Decorate a Castle

This might not have been the most intricate castle we’ve ever put together, but a few large boxes are all any child needs to be king or queen of the realm for the day!

I recommend starting this project the night before, unless you want very impatient kids waiting for paint to dry. We used a big bristle brush to slather the sides of 4 cardboard boxes with paint. Because it was a lot of surface area to cover, this quickly needed to become a multi-colored castle, but the kids loved the result.

In the morning, it was time to assemble. I cut a few holes in some of the boxes for various purposes; some were small holes to be windows; some were large for Veronika to be able to crawl from box to box; and one was cut out on three sides but still attached at the bottom, to be the drawbridge of course! Be prepared for kids already crawling through and playing while you work. Chances are you won’t be able to keep them away.

You can leave the tops of the boxes straight, or cut out a few crenelations.

To make a working drawbridge, just attach a string or rope to the drawbridge flap that your child can pull on. Now Veronika could safely guard against intruders (like a certain big brother).

For window curtains, I hot-glued a few fabric scraps to a wooden dowel, then hot-glued the dowel over the smallest cut-out.

The queen was ready to rule! Having recently discovered that chalk works great for coloring big boxes, this proved to be a much cleaner method for her to decorate than painting. Veronika loved scribbling, and wanted me to add rainbows and sunshine, too.

I loved watching her take charge of the decorations!

I recommend leaving up big creations like this for at least a week, so your child can revisit it, continue to decorate, and play in new ways. What will your child’s castle look like? Please share in the comments!

Upcycled Easter Eggs, Two Ways

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An empty cereal box is all you need as the base for the following two upcycled Easter egg projects. The first makes a beautiful table topper for your Easter holiday table (or other spring gathering), and the second looks lovely hung on a door or window!

For the table topper version, I traced a small egg shape onto one half of a cereal box, and cut out 4 eggs. Veronika helped paint in pastel colors. You’ll need to let this coat of paint dry before moving on to the next step, and if your kids are impatient, give the eggs a quick stint under a hairdryer.

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Next we used a q-tip (always a toddler favorite) to make dots on the eggs. Veronika loved dipping a cotton swab into yellow paint and making dots and blobs all over.

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Almost done! The final step was to give the eggs some sparkle by brushing on glitter glue. We should have waited for the yellow dots to dry first, because now everything sort of smeared together, but the eggs still looked pretty.

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To set them up as table toppers, cut an empty paper towel tube into a few rings, about 1/2-inch thick. Make notches in each so the eggs stand upright. Leave them just like this or add names so they double as place cards!

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For the second upcycled craft, I cut a large egg shape from the cereal box. We gave this one a coat of white paint.

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Next, I set out a tray with squares of tissue paper, all in pretty pastel shades. It’s easiest for a toddler if you cover the whole surface of the egg with white glue. This way, I could hand her a crumpled piece of the tissue paper and no matter where she placed it, it would stick!

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I briefly considered having her make patterns or rows in alternating colors, but quickly realized this was too advanced for Veronika. Instead, we ended up with an egg decorated in a pretty mish-mash of pastels.

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Dream Playground

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When I was in elementary school, I came up with the idea for a “trash playground”, imagining a mini playground crafted from leftover trash. For a brief moment, I was sure this idea would a) save planet Earth and b) make me famous. Imagine my delight, then, when I spotted the same idea in a recent Parents magazine: have kids raid the craft bin or recycle bin and turn the odds and ends into a playground for toys!

This project was great because it engaged both of my kids, but for different parts. First, Travis helped me design the playground. He loved mapping out elements like a giant slide (an empty paper towel tube taped to stacked plastic cups), a seesaw (a wood scrap balanced atop craft sticks as the fulcrum), and more.

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He decided that the slide should lead into a “ball pit” (made from pom poms and lollipop sticks).

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Then we needed a trampoline, which was crafted from playdough lined with more lollipop sticks.

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We left the glue to dry overnight and in the morning it was time for our expert toy tester (a.k.a. little sister Veronika) to test it out.

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Her bunnies loved the slide!

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Not to mention the seesaw and the tunnels to crawl through. She had fun in this miniature playground for ages!

