Play with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s latest crate from Panda was all about encouraging solo play, something she’s already a champ at (much more so than big brother!) but it never hurts to foster it. I would recommend this crate for babies 10 months and older.

One: Wood Beads

First up was a peg board with pastel-colored pegs and corresponding wood beads. To start, we played with the set together; I encouraged her to match colors, showed her how to stack two beads atop one another, and counted them as she stacked for some early math.

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You can also make a tower of the beads off to the side, and see how high your toddler can make it go!

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She could then continue with all of these activities solo, and boy did she ever! She also loved the cloth bag that came for storage, and would pile the beads in, dump them out, and then start over.

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Two: Wood Bars

These discs also go with the provided peg board, but now there was a bit more of a challenge; could she align two holes so they slid over two pegs?

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The three-holed one was definitely a puzzle!

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As with the wood beads, she could easily continue the play solo, mixing and matching combinations of bars and beads.

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Three: Ribbon Pull

This toy is ingenious, a soft cube with ribbons that pull back and forth. First we played together in a sort of toddler tug-of-war. She pulled one end; I pulled it back. She pulled another tab; I pulled it back.

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And then I handed it over. The cube is great for a child’s development to coordinate holding it steady with one hand and pulling the ribbon with the other.

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Of course she wasn’t thinking about that; she just loved pulling those ribbons! There’s also great opportunity for pointing out colors with this toy, or talking about left and right hands.

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Four: Ball Drop

This was another ingenious inclusion. As the first challenge, your toddler needs to drop the ball through the hole in the top of a wood block. As a second challenge, there’s a pattern to pick up on, since the ball alternates rolling to the right and the left.

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As she tried it, she immediately trotted over to fetch the ball from where it rolled and inserted it again.

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Roll, trot, insert. Roll trot, insert. Solo play! We never even had a chance to use this toy together, since she was immediately so busy with it by herself!

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She also loved putting the ball in and playing peek-a-boo with it, and had fun stuffing some of the wood beads and wood bars inside, too.

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Five: Board Book

This was the one weak point of the crate. In a kit devoted to occupying a toddler solo, I was disappointed to find a simple board book with no flair. Why oh why wasn’t it a lift-the-flap book? That would have encouraged greater solo reading.

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The Wonder booklet contained a wealth of information, including the benefits of solo play, ways to encourage solo play, and facts about toddlers and screentime.

We had fun watching a sing-along to This is the Way We Laugh and Play, then finished up the fun with a few suggested book:

  • Gus Explore His World by Olivier Dunrea
  • Dog & Friends: Busy Day by Emma Dodd
  • Mon Petit Busy Day by Annette Tamarkin

This last in particular is spectacular. I’ve never seen a book occupy a toddler for so long, and over multiple days.

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“Stop” and “go” are important concepts, and there are lots of fun ways to introduce them to your toddler through play. Here’s a movement game with a few props thrown in for extra enjoyment.

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To make STOP and GO signs, I cut shapes with the words on colored construction paper: a red octagon for the former and a green circle for the latter. You can attach these to craft sticks, but I found that wooden kitchen spoons made for sturdier handles that Veronika could hold easily.

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I picked Veronika up and twirled her to the following ditty, holding the green sign:

Round and round and round we go,

Round and round and round we go,

Round and round and round we go.

Round and round and STOP!

Hold up the red sign and stop spinning on the last word of course! After dancing in my arms, the siblings took a turn holding hands and walking in a circle.

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Or sometimes Veronika just twirled herself about, holding the signs and grinning.

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Big brother Travis was a super helper showing her how to freeze at the right moment.

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Chances are your toddler will want to play with the signs even once the ditty fun is done.

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Magazine Ripping with Toddlers

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I find myself running low on craft supplies these days with stores closed due to coronavirus; it’s just not an option to dash out and buy one or two items! Luckily there are so many items around the house that turn into perfect toddler toys. To whit, today Veronika payed with old magazines!

I sat down with her and a few publications I’d already read, and simply showed her how to rip the pages out. She didn’t need to be shown twice!

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If it’s hard for your child to rip out full pages, you can alternatively rip about 20 or so pages ahead of time and give this stack to your child. Or give him or her the option of both: 20 loose sheets plus the rest of the magazine lying nearby.

