Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cork and nut soup, anyone?

We went to my Mom's house for Thanksgiving dinner and arrived early to help her cook.  O offered to make his new specialty, an appetizer made with corks and walnuts.  

First, you scrub the nuts and corks.

Then you put them in a frying pan.  
(Oh, and don't forget to wear your Mardi Gras necklaces)

Finally, sauté until crispy.  

If you need to be in the kitchen for a period of time, I suggest giving your toddler some of the tools that resemble yours but that you will not need.  We gave O these items and he was engaged for at least 30 minutes.  He moved the nuts and corks back and forth between the silver mixing bowls, dumped them on the floor and then picked them back up again.  When he seemed like he was losing interest, I handed him the frying pan and he continued on with the activity.  

We spent the night at my Mom's and as we sleepily drank coffee and ate pie, O was busily preparing his next entree.  (Complete with Mardi Gras beads again)

Since Thanksgiving O has shown a greater interest in the kitchen supplies that he has access too.  He is constantly walking around the house with a silver mixing bowl and adding rocks and corks to it and stirring it up with a wooden spoon or whisk.  He has a small sauce pan that was my Grandmothers that he fills up, stirs, mixes and dumps out.  

If you have any extra cooking utensils, like wooden spoons, whisks, small pots, colanders or mixing bowls, put them out for your child to play with and see how they interact with them.  Encourage them to cook you a meal or just to mix up some ingredients. 

Engaging with these real materials, the ones that Mom and Dad use, have more meaning then the toy kitchen items.  They respect the materials more because they understand they hold a greater value and also because they belong to you.  It gives them the sense that they are participating in an activity that they see you doing and it makes them feel important and builds their confidence.  

Allowing your child to work with these items at an early age will most likely result in an interest in cooking and participating in the kitchen.  As your children gets older cooking includes many educational concepts in areas such as science and math.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Need something to do with your toddler?  Look no further then your 'To Do' list!

Little ones love to be near you and be involved in whatever you are doing, as I'm sure you've noticed.  Instead of waiting until nap time to get something done, why not ask your toddler for some help?  You can get check something off your To Do List and your child will be learning about real life activities, engaging in meaningful conversations (verbal or not), and making important observations and connections that will benefit them throughout their development.

Chores Your Toddler Can Help You With

* Unloading Dishwasher
* Laundry
* Gardening
* Putting groceries away
* Cooking
* Dusting
* Washing dishes
* Rinsing fruits and vegetables
* Watering plants
* Sweeping

To help with these important jobs, you need to rethink they way you go about them.  Instead of trying to quickly wash the dishes and do the laundry while your little one naps, relax and have a cup of coffee.  Think of your chores as activities to do and a means of entertainment, not something you need to rush through.

I'll use laundry as an example.  I have a bench near the washer where O stands and I hand him pieces of clothing and he drops them inside.  The first time he helped, he almost instinctively knew that they had to be all the way in and if there was a pant leg sticking out, he would make sure to shove every last piece.  When it comes to the dryer I put the basket of wet clothes in front of the dryer and he takes them out, one by one, and puts them inside.  Its a great time for conversation about colors and how things feel, their weights, and labeling articles of clothing.

Normally, you'd be shoving the clothes in as fast as possible to get on to the next thing but take it slow and realize what an opportunity is to share this meaningful time.

Here are some pictures of O helping with the laundry on vacation.  (The set up is different then our house so I was handing him the laundry piece by piece).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


 I found this set of drawers in my basement that I had planned on using for some organizing but forgot all         about.  I had an idea that O might like opening and closing, filling and emptying.  I was right :)

I put a set of blocks near the drawers to see if he'd use them.

Sometimes he'd open just one and put a few blocks inside.

Or he'd open all three at once and switch some blocks around.

He loved the big drawer the most and would put all the blocks in there and then disperse them throughout.  

This post is mainly meant to remind you to look at things in a different way now that there is a little one in your life.  Something that you might not think of as a 'toy' may be quite intriguing to a curious mind.  'Real' items, like this one, are both attractive and meaningful to children.  Remember that you do not need plastic toys that light up and make noise to engage a child.  

Other household items that might be interesting to put into your rotation might be pots and pans with lids, spatulas, wooden spoons and other cooking utensils, tupperware type containers and wicker baskets.  

