Winter Water Table

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When it’s obviously too cold outside for water table play, here’s a fantastic hack to create a water table right in the warmth of your kitchen. Simply tilt open the door of an (empty) dishwasher, and you have a shelf at the perfect height for a toddler. All that’s left to do is to arrange a few items on the shelf like a bucket of warm water, cups for pouring, scoops, and other water toys.

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To heighten the summer feel of the activity, I dressed Veronika in her favorite bathing suit and laid a fluffy beach towel underneath the open dishwasher. This towel was perfect not just for catching any spills, but also keeping her bare feet warm! She immediately began playing, needing no instruction for this activity. There was lots of happy scooping, pouring, and dumping.

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She loves cups with holes that make water “rain” down a little at a time. Then she was busy for a while pouring water from one small cup to another.

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Such concentration!

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And of course sometimes she got impish, lifting the cups up high for a big waterfall that splashed down!

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After about 20 minutes she was ready for warm dry clothes, but this was a great way to fit in water play in the middle of winter.

Natural Ice Boats

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I love finding ways to make the kids marvel at the beauty of winter, even on the coldest days, and these all-natural ice boats were the perfect activity! Technically you could make the boats any time of year, but the colder it is outside, the longer your ice boats will last!

To set up, freeze water in Tupperware containers until solid. Any size container is fine, although obviously smaller ones will freeze faster and cut down on waiting time if your kids are impatient. Before freezing, I added a stick to the center of each container as the boat’s mast; hold in place with a pipe cleaner twisted around the middle until the water begins to freeze.

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Once the boats were frozen solid, it was time to set them afloat! I considered driving to the nearest pond to set them sailing in a truly all-natural location, but couldn’t think of a way to keep the ice frozen in the car. Instead, we made a “pond” on a craft tray in the snow just off our back patio!

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For sails, we attached a few leaves from an evergreen bush, a nice pop of green against all the winter white.

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The kids loved seeing the little boats sail among the sea of snow.

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Even though it was below 30 degrees, the sun was strong enough that the boats melted on the patio once we set them down. That meant this turned into a little STEM lesson at the end as we watched solid turn back to liquid. And of course there’s zero cleanup with this activity!

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Water, sticks, and leaves all went right back to nature.

Indoor Dinner Picnic

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If the winter weather or the lack of safe indoor restaurant options has your family feeling a little down, here’s the perfect hack: conjure up sunny summer weather and have an indoor dinner picnic!

You can go all out with this or keep it simple or anywhere in between. The key elements are a good meal, a picnic blanket on the floor, and a little bit of novelty.

To wit, I set out our favorite summer picnic blanket in the living room and told the kids we’d be eating a picnic dinner on the floor. The excitement was immediate! For props, we pulled out the picnic blanket (even though we didn’t technically pack dinner up in it), and also pulled out a few toys that would normally be played outside in a meadow (think soccer bolls, wiffle bats, or jump ropes). Your kids can even play a few of these sports before dinner, if there’s room!

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We set out a build-your-own-baked potato dinner spread that the kids could mix and match, and set a movie on in the background, and everyone forgot for a moment that the weather outside was frightful!

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Looking for other ways to mix up dinner during the long winter? Consider breakfast for dinner, eating while the family plays a new game, dining on finger foods only, or preparing a top-your-own-pizza night! What would you serve at your picnic dinner? Please share in the comments!

Snowball Showdown

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Here’s a fun twist on a snowball fight the next time you get a big snowfall!

We had nearly two feet of snow last night, so I shoveled out an area on our patio where Travis and I could make fort walls. Each of us then lined up mini snowmen along our side of the fort. Okay, the snowmen were basically just snowballs, because we didn’t have great packing snow that allowed us to make snow figures with a separate ball for the body and head. Still, they made cute targets!

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Now, we took turns trying to knock each other’s “snowmen” over!

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Depending how competitive your kids want to get with this, everyone can design their own full fort to defend with the snowmen sitting atop the walls, on opposite sides of a yard or patio. If you have enough family members for teams, then a player who gets hit by the opposite team’s snowball has to join that side. If your kids have a snowman showdown, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Cat Games, 5 Ways

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On some cold winter days, it’s not just the human kids who get cabin-fever, but our four-legged kids, too! To wit, we came up with five ways the cat and kids could play together today, meaning everyone was entertained (for a little while at least!)

Fishing for Feathers

For this first game, I rigged up a homemade version of a classic cat “fishing rod” using materials from our craft bin. Tie a few craft feathers together with string, then loop the other end of the string around a dowel and secure with tape.

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I showed the kids how to dangle these “birds” for the cat.

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At first he seemed surprised to be the center of attention, but soon he was batting at the feathers with excitement. Clearly the kids thought it was a riot!

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Laser Tag

This second game is strictly for kids who are old enough to understand that a laser pointer never gets pointed into anyone’s eyes, whether human or feline. Travis absolutely loved wiggling the dot of our laser pointer for the cat (it makes him go wild!).

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Veronika, meanwhile, got to watch and laugh at the show!

