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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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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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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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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!