Farm Sensory Box

farm sensory box

With the start of Summer and outdoor weather, I thought the sensory  box would be put away for awhile.  But alas, Rain-a-geddon ensued so we needed to find some new indoor fun. Or rather, just upgrade some fun.  Last Summer I built Matthew this barn and farm, and I added a sensory box and toddler-approved game this year.

Sensory Box

farm sensory box activity toddler

Inclusions:

  • Popcorn for the base (already had)
  • Schleich animals (our animal of choice)
  • Tractor (a gift from Grandma!)
  • “Hay bales” (TP tubes cut in half)
  • “Stables” (Melissa and Doug play food crates)
  • Mini scoop (already had)

Total Cost: Free 

** I already had all the materials, but I suspect you’d be able to put this together for around $10-$12.  A large jar of popcorn kernels runs about $3 at Walmart, and these animals are also a good choice.)

farm sensory box

farm sensory box

farm sensory box

farm sensory box

Books

farm books

1. Sheep in a Jeep. Matty is obsessed with jeeps right now. Sheep in a jeep? Oh my.  It’s on constant repeat around here.

2. Let’s Go To the Farm. We have two copies of this book. Both gifts. Both givers know a little something about kids. We’ve read this book at least a few times a week for the past year (at least).  It’s a lift-the-flap book, so we keep a copy in the car for road trips or restaurants.

3. Chicks and Salsa. I had to review this book for a college class years ago, and I loved it. It’s hilarious. I didn’t quite know if Matty would get it, but I guess it really is all about how excited the reader is, because it’s one of his favorites now, too.

Activities

  1. Try these Montessori inspired nomenclature cards.
  2. Matty is loving this farm-themed game on the Kindle.  We’ve been traveling a lot–so he’s soaking up the app time lately.  He’s actually learning too–he surprised me the other day by pointing to a picture of a moon and saying “creshent” (crescent). Play on, Buddy. Play on.
  3. Of course, we listened to Old MacDonald a lot. A lot.  We have this download with this version of OMD, which gets a little silly at the end.
  4. Farm Picture.  I printed two each of a variety of farm-themed coloring sheets.  I cut out certain parts of the picture, such as the tractor, barn, animals, and crops, and colored 1 copy.  On a large sheet of paper, I glued the remaining uncolored copy. Then we matched and glued the colored parts onto the uncolored outline of the pictures.

farm activity toddler

toddler farm activity

toddler farm activity

He’s still loving farms and farm animals (and tractors!!!)–any recommended activities?

A Tisket A Tasket…

DIY Rustic Crate Baskets

…a rustic crate-like basket. Oh yeah, I busted that rhyme.

I was in search of a couple of baskets for a new cabinet we built for our recent sunroom makeover.  Problem is, the cabinet is custom built, so I was having a difficult time finding basket that fit the dimensions.  I knew I’d have to DIY something.  Not a problem, I thought–we’ve got tons of scrap wood and materials taking up floor space in the garage.  In fact, we had a bundle of furring strips that I knew would be perfect.  But problem.  I’m not skilled enough to actually build the frame (or at least a structurally-sound frame). As I was perusing Wal-Mart later that week, I saw these:

These little baskets, while neither rustic (or that appealing) or quite the right size, where in fact perfect…nothing a little hot glue couldn’t fix! So at $1.89 each, I was sold.

The baskets had connectors on all sides, so that the baskets could lock together.  I squirted some glue in the holes, essentially gluing two baskets together.  The connectors stuck out just a tad further than the rest of the basket, which means my furring strips wouldn’t fit snugly in some parts.  So first, I created a base layer of furring strips on each side.

DIY Rustic Basket

DIY Rustic Basket

Then, I glued the outer layer of furring strips to that base.

DIY Rustic Basket

The blue baskets were still visible at this point, so I used furring strips to cover the top ledge.  Then it was time for stain–I love Kona by Rust-Oleum.  It’s the perfect espresso color–a rich brown with no red undertones.

I knew I wanted to add some sort of “pop” on the front, and after scouring Pinterest for hours, decided a black stencil of some sort would be best.  However, I didn’t have a stencil or black paint.  I did have stamps and craft ink, though!

