Brown Sugar Sand Castles

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If you’re missing the beach a few months out from summer, bring the beach to you with a material that molds almost as well as real sand… Brown sugar!

This game was part summer nostalgia, part sensory bin. I set out a big bowl of brown sugar, along with a tray to hold our “beach” and a few craft sticks to use as tools.

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I then gave Veronika a variety of paper cups that we could use like sand buckets and showed her how to pack the brown sugar in firmly. Upend the cups and you’ll have tiny sand castles!

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Of course it was equally fun to break apart the towers with the craft sticks.

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If your children have the patience, they can build up layer upon layer for an intricate sand castle. Around here, it was the breaking apart that won the day.

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Veronika loved that she could scoop up brown sugar on the edge of a craft stick and fill her little cups.

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She also loved pouring brown sugar from one cup to the other. And the best part about this “sand” is that it’s 100% edible and sweet. That means no tears if some ends up in your toddler’s mouth. And that sure beats summer sand!

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Hidden Treasure

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Today Veronika learned to dig! Despite somewhat chilly temps, we headed to the sand play area of our local playground armed with a bright ball and a shovel.

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I sat Veronika down and – making sure she was watching – showed her that I was digging a hole. I placed the ball in and covered it back up with sand, making sure some of the bright purple was easily visible.

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Now I showed her how to uncover it!

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She was a quick study. She immediately wanted her own turn with the shovel, whether to dig for the ball, or simply to dig a nice hole in the ground.

You can make the game harder as you move along. On the next round, I left even less of the ball visible, but Verouinka wasn’t fooled!

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Work your way up to hiding the ball (or any other bright object) when your baby isn’t looking, and see if he or she will know to dig it up. This is not only great for fine motor skills, but also object permanence!

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Suitcase Sandbox

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If you’re hesitant to bring your baby to the beach during his or her first summer, then bring the beach to your baby! This little activity is one step up from the sand sensory play I did when Veronika when she was only 6 months old.

This time, I found an old craft suitcase and completely filled the bottom with sand. Any old suitcase with hard sides would work fine for this purpose! I briefly considered that bigger might have been better, but the small one had an added bonus: I could do the entire activity in the tub, making for fantastically easy clean-up.

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I stripped Veronika down to a diaper and sat her in the sand. Beach day!

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The most fun was burying her hands and feet and then helping her uncover them. She loved just kicking her legs in the sand, although looked confused by the grittiness, too.

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I sprinkled some over her upturned palms, but found that in general it was best to keep the sensory play to her feet, so she didn’t eat any sand.

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After a time, she seemed frustrated by the small box so I moved her to the side.

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I loved watching her reach in and draw patterns in the sand.

To clean up, simply close the suitcase and save it for next time! Any extra sand that had spilled was simply rinsed down the tub drain.

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Tickly Toes

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Ok, spring has only just begun, but today I tantalized Veronika with a hint of the summer to come… With sand, that is! No matter what time of year you play this game, sand is a fantastic tactile and sensory play ingredient.

Since you don’t want sand anywhere near a baby’s hands or mouth, this is strictly a foot game for a five month old.

I poured some sand into a shallow baking tray, and sat with Veronika on my lap. I dipped her toes into the sand for a little feel. She seemed intrigued, although also confused.

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Swirl baby’s toes around or press gently into the sand. You can also pick up a little handful of sand and trickle it down over the toes – this will both feel good and look exciting!

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Once she tired of her toes in the sand, I took some time to pour sand from a cup for her, so she could further enjoy watching the sand sparkle. It won’t be long before this girl is at the beach!

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Sand Pendulum

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We snagged this idea from an old Parents magazine article, highlighting STEM projects for kids. The game provides a neat visual introduction to gravity, using the simple concept of a pendulum. Pendulums – any suspended weight that swings freely from a pivot – will always come to rest at an equilibrium position, because of gravity of course. Using colored sand makes it purely fun for kids!

Make sure to cover your work surface with a roll of craft paper or other paper, both to catch your sand designs, and to save you from a big mess at clean-up time.

To set up the pendulum, tie three strings at even intervals around a thick rubber band. Travis had fun exploring the materials while I put this step together. Older kids can help with the tying!

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Fit the rubber band tightly under the lip of a kitchen funnel. Gather the three strings together and tie in the middle so the funnel hangs evenly.

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Slip the strings over a dowel – whoops, not quite balanced yet!

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The next step was a bit tricky, since it requires two sets of hands, and my three year old had his own agenda. But ideally, have your child plug the hole at the bottom of the funnel with a fingertip while you fill it with colored craft sand.

