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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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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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DIY Toy “Salt” Shaker

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This is the easiest and most amazing (and free!) toy ever.  J loves the salt shaker and if I open the spice drawer, will scramble over as fast as he can and try to grab any spice he can.  He loves to shake them, which of course results in salt or spices ALL OVER.

I decided he might like to play with something like this using sand, dirt, or water, so I created a “shaker” for him.  You can play with it in the water (bathtime, water table, pool, etc.) or in the sand and dirt.  If you made the holes larger, you could even use it with small gravel or other substances.

Materials Needed:

Empty plastic container with lid (I used an old peanut butter container)

Electric drill

Instructions:

  1. Thoroughly clean the plastic container and remove any labels.
  2. Decide what size you want the holes to be and select the correct drill bit.  Be sure not to make the holes too small, or nothing will easily come out of them.
  3. Drill holes around the lid in whatever configuration you want, being careful to be consistent but not getting too close to the edges.

Super easy, super cheap, and super fun!

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DIY Sandpit

If you have a yard, one of the best toys you can put in it is a sandbox.  Kids can spend hours in the sandbox almost any time of year.  A little rain only makes it more fun!

Never wanting to be traditional, I didn’t want a sandBOX.  I wanted to create something myself that would meld into nature and would allow my toddler (“J”) to play in it along with the rest of the yard — not as a separate entity.

I was inspired by the amazing sandpits at the Waldorf preschool where J and I do some classes.  They compare to some of these amazing sandpits:

Tree stumps, a marooned boat, big shovels, huge space — what’s not to love?

Large free-form space, tree stump, little stones/shells

I’m sort of in love with tree stumps — can you tell? Here I love how they create playspaces and give a pleasantly confined feel to the pit. I also like how the greenery comes right up to the edge of the sandpit

Our backyard has been a mess since we moved in several years ago, so finding a space to put a sandpit was not a challenge.  I spent our first years here pulling all the English ivy out of the yard, and this year we finally got around to putting in a little grass and edging, but there was a nice spot next to our garage that was calling out for a sandpit.  So, here it is:

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It turns out that tree stumps are super heavy — ha!  Who would have guessed?  We were lucky enough to find a neighbor with a tree that was recently cut down, but even though they had some amazing stumps, it was impossible to take the really awesome, really huge ones.  We took the ones we could manage to haul away.

Enter the second challenge — cutting tree stumps!  I am notoriously bad about cutting myself with even the smallest knives or scissors, so I wasn’t about to get near a chainsaw.  My dear husband kindly cut the really rough edges and used his power sander on the stumps, and that was as much as we could do.

I’d love to have a few more stumps and have them at some different heights than these are, but they provided a good enough barrier and a nice workspace.  After some digging and lots of sand-dumping, we have ourselves a sandbox to dig in!

Advice for building a sandpit:

  1. Get as many of the materials as you can for free.  I love the look of natural items, and they can force you to be more creative in order to make them work in your space.  Although they were hard to move, the tree stumps we got for our sandpit really make it.
  2. Dig into the space where your sand will go to avoid having to dig too deeply for your stumps.  I found it easiest to dig a shallow hole for the sand and pile the dig around the stumps, rather than try to dig very deeply into the ground to stabilize the stumps alone.  Our space had a lot of big tree roots close to the surface, so it was impossible to dig very deep.
  3. Don’t underestimate how much sand you will need.  I ended up using 20 bags of play sand from Home Depot, and I think it would be ideal if I added another 4-5 bags on the top.  If you can get your sand cheaply through bulk delivery, it might be worth it.
  4. Make a plan for covering your sandpit after you are finished.  I’m temporarily using a tarp and some landscaping fabric, but it’s not a perfect solution.  Since our trees are dumping piles and piles of leaves right now, it’s essential to cover the sandpit.  Furthermore, you don’t want cats and other animals using it as a litter box.