I wasn’t entirely sure if this would work, but decided why not?  It didn’t go on completely smooth, which was actually great because it looks worn without have to sand or mar it in any way.

DIY Rustic Baskets

There’s no significance to the numbers, though Hubby doesn’t believe me.  He thinks it’s the phone number for my hot Latin lover or the combination to some top-secret safe with dead bodies or loads of money.  He clearly thinks highly of me.

They turned out perfect, and will work great in our sun room for outdoor candles, bug repellent, and other outdoor odds and ends.

Rockin’ It Out

rock painting

Last week I had Matty help me out with a little project I needed in order to complete his outdoor playspace.

Paint + Rocks + Outside = Very Happy Toddler

rock painting

rock painting

rock painting

Things Needed:

1. Rocks
2. Acrylic Craft Paint. These are the little bottles found for $.97 at Wal Mart.
3. Brushes (any kind)
4. Stickers
5. Sharpies
6. Modge Podge
7. Newspaper or cardboard (to paint on)

Directions:

1. Clean and dry rocks.  Painting over dirt just won’t do.
2. Paint. Solid colors, half-and-half, swirls, anything goes.
3. Let dry thoroughly–at least an hour
4. Apply stickers, glitter, or write & draw with Sharpies
5. Apply two quality coats of Modge Podge.
6. Let dry (pretty quick drying time) and enjoy!

This is a great activity for colors and even color mixing.  I only gave Matthew primary colors, then he asked for green.  So he watched as I mixed blue and yellow, and was thoroughly impressed it turned green (and I was thoroughly impressed I only had to think for a second to remember what colors to mix!).

These make great outdoor “toys”.  In addition to Matty’s colorful masterpieces, I added a few “learning resources” as well.

rock painting

There’s a lot of great uses–sorting games, stacking, making up stories–the possibilities are endless.  I started off by using basic things he already knows, and we’ll add to it throughout the Summer (especially since he loved the painting so much!).  He’s really into Goldilocks and the Three Bears, so I’m thinking we’ll add some character rocks soon from his favorite books.  Independently, he really likes just naming the items on the rocks (he knows everything except the numbers!) and putting them into buckets.  Together, we sort colors and letters, or make up a story about a cat chasing a butterfly.  Either way, it’s a great vocabulary builder!

Buckle It Up: Toddler Buckle Toy

Oh yes. We’re in the that phase.  The “me do” stage.  The “I can buckle my carseat by myself, MOM!” stage.  Since this is a skill he obviously wants to practice, I went on the hunt for some sort of buckle toy.  The best I could come up with was this:

Buster Buckle Toy

Don’t get me wrong, this is cute and pretty close to perfect, but at $25 + $5 shipping, it might be one of the most expensive toys we own (seriously).  I thought I could probably make my own for much, much cheaper. And I did!

diy toddler buckle toy

My sewing skills are very subpar.  But this was relatively easy and quick.  I used the basic “pillow sham” theory–sewing two pieces of fabric together inside out, then turning it right side out, stuffing it with some batting, and sewing the top.  However, before sewing the sides, you’ll want to pin your ribbons for the buckles.

The longest part of the ribbon (the part the buckle will be attached to) gets pinned to the inside, so when it gets turned right side out they’re on the right side.  Make sense? OMG, it took me a good 5 minutes staring at it to get this right.  It probably didn’t help that my ribbons were patterned, so I had to get the right side of the ribbon right side up. ::sigh::  I need a sewing class.

Attaching the buckles were easy, even if my sewing lines were not so hot…I used a combination of 1″ buckles and 1/2″ buckles.  I wanted to use colorful buckles, but I couldn’t find any bigger than this.  This actually was a happy surprise, because Wee One loves those the most–huzzah for super-fine motor skill development!

Drumroll, please…total price: $3.50

Granted, I already had the fabric, batting, thread, and ribbon. I estimate a yard of fabric, a couple spools of ribbon, and some batting (or use an old throw pillow?) shouldn’t run more than $7-$8 dollars if you use $.99 fabric quarters from Jo Anns (or Walmart).

I also had to buy the buckles in bulk, so the upfront cost was a bit more, but I actually made a few extras that I plan on trying to sell at our upcoming community garage sale.

