Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Contact Paper Collage

I wanted to do an art project with Baby Bear, but I needed something simple and with minimal chance of him tearing it all up and putting it in his mouth. On one of the blogs I follow (The Imagination Tree), I read about using contact paper as a background for making a collage. I just happened to have a couple of rolls sitting in a craft box that were not overly sticky. I grabbed one of these rolls as well as some foam dinosaur stickers, tissue paper, painter's tape, and a leftover bow... all items that would hopefully stick to the contact paper well enough that Baby Bear could not keep pulling them back off.

I used double-sided tape to stick the contact paper to a chair in the kitchen and proceeded to show Baby Bear how to stick the tissue paper and stickers to the paper. The lesson did not last long before he took over the project. :)

The painter's tape was by far Baby Bear's favorite item to add to the collage, hence the greater number of blue pieces. The foam dinosaur stickers and bow proved to be too easy for Baby Bear to peel back off the page, sometimes heading for his mouth. Should we do this activity again, I will save these parts for last. All in all, I think the contact paper collage was a great art project for my son as he transitions into toddlerhood.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to Basics: Classic Toy #1

Let me begin by saying that I love all the technological advances the toy industry has made over the last few decades! Many of Baby Bear's favorite toys are those that light up and play music. I like that I can find toys that help him learn letters, numbers, colors, shapes, opposites, etc. However, there are some great classic toys that are wonderful for helping develop a child's fine motor skills and creativity that I think sometimes get lost in the sea of technology.

The first toy to come out of the toy box almost every morning includes no technology whatsoever. They are simple, colorful, Fisher Price plastic cups that Baby Bear can stack, nest, and snap together to make balls, and he LOVES them! At around five months old he enjoyed watching me and Papa Bear stack them and then knocking them all down. Later, he began nesting and stacking them himself. I wish I'd had my camera on me to capture the look on his face the first time he got two of the cups to snap together into a ball. He was so proud of himself! Stacking cups, bowls, or blocks are one classic toy I think should be in every kid's toy box.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cloth Discovery Box

Discovery boxes have become my new baby/toddler go-to activity. If Baby Bear is fussy and the usual arsenal of favorite toys is not working, I can throw together a quick and simple discovery box to peak his interest and distract him. The number of kinds of discovery boxes one might create are seemingly limitless!

This particular discovery box was not just thrown together as it required some minor prep work during one of Baby Bear's naps. I just happened to have a near-empty wipes container and some scrap material lying around, so I made a discovery box similar to one I had read about online. I chose half a dozen pieces of material with as much diversity of colors and textures as possible, and I cut them into squares about the size of my hand. I took the lid off the wipes container, threw the scrap cloths inside, and it was ready for when Baby Bear woke from his nap. I first gave this box to him when he was six months old, and now, at 12 months, he still likes to pull it out and rediscover its contents every once in a while.

Idea credit: The Imagination Tree

Kool-aid Playdough

This recipe sounds great! I cannot wait to try it with my Baby Bear!

1 c. water
2 tbsp. oil
1 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 pkg. kool-aid, any flavor
Mix together water and oil. Microwave on HIGH for about 2 minutes. Remove and add flour, sugar and kool-aid. Mix together with a spoon.

August 31, 2011
I just wanted to add that I tried this recipe, and it was more like a thick paint texture than a playdough texture. It was also very sticky. I am going to play around with it a bit and see if I can work out something better. I will post my "perfected" recipe when I discover it!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nature Walk

Even before Baby Bear started walking, I began taking him on nature walks to explore. Sometimes this activity is as simple as sitting in the grass so he can pick, feel, observe and try to taste. Often our nature walks involve sitting near a tree because Baby Bear's latest outdoor fascination is leaves. He can pick them up and compare and contrast the colors as well as shapes. He can also touch the tree bark to contrast its rough texture to the leaves' smooth texture. I love nature walks because there is no planning involved, and they are a great way to let kids explore on their own.

