Monday, January 31, 2011

Baby Love

Was sewing a simple heart garland for our dining room tonight...and ended up with two extra felt heart pairs. What to do? Make baby toys!

How to:

Cut 2 hearts from felt--they can be the same size or one can be slightly larger--whatever you prefer!

Sew around the heart, leaving about 1 inch open on a straight side for filling (backstitck several times before you stop).
(I used a machine, but you could also sew this very easily by hand--embroidery floss would be perfect for this task! Just use small stitches....)

Fill with dried beans--not too many--you want to leave room for them to rattle when the heart is shaken!

Finish sewing--I went ahead and did an extra "lap" around the whole heart again just to be sure it's secure.

I then used a lighter to gently "seal" the outside heart by running the lighter's flame quickly around the edge of the felt so that it won't pull apart when sucked on by little ones.

For the second heart, instead of the dried beans, I filled it with 6 tiny jingle bells!

Crunchy plastic, paper, small wooden beads, or even rice would also make good fillings....

These are perfect for babies who are learning cause and effect, how to hold and manipulate items, and how to explore with their hands and mouths.

These festive toys will be gifted tomorrow to a sweet lil' one we know!
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Pink playdough

Made a half-batch of my favorite recipe of homemade playdough, and of course we tinted it pink!
Q had fun breaking it in, watched over carefully by her puppy!

We keep the basket of playdough and playdough supplies on the workshelf at all times. Q knows that she has to ask before she can work with it, and she always has to work at her little table or the kitchen table.
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Fun working with beads

These are the cut-up mardi gras beads I blogged about a few days ago. Q has had fun putting them into different-sized bowls...sometimes sorting by color, sometimes just scooping them full. Usually she pretends they are soup for different family members. Love seeing her incorporate dramatic play into her day!
Had a boycott against pants this week....House rule was made that you don't have to wear pants in the house if you don't want, but you DO have to have on undies anytime you're outside the bathroom. :) Life with a twosie!
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Wind up toys

A fine motor activity out on our work shelf right now is a collection of wind-up toys. Great small muscle work in the fingers to twist the "winder." Also lots of fun!!
Some were Christmas gifts, several I bought in the $1 at Michaels and I've also bought them for $1 at Walgreens before. Windups are loved by all ages--from little bitty babies that just watch em go and are surprised when monkey jumps and dinosaur toddlers and preschoolers who can set them on their feet and wind them on their own, as these kids gain increasing muscle control in their fingers.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stuff to Glue

One thing I am loving lately is Q showing a little initiative and independence with the art cabinet. This morning I was finishing up some work on the computer and she announced she was going to glue. Once I said ok, she opened up the ART CABINET, got out some paper, some glue, her scissors and some snowflake sequins from the art cabinet and went to town creating a masterpiece!

My mom bought her a couple little packages of different sequins to glue--snowflakes and hearts. (Hobby Lobby has TONS of neato, cheap little packages of things to glue both in the regular craft section and also in the seasonal area). These are great because she can work with them herself. She loves the independence and she is meanwhile practicing great fine motor skills! And making some pretty art! Her signature on a piece of artwork is several slashes with scissors into the sides of the paper. You can se the edge of one on the far left side of the paper. :)

Having art materials ready and reachable for lil ones is a great way to foster more art-doing in the house!
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Last year's Valentine Book

I made a baggie book for her Valentines from last year. Simple and very versitile project!

*buy a package of freezer zipper bags (if you can get plain ones, do it. I couldn't find them so they have the little white part for writing on them. yuck)
*decide how many "pages" you want in your book.
*staple the tops (non zipper end) of 2 bags together (or sew--I used a regular stitch then a zig zag for durability)
*keep adding an additional bag and stapling/sewing until all your bags are added
*if you used staples, cover the top of your bag (over your staples) with wide tape--you can buy all colors of masking tape!
*if you sewed, you can sew around the edges of a wide ribbon to wrap around the top of your bag


Now decide how to fill your bag.
-Who Loves Baby? book with pics of family
-animal pictures from computer or magazine
-Things that are Green (or blue or red....)
-you can make a book with any theme, and change it out when you're ready!

