A Box to Extend Train Play

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Chances are you have lots of extra boxes these days; certainly we’re having more items delivered in this time of social distancing, and are so thankful to the fearless delivery folks out there! We put one such box to good use this morning by making it a tunnel for Veronika’s trains.

The set up was simple (although you could get really detailed and crafty with this if you have the time). First, I cut a few holes to be tunnel entrances and and exits.

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Next, I placed a strip of masking tape on the top as a road. Little bits of orange tape down the center served as the lane divider.

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I put the box on the ground and showed Veronika how she could make a train enter through one hole…

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…and pop out through another!

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She loved it, although she seemed mildly disappointed that she didn’t fit in the tunnels herself. Soon she was happily chugging trains to and fro.

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The road on top was a big hit, too!

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The box happened to be the perfect height for her to stand and zoom her cars around, which interested her almost more than the trains.

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This is a great way to keep your toddler busy, even if trains aren’t necessarily his or her “thing”!

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Bear in the Basket

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This simple game is pure delight for a toddler! I put Veronika in her crib, which startled her momentarily since it’s not a place she normally plays. Surprise turned to excitement when I added all her stuffed animal friends.

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I placed a basket below the crib (a laundry basket would be perfect, or any old storage box like the one I had on hand), and then showed her how drop in a stuffed animal. “One, two, three, whee!” I counted. The first animal jumped in.

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Well she had to see what this was all about!

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She was eager to copy me, parroting my words and holding an animal over the railing. Sometimes she didn’t realize she needed to let go with those little fists; there’s a cognitive step of cause-and-effect here that’s great for motor skill development.

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Here goes reindeer!

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Once the basket was full, we tossed the animals back in the crib…

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…and played again.

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She was happy to play so many rounds of this game.

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Or sometimes to pause for a hug.

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Just for the heck of it, we extended the stuffed animal play with a dry animal bath tub!

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This oldie-but-goodie never grows old. Simply throw all the stuffed animals in for a soft landing and add one toddler.

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Paper Towel Drawing

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Here’s an easy art hack for toddlers, especially if you have a child who wants to get into an older sibling’s art supplies. Give them a paper towel to mark up instead! Because the paper towel has absorbency, the colors blur and bleed in fascinating ways.

I gave Veronika four different color markers and showed her how to make thick lines across the paper towel.

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She didn’t need to be shown twice! Soon she was coloring avidly, clearly interested with how the markers felt on the slightly bumpy surface.

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Next I showed her how to press in one spot and make a dot (almost like dot markers). “Dot dot dot!” she started saying happily as she imitated.

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She also said the names of the colors as she drew, parroting back “pink!” or “yellow!”

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Eventually, I taped the paper towel pieces down so she could keep going without direct supervision.

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Even when the paper towels slipped, I didn’t have to worry since the washable markers wipe clean from her high chair tray in a pinch.

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Note: You can also try this activity on coffee filters, which we did later in the day. They have a similar absorbency for a similar effect.

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Who Do You See?

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For toddlers who are forming a firm sense of “me”, the chance to see themselves in a mirror is especially exciting. This little project lets your toddler play peek-a-boo with him- or herself!

To make a mirror box, I used a wooden box with a hinged lid that Veronika would easily be able to flip open and closed. You can also find boxes like this at the craft store.

Use hot glue to attach a small flat mirror inside the lid of the box.

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I decorated the outside with pretty wrapping paper, purely for the aesthetic. And of course she loved playing with extra wrapping paper as I put it together!

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We started with just the mirror inside. You can tell from the photos that she was smitten.

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She tried playing peek-a-boo with her reflection, and said “hello” to it and paraded around so proudly with the box.

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And of course tried climbing in it!

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I later added a few photos of family member’s faces, thinking to make the surprise inside the lid different each time. You can mix this up by taping in pictures of animals or other favorite items from magazines, too.

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Even once the surprise of the mirror wears off, this makes for a special box to store little keepsakes in.

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Big Brother and Little Sister Shirts


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It’s such an exciting development for my kids that now they can do projects together, as was the case with these brother-and-sister shirts. Obviously you can tailor the shirts to fit your family, whether that means two brothers, three sisters, or even mommy & me shirts!

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I purchased blank white tees at the craft store in the kids’ sizes, and first wrote on the front “I am the little sister” and “I am the big brother” with fabric pens. Note: This is harder than it looks, because the fabric kept pulling!

We then wanted to put Veronika’s footprint on Travis’s shirt. I squirted a little fabric paint onto a sponge and pressed it to her foot, then pressed her foot to the fabric. It didn’t come out completely clear, but Travis loved knowing it’s there! If your big kids want to, have them put handprints on the little sibling’s shirt in the same manner.

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Then the kids loved dabbing the sponge all over the shirts, squirting it first with different colors.

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The fabric markers were running low on ink, but they discovered that they could squirt a little fabric paint onto a shirt and use the tip of the markers as the “paintbrush”.

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They had so much fun making these!

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And they looked adorable wearing them.

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Play Dough Sound Sensory Jars

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This project took us from morning to night since we tackled different portions of the game throughout the day! It all started when Veronika had a morning of play dough play while big brother Travis did home school lessons.

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But she’s still more tempted to eat play dough than play with it, so I clumped it into a big ball and set it aside for another day. There we were with lots of empty little jars. They were the perfect vessel for… sensory play!

I rinsed out the jars while Veronika continued to play with the lids.

