Bird Feeder & Hop Circle

Today I’m sharing two outdoor activities for creative play…

#1: Peanut Butter Bird Feeder

Our house is shaded by an enormous pinecone-dropping machine, and these little beasts can be found in all corners of our mini-oasis. They are so begging to be turned into something, right? Peanut-butter coated pinecone bird feeders, here we come! (Apologies up-front to all my gluten and nut-free friends…this is why there are TWO activities in this post!).

We started by mixing some oat bran into our peanut butter. I read that this is healthier for birds than straigh-up peanut butter because the grains break up the sticky PB and aid their digestion.

Our little set-up: Peanut butter mix, Holiday cheese knife, Bowl of Birdseed, Twine, Scissors, Pinecones, and Paper to place the completed bird feeders on.

I twisted the twine on the cones and then handed them over to the queen peanut-butter spreader, who took her job very seriously.

She then coated them with seeds (from the dollar store – huzzah!). Which reminds me, I originally bought ten bags of the seed as an alternative to sand for our sand table. I highly recommend it as birdseed feels clean, it has a nice texture, and it has little specks of color that make it pop.

And there it is…ready for the birds. Not the pesky squirrels. Okay, are you ready for the sad part of this little tale? We made FOUR of these (4!), hung two by our house and two off a tree by the street. And not one of them was hanging the next morning! I’m pretty sure the squirrels managed to bring them down, but how? Clever little monsters! Has anyone else had this problem? What could we do differently?

#2: Hop Circle

It was a beautiful day, so N moved down to the sidewalk and started on some chalk drawings. She drew a (wobbly) circle on the ground and asked me if I’d draw more of them so that she could play “Hop Circle.” Haha. I kept calling it Circle-Scotch, but it didn’t really matter.

I thought it would be fun to add in some other shapes and drew a triangle. BIG mistake! I really should have checked with the creative director first, as this was NOT in the plan. Back to circles!

Once all the circles (and lone triangle) were laid out to her liking, she hopped away. How fun! And this reminds me of another hopscotch alternative I recently saw at Let the Children Play, where the kids drew a continuous hopscotch all around the school. Take a look!

Fake Piped Frosting

Grandma and Grandpa, also known in our house as G-Ma and TD, are here for a long visit and we decided to make some tangerine ginger curd-filled cupcakes to welcome them to town. Our grocery store carries this amazing curd, and it looked like the perfect thing to pipe into our vanilla cupcakes. They were SO addictive!

After we piped the filling into our cupcakes, N thought that piping was SO MUCH FUN that I decided to make a whole activity out of it. I knew she’d want to squeeze gallons of frosting all over everything, and couldn’t bear wasting the good stuff, so we concocted a fake frosting recipe that worked great. So great, in fact, that grandpa thought it was the real deal and almost ate a huge spoonful of it.

I pulled out all of my cake decorating tips so that N could choose the ones she wanted to work with.

I have some lovely cloth bags, but with little kids I’m all about keeping it simple and pulled out the disposable bags. If you don’t have piping bags and/or tips, you could fill Ziploc bags with frosting and then cut off the tip of a corner like this.

I thought that a think finger paint recipe would work well for our “frosting,” and tried one made from flour, water, a little bit of salt, and food coloring. Why salt? I’m not sure, but it shows up as an ingredient in just about every homemade paint recipe I’ve encountered. Does anyone have an answer to this?

I showed N how to hold the piping bag, and she was off! And man, do I know my kid — she squeezed every last bit of frosting out of those bags!

Why it worked

  • My daughter expressed an interest in learning more about piping frosting, so I followed her lead. As a result, she was wholly invested, wanted to be a part of each step in the process, learned new vocabulary words, and her skills with filling and squeezing the bags improved by the end of our session. In the school world, the design plan behind creating lessons that follow a child’s interests is called an emergent curriculum.
  • N LOVES squeezing things.
  • We made the frosting pink. Her choice. In the words of our blog friends Sherry and Donna, it was irresistible.

What we used to make it happen

  • Disposable piping bags
  • Cake decorating tips
  • “Frosting”: Flour, water, salt, food coloring
  • Surface to squeeze frosting onto

Recipe for fake frosting

This recipe is a work-in-progress as I’m not completely satisfied with how it turned out.It turned out a little lumpy, and a bit of extra water and vigorous stirring seemed to make it work better. Regina at Chalk In My Pockets devised a brilliant recipe using soap flakes that looks absolutely edible and creamy. Next time we’ll have to give that a go. If you come up with another recipe, I’d love to hear about it!

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Food coloring

Pour flour and salt in saucepan. Add cold water and beat with whisk until smooth. Add hot water and cook over a medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Color as desired.


How to Make Bathtub Puffy Paint (for piping) from Chalk in my Pocket

How to pipe icing tutorial from TLC

A non-piping frosting that I’m dying to try called “The Best Frosting I’ve Ever Had.” Mmmmm. From The Pioneer Woman.

How to decorate cookies with Royal Icing. From Sweetopia.




Improvised Caution Tape

My daughter is FASCINATED by caution tape. It all started about a month ago when we walked past a building that was surround with the stuff, and I was barraged with questions like: Why is there caution tape there? Who can go over there? What happened? How did the fire truck get in the building? Why is that man behind the caution tape? Why can’t I go behind the caution tape? And so on. And ever since, her radar is attuned to caution tape like mine is attuned to drive-through coffee shacks (which are way too few and far between!)

So, one fine Sunday morning, she and my husband decked out our house with their version of caution tape. While I bought this tape with more traditional art projects in mind, I’m impressed with how they interpreted it as a medium for blocking off areas of our home. When this all got underway I was thankfully on the right side of the tape, as I was told that the other side was only for “workers only” and I wasn’t permitted to pass. Toddlers and their rules!!

In case you’re wondering, this is what she was stockpiling on the other side of the tape.

This simple play-acting game kept her entertained for close to an hour, which I attribute to paying attention to her interests, one of the first posts I wrote about back in May. While we could have purchased a head-to-toe construction worker kit like this, she got into the spirit of it all with simple yellow tape and orange paper repurposed into caution tape and cones, and it didn’t cost us a dime. Kids are awesome like that. And who needs a yellow safety vest when you can wear a pink tutu? (Bet you didn’t realize you bought her a construction outfit, Auntie Danielle!)

With rainy (and maybe where you are, snowy!) days ahead, I plan to look for opportunities to support my child’s interests using materials that we already have on hand. Or none at all. This afternoon we laughed through an improvised outing to a friend’s house to pick up stickers, using nothing but our bodies and voices. What a great way to pass an otherwise dreary afternoon!

How have you supported a child’s interests with a creative use of materials? What improvisational games have you found yourself playing?

Flour and Water

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.

Easter in August

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!