Washing Vegetables

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If you have a toddler who’s eager to help in the kitchen (say while an older sibling is cooking by your side), here’s the perfect task that he or she can tackle solo!

I set out a tray with just a little water, along with a cloth, a vegetable scrubber, and a few extra veggies. Use fruits and vegetables that you know you’ll peel later (think russet potatoes, eggplants, or citrus fruits), so it doesn’t matter if your little one actually makes the vegetables dirtier on the floor rather than cleaner.

We had a few extra eggplants and I showed Veronika how to scrub at the skin with the vegetable brush.

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She was an eager helper and liked dabbing at them gently with a cloth. When the eggplants were “clean”, I showed her how to pat them dry, too. This little activity is so simple but made her feel just as important in the kitchen as big brother.

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Condensed Milk Edible Finger Paint

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I love finding new ways to make edible finger paint for toddlers, and this version couldn’t be easier. Just crack open a can of condensed milk, add food coloring, and your little artist is ready to paint! For a vegan version, try the sweetened condensed coconut milk from Nature’s Charm.

I spooned a little bit into each of three plastic cups and put a small toy spoon in each cup. Veronika loves these little spoons, so she was excited to help stir a few drops of food coloring into each one. We used green, blue, and red.

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Since she already had the spoon in hand, she first used this as her tool to dribble or rub the paint over thick watercolor paper. But I encouraged her to use her hands, and so she curiously dipped in a finger.

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Then she was brave enough to do some smearing! The condensed coconut milk is very thick and creamy, much more so than regular slippery finger paint, so it was a great new sensory experience for her.

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She’s been very into Blue’s Clues lately, and discovered that if she pressed her hand down, she left a paw print “clue” just like Blue can!

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She requested I leave a paw print, too. There’s nothing like playing with your toddler to embrace your inner child and get a little goopy!

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In fact, Veronika then loved rubbing the paint all over her hands and smooshing her palms together. Needless to say, once her masterpieces of finger paint were finished, we ended with a good hand washing.

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Interestingly, she never tasted this one, but it was nice to know she could have, had she wanted to.

Basic Cereal Threading

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This easy threading game is a great intro to the activity for toddlers. All of the items involved (play dough, cereal, and dry spaghetti) lend themselves to solo toddler play either before or after the activity, too, meaning you’ll get double-duty from one game.

To set up, we first rolled a few balls from different colors of play dough. Veronika loved helping with this step.

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I then speared a strand of dry spaghetti into each mound of play dough. We were working on a craft tray, so I simply poured out some o-shaped cereal right onto the tray. If you’re doing this activity in a high chair, give your toddler a bowl of the cereal instead.

I showed her how to thread one cereal piece at a time onto the spaghetti. After a few misses, she was quickly a pro at the activity!

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I loved watching her work with great care, not only looping the cereal over the top, but then holding onto it as she guided it all the way down to the play dough base.

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Don’t be surprised if there’s some snacking involved, too, with all the cereal around!

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Sensory Snow Safe to Taste

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We’ve had lots of fun making pretend snow this winter, and this easy sensory bin was the simplest way yet! When Veronika requested snow this morning, I thought quickly and simply poured in an unused box of instant mashed potato flakes. “Snow!” I told Veronika.

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To mix things up, my original plan was to add toy trains to the bin. But she started using big brother’s army trucks instead.

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“It’s so snowy blowy!” she said as she drove the trucks around, and loved watching the tracks that the vehicles left behind.

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Travis added aliens, so perhaps this was a snowy planet from another galaxy!

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Then she wanted to add her ponies, and thought it was quite fun that the horses were “snowy blowy” too.

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As long as you don’t get the mixture wet, the potato flakes will brush off quite easily at the end, making this an easy bin for clean-up, too.

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This “snow” is perfect for a toddler how might want to take a taste. But if you have older kids who prefer colder snow that can really clump together like snowballs, there are lots of other options to try!

Bread Roll Puppets

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Today, Travis had full permission to play with his food because we turned a bread roll into a puppet!

To start, I showed Travis how to make a “smile” in a French bread roll by cutting a slit in the middle like a mouth.

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Poke two additional holes above the mouth with a butter knife to be the eyes. We filled these with chocolate chips, although raisins might have worked better.

For a silly tongue, fold up your favorite meatless deli slice (like Tofurky), and insert into the mouth.

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Let the showtime begin! Travis immediately began both eating the puppet and being silly with it, squeezing so the mouth could move. The rolls were so delicious that the puppet didn’t last long! But if you manage to slow your hungry kids down, arrange the rolls on a plate with basil or lettuce leaves as hair for a cute photo-op first.

