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painting with bubbles

August 1, 2009

I read a great idea this morning on another blog and wanted to share the link with you. Click here to learn how to paint with bubbles. What a fun idea! It could also be easily transferred to a group activity (with poster board instead of card stock). We will definitely have to try this soon.

Anyone have any other ideas for activities with bubbles?


making puzzles

July 26, 2009

On a whim (really, just trying to figure out how to do something new with our old materials) Asher and I made puzzles last week. It just kind of developed as we went, but he really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d pass it on.

Asher likes to use scissors (“safety scissors,” he calls them), but so far just snips around the edges. Cutting in a line, moving scissors along paper, is a harder skill. Making puzzles is a good place to practice.

Asher picked out a few pictures from a coloring book. Then I cut the general outline out. When I was finished, I held the paper still while he cut lines across the picture in several places. When he was finished, he had four or five big pieces in front of him (a puzzle of his own making). He pieced them together, then glued them onto construction paper (we actually used the backs of previously used paper – I told you we were trying to make the most of what we had =), then painted his puzzle when it was dry.

toodles puzzle

It would also be fun to glue the picture onto cardboard (you could even use part of an empty cereal box, so that it wouldn’t be too thick for young children to cut), paint it, and then cut the pieces of your puzzle.  Older toddlers/ preschoolers might enjoy this a little more, so that they could play with their puzzle when it was complete.

Anyone else ever made puzzles? How did you do it?

ideas for baking cookies

July 22, 2009

Last week I baked cookies with three toddlers and a baby, and it went much better than I could have expected. A few quick (and completely lucky) decisions seem to keep the whole thing together, so I wanted to mention them and hear your ideas, too, on the best way to make cookies (or other treats) with young children.

1. I talked through it first.

I told the children in the very beginning that we were going to cook first, eat later. They would each have a turn working with me, and when their turn was over they would have to climb down from the stool. Once the cookies were in the oven we would all have a (non-cookie) snack together, and once snack was over we would get ready to decorate.

I know that sounds like I’m explaining to you that two plus two equals four, but so many times I forget to tell my child (or whatever child I’m teaching) what’s going to happen, and then I get frustrated because they are not cooperating with my plan. Did I think they were going to divine what I was expecting from them? Explaining ahead of time gives everyone equal footing, and makes enforcing rules later a matter of reminding, rather than continually re-teaching them.

Both my child and my neighbor’s children did exceptionally well with our plan. They never tried to eat the dough (I was shocked) or complained when their turn was over. Explaining to them ahead of time really helped.

2. I made the most of what I had.

We made beach-themed cookies out of Play-Doh shapes. I ran the set through the dishwasher the night before, and had shark, lobster, starfish, and sea horse cookie molds without having to buy or do anything out of the ordinary.

3. I gave them a little freedom.

This is so hard for me to do! I don’t want to waste dough or end up with creepy-looking cookies, but what’s the point of activities for children if I end up doing it in order to make sure it’s done “right”? Also, what am I communicating to my child if I’m constantly going behind him and “fixing” his work? Nothing good, I’m sure. So I had to let the cookies be a little crumbly and a little off-centered. The perfectionist in me groaned but the children had a lot more fun with me giving them a little freedom.

It’s your turn. What have you tried baking with your child? What has worked? What hasn’t?

making the most of dead time

July 19, 2009

Sunday mornings are busy in our home. We leave for church about 10:00 a.m., and my husband leaves about an hour and a half before us, which means I am on my own to feed, clean, and dress both children (ages 12 months and 2 1/2), pack two bags with extra clothes and snacks, and get myself clean and dressed. In addition, Silas needs to take a short morning nap before we leave, and I do my best not to run out of the door while leaving the house in total chaos. I am busy, Silas is asleep, Brian is gone, and Asher is stuck in dead time – an hour or so when he needs to occupy himself. Quietly.

An hour and a half is a long time for a toddler to do ANYTHING, let alone do it quietly or alone. Often, it becomes the hour where he is most likely to a. test boundaries in order to gain my attention (it works, but also lands him in time-out and leaves us both flustered); or b. watch cartoons. I have no problem with television in small, set quantities, but watching television endlessly is not a solution I like, either. And as much as I may want it to, the directive “Go play” normally does not work, either. But it’s impossible for me to engage and/or entertain him every waking minute, so what do we do during those dead hours?

Here are a few things that have worked for us.

1. Novelty is key.

This morning Asher found a bag of cotton balls on the kitchen table. They were out as part of an art project, but when Asher saw them he said, “Ooh, it’s a castle!” A common household object became a novel and interesting toy, and he spent easily 20 minutes stacking them into towers, castles, and igloos, then shaping snakes and snails out of them. When stacking became mundane, I gave him a plastic container to put them in, and showed him how to snap the container closed. The introduction of new materials gave him a new way to play with the cotton balls, and he spent another several minutes stuffing in as many as he could and then watching them spring back. Rather than being entertained by me or by the television, he was engaged with his world, using his hands and imagination to discover something new – all while I was cleaning the kitchen.

2. You control the materials, your child controls the play.

Children (like adults) often need us to jump-start an activity before they can complete it on their own. After cotton balls had lost their fascination, I asked Asher if he would like to choose a toy from his closet. Organizing materials is a different discussion; Asher has access to the lower third of his closet, which contains puzzles and toys for pretend play. I mentioned a few of the pretend play toys that he had not used in a while, and he chose one. I brought it out of the closet and found a sunny corner for him to start. I also asked a few questions about where his toy was going, what he would like for it to do, etc., to get him started. After that he began to play on his own, and I was able to walk away and continue working.

3. Make something new out of something old.

Children thrive in the balance of familiarity and novelty. Familiar toys – a train track, a kitchen set, an art easel – give them a framework for learning new skills, but something new – a container to load blocks onto their trains, or a set of plastic cups to take to their kitchen – encourages their imagination. Later in the morning Asher saw me open the utensil drawer, and asked about the measuring cups. I don’t allow him to have free access to our kitchen equipment, but this morning I handed him the set of plastic measuring cups and told him he could play with them for a while. He immediately took them to his kitchen set and began pretending to cook, then bringing me his recipes to try. It was interesting to hear what he was working on – all of the foods he mentioned are recipes I make that involve using the measuring cups. He was acting out what he had observed me doing in the past. He spent a long time “working” in his kitchen while I worked in mine, and it took almost no effort on my part to spark his imagination.

Now it’s your turn. How do you encourage your children to play independently while your attention is divided? What do you do with toddlers during your dead hours?

rainy day blues

July 18, 2009

My goal is simple: I am looking for ways to engage my two young sons without breaking the bank or spending naptimes doing prep work. I don’t need worksheets, coloring pages, or activities that involve felt strips and gum drops (do YOU have gum drops just lying around?). I need practical, simple, FUN things to do with my children.

So far the internet has not been nearly as helpful as I would have hoped. I hope this blog will become a place for other parents to find ideas and share their own. I hope to be prepared for the next rainy day.

Hello world!

July 18, 2009

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!