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DIY “Books” or Cards

My toddler (“J”) loves looking at pictures in books, magazines, catalogs, and anything else he can get his hands on.  He particularly enjoys pictures of his favorite things (like electric drills, kitchen mixers, blenders, and trucks).

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The other day, he made a grab for the Crate & Barrel catalog and found a picture of a mixer, which has been his most recent obsession after seeing me use it to make cookies and muffins.  He also found a picture of a blender, a slow cooker, and a toaster.

“J” would flip through the magazine in search of his favorite pictures, always wanting to close it for some reason and then open it again and find them.  Of course, it was difficult for his little fingers to turn the very thin pages, and the magazine was not holding up well to a lot of handling.  When “J” nearly had a tantrum because he was having trouble turning to the picture of the mixer, I decided it was time to take the mixer out of the magazine.

And so, the “trading cards” were born.  They are sort of half books, half trading cards.  My husband says they are like toddler baseball cards and that it would be funny if toddlers carried these around with pictures of their favorite equipment and traded with their friends.  That sounds pretty awesome to me, so get your toddler on board with us!

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Materials:
Old magazines or catalogs with pictures of things your toddler recognizes and likes
Scissors
Cardboard remnants (I cut up an old box)
Mod Podge or other decoupage glue
Scrapbook paper, construction paper, or other colorful paper (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Choose the pictures you plan to use and cut them out in the shapes you like.  You can cut closely around the objects if you want or can cut out squares or circles leaving some border around your object.  What works best depends a lot on the type of picture you have.  I tried to cut mine so that none of the advertising text was visible.
  2. Cut cardboard pieces so that they are the size you want.  They should be big enough for at least one picture on each side, but you could also make them larger if you want to put more pictures on each page or if you just want a lot of “white space” around them.
  3. (Optional:  Cut scrapbook or construction paper to the size of the cardboard pieces.  This will be the background for your pictures.)
  4. Using Mod Podge or other decoupage glue, adhere the paper to the cardboard and then adhere the picture(s) on top.  I like to use decoupage glue because you can put it over the top of the pictures to seal them so that it won’t be easy for little fingers to pick at the edges and pull them off.  It also helps firm up the card/page a little and make it sturdier.
  5. Let the glue dry.  If you are making two-sided cards/pages, it’s a good idea to do one side at a time and find a place where you can dry them in between gluing.

All done!  “J” loves these cards and carries them around with him when we go places in the car.  It’s much easier for him than flipping through the magazine, and it’s fun for him to flip them over and even use them as toys (putting them in and out of his toy trucks, building little tunnels with them, etc.).  I’m planning to do more of this in the future with different types of pictures.

Other Ideas:

  • Use markers to write the names of the objects on each card, giving your child increased familiarity with seeing the written word.
  • Cut up the cards, and use them as puzzles.  (Note: It’s difficult to cut these after finishing them.  I recommend cutting before gluing or using an X-Acto-type knife afterwards.)
  • Make a bunch of cards and use them for playing games like “Go Fish!” or matching.
  • Hang the cards on the wall as decorations.  You could use clothes pins and maybe boards nailed to the wall or yarn hung on the wall (as long as you make sure it’s not a strangulation hazard).  Your child could play with the cards and the clothes pins and enjoy putting them up and taking them down again.
  • If you have an older child, you could do this project together.  It’s very simple and safe, as long as you closely supervise the cutting.  I recommend that an adult be the one to cut the cardboard, since it is tough to cut and will require a sharper knife.
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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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DIY Play Mailbox

If your toddler is like mine, he or she loves putting things in and taking them out again.  What better place to do this than a mailbox?

We go outside to get the mail together most days, and “J” seems to like it a lot, so I made him his own play mailbox.  It was intended to go on the door to his playroom closet, as though that were his “house,” but when it was attached to the wall, he could pull it apart too easily, so I took it down and just use it unattached.  If your child is a bit older and/or you make sure to tape it more securely, you could probably adhere to a door or wall without a problem.

Materials:

Used (or new) U.S. Postal Service mailing box
Scrapbook or other nice-looking paper
Paste or other type of glue
Stickers for decorating (optional)
Additional pieces of cardboard for making “postcards” (optional)

Instructions:

1.  Deconstruct your cardboard box and cut off unnecessary sides.

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2.  Cover the outside with paper as desired, making sure to include enough of an extra amount on the inside so that you will see a continuation of the nice-looking paper when you glance inside (rather than unfinished cardboard).  You could meticulously cover every inch of the box with paper, but neither you nor your child will really see into the deep inside, so it’s perfectly fine to be a little lazy in your covering.

