Eric Carle Art Activity

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We had the opportunity to visit the Eric Carle Museum today, so I set the stage before our trip with an activity that combined the author’s books and tangrams. This is a fantastic learning game that can be adapted for varying levels of difficulty, depending on your child’s age.

To start, we pulled out several of our Eric Carle favorites, like Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do You See.

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As Veronika uncovered each animal in the story, I laid out a design in corresponding tangrams. She marveled as she saw the animals come to life on the page!

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For older toddlers, draw the outline of the animal first and challenge your child to fill it in. Preschoolers can make the challenge even harder by designing their own tangram animal without a template.

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Next up was A Very Hungry Caterpillar, another favorite. For this one we “acted out” the story with tangrams on each page, starting with the little caterpillar under the sun.

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This was great for counting as we got to the pages about each fruit the caterpillar ate.

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Our tangram set also includes a template of a butterfly, so this was great practice for Veronika to do the filling in. It was easier for her to think of it by color than by shape, but with some guidance she was able to follow the pattern. This was exactly the intro to tangrams I had hoped for when we sat down together.

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Of course then we capped it off with a visit to the museum! If you end the day with your favorite Eric Carle book at bedtime, you’ll have made this activity frame a full day of stories, learning, and play.

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A Hero’s Tale

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I’m still juggling how to handle storytime, now that Veronika wants her bedtime book at the same time as big brother Travis. This can sometimes make Travis jealous of what used to be our time together! Last night I stumbled upon this useful alternative and although we probably won’t repeat it every night, we’ll certainly do it again.

The idea is simple: instead of reading a story, I spun a tale. Of course it was about a little girl named Veronika, who happened to have… a Superhero Brother Travis!

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For each of the stories I told, Superhero Brother swooped in to save the day, whether rescuing the family during a hurricane, or saving a field from a giant pumpkin.

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I simply made these stories up on the spot, and chances are you can do the same. The idea is to make the older sibling feel special. To add to the fun, we acted out the tale with dress-up dolls.

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I also suggested that Travis draw illustrations. He loved adding to his picture as the stories unfolded.

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Not only was he so proud, but Veronika clearly could tell the stories were special.

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If we keep this up, soon we’ll have a whole binder full of Superhero Travis illustrations, depicting the ways he can care for and save his little sister.

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Note: This game would work equally well if you keep the story less farfetched. Just play up the ways that an older sibling actually helps the younger one on a daily basis, and he or she is sure to feel special.

Make Your Own Reading-Inspired Activity

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I am loving storytime with Veronika these days; at long last she’ll sit in my lap and snuggle for a story (although she still prefers to “read” solo!). One other way to keep her engaged in a book is to add a hands-on element, bringing the story to life. Books about food are especially fun for this, so here’s how we played today!

We started out with a read of Blueberries for Sal, one of my personal favorites. I gave Veronika a plastic cup and some blueberries, intending for her to ka-plink ka-plank ka-plunk along with the book. Lots of dumping and pouring of blueberries, ensued!

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I had enough extra berries on hand that my intention was to make blueberry muffins thereafter, cooking in the kitchen just like Little Sal and her mother. But a certain big brother ate all the blueberries!

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Oh no! I had already promised the kids muffins, so I searched online for a recipe that was quick and used only pantry staples. Veronika loved scooping flour and spices with a set of kitchen utensils while I did the real baking.

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Well, it turned out these last-minute muffins were so good that the kids delighted in running back and forth from living room to kitchen for bites with huge grins on their faces, while shouting out, “Mama Moose’s Muffins!”

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That made us think of another kiddie lit classic, If You GIve a Moose a Muffin. So we read that book over our muffin snack!

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As a result, here is my recipe for “Mama Moose’s Muffins”, which might just become a classic around here.

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Scant 2 cups plain almond milk
  • 1/2 cup melted Earth Balance butter
  • 2 Ener-G eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  2. Pour the cider vinegar into a liquid measuring cup, and add almond milk to equal 2 cups. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add the almond milk mixture to the dry ingredients, along with the melted butter, Ener-G eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the raisins.
  3. Divide the mixture evenly among 12 jumbo muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Rotating Picture Tale

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Here’s a fun way both to teach the notion of story as narrative and to ensure it’s tailored to your toddler’s interest.

First, I sat down with Veronika in my lap to go through a few old catalogs and magazines. The idea was to pause whenever something caught her interest rather than to lead or guide her. Of course, I knew there would be lots for her to like, having selected a toy catalog to flip through first!

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She definitely had favorites, zeroing in on faces. “Baby!” she said with delight, looking at the images of dolls.

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“Baby’s having a diaper change!” I made note of whatever she liked the most, then cut these out with scissors and glued each picture onto a square of white paper.

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Once the glue dried, we had a story we could tell over and over. I let chance dictate, shuffling the cards and then laying them out one by one. Each card was a new element of the story.

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As a result, there were lots of parades and tea parties and stories about animals blasting off in rockets to outer space, thanks to the particular pictures we had to work with. When the first story finished, I shuffled the cards and we did it again!

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She loved curling up in my lap for this, making it a special bonding moment, too. She also would grab for her favorite pictures and hold them as the story unfolded. “Horse!” was a big favorite.

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Older siblings might want a turn weaving a tale for a little sib, too, which will in turn hone those creative writing juices!