Gourd Exploration

Early in the fall, we bought O a big bunch of gourds.  One morning when I got up before him, I put the gourds in a basket and put the basket out in the middle of the living room floor.  I didn't direct his attention to it as I wanted to observe his natural discovery.  After his morning routine of drinking kefir on my lap, he got down to play as usual but stopped when he saw the basket.  He knelt down to inspect it.

He removed them one by one and then put them back in. 

                 He realized some of them were heavier then others and required a two handed grip.

He couldn't verbalize it but it was obvious that he realized the different textures, some were bumpy and some were smooth.  

The colors were also bright and attractive.  There was a great deal of sensory stimulation with this simple activity.  

After living in this basket for a few days, I found some gourds ended up in his wagon that he pushes around the house and some ended up in his book corner.  They have officially become part of his collection of toys.  I love having nature inside the house for him to become familiar and comfortable with. Natural materials inspire investigations, open little ones up to the world around them and provide them with great sensory experiences.  

An activity like this might be good at any age if the child is able to lift something as heavy as a gourd.  If your child puts everything in their mouth, I would wash them off first.   As your child gets older gourds can be used for counting, learning colors, labeling textures (smooth, bumpy, pointy), and even sorting by shape/color/texture.  I did try to extend the activity by cutting a gourd in half for O to touch the insides but it wasn't successful.  He cheered when we got it open but had no interest in touching it.  Oh well, maybe next year.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Exploring Tin Foil

Another sensory activity for infants, I'd say from 4 months and up.  I placed a long sheet of tinfoil on O's highchair and taped it down underneath.  I placed him in his seat and then showed him what happened if I tapped on the foil.  He immediately started banging on the foil.  Then he moved on to scratching it with his fingers and of course he had to see how it tasted.  He was about 5 months here.

Other things to try: newspaper, cellophane, tissue paper, wrapping paper, brown packing paper, etc....

Monday, November 7, 2011

Modeling dough and then some

O loves modeling dough and for a while he would just poke it and pull it apart.  I've started introducing other materials alongside the play doh.  

If O could write...

          ...he'd be the guest blogger for the day since he invented this game.

Remember the post with the toilet paper tubes and empty beer case?  Well, O was busy with the tubes when he spotted his basket of rocks.  (Yes, one of his toys is a basket of rocks).  He started dropping rocks into the tubes that he'd put into the case.  Genius!  

Without planning, we were conducting an experiment.  O picked up rocks and tried to put them into the tubes, some fit right in and some had to be twisted and turned to fit.  And some were just too big, they were tossed to the side.  He  also seemed intent on filled each tube, one rock in each wasn't enough.  I'm always amazed how children's natural curiosities lead to amazing discoveries.  

Year two of pumpkin exploring

This year I cut the pumpkin in front of O so he could watch as the top came off and get a better understanding of where the seeds and gooey stuff comes from.  He was fascinated as I was cutting and said 'yaaaaay' when I finally got the top off.

Then he spent about 3 minutes taking the top off and putting it back on.  He made icky faces at the inside of the pumpkin so I knew it was going to be interesting to try and get him to touch it.  

After watching me pull most of the seeds out he finally was brave enough to touch them.  To have him be more successful at the slimy part of it, I pulled a bunch of seeds to the front of the pumpkin so that he didn't have to stick his whole arm in the pumpkin.  Once he saw them there he started pulling them out and smiled and made lots of his happy sounds.  

He played with the seeds for a while but eventually he scooped them all onto the floor.  Then he went back to the fun and non-sticky part of the experience.  

O is almost 16 months and I would recommend doing this activity during any age of toddlerhood.  The whole experience supports developmental growth - watching the pumpkin be whole then not whole, realizing that there is more too it then the hard & smooth skin, putting the top back on and fitting it into place, the touching and feeling.  As your toddler gets older you can even use an experience like this to introduce new words to their vocabulary.  And as one mom who explored a pumpkin with her child told me, she cooked the pumpkin for her son's lunch while he napped.  Ours is still sitting on his table because I want to see if he's curious about it at all for a second day, I'm guessing he'll at least take the top off a few more times.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shopping List: Beer and Toilet Paper

Supplies for our activity of the day.  Empty 6 pack carrier, toilet paper tubes.

After modeling for O what to do with the tubes, he took over and filled and dumped, filled and dumped.  

Age suggestion would be 10 or 11 months and up.  Also could use paper towel rolls and 18 or 24 pack box. 

