Category Archives: Playing

Toddler Time: Unexpected Toys

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Aoife is well into toddler-hood, and recently I’ve been struck by how she can take nearly any household object and turn it into a plaything. The most amazing thing is actually watching her learn, because just about anything she plays with, she learns from.

Here are some of the most unexpected “toys” that Aoife loves:

  1. Rolls of packing tape. These are fantastic for rolling on the floor or stacking into a tower (and then knocking it down).
  2. Notecard sets. A small box of stationery gives Aoife near-endless entertainment as she takes the cards out of the box, then takes the envelopes out of the box, then puts the cards in, then puts the envelopes in, then takes the envelopes out …
  3. Books of all sizes. Even when Aoife was younger, we joked that A Game of Thrones was her favorite book. She always picked that one up and carried it around because it was a perfect size for her to grasp easily. Now she loves flipping through whatever books are lying around, which is quite a variety, in our house.
  4. Skeins of yarn. Yarn is easy to hold on to, and Aoife’s favorite activity with yarn is to pull it across the floor and entice the cats to chase her. It’s great that she can have a couple of “playmates” while she runs around and around the living room. She thinks this whole process is hilarious.
  5. Wire cooling racks. Possibly the strangest entry in this list. Aoife loves to tap these against the metal baby gate or on the floor, making “music”. I think she choose the cooling racks over other pots and pans because they’re easy to grasp and light to carry. She also loves putting these on the floor and then standing on them, which is not mfavorite activity for her.

What would you add to this list?

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Half-Camping

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We recently had the opportunity to spend some time at a nearby lake and enjoy the great outdoors. We fully intended to camp, and we proceed to set up the tent and build cookout fires during the day. But as the temperatures continued to climb and the wind picked up, we decided to eat dinner and then pack it in for cooler pastures.

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Even so, we had a highly enjoyable day getting Aoife out and about doing something a bit different from the norm.

When you camp with kids, you can count on doing several things:

  1. Throwing rocks in the water
  2. Eating (our favorites are fire-roasted veggies, vegan hot dogs, peanut butter-tortilla roll-ups, and applesauce)
  3. Finding cool sticks
  4. Wishing you’d used more sunscreen (no matter how much you globbed on previously — you always wish you’d used more)
  5. Less napping than you are used to
  6. Not relaxing nearly as much as you thought you would

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It’s been over a week since we’ve come back, and nearly every day Aoife pretends that she is packing her backpack full of clothes or that she is kicking the water at the lake. As much work as it can be to plan ahead, prepare food, set up a tent, take it down again, and tell your children many many times to stay back from the fire/water/scorpions/whatever, it is so worth it to give them a chance to enjoy the world around them. Camping is messy and exhausting, which I think are practically requirements when creating lasting memories.

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If you end up coming home earlier than expected, that’s ok. If your child only takes a 30 second nap, that’s ok. These are building blocks for the foundation that is meant to hold a life.

Play-Doh Activities for Toddlers

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My apologies for not getting a Loving Lately post together for Monday — I’ll try to make next week’s post twice as good!

Lately my daughter has been loving Play-Doh. Play-Doh seems like one of the simplest toys or activities out there for kids — modeling compound? How complex can it be? But once you start adding all of the kits and accessories made for it, Play-Doh can get pretty intense.

But what if you want to keep it simple? You might be like me — we have two colors of Play-Doh (purple and turquoise, as shown here) and none of the accoutrements. If you’ve got a toddler (or even an older baby, as long as they listen when you tell them not to eat the Play-Doh), simple is just fine.

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Here are some ways that we use Play-Doh to keep it interesting, as well as fun:

Learning the alphabet: Form Play-Doh into a variety of letters and have your child name the letter or make the sound. For older kiddos, they could form sight words with a few letters, or you could shape a letter and then name words that start with it, Scattergories style. You could also use alphabet magnets to stamp the Play-Doh with letters to form words.

Learning math: Form numbers from the Play-Doh and name them. For older kids, you could put together math facts, either by shaping numbers and math symbols and putting them together or forming the Play-Doh into tiny balls and counting them out. To make it extra fun, when you add “2 + 2”, smash the “2” and the “2” together and then form “4” (unless you’re a George Orwell fan, and then you might form “5”).

Imprinting: Use household items (large washers, sponges, old sweaters) to imprint patterns and shapes on flattened Play-Doh. This can help with learning shapes and is just all-around fun. Older kids could use different textures to create a collage-style image (make a landscape where an old sweater print forms the hillside, a washer makes the sun) on flattened Play-Doh.

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Motor skills: Roll the Play-Doh into a ball and roll it across the table to your child, having them then roll it back to you. Sometimes this gets a little crazy, but Play-Doh is pretty easy to re-shape and shouldn’t cause any lasting damage. Tossing the ball of Play-Doh into the storage container, a la basketball, can be fun too. You can also have kiddos of varying ages use cookie cutters to make shapes in the Play-Doh.

Smashing: You can’t play with Play-Doh without smashing the heck out of it at some point. That’s just a given.

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Hopefully you’re inspired to get out those little tubs and have some good old-fashioned fun. What’s your favorite Play-Doh product? The taste of Play-Doh: love it or hate it? (You know you’ve tried it …)

Making Oobleck

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Recipes for Oobleck, slime, and magic mud are everywhere, but all you need to know is that cornstarch and water makes for major fun for kiddos. You probably already have a package of cornstarch in your kitchen – it’s one of those ingredients that, when called for, you only use a little bit and then have a ton leftover that takes forever to use up. If you do have to buy it, it runs pretty cheap at the store. Don’t bother with the boxes that can spill all over the cabinet; instead, you can get cornstarch in a nice plastic tub with a screw-on lid, and it keeps practically forever.

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The fun for kids starts when mixing it up. Grab your mixing bowl and add about a cup of cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water. Stir it up (be prepared, this stuff acts weird – if you want to get scientific, it’s called a non-Newtonian fluid), and feel free to add a little more cornstarch or a little more water to get the right texture. You can add a bit of food coloring too, but food coloring can sometimes stain, so use caution.

The easiest way for Aoife to play with it is to pour it on the tray of her high chair. Keep in mind, even though Oobleck is made with edible ingredients, it really shouldn’t be eaten. We get about 20 minutes of playtime before Aoife starts trying to test the limits and put it in her mouth, which is longer than we get with Play-Doh. If you’ve got older kids (let’s be real, this stuff is fun to play with at any age), the fun will probably last even longer.

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Oobleck (named for the Dr. Seuss book) acts like both a solid and a liquid depending on what you’re doing with it. If you smack it, it feels solid, but if you rest your fingers on it or put it in your palm, it will run like liquid. To clean up, simply run the tray and your your toddler’s hands under running water.

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For something a little more contained, you can also pour your original cornstarch/water mixture into a Ziploc bag. It will still feel cool and act crazy like Oobleck does, but there will be even less mess. If you’re ready to kick it up a notch, you can try Dancing Oobleck! We haven’t done this yet, but it looks awesome. And for more fun, check out a couple of videos of people walking on Oobleck. Then go try this crazy stuff for yourself!