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Sock It to Me

Forget the cat ball toys you can buy at the store; rolled up socks make instant balls for zero cost! Veronika in particular loved rolling a few homemade sock balls to the cat and back again. “Here’s a sock!” she would say each time.

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If you have fresh catnip, you could even sprinkle some in the socks, first. Then we tried a variation where I tied a long string around each sock. The cat loved pouncing after these if we dragged them on the floor, or batting at them if they were dangled in the air.

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Kitty Soccer

Our cat loves to play “soccer” with crinkly Mylar balls, so today we tested out a few other “soccer” toys. Great options for batting around include spring toys (try the Thin Colorful Springs from Ethical Pet) or even just a ball of crumpled paper. Gooooaaaaal!

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Two-Toy Tango

Finally, we got extra silly. I gave the kids one toy cat mouse and had them pretend to be cats, pouncing on it or batting it around with their “paws”.

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The cat received a second mouse so he could play right alongside my little humans. It’s highly debatable who had more fun with all these games, the two-legged kids or the four-legged one. Needless to say, the cat took a nice long cat nap after.

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Snow Painting

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When nature turns the world white with snow, then it becomes one giant canvas for your toddler to paint! To wit, Veronika and I tested two methods to paint the snow today. I recommend using all-natural food coloring for this activity, since the “paint” will be left behind once the snow melts, although technically you can use liquid watercolors.

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First, I filled a spritz bottle with water and a generous amount of purple food coloring (a mix of red and blue). Veronika is still building up the strength to use the spritz bottle, so I helped her out to make neat purple “spray paint” splotches on the snow.

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The second method was easier for her little hands. Fill a container with water and drops of food coloring, then hand over a wide bristle paintbrush.

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All Veronika had to do was dip and paint! Soon we had a patio that was a vibrant mix of purple and green. As a note of caution, you may want to skip yellow for this particular project, since people tend to be leery of yellow snow!

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In sum, this was a novel and fun way to play with the world’s white canvas.

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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Snow Squishy Bag

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I’ve put together complicated sensory and squishy bags for Veronika before, but sometimes nature supplies you with all the materials you need! To wit, we had fresh puffy snow on the ground outside when we woke up this morning, so I simply dashed out, filled a bag with snow, and then sealed it shut. Instant sensory bag!

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Of course the first thing your toddler will discover with this particular bag is the temperature. “Brr, that’s cold!” Veronika said with surprise.

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And then she promptly placed her hands down again.

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You can squish the snow around in fun ways inside the plastic. Then Veronika requested purple snow. I hadn’t even thought to add color, but why not! We squirted in red and blue food coloring and then tested whether we could mash the snow around enough for the two colors to blend.

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And then of course the other fantastic thing about snow is that your toddler gets a quick STEM lesson on states of matter. It wasn’t long before the fluffy snow started to change…

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…into purple water, instead! This sensory bag is by its very nature (heh), short lived, but lots of fun.

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Winter Treasure Hunts

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It can be tough to motivate kids to get outside on cold days (and let’s be honest, to motivate ourselves as grown-ups, too). But even the simplest suggestion of a treasure hunt can serve as enticement! To wit, Veronika and I did two quick hunts today, the first for nature treasures and the second for toys.

For the first, I simply set her the task of finding various nature items around the yard, ones I knew she could spot easily. Her first task was to spot the bright pop of red berries.

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Next up was to find a prickly pine cone! Add anything to the list that your child can find easily in winter. If your kids are older, you can make a scavenger hunt sheet or index cards with images of each item to find.

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For the second “hunt”, I hid a few of her favorite toys (like little bunny figures) around the yard, then told her that the bunnies might be hiding. Could she find them? She was so surprised and delighted when she spotted them!

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We weren’t outside for long, but these two little hunts helped us get a bit of fresh air!

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2 Ingredient Homemade Snowballs

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There’s no need to wait for the next snowfall before your kids have a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Make your own snowballs at home with just two ingredients in this hands-on activity!

To make the snowballs, you’ll simply need 1 (16-ounce) box cornstarch and 1 (7-ounce) can shaving cream. Combine these two ingredients in a craft bin and stir.

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I wish I had photos from the exuberant mixing session that followed. This is messy toddler play at its best, and Veronika was up to her elbows (literally!) in the mixture. Unfortunately, I was up to my elbows in it, too, so couldn’t grab my camera in the moment.

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Once the mixture comes together, it is shockingly not messy at all, but rather squeezes together into perfect “snowballs”. We headed outside with our ammo!

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Older kids will no doubt want to have a real battle. In that case, you’ll probably want to make a double batch, and then each team can make a fort and pelt away. The snowballs are so soft that there’s no need to worry about anyone getting hurt.

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For toddlers, the delight is more sensory. Veronika loved the way she could hold one of the soft snowballs carefully in two hands. But the second she tossed it to the ground, it splattered into crumbles.

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She loved doing this off our patio, or even sending snowballs down her plastic slide.

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Once everything was in crumbs, she kept playing for a long time. She enjoyed picking up the leftover bits of the mixture and then sprinkling it down to make it “snow” all over the yard.

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Although I wouldn’t recommend regularly sprinkling a shaving cream mixture on your grass, it doesn’t hurt once during the winter season!

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