Give the pendulum a slight push, and watch the sand go back and forth. It will swing in increasingly smaller motions until it comes to rest.

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As mentioned, ours didn’t exactly work as planned…but leftover sand sure is fun to play with!

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If you capture really pretty sand designs, please share in the comments.

Starfish Friend

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If clay is fun, then sand + clay is infinitely more so! You can find colored sand at craft stores, and use whatever color you like best for this project.

After a recent trip to a natural history museum’s touch tank, Travis was in love with the feel of sea animals, so we decided to make our own starfish at home. The project was great for using clay in multiple ways. First we rolled it flat.

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Then we needed to cut out our starfish. A big star-shaped cookie cutter would have worked great, but I couldn’t find ours, so a plastic knife did in a pinch.

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Now it was time for the extra special sand bit. It was amazing how much more fun this made clay play. Travis loved the way it made the clay look, so we couldn’t stop there – he began adding other denizens to our “touch tank” including “snails” and “crabs,” which all needed to be sprinkled in sand of course.

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These were “snail eggs.”

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Meanwhile, use googly eyes or buttons for the eyes to finish your starfish friend; we chose the latter, after which Travis loved pressing buttons into additional pieces of clay.

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For the final touch, we left our clay to air-dry slightly curved on a piece of newspaper; this gave it that real starfish look once it had dried!

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Phoneme Week 4: ND


For our fourth letter pair in our phoneme journey, we started out tracing N and D on our Usborne wipe-clean alphabet cards. This was sort of an odd sound to explain to a child, a sort of -und pronunciation. Perhaps because of that fact, it wasn’t as exciting a phoneme for Travis, and he was less interested in the flash cards that accompanied our week. But here’s what we did for fun and learning anyway!

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Phonics Book of the Week: Underpants for Ants, a hilarious gem from Usborne’s phonics collection. In addition to uNDerpants, you’ll find the words: haND, caNDle, haNDle, graND, and woNDerful.

Guiding Theme: baND

ND (3)This turned out to be a happy coincidence as the suggested guiding word from Letter of the Week, since Travis’s favorite thing in the world is music! We set the stage by playing two songs to get in the band mood: “Oh When the Band” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.” You can march to Sousa music, or perhaps even draw to Sousa music, having your child draw slower or quicker according to tempo.ND (4)

  • We Made:

  • We Learned:
    • For science of the week, we talked about a different word, wiND. Explain to your child that wind is moving air, and have fun experimenting! We discussed how tornadoes are one of the fastest types of wind, and made a tornado in a jar! Tornado Jar (5)
    • Our math of the week also focused on a different word – caNDy. What child wouldn’t want to count candy colors? You can sort them into separate piles by color, first. Travis seems to lose track of things when I ask him to count higher than 4, so we didn’t even bother with lower numbers this time. After some prompting, he was able to get the correct number of bears on index cards. ND (22)
  • We Visited:
    • A bluegrass band for Mothers’ Daymom day (13).JPG

Other Words of the Week:

