Winter Picnic

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We’re in the final stretch of winter, and if you’re equally sick of being indoors and dying to get your toddler outside, here’s the perfect idea: Don’t wait! Throw a winter indoor picnic instead.

While Veronika was napping, I set the whole stage including big blankets on the floor, soft balls to throw and play with, and a picnic basket full of little lunch items.

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When she woke up, she immediately needed to check everything out. The balls were a blast to play with, and soon she and big brother were happily devouring their meal.

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We invited a few “babies” along, and Veronika loved putting them in and out of the picnic basket!

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Older kids might have fun talking about favorite warm weather memories as they eat. My two were just thrilled with the change of location from the kitchen table! Did they eat as much as usual? No, but we sure had fun.

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Easy Nature Sensory Bag

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You could do this easy sensory activity with a toddler in any season, but it was particularly nice to fit in a little bit of nature in the winter. An unseasonably warm day meant our snow melted and Veronika and I headed outside briefly to find wintery treasures.

We returned inside with a pine cone, pine branches, a few leaves, and acorns. I filled a gallon-sized zip-top bag with just a bit of water, then added our treasures.

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Veronika was immediately intrigued when I handed it to her at her high chair tray (older toddlers might liked this taped down to a table). We talked about the different textures, especially the hard, round acorns.

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Because the colors were a bit drab this time of year, I ended up slipping inside a few tiny red jingle bells to mimic the look of red berries. Ok, so they were not really from nature, but they added quite the pop! She loved poking these around through the water with one finger.

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We can’t wait to do this activity in the spring, and see how different our nature bag looks!

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Brighten Dark Winter Nights

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We are loving winter so far, with snow to play in and forts to build. The key, I have learned, to loving this darkest season is to keep things cozy. Here are four fun ways we’ve found to brighten the nights that begin as early as 4 p.m.!

First, we had an extra string of Christmas tree lights, and I gave Travis permission to hang them in his room.

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He loved that these had the option for flashing or steady modes, and he could control it with a button.

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Next, we made glow-in-the-dark paintings. Your kids can be deliberate or artsy with this activity…

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…Or just blob on the paint, as Travis did. He wanted maximum glow!

Brighten Nights (9)Next, we made a campfire. We scribbled brown marker on paper, rolled the paper up, and taped shut for quick “logs”.

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All our battery-powered tea lights in the house provided the perfect glow for reading Christmas stories and singing carols. A winter camp out!

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While we were at the “campfire”, we made sure to act out stories with shadow puppets, too.

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In sum, we’re staying cozy and happy, and excited for dark nights to come.

How to… Build a Snow Fort

 

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It’s only the third day of December and Travis is on the second snow day off from school. That meant we had to test out Highlights magazine’s tips for making the best snow fort!

Highlights recommended first delineating an area for your fort with a stick. We used a shovel instead, making a big square on our patio and then mounding up the walls to give us a base.

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To make bricks for the walls, fill a rectangular container with snow. Drizzle with a little water, than add a final layer of snow on top.

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Depending on the consistency of your snowfall, you may or may not need that extra water. We soon found that we did not – today anyway! Continue building until you have several layers of “bricks”.

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We even tried adding windows.

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Simply twist an empty soup can to drill a little peephole.

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Even more fun was adding food color to a spritz bottle; now we could decorate our fort’s walls with art (though I wish Travis hadn’t opted for orange!).

 

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Travis loved being in charge of the “moat”, shoveling a long path away from our fort.

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And we even armed ourselves with ammo, in case enemies (i.e. neighborhood friends) happened to storm the castle!

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Don’t forget a side door to sneak out of! What special activities to you do on a snow day off from school? Please share in the comment!

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Pretend-Play Hot Cocoa

fake cocoa (6)Ok, so this cute little craft won’t really warm the kids up during the polar vortex, but it will get their imaginative juices flowing! We loved this pretend play idea from High Five magazine.

I set up a table for Travis with all the materials we’d need: newspaper, brown paper, cotton balls, and big mugs for our “cocoa”.

First we needed to wad up a piece of newspaper for each cup.

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Stuff in a mug to make a base.

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Next, rip brown construction paper into pieces; smaller is better. Once you have a lot of pieces, crumple each up.

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Add these pieces to your mug, and you’ll have a chocolaty cup of cocoa!

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Travis loved adding “marshmallows” (soft cotton balls).

