Thursday, August 30, 2012

Homemade Edible Fingerpaint

Baby Bear was disappointed when his store bought fingerpaints ran out, so I decided to use the opportunity to try a new fingerpaint recipe. As soon as he went down for his nap, I set to work on making this edible fingerpaint recipe I found on Momtastic. On the site, the recipe calls for salt, but the author forgets to mention how much and when to add it. So, I added 1T of salt along with the flour and sugar. When the recipe says to stir until the mixture thickens, it does not say how thick it should be. I let it get to a medium gravy texture, but I wish I would have removed it from the heat a little before that because it thickened more as it cooled. In fact, because our paints sat out for several hours before we used them, I had to add more water to the baby food jars and shake just to loosen it enough for us to use, even though they were covered.

The fingerpaints were very gel-like, which Baby Bear thought was great. He loved the texture and kept squishing it in his hands. I should have anticipated him emptying the jars onto his paper, but for some reason I didn't. If I had, I would have only made half the amount of paint. The nice thing about the paints being thick was that it was easy to draw through them to make pictures. The bad part was how clumpy it was. I'm going to see if I can resolve the clumps issue by using more water, removing it from the heat sooner, and using the paints as soon as they are cool. I don't think these fingerpaints would store well based on our experience, but I will be making them again regardless. Overall, they were a great tactile experience for Baby Bear.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Zoo Box

Shortly before Baby Bear's birthday, we went to the zoo. I wanted to go on his birthday, but the dinosaur exhibit was ending before that, so we went a little early. We walked alllllll around the zoo... and walked, and walked, and walked. Well, I walked, and Baby Bear got to ride in his stroller most of the time. We enjoyed seeing the birds and mammals, and Baby Bear named some of them as we walked. I thought the dinosaurs were awesome! The animatronics were very well done! Baby Bear was scared of most of them, though, so we walked pretty fast through that part of the zoo. His favorite part was the building that housed the fish, reptiles, and amphibians, and we had to visit it twice (which I didn't mind because it was air conditioned!). All in all, we had a great time!

The next day, we reviewed our trip by making a zoo sensory box. I poured popcorn kernels into the sensory bin as a filler, and then Baby Bear and I collected various animal figures and finger puppets from around the house that represented some of the animals we had seen at the zoo... dinosaurs included! As we played, we named the animals, made animal noises, and talked about the animals' appearances. Our zoo box was a great way to review all we had seen and done on our field trip to the zoo.

Baby Bear with one of the dinosaurs

The contents of our zoo box
Playing outside the box just wasn't enough I guess. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Alphabet Crayons

Do you have a bunch of tiny, broken crayon pieces that are hard to grip and color with laying around your house? We did. Did. Now, we have alphabet crayons instead of those tiny broken pieces.

My Baby Bear has a mild interest in learning the letters of the alphabet. Occasionally, he asks me what the names of various letters are, and I want to encourage this course of curiosity. So, when I saw these silicone alphabet molds on Amazon, I couldn't resist! My first project with these molds, jello, didn't turn out so well because all the letters broke when I tried to get them out. So, for my second project, I combined all those little broken crayon pieces and used the molds to create new ones! These turned out much better as all the letters popped out of the mold without breaking except for the 'G.'

To make the alphabet crayons, I began by collecting all the crayons in the house that were half-size or less. Then, I lined them up in the letters molds, breaking or cutting them as necessary to fit better. I decided to get a little creative by mixing and matching the colors to see how they turned out. I popped them in the oven at 250 degrees for about 2 1/2 hours, and I checked on them about every half hour. I learned that the black crayons sort of muddied-up the other colors they mixed with, yellow added nice bright streaks, and similar colors (like blue and green or red and orange) tended to meld together. When used for coloring, these crayons give a cool, multicolored look to a picture. As for Baby Bear, he isn't as keen on coloring with these letters as he is just playing with and asking about them, which is just fine with me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Water Science

I heart teachable moments!!! Baby Bear and I had a wonderful teachable moment last week, and it just made my day! Even now I'm super happy about it because he still uses the some of the vocabulary words we learned. What did we do, you ask? We played with water!

I've used water in science lessons before during my teaching days, but, until now, I've underestimated the extent to which water lends itself to hands-on science. I swear, we covered five lessons in one long play session! I'll let the pictures show you what we did, and I bet you can think of even more ways to use water to introduce new science concepts and vocabulary.

