Ice Jewels

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The next time there’s snow in the forecast, make a batch of “jewels” ahead of time so you can delight your little ones with sparkly ice treasures!

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To make the jewels, simply freeze water in the compartments of an ice cube tray and add a bit of all-natural food coloring to each. I like to fill the compartments only about half way so the colors stay separate; otherwise you risk having them splash together and result in brown gems.

When Veronika and I headed out to the back patio to explore the recent snowfall, I popped the treasures out of the ice cube tray for her.

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These are so fun to arrange in pretty patterns, as we did on the rungs of her slide. Your kids might want to make patterns along tree branches, the edge of a walkway or patio, or even just on top of the snow.

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Veronika also loved that pretty pockets of color appeared in the snow wherever she tossed them in. Then you can dig up your buried gemstones and start all over.

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Stone Paperweight

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If you’re looking for a gift your toddler can make for a relative this holiday season, the paperweight is it.

The best part about this gift is that it starts with a nature walk! It can be a harder to motivate kids for these once the cold sets in, so I loved motivating Veronika by telling her we were on a treasure hunt for the perfect rock.

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We came home with two that were the perfect size and shape, including one that almost looked like a heart.

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Now it was time to paint. Not only did we use sparkly paint…

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…but she wanted to dump glitter on, too. We used the recipient’s favorite color combo of orange and blue.

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Let dry, then spray with shellac for a shinier finish. (Note: that’s a grown-up only step).

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Wrap up and gift to someone special!

Dry Leaf Collage

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This is not the craft to make when the leaves are at their peak vibrant hues of orange and red early in the fall. This is the craft for late in the fall, when the leaves are dry and brown, and yet you’ll show your toddler beauty even in this underappreciated nature material!

Veronika and I came home with a bag full of just such leaves, and first we explored them on her sensory tray. She loved picking them up and letting them float down.

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I next showed her how to rip the leaves into tiny pieces. The dry crinkly November leaves are perfect for this because each rip produces a satisfying sound.

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As she tore them up, I traced two leaf shapes on construction paper and cut them out. Any fall color would make a nice background here, and we used brown and orange.

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Rub glue sticks all over the leaf shapes, and then press down your leaf “confetti”.

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As a bonus, these make a beautiful Thanksgiving decoration if you punch a hole near the top, thread with yarn, and suspend in a window.

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No Carve Nature Pumpkins

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It was a brisk fall morning, perfect for one of our nature walks to collect treasures. This time, I specifically kept my eyes open for items that we would be able to later glue onto pumpkins. We came home with sticks, leaves, pine cones, and acorns. I had hoped to spot some maple keys, but didn’t see any.

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I arranged all of our treasures onto a craft tray, and Veronika loved sorting through the items.

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As she simply explored with all her senses, I arranged the items with more purpose to see what would work where on each pumpkin as facial features.

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Our first orange fellow soon had acorn eyes, a stick nose, a leaf mouth, and a big branch of multiple leaves for hair.

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He was soon joined by a second orange friend, this one with acorns for eyes and nose, leaves for mouth and ears, and a fun little pine cone headdress. I tucked a few leaves behind the pine cone so it almost looked like one of those fancy fascinator hats!

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Veronika was clearly delighted when she saw that our pumpkins now had eyes, noses, and more.

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They look quite jolly and happy on our patio. As with our recent pumpkin mask craft, this is a great way to decorate pumpkins a ways out from Halloween, since they won’t rot before the big night.

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Leaf Scrunch

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Unseasonably warm and dry weather has meant the leaves are slow to change this autumn. Finally we’re spotting the first of the fall color, and we celebrated with a nature walk and leaf activity!

First up was a walk in the woods. We brought along a paper bag to fill with leaves, and Veronika loved dropping in our treasures.

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She also discovered the delightful crunch that the leaves made if she scuffed her feet through them!

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Once home, we dumped out the bag of leaves so they filled an old box. I showed her how she could simply scrunch her hands through the leaves…

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…or toss them out and then fill the box back up again.

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The drier leaves crumbled in her fingers, to her delight. Or, she could rip up the softer ones into small pieces, which kept her busy for quite some time.

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Thanks to a gentle breeze, she soon had the idea to toss the leaves off our patio. I loved watching the wheels of her brain turn as she discovered that leaves don’t go as far as other things she can throw, like pebbles and acorns!

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Then we picked up armfuls and tossed them over her head, where they scattered to the patio.

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Or landed right in her hair.

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As a final component of the activity, we took some of the prettiest ones inside and I showed her how to press them onto sticky contact paper.

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Fold the paper over itself, and you have an instant autumn placemat!

