Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Washing & Sanitizing Toys

I know, I know... washing and sanitizing toys sounds like anything but fun, but at our house it is a source of entertainment because it inevitably turns into "make a big watery, splashy mess" play. :)

I begin by layering towels on the bathroom floor. Then, Papa Bear and I collect all the water-safe toys in the house and take them to the bathroom. I fill the bathtub with warm water and a touch of bleach (follow the amount guidelines on the bleach container) and a large mixing bowl with cold water. A handful at a time, I throw the toys into the bathtub, wait about 30 seconds, give them a quick rinse, and then toss them into the bowl where Baby Bear and Papa Bear sit waiting to rinse them more. This is where Baby Bear turns washing toys into fun! He dunks, splashes, fills, and pours with the toys until his diaper, all our clothes, and every towel on the floor around him are completely drenched. When he is done, Papa Bear and I set the toys out on the few remaining dry towels to dry overnight. We've found it's a great way to get rid of germs and have fun at the same time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter Sensory Box

I almost forgot to post about the winter sensory box Baby Bear and I did as a part of our snow week! Basically, I grabbed many small blue and white items of varying textures, and placed them in a plastic bin. These items included cotton balls, pom-poms with a tinsel-like coat, pipe cleaners twisted into snowflakes, foam snowflakes, and decorative stones. I took a chance with the stones because Baby Bear is still getting out of the phase where everything has to go in his mouth, but since we played with this box together, they worked out pretty well. I also counted how many we started with to help keep track of them. In the end, these stones were his favorite part!

The decorative stones were buried on the bottom of the box, so Baby Bear pulled out the other items, examined them, and felt their textures before he found the stones. Once he found them, it was as if none of the other items even existed! We must have played with them for at least an hour before I finally had to put them away so we could go on with our day!

The contents

Dumping the box and digging through the contents to find all the decorative stones

Filling Mama Bear's hand with the stones

He found a few of his play cups in a toy box and spent quite a while pouring the stones from cup to cup. He sure loved playing with them!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wrapping Up Snow Week

To wrap up snow week, here are other snow and snowmen activities we did.

We went outside and "built" a snowman.

I made snowmen snacks using foods like crackers, cream cheese, fruit, chocolate chips, cheese, and fruit snacks. Unfortunately, Baby Bear didn't like having the cream cheese on his crackers and wouldn't touch them (except for the chocolate chips). I thought they were pretty good, though. ;)

I saw these on Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas, so Baby Bear and I made them. He filled the bottle with cotton balls and I used a glue gun to add the buttons, eyes, and scarf.

Finally, we made snowmen out of white glitter playdough. I think this was one of Baby Bear's favorite activities.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tape Resist Snowflake Painting

Baby Bear and I have tried a few tape resist art activities in the past, but the edible paints we used did not work well for the activity. When I saw these cute snowflake paintings on the Little Learner's Lounge, I decided to give it one more try. This time, I mixed a packet of Kool-aid with approximately two cups of water and a couple pinches of corn starch. Of the edible paint recipes we've tried, this worked the best for tape resist art.

Baby Bear thought the Kool-aid paint was pretty fun... and tasty!

He made quite the mess with the paint, but he had a blast in the process!
The paint did not dry as bright as I had hoped, but at least with this edible paint, the tape could be peeled off without all the paint flaking off in the process. If I could get Baby Bear to stop eating the paints we use, it could be fun to add a little glitter next time. :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Flannel Board Snowman

Continuing our week in snow play on these snowless days, Papa Bear and I added the pieces needed to make a snowman to our flannel board collection. When Baby Bear entered the living room the next morning and saw a snowman on his board, his face lit up into a huge grin.

The snowman. I thought about sewing real buttons onto the head and middle, but I decided to draw them on instead for safety reasons.
Adding the middle
Putting the head on the snowman. We use words like top, middle, and bottom while playing with these pieces.
Adding the hat

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homemade Snow

After our cotton ball fun, I just had to make some more realistic snow for Baby Bear to play in! We needed something cold. So, I threw a bunch of ice cubes in the blender, scooped it into a large bowl, and we played!

Baby Bear had a blast scooping the snow with a spoon. He also learned that he could switch to the spoon when his hands got too cold so he could keep playing.

Yay, cold snow!!!

He was fine with his hands being cold, but he kept pulling his feet up every time they touched the snow! So much like his mama... ;)

The inevitable taste test. All he wanted to do was eat the snow after this. :)

Playing with a snowball I made. The bad part about using ice for snow is that the snowballs are hard as ice. There was no throwing this snow.

Papa Bear gave him a toy dump truck to play with in the snow. He had fun with this for a little while, but mostly, he just wanted to eat the snow. That's my Baby Bear!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's Snowing!

OK, not really, but we've been playing in the "snow" anyway. Early in December I bought Baby Bear snow pants and boots so we could play in the snow this winter. It has snowed maybe three times so far this winter. The first two times were just a few flakes here and there with no accumulation. The third time, there was a little accumulation, but Jack Frost was biting a little too hard at our noses to enjoy any play time. So, when Papa Bear needed to run out to grab a few things from the grocery store last weekend, I asked him to get a bag of cotton balls too. When he got home, we had a "snowball" fight! Baby Bear LOVED the snowball fight and has initiated several more since then!

