Monday, October 31, 2011

Color Sorting

It's true, toddlers love to sort! I'm not sure Baby Bear even realizes he's doing it, but whenever he is presented with objects of various colors in which there is repetition of colors, he starts sorting. For example, the blue letter blocks that came with his Vtech Sit to Stand Alphabet Train often end up in a pile together on the floor (no, that's not a plug, just information in case someone likes the toy in the picture :) ). Sometimes he does this with the red or orange blocks, but for now it's almost always the blue.

Other items Baby Bear likes to sort by color:
  • Crayons/markers
  • Papers
  • Fruity Cheerios
  • The food on his plate
  • Bath toys
Basically, any small and easy to manipulate colorful objects get sorted. He has fun, and it's a great skill for toddlers to practice and learn!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Matching Face Game

Baby Bear and I still have some of our pumpkin face stickers left, so we have been playing with them a lot lately. One morning, when Baby Bear pointed to the container of stickers, I decided to do something a little different than the create a face activity I previously posted about. This time, when I grabbed the piece of paper, I drew the whole face rather than just the oval. Instead of having Baby Bear work with me to create a face from scratch, I had him try to match the stickers to the drawing. The result was the same, but the skill set and level of help needed were different.

For this activity, the learning verb is match instead of create. Yes, that means it is a lower-level thinking skill, but it also means that Baby Bear can be a little more independent and self-directed, which is very important at this age.

I think Baby Bear liked this activity a little better than creating a face from scratch. He seemed to enjoy trying to match the pieces I handed him to the correct part of the drawing. And, although he was sitting on my lap, he also seemed to like working with less direction from me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Glow-in-the-Dark Fun

For trick-or-treating next week, I bought a pack of glow sticks to help ensure our safety while walking down the road from house to house. We won't need all of the glow sticks that came in the pack for that, though. So, Papa Bear and I grabbed a few for our family to play with after the sun went down a few nights ago. We also grabbed the black light I bought to use on our front porch for Halloween night, and Baby Bear was wearing his skeleton pajamas that glow in the dark. Equipped with all our glow-in-the-dark gadgets, we headed to the windowless playroom!

Baby Bear shaking the glow sticks around

The black light was a little disappointing because it was not strong enough to have much of an effect. The glow sticks and pajamas were a lot of fun, though!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hidden Nutrition

A few years ago, I bought the book "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld when I found it on sale. I figured it would come in handy some day. At the very least, I thought I might be able to get Papa Bear to eat a little healthier. ;)

Baby Bear loves most fruits, but there are only a few vegetables I can get him to eat. I wanted to at least expose him to the taste of other vegetables in hopes that some day he will be more likely to eat them, so I turned to this cookbook for ideas.

I steamed and pureed several vegetables in various colors (trying to "eat from the rainbow"). I was already familiar with this process, and I already had a lot of small containers on hand because I made some of Baby Bear's baby foods for a while. So far, I have had success with hiding carrots in spaghetti sauce, sweet potatoes in pancakes, and squash in waffles. The orange veggies are fairly easy to hide, I guess. I also pureed beets and spinach, but as these are harder to hide, I have not tried them yet.

I don't expect Baby Bear to love everything I put in front of him, but I hope that by exposing him to a wider variety of healthy foods, he will turn to these more often for snacks than junk foods.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bean Bags and Blocks Discovery Box

Say that three times fast!!!

For Halloween, I bought Baby Bear a bean bag toss game to help him work on his hand-eye coordination. He loved the bean bags from the game! One day, the wipes in our container ran out. Before I could refill them, Baby Bear ran off with the tub and started playing. So, of course, I joined in!

The bean bags were next to me, so I threw them into the container. Baby Bear thought this was brilliant! We had fun with those for a while, and then he decided that his box needed more. He ran over to his blocks, grabbed a couple handfuls, and brought them over to be added to the box.

This is just one example of how simple and fun discovery boxes can be.

**Important note: Bean bags are meant for children a little older than Baby Bear, and I only let him use these under CLOSE supervision.**

The contents

Opening and closing the lid

Adding a block

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Leaf Wreath

In our front yard is a scattering of small trees on which the leaves turn brilliant hues of red, orange, yellow, and brown each fall. Baby Bear and I were out observing and playing in these leaves just before the rain clouds overhead burst open and confined our playing to indoors for the rest of the day. The leaves were so beautiful, and we were having so much fun that neither of us wanted to go in. We resolved some of this by collecting a few dozen colorful leaves. I didn't know what we were going to do with them yet, but I was sure I could come up with something.

