Fishy Necklace

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It was our first beach day of the season, and Veronika loved spotting fish in the water. At home, we decided to continue the fishy fun with this cute necklace, which counted towards the day’s arts & crafts, plus worked her fine motor skills!

To start, I cut simple fish shapes from construction paper and Veronika helped punch a hole near the top of each as the “eye”.

For a few extra necklace beads, we painted penne pasta. I expected Veronika to brush the paint on, but she loved dunking the pasta right in cups of paint! This gave us great saturated colors, although it did mean they took longer to dry.

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Once the pasta was dry, it as time to thread. I showed Veronika how to alternate adding a fish and then a pasta “bead” onto a lacing string, working in this way until the lace was full.

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She absolutely loved the process, picking each color bead to add, delighting in the way we could pull the thread through, and eagerly selecting what item should go on next. Then we knotted it off for a fashion show!

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She loved it so much that we made a second version; this time, I didn’t knot the lace so she could remove the beads and put them on again to her heart’s content.

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In sum, there was nothing fishy about this craft, just lots of good fun!

Scissor Pathfinding

Veronika is just starting to work on her scissor skills, after some early forays cutting play dough. This is a cute way to give your child a bit more of a challenge, as he or she learns to hold the blades!

To start, I made two straight lines on construction paper, then started each line with a little snip and handed over the safety scissors. After a review of how to properly position the scissors in her fingers, Veronika could make a little snip or two.

She loved the challenge, although it also became clear pretty quickly that cutting is still too advanced for her.

She wanted to show her stuffed animals how to snip (“You did it Puppy!”) and sometimes wanted to tear along the lines instead, with great pride at the shapes of paper that resulted.

For preschoolers, make it a little more challenging. Draw a “path” that changes direction, instead of a straight line.

Then see if your child can find his or her way along this path. You can even make it curvy for those kids who are nearing kindergarten!

Playing with Tees, Three Ways

Brightly-colored golf tees are a fantastic item to repurpose as toys for toddlers. To wit, here are three ways Veronika has played with them lately!

First, we used a batch of homemade play dough and I set out a tray of various items that could all poke into the dough: tees, pipe cleaners, and cut pieces of straws. This activity was great for honing fine motor skills, and it was interesting to see her discover how much easier it was to poke in the sturdy tees than the bendy pipe cleaners. “It got curly!” she said with a bit of disappointment, of the latter.

She marveled at the way a tee, on the other hand, could pass straight through a ball of play dough, from one side to the other.

After decorating some blobs of playdough, the upright tees looked like birthday candles. Thinking quickly, I pulled out a muffin tin and we made little cupcakes, dotted with candles for a stuffed animal’s party.

The next day, we pulled out the play dough again, but this time I flattened it into a base and challenged her to hammer in the tees with her toy hammer. She wasn’t as into it as I hoped, but she did like poking the tees into the second alternative I offered for a base: a few blocks of Styrofoam (the kind you can purchase for floral arrangements).

Now, the tees were standing at attention and I had a final challenge for her: To balance a marble on the cup of each one!

This took delicate fingerwork, but not only did Veronika excel at it, she absolutely loved it!

Even more fun was lining up a few marbles, and then flicking them off. She quite enjoyed the noise as the marbles plinked down.

From here, I was thrilled to see her come up with her own ways to play. She could squish a marble into the playdough, and then “hammer” it in further with a tee.

Needless to say, tees are a great way to keep a toddler busy!

Make a Gift Basket

This sweet flower basket makes a beautiful gift to any springtime recipient (hint: Mother’s Day is coming up), and helps elementary school kids hone important fine motor skills, like weaving.

To start, you’ll need a cardboard berry basket, which meant this activity began with a trip to the farm stand to pick out fresh tomatoes and strawberries! After a little snack, the crafting began. Travis chose green and purple paint, which didn’t actually show up that well, but he gave it a proud coating and we left it to dry overnight.

In the morning, he added decorations with marker. Next up was weaving! We used yellow and pink ribbon, and he worked diligently at poking the ribbon through each hole and pulling through.

I helped him tie the end of each ribbon into a bow.

As the final touch, punch holes in the top and loop pipe cleaners through to be the handles.

Fill with a spring bouquet, and give to your lucky recipient!

Pipe Cleaner Sprinkles

We have so many pipe cleaners in our craft bin right now that it seemed like a good time to put them to use. This activity was great for a toddler because it combined fine motor skills with a little imagination!

