Make-Believe Under the Sea

A rainy day meant we needed some indoor make-believe play to chase away the gray! Pulling together a bunch of items we had on hand, our indoor world was soon as watery as the rain outside… with a make-believe ocean theme, that is! This adorable idea was thanks to a prompt from Parents magazine.

To start, I laid down a blue blanket (for water) and a beach towel (for sand). Into the water went a variety of sea creatures from the stuffed animal bin, including a shark, octopus, and sea turtle!

You can add items to the “beach” portion of your layout including beach buckets, shovels, or other sand toys.

For extra points on the make-believe scale, add buried treasure!

Veronika loved digging in the sand (e.g. turning back the corner of the towel) to unearth the shining coins and jewels I’d hidden from the dress-up box.

And then loved plinking them into her bucket.

To make things extra wavy, I added blue and green streamers hanging from the ceiling above. Veronika could now parade and swim through the ocean waves!

What would you add to your make-believe sea? Please share in the comments!

Swimming Letters Sensory Bag

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Here’s a fun way for toddlers to practice tracing as they starting out in letter recognition. Bonus points: the activity doubles as a sensory bag!

To set up, fill a large zip-top plastic bag with liquid. I made two versions of this, although neither was quite right. The first one had corn syrup and a little blue glitter, but this was a touch too thick. The second one I filled water with a little blue glitter glue, but this was too… watery. I think hair gel would be the perfect in-between solution, and I’ll aim for that next time! Regardless, once you’ve added your liquid and glitter, you’ll need to add the best part: drop in a plastic fish toy.

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Seal the bag tightly and secure with duct tape. Next, write letters of the alphabet on pieces of construction paper, ideally with a blue background, although I only had purple. Once I had colored the letters in with green marker, they sort of looked like waving seaweed!

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If you want to, you could go through all 26 letters for your child. Today, I focused on two letters: V for Veronika and T for big brother Travis. Place the fish sensory bag over one letter at a time and show your toddler how to “swim” the fish along the lines to trace it.

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It’s hard to tell if Veronika really picked up on the learning, or whether she just loved the activity because she was enamored with the fish. She loved making it swim so wasn’t necessarily following the lines, but she could tell me whether she was looking at a V or T.

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Overall, I loved the idea behind this activity and may return to it when she’s a little older!

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Under the Sea Play Scene

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Here’s a fun sticker art project that turns into a game at the end!

First, I told Travis we were simply making underwater scenes. He’s been learning about coral reefs, which made this a neat extension. We added stickers to thick white paper featuring coral, sea stars, fish, and more.

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I also added a background with crayons to show sand, water, and extra seaweed. Next, fill zip-top bags with blue paint. Insert your sticker scenes, and seal tightly.

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I showed Travis that now he could uncover his ocean scene beneath the waves! In addition to the cool tactile feel of this, it was fun to watch the crabs and fish appear on the “surface”.

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If your child is learning to spell, the paint is great for practicing: F-i-s-h, fish!


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Note: I would use a lot more blue paint next time, since I didn’t have much and ours barely covered the paper, which sort of spoiled the “reveal” of the scene beneath. But Travis still enjoyed it!

What will go in your ocean scene? Please share in the comments!

Sandy Play Dough

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This sand-laced play dough requires only 4 ingredients, comes together in moments, and works just like kinetic sand!

To make the “sand”, combine 3 cups flour and 4 cups play sand in a large container. Add 1 and 1/4 cups hot water and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Stir to mix and then knead with your hands until the mixture comes together like play dough.

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That’s it! I set out this sandy beach with lots of sea shells and let the kids go to town. We could construct sand castles…

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…which needed sea shell decorations of course!

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Veronika loved sorting through the shells and arranging them over the play dough best, even more so than working with the dough itself.

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For Travis, meanwhile, it was soon a landscape to play with Lego figures!

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The play dough molds together so easily, so we could make sea snakes or little sand structures, and so much more.

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No matter how they engaged with it, I loved watching brother and sister have fun with this hands-on bin together.

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Coral Reef Kiwi Crate

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Travis kit from Kiwi Co this month was all about Coral Reefs. The focus was primarily on the science of a coral reef’s ecosystem, with a little bit of art and engineering (ratchets!) thrown in for good measure.