During Baby Bear's nap, I came across this idea for fall wreaths on the Preschool Playbook blog. I didn't have potpourri, but it was perfect for our leaves. I cut the center from a paper plate and made paste from flour and water (just mix the two until you get the desired consistency). Then, when Baby Bear woke up from his nap, we set to work.

Helping Mama Bear add leaves to the wreath... and then pulling them back off, and resticking them about a dozen times. :)

The finished product! You can tell the top half is the part Baby Bear helped most with because of the messy paste, but knowing he did that makes me just love it all the more.

For Baby Bear, the paste was the best part. He started painting the table with it as soon as the wreath was done.
We will be making more wreaths for the upcoming holidays as well. This was a great toddler-friendly activity!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spider Web Race Track

I recently saw an awesome activity on the site No Time for Flash Cards, and although it was too advanced for my Baby Bear, I saw a chance to adapt it for him. Plus, the original activity looks like so much fun, I wanted to share that, too.

The original activity is meant to encourage gross motor skills in young children. I'm guessing it is best suited for ages 2-5. It is basically a Halloween version of hopscotch in which the child walks along a spider's web laid out in tape on the floor. There are obstacles (ghosts) to walk over and objects (spiders) to pick up without falling off the web.

This game reminded me of the duct tape roads Baby Bear and I have played with a few times before, so that is what I adapted this game into. Like in the game from No Time for Flash Cards, I used colored tape to create a spider's web on the floor (I kept ours small and simple). Rather than having Baby Bear try to walk on the lines, though, I had him try to keep his cars on the roads. This sounds super easy, but trying to get an energetic 14-month-old to focus enough to do this task is harder than it sounds. ;)

The web and vehicles
Every shot I got of Baby Bear came out blurry because he was moving so fast. Right now, this activity only holds his attention for about a minute at a time because playing with cars is still fairly new, and he likes to just push them to see how far they can go. I like this activity, though, because it is an exercise in focusing his attention.
I love the original game, and I see this as a goal to work toward as Baby Bear gets older. We can go from driving cars, to walking/balancing, to maneuvering obstacles and scooping up objects. It is a Halloween activity that we can use for several years to come!

Updated Post

If you're coming directly to my blog rather than through a link to check out my updated post on pumpkin pie playdough, look under October 8. Or, you can click on the Playdough tab at the top, and it is the last link on the page. Happy playing! :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cardboard Box Clubhouse

Someone in my Mom's Club was getting new kitchen appliances, and I knew this meant extra large boxes. So, I asked her to save me one. When she dropped off this huge box that her stove came in, I was ecstatic! Baby Bear had really liked a play house constructed from cardboard someone else in Mom's Club had at her house, so I thought I'd make him his own little clubhouse.

I cut out a door and two windows in the box.

Then, I used colored duck tape around the edges, both for color and to keep Baby Bear from picking at the little cardboard frays. The neighbor girls came over and helped us paint the box. We used poster paint, which I had not intended for Baby Bear to help with (I thought he'd play with the neighbor boy while we girls painted). Baby Bear thought my apple tree needed some work, though, so I gave him a clean brush to "help" with.

I didn't take a picture of the finished product because the girls wrote their names and Baby Bear's name in several places, and that's something I try to be careful not to share on my blog.
Baby Bear likes his clubhouse. Since the weather is still nice, I usually set the box on an old rug in the driveway or in the garage, and I put his little chair inside along with a few toys. He also likes playing his own version of hide-and-seek-meets-peek-a-boo with me using the box. :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Life Cycle of a Pumpkin

When I taught first grade, life cycles was a major science unit. One of the life cycles we studied while talking about plants was that of a pumpkin. As a first grade team, we compiled many printable books, Websites, activity sheets, and crafts to go along with this unit, and one of my favorite crafts to do with students was this paper plate spinner.

With my first grade students, I had them create the spinners themselves, from coloring to cutting and pasting. All I did was help poke through the brass fastener to help it spin. For Baby Bear, I did all these steps myself because the skill set and purpose were different. With the older children, this was a fun way to reinforce a concept. With my Baby Bear, this was mostly an introduction to basic vocabulary like seed and pumpkin, and it was an exposure to the idea of life cycles.

I cut a window into the plate with the title big enough to show one picture at a time. Then, I placed the title plate onto the plate with the pictures and secured them together in the middle with a brass fastener. This way, you can spin the top plate clockwise to reveal the next step in the cycle.

