Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nature Activity for Toddlers in the City

     My son loves to go on a walk… We try to get out in the stroller every day. The same old streets and houses never get old to him. For me though, I like to come up with things to make them a little more interesting!

     Here’s a fun nature-ish activity I did with my son and his cousin: Leaf Hunt!  

     You can work on learning colors, shapes, textures, sizes, smells and more in a hands-on, multi-sensory way.

     First you need a “leaf bag.” You could probably do better than our plastic one ;-)

     This activity would work really well with older children, make an “I spy” game out of it when you spot a leaf. For the toddlers, I just narrated a lot:

     “See that tall tree with the thick, white trunk? It has bluish-green leaves. The leaves are special because they’re in the shape of a circle! Look at those neat circle leaves! Let’s pick one and put it in our leaf bag!”

     I picked two leaves and gave one to each boy to feel and look at. Putting them in the bag was fun!

     Don’t forget to look for leaves of different sizes, shapes, textures, and colors. If you find pine needles, basil leaves, or rosemary make sure and smell them! Once you go around the neighborhood and have a good assortment of leaves in your bag, head home.

     When you get the collection home, you can talk about what you found. I made a “Leaf Hunt” book to go along with the walk!

     Make crayon-rubbings of the leaves on each of the pages. Really fat crayons work the best for this; we used some giant, homemade crayons. My two-year-old struggled with crayon-rubbing, but it was good fine motor practice anyway! You will end up helping a lot. Make sure and label the leaves. 

     Here I saved the actual leaves we found and made a puzzle for T to match the leaves with the colored rubbings on the page:

He did pretty good!

     Staple the pages together and now you have a cool book that your child made! They can use it to practice reading and learn to identify shapes, colors, textures, and sizes!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pick Your Own Produce!

     I used to work at an after-school program when I was 18 and 19 years old. One day a little boy was tearing branches off a tree and I told him to stop. He asked “why” and I said he was hurting it. This confused the first grader quite a bit because he didn’t know that trees were alive! He thought they were “decorations.”

     That day I vowed to myself: "When I have kids, they will know better than that!"

      A lot of kids I’ve come into contact with think that food (even produce!) comes from the store… period. Maybe that's because we live in a large city. I want my kids to learn early how our groceries come to be. As always, the Bible is a great place to start…

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seeds in it, according to their various kinds.’” 
Genesis 1:11

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” 
Genesis 1:29

“…The rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater…” 
Isaiah 55:10

     I would actually really love to keep a garden, but funding and talent have prevented that. To those of you who garden with your kids, that’s awesome! You are going to teach them so much about life! I, however, must resort to field trips.

     One day this past Fall while browsing the “for sale” shelf at our library, my inspiration was found: bilingual book all about apples and how they grow. I bought it and decided to show T hands-on what this was all about.

      I found a great website where you can search for orchards in your area:


     I found one about an hour and a half from where we live and invited some friends. All the kids and moms had a blast! This was one of the coolest things I have done with my son. The orchard was on a farm so we got to visit lots of animals and have great BBQ for lunch! 

     In addition to the learning experience we got pounds of organic golden delicious apples for a fraction of what they cost in the grocery store! Later that week at home we learned how to make an apple pie!

      I will definitely be posting again in the summer after we harvest some peaches and maybe some strawberries too!

     How do you teach your kids where food comes from? Farmers' markets, gardening, book suggestions? Do you have any tips for gardening in AZ on a budget? 


Friday, January 20, 2012

Baking with a Toddler!

     I love to bake and I have a lot of fun including my son in the process (toddler pie?). I always expect that with his “help” there is going to be a lot of tasting involved. For the most part, I don’t mind that. He has only tried baking powder/soda about twice and now when he sees either of them, he says “that's yucky!” He thinks that flour tastes good, and of course asks to taste sugar specifically!

     ANYWAY, one thing I do mind him tasting is dough with raw eggs in it. I know that most people probably would not think much about having a taste of batter or dough containing raw eggs, (I usually don’t care) but for me while I’m prego, and my toddler I just don’t feel comfortable.

     I hear too many news stories about food-born illness and know too much about factory farm practices. I really don’t feel I can trust that the eggs I buy in the grocery store are safe to eat without cooking, especially for people with compromised immune systems (pregnant women and young children). 

     I know that applesauce can make a great egg-replacer in baking recipes, but I also dug up some tasty cookie recipes that don’t call for eggs at all. I think they taste a little better than the applesauce cookies. We have made these and they are really yummy and safe, both in cookie and dough form!

     I found this recipe on a bag of Bob's Red Mill flour. We made a couple dozen for my brother's birthday and he approves! They are yummy!

     These may not sound appetizing, but we have tried these many, many times. I have a sister who is vegan, and these are a favorite of mine to make for her because even though they're vegan they actually taste really good, like the real thing.

     These cookies are great! They are favorite of mine at Christmas. The dough is very similar in texture to Playdough so it's great for a toddler to squish and roll.

