Dessert Map

Cookie Map (5)

Maps were a big topic in Travis’s First Grade classroom last year, so as he transitions off to Second Grade, we decided to put a delicious endnote on the curriculum. This cookie dough map not only offered a little late summer learning, but made for a delicious dessert, too!

To start, prepare the dough from two boxes of chocolate chip cookie mix. You can also use refrigerated dough from the store or your favorite homemade recipe. Either way, it’s a great excuse to bake together!

Travis helped press the first batch of dough down onto the a baking sheet as a giant island.

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He then used the second batch of dough to make topographical features, constructing mounds that could be mountains or hills and adding smaller cookie “islands” along the rim of the sheet. Bake according to package directions.

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Once the cookie cooled, it was time to add a few more geographical features. Chocolate sauce was perfect for oceans, rivers, and mountain lakes. Travis got a bit impish with this step, drowning his land in goopy syrup.

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He wanted to add chocolate sprinkles, too, which were more for fun than a specific geographical element. Perhaps they were plants or people on his island! Either way, it was time to dig in for the delicious result.

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Note: Because this cookie is likely to be much thicker than a standard cookie (thanks to all those mountains!), you may find that it doesn’t bake all the way through. You can also expect the mountains to spread down and out as the cookie bakes. As a result, we found that the most delicious part was our edges and low-lying islands, while the rest was really more for fun than for eating.

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Summer Outdoor Learning

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Expeditions into the great outdoors are the perfect opportunity to sneak in summer learning, helping to avoid the summer slide. With the last week of summer upon us, here are a few activities we enjoyed at the park!
Draw Your Environment
For a review of natural versus man-made, we sat down in the shade and Travis divided a piece of paper in half with a crayon. On one half, he drew things he could see that could be found in nature. The other half was for things that were man-made.
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Once he brainstormed a few answers, the nature side filled up with trees, grass, and flowers. Man-made items included park benches and picnic tables. Depending where you are, this list could be quite varied and interesting.
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Follow the Leader
Next it was time for verb review combined with gross motor skills! Pick a leader and everyone does whatever action the leader does, whether rock climbing…
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…or walking with an apple, Travis’s impish answer since he loved the apple trees around us. This game is also great practice for turn-taking, a soon-to-be-needed skill in the classroom
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Adjective Hunt
Now it was time to review a different part of speech: adjectives! We played “I Spy” using adjectives on our nature walk. “I spy something small and purple,” Travis tried out.
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You might even spy something exciting, like when the kids spotted a very cool insect.
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Measure Your Footprint
Finally, it was time for outdoor math. Head to a place where your child can leave a footprint in the sand, whether a park, beach, or lakeside. I traced the outline of Travis’s foot with a stick, then we chose a rock as our unit of measurement.
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His foot was 7 and 1/2 “rocks” long!
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What outdoor learning did your family enjoy this summer? Please share in the comments!

Build a Mini Sprinkler

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With a gentle, less intense stream of water than most store-bought sprinklers, this DIY version is just right for toddlers!

To start, I first cut a pool noodle in half (save the remaining half for another use), then cut a 2-inch section off one end. Cut this small section into 6 strips. Stuff three of the strips into one end of the pool noodle to create a very secure seal; you’ll have to wedge them in quite firmly, and can add masking tape or duct tape to hold it all together.

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Next, poke a series of holes along the pool noodle, making sure they’re wide enough for water to shoot through. Now just head outside with bathing suits and sunshine and attach a hose to the open end of the pool noodle.

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Turn on the water gently and watch the water spurt forth!

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This turned out to be exactly the right gentle trickle for Veronika, who loved that she could dip her toes or fingers in and enjoy the cold spray without her whole body getting soaked.

Most likely, splashing in puddles once the hose is off will be half the fun!

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Verb Race

Get in your sunshine, gross motor skills, and grammar reviewwith this fun game, which aims to mitigate the “summer slide”.

It started with a quick review for Travis: what kind of word is a verb? Once he remembered that a verb is an action word, we used chalk to draw a Start and Finish line on our driveway. Line your kids up at the start, select a verb, and then do that motion all the way to the finish. First up: Jump!

Note: It doesn’t have to be a true competition, especially if your kids have a wide age gap like mine. The fun is just to move and Veronika eagerly “jumped” after little brother as best she could, while he cheered her on from the finish.

From here, we had rounds with tip-toeing…


…and flying!

Encourage your kids to be as creative as possible with their verbs and as big as possible with their motions, and everyone’s a winner in this race!

Icy Summer Favorites

This summer we’re recycling a few old summer favorites, but with a fresh spin on each!

The first repeat was ice pop painting, which Veronika loved last year… but she also was tempted to eat the paint popsicles! This year we solved the problem with one key twist: using food coloring (phew, edible!) instead of paint. I filled popsicle molds with water and generous amounts of food coloring, then left them to freeze overnight.

