Easy Winter Sensory Bin

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If you need to occupy a toddler on a cold winter day, simply throw a few items that seem “wintry” onto a tray and call it a winter sensory bin!

Yes, this really was as simple as that, just some odds and ends to keep Veronika busy for a short while. I raided the craft bin for items that fit the theme and ended up using: packing peanuts for their snowy white color and puffy texture; sparkly silver and gold ribbon; white and blue pom poms that were like mini snowballs; and some sparkly silver and blue chenille stems that seemed like icicles.

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The mix of textures, sizes, and shapes turned out great! Veronika could pretend she was sifting through snow with the packing peanuts and pom poms.

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For a little fine motor work added in, I also set a couple of spring-type clothespins on the tray and encouraged her to pinch some of the items.

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She proudly lifted a pom pom! The crinkly ribbon, meanwhile, made a wonderful sound and was great fun to lift up and then let “snow” down.

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Her bin was a mess by the end, the sure sign that she’d had some tactile wintry fun.

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No-Bake Banana Cookies

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These sweet treats aren’t actually cookies at all, but sugary bananas are a wonderful secret imposter in many desserts. This particular sweet treat is so easy that your toddler can help with every step!

To start, I poured about 1/2 cup Annie’s bunny grahams into a zip-top plastic bag ((or use regular graham crackers) and showed Veronika how to tap with a rolling pin until crushed.

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Next, we added slices of ripe banana to the bag. Seal the bag and shake shake shake!

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Arrange the bananas slices on a plate and your “cookies” are ready. Even better, there’s no wait for the oven required!

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Sock Puppets

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Stuck inside on a rainy day? Then it’s time to make silly sock puppets!

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We always seem to have extra pairs of socks (no thanks to indoor playrooms that require them even in flip flop weather!), so we simply grabbed a pair and set to work.

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First up was adding facial features with fabric markers. I folded the toe of the sock down toward the heel so Veronika could visualize where the head would be, but mostly she just scribbled any which way.

The fabric markers were a little frustrating for her, too, since they tend to catch in the fabric, but I assured her that any markings at all looked great!

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Once we had decorated the bodies, I also used hot glue to add pom pom eyes. Time to slip on those socks and put on a show! Veronika giggled just seeing the sock on her hand or my own.

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She laughed even harder once the socks “talked to her”.

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And it turns out that sock puppets like to go on toes, too!

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Interrupt Rule

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Life is full of Zoom meetings these days, but it occurred to me that this is an opportunity to teach Veronika a few rules about interrupting, and make a little lemonade out of all these virtual lemons!

Yes, even a two year old can learn how to politely ask for your attention. We have two methods now for when Veronika needs me, whether during a Zoom, a random phone call, or just while I’m making dinner!

The first trick is to teach your child the sign for “wait”: Hold up the hands and wiggle the fingers. Interestingly, this is one of the only signs Veronika ever latched onto, and she has used it long past when she dropped all the others. So when she needs my attention, I say, “Show me your wiggle waiting.” And she wiggles her fingers and waits!

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Our second method is newer, but seems to be working! I’m teaching her to touch my leg, instead of yelling out for me. Then, I put my hand back on hers to acknowledge that I know she needs me.

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The key to making this a success? Don’t make your toddler wait for long! Yes, Zoom participants are usually understanding if you turn aside a moment for your child.

Shaving Cream Marbling

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I made shaving cream prints with Travis when he was in preschool, and it was meant as an art project (one that resulted in lovely bookmarks!). For Veronika at age two, this same activity was definitely more about the process and the sensory play. I love when I’m able to tailor big kid activities to my toddler in this way.

To start, we squirted a thick layer of shaving cream into a disposable foil tray. In turn, I placed this inside a second craft tray, because the activity is definitely messy.

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Next, we added lots of drops of natural food coloring. You can also use liquid watercolors, but I like the food coloring with a toddler because it doesn’t stain.

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I showed Veronika how to swirl the colors through the shaving cream with a dowel. The dowel is great because it’s long enough that you’ll minimize any mess on your toddler’s fingers!

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Next, we pressed a piece of watercolor paper over the shaving cream, patting down on it lightly. Veronika loved the patting! Lift up and reveal the pretty marbled colors.

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Finally, we needed to scrape off the excess shaving cream, and the edge of a jumbo craft stick works great for this. Repeat as many times as desired!

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We ended up with four lovely prints that we can turn into art, but Veronika was still busy with all the materials. We squirted in a second layer of shaving cream, then added lots more food coloring, and did lots more stirring, scooping, and playing for quite a while.

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Roasted Carrots and Grapes

Roasted Carrots and Grapes

Roasting fruits and veggies together makes for a surprising flavor combo that’s sure to delight little taste buds!