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What will your child put in a mini playground? A jungle gym? Monkey bars? Swings? We’d love to hear in the comments!

Spare Part Sidekicks

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We’ve done projects in the past that are meant to clear out the craft bin; this project is similar, except was meant to clear out the tool box! Now’s the chance to use all those spare parts you might have lying around (think: paper clips, brads, washers, corks, screws, and bits of yarn).

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As a base for Travis’s pals, we used spare pieces of wood from a relative’s woodshop. If you don’t have wood scraps, rinsed out metal cans work great, too; just add tape around the rim to cover any sharp edges.

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Travis worked on the layout for each “sidekick”, deciding where the spare parts should go. He particularly wanted to use a cork as a big nose for one!

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I then handled the assembly since it involved hot glue. If your child wants to tackle the project solo, use glue dots instead.

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These sidekicks were ready to play!

A Morning in a Cardboard Box

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Travis had remote Zoom schooling today, which meant I had to find a way to keep Veronika entertained, out of his way, quiet (well, mostly quiet!), but also be nearby and ready to swoop in if Travis needed my help. What could possibly tick the boxes to fulfill this criteria? A giant cardboard box of course!

I’d been saving an old box for a while, because Veronika has recently shown a desire just to … sit in them! She gets such joy from climbing into delivery boxes, the bigger the better.

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For a spin, I decided to set up this particular box as a “dumpster”, an idea I spotted at Hands on as We Grow. Add recyclables like crumpled newspaper, saved snack boxes, and old sponges. Anything that seems like “trash” without actually being dirty will work!

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It turned our that she didn’t love this full box nearly as much as an empty one. That said, she latched onto the sponges right away. Soon she was “cleaning” the box, which I guess made this the cleanest dumpster in town!

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I helped her climb out and now those crumpled pieces of newspaper were perfect for target practice. Slam dunk!

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Meanwhile, I had also hidden a few cars and trucks under the debris to see if she wanted to hunt for them. She didn’t show much interest in the hidden cars in the box, so instead I cut off one of the box flaps and tilted it like a ramp against our lowest stair.

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Now, she loved zooming the cars down, and then started steering them up and down the ramp so carefully. I marveled at the control she’s developed playing with cars, for example always now turning them so the hood of the car faced forward.

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Travis’s Zoom class was still underway and we needed to buy more time with the box. So next up was chalk! It turns out that sidewalk chalk shows up beautifully on cardboard, and was a novelty compared to crayons.

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She told me she was drawing blue for a daytime sky, and then purple for dark! So I added a sun and moon, which made her so happy.

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She kept drawing in the box for almost half an hour by herself after that. Mission accomplished!

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DVD Case Towers

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I had an hour long Zoom this morning and needed a quick way to occupy Veronika. That meant I also needed a material that wouldn’t make a mess. Looking quickly around the room, I pulled out all our old DVD cases!

I had forgotten how much my son loved to play with these cases as a toddler, but we almost never think of them anymore (thanks, streaming TV). There are lots of ways toddlers can play with them! Opening and closing the cases is great for fine motor skills, and no doubt the shiny discs inside will capture attention.

But Veronika’s favorite way to play was to build towers. First I showed her that if she opened up the cases, they stood up on a more stable base and she could build the tower quite tall.

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This was admittedly tricky for her though, and she mostly loved knocking down the towers. The higher I made them, the bigger her delight!

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Much easier for her was stacking them lying one atop another. She delighted in seeing how tall she could make this stack grow by herself.

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Probably it would have reached her shoulders, but inevitably the temptation to push the stack over was too strong.

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Then she turned the DVD cases into slides for her toys!

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How does your toddler play with DVD cases (or other old media equipment)? Please share in the comments!

DIY Cups for Color Sorting

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Save up your empty non-dairy yogurt containers for a few days, and then you’ll have all the materials needed to make a color sorting game for your toddler!

I decided to stick with just three colors today (choosing the primary colors of blue, yellow, and red), instead of overwhelming Veronika with the full rainbow. It started out with some messy painting play, first painting each clean empty container with one color. Let dry completely.

