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Flour Play

Since we’ve been talking about other fun kitchen play (with rice, with potatoes, with water), I had to do a post on good ol’ flour.

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It’s been snowing here, and my toddler (“J”) has been really interested in the snow.  I decided to make him some “fake snow” out of flour so that he could push it around with his bulldozers and pretend they were snowplows.  As it turned out, we didn’t get that far because he loved playing with it with regular kitchen utensils so much!  (Plus, I wasn’t in a hurry to get his toy trucks full of flour.)

A few weeks ago, I bought a plastic fold-out table from IKEA that’s meant for having breakfast in bed or in front of the TV.  I had been searching for a short table that “J” could use when he helps in the kitchen, and I hoped this would be perfect.  It is!  It’s easy to clean, relatively large, folds up so that I can store it in a kitchen cabinet, and is sturdy enough that he can put his weight on it without destroying it (though it’s debatable how many more times he can SIT on it before it breaks).  I can’t seem to find it online, but you can see it in these pictures.  I highly recommend it!

Materials:
Flour
Kitchen utensils and containers (i.e. spoons, bowls, cups)
A place to play (table, mat on the floor, etc.)

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Instructions:

  1. Give the flour to your child, and let the fun begin!
  2. For added enjoyment (but a larger mess), you can also give your child a small amount of water to mix into the flour.

I let “J” play for a little while with the flour alone and then gave him a small cup of water.  He immediately and happily dumped the water into the flour and turned to me with an enthusiastic, “More!”

Don’t forget to rinse your table and utensils soon after you finish playing, or it will be really hard to get that watery flour off!

 

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Cardboard Box Tunnel

DSC03911What’s more fun than a cardboard box?  Isn’t there a joke that you spend money on a gift, but the baby or toddler likes the box more than the item you bought?

A good cardboard box can be TONS for fun.  My toddler “J” can find something to do with a box of almost any size.  A favorite game is to climb inside the box and then try to fill it with all of his toys, burying himself in the process.  He also enjoys sitting in cardboard boxes and having us push him around like he’s in a boat.

We ordered some frames online recently, and because they had glass in them, they sent them in a ton of packaging.  As a result, we ended up with one large cardboard box that I just knew we could find a good use for.

After “J” was finished with his sitting-in-the-box games, I flipped it over and cut out the sides to make a tunnel.  It was large enough that he could climb through it himself, as well as push his toy trucks and cars through it.  He got a huge smile as he happily plopped down and crawled through.

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Such an easy, free toy!  And there are so many possibilities for how to use it!  Just one word of caution — if you cut off the sides to make a tunnel, the stability of the box is greatly weakened, so you should try to leave a lip at the top, and you may need to use packing tape or something else to support the sides.  Our box was strong enough to survive about two days of play before we had to reinforce it.

 

 

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Potato Fun

DSC03888Today was a snow day for us, so we were in search of things to keep ourselves busy around the house.  My toddler “J” loves his trucks and “boys” (as he calls his toy people).  Sometimes we play with them outside in the sandbox, sometimes with rice or noodles inside, and sometimes he likes to put his smaller trucks into his larger trucks and haul them around.

We have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture — we order ahead for the season and then pick up every weekend), so we don’t always know what we are going to get week-to-week.  Lately there have been a LOT of root vegetables, especially potatoes.  Our neighbors were gone over Thanksgiving and gave us their CSA share, so despite making a ton of mashed potatoes and potato soup, we are still overloaded with raw potatoes.

These potatoes are sitting in paper bags in the bottom of a rolling cart we have in the kitchen.  Today “J” discovered them for the first time and decided they were the best thing ever!  I would never have expected raw potatoes to be so much fun.

