Leaf Animals

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The next time you head out on a nature walk, be sure to collect some of the fall leaves on the ground. They’re begging to be used in so many art projects, and this particular one is perfect for preschoolers.

When we got home and set our leaves out on a tray, Veronika marveled at the colors. “The leaves come from the fall, and snowflakes come from winter!” she told me. Sounds like somebody is learning her seasons at preschool!

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The first step was to glue our leaves down to colored construction paper. We used reds, yellows, and oranges for the background, to keep up the autumnal color scheme. We then painted our leaves to turn them into various animals. Outlining “cheeks” and the tips of “ears” on a maple leaf made it look like a little fox!

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Turned sideways, the leaves were more like birds flying (headed south for winter of course). You can either paint on eyes, or glue down wiggle eyes to each animal, too.

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Veronika’s final creations were decidedly her own. Smiling frogs perhaps? Let your toddler create the animal he or she wants and see what creatures you end up with!

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We happened to have leaves of only one shape, but if you collect a variety, you’ll be able to explore even more options for painting animals. A long oval might be a deer face with narrow oak leaves for antlers, while a fat oval could be the body of an owl. Please share your animal leaf creations in the comments!

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Apple Cider Shake

Summer might be gone, but that doesn’t mean ice cream float season has to be over. Swap out the soda for apple cider in this recipe, and you have the perfect fall treat!

Simply pour a glass of apple cider, then add two scoops of your favorite vegan vanilla ice cream and sprinkle with about 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon per serving. Bonus points for big milkshake straws.

Leafy Green Pumpkins

Fern Pumpkins (4)

When you think of pumpkins and fall d├ęcor, the color orange likely comes to mind. But this beautiful, more subtly-shaded pumpkin decoration feels just right as summer gives way to fall, when the world is still mostly green and hasn’t yet turned to autumn’s vivid oranges, yellows, and reds.

Travis has been very into ferns lately, so as soon as I spotted this front-porch pumpkin idea in Country Living, I knew he’d love it, too. First up was a fern hunt! We did a family nature walk and were careful to take only a few fern tips here and there, leaving most of nature undisturbed.

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What a beautiful fern glen we stumbled upon!

Make the next stop your local farm or farmer’s market, because the best background for these ferns will be white, not a standard orange. Fun fact: these pumpkins are called Snowball or Ghost Pumpkins.

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All we needed to do was glue down the ferns with clear tacky glue, applying a few strips to each. A green Hubbard squash added height and fit the color palette perfectly, to complete the ensemble.

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How do you decorate your porch in early fall? Please share in the comments!

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Dry Leaf Collage

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This is not the craft to make when the leaves are at their peak vibrant hues of orange and red early in the fall. This is the craft for late in the fall, when the leaves are dry and brown, and yet you’ll show your toddler beauty even in this underappreciated nature material!

Veronika and I came home with a bag full of just such leaves, and first we explored them on her sensory tray. She loved picking them up and letting them float down.

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I next showed her how to rip the leaves into tiny pieces. The dry crinkly November leaves are perfect for this because each rip produces a satisfying sound.

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As she tore them up, I traced two leaf shapes on construction paper and cut them out. Any fall color would make a nice background here, and we used brown and orange.

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Rub glue sticks all over the leaf shapes, and then press down your leaf “confetti”.

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As a bonus, these make a beautiful Thanksgiving decoration if you punch a hole near the top, thread with yarn, and suspend in a window.

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Indian Corn Squish Bag and Painting

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Indian corn makes a beautiful decoration this time of year. And not only does it look great on a harvest table or doorway, but it makes for fantastic sensory play, too!

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Today, I set out three ears of this multicolored corn on a tray for Veronika and first just invited her over. She wanted to smell it, one of the first ways she likes to approach a new item.

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We discovered that if we cracked an ear in half, we could then pick off the hard kernels. This left behind smooth divots underneath. She loved running her finger over the cob, feeling the contrast between these soft and hard parts.

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Next, we turned the corn kernels into part of a sensory bag. I didn’t have any hair gel on hand to fill a small zip-top bag, but corn syrup worked in a pinch. I added a little seasonally-appropriate yellow food coloring, and then some of the corn kernels we’d pulled from the cob.

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Seal tightly and pass over to your child. “It’s a squishy bag!” Veronika said with delight, now familiar with the concept. And this one was great for squishing. She could squeeze it between two fists…

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…or chase around little kernels of corn with a finger.

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With a few corn cobs still on the tray, we decided that they would be fun to paint with. I pulled out brown, red, and green, and poured a little of each color onto a plate.

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Show your toddler how to roll a cob in one of the colors and then across a piece of sturdy paper. I placed the paper in a craft tray to contain (most of) the mess.

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Note: If you do this project with red, green, and black paint in December, it would also make a lovely Kwanzaa craft given corn’s symbolism during the holiday.

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As a finishing touch, we decided to add dots of glue over the dried corncob painting and pressed on a few of the final loose kernels of corn.

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What fun play we had simply by exploring a piece of seasonal decor!

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Fall Hair Gel Sun Catchers

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I wanted to make a couple of orange sensory bags for Veronika this morning, with Halloween and autumn in full swing, only to realize I didn’t have any orange food coloring! I didn’t have yellow, either, which meant I couldn’t even mix red and yellow to make orange.

