Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pom pom sensory bin

Easiest bin ever. Have I said that before? Well, I lied. This one is the winner.

Here's what Sam (14 months old) got out of this:

  • Fine motor skill practice: scooping, turning his hand over to dump a pom out of the spoon, pincher grasp, coordination
  • Transferring
  • Colors: matching, sorting, putting poms in bowls
  • Counting (hearing me do it!)
  • One-to-one correspondence (in the ice cube tray)
  • Vocabulary development: empty/full, more/less
  • Size: sorting, sequencing, vocabulary
  • Gravity lesson: rolling a bucket of poms down the tilted lid
  • Throwing!
  • Persistence (those tongs were way too hard)

And for Ellie (3 years, 10 months), I also worked on patterning and addition/subtraction. 

Sam will play with this for 45 minutes by himself. Ellie loves using it for pretend play -- the poms have been cookies/muffins/ice cream scoops, rain/snow, party confetti, etc. 

Pom Pom Sensory Bin: pom poms (multiple sizes/colors), ice cube tray, metal tongs, various bowls and buckets. 

Side benefit, I owned everything (and you probably do too), so it was free!

PS, have I quit blogging? Maybe a little.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Healthy movie nights

I've been hesitant to post about our movie nights because I don't want to start getting wrapped up in clicks and views and pins and all that.

BUT, I've realized that I can maybe help other families out by posting some of our movie night menus. See, I'm a huge fan of the fun of theming movie night dinners. But eating healthy at home is super important to our family, and I've struggled to find ideas that work.

For us, eating healthy on movie night looks like:

  • Appropriate ratios of vegetables, fruit, protein, and whole grains (when possible)
  • Trying new foods
  • Limiting high-fat foods
  • Limiting sugar
  • No food dye
Here are some of our recent menus. I hope these help your family!


Bottom left: roasted asparagus seaweed with French onion whole-wheat linguine anemone
Top left: nitrate-free hot dog octopi and Swiss cheese shark teeth
Top right: apple crab (I cut holes and stuck raisins in for eyes), orange fish
Bottom right: sea turtle frittata (I used cucumber -- a chunk off the end, quartered, for the head, and slices cut in half for the feet). Those sea turtles were The. Cutest. Ever.

This dessert was inspired by these Squirt desserts. I wanted to cut down the sugar and food dye, so I used fudge stripe cookies, mini Nilla wafers, marshmallows, chocolate chips (I had regular sized but you should probably use minis!), and chocolate icing to hold it all together. OK, they're not QUITE as cute, but I felt a heck of a lot better feeding this to my 3-year-old!


Fruit fairy wands! Yeah, I know they don't have wands, but whatever. These are so much fun to make and super healthy. I had these plastic dowels from an Edible Arrangements bouquet, but any long, fairly strong skewer will work. I topped each with a slice of star fruit (which, side note, took FOREVER but was super adorable). We used blueberries (for Silvermist), strawberries (Rosetta), bananas (Fawn), blackberries (Vidia), kiwi (Tinkerbell), and peaches (Iridessa). 

I didn't get a good picture of the rest of the food, but we made peanut butter and jelly butterfly wings (cut a slice of bread in half, spread with peanut butter, and let kids decorate with jelly to look like a butterfly), and a flower made out of tomatoes and basil.


I never knew I had so many things in my kitchen that could cut circles! 
  • Top left: Mack-a-roni (I bought Annie's Organic, but I probably should have gone with the wheel pasta to be extra cool)
  • Bottom left: Lightning McDogs on Historic Route Asparagus (nitrate-free hot dogs with cucumber wheels and cherry eyes, on a road made from asparagus). I would do these with hoagie-style sandwiches, but we had two hot dogs left we needed to eat up!
  • Top right: Fillmore's stoplights (a slice of cheddar cheese, cut in half, with circles of tomato, banana, and celery. I cut the end off cherry tomatoes, then used the middle of my apple slicer to make the circles with banana and celery).
  • Bottom right: Mater's Taters (using this recipe for seasoned crash potatoes. You will never cook baby potatoes any other way ever again. These are heaven.
  • Top middle: Luigi and Guido's tire brownies (using a biscuit cutter and the end of a funnel to make the tires).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ice chalk

This ranks in my top five kids activities ever (I think; I have a tendency to cram about 12 things into my top five of anything).

But seriously, this was SO much fun.

Let's start from the beginning...just making the ice chalk was a good hour-long activity that covered science (stirring the cornstarch until it dissolved), art (color mixing) and fine motor (mixing/stirring and filling silicone ice molds with an eyedropper). Not to mention good ol' messy fun.

Then we froze them, which led into another good discussion about states of matter and how a liquid becomes a solid.

We had to wait about a week to use the chalk because we took a vacation in the middle (side note: everyone should have friends they've been friends with for over a decade).

