Funnel Painting

set up

This was inspired by an idea we found in Mary Ann Kohl’s Preschool Art. I know I’ve said this many times before, but Mary Ann’s books are brimming with creative and engaging projects, and each of mine are dog-eared in a million places. We used materials that we already had around the house — low threshold projects are my cup of tea! — and the set-up is really easy. The other thing I loved about this activity is the SCALE of it — I knew my child would be captivated by swinging a paint-filled funnel across a huge sheet of paper! Now that we’ve done this, the only drawback I could see was doing this indoors, as my daughter wanted to swing paint in every possible direction, turning me into a mini-general who curbed her enthusiasm more than I like to.

To make this happen, we used:

  • A curtain rod
  • String
  • Funnel
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Paint
  • Tape
  • Chairs to suspend the swinging funnel

My daughter helped me tape a big sheet of paper to the floor. We noticed that it wasn’t long enough, so we added some more. I could tell that the paint would come pouring out of the funnel, so I taped off the bottom of it to make the hole a bit smaller. I wrapped some string around the funnel, and taped it in place. Then I looped the string over the pole.

Ready, set…

GO!

After a few easy-breezy swings, N wanted to give the poor little funnel some heavy-duty pushes, which would have been fine if we were outdoors. After mopping up the fourth or fifth puddle of paint off my floors, we called it quits, but we’ll definitely be taking this activity outside in the near future. I can also envision sand in the funnel over a sandbox, or rice over a (really big!) sensory table.

Do you have any other ideas for funnel swings?

The Butter Experiment

butter

Last week we made butter!

I have friends who made this fine food back in their grade school/scouting/summer camp days, but I haven’t had this pleasure until now. As such, this was much an experiment for me as it was for my child. And it was SO worth it. This project appealed to me because it hardly cost a thing, it was super easy to make, and I was rivited by the process of making my very own butter. And it appealed to my two-and-a-half year old because she could participate in the kitchen by doing many of her favorite things: pouring, mixing, and of course…eating!

Ingredients

  • Glass jar with tight-fitting lid. I used a clean spaghetti sauce jar
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • That’s it! Really, it’s that easy.


Directions

  • Pour cream into a jar. Fill it about 1/4 of the way to allow room for shaking.
  • Shake continuously until the cream divides into butter and “buttermilk”
  • Scoop out and pat butter into a bowl or molds.
  • Save the sweet butter milk for other recipes. Delish.

For this experiment, we made two batches: one in the glass jar and the other with a hand mixer. I hypothesized that the hand mixer concoction would whip up much quicker, so you can imagine my surprise when it never got past the thick cream phase. Given the nature of butter-making, maybe the blender would have worked better. If you’ve had success making butter with a mixer, please share your tips!

N helped with the hand mixer, gave the jar a few shakes for good measure, and then handed her duties off to me and her G-Ma.

There’s my adorable Mother-in-Law being a sport: baby-carrying in one hand and butter-shaking in the other. She’s clearly a pro. And a bonus…as you can see, my baby was enthralled by the process. It’s never too early to help a child develop critical thinking skills!

After about four minutes of shaking, the cream whipped up into a lovely spreadable consistency. Not quite butter, but still worth a taste. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that N is keeping herself busy cutting up coffee filters and snacking on raisins, while her grown-up friends labor away with butter shaking.

Mmmmmm.

About 10 minutes of shaking later I said out loud, “I don’t get it, is it supposed to look like REAL butter? Are we doing this right?” And within seconds the shaking became much easier and the butter was READY! We added a little bit of salt to taste, and then steamed up some corn to put it to the test. And it was amazing.

How it works

When you shake heavy cream, the drops of fat that are usually suspended in the liquid smack against each other and stick to each other.

When was the last time you made butter, and have you tried any variations on this experiment?

Happily shared with Tot Tuesday, We Play, Play Academy, and ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty

Jell-O Excavation | Sensory Play for Kids

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We had fun excavating Jello today…

I placed little toy animals in a bundt pan full of Jello, and then refrigerated it overnight. This afternoon, it was open for investigation.

Hmmmm, feels kind of funny.

“How can I get the animals out?”

“With a knife!” A butter knife, of course.

Because the allure of plain ol’ Jello would only go so far, we added the bottles of colored water for fun.

Pouring water all over the excavation site.

Little fox, trapped in colorful Jello.

Scooping and mixing the slimy concoction. Despite my art school background, I had no idea that lime green and magenta watercolors would mix together to make blood red (!!), and I’ll spare you from some of the more gory-looking snaps. After I guffawed at the mess, my daughter asked me what “gross” means. This was clearly a rich vocabulary lesson as well.

After freeing the animals, filling the water bottles with Jello was a whole other adventure. Thanks to Time for Play for the inspiration!