 This is an activity for Baby Bear and I to do together. If left on his own, he would most likely try to pull the plates apart. He would also probably have a hard time spinning only the top plate (I am looking for ways to create a sort of handle for the top plate, though, so he can help spin.) This is a simple, yet fun fall activity that is also educational. It also ties in nicely to other life cycle activities, like planting real seeds and watching them grow.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eric Carle Art Playroom

We have a very small room just off the family room in our house. It is basically the size of a large closet, yet it has a closet of its own with great storage space. What to do with this room??? Papa Bear and I decided to turn it into Baby Bear's playroom and a space where Baby Bear and I can do crafts together when it is too cold to go outdoors. The question then became, how should we decorate this play space?

My original idea was to frame animal pictures friends of mine had taken at the zoo. I had them printed, matted, framed, and ready to be hung. Then, as I was walking through Target, I spotted some wall stickers for the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?" This was Baby Bear's favorite book at the time, they were so cute, and they were inexpensive. Suddenly, I was inspired to create an Eric Carle Art playroom! His nursery is Dr. Seuss, so why not? I ordered more wall stickers online for the book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," and the room fell together beautifully.

Baby Bear loves to follow along in his book while I tell the story using the pictures on the wall.

Cute and instructional!

He loves pointing to the caterpillar above his toy box.

This will make great science and math lessons some day! I also made a chalkboard in the room using chalkboard paint (the blur is where I had his name written, not the paint). Since this picture, I have also painted a border around the board.

My favorite part about how the room turned out is how Baby Bear makes connections between the stickers on the walls and his books. I think it makes him even more excited to read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fall Leaf Painting

I saw this idea for painting leaves in plastic baggies on the Toddler Approved blog and thought, "Hey, my Baby Bear could do this!" So, we did!

I found a leaf template, cut it out, and put it in a plastic bag with some paint. I added a little too much paint. It worked fine, but I think with less paint the activity would have lasted a little longer because Baby Bear would have needed to spend more time spreading the paint.

Baby Bear liked squishing the bag and watching the paint spread around, but this took him less than a minute. If I were to do this activity again, I would prepare more leaves, maybe with different colors. Even with more leaves, I think it is important to note that this activity takes more time to prepare than to actually do. It's still a good activity, but it does not take much time.

Baby Bear's leaf covered in paint.

The finished product. Once dry, we added this leaf to our fall sensory box. Something that could be fun to do with this activity is to make a whole bunch of these leaves and use them as decorations, perhaps as a garland, or as a part of a tree craft.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Straw Drop

On the Mess for Less blog, I read about an idea called the color drop game. Basically, you take an empty plastic container with a lid, drill some holes in the top, and your toddler practices placing the straws into the holes. On the Mess for Less blog, the mom also colored around the holes so her toddler had to put the straw into the matching colored hole. I did not add the colors element to this activity when I did it with Baby Bear. First, my lid was black, so coloring was not a good option. Second, this activity requires a lot of dexterity and hand-eye coordination. I wanted to give Baby Bear a chance to work on these skills first before adding colors to the mix.

The drill was not handy, so I used a large pen to poke straw-sized holes into the lid of an empty coffee container. I cut the straws so that they were a little shorter than the container and would drop all the way through. Baby Bear thought the straws were a fun toy all on their own, but when I showed him how to drop them into the container, his eyes got big, and he was eager to try it, too.

The first few times Baby Bear tried this activity, he needed a lot of help. The first time he got it without help he was so excited! I was proud of him, and, more importantly, he was proud of himself. He quickly became a Straw Drop expert, and this was all he ever wanted to play with for at least a week. He brought the container to me over and over again asking, "Do? Peese?" (peese=please)

Now, whenever Baby Bear sees a straw, he wants to play with it and looks for holes to push it through. (He loves playing with the straws and lids of my to go cups!) I'm keeping my eye out for an empty container with a white lid so I can add the color matching component to the game.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Updated on October 19, 2011
Last week, Baby Bear, Papa Bear, and I played with the pumpkin pie playdough I found a recipe for on the Dinosaurs and Octopuses blog. It was amazing! The texture was smooth and easy for Baby Bear to manipulate. The smell was divine! Even after putting it away, we could still smell it on our hands. Baby Bear thought it tasted pretty good, too. (Yuck! :P) It was hard to keep him from eating this stuff, but as long as I kept handing him tools to use to make marks in the dough, he used his hands to play rather than his mouth.

Investigating the dough

Papa Bear joined in on playing with the dough

This is the recipe I followed as described by Joyce on Dinosaurs and Octopuses:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp cream of tartar
1/3 of the jar of pumpkin pie spice (the tiny jar)
maple extract
vanilla extract
food coloring

Combine the dry ingredients and the oil. Slowly add the water. Add a few dashes of each of the extracts and a few drops of red and yellow food coloring. Cook over medium heat, stirring until stiff. As it mixes you can see if you'll need more food dye. We tried to be conservative at first, because I didn't want it to be too vibrant. We added a little at a time until we acheived the right color. Turn out onto wax paper. The pumpkin pie spice was too spicy by itself, for my liking. The extracts make it smell sweeter, just like a pumpkin pie. Sniff the dough. Does it smell too spicy? Add a little bit more extract and knead it all together. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. If it's too dry, add a few drops of water.