Pulling the cotton balls out of the bag and feeling them. These were super soft, so the sensory experience was even better.
We took turns gathering piles of snowballs and making it snow on Baby Bear. Baby Bear took turns teaming up with Papa Bear and me to launch massive snowball attacks on the other parent. We all had a lot of fun!

Monday, January 23, 2012

TP Roll Snowman

I saw this idea for a snowman ornament on Happy Hooligans a while back and have been excited to make one ever since. I have to admit, this cute little snowman is not an ideal toddler craft as I had to do many of the steps myself, but with such a mild January, I really wanted to introduce Baby Bear to the ideas of snow and snowmen. Baby Bear did help paint the toilet paper roll, but I had to assist in that as well because it was not edible paint. Now, this cute little guy sits on our mantle as a "winter" decoration.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Indoor Water Play: Colored Water

A while back, while walking through Target, I came across some Sesame Street Fizzy Tub Colors on sale. The package contained 9 water coloring tablets, and this sounded like something Baby Bear would like, so I grabbed them.

The package warned against consumption, so I made sure to use one after Baby Bear had enough to drink so he wouldn't be tempted to try to drink the water in the bathtub. I also made sure he didn't see me throw the tablet in the tub because I didn't want him to try to pick it up and taste it. Furthermore, I only threw the tablet in the tub for the last 5 minutes of water play time to reduce the chances that he would get any in his mouth. I say all this to help any other parents thinking about using similar color changing tablets be as cautious as possible, not to scare anyone away from bathtub fun. I am looking for a homemade, more toddler-friendly alternative for future use, but these have worked just fine for short periods of indoor water play.

I loved the look of surprise on Baby Bear's face when all of a sudden his water was blue! He kept scooping the water up in the measuring cups I gave him to play with and examining it with his eyes and hands. He had similar reactions on other occasions when I turned the water yellow and green. What a fun way to play with water indoors while learning basic colors at the same time!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Back to Basics: Classic Toy #10

Today's classic toy is the shape sorter... a favorite of many babies and toddlers!  Baby Bear actually has two shape sorters of differing skill levels. One is a simple Fischer Price box with five shape holes. The other is like the cube one I remember growing up with that has 18 shape holes (a yard sale find with a couple pieces missing, but still fun). Baby Bear has also enjoyed playing with a shape sorter that spins and looks like an elephant and one shaped like a ball while on play dates. It's amazing what a variety of sorters are out there!

Baby Bear has progressed from getting frustrated and just throwing the shapes in the box (lol!), to sorting them with help, to being able to fit most of the shapes into the correct holes of his simple sorter on his own. This toy is great for hand-eye coordination, basic math concepts, and problem solving skills. He'll probably outgrow the simple sorter by the time he's 2 years old, but the old cube with 18 shapes to sort will probably last through the preschool years as he learns more about shapes.

This will probably be my last classic toy post for a while, but look for more when the rainy days of late summer start!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Back to Basics: Classic Toy #9

I love that my son is old enough to enjoy playing with Mr. Potato Head! This was one of my favorite toys when I was a child, and it is quickly becoming one of Baby Bear's favorites as well. With Mr. Potato Head, my son can practice correctly placing facial anatomy or just have fun being silly. Sometimes when he grabs a piece for Mr. Potato Head's face, he points to the part of his face that matches (i.e. he points to his own ear while holding Mr. Potato Head's ear). Plus, placing the pieces in the holes requires hand-eye coordination and a little hand strength. You just can't go wrong with Mr. Potato Head!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Back to Basics: Classic Toy #8

Today's classic toy is... cars! Not only are they fun to play with on their own, but there are numerous ways to play with toy vehicles. Racing, driving on store-bought and homemade tracks (which offers many variations in itself), crashing, and zooming are some of the ways we three bears like to play with cars.

Toy cars come in many varieties to appeal to a wide range of children, too. Matchbox, remote control, big, small, color-changing, Barbie-size, transforming, and paintable are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. So, whether your kid wants to throw a monster truck rally or drive Barbie to her dream home, the classic car is sure to bring lots of fun!

Making a truck zoom and crash

Just driving

A track with tunnels for the small cars

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back to Basics: Classic Toy #7

My son has a doll. That's right. He only has one, and it's fairly boyish-looking as far as dolls go; but, no matter how you dress it, it's still a doll. The way I see it, Baby Bear's doll isn't really all that different than the Little People figurines he plays with. I think dolls are a great classic toy because they are an important part of developing imaginative play skills. Since receiving his doll, Baby Bear has begun to pretend more. He hugs, feeds, and plays with his doll as well as other people and animal toys. He is also learning more about interacting with babies when I play with him and the doll, which will come in handy at baby/toddler play dates with my moms group. A little imaginative play that also encourages good social skills is good for both boys and girls.

