Nursery Rhyme Productions

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Today Veronika and I played around with the classic nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill, not just as rhythmic and musical play, but by also acting it out. This was great both for her gross motor skills and for developing imaginative play. You might even consider it her first theater performance!

First, I simply refreshed her memory about the rhyme, since it’s not one we sing that often:

Jack and Jill went up the hill,

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

and Jill came tumbling after.

We also watched a cute cartoon version of the song, and then it was time to act out her first role! On the first two lines, I helped her climb up onto a step stool.

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On the last two lines, she climbed down and then filled a bucket with “water” (actually scraps of blue fabric). Torn blue construction paper or blue tissue paper would also work as pretend water.

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Well she absolutely loved this whole process. She wanted to climb up onto the stool over and over, and graduated to doing it without my hand for support.

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Then it was time to work on climbing down “all by self”, too.

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Plus the bucket and fabric scraps were great fun to play with, nursery rhyme or no.

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She enjoyed the game so much that we’ll have to think of which nursery rhyme to use next for Veronika’s second “play”.


Shape Mail Carrier

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Today I made a shape matching activity for Veronika, and it turned into a game of playing a mailman who was making deliveries! She was the mail carrier and had to deliver the right shape to the corresponding “mailbox”. I loved that this game was equal parts learning and introduction to imaginative play.

To start, I covered construction paper with sticky contact paper on both sides for durability, and cut out shapes: rectangles, hearts, circles, triangles, and squares.

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So first up was a simple game of shape matchup. If I had one of the pair, could she find the other?

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She quickly proved to be an ace at this test, not just picking up the right shape…

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…but naming them, too.

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I wanted to make the game more exciting, so turned it into the mail carrier game. We have a set of toy boxes, each one a different shape with items of the same shape nested inside (i.e. a pizza wedge and watermelon wedge inside the triangle box). We scattered all the shapes on the ground, along with the construction paper set I’d just made, and I placed the empty boxes in front of her.

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“Special delivery!” I called. “Which mailbox should the triangle go in?”

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She was so proud making these deliveries!

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Note: If you don’t have a toy like this, simple cut out and laminate each shape from paper, then tape or glue onto an empty shoe box. These can be your mailboxes!

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After we’d filled the mailboxes, she decided to get a little impish. I could see the wheels in her brain turning as she deliberately placed the shapes in the wrong box, and then looked at me for a laugh.

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But if you think about it, this was showing her understanding of shapes on a whole new level.

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She thought this was hilarious and kept it up for quite some time.

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Rainy Day Busy Box

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Veronika has an obsession with umbrellas, so today I put together this little toy bin for her to play with! It was equal parts sensory play and imaginative play, meant to imitate a “rainy day” in miniature. I had to supervise since the mini drink umbrellas we used have sharp points, but older toddlers and preschoolers could play with this solo as a true busy box.

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In a small toy bin, I simply put the following: little people figures, blue pom poms as “raindrops”, and a few small umbrellas (like the type you find in tropical drinks).

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Veronika was smitten! The actual role play was a bit lost on her, but we “rained” the pom poms down on the people and sang “Rain rain, go away” one of her current favorite songs.

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She eagerly popped open the umbrellas! I needed to help her with the mechanics of this a little bit, but once open she could then slide them up and down.

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She loved trying to have her little people hold on to them. This brought a big smile to her face.

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In retrospect I would have made this bin on a real rainy day, to help emphasize the theme.


Set Design

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Here’s an easy hack to turn empty cardboard boxes into play spaces with zero mess: use stickers as the backdrop to create scenery for a “stage”!

To put this together, I simply taped the background pages from a sticker set inside a large cardboard box.

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We started out with an ocean page, and Veronika could go “under the sea” simply by crawling in. She loved peeking out from this watery cave, and also adding animals to the backdrop. It was almost like a virtual aquarium!

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As an alternative, you can cut the box so it stands flat, and tape pages to the outside of it. In this way, the box now became her jungle! Use stickers or other pictures to create a farm, beach, or whatever else strikes your little stage actor’s fancy.

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This was a neat way to build on Veronika’s imaginative play as she becomes less interested in merely manipulating objects, and more interested in acting out stories. I talked about her trip to each place, and the various animals she could see.

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Other fun ideas? Use stickers to make a backdrop like a castle or outer space! If you’re more artistic than I am, of course feel free to paint these scenes. But relying on stickers was a great hack with no mess.

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Magic Carpet Ride

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Veronika is at the age where imaginative play starts to take off, so today I took her on a magic carpet ride!

Clearly your child will have no context for such a game, so you may want to take a quick peek at the magic carpet scene of a movie like ‘Aladdin’. Veronika was entranced by the soaring carpet!

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Then I sat her down on a big beach towel (with a rather magic carpet-esque print). A few doll friends came along for the ride.

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Humming and singing songs, we went for a magic carpet ride around the apartment, waving to the things we passed.

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I then transferred her dolls to a smaller towel to see if she wanted to be the one to give a ride, but this was met with confusion.

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So it was back to her big carpet for another ride! Does your child prefer to pull toys on the magic carpet, or sit for a ride? Please share in the comments!

Deep Sea Adventure

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Today Veronika and I had an adorable play session pretending we were at sea! I love that she’s old enough now (at just shy of 16 months) to combine imaginative play with toys and games.

First, I set the stage with lots of sea-themed objects. We had plastic whales, sharks, and fish, a toy boat, and a book with a fish on the cover as scenery. Later I even remembered to add a blue blanket on the ground for “water”.

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If you don’t have any sea creature toys, just cut fish shapes from cardboard and color them in together first!

