Musical Animals

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Here’s a fun riff on Musical Chairs, although there are no winners or losers here: just music and stuffed animals and a way to get moving indoors!

To start, I set up several of the kids’ stuffed animals in a circle on the floor. Note: You can also sit every stuffed animal on a chair if you have enough chairs in your home. But the floor worked just fine in a pinch.

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Since our circle was on the floor, I opted for stuffies that could mostly “sit up” on their own, although that’s not a requirement. Then I set some jazzy music playing and told the kids to run around the circle of animals.

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When the music stops, everyone freezes and sits with the nearest stuffed animal in his or her lap!

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There’s no element of elimination to this game, as in normal musical chairs, but between music, freezing, and giving big stuffed animal hugs, this game is a reward in itself.

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Soon, the kids found some extra pillowcases in the closet and were tucking the stuffed animals into little “beds”. Veronika even leaned in to give this one a kiss!

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So it turned into a very cozy way to pass a cold morning.

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Animal Holiday Dress-Up

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If you’re kids are getting antsy for Christmas and can hardly wait any longer, then hold a Christmas dress-up party for their stuffed animals!

Right after breakfast, Travis and Veronika headed upstairs with leftover bows and gift ribbon and began to deck the halls, er, adorn the stuffed animals, with all the trimmings.

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Cats and dogs soon sported bow hats and ribbon scarves.

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As did a droid or two!

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Veronika thought it was so silly to see favorite animals with big gift bows on them!

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Travis decided to turn it into a competition. Which animal would win the category of Most Festive? He loved tying on ribbons…

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…and adding multiple bows. A big white dog named Marshmallow won the prize!

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Now all the animals could gather together for a holiday party. Needless to say, we sure kicked off the day with some holiday spirit.

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Very Sticky Play and Recycled Sculpture

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It’s near the end of the month, which is when I sort through my craft bin, think about stocking up for the month ahead, and don’t mind getting rid of leftovers. With the end of a roll of contact paper left,  the morning was ripe for some sticky play! We combined a few old favorite ways to play with this material with some fantastic new finds.

First up was a classic “sculpture” on the wall. Veronika loved helping me sort through the craft bin as we filled a tray with leftover odds and ends like yarn, pieces of ribbon, cut up straws, small pom poms, and strips of crepe paper.

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The favorite turned out to be leftover wiggle eyes! ” A little eye!” she said with delight, and she promptly trotted over to stick this on the contact paper.

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To add a little learning, you can talk about all your various materials: textures, size, 3D versus flat ones, etc. If siblings are working together, it can also be a great lesson in collaboration.

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But honestly Veronika was so interested in the wiggle eyes that we didn’t end up with too much decoration on this wall version.

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So next, I taped the final piece of contact paper down to the ground, which is always fun for stepping on. “Sticky feet!” Veronika said.

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Encourage your kids to lie down too, or crawl across it for a novel sensation.

Here’s where the novelty kicked in; we decided to see if stuffed animals could stick and soon had dinosaurs stomping through swamps.

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Hmm, what about toy cars?

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Well now Travis discovered that if he wound up the car tires, they still could move forward on the sticky contact paper… but as slooooowly as a snail.

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This led to an hour of “racing” play. Even I thought it was neat!

Little sister Veronika wanted to add her tractor and bus to the mix.

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When the races were done, we used up all those remaining leftover art supplies. This time, tiny beads were the biggest hit, which the kids sprinkled by the handful over the paper.

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Travis asked for glitter. Oh heck why not, it was already such as mess that I handed it over.

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Travis loved this even more than Veronika!

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Although of course she loved it too. You know you have a happy toddler when they start rolling around in glee.

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And then I folded up their sticky “sculpture” and the mess was gone.

If you do have leftover bits of glitter on the floor, here’s a quick hack: a lint roller gets them up much easier than a dust broom. You’re welcome.

Animal Sort

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Veronika loves playing with her stuffed animals (a favorite lately has been simply to climb in the crib with every single “stuffie” and have a blast in there). Today when we pulled out the stuffies, I decided to make it a little educational, too.

I encouraged Veronika to make two piles. Could she divide the animals into big and small? The idea of sorting is still tough for a 20-month-old, but she can identify whether a single stuffed animal is big or small.

So I started the two piles for her as an example, and then held the others up one at a time. “Where should this one go?” I asked her. “Is he big, or small?”

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She made a little effort at this, but she was honestly more interested in making the sounds of each animal – hoots for owls, growls for bears, etc. So we decided to sort them differently: loud animals versus soft ones! Again I had to help with much of the sorting, but it was fun to make the noises for each animal as our piles grew larger.

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Older toddlers and preschoolers will love this to, and maybe think of other ways to sort the animals. And of course, you’ll have a giant pile of stuffed animals to play in at the end.

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Teddy Swing

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Veronika’s favorite activity at the playground is the swings, so I thought for sure she’d enjoy letting her stuffed animals have a turn. It turned out this activity wasn’t nearly as fun as the real thing!

I tied yarn securely around the waist of two favorite stuffed animals, a teddy bear and a monkey, then looped the other end of the yarn over a low tree limb.

