Seashell Sensory Bag

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Veronika has never been to a tropical island, but chances are she’d be longing for a trip to one right now if she knew what she was missing! In a day that dipped down to 0 degrees, I brought some tropical warmth to her sensory play.

For this fun variation on a squishy bag, fill a gallon-sized zip-top bag with any blue goo from the drug store (blue hair gel, blue aloe vera, whatever you can find that has a nice aqua tint to it).

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I added a handful of seashells from the craft store, sealed the bag, and simply mushed everything together.

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The contrast of the hard seashells versus the gooey gel will fascinate your toddler, and the shells will mush around nicely in the goo if you don’t overfill the bag.

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Those seashells might make you feel like you’re briefly on vacation, too!

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Toys in Tin Foil

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Similar to a recent game where I wrapped up old toys for Veronika, today I delighted her with little treasures she could unwrap from tin foil.

The exciting element here of course is the shiny foil, which might just fascinate your toddler more than the toys inside!

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Then I showed her a sneak peak of what was inside.

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She needed a little help with the unwrapping, but looked so proud when she reached the treasures (er, old toys).

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Of course then she was busy with the toys; what’s old is new again when presented in this different context!

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You can extend the fun by crumpling up the discarded foil into tight balls, which then become balls to shoot into a basket.

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Unfortunately the game was short-lived thereafter because Veronika thought it was very funny to put the foil in her mouth, especially once she realized this earned a firm “no.” Hopefully you and your toddler can play a bit longer!

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Threading Cereal on Pipe Cleaners

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Veronika and I have been working our way through classic toddler activities lately; she’s at that tricky age between having developed the gross motor skills of a one-year-old, but not yet ready for the understanding or fine motor skills of an 18 month old. I remember this period feeling particularly tricky to fill with my older son, but this time around I’m prepared!

Hence, the emphasis on classic games lately. Today, I sat her down with a big blob of play doh on her highchair tray, but the play doh was only an anchor, not the point of the game.

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Insert pipe cleaner pieces into the play doh base. Now show your little one how to thread o cereal onto them (we like the Morning O’s from Whole Foods 365).

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Veronika quickly got the idea, although she loved lifting the cereal off to eat it more than she focused on threading it on.

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That, of course, turns this activity into snack time, too, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

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The pipe cleaners are also fun to lift in and out of the sticky play doh base.

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Needless to say, it’s a great way to keep a toddler busy during meal prep.

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The Scribble

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It was bound to happen: Veronika discovered that she can color on the walls (luckily with washable crayons!). So here’s an ingenious hack to foster your toddler’s artistic impulses with a safer way to color.

I used magnets to hang a large sheet of craft paper on the fridge and sat Veronika down in front of it with a few markers. She didn’t need me to tell her to start coloring; she immediately launched into the art of the scribble.

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Aside from one mommy stick figure, this drawing was 100% Veronika’s. She loved switching up the colors.

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She also was very focused on putting cap to marker in between colors, a great chance to work those fine motor skills!

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As she drew, I talked about how the color on the paper was a “yes” (use sign language here to reinforce the idea!), but that other places were a “no”, like the floor or her hands.

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This will help a toddler start to learn that art belongs on paper, for now at least!

As for those crayon marks on the wall, here’s an ingenious trick: Heat the area with a hair dryer for about 30 seconds to melt the wax. Then scrub off the remaining streaks with soap and water. Ingenious!

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Follow Me

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Today I focused on gross motor skills during Veronika’s play. The title of this post refers both to literally having your little one follow you (up, down, and all around an obstacle course), as well as the idea of following directions. Both are great skills for your little toddler!

I set up a few couch cushions for a standard obstacle course, but added a few new twists today, namely a laundry basket and balls. She trotted over immediately to see what was up!

First, I showed her how to roll balls down one of the cushions. She loved doing so, with a big push.

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Next it was time to follow me, modeling how to crawl down the ramp. Crawling down can be tricky for little ones, so supervise closely.

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We headed back in the other direction where she followed my lead to toss balls into the basket.

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Next we upended the basket and I turned it into a choo-choo train. I went first (“Follow me!”) but soon she was the thrilled conductor.

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She played games with the balls on the cushions even after I stopped being the leader.

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You can add so many more elements to an obstacle course like this, whether a jump rope (to walk a straight line), a box (to scoot around the room), or just about anything else that can work your toddler’s gross motor skills.

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Make Your Own Pinata

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Travis has been learning about birthday traditions around the world, and one that especially intrigued him was the Mexican pinata. It seemed like a fun idea to make our own!

Full disclosure: we worked with materials from a kit, but if you’re doing this craft completely DIY, you’ll need to cut two equal-sized circles from cardboard, as well as a third strip of cardboard to be the loop between them. Tape the three pieces together, leaving a slot through which you can later add candy or other treats.

