Roly-Poly Pictures

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This rolling “book” is a fantastic craft to put together for your baby. It’s a toy and a book at the same time, with so many possibilities for play!

Cut out pictures from magazines that feature items your child will recognize.

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Good candidates include animals (big brother’s Ranger Rick is full of good pictuers!), foods (apples, veggies), everyday items (watches, shoes), or holiday and seasonally themed images (like pumpkins and leaves).

Veronika loved “going through” the magazines with me!

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I glued all of the pictures around an empty oatmeal canister. Any food box that is cylindrical would work just as well. Cover with a layer of clear contact paper to ensure your little one doesn’t rip the pictures right off.

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At first I just showed the cylinder to Veronika to see how she would interact with it.

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Next we played roly poly along the floor!

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But here’s where this toy gets educational. As it came to a stop, we talked about which picture it landed on.

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This becomes a great leaping off point to discuss colors, nouns, or little stories about the pictures. “Once upon a time there was a little cat…” The possibilities are almost endless!

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Animal Craft Challenge

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Travis loved this month’s craft challenge from Highlights magazine: to make an animal using nothing more than an empty egg carton, pipe cleaners, pom poms, and googly eyes.

I was thinking something cute and fluffy, but Travis immediately knew he wanted a snake! Pipe cleaners were the obvious choice for the body.

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We twisted several lengths together to make long snakes. He wanted to attach eyes next, but I asked him if he thought the eyes would affix well to the pipe cleaners. He decided no, and realized an egg carton piece could be the head!

We poked holes through the egg carton segments to attach heads to bodies, and glued on the eyes.

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With leftover egg carton portions all around him now, he toyed around with gluing pom poms and eyes to single segments, but this didn’t work very well. Could we use the bigger, lid portion of the carton we wondered, for a body?

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Now Travis knew what he wanted: a spider! We threaded four pipe cleaners through from one side to the other, to make 8 legs. He wanted to glue on 8 eyes, but we only had room for 5 eyes to march across.

Then Travis decided it needed to be furry with pom poms – a tarantula! He was so thrilled with this spider that he couldn’t wait for the glue to dry.

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What a wonderful craft challenge, thanks Highlights!

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Animal Diaper Time

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The days of Veronika lying still during diaper changes are over and my little squirmer is constantly trying to grab at diapers or wipes or roll all around. I needed something to shake things up and keep her entertained!

The answer? Animals! I now have a few ways I include them at diaper time. First, I hung a few animal pictures from magazines on her wall. The bright visuals catch her attention!

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I also glued a few animal pictures onto index cards, favoring familiar farm animals and pets.

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I present these to her at diaper time, name the animal, and make its sound. Look Veronika, pigs! Oink oink.

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Finally, if even that doesn’t do the trick, I have a few plastic animals handy.

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I hand her a horse (or cow, or sheep) and name the animal and its sound, and she is happily distracted during the change.

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If all else fails, keep a favorite stuffed animal on hand, who can swoop in for a hug!

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Meet the Animals

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I find it funny that we still place such emphasis on farm animals and animal noises with babies; most of us, I would bet, do not live on a farm anymore, and yet somehow this has persisted as one of the earliest things children should know. As a vegan family, I also face a dilemma; I want my children to know and understand animals that have traditionally been farmed, but don’t want to visit places that mistreat the animals.

Enter the sanctuary: These places are fantastic for children to get right up close to animals and learn about them. They’re becoming more common, so do seek one out near you!

First, Veronika spent the morning playing with animal toys and reading some of our favorite animal books.

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Then it was off to meet our animal friends! She loved the chickens.

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And this chicken loved her.

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We took the time to stop and watch each animal, and I described their behavior to her. Have you ever watched a chicken take a dust bath? It’s fantastic! Next we checked out the goats.

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If you’re allowed to feed the animals, it will be fun for babies to watch. They obviously can’t do it themselves yet, but a big sibling or parent can help.

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This adorable sheep was delighted watching Veronika after a taste of fresh grass from us.