To start, I snipped a bunch of pipe cleaners into “sprinkles” i.e. one inch pieces. We had a nice assortment featuring with variety of colors, some sparkly and some not.

Next I gave Veronika a jar that she could fill. A washed and dried nutritional yeast jar was perfect since one side of the lid featured a large opening, and one side featured a small hole. Large spice jars would work well, too. Veronika was quite intrigued and tried out both openings. Sometimes she tried to add a whole handful at a time, but soon realize she needed to use more care.

When the jar is full, the pipe cleaners make a nice, soft shaking sound. Your toddler will no doubt enjoy dumping it out and starting over several times.

 

Then Veronika began adding “sprinkles” to her hair so proudly!

It was time to add a little twist and use our imaginations. We formed a few playdough “cupcakes” and she became a baker decorating her cakes. She loved placing pipe cleaner pieces just so for this.

In sum, this activity was a neat way to keep her occupied on a rainy morning.

Toddler Mini Olympics

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If it’s too cold to get outside but you need to get your toddler busy and moving, here’s a fun idea that combines gross motor skills with brain play: Set up a “toddler Olympics” with stations all around your home where your child can stop and tackle a challenge. Choose from just a few of the “events” below or do them all; either way, your toddler is sure to win a gold medal. Thanks must go to The Toddler’s Busy Book as inspiration for this game!

In random order, Veronika tackled the following:

Station 1: First she jumped over a jump rope. Picking it up was more fun though, and she’s practically ready to do a classic jump rope move.

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Station 2: Next she walked along a tape balance beam. She loved doing this at a run, too!

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Station 3: Now she had to crouch down to build a tower with blocks. Encourage your toddler to make his or her tallest creation yet!

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Station 4: I set up two cones as a goal post, and Veronika’s job was to get the ball through. Toddlers can roll or kick, and Veronika chose the latter!

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Station 5: Now we were moving into some fine motor skills. First, she clipped clothespins around an empty oatmeal canister.

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Station 6: Next, I set out cut pieces of straw for her to thread onto a lacing cord.

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Station 7: Time to scribble and draw!

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Station 8: Back to those gross motor skills: she used an empty paper towel tube as a “golf club” to putt around a ping pong ball. I didn’t have a goal for her to get this into, but an empty shoebox on its side would be perfect.

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Station 9: Shape sorter time! This was arguably her favorite station, taking the time to make sure she got every shape in its proper hole.

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Station 10: Sock match! Lay out a few pairs and see if your toddler can help each sock find its mate.

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Station 11: You can’t go wrong with classic toddler bowling. Veronika rolled a small ball toward empty paper towel tubes for a toddler strike. Empty water bottles work well, too.

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Station 12: An old favorite, threading canning rings onto a spoon. Tip: Hold the spoon steady in a blob of play dough.

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Station 13: Hula hoop time! Veronika’s first challenge was to jump into it, but then she rolled it along the floor, pretended she was driving a car with it as her wheel, and more.

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Station 14: Discus and Javelin throw. This was the closest event to the real Olympics. I drew a bullseye on a large piece of butcher paper (newspaper would work, too), and showed her how to toss a paper plate towards it like a discus.

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Use drinking straws instead as a javelin!

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Station 15: Her final stop was a chair maze! Make a big maze out of any chairs or cushions around the house, and encourage your toddler to make it through. The twist was that she had to crawl, no walking allowed!

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Overall, this was an ambitious course for Veronika that challenged her body and brain, and it turned into a full morning of delight. Needless to say, she could revisit the stations at her leisure and keep busy with the various toys and items for hours.

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Sandpaper Shamrocks

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I happened to have a sheet of green sandpaper, and realized it would be perfect for a few Irish shamrock crafts as we gear up for St. Patrick’s Day!

For the first project, I cut small shamrock shapes from the green sandpaper, and then used a hole punch to add a hole near the top of each. A piece of green lacing cord would be perfect for threading!

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I encouraged Veronika to thread the lace through the hole of each clover. After a few tries, she seemed to tire of the task so I finished up her necklace.

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She sure loved wearing this adornment, though! I realized it will make a great homemade alternative to the light-up shamrock bling the kids usually get at the St. Patrick’s Day parade (cancelled of course this year).

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Note: If you don’t have green sandpaper, you can also cut the shamrocks for this necklace from green construction paper. A shoelace would work well for the thread!

For the second project, I cut several sizes of shamrock from green and orange sandpaper.