Cut strips of yellow paper, and then snip them half-way up to make fringe. Travis liked the challenge of this step.

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Now begin gluing the strips onto the cardboard base, working from the bottom up.

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Ours wasn’t perfect, but soon we had a fringed yellow face!

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We added fun details like sunglasses and a smile cut from additional colored paper. Tape a string to the top of the pinata and loop it onto a stick. I held the stick aloft, while Travis took a swing!

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For extra authenticity, kids can swing blindfolded.

If you don’t have candy, fill the inside of the pinata with fun confetti or even pom poms. Travis was ecstatic once the pinata had a tear and the pom poms rained down.

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Stack Attack

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Veronika is old enough that today I thought I’d test if she was ready to build blocks up, not focus on knocking them down.

Whether you have a classic wooden set of blocks or foam ones, or something in between, blocks are a toy that never goes out of style, and they are so fantastic for children’s development. Today we mixed her foam set (consisting of multiple shapes) and added in a few wooden square blocks.

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I handed her a block and mimicked placing it on top of another to start a tower. To my delight, she was game to build!

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Her towers never made it more than three high before the temptation to knock over was too great, but any building at all was a definite first.

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Since she’s older, we also worked on some learning concepts with the blocks. First I sorted them by color…

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…and then by shape.

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You can add in new vocab, too, perhaps “straight” or “pointy”.

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She really loved inserting circular blocks into the holes of square ones, which I loved watching.

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As a final element to today’s play, I introduced the notion of imagination. What if our blocks weren’t blocks but… cars? I made one go “vroom vroom” along her play mat and she immediately took me up on the idea, running a block back and forth.

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How about a choo choo train? She loved this version, too.

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I can’t wait to see what she builds or imagines in the future, whether her blocks become mountains or castles, animals in a pen or something else entirely.

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How To… Help Yourself Feel Better

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Highlights magazine appears to have a new feature, a “How To…” page each month explaining how to do anything ranging from the fun (snow forts!) to the practical. I loved this month’s tips on how kids can make themselves feel better, which made for a nice pause with Travis.

We ran through three techniques kids can use to calm down. First up: Bubble Breaths. The idea here is breathe in through your nose, then out as if blowing a big bubble. He loved practicing this one!

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Next we practiced The Squeezer (as seen at the top of this post). Clench fists for a count of 10, then release and count to 10. Repeat as needed.

Finally, we discussed the tactic of Watch It Go, which involves imagining a cloud full of upset feelings. The cloud fades away as you count backwards from 10, until at 0 it disappears.

As an added bonus, we made a list of things Travis likes about himself or is good at.

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What a nice self-esteem booster for him! He and I brainstormed ways he can help friends feel better, too. Overall, this activity was quite the mental health break. Thanks Highlights!

Magnetic Letters & Play Doh

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I’ve hesitated to give Veronika play doh until now, full knowing she would do a taste test. But we received mini containers of it as a birthday party favor so we had some (very!) supervised play doh play today. Note: I highly recommend the all-natural eco-dough as an alternative or a homemade batch in a pinch!

Today, I pressed the vivid play doh colors into flat pancakes on her high chair tray, and showed her how she could smoosh magnetic letters down into the pile.

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She tried this a few times, but then was far more into the little play doh containers themselves!

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She did indeed reach her little fingers in and give it a taste, which earned a quick firm “no”.

There was lots of opportunity to talk about colors here, both in the play doh and the letters, as well as to have fun with the letter prints that appeared when we lifted a letter up.

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This was a nice first intro to the material, which I know she’ll play with lots more as childhood continues! Don’t have play doh at home? Here’s another way to play with those magnetic letters!

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Knight Light

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Travis still complains of bad dreams, though we’ve tried everything from worry dolls to dream catchers to fancy night lights to make his room feel safe and cozy at night. The fun play on words earned a laugh when we spotted this craft in Highlights magazine, so it was worth a try to see if Sir Lights-a-Lot can guard against bad dreams!

Cut gray cardstock to size so that it fits around an empty oatmeal container. Glue on and let dry. Cut a hole through the paper and container once the glue is set.

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Cut a visor shape and a feather plume shape from additional cardstock. We used a fun bright orange for the feather! Glue these onto the container. (Alternatively, poke two brads through the visor to attach over the hole).

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Attach wiggle eyes to the ends of curled black pipe cleaners and glue on so they dangle down and show through the visor. This step was a bit tricky, and I found it was easiest to use hot glue.

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We added a few lines of blue washi tape for a decorative finish. What a brave knight!

Come nighttime, we inserted a tea light and set him to keep watch.