Supplies: Jello Excavation

I used one box of Knox Gelatine (there are four bags in one box), and followed the directions on the back of the box. If you’d rather use vegan (gelatins-free Jello), this product from Jeannie Prebiotics looks great.

How to set this up

I poured a cup of cold water directly into the mold, sprinkled all four bags over the water and let it rest for one minute. Next, I added three cups of hot water and stirred it up. Then the animals were added. I placed it in the fridge to set, which takes three hours. To free it from the mold, I ran hot water over the back of the bundt pan for half a minute and the whole thing slid out. You could also spray the mold with cooking spray.

Have you played with Jello? Share a story or add your photo into the comments!

 

Defrosting Animals

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Although we live in mostly Sunny California, I’ve been inspired by all of the snow and ice activities I’ve been reading about in the blog world lately. Sensory activities always go over well in our house, and I had a feeling this would work out in my favor.

Right after my daughter turned two, she was fascinated by all-things-ice. Here she on a plane, happily pouring ice from one cup to another. We were traveling to Mexico with very few toys, and were delighted to discover that she was highly engaged with ice-based activities like filling water glasses with ice cubes, playing with ice in the bathtub, and picking up ice from an ice bucket with tongs. If you have a little one and haven’t yet played with ice, this is the time!

I froze a number of animals in various plastic bowls and silicone bento containers, and put them in the freezer before going to bed. I especially like these mini bread loaves because they can fit into the nooks and crannies of my freezer and they didn’t take forever to thaw out. If you live somewhere chilly, you can probably set the ice up right in your backyard, but I had to make a little room in my freezer, which is no small feet when said freezer is 1 cubic foot and full of pureed baby food.

In the morning, we were greeted with a fun defrosting activity. The bowls of icy animals were placed in a large tub alongside odds and ends worthy of picking, banging, and melting away ice. My daughter had trouble with the hammers, as the slippery icy animals kept squirming away, and the golf tees ended up adding more danger to the activity than I’d imagined. My husband enjoyed these tools, however, which turned this into a nice collaborative project, while my daughter was invested in squirting an endless supply of warm water (courtesy of moi) all over the ice.

And between the two of them, all of the animals were freed!

Happily shared with Tot Tuesdays, Monkeying AroundHomeschool Creations, Science Sunday, High Paw: Best Toys for Toddlers, World Animal Day Bloghop

Vinegar and Baking Soda

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Have you tried the baking soda and vinegar experiment with your kids yet? 

Yesterday N skipped her nap and requested “gooey flour and water” for her quiet time activity.  Did you hear me sighing? I sort of had “read books” or “play with a puzzle” in mind, but I guess that would be too much to expect when we rarely sit down and work on puzzles during non-quiet times, right?

I had a million little things in the hopper, but it seemed like a reasonable request. So, there she was, inches deep in flour, salt, water, and white vinegar. With its clear color and acidic smell, the vinegar gave this sensory project an elevated feeling of alchemy. She liked the smell of it, then tasted it, and then tasted everything.

As I was sitting there watching this serious game of ingredient exploration unfold, I remembered the ol’ vinegar and baking soda trick! So I brought out the baking soda and asked innocently, “would you like to add some baking soda into your cups?” Of course she said “yes,” and her reaction to the merging of the vinegar and baking soda made missing a nap totally worthwhile.

First she add baking soda to all of the cups and then she poured vinegar on top of the baking soda. We played this game in both directions: adding vinegar to baking soda and vice versa.

After depleting my white vinegar reserves, she begged me for more. (Hey! This project is a winner!) Since I was also sort of curious about how the other vinegars would react to the baking soda, I reluctantly handed over my red wine and balsamic vinegars. They each bubbled, but had slightly different reactions.

Happy experimenting!

Happily shared with Childhood 101

How to Make Goop

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Homemade Goop is one of the best things I’ve learned how to make as a parent, and today I’m going to share this big secret on how to make goop. It’s the easiest recipe, and full of so much fun for small children.

Have you tried it? The recipe is simple and children are riveted by the magic of this weird substance.

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

 

Fun History of Goop

Goop, better known as Oobleck (named for a slime in Dr. Seuss’ book Bartholomew and the Oobleck ) is a fun material to play with: At one moment it’s a solid, and at the next it’s a liquid…it’s unbelievably silly to play with, and I’ve witnessed adults get lost in the strange sensation of its texture. For my science friends out there, this is a dilatant material, which is one that changes its properties in reaction to external stimuli. We don’t have the Dr. Seuss book (yet!), but I imagine it would be fun to read the book in conjunction with this activity.

Stretch this project out

To get the most bang for your buck, do what I did and set up this goop-making activity up as a 3-part activity to enable your child to experience the medium in multiple ways.

