Nature Soup Sensory Activity

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Here’s a beautiful activity that will engage the senses and fire up the imagination, making it accessible for multiple ages. I told the kids they were going to open a nature restaurant on the back patio and serve up nature soup. Let the excitement begin!

First we needed to gather “ingredients” from all around the yard. I armed the kids with zip-top bags to put in any treasures they found. Veronika loved little flowers and bits of grass, while big brother Travis preferred large finds like pine cones and bark.

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We’re ready!

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Back on the patio, I had filled a storage bin with a shallow layer of water and added plastic plates, bowls, and spoons. We dumped in all the nature treasures and it was time to cook!

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For Veronika, this was mostly a beautiful sensory experience.

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She loved feeling the cold water and the texture of all the nature items, as well as smelling the sweet pine scents of the pine cones and needles.

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It was great practice for her pouring and scooping skills. She even was scooping up bits of bark with a spoon and transferring to a cup so steadily.

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For Travis, it was much more about imaginative play. He loved making me new “drinks” to try and even provided me with a stick “straw” in each cup.

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He was so proud of his culinary creations!

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Meanwhile Veronika was busily splashing in the water, simultaneously keeping cool and learning.

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I would highly recommend this activity on any warm day.

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Backyard BBQ Games

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It’s the last week of summer, and we’re making the most of it by spending time outdoors with family and friends! The following five games are ones we’ve planned to play all summer, ever since making the delicious trio of recipes from Travis’s Backyard BBQ Raddish Kids crate. Whether you’re hosting an actual BBQ or just getting outside in the sunshine, here are a few fun games to try.

1. Egg Toss

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We made the game vegan with plastic eggs to toss as an alternative to hard-boiled eggs (try Egg & Spoon Race from International Playthings). Travis loved that the eggs could really crack open when we tossed them…

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And missed!

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2. Hot & Cold

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Hide an object (Note: the “hard-boiled eggs” from our egg toss were perfect) while one player closes his or her eyes. Players instruct the finder where the treasure is by noting if they are cold (far way) or boiling hot (close!).

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Travis enjoyed finding the item first, but then preferred to be the hider and guide me with his words.

3. Blind Taste Testing

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This is a fun one if your family has prepared a special summer meal together. I blindfolded Travis and had him sample some of our fresh-from-the-market veggies.

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He got them all right, even blindfolded! You can make this more challenging by far if you use sauces or spices for big kids, instead of the rather-obvious vegetables.

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4. Capture the “Foodie”

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This is just like Capture the Flag except you play with fruit pieces instead of flags! Good choices include items with peels, like oranges or bananas. See which team captures the other’s fruit first, and don’t get tagged and sent to jail (i.e. the steps) in the process

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Easily the favorite, Travis got a kick out of hiding his banana, and delighted when he could find the other team’s first.

Ideally you’ll need four players or more for this, but even two people can have fun and race to find the other person’s “foodie” first.

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5. Restaurant Relay Race

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For this silly game, we loaded a tray with plastic cups, forks, and fake picnic food. See who runs the fastest without dropping something along the way. Travis thought this was quite hilarious.

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Which of the BBQ games is your child’s favorite? Please share in the comments!

Paint-Popper Art

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If the kids aren’t in camp and need to get out some crazy summer energy, then this project is for you!

To make the popper, cut an empty toilet paper tube in half. Tie a knot in two balloons, and cut off the tops. Slip one balloon over each half of the empty tube and secure with tape. Bright and colorful tape isn’t necessary, but does add an element of fun.

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Because we knew we were going to make a mess, Travis and I headed outside for this one. I put an old sheet on the ground and covered it with thick craft paper. We filled each paint popper with a separate color and I showed Travis how to pull back on the knot of the balloon and splash the paint forward.

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Now this was fun!

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He loved selecting which color to use next, and sometimes just dripped the paint out of the popper for big thick blobs on his canvas.

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The one drawback is that the poppers didn’t last long. After a few colors, the tape and balloon came lose and the cardboard roll lost its shape.

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But it was more than enough time for him to produce fantastic splattery art.

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And get some sunshine in the process!

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Mood Enhancer: Play in the Grass

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Science has shown over and over that “green exercise” (i.e. getting outdoors for a walk) is a quick way to boost your mood and get a natural high. This is equally as true for busy parents as it is for the baby who comes along for the ride. So today’s assignment for myself and Veronika was simply to get out some place green!

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I scoped out a local park in our new town with a trail through the woods. First, we paused on a picnic blanket together. Already she looked happy!

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Primarily, I wanted her to feel the grass, a fantastic new sensation for babies. I dangled her toes in it for a tickly feeling.

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Then I plucked one blade to tickle her feet and her legs.

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She really wanted to hold the grass, but I had to be careful because she wanted to eat it!

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Then I strapped her in the stroller and we headed off on a trail walk. I could feel the change in my own body immediately, parts I hadn’t even known were tense letting go as we listened to the leaves rustling and heard birds chirping.

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More importantly, a little girl who had been fussy from the energy of unpacking at home loosened up.

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There’s a Veronika smile!

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The wonder in her eyes watching the trees overhead was worth it alone.

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And then of course there’s the ultimate power of “green exercise”; you might just lull baby to sleep and get a real pause to yourself!

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If you live in a more urban area, consider this activity in a local park or square. You’ll reap those same outdoor benefits, even if it’s slightly less green!