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I placed these under regular white paper and showed Veronika how to rub over them with the side of a green crayon. The shamrocks are magically revealed!

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She needed a little help for this step, especially rubbing the crayon with enough force, but she also proudly wanted to try it solo.

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It was particularly neat to see how different textures of sandpaper came through; the rougher green sandpaper resulted in a darker and more pronounced rubbing than the fine-grained orange sandpaper.

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“It’s a shamrock!” she said with delight each time. Both of these crafts are a great way to introduce toddlers to the symbolism and colors of St. Patrick’s Day.

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Baster Play

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I’ve tried several projects with Veronika using pipettes, which is a great tool for preschool fine motor skills, but it’s become clear that Veronika’s two-year-old fingers aren’t ready for it quite yet. The perfect toddler alternative? A large kitchen baster! The large bulb and large tube are perfectly-sized for a two year old learning to squeeze and understand how a pipette works.

As an invitation to play, I put the baster on a tray with a plastic container filled with water. I then laid out smaller bowls for her to transfer the water back and forth, and tinted the water yellow and blue for added fun. (This meant she’d get a color mixing lesson, too, when they combined to make green).

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Just as with a pipette, the baster works by squeezing once to fill with water, then squeezing a second time to release it. I was glad I took the time to focus with Veronika on these steps, because her confusion was quite clear at first.

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Soon, she worked up to the idea of squeezing, lifting up, and then waiting a moment before squeezing again to see the liquid come out. She was delighted to realize the water had colors.

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And sure enough, we made a little green!

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After a few tries, her energy seemed to flag and she simply wanted to use the small dishes to pour water back and forth. I thought that might be it for the baster but then…

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…she picked it up gain! Now she had a knack for the tool, almost like her brain had been working on solving the problem in the background.

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She also discovered that if she squirted the baster into the container of water, it would make bubbles. Big ones, little ones, lots of them or a few; this final discovery kept her busy and happy for quite a while.

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I highly recommend baster play for your toddler, too!

Free the Toys

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In my experience, toddlers love tape (tearing it, sticking it on things, ripping it back up again), and here’s a way to give purpose to all that ripping: trap small toys in the compartments of a muffin tin, then cover over with painter’s tape. Then tell your toddler it’s time to free the toys!

You can use just about any small toy for this game. I used a mix of Veronika’s Calico Critters and Duplo figures. Counting bears would also be great, as suggested on the blog Days with Grey, or tiny Shopkins figures if you’re using a mini muffin tin.

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I placed one toy in each compartment and then covered with about 6 pieces of overlapping tape. I wanted to leave some gaps so Veronika would see that there was a toy inside, but consider making a complete cover of tape for older toddlers or preschoolers. Or, make only a few lines of tape for older kids, but have them use scissors instead of their hands!

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Veronika quickly proved adept at ripping up the tape and even at getting the sticky tape off her fingers when it momentarily got stuck.

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She delighted in discovering who was in each compartment, calling out the names she has for them like Pajama Bunny and Crawler Bunny.

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When she was done, she immediately asked for a repeat: “Let’s trap them again!” I repeated the process, and this time she was able to replace some of the tape herself after, soon inventing a game that involved the bunnies taking a “bath” in the little compartments.

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It wasn’t long before she wanted a third round! This time she wanted to trap her fireman toys and I switched it up by making long lines of tape instead of trapping each toy individually.

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She wasn’t as pleased with this version, but she did puzzle out how to pull up the long strands, after a little deliberation.

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I can unequivocally say that this is a fantastic way to keep a child busy, occupying Veronika’s attention far longer than most games.

Block Pick-Up with Tongs

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Veronika’s at that beautiful age where she actually enjoys cleaning up; toddlers are easily roped into the task with a familiar song or rhyme. But if that’s not enough, here’s a fun way to add a little fine motor work into the process, too.

After some fun this afternoon building towers with blocks, it was time for clean-up. I decided to give her a novel way to get all those blocks back into their bin.

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Instead of simply asking her to toss them in, I handed her a pair of tongs and showed her how to pinch a block in between the tongs, carry it over to the bin, and then release it.

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There was almost endless joy to the repetition of this: pinch with the tongs, carry over, release, repeat!

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This was such a simple and fun way to clean up the blocks, and arguably occupied her longer than building the towers had. She loved the challenge of it, and I saw her testing out the method several times throughout the afternoon.

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What’s your family’s favorite clean-up game? Please share in the comments!

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