Jars, Marbles, and Pom Poms

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As long as your toddler is old enough not to put marbles in his or her mouth, they make a great addition to sensory play. Although this particular game lends itself well to solo play, do keep an eye on things because of those marbles.

I used four leftover jars of baby food (cleaned and dried), and set them on a baking sheet. (Note: this is to catch the items as the spill out or roll around). I filled one jar with marbles and two with pom poms (sorted by color), and then left the fourth jar empty.

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Beyond the set-up, I truly had no agenda for Veronika with this game; I just wanted to see how she would play with the materials! First she said, “I want to dump!” The filled jars were just begging to be upended. The marbles made a big clatter as they rolled across the baking sheet.

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Then I showed her that the pom poms were (shhhh) quiet as they rolled out.

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She then was busy transferring items back and forth for a while.

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I had included the jar lids, so she also enjoyed putting those on and taking them off again.

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The marbles were of much greater interest to her than the pom poms. She loved the plink they made as they want back into the jars, and I think she also just loved the smooth feel of them. She carried a few around the apartment all day!

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Then it was back to lots more filling the jars, dumping them out, watching things roll, and having fun!

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Letter Learning with the ABC Mat

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With our ABC mat currently set up on the floor, I wanted to do a little letter learning and phonics review today. This game can be tailored to just about any age; young toddlers can simply learn their letters, but it’s a phonics review and more like charades for older kids!

I pulled out our bag of wooden alphabet blocks, which are fun because they feature not just letters but also pictures of objects.

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The task for Travis, as the big kid, was to pick a picture and act it out. He got silly with this, including curling up like an apple!

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Others were more obvious, whether buzzing like a bee or making animal noises.

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Then he had to put the block on the letter that matched the word’s beginning sound.

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Little siblings will want to get in on the charades, too!

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Then, to tailor it to Veronika’s age, I showed her how to match up letter to letter, rather than picture to letter.

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Check out our other recent alphabet mat fun here!

Spool Printing

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Veronika loves cars and trucks and all things that go, so today we had fun making prints that look just like wheels, then turning the prints into little vehicles. The perfect tool for the job? Spools!

You can use empty thread spools, or wooden ones from the craft store. I set out a paper plate with a few different colors of paint, along with sheets of craft paper and some of the spools.

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I showed Veronika how to dip the end of the cylindrical spool into the paint, then press onto paper.  At first she just loved that this was a way to make dot paintings.

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Next I showed her that if we drew marker shapes around a few of the dots… they looked just like wheels!

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We made a bus and lots of silly little cars.

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She soon decided she wanted to use marker to draw more cars. What else might the circular spool prints turn into? Please share your toddler’s creation in the comments!

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Net Ball

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This super-soft ball is perfect for teaching a toddler to catch and throw. Because it’s literally as soft as cotton, there won’t be any bumps or bruises along the way!

I had a net bag full of onions from the market, and instantly knew I could use it instead of simply throwing it away. Snip the top of the bag open carefully so the rest stays intact.

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Fill with cotton balls until you’ve formed a round ball, then use a twist tie or elastic to seal it shut. I showed Veronika briefly how to kick with it. But as I mentioned, this ball was truly perfect for working on tossing back and forth with her.

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At 22 months, she can’t quite catch a ball yet, but I loved that we introduced the concept and now we know exactly which ball to practice with for future toss sessions.

Kitchen Math

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After a day of math out at the park, it was time for a day of math in at the kitchen.

Veronika and I played around with kitchen math in a few ways. For a simple intro to math concepts, I sat her down for snack and made it all about comparisons. We used three different foods: apple wedges, bananas (cut into circles), and olives.

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We could discuss the circular shapes of the bananas and olives. The apple wedges were more like semi-circles! Or we could compare items; the apple was longer than the banana. The banana was bigger than the olive. And so on.

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Next up was far messier math; involve your toddler in cooking! While making a cookie recipe, I set Veronika up with her own station for filling cups of flour and scooping. “Can you help me fill two cups of flour?” I asked her.

Of course she couldn’t really, but I could point out that some measuring cups were bigger or smaller than others, or use vocabulary like “half” and “third” of  a cup even though she’s a long way from understanding that.

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We also pulled out the kitchen scale to weigh flour together. “I want to scoop!” she said, proudly reaching deep into the flour bag.

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This of course made a giant mess, but I find that flour play is worth it once in a while. Plus your toddler gets rewarded with a yummy treat if you’ve really baked during the messy play.

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Note: If you want to introduce measuring to your toddler with less mess, consider a recipe like granola or baked oatmeal.

Shaker Bottle

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When you need to occupy a toddler quickly, it’s useful to have something on hand that’s both visually stimulating and makes noise, a double-dose of sensory play. This one ticks both boxes!

