Friday, June 29, 2012

Music We Love: Frances England

L is a lover of music (what toddler isn't, right?).  Fortunately there is lots of great music out there for kids these days.  One of L's favorites (and mine too!) is the magnifcent Frances England, who captures childhood in beautiful, folksy, catchy tunes that manage never to get stale...even after many shuffles of the old iPod.

One of my absolute favorite Frances tunes is the little ditty "Sleepyhead Mommy," which any mom will tell you is really the anthem of motherhood.

We have and adore all three of Frances's wonderful records and we highly recommend each one for kiddos and parents alike! Happy listening!

Fascinating Creatures (2006)

Family Tree (2008)

Mind of My Own (2010)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Popcorn (Sensory) Tub. No Butter Necessary.

The husband and I are both movie theater concession stand alumni, so popcorn is a pretty popular subject in our house. While we don't let L indulge just yet, you can imagine my excitement when I found some awesome popcorn snack cups in the dollar bin at Target. Now, what to do with these rad plastic works of art (other than snarf popcorn out of them)?  Use them in a sensory tub, of course!

Along with the fabulous snack containers, I added one bag each of white and yellow unpopped kernels.  And as luck would have it, I had recently been cleaning out a section in the garage and found a box full of fluffy white Styrofoam packing peanuts, which gave the excellent illusion of popped corn.

Now admittedly, L doesn't really understand what popcorn is or what it's all about, as her experience has been limited by my necessity to not let her choke.  All the same, the sensory aspect made her lack of knowledge on the topic completely moot. The nice fluff of the packing peanuts complimented the hard little kernels, which made an excellent plinking sound in the plastic containers.  L learned a new word, pronounced "pa-cone" and really stayed engaged in this tub for quite a while.

A word of wisdom from those with experience: if you are planning to do this activity outdoors, make sure it isn't a windy day.  In the midst of all our fun, we spent a good deal of time chasing rogue packing peanuts all over the yard as they were carried away by the gusty wind.  Other than that little snaffoo, I have to say we haven't had this much fun in while!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stickers are Awesome! Or, Sticker Play for Fine Motor Practice

One of L's very favorite things to do is play with stickers.  In addition to being a great art tool that has virtually no mess, stickers can be used to work on a wide variety of developing skills in kids.  Providing kids with stickers featuring shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and a large collection of various objects not only encourages those concepts, but also provides a fantastic opportunity for kids to practice language. But the best part is, stickers are AWESOME. Period. Stickers rock. They are tons of fun and with so many different types to choose from, they rarely get boring.

I encourage all of the above with L while we work with stickers, but another wonderful thing about sticker play is that it is great practice for fine motor skills. All of the precision required to pinch those flat little stickers goes a long way in helping prepare kids for the future task of gripping a pencil.  As a teacher, I know this to be true. As a mom, I just love it that my kid is having fun.

I like to offer L stickers featuring things she's already interested in, such as the dogs in this masterpiece.

I also encourage L to use markers or crayons along with her stickers for additional fine motor practice. This work of art featuring sea creatures was created after a trip to the aquarium.

A novel canvas is also a fun element to add to sticker play.  This piece of aluminum foil was anchored to L's art table for two days and as a result there was quite the eclectic party happening by the time we hung it up on her art wall.

Confession: I love sticker play as much as (maybe more than) the kiddo. I don't even mind when the back of my T-shirt becomes that novel canvas! Because stickers rock! Seriously!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mystery Canvas: Styrofoam

Painting on any surface is always great fun, so when I recently acquired a big square of Styrofoam, I knew immediately what to do with it.  L and I set out with a couple bowls of paint, some paint brushes and dabbers, and got right to work.

Hmmm...what to do with this?

I really thought that the whole Styrofoam element would make this experience so interesting that L would be at it for hours (okay, even I'm not that crazy!). But as usual, she surprised me with what she found even more interesting than the canvas...

...her hands, of course!  The activity quickly turned in a different direction, but luckily I always anticipate that and was ready to encourage this awesome sensory play as well.

What a lovely squish!

This looks interesting!

Who needs a canvas with all this clean skin?

Okay, so we ended up with more paint on the kid than on the Styrofoam, but she had a blast and really, what's a little mess to a mama who loves to let her kid explore?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Coffee Filter Art

One of the things I like to do best for art projects with L is to use random things that I already have around my house.  Usually projects like this take little advanced planning and are generally a mystery because you just never quite know how things will turn out.  I channeled some of my earliest teaching days for one of our recent art projects, and it turned out to be a complete blast.  Without further ado, coffee filter art!

To begin with, I invited L to color all over coffee filters using washable markers.

Once the coffee filters were colored to L's taste, I handed over a small spray bottle filled with water.  The idea here is that the water will cause the marker to bleed and the coffee filter ends up with these excellent patterns and mixtures of colors.  