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. container of Cornstarch
  • Up to 1 cup of water
  • Liquid watercolors or food coloring (optional)

Supplies

  • Big tub for mixing — I used an under-the-bed storage container. Contains the mess well so my child can play unencumbered by my tidy concerns
  • Spoons, little bowls, toys for playing, scooping, and filling

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

How to Make Goop: Part 1

I placed the jar of corn starch in the tub, alongside a spoon and a couple small bowls. I expected my daughter to pour the whole tub of corn starch out, but she carefully scooped it from the container spoonful by spoonful. This took a while, as she was wholly invested in the process of measuring and then pouring. Once playing with dry corn starch ran its course…

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

How to Make Goop: Part 2

We added water. I gave her just a bit at a time, so she could enjoy the process of mixing it in. Ultimately, the cornstarch:water ratio is about 2:1.  And as we went along, we chatted about what it felt like in our hands, if it was easy/hard to stir, and what we were doing. And once she seemed to have her fill of playing with this funny material…

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

How to Make Goop: Part 3

We added a few drops of liquid watercolor to the Oobleck (food coloring would also work), which she swirled around and mixed up. She was really interested in dropping the color into the mixture, but stirring it up barely sustained her interest. After focused play with the Oobleck for the last 30 minutes, she seemed to have had enough…ready to move on to the next big thing.

If you try this (or already have it under your belt), I’d love to hear from you!

Squeezing Paint

Back Camera

I set N up with some paint pots and a large sheet of paper — our favorite way to paint big as of late. After smearing some paint around and taking a few stabs at mixing colors, she asked me for more purple paint. The paint pot wasn’t empty, and the real story ended up being that she wanted to SQUEEZE more paint into the paint pot. Of course she did! Toddlers adore squeezing, as we’ve noted with glue bottles, water bottles, and glitter glue. So I handed her the bottle, and the following drip and splatter-fest took place.

At a later point I encouraged her to walk through the paint to make footprints, which unfortunately led to a messy paint disaster that included falling into a big slippery puddle of paint. This led to laughing and commotion, but since my hands were then full with towels and buckets of water, I’ll spare you the image and leave the result to your imagination.

The timing was perfect because I just ordered a set of Nancy Paint Bottles, and they arrived late in yesterday’s mail. After N went to bed I filled them with paint, ready for morning squeezing experiments!

Wow! It makes green!

The splatters that came out of the almost empty bottles were rewarding in their own way. This isn’t the most economical way to use paint with a squeeze-happy toddler, but as she gets older I’m sure she’ll become more judicious with the paint pouring. I also envision other squeeze bottle experiments with glue, flour mixtures, and liquid watercolors.

What kind of squeeze bottle experiments have you had in your home or school?

Do you have any other ideas for materials that could be squeezed?

If I had a Hammer

hammering

My neighbor Liz is an incredible parent, and she’s also a preschool teacher by trade. She introduced us to this early carpintry & building activity this summer, and my daughter has asked me to buy her golf tees on numerous occasions since. I finally got my act together and ordered a set of tees, but this would be an easy no-brainer for any of our friends out there who play golf. It’s nice to have a bowl of tees in the yard in case the mood to hammer strikes. Ouch, no pun intended!

A handful of tees and a toy hammer is all it takes. This hammer is part of a Plan Toys set that we’ve outgrown. The tees are from Amazon.

When my daughter was younger, I would poke some tees into the earth to help her get started, but now she wants to do this step herself. For easier hammering, we like to work with soft or wet dirt.

Resources:

  • Montessori Services sells a hammering set, but you can also order a hammer and tees separately.  I would recommend just the tees and hammer.
  • If you don’t have access to dirt or want to make this an indoor activity, a good alternative is to pick up or find a huge chunk of styrofoam.

Hammering and Building Extensions:

  • Older children may enjoy hammering real nails into a tree stump or piece of scrap wood.
  • Pre-hammer holes into a piece of wood. Using a screw driver and large screws, show the child how to screw into the hole left by the nail.  You could also practice screwing holes into a bar of soap.
  • Cut small pieces of sand paper of various grades, and set out some blocks for the child to sand. Discuss the different textures of the papers with words like rough, course, and smooth.

Have you tried hammering with your kids? What do they think of this activity?

Slapdash Slide

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While I’ve been on baby duty this past week, my husband has been an incredible pal to our older daughter, and it’s been inspiring to watch them develop their own style of play and invention. We both believe strongly in paying close attention to our child’s interests and then helping her grow beyond her current capabilities, which is how this little activity emerged.

On this snoozy weekend morning, N really wanted to hit the park and run around, but my sleep-deprived husband was still rubbing his eyes and nursing his coffee. A middle ground was found with a few rounds of couch somersaults, and then my DH struck gross-motor toddler gold when remembered the large piece of wood we picked up for my inverted-board-turn-the-breech-baby exercises. Add in a yoga mat for friction and a few pillows for protection, and the slapdash slide was invented.