Finished bonbons!

Happy tasting!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Learning Letters!

     I made a set of alphabet cards that cost me almost nothing. I used stuff I had around the apartment: cardstock, magazine pictures, stickers, photographs, some letter cut-outs, and a laminator I borrowed from a friend. One side of the cards have letters on them and the other side have a picture with a simple word.

     I use them to teach my son (and his cousin) their letters and letter sounds, and recently we came up with a fun game to play!
     First, I made four big letters on the floor with masking tape. You could also do two to make it easier. 

     The first level of this game is just calling out a letter and your child being able to identify and stand on the correct letter.

     The next level of this game is to match cards to the letters. Start out with just matching letters to letters.

     Then move on to matching the words to the letters they start with.  

     It’s a pretty simple game, and lots of fun! We have tried games where I just have him match cards in piles, but this game always goes much better. I think my son enjoys being active and actually moving his body... like most kids his age :-)

     Do you know of any good learning games that don't require sitting still?

Monday, January 9, 2012

CHEAP and EASY thank you cards

     Seeing as it is already the second week in January, this topic may be a little late… Hopefully you and your kids already sent out thank you cards for all the Christmas presents received at your home, but sometimes our hopes are little more ambitious than real life! We just sent ours out today. There’s still time! “BETTER LATER THAN NEVER” is great to remember especially when it comes to expressing gratitude.

     The cards we make at our house are CHEAP and simple. Our budget is tight and we can’t buy a package of cards every time we need them. The nice thing about CHEAP is it means homemade and homemade means they look a lot more thoughtful to the person who receives it. 

     Most of these steps can be done ahead of time, so if there is a little one’s birthday coming up, get started now and you’ll have thank you cards ready to go!

     Target sells 200 blank cards with envelopes for $9.99 in stores. They are 4 by 5 ½ inches and are one sheet (they don’t open up like a typical card). They come in bright, neutral, and pastel colors. I like the bright-colored cards; and think they go particularly well with “kid art.”

     My son loves to paint so we paint probably two times a week. Most of the time we work on a project: his color book, mixing colors, or painting letters. But when he’s finished, I let him paint whatever he wants. I save these “masterpieces” and some I will keep forever, but others I cut up and use for cards!

     After his extra paintings dry, I make sure and leave them under a couple of dictionaries (Strong’s Bible Concordance works REALLY well) overnight so they are nice and flat. I then save them in a file folder.

     Do you have a show you like to watch after your little ones are in bed? For me, Dateline night is the perfect night to work on this project… and now I get to add Downton Abbey night as well!

     So get out the file folder and some scissors and park yourself in front of your show and cut out shapes from the paintings. If you are blessed enough to own some kind of die cutting machine it will be even easier for you! I even have a few card stock templates I use to trace such as different kinds of flowers.

     Put the shapes in an envelope and the next time you have a thirty or more minutes of wait time or TV time get out your glue stick and glue them on one side of the cards. You can layer the shapes for a cute look. I put these finished cards with a matching envelope back in the box with the black ones for safekeeping.

     When you need a thank you card, you have some ready! I like to let my son “sign” the back with his adorable scribbling after I have written a specific note.

     For Christmas I made a set of blank note cards for each grandmother using this same method. I was surprised that they made such a cute gift!

Hope you have fun! 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What is Toddler To Do?

     God has blessed me so much in giving me the gift of being home with my son. I do not take it for granted and I keep joyfully very busy here with him. I want to share some of the stuff I do as a stay-at-home-MOM. I want to learn from other moms and HAVE FUN!  

A little about me:

     My name is Heather. I am a follower of Christ. I am married to N (who for the past two years has been a full-time nursing student/full-time PCT in a local hospital... but now is weeks away from taking his NCLEX- yay)! We have one son, T, and a daughter, M, who is baking and will pop out of the oven in mid-May. We live in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in the desert. 

     I have always had a heart for children and a love of teaching. I started out younger than most people being an aunt and always loved to dote on and baby-sit my niece and nephews. That’s probably where it all began. As long as I was old enough, I have been working with kiddos in some capacity: in a classroom, as a nanny, as a mentor, or substitute parent in a group home for teens. Now my son is the outlet for all my educational energy and ideas! He’s my willing and enthusiastic little guinea pig! 
     So there you have it. I’m not pretending to be an expert, in fact I regularly feel like I am messing up and make tons of mistakes, but I simply love children- especially my own- and genuinely find joy in and have fun with kid stuff! 

      I LOVE the smell of finger paint (I can’t say I love the taste, like my son does), I LOVE the way a freshly strung necklace of Cheerios feels when you put it on, I LOVE our small kitchen COVERED in flour after my little helper assists with the biscuits, I LOVE making up songs to go along with concepts. I LOVE my son’s face when he discovers something new. I get a kick out of it. I get excited about it. I just want to spread the LOVE! I can hardly wait to get feedback from other moms that also have great ideas, opinions, and experiences to share! 

Thanks for reading,