Celebration Sponge Cake

A sleety winter day had us craving a colorful celebration inside, so Veronika threw a birthday party for her stuffed animals!

To make a cake worthy of this celebration, we started with kitchen sponges. I cut them into triangles that could be stacked into a “layer cake”. Our cake was two layers high, but you can make yours three or four layers tall for a big splash!

For frosting, we colored pieces of paper and glued on top; triangles cut from colorful craft foam would work great, too. Small pieces of sponge were perfect for sprinkles on top, and Veronika was so proud to squeeze out the glue all by herself and press these down.

For a rim of frosting, I suggested we add cotton balls, but Veronika declared these too fluffy. Our candles were snipped pieces of straw with a little bit of yellow sponge sticking out from the top for the flame. I think her turtle loved his cake!

She kept so busy with this even after I stepped aside, gluing down small pieces of sponge continuing the fiesta. Thanks to her latest issue of High Five magazine for this neat idea!

Mail Truck Craft

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Veronika loves when the mail truck arrives each day, so we made this cute play version at home, thanks to a suggestion in her High Five magazine. Now she can be in charge of all the mail deliveries!

To start, cover an empty cereal box with white paper, gluing or taping as needed to hold in place.
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Next, I added a strip of blue duct tape for the windshield. Blue construction paper would also work for this part.
Add additional stripes with blue washi tape or markers. We used marker for details like headlights and wheels, but for real wheels, simply glue on old juice bottle caps!
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I purposefully left the back of the box with the flap open, so that Veronika could really insert mail and take it out again.
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We used index cards as letters, and she loved scribbling messages with crayon. Big brother Travis even ran over to write a few pieces of correspondence!
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Even more fun than writing out the mail, though, was chugging her mail truck around the room before making each “delivery”!
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Pretend Play Lemonade

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If your child is too young to host their first real lemonade stand, you can set the stage for future endeavors with this cute role-play version! To set up, I got out yellow tissue paper, cotton balls, and a few cups. We used both plastic and glass, but you might want to use only plastic if you won’t be supervising closely. The more important thing is that the cups are clear!

I showed Veronika how to crumple pieces of the tissue paper to form the “lemonade” in each glass.

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Don’t forget to add a few cotton ball “ice cubes” to each cup to keep those drinks cool! Your child might want to add straws, too,

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Time to invite guests to the party!

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Whether dolls, stuffed animals, or action heroes show up, this lemonade party is sure to be a hit. Thanks to High Five magazine for the adorable, imaginative prompt.

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Build a Cool House

This prompt from Parents magazine was the perfect project for a rainy summer day! We raided the craft bin to build a house. What kind of house you ask? It can be made of anything and for any toys your kids desire. To wit, my toddler loved it for her Calico Critters, and my son loved it as a Lego fortress!

To start, I pulled out a bunch of old delivery boxes in various sizes, as well as other building materials like empty cardboard tubes, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, masking tape, and rubber bands.

To start, we taped a few of the boxes together in a configuration that took shape piece by piece. Older kids can design their own layout. With two-year-old Veronika as the guide, I taped things together according to how she wanted it.

She loved “helping” as we added towers and turrets from the paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes. There was a even a secret room around back.

A few craft sticks taped together made neat fences.

At this stage Veronika used it as a house for little cats and bunnies. We added some of her toy furniture inside, and it kept her so busy and playful!

Later when big brother Travis got home, he immediately wanted to tape on a few extra towers. He also used the pipe cleaners for decoration. Pom poms, paint, and anything else that strikes your kids’ fancy can be added as embellishments, too!

Needless to say it was soon a fortress for his Lego figures.

Let your children’s imaginations take the lead on this one, because it’s the perfect project for open-ended play.

Make-Believe Under the Sea

A rainy day meant we needed some indoor make-believe play to chase away the gray! Pulling together a bunch of items we had on hand, our indoor world was soon as watery as the rain outside… with a make-believe ocean theme, that is! This adorable idea was thanks to a prompt from Parents magazine.

To start, I laid down a blue blanket (for water) and a beach towel (for sand). Into the water went a variety of sea creatures from the stuffed animal bin, including a shark, octopus, and sea turtle!

You can add items to the “beach” portion of your layout including beach buckets, shovels, or other sand toys.

For extra points on the make-believe scale, add buried treasure!

Veronika loved digging in the sand (e.g. turning back the corner of the towel) to unearth the shining coins and jewels I’d hidden from the dress-up box.

And then loved plinking them into her bucket.

To make things extra wavy, I added blue and green streamers hanging from the ceiling above. Veronika could now parade and swim through the ocean waves!

What would you add to your make-believe sea? Please share in the comments!

Make a Sailor a Boat

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Veronika recently played with a box in a very free-form way, where we let the box serve as a prompt for imagination, but with almost no embellishments. Today’s play was the opposite, carefully crafting an upcycled box for a specific use: A boat!