One of the pillars of our parenting philosophy lies in the idea of the zone of proximal development, a learning theory developed by renowned psychologist and cognitive theorist, Lev Vygotsky, which can be described as the gap between what a learner has mastered and what a learner is capable of doing with help.

In this case, our daughter loves climbing and tumbling. Combine building the slide with some dialogue and a few gentle suggestions, and she was soon diving down the slide head-first, turning her body sideways to scoot down in “the splits”, and walking up and down the slide. These are all things she could do at the park, but with other kids around we ask N to play it safe and have good playground etiquette. The beauty in this activity is that it was all hers, and she could explore and push herself as she desired.

What games and toys have you invented with your kids? In what ways have you guided a child master a skill that was too difficult for him or her to master alone?

Flour and Water

table from above

We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Felt Cookies

frosting and sprinkles

Lately, a lot of play-acting around here seems to revolve around cooking. We have a slew of play food, but up until last week we had no cookies. When we wanted to bake a batch, the play dough would usually come out.  Not a bad thing — I love play dough — but while doing some research for another project, I hit on this fun and easy idea from Mirror-Mirror and Laura Bray for making felt play cookies. If you’re not a stitcher, don’t let that curb your own enthusiasm for making a batch of these.  The project is fairly simple, and could even be done with a glue gun instead of stitches if the mood strikes. These are not only great imagination-builders for your own play kitchen, but also make excellent gifts and could be a thoughtful donation to your favorite pre-school or school fundraiser.

The Prototype Batch

Since I had some felt and embroidery thread lying around, I decided to whip up a batch to see if these were worth making. A few iterations on the first batch and a couple visits to the craft store later, and I think I’ve nailed the project down pretty tight.

The very tough Test Kitchen

Materials

  • Acrylic Felt swatches like these: you can find these in craft stores for about 30 cents a piece (9″ x 12″).  Choose colors that you’d like for your cookies and your frosting. Good choices for us were tan, pale pin, dark brown, white, and cream.
  • Embroidery Thread to match the felt
  • Embroidery Thread for Sprinkles. My variety-pack includes pink, hot pink, yellow, and green.
  • Chenille or Embroidery needles. I prefer chenille needles because the eye is a little larger, making them easier for me to thread. Either way, make sure you get something with a sharp point. Stay clear of tapestry needles with their blunt tips.
  • Polyester fiberfill stuffing, such as this.
  • Pencil or fabric crayon

Directions

Fold your felt in half, or stack two pieces together, and draw your cookie shape. I made circles, but you could make gingerbread men, ducks, etc. My cookies are about 3″ in diameter. I like to cut free-hand, but you could place a cookie cutter or the bottom of a glass on top of the felt to get a clean shape.

Cut the felt out.

Make some frosting. Cut an organic circle-ish shape out of contrasting felt.

Layer the frosting on top of one of the cookie pieces. Select a color for the sprinkles. Thread the needle. Knot off one end, and stitch on some sprinkles. Add a couple colors if you ‘d like.

The back will look something like this.

Layer the bottom piece of cookie beneath the frosted top, and stitch around the cookie with a blanket stitch. Be sure to leave a gap to fill in the cookie with some fiberfill stuffing. Stitch the hole closed.

Place your cookies in a jar for gift-giving, or put them on a plate.

Happy Baking!

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Easter in August

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After Easter we moved some plastic eggs into N’s play kitchen, and every now and then she’ll ask us to hide them in the garden. One of these rogue eggs has been living in our fire pit for the past month (sadly, we haven’t been roasting marshmallows as much as we’d hoped), and she spotted it yesterday. So, with the two-year old hopping up and down asking for me to find — and hide — the rest of the eggs, I had to quickly pull together a spontaneous egg hunt. And all this led me to finally organize all of the materials in one easy-to-reach outdoor place.  If you’re not opposed to having egg hunts in August, this is a great hide-and-seek game (indoors or out) for any time of year.  And if you want to keep those eggs sacred for the holiday in which they were designed, you could hide toy cars, balls, or any other little fun objects you could dream up.

Pulling it together

I now store all of our eggs in a plastic shoe box, and collected all of our baskets into one place — couldn’t believe my only 2-year old already has four of these! While I usually start the hiding game, for some reason N now takes over after the second egg has been placed, and insists on both hiding AND finding the eggs. Not an issue, as this is obviously just the beginning of her inventing her own games. Which brings me to share why this is a creative thinking activity – I’m excited that my child doesn’t see holidays or seasons as limitations to her own ideas.  She’s not limited by cultural or societal constraints, and when inspiration strikes she’s enthusiastic to embark on a new journey to hunt for eggs in August.

Happy Hunting!