L spent a good amount of time exploring the spray bottle and attempting to squeeze the thing to get the water to come out.  After a bit, she asked for my help, so we squeezed the bottle together and watched the colors bleed all over the coffee filters.

After they had dried a bit, we displayed them in our front window.  It was gloriously sunny that morning, and they ended up looking like lovely sun catchers floating over the living room. L was even more thrilled when we went outside and she could still see them from the street.

This was a super easy project with very little muss or fuss. L was happy and engaged and covered in marker for an entire day...she's a bit of a sun catcher herself, really.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

3 Ways to Use a Cake Pan (No Baking Required!)

One square cake pan + assorted magnets = easy, engaging activities that are a cinch to prepare!

As I am always on the prowl for things to keep L's little hands busy and her little brain engaged, I was thrilled beyond measure to find yet another collection of activities to add to my busy bag stash. (Click here to see some other busy bag ideas!)  I don't know if this is a general toddler trait or specific to my own little tot, but our house runneth over with magnets of every shape, size, and assortment imaginable and L finds them all fascinating.  In my quest to add to our list of boredom busters and to declutter at least one corner of my house, I had a momentary flash of brilliance and decided to pair said magnets with a square cake pan: instant, travel-sized magnet play!

L is all about the sea critters these days, and she got quite a kick out of the fact that they were all swimming around in this tiny metallic sea.

Sprinkle in a little letter learning with alphabet magnets.  We have multiple sets of letter magnets in our house, so I didn't feel too bad about sacrificing one set for the boredom buster cause.

Picture cards offer amazing opportunities for language.  These were made of photos I chopped out of magazines and covered in contact paper, with a magnet stuck to the back.  Also notice that for this magnet set, we flipped the cake pan around and used the underside as opposed to the inside of the pan.

The nice thing about the small cake pan is that it isn't overwhelmingly huge so it's perfect for tiny hands and it fits nicely into a shoulder bag or backpack.  I put the magnets into sandwich bags for storage in between uses, or at least I will once I wrestle the whole thing away from L!

How do you keep your kids engaged on the go?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Books We Love: The Dog Book Round-Up

We are a family of book lovers and dog lovers in equal measure, so for this edition of Books We Love, we offer you this very fetching collection of books about our fine furry friends.

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

A wordless picture book in which Daisy the dog displays her love and devotion
for her bouncy red ball, this is a marvelous title for even the youngest of
readers and listeners.

Puppies! Puppies! Puppies! by Susan Meyers & David Walker

Rhyming verse and some of the most endearing illustrations you'll ever find
make this little gem a hit with the younger set. For quite a stretch there, L
was requesting this one roughly ten times a day.

Please Take Me for a Walk by Susan Gal

Sweet sentiment and inviting illustrations implore you to take this excitable puppy for a walk around a very busy neighborhood with lots to see and do. The sheer number of playful pooches in this book will have your little dog lover begging for more!

Doggies by Sandra Boynton

Boynton lends her characteristic genius to this counting book full of dogs doing what they do best - barking! Little ones will love to bark right along!

Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman

A classic for the ages, this title will spin around and around in your head even after you've closed the cover.  And around and around. And around some more. Did I mention I've read this one a time or two?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Quick & Easy Visual Discrimination Cards

Visual discrimination is a child's ability to identify differences in visual images, and it is imperative to learning to read, write, and do just about anything across the curriculum.  A great way to help youngsters practice this important skill is by encouraging them to find matching images within a group of similar images.  Inspired by an idea I found at (you can see the original post here), I made two sets of visual discrimination cards (quite the catchy name, eh?) for L and I to play with.

First I took a sheet of sturdy card stock and cut it in half. Each of these halves would be the large card for each game.  Then I quartered a second sheet of card stock to serve as my smaller card.

I made a set of three smaller cards to go with each larger card. I put only three or four stickers on each of the smaller cards.  The idea is to point to one of the stickers on the smaller card, then encourage L to find the same sticker on the bigger card.  Limiting the number of stickers on the smaller cards makes it more likely that L will be successful in finding the match on the bigger card without frustration.

I covered all of the cards with contact paper, just for the sheer hope that this will help them last a while.  For our purposes, this will be an adult-led activity, but for older kids this could easily be done independently and is still a great way to practice visual discrimination.

This entire process took me a little over half an hour and will be an excellent addition to our busy bags. I also plan to make a set using pictures of our family!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Seeing Stars: Ice Play with Shapes and Colors

Lately we're seeing stars all over the place! Or, more accurately, L is seeing stars and pointing them out to the rest of us. (This has really been quite the adventure lately, with July 4th coming up.)  Stars are really the first shapes L has learned to identify correctly and consistently, so I figured why not take this new found love of wonderful stars and make a day of it!

I found a star ice mold recently and snatched it up, knowing that L is really digging stars at the moment.  I made several batches of ice cubes stars, using food coloring to make an assortment of colors.