Reasons raw potatoes are awesome toys:

  1. They often have a little dirt on them still, which makes them very engaging for the senses and causes them to bring in a sense of the outdoors.
  2. They are something you often have around the house.
  3. They last almost forever before going bad.  If they have “eyes,” all the more fun to play with!
  4. You can easily manhandle them without causing major bruises or making them inedible.  Your child can play with them for hours, and then you can put them back in their bag and wait another month before cooking them!
  5. You do not need to worry about them getting dirty, since we would need to wash them before cooking anyway (and maybe peel them, depending on how you are using them).
  6. They are natural, , compostable, and environmentally friendly.
  7. They (probably) won’t be as appealing to your dog/cat/hamster as other foods might be.  Just to be on the safe side, we put our dog outside while we played (it’s okay — we have a covered porch, so he didn’t have to lay in the snow).
  8. They come in various sizes and look/feel a bit like rocks, making them great for construction play.

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“J” dumped them out of the bag, piled them into his play pots and pans, carried them around, took them out of the pots and pans, put them back in, carried the pots and pans around, dumped them out, put his toy “boys” with the potatoes, and generally just explored them and had fun.  Such an easy, fun toy!

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Colorful Water Fun

 

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I love food coloring.

Today we took it outside and played with colorful water.  Because I didn’t want my toddler (“J”) to squeeze an entire vial into a small cup and then immediately dump it on the ground, I put them up on our fence and was personally in charge of adding them as needed.  This was a great way for him to practice the names of colors: “Green!  Blue!  Yellow!”  For some reason, he never asked for red.

This was definitely messy and wet.  I brought out the garden hose and turned it on very low so J could use it himself without getting very wet and we weren’t wasting a ton of water.  To be honest, I think J would have been just as happy with the water alone, but the food coloring made for a fun change of pace.

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Materials:

Garden hose or other water source

Food coloring

Containers and spoons, etc., to play with (we used pots/pans and utensils from Goodwill)

Instructions:

  1. Dress yourself and your child for the possibility of getting wet.  It’s best to do this on a relatively warm or hot day.
  2. Collect your containers and utensils, and set up a play area in a place that is accessible to your water source.
  3. Put some water in some of the containers, add a little food coloring, and have fun!
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Washing the Floors — It Can Be Fun!

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All you need is a little vinegar and water, rags, a bowl, and a pitcher!

Wash the floors?  Yuck.  Definitely one of my least favorite things to do and the last thing I want to do after my toddler (“J”) goes to sleep and I have a few hours to myself for the first time all day.

But what if I invited J to help me wash the floors?

Genius!  He loves playing with water and frequently dumps our dog’s water bowl onto the floor before I can get there to stop him.  He likes to sweep, vacuum, and wipe off the table.  And now, I know that he likes helping wash the floor!

Materials:

Medium-to-large unbreakable bucket or bowl

Pitcher or other container made with a spout for pouring

Rags (or scrubbing brush if preferred)

Water

Vinegar (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Fill the pitcher or bowl/bucket with warm water and a small amount of white cooking vinegar.  Vinegar is safe in small amounts, especially if watered down, so this is a safe cleaning mix for your child to work with (provided they don’t start drinking large quantities!).  If you prefer, you can use only water.
  2. Be sure not to put too much water/vinegar into the bucket or pitcher.  It should be a small amount so that if/when it is dumped on the floor, it won’t be a big mess.
  3. Give your child the pitcher and bucket, as well as a rag.  Show him or her how to dip the rag into the water mixture and then scrub the floor.
  4. Your child may enjoy wiping the floor or may focus on the water, splashing it and/or pouring it back and forth.  Fine!  I let J pour the water back and forth from bowl to pitcher and then pitcher to bowl.  Eventually, he dumped it all on the floor and asked for more.  I simply put my rag into the water and used it to wash the floor after giving him some more water to play with!

Easy, cheap, and CLEAN!  Who doesn’t love an activity that leaves your house cleaner than when you started, rather than messier?!

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Cheapest, Easiest Fall Toy Ever — Leaves!

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Lest we forget the simplest things in life, I am writing this post about an abundant resource in the autumn (at least in much of the country).  Leaves!

It’s easy to see leaves as an irritation — a nuisance cluttering up your yard, a mess as they are tracked into the entryway, a frustration when they hide dog poop.