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Books in a Box

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You might read the title of this blog and think it’s about storing books in an easy-to-reach spot for your child (which, yes, is a great idea). But nope, I mean it more literally; a large enough box is just right for reading books in the box.

Veronika loves reading her “magazines” (Hello from Highlights) and I wanted to create a cozy spot where she could do so. To wit, I had a big box from a diaper delivery that was perfect for this activity.

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First, we needed to decorate it, and Veronika leaps at any chance to pull out her crayons!

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I thought she might like a cozy blanket and pillow nestled inside, along with a few books.

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It turns out she wanted nothing to do with the blanket. But soon was ensconced and rapt with her “reading”.

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Sometimes she wanted to turn the box on its side, more like a cave to crawl into and read.

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Sometimes it was more like her little reading boat.

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Add a snack if you want, or simply let reading be the draw. Whatever the case, she loved her little reading box!

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Remember What We Did Today?

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This little game is a great way to teach even the youngest kids about a storytelling arc, specifically the notion of a beginning, middle, and end. Since Veronika is rapidly acquiring language, it seemed like the right time to work with her on storytelling, even as big brother does his ELA lessons!

I sat down with her just before bed holding some of the items we’d use throughout our play.  A toy puzzle helped further provide visual cues. “First, we woke up,” I said, pointing to the woman rising for the day in her bed.

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“Then we had a tea party!” I reminded her. She came over to inspect the cups and play with them again.

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“Then you painted with water,” I reminded her, using the paint brush as a cue. Now she could test out a few brush strokes on the tea tray.

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You can hit upon other events in the day, too, like car rides or nap times. Or focus on one particular moment in the day, like a stroll in the park, and discuss any beginnings, middles, or ends. Again, visual cues help!

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“Finally, we’ll brush our teeth and go to sleep,” I told her. No matter how mundane the events of your day seem, it can be very helpful for a child to hear things in sequence like this. Consider making it a nightly practice!

Set Up a Book Corner

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Veronika’s big brother loved books from the earliest age, engaging directly with them and sitting still for story time. Veronika has way more of her own agenda, which means I often find myself reading solo while she crawls around the room. But she does love to pull out a book and flip through pages on her own.

To encourage this early “reading”, I set up a cozy book corner that can be her own special space. Think: blankets, pillows, and anything else that makes the nook cozy.

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Next, add a dedicated book basket. You can decorate it, but I had a hunch Veronika would just view the decorations as invitation to tear them off, so left the basket plain.

Now fill it! I put in copies of her Hello magazines, as well as books that engage with more than just pictures: tactile elements, jigsaw puzzle books, you name it.

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Imagine my delight, then, when I saw her scoot over to the corner, pull books from the basket and “read” to herself.

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Veronika does this with a little drone or humming noise, almost like she’s pretending to read the words as I do.

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She loved the big flaps of one book, and was quite content to read for a while.

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This is definitely our new go-to story spot! Do you have a story nook in your home? Please share in the comments!

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Make a Story Time Fort

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It’s hard to get Veronika to sit still with a book, especially at bedtime when we try to fit in a story between dinner and bath.

But not so when I made this fort! She was content inside for ages with a pile of books.

To make the fort, move your sofa from the wall to create a space large enough for you and your little one (alternatively, you can make the fort under a dining room table). I layered the floor with cozy blankets and pillows.

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Drape a sheet over the back of the couch and secure with shoes or books. Then head inside!

Veronika scooted it in and was immediately delighted.

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I gave her a pile of books, and soon she was thumbing through them and “reading” to herself.

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Of course then it was time to join her and read a few books for real.

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You can even add a flashlight to highlight pages or words. Once the book was through, I retreated to the side of the fort and let her take over, crawling on the pillows, enjoying her books, and reaching up for the beautifully draped ceiling.

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We probably would have stayed in longer except the cat eventually ruined the “roof”!

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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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Story Time with a Twist

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Story time is so important even with the littlest babies, but you may find at around eight months old that your baby is far more interested in chewing on the pages or playing with toys than paying attention to the words. This has definitely proven to be the case with Veronika, so today I made story time a bit more interactive, thanks to the help of a few stuffed animal friends!

How is it that babies amass such huge collections of stuffed animals? I’m not sure I’ve ever bought one, but through gifts, prizes, and more, we have quite a little community.

I pulled out a few and narrated a story. Veronika and her friend frog woke up and decided to go on an adventure through the forest.

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They set off for the forest, but a big noise made them stop. They looked around and heard a growl. But it was only their friend bear, who wanted to say hello. Hello bear!

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They kept walking and saw a stick move. It was their friend snake! Hisss, snake said.

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I had a few more creatures meet her and frog on the journey before the story ended and everyone went home for lunch.

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Veronika was delighted at all the colors and soft stuffies to hug, whether or not she was listening to the “story”.

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Next, I grouped some of her stuffed animals by category. Since we have a lot of dogs, I made up few stories around this puppy “family.” First, one puppy was lost, oh no!

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Could Veronika help mommy dog find her puppy? Hurrah, a family reunion. Next, the puppies went for rides in cars…

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…and then we had a story about a stuffed animal parade.

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Later in the day, we continued the fun with a “birthday party” for a few stuffed animals. I set them up with pretend food and sang the happy birthday song.

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Veronika loved this “story”!

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In sum, you can involve stuffed animals as actors in your baby’s story time in so many ways. What will your animals do next? Climb a hill? Go on a journey? It’s a little different than reading a book and will engage your little one’s imagination and senses.