First up was the art component: to color in a Reef Scene.

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Travis loved the pastels that came with the kit for this step. There was also a blending stick to mix colors or make scratch-art, so kids can really have fun with this step if they’re feeling artsy.

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Next up he needed to Assemble the Jellyfish. The pastels are used again, this time to color the tentacles of the provided jellyfish shapes. Fold down these tabs of paper, then add strings as additional tentacles for wonderfully wavy creatures.

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A plastic cap (which looks like the top of an Easter egg) sits on top as the jellyfish’s bell. Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes in the plastic head and twist to make a loop. Wiggle eyes completed each wiggly fellow.

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Finally, it was time Build the Race Frame. Kids add a disc and ratchet to each of two bolts, which then screw into a spool on either side of the wooden race frame.

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When we came to the next step, it turned out we were missing the long strings to thread through the spool and onto the pipe cleaner loop of each jellyfish. Luckily this was an easy material to replace, and I grabbed twine from the craft bin.

Travis then attached the handles (pieces of wood which will hitch onto the teeth of the jagged ratchet). As we raced our jellyfish, we learned that whether you push or pull on a ratchet, it will always turn in only one direction; the left side grabs when you push, and the right side grabs when you pull . Once Travis got the hang of it, he loved having jellyfish races with me!

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For some final fun, Travis read facts in Explore magazine, solved a brain coral maze, and then made a quick Pet Jellyfish:

Cut a circle from a plastic bag and gather the center of the plastic to form a head; tie loosely with string. Snip the edges of the circle to make the tentacles.

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Fill a clear plastic water bottle with water and add a few drops of food coloring to turn it into a blue ocean.

Now fill the jellyfish’s head about halfway with water; you need enough room for an air bubble to form as well. Insert into the bottle and tilt it back and forth to watch your new “pet” swim.

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This didn’t work perfectly for us, but the kids liked the wavy tentacles in the bottle!

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Under the Sea Lunch

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Travis has been learning a lot about the ocean recently, both the creatures that live deep down, and the ways that humans can explore under the water. So it felt only appropriate to continue the fun with our food!

For a “fish” sandwich, trim a pita or similar flatbread by making two triangle cut-outs on one side. Now your fish has a tail.

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You can use just about anything for the filling! We filled one “fish” with tofu salad and another with cheese slices.

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Add raisins for eyes.

On the side, I served a little ocean floor scene. Almond butter (or peanut butter) was the sand, lightly-steamed celery sticks become waving seaweed, and we added a few vegan Swedish fish to populate our ocean.

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You could even add homemade goldfish crackers for the fish! I’m happy to report that lunch went swimmingly.

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Flapjack Octopus

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This suggestion from Kiwi Crate was both a way to upcycle Travis’s latest package from the company and an extension on the theme of the deep sea. Winding yarn around a piece of cardboard is also a method you can use for making pom poms, but we found this project to be even easier.

Cut the top off of a Kiwi crate box (or any shoe box), and cut off any flaps, leaving a rectangle. Begin winding yarn around the middle of the rectangle, wrapping about 100 times. This was great practice for counting to 100, something Travis has been working on for home school!

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When we reached 100, we slipped a piece of yarn through the loops at the bottom of the rectangle, and double-knotted securely. Now slip the whole bunch of yarn off the cardboard. Find the middle of the yarn bundle, and tie another piece of yarn there in a double-knot to form the octopus’s waist.

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Snip the loops at the bottom of the octopus. Divide into eight portions (these will be the eight legs) and secure each bundle with a piece of yarn.

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For ears, slip a pipe cleaner through the yarn at the top of the head, and twist down into cute little ear shapes, trimming any extra pipe cleaner.

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As a final touch, glue on wiggle eyes. Once the glue dries, your flapjack octopus is ready to be discovered in the deep sea!

Watercolor Ocean Scene

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Travis had so much fun drawing a squid for a project yesterday that I wanted to expand upon it today. This time, the assignment was to draw a full ocean!