And of course, it’s a hit.  My original plan was to keep it in the car to keep Wee One occupied during numerous drives back and forth to Lowes (hello, landscaping weather!), but as you can see, it has made its way into the house.

As he masters the buckles, I have plans to add a few more doo-dads–clips, carbiners, and rings–for even more fun!

Questions:

  • Ever see a toy and think, “I could make that!”.
  • Anybody have a love-hate relationship with the sewing machine like I do? Grrrr…

5 Rainy Day Nature Play Activities

rainy day nature play

April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring a new round of cabin fever to little ones (and their parents) who have had a taste of outdoor play for the first time in weeks (if not months).  We’ve had typical Ohio weather lately–one day it’s sunny and 80 degrees and the next day it’s cold and windy.

Spring is the perfect time to take an interest in nature, but that can be a bit difficult when you can’t get outside in, you know, nature.  So I started thinking of ways to fill our rainy afternoons indoors while still exploring “The Great Outdoors”.

Before the rain really started coming down, we got our trusty bucket and took a walk around the yard.  Naturally, Matty picked up sticks and put them in the bucket (this is a favorite activity lately), and I started pointing out other things such as leaves, dandelions, and rocks.  We talked about the objects, and then I asked him if we should put them in our collection.  This was great way to incorporate some new vocabulary!

nature collection

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

toddler nature sort

To begin our sort, I dumped out all the objects for some free play.  As he started losing interest, I asked him to point out certain things, like sticks, or rocks.  At this point, he started realizing their were more than one (“one, two, six..”–he’s a good counter).  So I suggested we put all the alike things in a pile.  We did leaves and sticks first, since that was easiest, then moved on to random objects, discussing their color, texture, size, and other characteristics.  Again, great vocab building!

toddler nature sort

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

toddler nature collage

Over the next couple of days, we started using our collection for some crafts.  This works better with contact paper (check out a great example here), but I didn’t have any.  So I used a sheet of easel paper and spray adhesive.  That dried up towards the end, so we used a craft brush and Elmer’s glue, which was a big hit!  Matty loved this–it’s like real-life stickers. 🙂

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

toddler nature creatures

Who doesn’t love googly eyes and pom poms?  I was going to do this alone then give them to Matty, but he was totally into it.  However, he does think they’re owls.  There’s a Mommy, Daddy, and Baby.  I’m not sure who is who, or who the other one is…

nature play

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

pinecone bird feeder

We meant to do this back in the Fall, but didn’t get to it.  So when we were at Lowes earlier in the week, and Matty went crazy over the bird feeder section, and carried a two pound bag of “brird teets” (bird treats) to the cart, I knew we had to do it.  P.S. I have no idea how he knew the bird food was indeed bird food save the bird on the bag…

We used a knife to spread peanut butter on the pinecones, then rolled it around in the seed.  However, I think he was very sad that bird treats are not like cat treats, i.e., he can’ t hand-feed the birds.

pinecone bird feeder process

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

nature music intruments

I came across this pin awhile back, which links to this idea.  Being the little music lover he is, I gave it a try.  Forget the music because of course, it’s a cat toy.  What was I thinking?

sistrum music instrument

P.S. Am I the only one who thinks of Melman the Giraffe from Madagascar every time I hear the word “nature”? “Ahh, the nature, it’s all over me, get it off!”

P.S. Happy Earth Day!  What are you doing to celebrate?

Artsy Fartsy

I finally finished the frame gallery in Matthew’s room.  It only took 4 months.  Actually, I’m surprised it didn’t take much, much longer.  I’m notorious for a being an art-committment-phobe.

He adores it, which is the most important, and I love that it’s appropriate for him now, but also will grow with him for a few years. Yay for not having to find art again for awhile!

The Breakdown

1. How To Be A Gentleman print.  I originally pinned this idea from an Etsy seller, but alas, it sold out and then the seller wouldn’t print smaller than 11 x 14.  Fear not, I’m computer saavy.  So I recreated it, changing a lot of the “tips” to things that were more appropriate or inspirational to me.

2. Keep Calm and Read Books print.  I liked this one as a reminder to me (ha!), but thought the traditional route was the way to go…for both of us.  I actually just made this one.  You can download the free font here used on the Keep Calm prints.