Friday, October 7, 2011

TN Early Childhood Academic Standards

I thought I would take a moment to iterate that along with all the crafts, games, toys, and silliness I present on my blog, there is learning. Through play and exploration, young children are learning about themselves and the world around them. They are continually building upon their repertoires of physical, emotional, social, and academic skills. Play time can have purpose and still be fun.

As a more concrete example of these skills, here is a list of early childhood performance indicators created by the state of Tennessee. Most parents and educators do not start thinking about curricular standards until at least kindergarten, yet most of us would admit that learning really begins at home.

The way most state standards are designed is for each grade level to recap and build upon what was taught/learned in the previous grade level, an idea known as scaffolding. By making ourselves aware of these prerequisite skills our children will need before starting school, we parents can further ensure that we are giving our children the best starts possible and setting them up for success.

I do not present these standards from a political standpoint or to start a debate about the pros and cons of holding all children to the same academic standards. Rather, I present them as a tool that parents can add to their parental tool belts. Some tools are more useful than others, depending on the job to be done and the person who wields the tool. Take this information and use it (or don't) as you will. :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Sensory Box

Another popular, toddler-friendly fall activity I've seen floating around pretty much every mom and early childhood education blog lately is a fall sensory tub. I had never heard of sensory tubs before I began hunting for meaningful ways to entertain my Baby Bear, but I am amazed at the seemingly endless possibilities for making these tubs! Even with a common theme like fall, no two tubs I've seen have been alike.

Most ideas I came across for fall sensory tubs included very small pieces like rice or seeds as a filler, but my son is not to the point where I can place such tiny, hard items in front of him without fear that he would try to eat them. So, I decided to try my hand at creating a tub that was just right for my Baby Bear.

Contents: plastic pumpkins, a mini scarecrow, and fake leaves from a craft store; pine cones and soft pine needles from a friend's yard; wood apple I received as a gift from a student years ago; cinnamon stick; painted paper leaf from another craft we did. The pine cones, pine needles, and cinnamon stick added an aromatic touch to the box. I considered using real tiny pumpkins, but I was afraid Baby Bear would run off with them and they would rot under a couch somewhere.
Baby Bear immediately dumped the contents of the box onto the floor for easier manipulation of the objects. He was intrigued by the pine needles.
The pumpkins were his favorite.
Here are some of the other sensory boxes I came across in my search for ideas:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Homemade Flannel Board

It seems like lately I've been reading a lot about using flannel boards on various mom and teacher blogs and Websites. Then, while looking for something else on Amazon Mom, a flannel board set for the story "The Three Little Pigs" popped up as an item I might be interested in. Boy, was I! Baby Bear loves animals, especially pigs. Our copy of the book has too many words per page to hold his interest yet, though. So, I ordered the flannel board set (inexpensive and turned out to be very cute) and decided to use it as a visual for my own short, oral rendition. The only problem was that I didn't have a flannel board, but this was easily solved. I made my own!

I began by purchasing a cheap, unframed cork board and some flannel from Hobby Lobby. This board is about 11"x17".

I stapled the flannel to the cork board with my favorite bulletin board stapler from my teaching days.
Then, I told Baby Bear the story of the Three Little Pigs. He loved the huff and puff parts! My favorite part was when, instead of snorting for the pigs, he called out, "Wee wee wee!" like in the rhyme "This Little Piggy."

I also purchased some extra sheets of flannel for making my own pieces. For example, I want to cut out some different colored shapes to let Baby Bear practice learning his shapes and colors. I think I'm also going to purchase one more set for the story "The Three Bears." It seems fitting.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Whipped Cream Painting & Sorting

I have a picture hanging on my refrigerator that Baby Bear painted using chocolate pudding. Lately, he has been reaching up for the picture and saying, "Do!" Whereas pudding painting is fun and tasty, I wanted something a little more colorful yet still edible for Baby Bear to paint with. So, I grabbed a can of whipped cream, sprayed some into an ice cube tray, added a drop of food coloring to each compartment, and Baby Bear painted!

Primary colors... I let Baby Bear do the mixing to make other colors, even if unintentionally.
The paint colors reminded me of Fruit Loops, and I had a box in the pantry. So when Baby Bear finished painting, I helped him sort a couple handfuls of Fruit Loops by color.