Holiday Audiobooks

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Chances are you have travel ahead for the upcoming holidays, whether that means a car ride or plane ride or something in between. One fun way to fill the time – and limit screen time! – is to listen to holiday books through downloads or on CD. You can download many at but we also checked out the offerings at our local library.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a perfect classic, with Walter Matthau doing all the different voices from the Grinch to Cindy Lou Who.

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Then Travis enjoyed a wintery tale from the Magic Treehouse collection, The Winter of the Ice Wizard. These auditory adventures were a novelty in our car, and a great way to pass the time! What classic holiday stories would you listen to? Please share in the comments!

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Crystal Suncatcher

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This neat science project will require a few days of patience, but has a beautiful ice crystal reward at the end, perfect for winter!

To start, poke a hole through the rim of a clear plastic container (we used the top of a Pringles canister) with a needle or push pin. Make slightly wider with a pen or pencil, then set aside.

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In a microwave safe bowl heat 1/2 cup water for about 45 seconds, or until warm. Add 1/2 cup Epsom salts, stirring until dissolved. Travis loved making this “potion”.

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Fill the container lid with the salt solution and set someplace that gets a lot of sunlight. Now wait! Here’s how our crystals looked after 24 hours:

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And now after 48 hours!

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The science here is fairly simple. When you stir the Epsom salt into the hot water, it doesn’t disappear of course; it dissolves. But when the water evaporates off, the Epsom salts are revealed again. Hence the beautiful crystals!

To capture your experiment into a work of art, cut the rim off an identically sized lid (again we used a Pringles container). Hot glue them together carefully so as not to crush the crystals.

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Thread a length of string or yarn through the hole you poked in the beginning. I worried we might crush the crystals because our hole was quite tiny, so we hot glued on our string instead, which works in a pinch! Now it looks like Jack Frost has come to call at our window.

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Ball Verbs

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Sometimes we forget to make time for the simplest play with our babies. To wit, here’s a fantastic game to fill the time with a thirteen month old (or thereabouts), using any and all balls you have around the house.

I set out a variety of baby sensory balls as well as a few larger sports balls. The soccer ball was an instant favorite!

Working with one verb at a time, we worked our way through all the different motions we could do with the balls. Rolling of course is always fun.

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But even more so, Veronika likes to make them bounce!

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Then we worked on throwing. This was a little more advanced, but I showed her how to toss sensory balls into a little bucket.

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You can also stand your little one up for “baby soccer”. As I brought her toe against the ball each time, I said, “Kick!”

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She can’t execute the motion on her own yet, but she’s getting there. Since I left out the assortment of balls all day, there was lots more rolling, dropping, and bouncing to be had.

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Pie Crust Science

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The lesson plan that went with Travis’s recent Apple Crumb Pie recipe delved deeper into what makes a pie crust so yummy. This was a hard one to tailor for Travis’s age, so here’s just an abbreviated version.

Start off with a read of Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, which you can find at your library or watch a full read-through online. This interesting story will whet the appetite, if you will, for pie!

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Travis enjoyed watching, and afterwards we talked about what role pie had played in the story. We talked about pies we’ve made, and specifically about the components that had gone into our recent crust. I helped him remember that we had used:

  • flour
  • sugar
  • salt
  • Earth Balance butter
  • water

You can go through the reasons for each ingredient, as well as definitions for tenderness and flakiness, the two things that people look for in a “successful” crust. Another quick video clip helped Travis understand the idea better.

Raddishthen suggests letting kids become food scientists, making two different pie crusts but only changing one variable. I knew though that Travis would lose interest in taking time to bake two crusts, plus I worried two full pies would go to waste! The idea of independent and dependent variables was also a bit advanced for a kindergartner.

So instead, we baked a store-bought pie shell from our freezer that differed from our homemade crust in one significant way: palm oil as the fat instead of our Earth Balance butter. I had him do a side-by-side taste test of the crusts, both of which he declared delicious.

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Older kids can be much more scientific about this. Consider varying the type of flour used, the tool used for mixing, and more. Chart independent and dependent variables along a graph if your kids are old enough for that kind of math. Invite friends over for a complete taste test, if you have the time!

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So this was a brief lesson for my little one, but there is lots more to explain here if desired.

Fill and Roll

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Here’s an advanced version of a game Veronika and I played recently with lids and containers. This time, we were more deliberate about it, using only round containers that could be filled and then…rolled!

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I placed a favorite stuffed animal (a small Elmo) inside a container and sealed the lid. Now I rolled it back and forth between us.

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“What’s inside?” I asked. She didn’t wait long to find out. Her eager fingers were able to open up the lid…

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…and discover Elmo!

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We then played several variations on the game, adding in toy tennis balls or other surprises, something new each time she fetched off the lid. She loved just putting on and taking off the lid in between each round.

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Then I used a clear tennis ball container with a similar purpose in mind, but this time since the container was clear, she could see the item inside and watch it roll.