3. M. This is just a letter created in Word and filled with a chevron pattern, then printed on cardstock.  My original plan was to get a cardboard letter, but I’m having trouble find the “the one”.  This totally works, though, so I consider it done.

4. Polar Bear print.  I picked this up from art.com.  We had a Groupon. Holla!  I liked the simplicity and Matthew loves polar bears. Win-Win.

5. Fox in Glasses print.  This was the final piece of the puzzle.  I was browsing Etsy last week with Matthew by my side, and the minute he saw this he got very excited.  “Gwasses, gwasses!” (Glasses).  He kissed the screen.  He petted it.  Of course I bought it.  He thinks it’s a dog, but that’s ok.  It’s from a seller’s shop called Billy and Scarlet and there’s soooo many more cute prints.

6. Cat Silhouette. This is self-created and I feel it to be very artsy and awesome.  I printed out a cat clip art, traced it on black paper, then glued it on to a piece of wrapping paper. Voila!

7. “I Thought Of That While Riding My Bike” print.  Another art.com Groupon pick.  This quote says it all: “think!”, “go outside”, “have fun”, “use your brain”, go green”.  Or maybe I’m reading to much into it.  Who cares, bikes are awesome.

8. Andy Warhol Airplane print.  I thought this was just so fun for a kid’s room. And it’s never too early to introduce the art of Warhol, no?

9. Ceramic Dog Head.  Such a fun addition!  Matty loves to sit in his bed and yell, “wuff” (dog).  Occasionally I have to hold him up to give it a kiss.  I found this at TJ Maxx for $4.99 months ago, and I’m so glad I picked it up, even though I wasn’t sure where it was going at the time.

10. Metal Numbers. While not on the wall, they are fun decor.  We picked these up at Restoration Hardware a few months ago on clearance.  That’s what we do when we have a babysitter for the day–go shopping for the kiddo. 🙂 I thought they were much more fun on the shelves instead of the wall, and I like that Matty can touch and play with them.

11. Globe.  This was Eric’s when he was younger, so I like that Matty has it now.  He loves to spin it and look at the colors.  And likes bikes, globes are awesome.

So happy it’s coming together well.  It’s a fun place to spend our time during the day.  I still have a few projects to do…follow me on Pinterest and check out more ideas here.

Psst…
See more of Matty’s Room here. 

Easter Basket Goodies

easter basket 1

As I was putting together Matty’s Easter basket this year, I started thinking about the origin of the Easter Basket.  Okay, more specifically, I was thinking, when did we get to a point when we think it’s okay to give kids a huge basket of candy?

Did you know:

  • in 2011, Americans consumed 7 billion pounds of candy
  • in 2012, Americans spent $2.1 billion on Easter candy
  • the average 7 oz chocolate bunny has 1,050 calories; that’s how many calories a 4-5 year old needs for the whole day, and MORE than a 2-3 year old needs for the entire  day
  • most Easter baskets easily contain over 3,500 calories
  • the bacteria that causes tooth decay and plaque feed off of sugar
  • candy is full of artificial dyes, which have been proven to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing); even the FDA acknowledges this; furthermore, these dyes are linked to hyperactivity and inattentiveness in kids
  • most sweets contain high fructose corn syrup; hfcs does serious damage to the liver, which affects metabolism, thyroid, kidneys, heart, and of course leads to obesity; it’s also been proven to contain traces of mercury
  • “Spikes & dips” caused by eating too much sugar can take days to recover from; it’s best to be sure to eat protein with all sugar to help stabilize blood sugar

I could continue, but you get the point.  Are we a strictly sugar-free, candy-free, dye-free household? No, but we’re working on it.  And we’re conscious of our choices.  Which means we couldn’t just hand over a candy-filled basket to our little guy, no matter what fun traditions we remember as a kid. But we did include some fun treats and tasty, healthier choices.