The animals were hanging right about chest height on Veronika so she could easily give them a push. But I think she got a little nervous seeing her animals dangling!

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It turned out big brother Travis liked this activity a whole lot more. He, at least, loved giving the animals big swings!

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Perhaps your toddler will enjoy it more! Let me know what your kids think in the comments.

Bear in the Basket

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This simple game is pure delight for a toddler! I put Veronika in her crib, which startled her momentarily since it’s not a place she normally plays. Surprise turned to excitement when I added all her stuffed animal friends.

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I placed a basket below the crib (a laundry basket would be perfect, or any old storage box like the one I had on hand), and then showed her how drop in a stuffed animal. “One, two, three, whee!” I counted. The first animal jumped in.

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Well she had to see what this was all about!

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She was eager to copy me, parroting my words and holding an animal over the railing. Sometimes she didn’t realize she needed to let go with those little fists; there’s a cognitive step of cause-and-effect here that’s great for motor skill development.

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Here goes reindeer!

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Once the basket was full, we tossed the animals back in the crib…

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…and played again.

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She was happy to play so many rounds of this game.

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Or sometimes to pause for a hug.

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Just for the heck of it, we extended the stuffed animal play with a dry animal bath tub!

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This oldie-but-goodie never grows old. Simply throw all the stuffed animals in for a soft landing and add one toddler.

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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.

Animal Hammock (and Other Stuffed Animal Solutions)

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This activity for a newborn can be done even before your bundle of joy arrives in the home, or is a great one to do in the first days upon return from the hospital, that moment when you wonder… Well, what do we do next? New parents so often express this sentiment to me: The new baby is in the car seat on the floor, and now there are days and days to fill! It’s also an activity that is great for veteran parents who want to involve a big sibling.

To wit, I told my son I needed his help in the nursery, and we emptied out all of the stuffed animals from where they’d been in a basket, untouched, for years. Not only did he have fun going through old favorites, but he was also fascinated watching as I selected a baby blanket (chances are you have one too many!) and thumb-tacked it to the wall. Make sure the thumb tacks are very secure, or at the least some place where they can’t land on the baby in case one pulls free.

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Once you have all four corners tacked up, fill the hammock gently with the stuffed animals. Be sure not to overcrowd or make the blanket too heavy.

The result is adorable! Stuffed animals are easily visible to pick out for playtime, but also up off the floor and out of the way. This especially makes sense in the first year of life, when baby is too young to have any stuffies in the crib for naps or nighttime.

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A second idea is to buy a large wreath from a craft store, and attach stuffed animals with floral wire. I like this solution for larger animals that were a bit too heavy in the hammock. Poke the wire through a bit of the stuffing in their backs (don’t worry, they won’t feel it!), and attach securely around the frame.

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This is a great way to display stuffed animals, functioning almost like a mobile or visual stimulus near the crib.

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If you’re feeling truly ambitious, here’s a third solution. (Note: we skipped this one!).

Buy a 2-inch thick dowel from your local Home Depot, cut to measure the height of your baby’s room. You’ll need to set the pole in wooden brackets on the floor and ceiling of the nursery. Use screw-in hooks along the length of the pole for stuffed animals to climb the “tree.”

If you attempt this third stuffed animal idea, I’d love to see pictures or hear how it went in the comments!

Classroom or Naptime Keepsake

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A stuffed friend can make all the difference if your child feels anxious about school, or needs an extra snuggle at naptime. And when your child has a hand in making that stuffed friend, things are even better!

I am no sewer, so this craft was entirely new territory for me, requiring a sheet of cotton canvas from the craft store. First I asked Travis what shape he’d like his comforting keepsakes to be. The first was a small car, which we made small enough to fit in his school backpack. Then we traced a larger free-form shape for naptime, sort of like a cloud, but mostly abstract.

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Cut out your designs (you’ll need two of each, to be the front and back of the stuffie), and paint with fabric paint. This was a fun chance to use our paint roller! Let dry completely.

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You can decorate the keepsakes further before sewing and stuffing. Try gluing on pieces of felt, or coloring with fabric markers. Travis opted for the latter.

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Next it was time to stuff and sew! This meant a special trip to visit grandma and her sewing machine – Travis was ecstatic seeing the machine in action.

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At home, we finished the keepsakes with stuffing; Travis loved helping poke it into the furthest corners.

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He was so proud to set his naptime keepsake on his bed.

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Lastly we tucked the small car stuffie in his backpack, just in case he needs to give it a special squeeze at school.

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Bathtub Fun

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Don’t reserve the bathtub for actual bath time – you might find you have even more fun when the tub is dry!

To wit, these two simple games are sure to delight. Surprise your child by filling his or her tub with all the stuffed animals in the house. Travis’s eyes popped with amazement! He climbed right in of course… and then his favorite part was tossing the animals out.

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He is also fascinated by the shower in the master bathroom, particularly the shower curtain. There’s no need to have watched the Wizard of Oz to understand why hiding behind the curtain before a big reveal is a fun game.

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You can take turns with your toddler pretending to be the “wizard” while they pull back the curtain, and then vice versa. Or skip the wizardry and just make it a game of “peek a boo”!

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