using the touch and sight senses with grass

trying to add the sense of taste to the activity

observing a giant flower we picked

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Baby Bear loves to sit outside and explore nature! He loves to pick up grass, flowers, leaves, sticks, etc. and unleash his powers of observation. Until this week, he had never felt the pleasure of squishing mud between his chubby little fingers, though. This past month has been very dry, and I usually have him sit on a blanket during water play to avoid ant bites on his legs (a common occurrence in our yard that we learned about the hard way). Mud was not to be found. But yesterday, during water play, he noticed a small muddy spot, scooted himself over to the edge of the blanket, and began to grab at the glorious, goopy mess. He squished, smeared, and yes, tasted (much to my dismay and cursing of his marked speed) this new wonderful discovery.

Baby Bear also noticed that the grass was much easier to pull up, roots and all, when the ground was wet. He proved this fact over and over again! This was a great on-the-spot, toddler-friendly discovery science lesson! He could also note that the grass had roots which were previously hidden under the dirt. He stared at and touched these roots in fascination.

Clean-up was amazingly easy for this spur-of-the-moment task as well. We were playing in the spot sprinkler anyway, so I just hosed him off when he was done! Chalk another one up for discovery learning!

squishing the mud between his fingers

pulling up the grass and noticing the roots

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Baby Pool

Baby Bear may not like to eat fish, but he sure does like pretending to be one! My son just loves to explore with water! He wants to know what sinks and floats, watches the ripples when he moves, moves his body in different ways to try to create splashes, and practices pouring from one container to another (usually his mouth!). His baby pool isn't very big, but it is just right for my Baby Bear to splash around in!

I added a bubble machine to the fun, and Baby Bear thought this was Mommy's best idea yet!

The rings floated, so Baby Bear kept trying to make them sink.

Laying back and splashing with his feet... also a good swim lesson!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Milk Jug Catcher/Container

When I was in high school, my youth pastor got creative with games and had us use milk jugs to play a sort of hockey-meets-basketball-meets-bad-mitten game. As I was about to throw an empty milk jug into the recycling bin, I remembered these games, and I got an idea for a toy to make for Baby Bear.

I began by cutting the bottom off the milk jug. Because this toy was for a toddler, I had to make sure there were no jagged edges. Then, I used different colored Sharpies to draw a simple shape on each side of the jug. Next, I stuck a few glittery foam star stickers to the container. I let Baby Bear help with this part. That was it! Easy peasy!

The purpose of this toy was to give Baby Bear a container to bounce, roll, and throw his tennis ball in (a favorite toy of his). He used it for this purpose, but then he also started making a game out of what he could fit into his new container. Books, balls, blocks, etc. all found their way into the jug. This added a developmental element to the toy because he had to manipulate some of the objects to make them fit. For example, the book he grabbed would only go into the container if he turned it diagonal and held it upright. A simple ball catcher became an educational spacial awareness toy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Corn Starch Paints

Corn starch paints are a cheap, safe, and edible (though not tasty) alternative to store-bought washable or non-toxic paints. I tried using corn starch paints with Baby Bear a couple of months ago, but he wasn't too keen on a paint that didn't taste as good as the pudding paints. He also seemed to have a texture issue with the cornstarch. However, when I volunteered to host a Messy Party for my mom's group, I thought these paints might go over well with the preschool crowd. They did!

I did not make the paints ahead of time, but instead, I had the kids help me make them. T helped measure and D helped stir. I did the hot water part. Once the paint was all mixed, I added a couple of spoonfuls to each of 7 different little 4oz tupperware containers. The kids told me what colors they wanted in their cups, I added the food coloring, and they stirred it up. Another mom helped make other colors in the extra cups.

I also provided different mediums for the kids to use to create their paintings besides their fingers. These are some of the tools the kids used:
  • Legos
  • Plastic forks
  • Cooked spaghetti (this one was popular!)
  • Q-tips
  • Cookie cutters
  • Foam stencils
  • Bobbins
  • Sea sponges
 These tools left great patterns and textures in the gloopy paints! The kids had fun painting their pictures, and one little boy also decided to paint his stomach! No harm done, though. :)

J's painting

The next time I use these paints, I will limit the number of mediums used to one or two. I think this will allow the kids to be even more creative because they will not have the distraction of all those tools to choose from.