For added fun, I lined our sensory tub with aluminum foil. This added a nice sparkle and of course provided that amazing crinkle!

L got busy exploring right away! One of the first things she noticed was the the color from the ice stars came off on her fingers.

Even Zephyr joined in the fun!

This activity provided so much discussion! We talked about the different colors of the stars, how cold the ice felt on our hands, and about the colored water that was left in the bottom of the tub.

L also quickly discovered that the stars could double as some nice body paint...

...or deck crayons! By the end of this activity, we were all sufficiently wet and stained, which was all part of the tremendous fun! Ice play proves to be a hit time after time!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

For the Birds!

One of L's many current obsessions is birds. She loves everything to do with birds. She loves pointing at them, shouting out in glee when she hears one twitter, and watching them zoom away when she comes running.  The girl is crazy for anything with a beak and wings! I wanted to capitalize on her love of feathered things, so we recently made a super simple bird feeder using only an empty milk jug, a length of ribbon, and a handful markers.

I used a box cutter to make a large opening in the front of a gallon milk jug that had been washed out and dried. Then I handed it over to L for her expert decor.  We used washable markers which were great for this project, as the colors are bright and showed up nicely on the opaque jug.  Then we headed outside to string it up with ribbon in a bush in the front yard.

Welcome, birds!

First we scouted out the perfect spot to hang the feeder.  I tied it up with a short length of ribbon by the handle.

Once we had determined where we wanted the feeder to hang, I pulled it down so that L could help fill it up with bird seed.  We talked about what might come visit our feeder (maybe a friendly squirrel of two might even show up!) and about how we would come back out and check on it often so that we could keep it filled up.

Now that the feeder was nice and full of delicious treats for our neighborhood birdies, we hung it back up and sat back to see who might visit.  L was so excited about even the potential for feathered visitors that she jumped all over the yard.  Here's hoping some birds will turn up soon!

Monday, June 18, 2012

3 Super Simple Sensory Tubs

When you spend your days with the toddler set, you have to be pretty comfortable with sensory experiences.  Often I find myself in the grocery store thinking, "This would be great in a sensory table!"  So today I've collected three super simple sensory tubs that have recently made an appearance at our house, and I can tell you genuinely that they are each toddler approved.

Sensory Tub #1 - Beans and Cars

For our tub, I used a nice mixture of beans of different shapes, sizes and colors. I included lima beans, pinto beans, lentils, black eyed peas, split peas, and navy beans. Please note: uncooked kidney beans are poisonous if consumed and should NOT be included in a sensory tub!!

Next I just threw in some of L's plastic vehicles and away we played! She absolutely loved this tub and asked for it every day afterward for a week.

Sensory Tub #2 - Oatmeal and Farm Animals

For this tub I used about three-quarters of a container of uncooked oatmeal, which is great because not only is it an excellent texture, but it also has a very nice smell.

We added in L's collection of farm animals (and the farmer too, of course!) and got busy. L loved to pretend that the animals were eating the oats.

Sensory Tub #3 - Alphabet Soup

For our alphabet soup tub, I added water, soup bowls and spoons (these were actually ice cream bowls I found in the dollar bin at Walmart), foam letters, and a ladle.

L quickly got busy scooping and pouring (her favorite activity!) with the ladle and bowls.  I'm not too worried about pushing the letter learning at this point, but it was a great opportunity for language and for her dad and I to point out what letters she scooped up. As she gets older, this will be a fantastic activity for practicing letter recognition.

We absolutely adore sensory play at our house! What kind of sensory experiences do your kiddos enjoy?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Outdoor Adventures: Please Do Feed the Animals!

When I was a kid, being outdoors was not exactly my cup of tea. For whatever reason, I wasn't likely to be found out in the fresh air very often.  But having seen classrooms full of kids flourish in the great outdoors during my years of teaching, I am determined not to project my nose-crinkling disdain of outdoor activities onto my daughter, even if my enthusiasm isn't one hundred percent genuine. So what to do to get my kid outside?

We are very fortunate to live in an area where fantastic outdoor activities for kids abound. We recently took two separate trips to places where outdoor life is the thing to do, and we all had a blast at every turn.

Hungry baby goats are pretty feisty!

First we went to a local children's farmstead that offered plenty of opportunities for interacting with animals.  L had a fantastic time, and it made me really appreciate the wonders of experiencing things for the first time.

"Goat! Food!"

Next we visited a local wildlife preserve which houses elk and bison.  While we didn't have the opportunity to meet any bison on this particular outing, we did get up close and personal with some hungry elk, who were all too happy to take the apples and carrots L offered them.

These experiences have been sort of humbling for me, as I never really considered I could enjoy myself so immensely doing outdoor things.  The really fantastic part is that the entire family had lots of fun and created marvelous memories. And my enthusiasm was one hundred percent genuine.