This was our water play setup. I had intended on this mostly being about practicing fine motor skills like pouring from one container to another. We definitely did that, but we also did so much more!

Full vs Empty: Two of the vocabulary words Baby Bear learned on this day were full and empty. He had a lot of fun with this one because it meant he got to keep filling up his bucket (or asking me to) and then dumping it back out. He likes to use this new vocabulary during bath time now. He also quickly learned which methods for filling were faster (i.e. squirt gun vs. bowl vs. shovel).

Force and motion: While we didn't use the words force and motion as we made the pinwheel spin by using water, Baby Bear got to see how there were other ways to make it spin besides blowing air.

Capacity: This lesson evolved from our lesson on full vs. empty. Baby Bear learned that the small bubble container filled up much faster than the big bucket because the bucket could hold more water. We counted how many times we had to fill up the bubble container to fill the bucket and how many times we had to fill the bucket to fill the bubble container. Even though numbers are still pretty new to Baby Bear, he got the idea that it took a lot more to fill the bucket.

Water displacement: Again, this lesson spun off from our full vs. empty lesson. After the bowl was full, Baby Bear added some toys and noticed that some water spilled out over the sides. We experimented by adding more and more toys to see if the water would keep spilling over the side (it did, of course). I kept saying things like, "I wonder what will happen if I add Ernie to the bowl now," and, "What do you think will happen when Eeyore jumps in? Do you think the water will spill any more?"

Float or Sink: While Baby Bear was playing with his little toys in the baby pool, he noticed that he couldn't get Batman or Robin (the Little People toys) to stand on the bottom like his other toys. This opened up the window for a discussion of how some things float on top of the water and some things sink to the bottom. Sometimes I thought aloud like, "I wonder if Cookie Monster will float on top of the water," or asked a question like, "Do you think the blue Batman will float or sink in the bowl?" This is another lesson that Baby Bear likes to continue during bath time.
Like I said, we had a ton of fun doing both science and water play. I think the thing I liked most of all was that none of these lessons were planned. I just took note of Baby Bear's activities and interests and introduced the lessons as they arose... teachable moments. These early preschool years are the perfect ages to seize moments like these!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bubble Party

I don't know if I've mentioned this on here before, but I love where I live!!! Throughout the summer months, the local parks have had such fun community activities geared toward kids for families to attend. One time we went and found a couple dozen vehicles of all sorts parked on the lawn, all sitting with their doors open and ready for the kids to play in them! I'll have you know, my Baby Bear was the first kid of the day to discover how the sirens of the SWAT truck work. ;) Seeing as how parking all kinds of community vehicles on a lawn for a play date isn't feasible for most people, I thought I'd share one of the activities Baby Bear and I attended that would be great for a play date.

The event was called Bubble Buster, and it was best suited for kids approximately 1-4 years of age, though I'm sure it could be adjusted to suit kids a little bit older if needed. Basically, it was just lots and lots of bubbles for the kids to play in! There was a bubble machine that made most of the bubbles, which Baby Bear loved playing in, and then there were several kiddy pools full of bubble solution and bubble wands. Most of the bubble solution was poured into frisbies, which I wasn't sure of the reasoning behind, but I'm guessing it helped reduce the overall amount of solution needed. Off to the side of all the bubbles there was a sprinkler set up for the kids to play in, especially once they were done playing in the bubbles to help get all the soap off. Finally, at the end of the play time, the Parks and Rec workers who had run the event handed out icy pops to all the kids. All the while, there was children's music playing from a CD player in the shelter next to us. It really was such a simple event, yet the little ones had so much fun! I think this would be great to recreate for a play date!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Play with your Food

As you were growing up, did your parents have to tell you over and over again to not play with your food? Do you find yourself repeating this mantra to your own children? Let me play the two-year-old here: but why? As Baby Bear and I delve into learning about the five senses, I can't help but think that playing with your food is an effective way to explore all five in a single teachable moment. For example, after dinner last night, Baby Bear was still a little hungry, so I grabbed an orange and began peeling. Baby Bear, having just recently decided that he loves oranges, instantly ran over and wanted to help. As we worked together to peel the orange and detach the skin, Baby Bear inspected each of the pieces that passed through his hands. He noticed that the orange segments were wet, sticky, and sweet. He didn't like the feel or taste of the skin that was wrapped around each segment. When all the orange segments were gone, he grabbed a large section of orange peel and began playing with it. He flexed and tossed the peel and then laughed when it plopped on the floor. He pointed out that one side was orange and the other was white. He held it to his nose, liked how it smelled, and kept smelling it over and over again. The simple act of eating an orange turned into a fun, successful, on-the-spot-lesson on the five senses!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cooking with a Toddler