In the morning, we headed out to the patio with the pops and thick white paper. Sure enough, the food coloring made beautiful swirls of color, and the hot sun meant our efforts were quickly rewarded with smudges of “paint” on the paper.

Equally sure enough, Veronika soon requested to eat one. This year, I could tell her to go ahead! Green was her particular favorite.

Our second repeat was freeing dinosaurs, but this time from ice instead of jell-o or sand. This time, I set up an excavation site in layers, first placing a few plastic dinos in a loaf pan and then filling it halfway with water. Let freeze.

I then added a few plastic Egyptian mummies and filled the loaf pan the rest of the way with water. My little archaeologists would be able to dig down through history!

When I set this out the next morning, both kids were ecstatic. Spoons, salt, and warm water to pour helped them unearth the buried treasures. Paintbrushes, chisels, or spritz bottles would be fun, too!

Travis and Veronika ended up flipping the block of ice over, which meant we freed the dinosaurs first.

They were so proud to “discover” their first species!

The Egyptian mummies were uncovered at the end. I was impressed with the kids’ diligence and patience, sticking with the task until the last sarcophagus came free.

What are your favorite icy summer games? Please share in the comments!

Wading Pool Boat Race

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We’ve had so much fun finding ways to use our wading pool this summer, but one thing we had yet to do was put any boats in it! These little cork boats come together in moments, and are just the right size for a mini pool.

Save up a few wine corks (or purchase corks at a craft store), and hot glue two or three together into little rafts. If you don’t have hot glue, you can wrap them together with a rubber band in a pinch. Insert a toothpick into each raft, and tape on a triangle cut from a post-it or construction paper as the sail.

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Let the regatta begin!

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Veronika loved setting these little boats afloat in the pool, whether she was standing ashore or standing right in the water. In fact her legs made a little drawbridge!

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You can use the boats for a real race (try blowing at them like you’re the wind!), but Veronika just loved chugging them through the water by hand.

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Make one, two, or a whole fleet, and your toddler is sure to have fun!

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Bath Time Alfresco

No doubt you’ve taken advantage of summer to¬†dine alfresco, but have you ever used it to bathe alfresco? This is the perfect treat to end a scorching hot summer day!

Early in the day, I filled the kids’ wading pool with a layer of cold water, knowing that by bath time the sun would have made that water just the right temp for an outdoor soak.

The kids could hardly believe it when I announced that bathtime was going to be outside! Hop into swimsuits if you’re worried about neighbors’ eyes and then jump right in. We brought out all the bells and whistles including favorite tub toys like ninja rubber duckies

…and bubbles!

The biggest hit, though, was adding bath bombs.

The kids absolutely adored the way these foamed and dissolved in the water.

All this fun meant bathtime was much longer than usual, but that’s no problem at all when you’re sitting on the patio and watching the setting sun and the glee on their faces. Just remember to have fluffy towels at the ready for when they climb out!

Tree Texture

I love working natural science into everyday outings. To wit, a walk in the park today was the perfect chance to review all the different parts of a tree, with a little art thrown in, too!

The tree in question was our family tree, for Travis’s tree journal, and we stopped by to see how it was looking in midsummer.

Then Travis went on a search to identify all the tree’s parts. For each one, he held a piece of paper to the tree and rubbed with the side of a crayon. How neat to see the different prints that emerged for each, including bark:


And leaves:

You can have your child point out features they can’t reach, too, including branches, flowers, or fruit if any.

Don’t forget to give that tree a hug before you go!

Write a Mystery

Here’s a fun way to keep your kids’ writing skills fresh over the summer, even during the months away from school. To set up, I went through a magazine and clipped intriguing images in three categories: people (characters), places (setting), and objects.

I arranged the piles for Travis, and his task was to select one image from each category. He chose a baby as his character, a forest for the setting, and a motorcycle as the random object to come into play. Now his task was to write a mystery story involving all three.

I was thrilled when he immediately went racing for paper and said, “I know what I’m going to write!”

Admittedly his story was short, as he’s still building his story-writing stamina. Older kids can run with this idea and write a whole mystery chapter book! Simply have them add images and prompts from the magazine pile any time their creativity falters until they’ve finished a full-length mystery.

Meanwhile, I was so proud of Travis for his one-page short story and he was proud, too.

Go Fishing

Veronika has been loving her water table this summer, and today we found yet another way to play with it: we went “fishing”!

My kids are often frustrated by attempts at magnetic fishing, so today we used a much easier hack: mini fish nets from the pet store. I filled the water table with water and added easy little “fish” to catch: ping pong balls and old wine corks!

Veronika immediately loved scooping these up with the nets. She was so proud each time she made a catch!

It was nearly as much fun when a ball would go bouncing away and she had to retrieve it in her net.

For some early number recognition, I labeled the balls with a sharpie, too, so she could should out the number of each “fish” she caught. Older kids can riff on this idea by catching two balls and adding up the sum!

She was less interested in the corks, but still managed to snag a few in her net. Overall, a simple and watery way to keep pool on the patio.