**if you want to tape along the bottom of the zipper part once you've put in your pictures, use wide clear tape folded over. **

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Valentine Book

It makes me sad to throw away the cute little Valentines Q gets each year from grandparents and family. So her first Valentine's day, I made her this little book. The cover was cardstock decorated in stickers. Then I cut apart her Valentines, trimmed them to fit, and mounted them on cardstock (1/2 page). I laminated the whole thing, punched one side, tied with cute ribbon, and now she has a Valentine book she can read each year. She loves it and enjoys having us read the cards to her and see whom they are from.

This is a great environmental print activity and a fun way to collect past years' momentos!

(the back page is on top, and the cover is the bottom picture)
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rain spout ramp

We got this discarded rain gutter from someone's trash pile one day on a run. Yup, shoulda seen me finishing our run with a 5 ft rain spout across the top of the jogger. It was something, for sure!

We've had lots of fun with this "ramp." Rolling little pumpkins and squash down it. Pouring sawdust down it. Recently the wheelbarrow filled with water from a rain, so we poured the rain water, cup by cup, down the ramp.

So many science and math skills introduced by this activity--gravity, properties of solids and liquids, properties of ramps, cause and effect, conducting a simple experiment.....

We need to bring out some little matchbox cars soon and drive them down our ramp!
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Some "mud pie" kitchens.....

Here are some others I found on the web that are pretty cool! Love how each works with the area they have and the supplies they had on hand.
(click for bigger pics) (all the rest of the images)

Hope you're inspired!!!
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Outside play kitchen

Here are some pictures of our outdoor play kitchen. Built in about 30 minutes total. I used a piece of shelf (just a flat board) that we busted out of a cabinet in our kitchen a while back. It was just hanging out in the garage wood pile begging to be repurposed. I propped one end on the ledge of the fence and screwed down in, and the other end rests on a log.
The chiminea (which we pretend is our oven for cooking food) came from a neighbor's trash. It is perfect for Q's play area.

I put a few screws, nails and cuphooks in the fence to hold items. On the shelf we have things such as salsa-lids (plates), silverware, a piece of broken pot for digging, a cake pan, and a funnel made from cutting the bottom off a coke bottle. Great for funneling sand, dirt, water, or sawdust.

This area was made with a tire filled with sawdust and some tree stumps. You can see the "cupcake pan" where my little chef was baking up a batch of sawdust cupcakes.

I am not a big fan of plastic-ey outdoor toys. I don't like my backyard looking cluttery, with toys strewn all over, so confining Q's play area to the little kitchen area is a simple way to keep her work together. Of course we wander all over the yard during play, but keep her work in the small kitchen when time to clean up. I also feel like these simple, natural materials really lend themselves to pretend/imaginary play. I have witnessed this every time we're outside together! She also gets great exercise climbing on her logs, walking on her balance beam, and running around from place to place.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flour sifting/scooping/patting

Here's a great montessori-based activity that can be modified for infants and toddlers through preschoolers--

Set up two large bowls on a towel (towel reduces skidding/movement of bowls and also helps contain spilled flour).

For toddlers, provide a large spoon.

Place some flour in one of the bowls (starting on the left).

Show your child how to scoop the flour from one bowl to the other. When they are finished, show them how to carefully pour the bowl on the right side into the left bowl and repeat, if they want.

For preschoolers:
Introduce a sifter (preferably a small one that fits in their hand)

Show them these steps:
-set sifter down in left bowl
-use spoon to scoop a few scoops of flour (give them a number--5 or 6--to encourage counting) into the sifter.
-set the spoon down in the middle
-squeeze the handle to get all of the flour out of the sifter.
-when finished, pour flour back into left bowl

For infants:
-set up just one bowl with a small amount of flour
-sit up to table with child in your lap
-help infant reach hand into the flour and encourage him to "pat" or "squeeze" some flour
-let him explore the texture, meanwhile giving him words--"it feels soft, doesn't it! When we pat it, it makes a little cloud of flour! It turns our hand white!"
-no worries if the floury hand goes straight to the mouth!

This is one of the first sensory/tactile experiences infants are often introduced to in a classroom setting. It can be repeated again and again and they will learn to enjoy it more each time and explore for longer periods of time.