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Feel the Wind

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Introducing your baby to the elements is a beautiful way to foster a lifelong love of nature. Since she was born just before winter, Veronika has already felt snowflakes, and the pitter-patter of raindrops. Now that it’s warmer, there are some new sensations I’ve been excited to introduce her to!

We had a windy but warm day today, which made it a nice day to let Veronika feel the breeze without getting a chill. It’s hard to tell in the picture above, but the leaves were whipping around! As we watched the leaves dance and felt the breeze, I signed “wind” for her as well.

Next, I sat her on a blanket in the grass simply to enjoy the feel of warm sunshine on her skin (don’t forget the sunscreen and a sun hat, of course!). “Sun” is another great sign to teach your baby, as are other general weather words like “clouds”, “rain”, and “snow”.

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Later, I removed her socks and dangled her feet in the grass for that perfect sensation of tickly grass on bare feet.

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These sensations were just a brief intro to nature, and I can’t wait for all of Veronika’s nature firsts to come: the first leaf pile to jump in, smelling a flower, watching autumn leaves turn colors and fall. What are you looking forward to in nature with your baby? Please share in the comments!


Wishing Well Game

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Kids love throwing pennies into wishing wells, as was evident when Travis and I recently visited a garden with fountains and he needed to use up every penny in my wallet before he was satisfied!

We took the fun home with this simple game. If you have a water table or empty sandbox, fill that with water for bigger fun! I filled a simple craft bin with a layer of water, and then added small plastic containers to be our targets.

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Before we could begin our wishing, we had to break open the piggy bank to sort out all the pennies – extra fun!

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Encourage your kids to stand back and aim at the containers (the water will make the containers float around a little, for moving target practice). Travis preferred standing right up close.

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But grown ups and bigger kids can take aim from far away. If your penny lands in the container, your wish comes true!

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Rubber Band Splatter Painting

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Following on the heels of outdoor painting and yoga, here’s still-more fresh air fun. Technically you could do this inside, but it’s so messy you’re really going to want to be out in the grass.

To set up, you’ll need an old picture frame (or one that you don’t mind getting a little paint-splattered), ideally about 8×10. Remove the backing and glass, and attach large rubber bands at intervals around the frame.

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Set up newspaper under your work surface, and then place construction paper (or other heavy paper) underneath the frame. Travis wanted black as the background – why not!

I set him up with a tray of paints, and showed him how to paint just along the rubber bands (drips are okay, of course). Travis liked the tricky wobbly nature of this.

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Imagine his surprise when I showed him the next step: Snapping back a rubber band and letting the paint on it splatter onto the paper below. Boing!

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Because the black wasn’t the best background, I suggested lighter colors like pink and yellow for our next few rounds.

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The result is very neat, splattered paintings. Don’t forget the art smock for this one!

Om in the Outdoors

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Our beautiful morning sunshine is inspiring us to get outdoors these days, for everything from exercise to painting. This morning, I asked Travis if he thought it would be fun to take mommy’s yoga mat out into the grass, which was met by a super-enthusiastic “Yes!”. We’ve done mommy & me yoga together since he was a toddler, but sometimes changing up the location is all it takes to re-ignite a child’s excitement.

First we did some old favorites. Tree pose!

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We also like doing the blossom move: Lie flat on your back with your arms stretched above your head. Sit up slowly and bend all the way forward to reach your toes. Lie back down again and repeat.

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Travis then announced he wanted to make up his own poses! Most of these were inspired by the items in his immediate vision, so soon we had pinwheel pose (spinning around):

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…and pipe pose (standing straight with arms up above head).

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What poses would you and your child come up with? Head outside and enjoy the sunshine and the mindfulness! We can’t wait to hear about it in the comments.

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Painting on the Fence

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The sun was streaming through our windows and onto the little patch of grass outside our patio this morning, and I just had to get us outside. To motivate Travis, I did something taboo – painting outside!

Of course plein air painting has a long tradition, but so many of our kids’ crafts nowadays are indoors at craft tables or classrooms or easels. There is something so beautiful about being outside with a paintbrush and paper.

To contain any mess, I poured a few paint colors into a foil tray and gave Travis thick brushes.

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Use painter’s tape to secure a large piece of craft paper to a fence. If you don’t have a fence, the outside wall of a house would probably work, just make sure you’re using washable paints!

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The large surface will encourage big strokes – sideways, up and down, or whatever else inspires your little artist.

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My little artist at work.

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All the more beautiful in the sunshine!

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Homemade Sidewalk Chalk Paint

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Are your kids bored of regular chalk? Mix up a batch of this easy homemade paint and they’ll have a blast applying it with paintbrushes all over the pavement.

To make the paint was good messy fun… So make sure you set down some newspaper!

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First, have your child add 1/4 cup cornstarch to a cup for each color desired.

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Add 1/4 cup water to each cup.

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Stir with a paintbrush, and then stir in about 8 drops of food coloring. We like the all-natural colors from Watkins.

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Travis had so much fun with the mixing that he wanted to make a few extra batches just for fun – good thing I had a big bin of cornstarch on hand!

Then it was time to take the paints outside. The colors weren’t as vivid as they looked in the cups, but we still managed to make pretty flowers…

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…and general squiggles.

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Whoops, a spill! Luckily, this stuff will rinse off easily with a hose or in the rain.

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What are you doing outside with the kiddos now that the weather is warm? Please share in the comments!