  • Land: Listen to “This Land is Your Land” – a patriotic song to add to your baND’s repertoire, of course!
  • Sand: This word was arguably the biggest hit of the week. First we simply scooped sand in an indoor sandbox, always a favorite game. ND (19)Then we made a sand and ice comet and sand art. If it’s nice outside, look for sand ant hills. Indoors, you can draw on sandpaper with chalk.ND (23) Finally, we built a sandpaper sandcastle, an activity we’ve done before, but nearly a year ago. Sandpaper Castle (1)It was neat to do this now, with Travis much more in charge of where each piece of his sandcastle went on the paper!Sandpaper Castle (4)
  • And: We read two books prominently featuring this word in the title: Above and Below and Town and Country. These two books really emphasize the and!
  • Hand: I tried all week to convince Travis to paint with his hands, to no avail! At the very least, cuddle up for a silly read of Dr. Seuss’s Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb.
  • Pond: Go for a gorgeous pond walk of course! Pond (1).JPGWe continued the fun at home by making pond play dough:Pond Playdough (11)
  • Fond: We made photo prints of special relatives in Travis’s life, and discussed how we can be fond of people and things – like music and bands of course. This would also be a great chance to put together a family tree.ND (30)
  • Bond: What things are able to make a bond that holds items together? We had fun exploring both glue and magnets, to see what had the strongest bond. ND (27)Then snuggle up and talk about how there can be a bond between two people as well!ND (29)
  • End: Give your child a fit of the giggles at storytime by starting all the bedtime books at the end one night this week. Travis thought this was very silly, and then I asked him to help me go back and start at the proper beginning.ND (25)
  • Bend: Your body can bend of course! Get in some exercise of the week by bending down to touch your toes in a yoga pose or two. Then pull out that classic toddler activity, bending pipe cleaners through a colander.ND (24)
  • Send: You can make an easy gift to send to someone special with this coaster set. The pop it in the mail and send on … who better than to graNDparents?Coaster Gift
  • Lend: Even if you’re a regular at your local library, talk some time this week to explain to your child how lending works. Since we’ve often borrowed books, we made this week’s trip special by taking out a movie, a true treat!
  • Find: You’ll have a blast with Usborne’s Big Book of Things to Find and Color. I purchased the book thinking it would be a bit advanced for Travis, but he surprised me making some terrific fiNDs, i.e. the empty bird cages on one page in particular. ND (7)We also read Find the Puppy, a book that’s meant for the littlest little ones, but which even preschoolers get a kick out of. Then play good old-fashioned hide and seek and fiND each other! Now where could Daddy be…?ND (12)
  • Wind: In addition to our science of the week, we just played around with wind in general! For example, if we set up a fan, what would blow and what wouldn’t.ND (13) Could we also scatter tissue paper across a tabletop with our breath? ND (14)Then head outside and hold up tissue paper into the wind – Travis loved the way it twisted and turned! ND (15)For a neat art project, drip a little liquid watercolor onto a piece of paper. Blow through a straw to scatter the watercolor into gorgeous patterns.ND (16) We tried to make wind chimes although they weren’t very sturdy!
  • Grand: Two great songs feature this word, so be sure to give a listen to You’re a Grand Old Flag and The Grand Old Duke of York.ND (17)
  • Sound: Talk about the sounds you hear all week – then delve into some of Usborne’s great sound books, such as First Book About the Orchestra and Garden Sounds. ND (6)To finish our focus on the word, we made a string telephone to explore the properties of sound!String Phone (3)

Sand Art

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You can make sandboxes inside from so many indoor-friendly materials – oatmeal flakes, cornmeal, salt. But every once in a while, I like to buy refill packs of real sand and Travis has a blast shoveling through it. This time, instead of just shoveling our sand, we made art!

First, divide your sand into several containers – make sure they have lids.

Add a few drops of food coloring to each container. Seal the lids and shake tightly.

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Our color didn’t disperse as well as I hoped, but we left it to sit overnight, and after stirring through the following morning, we had enough of a sandy rainbow.

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My plan had been to fill a mason jar using a funnel, adding one layer of each color at a time, but Travis was so delighted he just started adding colored sand to the jar by the spoonful.

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The bottom of our jar was a bit of a muddled mess, but eventually we poured in our colors one at a time for a pretty, layered effect.

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Seal the jar and display your lovely sand art some place prominent!

Foot Sensory Bins

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Why should hands have all the fun? We set up bins today to see how things felt with our feet instead!

For your mise en place, set out 3 separate bins. I used one each of: shaving cream, water beads, and sand. You can make your sand wet or dry, or start with it dry and then gradually add a little water.

Travis wanted to hop in the water beads first, which he declared very cool.

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Quite quickly he was ready to see how the sand felt. It only took a moment before he requested we add some water beads to the sand, and he mixed it all together with his toes for a while.

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He was very hesitant about the shaving cream, but I got him to sit on a stool and we dipped his feet in, after which he decided he liked how creamy it felt. Then he declared we needed water beads in here too.

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When you’re done, dump any trash out and then rinse your buckets in the tub – which is half of the fun anyway!

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Sensory Construction Bin

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This simple sensory bin is heaven for any kid who loves playing with construction trucks!

I ordered play sand from Amazon, and although the quantity I received wasn’t nearly what I expected, the amount ended up working well. I poured it into our plastic storage bin, just enough for a thin layer; this shallow sand meant we could make tire tracks, pile sand in some corners while leaving other spaces with only a thin cover, and otherwise have a grand old time. However, make the sand deeper if you want to!

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When Travis woke up from his nap, I had the bin set up and ready to go – sand, trucks, and various materials to be construction truck lumber, including wooden craft sticks and some real wood chips we’d collected outside earlier in the day. The wood chips turned out to be home to a few tiny bugs, which gave our construction site a feel of authenticity!

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Travis set right to, driving bulldozers, filling dump trucks, and making aforementioned piles of sand.

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Soon, he announced he needed to wear his construction vest!

The craft sticks were great for setting up as the beams of a building.

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We did this activity on our balcony in the sunlight, making for beautiful afternoon play.

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