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As for ripping individual pages into small pieces, I started out by making a tear for her to follow on each page, which she could further rend apart.

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But as she got the hang of it, she was able to rip even without this helpful start.

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I set a little canister next to her, for her to place the ripped pieces of paper into, but she wasn’t terribly interested in doing so.

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She did love looking at the pictures as she ripped the pages, though! When she spotted stars (a favorite), so even ran over to proudly show her brother!

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In sum, an easy way to keep hands busy.

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Strumming Fun

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For some musical fun today, I made Veronika the easiest guitar ever: just a piece of corrugated cardboard ripped from a recent delivery box (thanks, Amazon Prime!) and a few plastic spoons.

I showed her how she could scrape the spoon along the cardboard to make “music”, humming a favorite tune all the while.

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It took her a few minutes to figure out which way she needed to orient the spoon (concave side down) in order to produce the right sound, but she looked so proud when she had it correct.

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Big brother Travis pointed out that the sound was a bit like a duck quacking. So this led to lots of silly quacking fun.

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Because I’d left out extra plastic spoons, she alternated between strumming or tapping two spoons together, adding a percussion element to her one-girl band. When it came time for her online toddler sing-along, she could strum her own “ukelele” alongside the teacher.

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I loved how simple this was for her to use, and how busy it kept her!

Tissue Paper Bag

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Tissue paper is one of those fantastic materials for keeping a toddler busy without fancy materials or much supervision. I had a full pack of multicolored tissue paper which was just begging to be played with. I cut squares from the sheets so they were just the right size for Veronika’s little hands, but that was it for set-up!

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I presented her with the tissue paper, along with a brown paper bag and a small empty toy bin. I left it up to her to decide where the tissue paper should go from there! Stuffing it into the bag was good fun…

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…as was piling it into the bin.

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She particularly loved this when we hid a toy underneath. “Where’s meow meow?” she asked of her toy kitty, and then lifted up the sheets of tissue paper with a “peek-a-boo!”. 

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Of course it’s just fine if your toddler wanders off with a few sheets of tissue paper, too.

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I also showed her how she could crumple up the pieces so they were more like balls than squares. This interested her so much that she soon invented her own version: putting a crumpled piece on a spoon and moving it into the bag or bin this way!

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It’s also silly fun to stuff the bag full of paper and let it rain down on your child’s head.

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To be honest, I thought she would play with the whole set-up for longer than she did, but it was good fun while it lasted.

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Slowly, Slowly

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This little finger play is a great way to teach a toddler about the concept of fast and slow. Start off with the chant, and then get more elaborate with your play. The first time through, simply walk your fingers up your child’s arm, from wrist to shoulder, and match the speed of your fingers to the words of each verse. When you get to that quick little mouse, it becomes a tickle game!

Slowly, slowly, very slowly

Creeps the garden snail.

Slowly, slowly, very slowly

Up the wooden rail.

Quickly, quickly, very quickly

Runs the little mouse!

Quickly, quickly, very quickly

To his little house!

I like to use a deep voice for the snail and a high squeaky one for the mouse. Veronika loved it so much she immediately started saying “quickly quickly”, also in a high squeak.

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To help solidify the meaning of these opposite words, we turned it into a game of chase. First my slow snails chased each other very very sloooooowly.

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Then big brother was a scampering mouse running just ahead of her.

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Veronika even tested out running a quick little mouse along her own arms and legs! In sum, a great way to get out some energy while teaching new concepts.

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Yummy Chocolate Play Dough

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Today Veronika opened up her first bake shop…with chocolate play dough that is! This no-cook recipe is super simple, and lends itself perfectly to both sensory and imaginative play.

In a bowl, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and 1 tablespoon cream of tartar. Slowly stir in 1 cup boiling water.

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Turn the dough out and knead until no longer sticky (you may need to add a little more flour).

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Once the dough was ready, I set up shop for Veronika! A few disposable cake pans, cupcake liners, and old birthday candles made perfect props. She was helping make “cupcakes” in no time.

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Inserting candles was lots of fun. I realized we needed more toppings, so colorful pony beads from the craft bin made perfect “sprinkles”. Veronika loved pushing these into the dough and saying “Squish!”.