The chalk is so interesting to paint with. It feels like ice -- cold, slippery, melty -- but colors like chalk. You can draw with it a bit, or use it as a stamp, make it into puddles, mix colors, etc.

You can even paint your body (both kids quickly discovered this one). 

It dries with a wonderful smooth texture and bright color, so it's rewarding for the kiddos as well, and has a unique sensory component.

I snuck in one last "learning" bit and used our letter molds to spell "chalk." She of course also wanted to make an "E" for Ellie, so we did some talking about how to mix and match to make other words with those letters.

We kept about half our ice chalk in the freezer for another day, and now I'm so glad we did! Ellie already begged to make more.

Our recipe was drawn from a combo of pins all over Pinterest. We found half cornstarch, half water, and liquid watercolor to work the best. The watercolor means it washes right off of clothes and hands. And legs, and feet, and arms, and faces...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fine motor/gross motor sewing activity

Ellie is a large-motor kid*. This will sum it up for you: "Mommy, I don't like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom because you and Daddy wait for me to say all the letters and that's boring." Meanwhile, she's on the trampoline not an hour later spelling her name as she jumps.

That's my daughter, and I love it about her. It does make me slightly worried about school in a couple years, but that's another post for another day (like maybe when it's a wee bit closer).

I love it, and I try to tell her "yes" a lot since she hears "no" pretty often too. No, you can't do a balance beam on the back of the couch. No, you can't do a flip off the back of the recliner. No, you can't jump over Sam.

We love being outside, and summer is my favorite because we swim almost every day. We created a gross motor area in our playroom that has a hula hoop, Pilates ball, Bosu ball, trampoline, Sit N Spin, gymnastics mat, DIY balance beam, hopscotch rug, and roller skates. We lived at the play area in the mall this horrible, horrible winter. We just discovered Upper Limits climbing gym and along with BounceU, it's our new go-to Ellie date.

It is frequently a challenge to find focused activities that "click" with her. She is actually quite patient and enjoys fine motor activities (Duplos/Legos, Ogobilds, Perler beads, and Play-Doh are favorites), so I have been experimenting to try to use these strengths to increase the range of things she'll stick with and focus on.

This is now the longest intro to a blog post I've probably ever written. We hit upon this activity quite by accident today, but it was so effective and fun that I wanted to write it down.

It started with her working on her sewing box (an embroidery hoop with a Dollar Store rubber non-skid rug mat, two very large plastic needles, some thick mesh plastic canvas sheets, wooden spools, buttons, and yarn). She's gone to it a couple of times but only ever really worked on it with Nana, once.

She started today by sewing a button on, and then wanted to use the canvas to make designs but was already getting bored and distracted. I encouraged her to stick with it and cut her a VERY long piece of yarn, but quickly realized it was too many steps to remember: up - pull - untangle - hold the sheet the same way the whole time - down - pull - untangle, etc.

I had her hold the needle and back all the way up to pull it taut, and when I told her it was ready for her next stitch, she immediately started galloping back. Bingo. We kept at it this way for 15 minutes. She would back up, then I'd give her a way to come forward. Then she would have to quickly switch to fine motor, find a hole, thread the needle through, turn the canvas over, and then back up again.

She tried walking (forward/backward), tiptoeing (forward/backward), jumping with feet together (forward/backward), hopping on one foot, marching, skipping, and galloping. This was a totally random success.

Threading the needle to begin

Jumping while holding the string (sorry for the dark picture! I'm holding the canvas in my other hand.)

Making a stitch before she backs up again

*I know she's three, and all kids are wired for this kind of play -- but our close friends who have kids of similar ages agree that she is uniquely tuned into gross motor activities. One of her best friends is reading and spelling simple words. That is not my child. My child dances in giant circles as she makes up wild stories.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Baby-safe red, white, and blue sensory bin for Memorial Day or Fourth of July

Pack of foam stars ($3 on clearance at Wal-Mart for 36 stars!), large red and white poms (Hobby Lobby), flag pinwheel (Hobby Lobby), toilet paper roll (with the really fantastic art added by me), muffin tin (in stock), tweezers (in stock), USA felt letters (got these from a friend for a sensory alphabet we're making)

Sam started banging things. That's a shocker! He quickly started playing in-and-out games, which is big for him right now at 10 months. Poms in the toilet paper roll, stars in the bin, poms in and out of the muffin tin, etc.

Exploring together

Ellie went straight to building. She's really into this right now and I love seeing what she comes up with. This was a bridge of stars and poms, and a tree for a fairy house.

This is a great bin for individual activities too. With Ellie, there's patterning (poms and stars, different colors, etc.), counting, designs (we were stacking the stars to make flowers, etc.), and tweezing (those thin stars are hard to get with the tweezers!). For Sam, this is a great one for color matching, in-and-out, and vocabulary development ("through," "in," "on," colors, shapes, counting, etc.).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Princess puzzles

Subtitle for this post, "Dear Disney, please don't sue me."