This is the recipe I used:
  1. Mix 1 cup corn starch with 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold water. This will be hard to stir, but make sure all the corn starch is wet.
  2. Add 2 to 2 1/4 cups nearly boiling water (think small bubbles) and stir until smooth. Consistency will be gloopy.
  3. Allow to cool for just a few minutes so it is safe for the kids to handle.
  4. Spoon white paint into different containers (one for each color you want to make).
  5. Add 3-5 drops food coloring to each container to make desired colors.
Idea credit: The Imagination Tree

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Sesame Street Cupcakes

    Before my son ever saw an episode of Sesame Street, he fell in love with some of the characters from toys and books. Baby Bear loves two of these characters so much that he does impressions of Cookie Monster and sings the la-la-la parts of Elmo's song (original, not Elmo's World). So, for his first birthday party, I knew exactly what theme we should use!

    Finding decorations was fairly easy as this is such a popular kids' show. Finding a cake to go with the theme was easy, too, but I did not want my Baby Bear filling himself so full of sugar all at once and for the first time. This meant searching through hundreds of "healthy" cake recipes as well as cupcake decorating ideas to go with the theme. Whereas an applesauce cake recipe I tried was pretty tasty, I succumbed to the convenience of Pillsbury's new line of sugar-free cake products. I also found a couple of creative, yet simple ideas for making Elmo and Cookie Monster cupcakes. This was the result of my first attempt at said cupcakes:

    I used cans of Betty Crocker decorating cake icing for the fur (on sale for $1/can at Kroger!), marshmallows and chocolate chips for the eyes, orange peanut M&Ms for Elmo's nose, and halved Oreo cookies for the mouth. For the fur I used the star tip, started in the center, and worked my way in a circular pattern out until the top of the cupcake was covered. I cut the marshmallows into thirds and used the outer portions for the eyes. I also used a touch of frosting to make the chocolate chips stick to the marshmallows. Not too shabby for a beginner!

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    Peanut Butter Playdough

    I have not tried this recipe yet, but I chose this one from cooks.com based on the good reviews it received. This one is not for children under the age of one because it uses honey. However, I have heard that you can use corn syrup instead of honey, or you can use only the peanut butter mixed with confectioner's sugar. The first time Baby Bear and I try using peanut butter playdough, we will probably only use the first two ingredients to keep it simple and cut down on cost. We will also probably cut the recipe in half because it sounds like this makes a very large batch of playdough.

    3 1/2 cups peanut butter
    4 cups confectioner's sugar
    3 1/2 cups honey
    4 cups dry milk powder

    In large bowl, cream together peanut butter and confectioners' sugar, then beat in honey and fold in milk powder. Divide into 15 equal portions and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

    Duct Tape Roads

    My Baby Bear loves toys with wheels, especially if they are cars! He can entertain himself for 10 minutes easily just by holding these little toys and spinning the wheels. In my activities research, I have seen many ideas for making homemade roads and car ramps out of cardboard or construction paper. These ideas sound great, but my Baby Bear still puts everything in his mouth. That is why when I read about using duct tape to create roads on imaginationsoup.net, I just had to try it out with my son!

    I created a simple intersection with two long strips of duct tape on the living room carpet. I tried adding a city block, but Baby Bear was quick to pull that up. Simple intersection it was! Baby Bear was not overly interested in this activity, and it only held his attention for a few minutes. He liked watching me put the duct tape on the carpet more than driving his toys along the strips. I think it would be worth trying again in a few weeks, though. He liked watching me make the vehicles drive along the roads, and he helped make them drive a little, too. I think I will make an intersection inside a square next time so the vehicles have corners to turn.