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In sum, there was so much joy to be had in this first batch of fall leaves!

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Nature Bracelet

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Turn any nature walk into a hunt for treasure with this toddler craft!

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As we headed off on a nature trail through a meadow, I wrapped a length of masking tape around Veronika’s sleeve, sticky side out. While we walked, I started adding small flower petals and leaves to the bracelet, and remarked how beautiful the items were.

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She very quickly got the idea and soon started gathering finds of her own, which I helped her attach to her “bracelet”.

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Big brother Travis thought it looked so fun that he wanted an armband of his own to decorate.

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And he was a big helper adding finds to his sister’s arm!

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The activity led to beautiful moments on our walk, like pausing by the strands from a milkweed pod, which looked like silk on her bracelet.

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Once home, I cut the masking tape from her sleeve and we mounted it on the wall as a gorgeous memento.

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Indoor Toys Outside

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We’ve been having fun lately finding ways to make old toys seem new again, whether by dressing them up or moving them from outside to inside. Here’s a third idea!

I gathered together a few indoor toys that I haven’t seen the kids play with much recently and took them outside. The best time of day for this game was in the evening, when the heat of the afternoon had passed. It was the perfect way to fill the after-dinner hour, taking advantage of these last weeks of summer sunlight!

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Veronika immediately got started playing with the items I’d arranged on a picnic blanket. The train set that she normally ignores was soon chugging around.

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And building blocks were fun to build with.

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Then she discovered the joy of tossing the blocks into the grass.

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She delighted in scampering down off the patio, retrieving a block, and tossing it again. She kept this up for quite some time.

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Travis, meanwhile, found new life in old stuffed animals once they were outside in the “wild”.

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There was a very imaginative game at work.

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Of course just by being outside kids can find inspiration for their games and toys. They stopped to watch insects, lay down to look up at the sky, or walked through the grass with bare toes. All while happily being entertained.

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I think we’ll bring a different batch of old toys outside tomorrow!

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Make a Mini Troll

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After reading in Highlights magazine about an artist who makes troll sculptures from wood and recycled materials, Travis was eager to make his own. A walk to a nearby beach was the perfect opportunity to collect pieces of bark, branches, and wood shavings on the ground.

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We returned with a plastic bag full of pieces and now needed to design the troll! Travis loved setting this out, initially with the troll lying down.

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He carefully arranged arms, legs, and a head.

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I then used hot glue to make his creation stand up in 3D. We even added a little orange peel as a hat!

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What a ferocious little troll it was, and a neat concept to boot.

Sound Walk Scavenger Hunt

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When we go on nature walks, I tend to draw Veronika’s attention to things we can see… a natural tendency, and of course a great way to help her hone skills of observation. But it can be easy to neglect other senses. So today we specifically focused on things we could hear on our walk instead!

Armed with a cute template, we set out on a sound “scavenger hunt”.

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I loved this template because the pictures were cartoon-ish and easy for even a young toddler to understand. “Bird!” she said, looking at the drawings. “Plane!”

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The template is also just right for this age because it only includes a few items, instead of an overwhelming list. Pretty soon, we could start to check items off.

We met a dog on our walk, who barked happily. “Dog!” she said. I showed Veronika the dog on her paper and helped her check it off. (Older toddlers will no doubt proudly make the check marks themselves).

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Then she eagerly pointed when we heard a plane! And that earned a check.

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A bird near the water caught her attention and she chased after it yelling out “tweet tweet!” So that one got a check, too.

There is ample space to add other sounds that you hear, so we drew in a little cartoon of the wind after listening to it rustle through the leaves.

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Perhaps we’ll do a scavenger hunt for our sense of smell or touch on our next walk!

Chalk Color Matching Game

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Here’s an activity that’s a bit like a paint chip rainbow nature hunt, but tailored more to fit a toddler’s age and abilities.

On a gorgeous garden walk today, I directed Veronika’s attention to lots of different colored flowers. (“Look, reds! “Can you see the blue flower?”). I didn’t specifically ask her to collect any one color, but I carefully made sure we had at least one item from each color of the rainbow by the end of our walk.

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Once home, I sketched out a chalk rainbow on our back patio. As soon as I said, “Red…” she began to sing a rainbow song, going through all the colors!

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We then laid out our treasures from the garden. I placed red flowers on the red rectangle, orange on the orange, and so on.

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Soon she was helping!

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The flowers didn’t stay in one spot for long, since she wanted to pluck the leaves or rub them between her fingers. But I loved that she turned the color play into sensory play, too!

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Older toddlers can go even further with the game. Talk about shapes, or sort your colored items by a different attribute. I’d love to hear how the game goes for you in the comments!