So, what did we include?

easter basket

  • Spring-themed coloring book
  • recycled tree colored pencils
  • playdough
  • bubble bucket
  • Silly Putty (it’s egg-shaped!)
  • Melissa and Doug play fruit set (found on clearance for $6 at a local store!)
  • Bunny marshmallow sack (gluten free, kosher marshmallows found at Whole Foods)
  • Enjoy Life chocolate chips
  • Cheddar crackers “carrot” (Use Goldfish or Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies)

I’ve heard the argument, “we had candy when we were kids, and we’re okay”. Or something along those lines. And it’s true.  But there’s more dyes, more sugar, bigger servings, and high fructose corn syrup wasn’t even really around 40 years ago.  Kids aren’t going to “miss” what they don’t expect or don’t know.  And I think kids appreciate the value of a few small pieces of candy or chocolate more than they appreciate a whole basket full; it’s the theory of having too many toys–kids get overwhelmed and get a mindset of more, more, more and are never fulfilled.

I’m really not a buzzkill. I promise! I’m fun! Look, I made a marshmallow bunny and a cracker carrot!

basket stuffers

1. For the carrot, use a decorator’s or pastry bag.  Fill with cheddar crackers. Twist top and tie with green ribbon.

2. For the bunny, use a regular treat bag. Fill with marshmallows. Seal with tape.  Add wiggly eyes, a pom pom nose, paper whiskers, a ribbon bow, paper ears, and draw a mouth with a Sharpie.

Pssst. Looking for a few healthier candy options, Giselle @ myhealthyhappyhome wrote a post earlier this week outlining some good choices. Click on over!

Color Theme: Green

allaboutgreen

I planned our “green week” to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day.  My original thought was to fill our sensory box with coins, shamrocks, and other holiday items, but then I realized I didn’t want to buy a bunch of trinkets that we only usable once/year.  So I tried to use only things we had around the house.

Color Learning Tip #2: Instead of saying, “this is a green ball”, say “this ball is green”.  Putting the noun first ensures the child focuses his attention on the correct object, so that he  can then focus on the attribute (in this case green).  If you say “green” first, the child is looking around for “a green”.

A really interesting study…read more here.

Sensory Box

Inclusions:

  • Tambourine
  • Stacking blocks
  • Counting bears
  • Cup
  • Flash card
  • Teething ring
  • Feather
  • Ball pit ball
  • Flashcard
  • Rice

Total Spent: $0 (I had a large bag of rice leftover from making rice heat packs).

Books

GREENBOOKS

1. Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Can you even survive parenthood without this book?  We have 4  copies: my copy from when I was a kid, a small board book, a slide-and-find book, and the Kindle version.  Of course, this teaches all colors, but Matty’s favorite is the green frog, so I included it here. Ribbit.

2. Green. This book is parent-friendly and kid-friendly.  Exploring all shades of green, this book provides wonderful pictures depicting sea green, forest green, forever green (planting a tree!), cut-outs that lend to the imagination, and a positive message that’s about more than just colors, without being too in-your-face.  I can’t recommend it enough!

3. Do You Like Green Eggs and Ham? Another classic.  Matty liked it because it included “not” a lot, and that means the same thing as “no”, which is his favorite word.  We cook eggs most mornings, and now he likes to scream “green” at them; thankfully, he hasn’t actually insisted on having green eggs (though that could be fun).

Activities

1. Tissue Paper Shamrock Mosaic. Could do any shape!
2. Green Playdough
3. Baking–green spinach cupcakes
4. Try these Green Fruit Kabobs!
5. Get started with Green Smoothies
6. Green Markers (a treat!)
7. Stickers–look for frogs, leaves, alligators, dinosaurs
8. Snow Painting
9. Stars & Dots. Place two shapes a distance apart–run from one shape to the other, or hop like a bunny, or jump like a frog, or crawl like a bear, or march, or walk backwards, or go really, really fast, or go really, really show…the possibilities are endless!  I found these felt shapes in the craft section at Walmart for $.97 each.

He knows green! I didn’t really think he cared to know until I was writing this post with him next to me, and he started pointing at the screen yelling “geen”.

Question:

Any other tried-and-true movement learning games? We are not getting any Spring weather in Ohio yet, so we’re still trapped indoors.

Color Theme: Blue

blue

I love me a good theme, so I’m excited that Wee One is old enough to “get” them now.  At 17 months old, he’s definitely too young to be expected to know his colors, but it’s never to early to help him become aware of different colors. And besides, colors are fun!

Color Learning Tip # 1: 2 and 3 year olds won’t necessarily understand and know all of their colors.  Children as old as 6 can still confuse colors frequently.  The U.S. Department of Health’s standard is for children to be able to identify 4 colors at the end of age 5.