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Once clean, I started filling each one with different items. In all, I had 12 little jars with:

  • popcorn kernels
  • marbles
  • beads
  • rice
  • coins
  • bells
  • dried beans
  • ground coffee
  • salt
  • sprinkles
  • rubber bands
  • sesame seeds

Other ideas might include: buttons, water, spices, Lego pieces, or bits of foam. It was a little tricky to set these up with Veronika watching, since she wanted to touch the items and many are choking hazards.

Once lids were sealed, she could safely play! First we just had fun shaking them, or tapping two together.

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Then we shook each one in turn and divided them into two piles, one loud, one soft.

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I could sense her growing frustration that she couldn’t get inside the jars…

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…so we went through them one at a time. I gave a jar a shake and opened it up so she could see the item inside. Be sure to name the item, too! Bells, beads, and marbles seemed to especially intrigue her.

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For bigger kids, you could even turn this part into a game. Give it a shake, and have them guess what’s inside. Travis trotted over for a try!

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Bigger kids might also like to try a sound match-up. Narrow it down to fewer items (3 or 4), and have two canisters for each item. Can your child match them up? I didn’t expect Veronika to be able to do this, but did the exercise as an illustration in all the ways she can hear.

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We could use lots of great vocab words as we played, like “jingling” bells and the “cha cha cha” of rice.

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Of course then your child might just keep busy with the jars themselves for quite some time, which was certainly the case for Veronika. Like I said, this is a game that can last all day!

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Baking Soda and Vinegar with Color Fun

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This activity was intended for my toddler, but it turned out to be my kindergartner’s favorite part of the day. Since there’s some STEM involved, keep it in mind if you find yourself home schooling!

For set up, I wanted Veronika to have the option of color mixing, so I filled three cups with vinegar. I left one clear, added yellow food coloring to the second, and blue food coloring to the third.

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I then sprinkled a box of baking soda into a shallow tray. Veronika instantly liked making lines through it with the pipettes I had left out. It was sort of like an indoor sandbox for a moment.

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Then it was time to start squeezing in vinegar! I used the clear cup first, knowing the bubbly reaction was enough to get a “wow” even before we added color.

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Then we started piping in the colored vinegar. I had hoped Veronika might get in some fine motor practice with the pipettes, but that was too much for 16-month-old fingers. Big brother Travis loved using a pipette and baster, though! Then the kids poured the cups of vinegar instead, for even bigger reactions.

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The blue and yellow turned into a nice green, of course, which I’d also hoped to demonstrate.

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After that we just had a big pile of green bubbly “lava” that the kids loved scooping through with pipettes and cups for ages.

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Eventually they wanted to drip in other colors from the food coloring set, which was fine, although it didn’t look so pretty.

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A great afternoon activity!

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Peanut Butter Sculptures

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This fantastic sensory activity is perfect for entertaining a toddler… and it takes care of snack time, too!

I simply spooned a large glob of peanut butter onto a shallow tray, and set out a few craft sticks (or use plastic take-out knives) and circle crackers.

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Your child can use the craft sticks to make lines and movement through the peanut butter, or to build their budding knife skills by spreading it on the crackers. Once the crackers are sticky with peanut butter, you can stack them into towers and make “art”.

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Veronika loved experimenting with the peanut butter, as well as nibbling the crackers and licking peanut butter right off the craft sticks.

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She also was intrigued by the peanut butter jar, occasionally dipping in a craft stick.

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I wouldn’t recommend this activity for a toddler solo, since it’s bound to get a little messy and you’ll want to supervise.

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But a great way to keep little ones busy! Note: Use another nut butter if your child has peanut allergies, or even jam for all nut allergies!

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Clothespin Poke

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Much as with tape or tissues, it doesn’t take much to keep a toddler busy. For this game, I used an upcycled egg carton and spring-type clothespins for a simple fine motor activity.

Poke a hole into the bottom of each egg carton portion, just large enough for the clothespins to slot in (I poked the initial hole with scissors).

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For the first round, I pushed all the clothespins in and presented the egg carton to Veronika, so it was her job to pull them out!

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A few of them got a little snagged on the springs but she was very patient puzzling this out, and so proud when they came free.

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Once she had a pile of clothespins next to her, of course she had to poke them right back in again.

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And again.

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And again.

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I loved seeing her return to this throughout the day, pausing to insert a few or pull out a few and then heading off to other games. It was a great way to keep little hands busy!

Fun with Tape and Peeling Tape

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Tape is a fantastic way to occupy a toddler – yes, just tape! Make the game especially fun by using lots of different varieties and vibrant colors.

To start out, I simply set up a tape station for Veronika.

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Most of the rolls were masking tape (I had a full rainbow of colors), and I also had clear double-sided tape.

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First I gave her two pieces of tape for her to try sticking them together.

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This was intriguing, as was sticking tape to her belly!

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She was in front of a wooden puzzle frame, which was a handy surface for layering down pieces of tape.

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She kept quite busy sticking the tape pieces off and on for a while.

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Then we moved on to a slightly more focused activity: Peeling tape. Peeling up layers of crisscrossed tape is not only a great cognitive challenge, but also excellent for strengthening finger muscles.

I laid down long strips of the colored masking tape on a wooden floor (a wooden table would work, too, if you have one large enough). Make sure there is lots of overlap and intriguing angles.

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Sure enough, Veronika couldn’t wait to rip it up off the floor. When she encountered a spot where one piece of tape pinned down another, I could see her brain at work for how to get it all to lift.

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She soon became adept at finding the ends that were curled up slightly in the air, and provided a handhold to start pulling.

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Another success!

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As she worked, I gathered up the strips until we had a big tape ball, which turned out to be fun to play with as the final variant on tape play.

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All of this kept her busy almost all morning!

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