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She loved chasing after a few toy cars sealed up this way. And was so proud when she removed the lid and fetched them out.

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Photo Wallpaper

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In the past, I’ve made photo albums for Veronika featuring pictures of family and friends, in order to help her know and recognize those who love her most. This “wallpaper” idea is another way to surround your baby with familiar faces!

I went to the copy shop and had several recent photos printed on regular 8×11 paper, in black and white.

If you want to make a true wallpaper, then you can print out several copies of each picture, and arrange them in a pattern. Put wallpaper paste on the wall and hang one picture at a time in the first row, then repeat with as many rows as desired. Paint over with two coats of gel acrylic to finish.

But since we only rent our home, I couldn’t mark up the walls that permanently! I settled for taping the faces around Veronika’s crib. But this was exciting in and of itself! Veronika loved helping with the tape while I worked.

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Then we had a little art gallery tour of all the faces, pointing out who was who.

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She loved standing up to check out the images.

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And big brother did, too! This is a sweet little project that will make any nursery feel warm and full of love.

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Play with a Balloon

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Sometimes all you need for quality play time with a baby is… one balloon!

We had an old helium balloon that’s been on the ceiling since Veronika’s birthday over a month ago. Today I fetched it down and we played in two distinct ways.

For the first, I tied the string tightly to a toy so that the balloon was at her eye level.

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Now she could give it a bop with her hands, and watch it bob back and forth. She really wanted to get that balloon!

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Next, we played with the balloon in the opposite way, setting it free instead of tying it down. I untied the string, but popped a small hole in the foil. Now when we tossed it in the air, it floated down just gently and slowly enough to her face.

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She loved watching it descend and catching it, at which point she would smash it between her hands. We did this over and over.

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I loved the wonder in her face as we set the balloon aloft.

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There is tons of fun to be had, in sum, with just one item.

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Take a Sled Ride

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This was the final activity I had hoped to do with Veronika before she turned one year old, but we never had the chance because in her first year we had… No snow! Well, at thirteen months, she now has two feet of snow out the window, and loved getting bundled into her snowsuit for the first time.

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Gentle sled rides are a new and exciting feeling. I sat her down on a small plastic one and simply glided her across the snow. If you’re going to go downhill, make sure you sit with your child and hold him or her firmly!

She seemed so intrigued by the novel motion. When we came to a stop, I pulled out a few sticks to show her how to write in the snow. She eagerly grabbed for one and gave it a try.

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Don’t worry if those curious fingers feel at the snow for a brief moment; it will be a  completely novel sensory experience, and then you can head right inside to warm up rosy fingers and cheeks!

If you live some place that never receives snow, consider a sled ride over sand instead! Then you can demonstrate writing in the sand with a stick instead.

Frozen Treasures

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Ice play is fascinating for babies and it doubles as a first science lesson on the states of matter (water into ice or vice versa). This little activity is also a puzzle for your little one to figure out!

You’ll need to prep the night before you want to play the game. I cut an old soy milk carton in half, and cleaned it out. Fill with water, then add a few plastic toys. Toy farm animals were perfect! Place in the freezer until completely solid.

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The next day I presented the little cube of ice to Veronika. She touched it immediately, then withdrew her hand, quite surprised. It was cold!

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I removed the outer carton layer, and posed the question to her of how we could free piggy and the other animals. Big brother immediately swooped in and wanted in on the action.

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We tried pouring warm water over the ice first. Veronika loved the cup, and wanted to be a part of every pour!

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This made the game great for action words (pour, tip), and great for talking about what was happening. I asked Veronika about how the temperature of the water was changing, from warm to cold once the ice touched it, to warmer again when we poured more from the cup.

Travis wanted to try a little chisel, too, but we decided we liked the warm water method better.

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Finally, the animals were free!

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Honestly by that point Veronika was more into the tools we had used than the animals themselves, but she was busy and happy, which meant mama was too.

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We took the final chunk of ice up to bath time to watch it dissolve – good fun!

Musical Nursery Rhyme Dance Party

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We’re filling a snow day today, which made it the perfect day to set aside some quality time for musical play.

Of course you can always just grab an instrument and play, and in that vein, I laid out every instrument we had at home.

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For some more structured fun, I went through a repertoire of nursery rhymes with Veronika! We started out with Where is Thumbkin. I held up my fingers for the verses, as she played along on the maracas.

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Next up was Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. Make sure to touch each body part, and shake an instrument in between verses!

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The Itsy BItsy Spider was fun with a rain stick for the rain.

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Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was beautiful on cymbals.

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You’ll probably find that there’s a perfect instrument for each song! For example, bang or rub on a drum for Pat-a-Cake. Or you can simply get up and dance, as I did for The Hokey Pokey while she looked up at me and laughed!

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We added other favorites like Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You Know It, and I’m a Little Teapot.

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Whatever instrument strikes your little one’s fancy is just fine; there’s no wrong way to play this game. Or simply pick him or her up and dance! This is a great way to pass some time with a one-year-old at home.

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