The toy is simple as can be: an empty plastic bottle filled with colored pasta and rice. To color the rice and pasta, fill a cup with 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol. Add the food coloring of your choice, then add the rice or pasta. Let soak, then transfer to wax paper to dry.

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This method worked great on the rice, but not so much on the pasta, probably because I used a dark, whole-wheat variety. So I do recommend standard white pasta (and rice) for this project.

Once dry, add the pasta and rice to a clear, empty water bottle. Use hot glue to secure the cap.

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Then just store the bottle in a cabinet and hand it over as soon as your toddler needs an activity! Veronika had seen the pink rice as I was pouring it into the bottle (a funnel makes this step much easier), and so she was eager to get her hands on the bottle and investigate. As I hoped, she loved the sound this made. It was like a giant maraca.

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And then there was the visual stimulation, as she watched all the colored bits shake around inside.

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Needless to say, this easy toy is a winner.

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Glue Printing

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Caution: This project is messy! But toddlers love a mess and this catered right to Veronika’s impulse for arts & crafts this morning.

Instead of using an ink pad for stamps, the idea is to use glue as the “ink”. I gave Veronika a paper plate filled with white glue, and then I set out a few items that we could dip into it.

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I included a fish-shaped sponge, a block wrapped in string, and a cut apple. The small block was by far the easiest for her to dip in the glue and lift up, then transfer onto paper and press down.

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The larger items turned out to be tricky; they had a tendency to stick in the glue, and were tough for her to pull up without assistance!

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Next time I would use much smaller objects, like a sponge cut into little squares, or slices of an apple. But with some mommy help, we managed to dip the items in our glue “ink” and then transfer to paper.

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To make the prints more apparent, sprinkle with glitter. This was definitely Veronika’s favorite part, shaking a container of large glitter over the paper and watching it pour down on her creation.

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Shake off any excess glitter and let dry. I confess you couldn’t really discern the shapes of the prints we’d made, but it was still a fun and colorful piece of toddler art.

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Out at the Park Math

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It’s never too early to start talking math with a toddler, yes even for those under age 2. The perfect place to do it? At the playground!

Chances are you’re going to be at a playground anyway, so why not throw in a little math? Once you start looking, you’ll realize just how many shapes there are to talk about. Today with Veronika, we found everything from the obvious, like a neat set of squares to climb…

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…or a circle wheel to drive…

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…to the subtle. There were tiny circles in the platform beneath her feet, for example, or rectangles outlined in the rungs of a ladder.

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Playgrounds are also great places to teach the concept of counting. “How many times can you go down the slide?” I asked her. With each whoosh down, we counted. One time! Two times! Three times!

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Or count the steps your toddler climbs, the bars on the monkey bars, the number of swings…

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…or the keys on a giant xylophone (and hey, more rectangles)!

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This simple game is a great way to make math an everyday concept for your little one.

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Auditioning All Dolls

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Veronika loves her doll toys and frequently plays with them solo, but today we devoted some time to focus on doll play together. Some of our games were familiar to her, but I threw in some new activities, too!

First I simply set out all the doll accessories around her, and encouraged her to play. She loves to dress the dolls (and undress them!)…

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…and to do diaper changes and feed them. Beyond merely mirroring adults in their lives, children build empathy when they care for dolls or other toys in this way.

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Now it was time for something new! I read her a favorite story (Sleeping Beauty), and after we read each page, I encouraged her to act it out with the dolls. She loved rocking the baby when Princess Aurora is born.

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And dancing the babies at the ball.

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And then rescuing them with a kiss!

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Paper dolls are another great toy, in general, but Veronika is still too young for the regular version. The perfect toddler alternative? Magnet dress-up dolls! I showed her a new magnet set, featuring two dolls and lots of clothes and accessories that can be mixed and matched. She immediately loved playing fashionista.

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Dolls were also great for talking about body parts. “Where is the girl’s arm?” I asked her. “Where is her hair?” And of course there will be lots of clothing vocabulary, too.

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To tie it all together, I drew her the outline of a few fancy dresses from the Sleeping Beauty book.

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She colored these in (with a little mommy help).

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Then we dressed the magnet dolls in these cut-out dresses!

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Footprint T-shirt

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Big brother Travis is off at camp, and Veronika misses him! Here was a fun way to have her do something special for him while he was gone, plus fit in some arts & crafts.

We used an old tie-dyed t-shirt for this project, but you can also purchase a plain white t-shirt from the dollar store.

I sat Veronika on a chair and painted the sole of her foot with fabric paint. No doubt your toddler will giggle at how this tickles! Press firmly onto the shirt.

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You can make as many prints as you like, whether just one front and center, all over the shirt, or anything in between. We thought it looked cute with three footprints marching across the shirt, each in a different color, like a little trail walking somewhere.

Veronika proudly added a few extra dots of fabric paint with a paintbrush, and then we set it aside to dry.