Ingredients:

  • 1 (10-ounce) package baby carrots
  • 3 cups red grapes, quartered
  • 1 pear, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  1. Steam the carrots in the microwave for 3 minutes; let cool, then slice into thirds.
  2. Combine the carrots in a bowl with the grapes and pears; set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds, until melted. Stir in the cinnamon and agave nectar. Pour the butter mixture over the carrot mixture, tossing to coat.
  4. Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes.

We served these alongside a simple lentil and rice curry!

Spoon Puppets

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I had a few old wooden spoons that never get used for cooking anymore, so today the kids turned them into puppets!

First, I invited everyone over for painting, trotting out a few bright neon colors of tempera paint for the occasion. Veronika chose a neon orange and purple, and Travis gravitated right to the neon green.

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I loved watching the kids paint side-by-side!

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Let dry completely. Now it was time to give our spoons a little personality! I set out a variety of odds and ends from the craft bin and let the kids pick what they wanted. Travis wanted wiggle eyes and a little outfit to turn his green spoon into Baby Yoda. Veronika liked buttons and pipe cleaners!

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Your kids can glue on all their crafty bits with white glue, if desired. Since my kids wanted to play with the puppets right away, I used hot glue to make quick work of it.

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These were so cute for acting out little stories! Veronika named hers Mr. Tricky, and carried him around almost the entire rest of the day.

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Condensed Milk Edible Finger Paint

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I love finding new ways to make edible finger paint for toddlers, and this version couldn’t be easier. Just crack open a can of condensed milk, add food coloring, and your little artist is ready to paint! For a vegan version, try the sweetened condensed coconut milk from Nature’s Charm.

I spooned a little bit into each of three plastic cups and put a small toy spoon in each cup. Veronika loves these little spoons, so she was excited to help stir a few drops of food coloring into each one. We used green, blue, and red.

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Since she already had the spoon in hand, she first used this as her tool to dribble or rub the paint over thick watercolor paper. But I encouraged her to use her hands, and so she curiously dipped in a finger.

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Then she was brave enough to do some smearing! The condensed coconut milk is very thick and creamy, much more so than regular slippery finger paint, so it was a great new sensory experience for her.

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She’s been very into Blue’s Clues lately, and discovered that if she pressed her hand down, she left a paw print “clue” just like Blue can!

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She requested I leave a paw print, too. There’s nothing like playing with your toddler to embrace your inner child and get a little goopy!

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In fact, Veronika then loved rubbing the paint all over her hands and smooshing her palms together. Needless to say, once her masterpieces of finger paint were finished, we ended with a good hand washing.

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Interestingly, she never tasted this one, but it was nice to know she could have, had she wanted to.

Nuts and Bolts

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When Travis was in preschool, he had a whole “tool shop” apparatus of screws that pointed up through a wooden board, onto which he could attach all manner of washers, bolts, twist tops, plastic caps, and more. It was fun, but it was also complicated! For pure toddler fun, try this much easier variation to keep little hands busy, using only a few different sizes of nuts and bolts.

This is definitely an activity for older toddlers who are past the stage of putting objects in their mouth. And even so, be sure to supervise play closely.

I gave Veronika several nuts and bolts in two sizes, first just setting them down for her to explore with all her senses. I pointed out the size comparison to her, and we sorted them by big and little.

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Next, I showed her how to twist the little nuts down the ridges of the bolts.

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She quite quickly loved screwing these off and on. At first she thought she could simply push on the nuts, so it was a good lesson in perseverance when she realized that twisting was necessary.

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This mess-free game is great exercise for little fingers, and sure to keep mischievous hands busy!

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Winter Bowling

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Every season seems to have its own perfect variation on bowling, whether giant inflatable unicorns in the summer, haunted bowling in the fall, and now ice bowling in the winter!

For pins, fill water bottles about 3/4 of the way with water and let stand outside overnight to freeze (or place in your freezer if the temperature in your region doesn’t dip that low). Make sure to leave some room in the bottles for the ice to expand.

For balls, fill water balloons with water and freeze overnight. In the morning, slip off the rubber and you have perfect ice spheres to bowl with. The little balls of ice absolutely delighted both kids, so much so I worried they would just play with those and ignore the bowling completely!

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Eventually Travis loved taking tosses and rolls at our ice “pins” and seeing how many he could get with one shot.

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There’s an extra catch that makes this version of bowling harder; if you throw your ice ball too hard, it might shatter!

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Come to think of it, that fact probably added to Travis’s fun.

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Veronika didn’t seem to be a huge fan of the ice bowling, so I took her inside for a warmer and more toddler-friendly version. We emptied the ice from the bottles and simply rolled a nice big bouncy ball at empty ones.

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For a toddler, persistence is key! I showed her how to reset the pins and try again after each roll.

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We also lined up the bottles in different formations to make the game more interesting.

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And sometimes, she preferred just to sit and play with the bottle pins, which was all part of the fun!

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What’s your winter spin on bowling? Please share in the comments!

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