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We thought it would be neat to trick his dad with this one, telling him we’d made him cocoa. Surprise! It wasn’t really meant to drink.

We also set up a little cafe for a few stuffed animal friends.

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Travis did tire of the game rather quickly after that, but some kids may want to run their “hot cocoa stand” for a while. Have fun serving up drinks, making a full cocoa cafe, and more. I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Rosemary Focaccia

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The second recipe from Travis’s “Fireside Feast”¬†Raddish kit was for focaccia – a true, yeast bread. I was quite impressed, since I didn’t make bread with yeast until I was in my twenties, and here I was coaching my four-year-old through the process!

The recipe said to start with warm water, and from my own baking days, I always make sure that the temp is between 100 and 110 degrees F before adding yeast. Travis loved helping use my thermometer, watching it inch up to 100.

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We put the warm water in a bowl and added 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 packet yeast, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. This was a great chance to talk about yeast: that it’s actually an alive microorganism. Travis couldn’t believe it, and loved learning that the yeast eats sugar, and then dies once it’s heated in the oven.

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Next we stirred in 4 and 1/4 cups flour and 1 tablespoon salt to the yeast mixture.

Turn the dough out onto a surface and knead for 8 minutes; the recipe helpfully featured kneading directions on the back. I was so proud of Travis getting the little heels of his hands right in there! This was definitely a messy recipe, but so worth the fun we had!

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Set the dough aside to rise for 1 hour, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Not in the recipe but a helpful tip: coat your bowl with cooking spray so the dough doesn’t stick.

Coat a baking sheet with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and turn the dough out onto the sheet. Flip over so both sides are coated in oil, and pat to the edges of the pan. Use your fingers to make holes in the dough, pressing all the way through to the pan.

Next we needed to explore rosemary. Your child can help strip the rosemary leaves from the stalks, and you can talk about the smell and appearance of it. Then mince to equal 1 tablespoon.

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Sprinkle the rosemary over the dough, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan sprinkles. Bake at 400 degrees F for 17 minutes.

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The recipe was done, but not the fun! The card suggested truly making this a fireside feast, but failing to have a fireplace in our apartment, I drew one on craft paper, and set up tealights and a picnic blanket.

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Travis loved that this was where we had dinner! We even added ambient sound from the internet for a crackling fire, and talked about how gathering at fires is one of the oldest human traditions alive. I asked Travis about other traditions he could think of, and we settled on singing songs.

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To continue the “fireside” fun, we returned at dessert time. This was super cozy, with mugs of hot cocoa, plus roasted chestnuts and marshmallows, even though we didn’t actually roast them over our fire.

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We played a round of Charades, and read a winter book (Jan Brett’s The Snowy Nap) for extra hygge points. Once again, I’m quite impressed with the depth of each lesson and recipe in Raddish Kids. Stay tuned for the final Fireside Feast recipe soon!

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Cozy Minestrone

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Here is the first of three main recipes from Travis’s first¬†Raddish Kit, with the theme of a Fireside Feast. A few notes on the subscription, as this was our first box from the company. Each month includes new items for your child’s kitchen. In this introductory box, we received an apron, which Travis proudly donned…

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… plus Travis’s very own set of dry measuring cups.

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These featured a fantastic collapsible interior, perfect not only for kids’ exploratory interest, but also because they will store flat in the kitchen. I told Travis that these cups were his, not mom’s, and we’d only use them for recipes in which he helps me.

Because Raddish is not aimed at a particular age subset (as with Cricket or Koala Crates, for example), the information has to appeal to a wide age range. You can tailor recipes and lessons accordingly. For example, there are extremely detailed lesson plans that accompany each of the three recipes, but much of the info is simply too advanced for my four-year-old chef.

As a result, I’m sticking with the basic lesson on each recipe card, and will save the more detailed info for when Travis is older. For those considering a subscription, I will point out that the lesson plans are fantastic, whether you simply want to teach your child more about food, science, math, etc., or whether you are homeschooling.

But now it was time to tackle Cozy Minestrone!

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Thanks to the recipe card, Travis could go through the ingredient list with me as we gathered the food and tools.

First up was lots of chopping. We sliced two vegan Italian sausages and cooked until brown on each side.

Next, we cut 1 small onion in half, peeled the skin, sliced, and then diced.

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Cut 1 large carrot into round slices.