Fine and gross motor, hand-eye coordination, practical life skills, literacy development (left to right progression), counting, understanding properties of solids, tactile experiences, following directions,'s just plain fun!

When finished with the activity, show your child how to wipe up their area with a moist sponge.

You can use any material for scooping--cornmeal, salt, rice, beans, etc.
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We have to have our outside time to function in our house. There's nothing like an hour (or 30 minutes...or 2 hours...) of unhurried, undirected outside play to nourish a spirit, young and old! Research upon research backs up the value of outdoor play on children's emotional, physical and intellectual development. It is so easy to set up, as any size yard...we've lived in the world's tiniest rent house with a matchbox-sized yard and also (yeaaaa!) a roomy space to run and play.

Here's what we've done to set up a cheap and outdoor fun play area...(well, just a few things....)
*use natural materials--we have stumps from a tree we cut down in a circle that can be used for walking upon, climbing or chairs when we "cook" outside
*we have a discarded tire filled with woodchips for digging, transferring, and stirring (could be potting soil, sand, pea gravel, wood chips, mulch, grass clippings, cracked corn, etc.) Just remember to watch for ants if you live here in TX! Our girl is well-trained in ant-spotting, learned the hard way!
*I spent under $2 on dishes at the Salvation army for playing outside--wooden spoons and metal bowls and a metal cake pan, some discarded plates from the kitchen, a couple tiny terra cotta pots, a tin from some cinnamon rolls, a plastic container Q's bday cupcakes came in months ago, etc. Outside is a great place to practice using ceramic and glass dishes, as they are landing on a softer surface and if they break they can be easily cleaned up.
*minimal is best--this forces your children to use their imaginations--use a stick to represent a spoon, put the logs in a row to be the car, etc.
*in a tiny yard you can use a tub that you put out only during playtime filled with materials--we used a plastic swimming pool filled with different materials at different times at our old house (cracked corn, sand, shredded newspaper, etc.)
*like any playspace, avoid the temptation to let the area get overclutterd with "stuff"--balls, bubbles, shovels and pails, etc. The same way you should do indoors, cycle through items and provide only a few at a time, neatly organized. I made a little shelf outside (I'll post picture soon) to hold a few items at a time. I also screwed cuphooks into the fence for hanging measuring cup, spoons, small pail, etc. Nails or screws could also work.
*made a balance beam

Even when Q was a tiny baby, there was something about being outside that was so calming to her. Even at 2-3 months I would lay her on her back (in the grass--don't report me to CPS, ok?) so she could feel the grass on her skin and look at the blue sky and the tree leaves and the clouds....and feel the sun or the wind on her face. Sometimes I'd even set her on a towel naked (warm days) so she could get a little air on her usually-covered bootie and soak in a tiny bit of sunshine and vitamin D. She LOVED it...and still does love any time she can get outside!

Below she is playing with a squash...left over from our fall decorations...thrown outside in our compost pile and recovered by this little girl!
Scooping sawdust from her tire (she was making me some salsa).
Practicing wonderful skills of balance, patience, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, fine and gross motor movements......
Climbing on her logs.....

Here are some pics of Q and her infant outdoor experiences. She's a month old in the laundry basket and pink hat, hanging out under a tree and learning about the world called outside. She's two months on the hammock. 4 months on the green towel, a little over 5 in the dirt, 8 months practicing her "baby yoga" and 9 months trying to crawl in the grass.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Fine Motor beads

This was an activity we did every year during Mardi Gras at a preschool where I worked in the past. We cut apart mardi gras beads into strands of 3-4-5 and 6 beads (make sure they are tightly tied and that your kids aren't mouthing objects and are closely supervised, of course). I raided Q's beads and got to cutting! I put out a small plastic set of tweezers and a set of tongs and a formula scoop for transferring the beads. Q is having so much fun with the beads--I am finding them everywhere--she likes to incorporate them into her cooking, put them in her purse, and even in her baby stroller!
For younger kids, you could just cut the strands a lot longer.......
These would be great for dropping into a 2-liter bottle or even cutting up a bunch of them, filling a jar and making a shaker for a baby!
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Number cards

I believe in teaching numbers naturally, unhurriedly and only when Q asks about them. She has begun to notice numbers in environmental print (on signs, on food containers, in restaurants, etc.). She started trying to call them letters (ie: she was calling 4 "Alie's letter"). We gently tell her, "that's the number 4." Research shows that children do not begin to understand the abstract concepts of number and quantity and that numerals represent quantities until they start nearing 5-6 years old. This doesn't mean we can't begin to start laying the foundation for some of these ideas, but it DOES mean that if we force number concepts and counting too much, they are simply memorizing it and not truly processing it.