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Rudolph Sandwiches

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We love watching classic Christmas movies, and what better to nibble on during a re-run of one of our perennial favorites, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer than little Rudolph sandwiches?

To assemble, cut bread slices into triangles and spread half of the slices with your sandwich filling of choice. We made one with peanut butter, one with agave nectar, and one with non-dairy cream cheese!

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Top with additional slices of bread. Add maraschino cherries for noses, raisins for eyes, and pretzel twists for antlers.

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The kids thought these were adorable, plus loved sitting together for the cartoon. All in all, this was a cozy pause on a winter afternoon.

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Candy-Less Canes

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Confession: we’ve probably eaten way too many sugary candy canes this holiday season. So it was time to put a healthier spin on this favorite holiday treat!

Over two afternoons, we had fun making faux candy canes with red-and-white foods. First up was a fruit version. I sliced strawberries and bananas and set them on a cutting board, then challenged Travis to arrange them like a candy cane (or as Veronika calls it, a “minty”).

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He quickly got the hang of it, and then both kids loved devouring this trompe l’oiel snack.

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Needless to say, the red stripes (a.k.a. strawberries) didn’t last long.

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The next day it was time for a savory spin on the treat! This time I set out piles of sliced tomato and vegan feta cheese. Travis again quickly figured out how to line them up like candy cane stripes.

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And the kids quickly polished it off for a snack! What foods would you use for a pretend candy cane? Please share in the comments!

Marshmallow Snowman Stamping

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If your toddler loves dot markers, then edible dot markers are even better! To wit, all you need to make this craft are large marshmallows. We love the vegan ones from Dandies.

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I set out a plate of the marshmallows along with a dish of white paint and black construction paper. I showed Veronika how to dip one end of a marshmallow in the paint and then onto the paper. It made a perfect circle!

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Indeed, this craft was all about circles. The marshmallows make little circle prints, and if you help your toddler slightly, you’ll end up with three circles for a snowman: small, medium, and large. I highly recommend having a few marshmallows on the side just for eating so you can avoid paint on little tongues. Veronika loved snacking while we crafted!

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The craft was easiest for her if I stamped an outline of the snowman first, which she then could fill in with her marshmallow stamp.

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Once the paint dried, I cut out a few features from construction paper to glue down, like top hats, carrot noses, and tree branch arms. Add any final details with marker.

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Why did we paint our snowmen on a black background? Because we finished the day with a read of Snowmen at Night, a book about all the silly things snowmen might get up to after dark. Hot cocoa and snowball fights? Yes please!

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Flour Piping Sensory Activity

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A word of warning parents: this game is a messy one, but definitely worth it. It combines food play, painting, sensory play, art, and more!

To start, I set out a bowl for Veronika filled with flour, which immediately grabbed her attention. We started pouring in water and she was fascinated watching it change from powdery flour into, well, goop!

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Keep adding water until your mixture is a thick paste, then use a ladle to scoop some into zip-top plastic bags. Veronika chose blue and green when I asked what colors of paint she wanted. Add a little drop of paint to each bag, then seal and show your toddler how to squish the bag so the color mixes.

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Snip a small hole in the bottom corner of each bag. Veronika could now “pipe” the paint onto sheets of thick craft paper I had laid down.

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Note: I recommend a tray or newsprint underneath the paper, since the flour mixture is quite messy.

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She absolutely loved this step, using great concentration as she dribbled out the contest of the bag. I would make our flour mixture a little thicker next time so that it required more squeezing on her part. With that said, she was pleased as punch watching the results of her work as she dribbled the bag back and forth across the paper.

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Inadvertently, her final “painting” almost looked like planet Earth!

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As the final touch, we added glitter because, well, everything is better with glitter. She loved shaking out lots of it from the jar and making her final work of art gleam.

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Brown Sugar Sand Castles

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If you’re missing the beach a few months out from summer, bring the beach to you with a material that molds almost as well as real sand… Brown sugar!

This game was part summer nostalgia, part sensory bin. I set out a big bowl of brown sugar, along with a tray to hold our “beach” and a few craft sticks to use as tools.

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I then gave Veronika a variety of paper cups that we could use like sand buckets and showed her how to pack the brown sugar in firmly. Upend the cups and you’ll have tiny sand castles!

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Of course it was equally fun to break apart the towers with the craft sticks.

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If your children have the patience, they can build up layer upon layer for an intricate sand castle. Around here, it was the breaking apart that won the day.

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Veronika loved that she could scoop up brown sugar on the edge of a craft stick and fill her little cups.

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She also loved pouring brown sugar from one cup to the other. And the best part about this “sand” is that it’s 100% edible and sweet. That means no tears if some ends up in your toddler’s mouth. And that sure beats summer sand!

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