Build a Cool House

This prompt from Parents magazine was the perfect project for a rainy summer day! We raided the craft bin to build a house. What kind of house you ask? It can be made of anything and for any toys your kids desire. To wit, my toddler loved it for her Calico Critters, and my son loved it as a Lego fortress!

To start, I pulled out a bunch of old delivery boxes in various sizes, as well as other building materials like empty cardboard tubes, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, masking tape, and rubber bands.

To start, we taped a few of the boxes together in a configuration that took shape piece by piece. Older kids can design their own layout. With two-year-old Veronika as the guide, I taped things together according to how she wanted it.

She loved “helping” as we added towers and turrets from the paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes. There was a even a secret room around back.

A few craft sticks taped together made neat fences.

At this stage Veronika used it as a house for little cats and bunnies. We added some of her toy furniture inside, and it kept her so busy and playful!

Later when big brother Travis got home, he immediately wanted to tape on a few extra towers. He also used the pipe cleaners for decoration. Pom poms, paint, and anything else that strikes your kids’ fancy can be added as embellishments, too!

Needless to say it was soon a fortress for his Lego figures.

Let your children’s imaginations take the lead on this one, because it’s the perfect project for open-ended play.

Shampoo Science Lab

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When your bottle of baby shampoo is near the end, never fear: you have the perfect amount left to make a mad scientist lab!

To set up a mini “laboratory” for Veronika today, I first poured the remaining shampoo into a glass measuring cup, then added other tools and ingredients. Think: beakers, measuring cups, whisks, and basters, along with other ingredients like baking soda, white vinegar, and water.

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Now it was simply time to mix and match! I demonstrated for Veronika to start ,adding some baking soda and some vinegar to the cup with the shampoo for a fizzy reaction worthy of a witch’s cauldron. But then it was up to her!

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She loved pouring water into all the various cups and containers, especially once we tinted it green and yellow with food coloring.

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The baster was a big hit for sucking up one potion and transferring it from container to container. Incidentally this is great for fine motor skills, too.

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Even once we neared the end of play, and I began rinsing out the cups and spoons, she loved getting her hands soapy and tracing the leftover baking soda in the bottom of the tray.

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What’s your little scientists favorite concoction? Please share in the comments!

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Fun Flower Garden Containers

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I’ve long wanted to get the kids into gardening (beyond the plastic cup seeds we’ve planted!) but I hesitate to buy planters since I have no green thumb myself. Enter this adorable upcycling idea for garden containers, made from empty soy milk cartons. They’re just right for kids to plant flowers or herbs, with no commitment.

To start, I cut one side flap off each of two empty soy milk cartons, then thoroughly washed with soap and water and let dry.

We headed outside with our containers on a hot morning. I had a new set of garden toys for the kids, to add to the fun, including a mini wheelbarrow, gardening tools, and even pretend flower pots. These will be fun to mime garden play even when we’re not actually planting!

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But now to set up our real containers, Veronika helped scoop potting soil into each of the cleaned out cartons.

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Pat down the dirt and then water until moist. Our elephant watering can is always a big hit.

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Next, we made small holes in the dirt with our fingers to about 1/4-inch deep, and dropped in seeds. Big brother Travis loved this part! We used one carton for flowers (you could even plant homemade paper seed bombs)…

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… and the second carton for herbs.

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Of course we’ll have to wait a while to see the fruits of our labor, but for this morning, the kids weren’t done yet! First there was fun to be had planting the fake flowers in real dirt.

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Then they wanted to water the grass and clover in the yard.

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Gardening is such a beautiful way to get kids outside and interacting with nature, even when it’s as simple as beginner gardening like this.

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Update: We have growth! It’s been just over two weeks since we planted the herbs, and now they are just starting to pop up. Travis in particular is so excited for when the plants are large enough to snip off some and use in our kitchen.

Planter var

Make a Sailor a Boat

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Veronika recently played with a box in a very free-form way, where we let the box serve as a prompt for imagination, but with almost no embellishments. Today’s play was the opposite, carefully crafting an upcycled box for a specific use: A boat!

I started with details like the sail and mast first, because I knew Veronika would be antsy to climb in for a ride and not want to wait for paint to dry. Use tape (or hot glue) to rig up two dowels one one end of the box, then attach tissue paper or fabric for the sail. We used the latter, with a fun whale print that was just right for the open seas.

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Next, cut a steering wheel shape from construction paper and tape to a craft stick, then attach at the end of the box opposite the sail.

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Don’t forget to cut out circles for portholes, too!

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Veronika couldn’t wait to cast off from shore! The box was just the right size for her and one stuffed animal passenger to sail around the globe (well, apartment).

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Once she’d had her fill of sailing, I did take the time to paint. Black, blue, and white stripes gave the box a quick nautical sheen! Now she was content to wait before hopping in for another sail.

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Anchors aweigh!

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Play in a Box

Boxes can be anything and everything, but often when we play with them, I give Veronika a prompt or we embellish the boxes in some way. Today, we had several empty delivery boxes in the house, and I simply presented them to her as is, curious to see what she’d do with them!

First, she wanted to climb in. I did add a little bit of detail with crayon so she had a “steering wheel” and dashboard, and now it was her race car! Similarly, you can quickly make a box into a boat or plane with just a few swipes of crayon.

Next, I turned the box so the opening was on the bottom. Now it was a perfect table! I loved watching her stage a tea party in the afternoon sunlight. A box like this is also perfect for kitchen or restaurant play.

Finally, we turned a few smaller boxes on their sides. Now they were a perfect stable for horses…

…or a cozy house for her puppy dog!

What will your child do with a box? Please share in the comments!

Playdough Cars

I’d been saving up a variety of household items for a while with this project in mind, all of which meant this morning I could delight Veronika with a full town for her to drive playdough cars through. This project can easily be tailored to multiple ages; older kids can be a part of some or all of the set-up, depending on their age, while the youngest tots will simply enjoy playing in the result!

To start, I drew roads on black construction paper, adding white crayon for the dividing lines, and taped them down as a ring road around our coffee table.

Next, green tissue paper went in the center as the grass. I then stuffed additional sheets of tissue paper into the tops of empty paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes, for trees of varying heights.

For little people, simply draw smiley faces on clothespins.

Now our little town just needed cars! Veronika helped shape play dough into long ovals, and then we added “wheels”, which were a variety of juice and soy milk caps I’d been saving up.

She loved chugging these along the road.

And also loved putting little people inside for a car ride.

Uh oh, traffic jam!

This little make-believe neighborhood was so easy to put together, and yet such a delight!

Cardboard Flower Prints

Don’t toss those latest bxoes from Amazon just yet! Flaps of corrugated cardboard curl up to make a print that looks just like a flower, letting even a toddler paint a full spring bouquet or garden! This trick from The Toddler’s Busy Book is so simple to put together, with lovely results.

To start, cut flaps from boxes that are ideally about 10 inches long by 6 inches tall. Rip the cardboard slightly to reveal the corrugated ribs inside, if needed. Don’t worry if it isn’t exact; as long as the corrugated groves are evident along the 10-inch edge, the project will work.

Roll up tightly and secure with a rubber band. You can see already how the cardboard is now the shape of a pretty rose!

I set out paint for Veronika in red and purple, and then showed her how to dip the rolled edge of the cardboard in the paint before pressing onto construction paper.

“Flowers!” she said with such delight. She experimented with one color or mixing them, and soon had a field of blossoms.

Once the paint dried, I connected them together with green marker for flower stems, and she was so proud to see the garden take shape up on our fridge.


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!