I started with details like the sail and mast first, because I knew Veronika would be antsy to climb in for a ride and not want to wait for paint to dry. Use tape (or hot glue) to rig up two dowels one one end of the box, then attach tissue paper or fabric for the sail. We used the latter, with a fun whale print that was just right for the open seas.

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Next, cut a steering wheel shape from construction paper and tape to a craft stick, then attach at the end of the box opposite the sail.

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Don’t forget to cut out circles for portholes, too!

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Veronika couldn’t wait to cast off from shore! The box was just the right size for her and one stuffed animal passenger to sail around the globe (well, apartment).

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Once she’d had her fill of sailing, I did take the time to paint. Black, blue, and white stripes gave the box a quick nautical sheen! Now she was content to wait before hopping in for another sail.

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Anchors aweigh!

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Digging for Treasure

Today Veronika helped make “gems” at home to take to the sandbox… A beach-sized sandbox that is! Although you could do this activity in a backyard sandbox (or inside!), there was something about being out on a real beach that doubled the fun.

To start, Veronika helped gather some special rocks from outside, and then we made them even more special with silver and gold paint. I assumed she would use a brush to paint the rocks, but she loved dunking them right into cups of paint!

This gave them a beautiful coating, although admittedly they took longer to dry. To speed up the process, I used a hair dryer on low, because we couldn’t wait to get outside.

It was time to head to the beach and see if X marked the spot! While Veronika wasn’t looking, I dug a hole and buried the rocks, along with a few other treasures from home like plastic gemstones and fake coins. If you’re burying items like this, make sure you keep track of them so you don’t leave any trash behind.

I handed her the shovel and encouraged her to dig. She was so delighted when she uncovered her first find, a golden coin.

We kept digging and used a toy colander to “pan” for the gold. She loved scooping sand into the colander, as well as watching it sift down.

When all the treasure has been collected, you can even leave the natural rocks behind for the next lucky pirate to find!

Play in a Box

Boxes can be anything and everything, but often when we play with them, I give Veronika a prompt or we embellish the boxes in some way. Today, we had several empty delivery boxes in the house, and I simply presented them to her as is, curious to see what she’d do with them!

First, she wanted to climb in. I did add a little bit of detail with crayon so she had a “steering wheel” and dashboard, and now it was her race car! Similarly, you can quickly make a box into a boat or plane with just a few swipes of crayon.

Next, I turned the box so the opening was on the bottom. Now it was a perfect table! I loved watching her stage a tea party in the afternoon sunlight. A box like this is also perfect for kitchen or restaurant play.

Finally, we turned a few smaller boxes on their sides. Now they were a perfect stable for horses…

…or a cozy house for her puppy dog!

What will your child do with a box? Please share in the comments!

Coffee Shop Role Play

Veronika loves our daily jaunt out to get mommy’s coffee, so today she got to play barista with a coffee shop of her own! To start, I simply set her up with a toy coffee machine set we have, one of those great ways for kids to mimic the grown ups.

She could brew the beans, pour the coffee, and top it off with sugar and creamer for her patrons (a.k.a. stuffed animals).

Even better, though, is when you give kids a chance to play with the “real thing”. When I set out my coffee pot, the game immediately became more fun.

Now she needed a full coffee house set-up. We added menus, for which I designed the outside, but she helped decorate inside.

She could take “orders” before very seriously pouring from the percolator.

Overall, this was a great riff on tea party play, and kept her quite busy for a while!

Fun up the Pretend Play

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Travis loves to play with his Legos, but sometimes even his imagination needs a boost. When boredom struck today, I challenged him to have his favorite characters hold a “ceremony”. You could do this game with just about any toy your child love, whether that means dolls, stuffed animals, action figures, or something else.

Travis chose to have a coronation ceremony to proclaim one of his Legos as king. If that doesn’t interest your child, you could also suggest weddings, birthdays, or other big celebrations as the “ceremony” of choice.

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To start he wanted to set up a throne and a long hallway for the royal procession. Other Legos would be the bystanders of course, and the new king needed guards.

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All hail the king!

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You can make this game as elaborate as your child wants, adding music, props, and lots of fanfare. Veronika was so jealous that we quickly built a throne for Queen Bunny, too!

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After this round of imaginative play had the creative juices flowing, we upped the ante: challenge your children to act out a scene not with toys but with their own bodies!

The easiest way to do this, unless your child knows a particular movie by heart, is to set a favorite scene playing in the background and act along with it. In short order, we had the following cast from The Mandalorian:

Dad: Mando

Mom: Fennec

Travis: Boba Fett

Veronika: Baby Yoda

Baby Yoda had to sit in the center of a meditation rock.

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Uh oh, Baby Yoda lost interest quickly, so a prop stood in, instead.

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Travis loved imitating poses and hearing us get into character with our lines. This activity was such a novelty, and is a sure way to perk up your child’s pretend play no matter what day of the week!

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