The first time I let Baby Bear help make dinner was back in November as a part of the 30 Days to Hands-on Play Challenge. Since then, he has helped make dinner a handful of times here and there... until recently. Nearly every night for the past month, my Baby Bear has decided that he is mommy's little helper when it comes to making dinner. "Cook, Mama! Help!" he pleads. Maybe it's because he really wants to spend that time with both Papa Bear and me every evening. Maybe it's because he likes helping me. Maybe he has a genuine interest in cooking. I don't know why for sure, but around here making dinner has become a family affair, and it's kind of fun.

On nights when we all help make dinner, Baby Bear and Papa Bear work together to prepare part of the meal. If a sauce needs spreading or the contents of a bowl need stirring, those are my go-to guys. Baby Bear loves to help stir! Some of the meals I make don't have any toddler-friendly tasks for them to help with, though. In those cases, I pacify Baby Bear with letting him make his own "food." For example, I'll hand him and Papa Bear a bowl, a measuring cup of water, and a handful of some of the ingredients I'm using. I think he knows it's only pretend cooking in at least some of those cases, but he's still happy to be in the kitchen working with Papa Bear and I. Sometimes it gets messy, and it often takes longer to prepare, but I think it is definitely worth these minor inconveniences to build these little memories together.

Spreading garlic butter over breadsticks

Shucking corn

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Couch Fort

When Baby Bear and I first started making and playing in forts, we used bed sheets over the dining room table. It worked well, but after a while Baby Bear started asking for a "house" in the living room. Papa Bear had the idea to use the couch cushions to make a living room fort. We stood the two loveseat cushions on end and then capped them with one of the longer couch cushions for a roof. It was just big enough for Baby Bear and a few of his toys to fit in, but he loved it. Now, pretty much every day Baby Bear asks for his "house" on the couch. It just goes to show, a fort doesn't have to be fancy or even well-built. You can use whatever materials you have around and use your imagination to put them together.

Playing with blocks inside the fort

He gathered all his "kids" (multicultural puppets from my teaching days) and a dog into the "house" and then put them to bed. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tech for Tots

Since marrying my computer genius husband, technology had embedded itself on a much larger scale in my life. Technology is quickly becoming a larger part of Baby Bear's life as well.

While he still loves his crayons, paints, and paintbrushes, he cannot turn down something to play with that has buttons, a screen, or animation. Aside from his favorite Vtech toys, he also enjoys using my laptop, my Nook, and the computer Papa Bear recently built for him. Here are a few of the toddler-friendly activities we let Baby Bear do on these devices.

When I am on my laptop, Baby Bear often asks to hop up in my lap and draw. We use the Paint program that comes standard on most Windows computers. I hold the button down while Baby Bear traces his finger over the touch pad. This activity helps him learn his colors because he has to tell me when he wants a new color and which one he wants so I can change it for him.
My Nook, like most e-readers, has many kid-friendly apps available both for free and for purchase. Baby Bear's favorites are interactive books, counting games, and drawing programs. He seems to like drawing on the Nook more than with the Paint program on my computer because he can do it himself without me holding down a button or changing colors for him. All he has to do is drag his finger across the screen. The very first real face picture he drew (as in it actually looked like a face) was on my Nook!

This is the computer Papa Bear built for Baby Bear. Being a computer geek, he has a few boxes of spare computer parts that he can use to improve or build computers (I think my laptop is the only computer in the house that has an actual make and model). The only site we've found so far that Baby Bear really likes is In this picture, he is helping Curious George paint the wall. Using an actual computer rather than a laptop is teaching him how to operate a computer mouse. And, because all the parts we used are old and worn anyway, this computer can stand up to our toddler.
Baby Bear isn't quite 2 years old, but he is already learning how to properly use technology. Just because kids are little doesn't mean they can't use things like computers and e-readers. We just have to find the right programs to fit their skill levels and needs.