So....we do count items when Q wants to. If she asks for crackers, I respond, "how many?" and count them out to her. She likes to count her crayons (not correctly, of course), and we count the number of friends present in circle time each day. I typically only introduce counting with toddlers when the numbers are paired with actual objects or actions--ie: we don't just say the numbers by themselves or just "count" without objects present.

That being said, I did pull out these number cards. Mostly for the puzzle factor of them and the matching concept (which is a print awareness skill). Q has noticed the numbers on them herself and likes me to tell her what the number name is. She knows numbers by who they belong to--just like she has learned letters. 2 is her number, because she's 2. 3 is her friend A's number. 5 is her friend S's number....etc,. Alie's number is 7 and Beaux's number is 6. We won't go into what Mommy's number is. :)

Also...these cards cost .49 at the Salvation Army for the whole box! I was psyched, as there are all sorts of possibilities for them. Right now we put together the puzzles and count the objects. You can see they lend themselves to properties of numbers and addition (2 and 8 cupcakes equal 10).....

For more info on young children and math, I'd strongly recommend any of Juanita V. Copley's books--primarily The Young Child and Mathematics. Her work and understanding of how children develop mathematically is amazing....
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Valentine Play Dough

The cookie cutters have been switched to hearts. On our agenda this month--cook up some pink playdough!
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Good foods for babies and toddlers....

Last week a friend asked me for a list of some of the foods we fed Q as a baby, aside from the traditionals such as babyfood, oatmeal, yogurt, and cheerios. I typed up the list for her, and then decided I'd share on this site, too!

None of these foods are rocket science, but for me, at least, I had a hard time being creative on the spur of the moment when I had a hungry kiddo demanding something to eat. It's easy to reach for the old stand-by's (cheerios, Gerber snacks, etc.) and I don't have anything against these, but I do think it's important to expose little eaters to a variety of tastes, textures, and appearances through food. We also made a big effort to limit the amount of processed foods (and still do) we offer in our house, and mostly save these for "emergencies," when we need a snack in the car or we're running late to school and have granola bars for breakfast.

So....when I was feeding a beginning eater, I kept a list of possibilities on my fridge similar to the list I post below. That helped me expose Q to a huge selection of foods I might otherwise forget about. I truly believe that this is a big part of the reason she has always been and still is a great eater and eats pretty much everything (except lettuce, silly girl).
I really enjoyed one book: Feed me, I'm Yours. It had a lot of great suggestions on healthy, economical and somewhat unusual food ideas. Also, a lot of the ideas came from food I saw friends (or random people at restaurants) feeding their kids, or even ideas shared by other moms.

So those of you Mommies out there who are in the process of inviting your lil' ones to the exciting world of food, hope this helps!

(Bolded foods are appropriate for spoon-fed infants. Other foods are fingerfoods for babies beginning to eat on their own.)

My favorite "off the beaten path" baby foods:

*hummus (from the packaged foods in the deli section at the grocery)

*Pumpkin pancakes (I'd make a big batch and freeze them individually then break them up for finger food--perfect to take to restaurants!)

*canned pumpkin puree (you can buy a big can and divide it into smaller containers VERY economically--that's what I did with the pumpkin puree left over from making the pancakes.

*cooked beans--usually black or pinto and even lentils. I put 4-5 on baby's tray at a time for fingerfoods. (for spoon feeding I blended with some chicken broth or milk to get creamy consistency)

*refried beans (often thinned with breastmilk, milk or chicken broth or even water)

*couscous (smaller-grained than rice)

*brown rice (great finger food!)

*granola (this was our #1 finger food from about 7 months on--LOVED giving my little one the whole grains! Just keep your eyes open that it doesn't have honey or nuts at first.)