But to a small child, leaves are magical.  All of a sudden, the ground is overtaken by bright colorful things that are easy to pick up and have a pronounced texture.  The trees that seem so permanent and stalwart are suddenly looking very different.  The air feels cooler, and there’s a new sense of urgency among many of the animals as they gather food and prepare for the winter ahead.

Observing this childish perspective is an amazing change for an adult used to overlooking such “normalities” in the regular cycle of life.  It gives us a chance to renew our wonder about the universe.

So get out there with your children!  Here are a few activities that young children might enjoy:

  • Rake the leaves — get your big rake, and grab a small one for your little one, and show them how to rake.  You might be amazed at how good of helpers they can be.
  • Put the leaves into bags or cans — my toddler (“J”) loves to throw away garbage and yard waste.  Make a pile of leaves, find a bag/bin/can short enough for your child to reach into (or use a bucket that you transfer into a larger receptacle), and show them how you do it.
  • Throw leaves in the air — make a pile of leaves and gather around it.  Grab a handful and throw it into the air above yourself and/or your child.  The leaves fall slowly and catch the air as they go, blowing around a bit.  They also get stuck in your hair.  This can be a lot of fun for you and your child.
  • Bury yourself in the leaves — sit down or have your child sit down, and pile leaves around yourselves until you can only see your head sticking out.
  • Walk through a pile of leaves — a leaf pile doesn’t have to be particularly high for it to seem huge to a young child.  Rake some leaves into a pile, and show them how to run through it.  It’s fun to kick the leaves as you go and hear the swish as you walk through.
  • Make a fall “meal” — use the elements of fall in your outdoor play kitchen to make some new “dishes.”  Leaves can act as tortilla-like wraps.  You might pretend a branch of dead leaves is a kabob.  There are a million possibilities — just be sure no one actually eats them!
  • Compost — if you have a compost bin (or if you are willing to buy or make one and start composting now, your child can help add leaves to your compost bin/pile.  Explain to them what compost is and ask their help in turning the pile as needed.
  • Bring the leaves inside — collect a handful of leaves and bring them inside.  Press them flat by putting a heavy book on top of them for a couple of hours or more, and then make leave drawings by putting a piece of paper over the leaves and rubbing on top with a crayon.

Safety notes:
As always, you should take care to be safe in your play.  Watch your children closely so that they don’t eat leaves, nuts, branches, or other things in nature that are not edible.  If you have animals, do a preliminary search and remove any possible excrement from the leaves you’ll be playing with.  Supervise your children when using the rake, especially if it is metal.

What do you do with leaves in the fall?

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The Library

Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget the simplest, cheapest, and funnest places to take our children.  One of those is the library.

“J” and I go to circle time at our local library almost every week, but we rarely think to go on other days and just explore the space.  We went a few times when he was smaller, and he spent the whole time clinging to me and/or pulling every book in the children’s department off the shelf and throwing it on the floor.

We are fortunate enough to live in an area rich in libraries, so we don’t have to travel far to find a variety of different choices.  I love our local library, but it’s not set up as play-friendly as some of the others nearby.  I’ve discovered that some have whole play areas with toys (baby dolls, trucks and cars, the proverbial wood block with beads on it, etc.), as well as comfortable seats for little ones and accessible board books so that they toddlers won’t pull down so many of the other books.  It’s actually pretty amazing.

Today we ventured to a nearby library that had a nice but not outstanding play area.  Nonetheless, J had a fantastic time, and it was all for free!  There were several other kids near his age who showed up, and they all played together quite well.  There were some plastic magnetic letters they all seemed to enjoy, as well as bins to put them in and a magnetic board that happened to have a fun “pass-through inside it” (well, a pass-through only large enough for a child under 2!).  J also really loves books right now and enjoyed having me read him a few.  It was nice to get a little change of pace from the same few favorites he has at home.

Libraries are pretty amazing places.  They have so much to offer, especially for children, and they are designed specifically to build literacy and help your child become a lifelong reader and learner.  And they are free!  You can’t get much better than that.