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Next we checked on some adorable new pigs. “Oink oink,” I said as we watched them play. For each animal, you can make lots of noises in echo every time the animals do; it will help your little one understand the sounds during playtime at home.

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The last stop was this beautiful big steer.

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Now when you continue the play at home, your child will have a true frame of reference for each animal. Veronika later had fun with her plastic bath animals and we moo-ed, baa-ed, oink-ed, and neigh-ed our way through bathtime.

Early Explorers Animals

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When I saw that Travis’s newest package from Early Explorers was all about animals, I worried it would overlap with the unit on habitats. But of course the Little Passports company ensured there was plenty of new info and exciting ideas for us to explore, and I needn’t have worried one bit!

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My seasoned explorer jumped right in, telling me he was off to put the animal stickers on his map solo (“Don’t come, Mom, I can do it myself!”) though he did later have me verify that each was on the right continent.

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With that we were off and running, checking out the flashcards, flashlight game, and booklet, with fun activities like tracing and mazes.

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Animals Craft:

Travis’s booklet suggested drawing your favorite animals. Travis preferred to color in animals someone else had outlined, and luckily the website featured a bonus template of just such a thing.

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He liked making up silly colors for his animals!

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Animals Science:

The “science” project we undertook was to visit a nearby National Park and chat with a ranger about what wildlife we might encounter. As luck would have it, the unit overlapped with the Great Backyard Bird Count, so we headed off on a brisk winter’s day!

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Travis loved the little presentation on birds before the walk, full of questions.

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We headed out with binoculars, and paused every time we heard a bird call. Although we heard a few different species, we unfortunately didn’t see them.

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But we searched for signs of other animals, too, such as paw prints (Travis was sure this was a fox, not a dog out for a walk)…

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…and squirrel burrows.

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Definitely do head to your nearest National Park, whether as tame as ours, or as wild as Yellowstone, and see what your ranger can tell you!

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Animals Keepsake:

The animal puppets to put together were by far his favorite keepsake we’ve received from this subscription to date! These foam puppets had a crafty component, since some were stickers that needed to be added on to the bodies.

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There was a nice representational sample, everything from exotic lions to cute pandas to cows like those we can see here at home.

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Not only was he wild about putting them together, following the easy step-by-step instructions solo, but when we had finished, he asked if he could put them together again (unfortunately, not really!). From here on out, they’re great for puppet shows.

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Animals Field Trip:

Our booklet suggested a trip to a local zoo or aquarium; please note that I never take Travis to zoos, as life in a cage is a sad one for animals. That said, we will visit an aquarium as long as the fish are well-cared for and there are no captive cetaceans.

And what a day at the aquarium we had! Travis was fully tuned in to the animals today, on a hunt for species we’d read about in our booklet, and marveling at them. Have you ever watched seahorses swim, for example? They truly dance.

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He was in love with the motions of this spider crab.

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And fascinated to learn about piranhas.

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And whoa – sharks are always a thrill.

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As a bonus, this was a great activity for his little sister!

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We sat down over a snack to check off all the animals we’d seen that were featured in his booklet.

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Animals Further Activities:

We weren’t done yet! The booklet was rife with further suggestions. We headed to our local park on a warm day to see how many different types of animals we could spot. Here in the winter, it was mainly bird species, but we counted 4: ducks, swans, geese, and seagulls.

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Next up was a visit to a local animal shelter, a great way to show your child how other people help animals. I encouraged Travis to ask the volunteers anything he wanted about where they got the cats from, and how they found them good homes.

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And of course there was lots of time to pet and play!

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I had also purchased the animal band magnetic set from Little Passport’s shop. Okay, maybe this didn’t teach us anything about animals, but it sure was cute!

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The magnetic case includes heads, bodies, and legs to mix and match, of adorable animals playing instruments. Incidentally, this game is great for on-the-go, since the magnetic pieces ensure you won’t lose them.