On a whim I decided to see if I could dye things the old-fashioned way (spices!) and there was orange turmeric in the spice rack. The result wasn’t perfect, but adding the spice turned out to be half the fun.

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I squirted a generous amount of clear hair gel into each of two small zip-top bags to start. In the first, I added about a teaspoon of turmeric and mushed around until it was orange. Veronika loved the smell of the turmeric, and wanted to help measure out the spoonful!

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Then I added orange leaves we’d brought home from the playground yesterday. The turmeric did make the bag slightly cloudy and hard to see the leaves, but it worked fine if in direct sunlight.

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For the second version, I drew jack o’ lantern features directly on the plastic bag with a black sharpie. Again I added 1 teaspoon turmeric, along with 1 drop of red food coloring. This made a great orange!

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Because the black features were on the outside, the graininess of the spice didn’t matter this time. Veronika loved playing with this squishy bag where I taped it against the window.

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These turned out to be so fun, and spot-on for the season, too.

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Pumpkin Scented Rice Bin

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This was easily one of the prettiest sensory rice bins I’ve put together for Veronika. And it certainly smelled the best!

To prepare the rice, you’ll want to start the night before. I didn’t have orange food coloring, but I dripped in a good sized blob each of red and yellow, then added about 2 tablespoons of hand sanitizer. Add a bag of plain white rice, along with 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice, and stir until it’s all combined.

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I ended up really liking the striated effect this achieved, since some pieces were more yellow, some more red, and some a perfect blend of orange. All the fall colors! Spoon the mixture onto a shallow tray so it can dry overnight.

In the morning, I laid out the rice for Veronika, along with pine cones and whole cinnamon sticks. Feel free to add other whole spices if you have them, like nutmeg or star anise.

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Veronika loved the bin right away, first wanting to get her hands on the cinnamon sticks. “Can I smell them?” she asked.

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I also added in a few orange pipe cleaners so she could thread the cinnamon sticks onto them, almost like long beads.

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Cinnamon bracelets!

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Then she started sprinkling handfuls of rice over the pine cones. She loved the sound it made!

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It was fun to bury the pine cones in the rice and then unearth them. And of course she paused often to lift the rice near her nose and take a deep breath in. There’s nothing better than the smell of pumpkin pie!

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This one kept her busy for a while!

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Spaghetti Spider Web Craft

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Thanks to some recent sensory play with Veronika, I’ve learned a few tricks about how best to make sculpture from spaghetti. I realized the same method could be used to add to our Halloween decor, because it would result in perfect “spider webs”.

To start, mostly this activity was just spaghetti sensory play again. This time, I tinted a big batch of spaghetti a witchy green hue and instead of adding glue, I added corn syrup.

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Just pour it on until you have a nice coating over the noodles. This not only means the noodles won’t clump together as your child plays, but also means the final artwork can still dry like glue, but stay edible.

And good thing, because Veronika was in the mood to nibble on pasta today! I gave her a small dish of plain noodles, but she ate big handfuls of the green stuff right from the pot!

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Eventually I diverted her attention from eating noodles to making the spider web craft. Lay out squares of wax paper and help your toddler arrange noodles in a circle. The thinner the overlap of the noodles, the faster and better these webs will dry.

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Being a toddler, of course she also wanted to make big gloppy piles of noodles, which was half the fun.

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She loved calling them webs, though, as she worked.

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Once we had three neat web shapes, I placed them on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 175 degrees F for 2 hours. This was sort of a guess, but it worked perfectly. The webs came off from the wax paper without tearing or breaking at all.

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Thread yarn through the top of each “web” and hang in spooky corners or windows. Bonus points for plastic spiders to live in each web!

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Pumpkin Craft for Toddlers

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This pretty suncatcher craft was a nice alternative to playing with real pumpkins!

To start, I taped a large piece of contact paper on to our craft table, sticky side up, and then set out a tray filled with squares of cut tissue paper. We had squares in red, orange, and yellow.

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Veronika immediately loved pressing the tissue paper onto the sticky surface and seeing that they got left behind when she lifted her hand away.

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I helped a little so that we could completely fill in a roughly circular area.

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Cover with a second sheet of contact paper, sticky side down, then trim into a pumpkin shape.

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For a stem, I simply taped on a rectangle of green construction paper. Hang in a window or doorway and watch the sun play tricks through the colors.

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You’ll get a neat double dose of orange, first from anywhere your toddler has actually attached orange tissue paper, and second from any place that yellow and red overlap!

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Pumpkins with Mustaches

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It was time to get silly with some of the pumpkins we brought home from the farm stand!

You can start with pale or white pumpkins for this project, saving yourself the step of painting. But since painting is half the fun, we used orange pumpkins and first pulled out the white paint.

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Veronika loved slathering it all over two pumpkins. I recommend at least two coats of paint if you don’t want any orange peeking through, and would have done a third coat had there been time.

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Once the paint dried, we glued on mustache templates that I found online. Travis got to pick which shapes we’d use! You could also draw them with marker, but the 3-D effect is so fun.

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Silly and unexpected pumpkins like these are sure to delight those who see them on your doorstep.

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