Disclaimer for this post: I receive no monetary compensation in any way from these.

That should cover me, right?

Here's a newsflash that is not news to anyone. Ellie loves princesses.



I could write a whole blog on how this is utterly baffling to me, as I am not exactly a girly-girl. But Disney's brilliant marketing minds are, well, brilliant, and long before Ellie had seen any movies, she loved those princesses.

So, in an effort to capitalize on that, I made some puzzles for her. My main goal with this, other than just being a fun activity, was letter recognition, especially matching upper- and lower-case letters. I found a jigsaw template online and made one puzzle per princess. Each has her picture, name, upper-case initial and lower-case initial. I printed them out on cardstock and spent maybe 10-15 minutes cutting them out.

Examining the pieces

I was pleasantly surprised by how effective this was. She naturally started sorting by letter, not color -- I know this because the doubles ended up together, like M for Mulan and Merida. We talked about looking at the names to match the upper case letter, which she did naturally with letters she's more familiar with (mostly related to our family -- E, S, M, B). I showed her lower-case for ones she didn't know and couldn't guess (s, c and m are easy to figure out because they're just miniature versions). She used the color-coding to determine which of the doubles matched with which puzzle.

A side benefit is that these puzzles don't "click" together like heavy cardboard or wooden ones, so she really has to use careful fine motor skills to get the pieces to line up.

Of course Elsa was her favorite because it has the same letter as Ellie, is in "aqua," and is FROM FROZEN OMG.

So proud of her work.

She's returned to these a number of times. It is a great thing for her to work on independently. 

Here's the file (free of course) if you want to print them out yourself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Green sensory bin

I LOVE sensory bins. They have been one of Ellie's favorite things since she was old enough to not shove beans in her mouth.

But with Sam here, and mobile now, I've been stuck. No way am I putting out a bin full of uncooked pasta, or rice, or beans, or sand, or Easter grass, or water beads, or...

Confession: I am an organizational neat freak (this is not a confession for anyone who knows me in real life). Not everything in our house is picked up all the time (one of my mantras for this stage of life is from Pinterest: "Cleaning while you have kids is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos"), but everything DOES have a place to go. Like, it could all conceptually be picked up and uncluttered.

How does this relate to sensory bins? Well, I have seen color-based sensory bins for quite awhile, but my organizational neat freakishness has prevented me from trying it. My bin supplies are all organized by theme; my fillers are all packaged separately and labeled. The idea of breaking this system to haphazardly grab random toys of a certain color...not my cup of tea.

But I realized it was the perfect solution for Sam. I could skip the filler and just do non-choking toys of a particular color. Hesitatingly, I opened my supplies and started grabbing green things.

And look who scooted right over to check it out.

I won't make a list of supplies, because it was literally walking around our playroom and grabbing green things that were not choking hazards and wouldn't pull toys out that Ellie plays with regularly (e.g., no kitchen food, no dress up items). Generally, here are some things I found: Christmas bows, lids, foam blocks, cup stackers, plastic recorder whistle, scarf, magnetic letters and numbers, scrap fabric, shovel, silicone bowl, and tongs.

I can't believe I haven't done one of these sooner. It was super easy to throw together and Sam has played with it for about 15 minutes at a time on his own each day, plus some time with me talking about the objects. Ellie can use the bin too. We talk about shades (ordering from darkest green to lightest green), shapes (squares, rectangles, circles, spheres, cubes, etc. are all in the bin), and the letters and numerals that are in the bin. 

Also, a lot of the pieces make noise. AKA, a 7-month-old's dream.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Edible peanut butter play dough

I haven't written for awhile. At first I just hadn't updated for a few weeks, and then it was a few months, and then it felt overwhelming to go back and try to catch up.

So I'm not catching up. I'm just starting from now.

And right now, I'm really excited about this new play dough.

I had pinned this delightful idea for an edible play dough: marshmallows, peanut butter, and powdered sugar. I wanted to cut the extra sugar because, let's be honest, three marshmallows should cover my preschooler for the day.

I pulled out my baking ingredients to find a substitute, and was struck by inspiration: cocoa powder! No added sugar, dark chocolate health benefits, AND it lends a nice subtle chocolate flavor.

My recipe ended up as:

- Two marshmallows
- About 1.5 tbsp of peanut butter
- About 1 tbsp cocoa powder

Microwave the marshmallows and peanut butter, then stir together. Add the cocoa powder and stir until it's not sticky. Add more cocoa powder if needed.

This didn't make a lot, just enough to make a ball in the palm of my hand. I would make this much for a snack, and double it for a true play dough activity.