*microwave scrambled eggs (crack an egg in a bowl, stir it up, cover with papertowel making sure to tuck ends of papertowel under bowl so egg doesn't blow up all over your microwave)

*tuna--from the pouches--a wonderful protein-filled fingerfood that is easy for new eaters to self-feed once they're ready for meat

*toast (just plain toasted whole-grain bread) and english muffins

*sliced black olives

*sliced red, green and yellow peppers (and sometimes tiny-diced)

*slivered raw carrot

*diced tomatoes from a can (drained and rinsed)--did these in moderation as tomatoes are pretty acidic

*large curd cottage cheese (great for finger-feeding) (blended for spoonfeeding infants)

*raw, peeled and slivered or tiny-cubed cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash or butternut squash

*other cereals besides Cheerios--Life, Chex, Raisin Bran, etc.

*a steamed piece of corn on the cob--Q LOVED gnawing on these, especially when she was working on some teeth.

*around a year we gave her whole tomatoes, apples, pears, plums, and peaches. She loved them, and it was great for her to learn to master the "biting off" technique. This was a must for me, because as a preschool teacher I got tired of 4 year olds who couldn't eat an apple unless it was cut up and peeled. I determined I wouldn't let my child become one of these fruit sissies. :)

*anytime I cut up a juicy fruit like a pineapple or grapefruit I would freeze the juice in a little plastic baby food container--later took it out, let it soften a bit, and mashed it up with a spoon into an "icy" consistency. Q loved it, especially when teething. I spoon-fed her at first, and then later let her finger-feed or spoon-feed herself.

*frozen blueberries, strawberries (chopped), and even peas were a big hit--of course especially at teething time!

I learned two new ones from a friend this weekend--

She freezes both applesauce and yogurt cups. She then inverts a container on a plate and uses a sharp knife to dice the frozen yogurt or applesauce into small finger-sized pieces. Perfect for a baby who can't yet self-feed with a spoon!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Here are some containers I put out for Q to practice opening and closing. There are several different types--flip top (honey), screw top, a type that fits on and off, and then various sizes. I also used cinnamon, face lotion, and strawberry hand lotion jars (empty) so they still smell faintly, a nice surprise!

Babies could just explore various sizes and weights of jars......Preschoolers could be presented with the challenge of matching which lid goes with which jar (take them all off and store the lids in a container), which adds additional challenge!

Practical life, fine motor, problem solving, and even some environmental print, as Q has been noticing letters on the jars!
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Clipping Work

Q is interested in clothespins (on chip bags, when I line dry laundry, on our daily calendar, etc.) but has not mastered them. So I knew it was time for this work! I found several different types and sizes of clips. I also found a box that was very stiff and had smooth edges, so that the clips wouldn't have to fit over a ledge or anything. I've used tupperware with straight edges before in my classroom, but we had this box from some Christmas chocolates and it was perfect-o!
For now she can just clip and unclip them (initially with help from us).

To add a challenge, especially with my preschoolers, I traced around the bottom part of the clip, where it touches the box, so they have the challenge of figuring out which exact clip goes where.

For infants, they will just enjoy playing with the clips (make sure they are all large ones) for now, and putting them in and out of the box. This would be a great time to bring in the "coffee can/oatmeal tub with a hole in the lid" for them to drop the clips in and shake them out!!

This activity promotes fine motor, problem solving and is practical life!
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Dress Up stuff

Our dress up accessories were getting a little crazy. This month I pared it down to two purses (pink, of course, for Valentine's day...) and both featuring zippers, as Q is loving zipping action these days.....
Then an assortment of rings, watches, bracelets and other accessories. It's amazing how much more she's been interested in playing with this "mostly forgotten" stuff since I refreshed it and put it in different baskets this month!

Even young babies enjoy having a basket of dress up items--a necklace, a comb, a mirror, a scarf and a hat are a great start!
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Penguin Book

This book arrived today via PaperbackSwap. On its merit strictly as an ABC book it's not amazing, but considering the fact that the author finds a word and photo about penguins to go with each letter, it is working great for our purposes. I am excited to introduce Q to all the concepts and vocabulary the book presents about penguins, and love the photographs! I would definitely recommend this for a penguin study. And even though it's a board book, it is still great for exploring the world of penguins for all ages--even older kids would enjoy this!
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