Hugging the baby

Sharing his juice

Giving the baby a ride "on" his trike ;)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back to Basics: Classic Toy #6

With the increase of time spent indoors due to weather, I have decided to continue blogging about some of our favorite classic toys. My favorite classic toys are those that require some thinking skills, improve basic physical development, and can be done alone by a child or together with a parent or sibling. Puzzles definitely meet all these requirements!

Puzzles are great because there is such a variety to choose from based on interest and developmental level. For example, Baby Bear has a couple of Melissa & Doug puzzles that he loves. One involves matching shapes and colors, and the other is about matching vehicles. Matching is the key word here. Baby Bear has other non-matching puzzles that he can do with help, but these two are his favorites because he can also do them on his own. All he has to do is find the picture in the puzzle that looks the same as the piece in his hand and then manipulate it to fit in the space.

For older kids, you can increase the complexity by doing a puzzle that has more pieces, a puzzle with pieces that look somewhat alike, or a 3D puzzle. Preschool and lower-elementary age kids might also like creating their own puzzles. One simple way to do this is by lining up 5-10 craft sticks, taping them together on one side, having the child draw a picture on the other side, and then removing the tape. This adds an element of creativity that may appeal to kids who otherwise don't enjoy doing puzzles. The classic puzzle has come a long way!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Recycling Blocks

As our unseasonably warm January weather draws to a close, I find myself busy trying to come up with new ways to entertain Baby Bear indoors. Today, I went for the recycling. Even though Christmas was more than two weeks ago, we still have an abnormally large number of boxes sitting in our recycling pile. I taped some of the boxes shut, and Baby Bear and I had fun using them as giant blocks!

We could have spent some time wrapping the boxes in leftover wrapping paper or painting them, but that seemed wasteful and defeated the purpose of recycling. Perhaps if we planned on keeping them around for a while this would have been another fun activity.

The boxes varied in size, so Baby Bear and I had fun experimenting with stacking them in different ways. It was like a baby physics lesson. :)

Baby Bear helped stack a little...
...but mostly, he had fun knocking down Mama Bear's towers. ;)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Interlocking Foam Mats

You know those interlocking foam puzzle mats? Well we have three sets of these. We have a set of lower-case alphabet tiles, upper-case alphabet tiles, and solid tiles. For a while, these floor mats made up the floor for Baby Bear's play room to create a softer, safer play space. Now that Baby Bear is more stable on his feet, energetic, and interactive, our family enjoys exploring the possibilities for playing with these tiles. They have become a family favorite!

Baby Bear crawling through a tunnel Papa Bear made with some foam mat pieces

I made two "islands" and connected them with a "bridge." Baby Bear loves running from island to island, and using the bridge has improved his balance dramatically. He was able to take a few steps on the balance beam at the children's gym he attends on his very first try. I attribute that to this activity.

Making blocks out of the foam tiles is always a hit. Sometimes we use the letters from words to make the blocks. One time, while using the letters from Baby Bear's name, he started calling out two of the letters from his name (randomly, but still... he knew the letter names!). Baby bear also has fun filling these with small toys. Occasionally, we will leave off the sixth side to make boxes rather than a blocks.
Another family favorite is using the tiles to build forts. We have come up with numerous fort designs, and now Baby Bear even gets involved in the 3D construction process. Of course, his favorite part is still knocking the fort down when we are done playing. :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pipe Cleaners & Pom-Poms Discovery Box

OK, so this wasn't intended to be a discovery box. It just sort of... happened. Baby Bear and I were coloring when all of a sudden he pointed to the top of Papa Bear's and my desks and started fussing that he wanted something. The top of the desks is where most of my boxes of craft supplies sit. So, I pointed to these boxes one by one, and when my finger landed on the box containing pipe cleaners and pom-poms, Baby Bear gave a satisfied smile. I pulled the box down, and we played with its contents for a long, long time. :)

We spent some time gathering pipe cleaners of the same color. I also grabbed an empty paper towel roll, and we experimented with placing the items in and through the roll.

After a while, Baby Bear wanted to throw a couple boxes of crayons into the mix. So, we spent some time sorting by item. Then, Baby Bear decided to sort the crayons by color, too. He carried around a handful of green crayons for a while. I was amazed at how he found every green crayon in the pile even though they differed in shade. As it turns out, random, colorful craft supplies make a pretty good discovery box.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sticker Scenes

Baby Bear absolutely LOVES stickers! He loves to stick them to things as well as peel them back off, which has been wonderful for helping develop his fine motor skills. We have a wall in the center of our kitchen that makes up the back of some cupboards. This wall was plain and boring and a good height for Baby Bear, so I turned it into a sticker wall. Usually, Papa Bear, Baby Bear, and I just put stickers up randomly and take them back down. We decided to do things a little differently one day, though, and we used some dinosaur stickers to make a sort of landscape. Besides using fine motor skills, this activity was also great for helping Baby Bear learn to use his imagination.

Choosing another sticker for the dinosaur scene

The scene

Papa Bear created his own separate scene