the greatest ways to keep a toddler busy plus engage them in sensory play, but I literally had forgotten they exist. Well, a friend happened to remind me, and it was high time for Veronika to get her first experience with this awesome material.

If you’re not familiar with water beads, they start out the size of about a mustard seed, but expand overnight into marble-sized squishy balls. Look for them in the floral section of craft stores. As with all small, round objects, supervise play closely to avoid choking.

I soaked the water beads in a bin and then in the morning we added… boats! I thought the maritime theme would be perfect for summer.

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Veronika loved that she could sail the boats through the beads. She also loved loading the beads into one boat and then pouring them into another.

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At first our bin didn’t exactly look like an ocean since I had all the colors of the rainbow. I started to separate out just the blues and greens. It was starting to look a bit more like the Atlantic…

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I didn’t finish the task, though, because then Veronika wanted the cup I was filling with the non-ocean colors so she could practice her pouring and scooping.

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She then started carrying some of the beads around in the cups, at which point I had to direct her back to the bin. Because yes, the one problem with water beads is that they get real messy if you let them escape!

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Pull Box

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Your toddler will be so proud of this little box, his or her very own toy to pull, push, fill, or play with any way they see fit. Veronika dubbed it her “wagon”, and played with it all morning.

And all I did was pierce a hole in an old box and loop a piece of string through. (Note: thick rope would have been easier for her to grip onto, since the string was a bit slippery. I solved this by wrapping a little masking tape near the top almost as a handle).

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I asked if she wanted to decorate the box with crayons, but the lure of tugging it around was too great. She was off!

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At first she had to walk backwards and pull it towards her. As the day went on, she mastered the art of facing forward and tugging it along behind her.

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After a few trips around the house, we took it outside!

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Her “wagon” was prefect for filling with treasures we found along the way, like little pebbles, flowers, and leaves.

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Back inside, it was the perfect spot for her dolls to ride in.

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She loaded it up with her favorite doll and other toys and walked circles around the apartment for at least half an hour. A box and a string, that’s it folks!

Shark Ball Toss

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Here’s the perfect sport to bring along to your family’s next day at the beach. The homemade charm has a leg up on all the koosh ball competition!

To assemble, cut about 2 inches off the ends of two empty (1 L) soda or sparkling water water bottles. The edges were rough, so we sanded them until smooth with squares of sandpaper. Travis thought this was neat, wondering if the roughness of sandpaper can ever be completely worn away.

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Paint the bottles with two coats of blue acrylic paint; let dry overnight.

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In the morning, we drew shark features on craft foam, including jagged teeth, dorsal fins, and eyes.

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Because our wiggle eyes had long lashes and our foam was pink and purple, our sharks had a decidedly feminine appearance!

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Now simply head to the beach (or another outdoor location) and bring along a tennis ball. Toss back and forth, catching the ball in the shark “mouths”.

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A word of caution: This is hard! The players really should only be a few steps apart and it takes some practice to give the ball the right toss out of one shark’s mouth and into the other.

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So don’t worry if kids just end up rolling the tennis balls into the shark bottles. That was fun, too!

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Raspberry Strawberry Muffins

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Take advantage of fresh summer berries for these muffins! In a pinch, use frozen and you can bake them all year.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup plain non-dairy yogurt
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 3/4 cup raspberries
  • 3/4 cup chopped strawberries
  1. Combine the flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside.
  2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.
  3. Add the flaxseed, oil, vanilla, maple syrup, yogurt, and almond milk to the applesauce mixture.
  4. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add the raspberries and strawberries.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among 12 muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees F for 27 minutes; a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin should come out clean.

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Grocery Store

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I’ve been saving up empty snack boxes from our pantry for a few days so that Veronika could go shopping in her very own grocery store! Toddlers love to be just like mommy or daddy, so I knew she would love being able to do the “shopping”.

Save up empty boxes (think: crackers, cereal, snack bars, etc.), and tape closed securely with duct tape. You could also include empty juice or water bottles, and some play food. We added fruits and veggies from Veronika’s kitchen set for a “produce section”.

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I gave her a small paper bag and then set her loose in her little store! “Look, crackers!” Veronika said when she saw the “shelves”. I showed her how to put an item in her bag and then keep shopping.

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She was mildly frustrated a few times to learn that favorites (ahem, fruity bunnies) were empty and not really there for a snack. But then she loved going through the veggies and filling up her bag.

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Then she headed over to her kitchen to unpack! This is a fantastic activity to get a toddler playing, imagining, and helping.

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Giant Tissue Paper Sensory Bin

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Sure, you can give a baby a bag filled with tissue paper and consider that a sensory activity. But you’re not going to impress your toddler with something so mundane! Nope: today I made tissue paper play on a giant scale for Veronika!

I emptied out one of our toy storage containers, then took out a bulk package of tissue paper. Veronika was immediately delighted by all the thick piles of color.

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I showed her how to separate out a thin sheet of tissue paper and crumple it up, then toss it into the bin. This was of course a delight. “Clean up clean up!” she started to sing, which made me laugh since we were of course just making a mess.

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Once we had filled the bin deep with crumpled paper, I lifted her up and set her right inside.

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She looked so surprised! She kicked her feet and ran her fingers through the pieces. But then surprisingly she preferred to be back on the other side, tossing sheets of tissue paper in.

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We set aside sheets of tissue paper just to crumple and kept them out of the container so we could toss them in the air.

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Whether in the bin or out, this game was a delight!

The Floor is Lava!

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Veronika is learning how to hop, and this silly game is the perfect way to add a little imagination into the mix.

I taped down sheets of construction paper in all the colors of the rainbow; technically you can use only one color, but this meant I could throw in a little color learning with the jumping.

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In retrospect, I should have done the set-up while Veronika was napping. She was eager to “help”, asking for pieces of tape, and I had to work quickly before she pulled pieces of paper off the carpet in curiosity!

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But phew, we laid out all the paper pieces, and then I announced, “Oh no! The floor is hot lava. Quick jump onto the islands!”

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Well of course she doesn’t know what hot lava is, but she sure felt my excitement and saw my speed and watched me jump on a piece of paper. “Jump!” she said, and hopped onto purple.

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Can you jump to blue?” I asked her, and she happily jumped over (“jumped” being a relative term, still more of a quick walk/hop). She loved going from piece to piece, and naming the color. If her feet were on the rug I reminded her, “Oh no the carpet is hot lava!” This had her giggling and playing along.

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This is the kind of game that’s great to pull out periodically, and I have no doubts we’ll play again. Older toddlers will be even more into the role play portion (eek, lava!) and will hone their jumping skills each time.

It’s a perfect way to get out some energy when kids feel cooped up, too!