Rainy Day Pasta Sort

Dried pasta has so many uses, whether for simple sensory play, making big instruments to shake, or enjoying a little early learning. So when Veronika was a little aimless today, I simply poured three different shapes of pasta from our pantry onto a tray. You can aim to have very different shapes (for a young toddler) or pasta with subtler differences for preschoolers. We used: farfalle, shells, and penne.

First, I invited Veronika to explore all three shapes. She loved that the farfalle looked just like butterflies!

Next, I set out three small containers and challenged her to sort the pasta. The idea was a little hard at first (words like “sort” or “match” are new vocabulary for her). But once I put a few shells in one bin and then asked, “Where does the shell go?” she latched onto the idea. Soon we had three sorted types of pasta!

Of course then it became a free-for-all, with lots of sensory scooping and dumping of all that pasta. You can even dye it if you want to fill up even more time on a rainy day!

Dinosaur Fossil Excavation

Depending on the age of your child, this game can be either mostly sensory play or mostly STEM play. Either way, it’s sure to delight!

I set up a dinosaur excavation pit for Veronika with three kinds of “dirt”. The first was a box of chocolate cake mix, the second was crushed chocolate cookies, and the third was regular flour (although whole wheat flour probably would have worked better).

Next, I buried a few of our small plastic dinosaurs under the “dirt”. If your children are older, you can use store-toy bones or fossil prints, instead (or even make your own). Since I knew Veronika wouldn’t quite understand what she was seeing with the fossils, we stuck with whole dinosaur bodies. She was about to be a very lucky paleontologist.

I scattered a few rocks on top for a finishing touch, then set out an old shaving brush, bucket, and shovel. Time to dig!

She immediately took to shoveling up the dirt and transferring to her bucket, a process which she absolutely loved.

I showed her how to brush the dust and grime off the dinosaurs as she unearthed each one, but honestly she wasn’t much interested. Dinos, rocks, and dirt alike went into her bucket and then were dumped into the tray to start all over. She also enjoyed pouring the “dirt” back and forth between a few small plastic cups.

Don’t fear the clean-up. The mixture sweeps up easily… as long as you don’t get it wet. Trust me: You do not want to deal with wet chocolate cake mix on your floor.

Fruit Dips

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Veronika doesn’t like to eat yogurt off a spoon, but here’s a fantastic way to introduce the flavor to little ones who might otherwise be hesitant: turn it into a dip!

In general, toddlers love to dip food and this snack plays right into that desire. I set out a plate for her with a variety of cut up fruits, including strawberries, nectarine, oranges, green grapes, apple, banana, and pineapple. I wasn’t aiming for a full rainbow (although you could!), but we did hit nearly every hue from ROYGBIV.

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Next, I cut plastic straws into short pieces and then poked a straw piece into each fruit cube. Spoon a little vanilla non-dairy yogurt directly into the center of the plate. Time to dip!

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Veronika loved that she was in charge of this snack. Sometimes she would dip a fruit piece in and eat fruit and yogurt together. Sometimes she used the fruit more like a spoon for the yogurt, scooping it up and licking off. Apple pieces were her favorite for this particular method.

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I had one very happy little snacker.

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Froot Loop St. Patrick’s Day Fun

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If ever there’s a day for rainbow cereal fun, St. Patrick’s Day is it. Here are a few ways we incorporated Froot Loops into the day to mark the holiday.

To start, surprise your kids in the morning by pretending a “leprechaun” visitor left behind a rainbow. I threaded Froot Loops in rainbow order onto a pipe cleaner, then inserted the ends into two “pots of gold” (vegan mini muffins), following a tip from Painted Confetti.

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Since Froot Loops aren’t vegan, I told the kids this was magical leprechaun food for decoration, not eating. Travis was too busy to care, since he was so busy peeking inside a homemade leprechaun trap to see if it was caught inside. Looks like the little fellow got away!

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Later in the day, Veronika and I used extra Froot Loops for a pretty rainbow craft. I drew the arcs of a rainbow with marker, and then dumped some of the cereal onto a tray. (Since it would be unfair to allow no snacking during a craft like this, I gave her a bowl of vegan cereal on the side for munching!).

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Working with one color at a time, we made a line of glue dots along that rainbow arc and found the right color cereal in the tray.

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Veronika stuck with it for a few pieces in each color, and I filled in the gaps. Preschoolers can try to tackle the full rainbow by themselves.

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Cotton ball clouds were the final touch!

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I loved the touch of magic that these projects gave to our holiday, leaving the impression that the leprechaun had really been there. If you truly want to wow your kids this St. Patrick’s Day, here’s one final shenanigan: Sneak downstairs before everyone else is awake and add a little green food coloring to the toilet bowl. Travis couldn’t believe this final bit of leprechaun evidence!

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Homemade Coconut Butter

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It’s easy to make homemade butter just by shaking heavy creamer, requiring nothing more than a little muscle power, and that is a neat way for kids to see where their food comes from. We wanted to put a vegan spin on this project so decided to try making butter from coconut cream!

Make sure to purchase full fat coconut milk for this activity, not the light alternative, which likely won’t work.

Scoop a little of the solid coconut fat from the can into a small jar (empty baby food jars were the perfect size for small hands) along with some of the liquid.

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Then simply seal and shake! Obviously Veronika didn’t have the muscle to make the “butter” solo, as it required about 5 minutes total of shaking. We would pass the jar back and forth and shake it all the while, and her excitement mounted as she said she wanted to taste the butter.

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After shaking, the fat and liquid will combine into a creamy, smooth consistency. It’s not exactly butter of course, but it did have a nice spreadable consistency. Veronika absolutely adored it on crackers!