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Once the containers were dry, they were ready for color sorting! We used a set of colored dominoes for this game, and Veronika could readily fill each one with the corresponding color domino. If you don’t have dominoes, try other small objects like pom poms or beads.

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But here’s the twist to this game; after the first round of proper sorting, we made it silly! I mixed up all the dominoes into the wrong colored cups, and challenged her to sort them back to where they belonged.

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She caught onto the humor of it, and laughed as she dumped the dominoes back and forth for a while, giggling that they were “trash”.

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Your toddler will end up with a big pile and can sort things back into their proper places once more.

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Flying Fish

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Before you recycle whatever magazine you’re currently reading, rip out a page or two and you’ll be able to make a quick batch of fish to delight your toddler!

On the magazine pages, I used a ruler to mark off one inch strips and then cut them out. Next, mark 1 inch in from both the top and the bottom. Cut a slit at this one inch mark from the left at the top and from the right at the bottom. Now, you can fold the strip of paper over itself so the notches slot together, making a fish tail shape.

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I recommend not just one, but a whole school of fish for maximum effect!

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When I had about a dozen “fish”, we let them fly! If these catch the wind just right, they flutter end over end until they hit the ground.

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Cue Veronika’s delighted squeals and eager cries for more!

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Needless to say we launched our fish to “swim” in the air many times before she tired of it. Your toddler can get in some good tossing and throwing practice, too!

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Box Flap Car Bridges

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Leftover flaps from Christmas packages were the perfect way to mix up Veronika’s car play today!

For set up, I simply pulled out an assortment of box flaps I’d saved, having cut the longest ones from packages we received in the run-up to the holiday. Ideally I would have liked to prop all of these flaps on top of still more cardboard boxes, but I only had one box left that was tall enough. In a pinch, chairs from our craft table could be additional supports for the ramps and brdiges.

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Anywhere I needed to attach two box flaps together, I clipped them with a clothespin. Veronika loved helping out as we set up this configuration, which turned into a neat triangle of bridges. I placed her directly in the center of all the flaps and then let a few cars loose along the ramps. She got the idea right away!

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The bridges are great for kids to experiment with, getting a little STEM lesson in the process. Anywhere they sag in a downhill, cars will roll with the force of gravity. Anywhere with an ascent, kids will have to push up.

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Veronika narrowly saved this car from disaster!

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She loved pushing cars along, zooming them down, and occasionally tossing them right off the ramps.

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In addition, the “fort” itself was a delight, especially once she discovered that she could crawl under the box flaps or back in all by herself, without me needing to lift her out.

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What a super fun way to recycle boxes and fit in car play.

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‘Let It Snow’ Winter Town

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Here’s a fun way to make a winter playset for kids, especially on days when it’s too cold to really go outside and play.

The first step is to paint toilet paper tubes white; the more tubes you have, the bigger your town will be! I considered having Veronika join in for this step of the project, but then decided to paint the night before so she wouldn’t have to wait for it to dry in the morning. I covered 4 tubes with white paint but then ran out and had to use sparkly silver on a few instead.

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In the morning, the kids helped set up the rest of this little town. First we decorated the tubes with marker to make windows and doors. Veronika loved proudly scribbling.

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Big brother Travis was very deliberate with his architectural features.

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He was particularly proud of this triangular window!

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For rooftops, we glued on white coffee filters (which I  had to trim slightly to fit). White cupcakes liners would work for this step, too.

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For snowy streets, I showed the kids how to pull cotton balls apart slightly so they were light and fluffy, just like snow on the ground. You might even consider piling a few cotton balls together to make “snowmen”!

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It was time to make our town sparkle with snow. Veronika wanted to use glitter glue and I only had purple, which spoiled the look slightly. But then we sprinkled over it with white glitter!

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Now it was a sparkly, snowy scene!

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Veronika loved adding play figures to wander in the streets of town. We included some seasonally-appropriate toys from her advent calendar, like a small Christmas tree and snowman.

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She loved the way the soft cotton balls felt, and also enjoyed putting her toy people inside the tube houses. I guess they were staying cozy and warm!

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What will go in your winter town? Please share in the comments!