Blue Sensory Box

Inclusions:

  • Ball pit balls
  • Wood blocks
  • Feather
  • Magnetic letters
  • Mega Bloks
  • Sensory ball
  • Counting bears w/cup
  • Cookie cutter
  • Tambourine
  • Rubber duck
  • Colored pencil
  • Flash cards
  • Batman!

Total Spent: $0

I had every intention of adding some rice to this box, but Matthew woke up from his nap before I got there.  He was so excited to jump right in, I left it as is.  He didn’t seem to mind!  We kept it out for a week before switching it.  I kept finding other blue things in the box, too, like his boots and blue pants!

Blue Books

books

There are plenty of books that teach colors, so I picked up a few all inclusive ones, but for each color I tried to choose one “special” book to focus on.

1. Little Blue Truck. This was our special book for blue. I found the big book (think 2′ x 2′) at TJ Maxx for a couple dollars.This book was perfect for his age–trucks, cars, animals, dirt…it’s so cute I even designed a sensory box around it a month later.

2. Monsters Love Colors. This book is UHmazing.  The illustrations are fun, and there’s so much you could do with it–primary colors, color blending, art projects.  This his favorite right now, and he can even point out all the colors on the last page (though I think it’s more memorizing than actually knowing colors).  Still, it’s a fun trick to show off to the grandparents. 🙂

3. The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse. This was geared towards “blue”, but included all colors as well.  In true Eric Carle fashion, we have red crocodiles, black polar bears, and green lions.  It’s a very, very simple story, but Matty loves it.

Crafts

Wee One wasn’t really into crafts a couple months ago (my how things change!), so we kept it simple.

  • Blue playdough on the playdough tray (he loves for me to roll it into little balls so he can squash it with his fingers, and making snakes, of course)
  • Blue stamping–use the eraser end of a pencil to make dots.
  • Blue collage–write BLUE on a large sheet of easel paper. Color blue pictures, use blue stickers, and glue down blue tissue paper squares.

The result?

Me: What do you want for dinner?
Matty: Blue

Me: Where’s your shoes?
Matty: Blue

Me: What time is it?
Matty: Blue

Okay, okay. To his credit, he does indeed know blue.  He can pick the blue crayons out of the box, he can identify blue objects around the house, and if I ask him to pick a blue shirt from his dresser, he can!

Psst. I’m linked up with Toddler Tuesday @ myhealthyhappyhome. Click on over for other toddler fun!

St. Patrick’s Day Toddler Crafts

1. Tissue Paper Shamrock Mosaic

shamrock

I just free-handed a shamrock. Then I used a glue stick to make the entire shamrock sticky.  Glue sticks work better because there’s no drippy mess and it dries fast, yet it stays sticky enough for the duration of the craft.  Next I showed Wee One how to tear the tissue paper and stick it down.  He was seriously confused. Like, you want me to rip this? On purpose?  But after some affirmation, he got down to business. Apparently it takes Herculean strength to rip tissue paper.

And yes, Perfectionist Mom, you must resist the urge to fill in all the gaps that the kiddo misses…however, feel free to point out where they should stick the next piece.  I mean, if it were completely up to them it’d be stuck the to the table, their hair, the cat…

2. Rainbow Dot Color Match

dots

I used a 12″ x 12″ paper in each color.  I cut a wide strip (about 1/3 the size of the paper), used a 1 1/2″ circle punch to cut out dots, then taped all the strips on top of 2 sheets of white 12″ x 12″ paper.  I didn’t even have to give directions, he was slapping dots into the spaces, yelling “Dots!”.  My intention was to glue the dots in place, but he was having so much fun placing them then moving them around that I gave up on the glue.  He gave up on trying to match colors, and made a beautiful work of art instead. Whatever.

3. Stickers and Dots

One pack of $.97 St. Patty’s Day stickers. One piece of paper. One ink pad. One pencil. Lots of fun.  Have you let your kiddos do the pencil stamping yet?  It’s very fun (for kids and adults!).  Just dip the pencil eraser in the ink pad and stamp away! Easy. Fast. Classic.

Enjoy your weekend! And don’t drink too much green beer.