O Recommends

This entry will be ongoing, I have only had a chance to take photos of two of his toys today and want to get started.  I will post here pictures of toys that we have and that I recommend, I will include ages in which it was used most, ways we used them and ideas for other uses.  I am also putting together a pinterest board which will include rec's for toys that O does not own but I would purchase if I could.  

The first thing up is a DIY set of shaky bottles.  To make these you need the mini sized water bottles (easier for little hands), water and food coloring (and glue if you want to glue the lids shut).  O and I made these together one day.  I filled them with water and dropped in food coloring, closed the caps and O shook them like crazy to mix up the colors.  He has loved these from the first day, he takes them down and lines them up and puts them back again.  Shakes them, looks through them, and rolls them on the floor.  I keep them on the window sill near his table and chairs so that they catch the light and his attention.  He reaches for them almost every day after finishing a snack.  If I am sitting with him he loves to hand them to me and I say the colors out loud or count as he hands them over.  
I did not glue these closed because I'm not sure we are finished with them yet.  I may add glitter, buttons, beads or other items to them.  Or I may just make a new set with those items.  
(And I'm not sure why the red and orange look like the same color in the photo, they look different in real life)

The following picture is a set of weighted cylinders by Guide Kraft.  They are recommended for ages 3+ but I gave them O at 13 months, figuring he'd find a way to use them.  For the suggested age, these blocks are used for matching - both color and weight, building concentration and challenging perception.  

First they were on the floor and weren't touched.  Then when we got his table, I placed them on it, right in the middle.  Almost immediately, O was intrigued and starting playing with them.  First it was in and out of the tray, then he started stacking them.  He now stacks up to 6 cylinders.  These blocks are already building his concentration level, hand eye coordination and fine motor skills.  He's not able to match the weights yet but is experiencing the differences and you can tell that he is aware of them.  

This toy should support developmental growth for 4+ years.  They can also be used along with building blocks.  

                                                                    Weighted Cylinders

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Snowy Day

And I know there are some of you with snow on the ground too...

This is another simple (and free!) sensory activity that O loved, though not for a very long period of time.  He was quite curious about the snow and it's temperature.  He pulled off little bits and pieces, would hold them between his fingers and then look to see that it was gone.  If he left his hand on the snow for too long, it would get cold and he'd lift if off and pull it back away from the snow, only to put the other hand on it.  He was not upset by the coldness, it seemed to intrigue him.

He was 5 months for this experience.  

I will probably do something similar with him this year, in addition to attempting to play outside.  Taking time in a comfortable space to closely examine nature is important and will most likely be more meaningful and a better experience.  Bundling up with lots of layers and being in the cold and hills of snow I'm sure will be overwhelming and he probably won't learn to much from that type of snow exposure other then he'd rather be indoors.  We'll see, he may love it out there, especially in a sled. 
Trying to stick with seasonal ideas, I have many more photos of this experience on my other computer, but wanted to at least get the idea out while there are leaves on the ground (for some of us).

This was last year when O 4 months.  I raked a big pile of leaves and just laid him down in the middle of it, both on his belly and his back.  I showed him how the leaves crunched and he started grabbing at the leaves, crunching them and of course tried putting them in his mouth.  I would also pick up a bunch and drop them, he would just lay still watching them as they fell.  

He laid on his back for a surprisingly long time.  I wondered what he was thinking, every time he moved there was crunching.  He most likely didn't realize it at that age that he was controlling the sounds but was certainly curious about them. 

All together he was in the leaves for probably close to 15 minutes.  There were a few position adjustments but for the most part he was just fascinated and content.

Pumpkin Exploration

Sensory experiences are how babies learn about the world around them.  Anything that a little one can safely look at, touch, smell, and sometimes taste, can be a sensory activity (pumpkins, snow, leaves, bark, grass, water, the possibilities are endless).  

Here is an example of a pumpkin exploration.  O was just about 4 months here.  Sensory experiences like this one can start whenever your baby becomes more interested in the world and is able to sit up or at least sit in a seat like this bumbo.

Notice his hands touching the outside, we may think the only interesting part is the inside goopy stuff but the smooth and bumpy textures are just as new and exciting.

He wasn't able to pull any of the guts out so I scooped some for him and put them on his tray.

While I had thought and planned that the inside was going to be the most interesting part for Owen, he didn't much like the slimy guts and pulled his hands away pretty quickly.  I ended up putting the pumpkin back on his tray for further exploration and he enjoyed that much more.  

I am putting a post together that will include all the developmental areas that benefit from sensory experiences and how you can support and encourage it.