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3.  Put the box together using paste and/or clear tape.  I used paste, but it was not very strong, so although tape would ruin the line a little, I think it might be a good idea to use some clear packing tape.

4.  If desired, add stickers or other details to the box.  I had some extra scrapbook stickers, so I used them to write “Mailbox” and “123 Main St” on the one I made.

5.  Optional:  Use cardboard and extra paper to make postcards or “letters” that can be put in and taken out.  Alternatively (or additionally), you can let your little one put other little things into the box, or you can use real envelopes or junk mail.

Happy mailing!

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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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Playing with Rice and Noodles

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Colored rice = oodles of fun!

I stumbled upon a post on Childhood101 about using food coloring to dye rice.  The focus there was using it to mix into homemade playdough (a great idea!), but I decided it would be fun to dye it for “J” to scoop, dump, and pour without mixing into playdough.

It’s ridiculously easy and turns out so pretty that I’m considering dyeing some and putting it in the bottom of vases with dried flower arrangements or perhaps doing sand-painting-type things with it.

Materials:

Uncooked rice (cheapest version you can get)

Food coloring

Mixing bowl and spoon

Cook sheet or waxed paper

Instructions:

  1. Put several scoops of uncooked rice into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add some drops of food coloring and stir until the rice is coated and the color is the density you desire.

    If you want to create colors other than red, yellow, green, or blue, it’s best to mix the food coloring before adding it to the rice (i.e. mix yellow and red first to make orange and then add to the rice).  However, it can also be fun to add the drops directly into the rice for a slight tint and some texture.  That’s how to made the purple and green rice in the picture above — although it’s hard to see in the picture, some grains of the purple rice were blue and others red, and some grains of the green rice were green while others were yellow.

  3. Dump colored rice onto a cookie sheet or waxed paper and let sit for about 1-2 hours so that the color dries and sets.
  4. Repeat this process as many times as you wish to make batches of different colors!

Activities:

There are a million different ways to play with colorful rice, and your little one will probably need very little guidance.

My recommendations are to make sure you have a specific area cordoned off so that the rice doesn’t end up all over the house and to be prepared to do a lot of sweeping after the play is finished.  Oh, and also make sure your pets are not allowed into the space.  Our dog managed to eat his fair share of uncooked colored rice pieces before I got him safely in the backyard!

Take out a few containers, scooping devices, and anything else you think would be fun.  If you have a water table or water table toys (i.e. the spinning mills), those would be fun to try with the rice.  Funnels are also great, particularly for older kids.  J (who is 19 months) didn’t seem to quite understand the purpose of the funnel.

Then, let the kids go at it!  You will probably be inclined to join in because it’s just that much fun!  Oh, and the good news is that because the rice is not white or translucent, you can better identify where it is better when you are cleaning up!

Here are some pictures of the ways we used the rice:

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Using an old cream cheese container and a plastic scooper that originally came with a jar of protein powder (we also got out the toy boats just for fun)

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A taller plastic container and a large wide-necked glass container. J liked the containers that had lids so that he could put the rice inside and then shake it around. He also liked the ones that were clear so that he could see inside. I don’t highly recommend using a glass container like we did, but if it’s sturdy enough, it’s unlikely to be broken.

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Using an old carry-out containers that had different compartments, J had a ton of fun sorting and mixing. We also added some uncooked pasta and kernels of uncooked popcorn to the mix, which he enjoyed. I recommend against the popcorn kernels because they are a terrible choking hazard. I had read a blog post earlier in which a mom let her toddler play with them and just watched him closely, so I thought I’d give it a try. I warned J ahead of time that he couldn’t put them in his mouth, so he repeatedly looked up at me during our play and said, “Mouth,” I guess to be sure I understood that he understood (or just to check with me to see if the rules had changed?). He did a great job of not putting any of it into his mouth, but when we were playing with it a few days later, he started putting it in his mouth, and I was really worried he was going to choke on it. I’m not going to give him popcorn kernels again — but I highly recommend the pasta and rice!

One of the greatest things about this activity is that you are likely to have some rice and/or pasta in your cupboards already, and after you dye it, you can keep it and reuse it again and again, as long as it hasn’t gotten wet and hasn’t gotten too mixed in with dirt from the floor (no matter how much I clean, our floor is always covered in some dog hair).

I’d like to try cooking the dyed rice in the future, just to see what it looks like when it puffs up and whether it maintains the pretty color of the uncooked rice.  Might be a fun experiment for Halloween or a birthday party!