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She also just loved transferring the pony beads from one cupcake liner to another.

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Rolling pins and other kitchen tools rounded out our play. I showed Veronika how she could roll portions of the dough really flat.

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This was so all so much fun that big brother Travis wanted to get involved. With him, we made it more about imaginative play. He was a “baker” filling my orders for specific types or shapes of cookies.

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Chances are the kids will play this one for a while!


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First Letter in My Name Collage

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This game is not only great for building an awareness of letters and a child’s name (often the first word your child will be able to write), but it also builds vocabulary and self-awareness.

First, I had ten pictures printed up of Veronika. I thought she might be mildly interested in seeing herself, but the game turned out to be quite eye-opening. As I showed her each picture and said, “Who’s that?” she proceeded to tell me everything she saw in the picture except herself. She used words for everything from our cat in the background to what she was holding (“quack!” “lion!”) to what she was wearing (“heart! “coat!” shoes!” “socks!”).

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But she never said “me” or “Veronika” no matter how I prompted her.

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Once we’d gone through the photos, I arranged them in a V on the floor. “V for Veronika!” I said. Again I pointed to her while saying her name.

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And still she insisted on narrating the rest of the pictures to me! I know she knows her name and her reflection in the mirror, so it was fascinating to see that she was least interested in this aspect of the pictures. At least we learned a little about the letter V!

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For a more permanent version, tape the photos up to the wall, and your child can return to the visual again and again.

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Learn Language Through Play

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Veronika is adding so many new words daily, so I’m constantly thinking about ways to build her vocabulary as we play. Here’s a round-up of a few ideas we enjoy!

One option is to set out toys that lend themselves easily to open-ended play. Blocks, for example, are obvious candidates to talk about color and shape. But the more ways you play with them, the more your child’s vocab will expand. First we built towers, using words like taller and shorter, or “building up” and “falling down”.

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“All the way to the top!” she says as we build, one of her first full sentences.

But then those same blocks become something else. “Let’s build a farm!” I said. Now we could talk about all the animals in the farm, or the word “fence”.

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Don’t be afraid using fancy synonyms, like “enclosure”!

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Now she was “inside” the farm, instead of “outside”.

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Another idea to encourage words is to keep toys just out of reach. Now she has to ask for something by name.

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“Hot tea!” she says, when she wants her tea set down. Don’t forget to encourage “please” and “thank you”. Veronika proudly asked for her little garden of felt veggies next, also ripe with opportunities for new words (carrot, radish, turnip).

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Although a bit advanced, I’m also looking for ways to build up her verbs, which tend to come a bit later than nouns. For this game, we colored in pictures of a few ocean animals first, which in and of itself added to her vocab (crab! dolphin!).

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Then I talked to her about how each animal moves, whether clapping like a seal or sidling like a crab.

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Older toddlers will probably really enjoy acting these out!

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Don’t be afraid to add “science” words, too. One of my all-time favorite games for this age is a toddler volcano, a simplified version of the baking soda and vinegar models for bigger kids. In this version, just use a mound of playdough as the volcano. Poke an indent into the center and fill with baking soda. Vinegar makes the magic happen.

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Veronika was soon parroting back words like “volcano” and “explosion” to me. “Lava” might not really mean anything to her now, but this is how it all begins.

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A final great trick to build vocab? Invest in a beginner Brain Quest deck.

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Although billed for ages 2 to 3, I love to read to the Veronika from the deck more like it’s a story. By the time she’s a little older, she’ll be answering the questions.

Ping-Pong Pop Up Bath

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The kids have just started to take a bath together, a big milestone around here now that Veronika is okay to sit in deeper water. This bath game is one that a toddler and kindergartner will both love!

Simply fill the tub, add soft ping-pong balls (or golf balls), and watch them pop up! No matter how the kids pushed, the balls always popped back to the surface.

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This is pure simple fun. Push it down…

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…watch it pop up!

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We tried it with one ball at a time, or with multiples, which got a big laugh.

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Veronika also discovered she could put them in our rinsing cup and pour them out. The balls might have bobbed below the surface for a moment, but they always popped right back up again!

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Consider this game any night you want to make bath time feel special with almost no effort.

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