All we needed to set sail was an empty laundry basket. Veronika climbed aboard the ship, and I attached a jump rope as her ship’s line.

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We “sailed” around the room singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, to her great delight. Another fun song goes like this:

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea

To see what she could see, see, see

and all that she could see, see, see

Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea!

I added an empty paper towel tube to be her telescope.

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We loved spotting fish. And whale watching!

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Her fast favorite was a little green fish, which she swam all over the floor. You could even encourage older toddlers to get on the floor and pretend they are swimming.

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The shark was the next big hit. After she learned to say “shark”, she had it jumping around and climbing on board the boat.

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If anybody needs a rescue at sea, reel them in with your jump rope “line”.

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In sum, don’t discount a 16 month old’s ability for imaginative play. That imagination is kicking in, right alongside the gross motor and fine motor skills.

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Simple Costume Design

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As someone who dresses purely for comfort, it has been a source of endless amusement to me that Veronika loves to accessorize. A spare sock, a random belt; whatever she finds lying around the apartment she immediately drapes over herself and strikes a pose. So today we had some costume fun, starting out with the simplest prop: scarves!

Play scarves can be so many things. I tied one around her waist for an instant “tutu”. You could tell she felt glamorous!

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Then I made a simple medieval hat by twisting a piece of construction paper into a cone and taping a scarf on the top. It was a little wobbly, but she still loved it.

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Scarves are great for further make-believe while your child is in costume. We tied two together and “swam” them through her noble court as fish.

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She recently watched real fish in a tank, so loved saying the word as the scarves swam around us.

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To further engage her imagination, we did then play dress-up with a kit. I stayed away from named characters, knowing that she would love draping herself in lace, beads, and fancy headgear from a generic boxed set. And did she ever!

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Whether it’s as simple scarves or more complicated like purchased dress-up, play clothes are great fuel for the imagination.

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She wanted to dress “Baby” up, too!

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Make a Mailbox

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Kids just love the mail and playing mailbox, and this is true even before they fully understand what the pretend play is all about! So today I made Veronika her first mailbox, simply by cutting a slit in an old shoebox.

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We had fun decorating it together; while Veronika proudly scribbled in purple, I added “U.S. Mail” across the top and some red and blue coloration.

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It was time to send the mail! Use old envelopes or stationary or even playing cards for your “letters”. I showed her how to put them in the slot…

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…and then reach in to take them out again. She got the hang of it right away.

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Add to the pretend play by addressing a note or two to your baby. You can then pretend to “read” the mail together.

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For proof that games like this never grow old, big brother Travis needed to horn in on the action.

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Soon he was practicing his handwriting as he addressed letters, mailing them through the slot, and opening them back up again.

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It kept both of them entertained for ages!

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You can finish the fun with a trip to a real post office, or even just a stop to watch a mail carrier at work, delivering letters from the truck.

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Be a Thoughtful Traveler

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The lesson that accompanied Travis’s Mango Sticky Rice from Raddish Kids was all about etiquette while traveling abroad – big stuff for a small four-year-old! I made it accessible with more of a role-play game and I liked giving him this intro to different customs.

First, I walked up to Travis and gave him a fist bump. Well, this got a look of surprise, not normally how mommy greets him!

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Do something similar to your child, whether a wave, a hug, a high five, or anything out of the norm. I explained that people around the world greet each other differently, and we were headed on a “trip” to find out more!

We checked out a good infographic with different greetings, and cut up cards with each country’s name on it.

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I asked him which one he liked best (everything from touching an elder’s feet in India to shaking fists in Niger), and he chose the Maori hongi greeting. To New Zealand we go!

That meant racing to his room to spot New Zealand on the map. “We have to fly far!” he exclaimed. For role-play fun, pack a bag. Travis decided he needed a comic book and a bathing suit.

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Off to the plane! The country name card became our plane ticket, which he loved hole punching.

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We mimed getting into our seats and flying.

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I could get used to this travel without the hassle! In no time we were in “New Zealand”, and now we could do the hongi.

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We also tested out a high five, a traditional Thai wai, and more, each time first pinpointing the country on his map, and then boarding our airplane.

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There’s a lot in this lesson that we didn’t do. For extension with older children, ask lots of questions about what it will be like upon reaching their destination. Reflect on what it means to be “thoughtful” in another country. Have your child pick a country and learn the traditional greeting, then design a way to teach their peers about it, whether through a travel brochure, song, dramatization, or other medium. You could even play World Greeting Charades!

Invisible Graffiti

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Let’s face it: Kids are sometimes drawn to things that are taboo, and sometimes it’s good to have an outlet for that naughtiness…but without the consequences!

That’s where this adorable game fits in, allowing kids to have the thrill of painting “graffiti,” but without any visible evidence.

First, I cut an artist’s palette for Travis out of cardboard.

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Paint on circles of color (ideally in as many colors of the rainbow as you can) using nail polish. This will make the “paint” look shiny even once it dries.

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I let Travis have a second piece of cardboard and permission to paint with the nail polish, because this was an added element of fun.

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(Note: I love the shades from the No Miss brand, which are free of all the yucky stuff like formaldehyde and also cruelty-free.

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Now it was time to set my graffiti artist loose! We headed out in the morning sunshine to make trouble. Here he is heading over to paint the fence.

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Travis “painted” all over the bushes, and the patio.

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Can’t you just see the glee?

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He loved finding places to add his graffiti.

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Uh oh, littering!

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In sum, he had a blast getting his naughtiness out with this game. And the best part is that there is no mess left over.