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Smash 3 garlic cloves with a knife and mince – this was a mommy step in our household. Big kids can definitely tackle it!

Cut 1 large zucchini into slices, then each slice into quarters. At this point, Travis’s hand was tired of chopping, but he avidly watched as I took over.

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Cut the cooked sausage slices into quarters. Combine all these chopped ingredients in a bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped ingredients, along with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; cook for 10 minutes. Travis was a bit nervous about the stove.

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Meanwhile, open a 15-ounce can of white beans and drain in a colander.

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Add the beans to the pot, along with broth (we used 4 cups vegetable broth + 2 cups water), 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, 1 teaspoon dried basil, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and stir in 1 cup uncooked ditalini pasta. Continue to cook for 15 minutes, until the pasta is tender.

We served with warm slices of Italian bread, for a meal that was exactly as the recipe promised – cozy!

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The lesson with this recipe was on Eating the Rainbow – a perfect example because the soup includes almost every color of veggie. As he ate, I asked what colors were in the soup. We identified red tomatoes, orange carrots, green zucchini, and white onions. That left the blue/purple group missing from our soup to complete the rainbow.

The culinary skill for this recipe was knife cuts, which big kids should enjoy. Being a bit too advanced for Travis, I set up a plate for him with: matchsticks, rounds, diced, and minced. He enjoyed trying all 4 over lunchtime!

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There was also a fun word scramble; non-readers can still complete the challenge by having you read the clues and guessing the word.

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Overall, I’m very impressed with Raddish so far. We have two more recipes from the Fireside Feast kit to come, so stay tuned!

 

 

Picture Frame Winter Scene

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Here’s one of those crafts that didn’t exactly turned out as I imagined! My little artist had his own plans, but the whole point was the fun and the crafting moment together, not perfection.

To start, you’ll need a simple frame (you can find these cheap at a craft store, measuring about 5×7 inches). Travis loves the mechanics of removing the back off a frame, so was delighted to discover our project enabled him to do so.

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Cut a piece of leftover holiday wrapping paper to fit the glass of the frame, and insert.

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I set out acrylic paints and invited Travis to draw any winter-themed scene that would fit nicely with our Christmas tree background. He chose white for snow, and I encouraged him to paint a snowman, thinking of how the body is made up of various circles.

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Travis had his own plans, making a big snowy blanket of white. “It’s covering the trees,” he insisted.

 

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Luckily at this point I snapped a pic, because he soon decided he needed to “snow” over the trees completely with white paint. I laughed but didn’t tell him this rather negated the point of having wrapping paper inside the frame.

He then wanted to mix other colors over his white. “I’m an artist!” he declared, doing swirls of paint.

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Well, we didn’t end up with a winter scene, but we did end up with a good time!

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I encourage you to have fun with these, though. Your children could paint something quite beautiful in front of the wrapping paper background, whether snowmen or ornaments or anything else that fits the season. I’d love to hear what they come up with in the comments!

Scarf Play

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Here’s a variation on dangling toys for a winter baby – turn the tassels of your warm scarf into the latest fascinating object to watch!

First, I simply dangled my scarf, and let Veronika look at the tassels.

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Seeing her wide-eyed excitement, I next held the tassels closer to her fingers. Sure enough, she clasped her fingers around them once in reach.

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I then held the tassels very still within arms-length, to see if she would reach out. Yes indeed!

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She also seemed to enjoy it when I made the tassels “jump” down to her belly and back up again.

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What an easy and delightful game! It was just right for a few moments of one-on-one play, and perfect for the season.

Jack Frost

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Frosty windows in July? As a follow-up to a recent “Christmas in July” event we attended, it was fun to be silly and bring a little winter to our hot summer home with homemade frost.

The concoction for this game is decidedly adult, so as a warning, do supervise closely to be sure that none of it is ingested.

First, mix together 5 tablespoons Epsom salts and 1 cup beer. The mixture gets so foamy right away – fun!

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Let the mixture stand for 1/2 an hour, then head on over to a window to make frost. Note: I recommend covering the floor or any window sills with an old towel.

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Using a sponge, dip into the mixture and dab onto the windows. Travis loved this part.

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We then dabbed with a wet paper towel, before letting the mixture dry. To be honest, the final sparkling effect was not as noticeable as I had hoped, but we did have little streaks that looked like winter morning frost!

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And then perhaps the most enjoyable part for my little helper, we got to wipe the windows clean.

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