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You can keep the learning going with websites and books, from here. Travis fell in love with crabs at the aquarium, so we did further research online with YouTube crab videos. Lizards were another fast favorite, and we learned more about them.

And of course your local library will have in-depth books about many species. So find out your child’s favorite, and get reading!

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Wild Moves

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I was a bit surprised to find no craft or Green Time in Travis’s latest issue of Ranger Rick Jr., but the magazine was full of fantastic facts and stories about animals, as always. It also included an activity to work those gross motor skills: copying the movements of wild animals.

First up was hopping like a kangaroo. This one was especially neat because the magazine pointed out that a kangaroo can jump 30 feet in one bound (!). We needed to pull out the yard stick to visualize that, and measured our own jumps.

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From there, we tried the article’s other suggestions, which had us waddling like a penguin, flapping like a duck, and pouncing like a cat.

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Travis was having so much fun that I encouraged him to decide which animal move he could do next. Soon we had slithering snakes;

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Trumpeting elephants;

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And a very ferocious lion (pictured at the top of this post).

A great prompt for imagination and to get us moving.

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A Week!

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I can hardly believe it, but we’ve reached the end (beginning) of our Letter of the Week journey, begun last September. Twenty-six letter weeks (plus a few holiday weeks) later, I can say I have loved every step of this project. Travis can identify every letter, and understands the concept that letters are connected to words, the very first step toward reading. In addition, these weeks have helped me to be creative and joyful as a parent, deciding what would fill our activities and games based on the current letter each week. So please, go back through all my letter posts and I hope you enjoy as much as we did!

But first, don’t forget to take a look at our A week…

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Animals: Pull out all your animal toys of course, whatever you have. You’re guaranteed to have some lying around, whether stuffed animals, plastic animals, puzzle animals, and more. In addition, we went back to old favorite games like an animal safari this week, and then acted out animals with a game of charades.

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Put your child’s toy animals in a bag or bin, and take turns selecting. Act out the animal you selected and let the others guess what you are.

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Apron: Pop a toddler-sized apron over your little one’s head and have them join you in the kitchen this week!

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For bonus points, make sure your main ingredient starts with an A, as in the stuffed baked apples we put together.

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Acorns: We used a little collection of acorn caps (gathered at last week’s bird sanctuary!) and turned them into acorn jewels. Acorns lend themselves to any number of arts & crafts, so if “jewels” aren’t your cup of tea, fashion them into whatever your child will like best.

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Aquarium: For our field trip of the week, we headed to a local aquarium! (Please note that I do not recommend facilities keeping dolphins and whales in captivity).

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Alphabet: How appropriate that A week could also be a sort of recap week, since alphabet begins with (of course) A. We put together an alphabet flower garden, played with alphabet tiles, and searched for alphabet beads in a big bin of colored rice.

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And some extras…

Fine art: The suggestion from Letter of the Week was to assemble paper bag animal puppets. I wanted to Travis to have full range of creativity, so rather than assign him a specific animal to make, I let him create and then built off his design to finish our puppets. He loved using glitter glue and stickers, and we wound up with an alligator and a tiger.

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Food: In addition to painting with apples, we ate them in the form of applesauce. Travis also enjoyed animal crackers, avocados, and alphabet soup

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Songs: Ants Go Marching is a big hit around here, and we also watched the clip of April Showers from Bambi (which brought back nostalgic memories!).

Books: Some favorites this week included apple books (Secrets of the Apple Tree and The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall), Let’s Be Animals by Ann Turner, Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert, and Alligator Wedding by Nancy Jewell. Check out your library’s non-fiction section for a cute intro to astronauts as well!

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Math: An abacus was the perfect tool to help Travis visualize his age. I started by showing him two beads for his own age, then showed my age, my husband’s, and the ages of his friends and cousins. He loved seeing two ages in comparison (i.e. himself versus his 6 year old cousin). For preschoolers, you can use your abacus for early addition lessons as well!

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All’s well that ends well… Thanks for reading along on this journey!