    The thing I like most about this activity is that it can grow with my son. As he gets older we can add more roads and make them more complex. We can also start drawing little lines along the tape for lanes. Perhaps in another year or so we will start making our own little cars to drive along the roads, too. There are so many possibilities for this activity. It can be as simple or as complex as you want! It also helps with those fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and it teaches a little about how road systems work in a simple and fun way.

    Fire Truck vs. Horse

    Baby Bear putting the fire truck on the road to drive

    Pudding Painting

    I wanted to do an art activity with Baby Bear, but I needed something that was safe for him to put in his mouth (the inevitable result). I found this idea for pudding painting, and it was perfect for my son who was 10 months old at the time. All I did was make a box of instant chocolate pudding (I used about 1/4 less milk so it was thicker) and grab a sheet of card stock. At a later date, I used a chocolate pudding cup instead, and this proved to be even easier and accomplished the same result.

    Baby Bear was apprehensive to make a mess at first, but he enjoyed squishing the pudding in his hands. It was a great tactile, exploration activity.

    Pretty soon the pudding was all over the paper and all over him. This painting project is definitely best done outdoors. We let him play in his baby pool after this.
    Idea credit: The Imagination Tree

    Pudding Painting 2

    This is a variation on pudding painting. Rather than using chocolate pudding and having Baby Bear paint in brown, I stirred just a drop of food coloring into a vanilla pudding cup, stuck a large sheet of white construction paper to the table with double-sided tape, and let Baby Bear have at it!

    At first Baby Bear was content just painting, only tasting a little here and there. I held the pudding cup, and he dipped his hand in to get the "paint."

    Then he wanted the whole cup. Half went on the paper, half went in his mouth.

    In the end, he had more fun painting himself than he did painting on the paper. We participated in some water play after this activity! :)

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Bath Toy

    While looking for ways to entertain my little toddler, I stumbled across an idea for a homemade watering can of sorts. On the site I read about this on, it was suggested to make holes in the lid of an empty plastic bottle. This seemed like a lot of work when the bottom of the bottle is much easier to puncture. So, with a thumb tack and an empty Coke bottle, I set to work.

    I peeled the label off and poked 3-4 holes into each little section on the bottom of the bottle. That's it! During next bath, my husband filled the bottle with water and held it up for my son to see. Baby Bear was instantly intrigued. At first, he just watched intently as the water streamed down. Then, he held his hands under the running water. After a few more bath times, he began giving his toys showers, sticking his head under the streaming water, and filling and holding the bottle himself. It took all of 3 minutes to make this bath toy, but it has lead to as much as 20 minutes of entertainment at a time.

    *Note: This will not work with the lid on.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Sensory Bottles

    There are so many ways to use an empty plastic bottle to entertain a baby! Water bottles are especially great to reuse as baby toys. Just make sure the cap is on super tight and recheck it often to make sure it is still secure! Hot gluing the bottles shut is also an option. Here are a few of the sensory bottles I made for my son. Baby Bear enjoyed shaking them, watching the little objects inside float around, and pretending he was taking a drink like mommy and daddy. He enjoyed these toys from about 4 to 9 months old.
    • I added a little water (about 1/4 full) and a drop of food coloring.
    • As a variation of the above idea, I have tried adding something to the water. A teaspoon of glitter is fun, or some cut up pipe cleaners. A friend of mine tore little pieces off a colorful sponge and tossed them in for her daughter. Basically, anything shiny, colorful, and/or floaty will do.
    • Add a little oil to the water, preferably clear, for a lava lamp effect. This one was not a hit with Baby Bear, but I can see how some babies may like this toy. I read somewhere that adding a couple drops of glycerine can slow down the motion of the oil, which might make this version of the toy more entertaining.
    • Baby Bear's favorite reused bottle toy was the one I added half a cup of dry rice to. I also added a few drops of food coloring just for visual interest. It made a great noise-maker!
    Just water with food coloring... a big hit!

    Water with cut up pipe cleaners: Fun to shake, rattle, and roll!