For this project, it’s really up to your child to draw whatever ocean scene he or she envisions. Make sure to use thick watercolor paper for the best results. Travis started out with a big red octopus, but he was dissatisfied with it. He changed it into a crab, but was still displeased. So then he decided he wanted to start over!

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On his second sheet of paper, I could tell he was really thinking about how the world might look under the waves. He drew sand at the bottom, green seaweed growing up, a crab, and a big toothy shark.

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He added blue water all around as background. I worked beside him on a second scene with similar animals.

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When we were done drawing with art pencils, the real watery fun began. Brush over your pencil marks with just a light layer of water. It will smear the colors somewhat, and make it took like you are scuba divers exploring beneath the waves!

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Porthole Scratch Art

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This ocean-themed art project didn’t quite work as intended, but it still led to great artistic and creative play for Travis today!

The goal with scratch art is to have two layers of color, scratching off the top layer to reveal the shade underneath. To start, cut the center circle from two paper plates and set aside; these will be the rims of your submarine “portholes”.

On a second set of paper plates, I asked Travis to draw his favorite sea creature. He chose a big red squid, and I was so proud of his drawing even though it wasn’t exactly easy to scratch off, as intended.

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I made a nice fat starfish in the center of another plate as an easier option.

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We then colored all around the sea creatures with white crayon. Layer a second color of crayon over everything, choosing a dark color to go over the sea animals and then blue crayon over your layer of white.

Using a penny, you now should be able to scratch off the top layer of crayon. If this works, you can make animal details like fins or scales, as well as water details like swirls and seaweed.

Unfortunately, our two colors of crayon just smudged together! Well, we were undeterred. Tape these plates underneath the first set of plates, and add details like bolts with more crayon.

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Then we got inventive and played deep-sea diver on the couch! Travis loved pretending to be the squid outside my submarine.

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We might try this again on a different brand of paper plates next time and see if we have more success.

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Deep-Sea Discovery Kiwi Crate

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Travis’s subscription to Kiwi Crate is more welcome then ever these days, providing doses of science and art to our home school lessons. Travis couldn’t wait to dive into his deep-sea discovery crate.

First up was to make the Chomping Anglerfish. Travis has learned about these deep-sea fish before, with their fascinating attached lantern, and this project was big on engineering. He helped work through the steps of assembling a wooden wheel then attaching this to the frame of a wooden fish with bolts and screws.

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He felt absolute glee when he realized the jaw could move (thanks to the cogs lining up with those in the wooden wheel), and even more so when he realized this meant the jaw could now eat…

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…the prey. Activity number two, to Make the Prey was very simple, just adhering stickers to wooden disks with a peg in between. The wooden jaw hooks onto these pegs so that as the fish scoots along the floor, the jaw lifts up and “swallows” the prey. Just as a cautionary note, the whole apparatus is a bit temperamental and won’t work if the wheel isn’t properly rolling along the floor or if the jaw gets slightly stuck.

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But needless to say, it soon turned into a game of chomping up other toys around the house, like Legos!

The third project was a Submarine Seek-and-Find. Using the provided stencil, Travis colored in fish shapes onto the provided plastic sheet. A paper “flashlight” then uncovers these creatures lurking behind the dark submarine window.

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We had fun “hiding” fish for each other among drawings of bubbles, or making up our own creatures. Travis was so proud surprising me with a giant sea monster. The booklet explains the science of how the finder works, when the white light of the “flashlight” makes your drawings appear even under the dark window.

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For some final fun, Travis dressed up as an anglerfish for a game of “hide-and-glow seek”! To make the costume, twist a black pipe cleaner onto a glow stick, and attach to any dark-colored baseball cape with masking tape. Have your child dress in dark clothing and don the cap, and they are ready to be a lurking deep-sea fish!

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We cracked additional small glow sticks to be the “prey” and took turns hiding these around the house. Travis got quite creative with his hiding places! The goal is to find all the sticks in the dark before the “anglerfish” tags the other player.

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Obviously this game will work best after full dark, as you can see from Travis in the picture above, although we did also play a round before the sun went down.

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If you want to extend the learning, check out two fun books: How Deep is the Sea from Usborne Books or Super Submarines, by Tony Mitton.