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While you probably don’t want to eat pure coconut cream every day, this was a fun treat to try out and she was so proud that she “made” her own snack.

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Apple Smiles

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This is a cute snack to make either before or after a visit to the dentist; it helps make things silly and not scary for toddlers!

To prepare the apple smiles, spread a wedge of unpeeled red apple with a little peanut butter. Add 3 mini Dandies marshmallows, then spread a second wedge of apple with peanut butter and place on top.

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Not only do these make a tasty snack and a chance to point out those shiny white teeth, but you can do more with it than that! We had an extra toothbrush and Veronika loved “brushing” the apple smiles to help them get clean. The peanut butter really will make the marshmallows a bit mucky and stained, adding a touch of verisimilitude. “Let’s brush off all that peanut butter,” she said so proudly, helping the apple smile get clean and bright.

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So a snack plus a quick lesson! Just make sure you brush real teeth after eating those sugary marshmallows.

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Make a Masterpiece

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Here’s a fun way to turn the side dish at your next meal into arts & crafts! Not only will this cooking project engage children’s artistic side, but you might just get them to try a new food, too.

To start, I sliced a variety of veggies and fruits (yes, you can roast fruit), resulting in a hodgepodge of rutabaga, beets, apple, pear, and oranges. I tried to cut each item into different shapes, like triangular rutabaga pieces, semi-circle beets, circular orange slices, and apple wedges.

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I then set everything out for Veronika alongside a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and encouraged her to arrange the items however she wanted. She looked so proud as she chose where to place each piece of food.

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She especially loved the beets because they made her fingers pink!

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I demonstrated how some of the items could be arranged almost like images from a kaleidoscope (oranges surrounded by apple wedges were pretty, for example), but mostly I left the design up to her. She talked about the shapes as she worked; meanwhile ‘rutabaga’ and ‘beets’ were new vocab for her and she quickly latched on to these new words.

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When her design was finished, I drizzled with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkled with a dash of salt, then roasted at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.

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The resulting mix made a perfect side dish to a winter meal! You can try this with any number of root veggies or fruits, and see what combination your little artists like best.

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Pasta Artist

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Travis read about pasta artist Linda Miller Nicholson in his latest Highlights magazine, and we were so intrigued with the article that we went on to check out her Instagram. Talk about wow! We knew we couldn’t recreate anything close to her masterpieces, but thought it would be fun to try some pasta art of our own.

Nicholson uses plant-based dyes right in her pasta dough, but in a pinch, I placed a little bit of dry pasta in small zip-top bags, then added all-natural food coloring (think yellow from turmeric and red from beets) and a tablespoon of white vinegar to each bag. Seal and shake the bags to coat the pasta, then let dry on paper plates.

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From here, you could color or paint directly on the pasta, or glue the various pieces down into pictures of other things. Travis predictably wanted to make Star Wars creations, so we tried our hand at pasta x-wing fighters and Darth Vader wielding a red ziti lightsaber.

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If your kids try pasta art, we’d love to hear what they create in the comments!

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Play with Peppermint

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I came home from the market with fresh mint, and Veronika was immediately intrigued with the smell. So we turned the morning into a little chance to explore peppermint with all our senses! It’s fun to pick one ingredient like this on occasion, and focus on it closely.

First up I asked her to use her eyes/sight, and notice that the plant was green and leafy. But more importantly, she wanted to explore with her nose/smell. First we smelled a peppermint teabag and then the fresh leaves.

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Next came taste! I brewed a pot of peppermint tea and cooled down cups for the kids with ice cubes. They both loved it, and also sampled the fresh leaves, which big brother Travis loved dropping right into his tea.

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Now it was time for hands/touch. Mint has that great slightly fuzzy texture and Veronika loved holding the leaves or ripping it into smaller pieces with her fingers. We decided to glue some of this confetti down to make mint art!

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I suppose we didn’t really “hear” the peppermint, unless you count the sound of it crumbling between our fingertips.

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Finally, I tied together a few sprigs for Veronika as a whimsical bouquet. She loved this “tiny tree” and played with it for a while. I thought it looked a bit like a magic wand, too! So perhaps the sixth sense we used today was our imaginations.

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This was a nice way to pause and focus on just one food, as opposed to making a recipe together. I loved seeing her wonder as she explored the peppermint with every sense.

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Eat Your Letters

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Veronika is fascinated with letters now, adding daily to the list of those she recognizes, and she loves pointing them out to me. “Letter C!” she said in the grocery store yesterday, spotting one on a sign. To reinforce her interest, I picked up a few grocery items with letters right on them!

My original plan was to buy Alpha-Bits cereal but couldn’t find it at the store. Instead, I purchased letter cookies from Earth’s Best, and letter-shaped pasta from Banza. For the cookies, I first spread peanut butter on toast slices to make them sticky, which turned them into little “easels”. I showed Veronika how to sort through the letters and spelled out simple words for her (love, cat), along with her name.

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I also held up one cookie at a time and asked what letter she saw. She knew some new ones from the last time I quizzed her, including H and D now!

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Big brother Travis quickly wanted to join in, eager to spell his name. We ran into a snag only because the kids were snacking, too, which meant we were soon missing letters we needed!

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After that, I dumped out the letter pasta onto a tray for Veronika to further explore. This was more like sensory play, but also great for learning. I again held up one letter at a time and asked her which it was.

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It turned out the pasta only came in five letter shapes, so we briefly sorted them, too. “Another S!” she said proudly, adding it to the pile.

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If you do find Alpha-Bits cereal, go ahead and arrange them on those peanut-butter bread slices, then finish up the activity by eating your open-faced sandwich!