Friday, July 22, 2011

Bead Bugs

This is a fun little craft project to enjoy with your munchkin on a rainy summer day (which we’ve had an abundance of this summer). These little bead bugs are cute and quite impressive looking, and are a fun fine motor challenge.

You will need –
Styrofoam craft balls
Pipe cleaners
Beads with large holes
Googley eyes (optional)
Cut pipe cleaners in thirds, and twist one end of the pipe cleaner into a small loop (to prevent beads from sliding off of the end). Show your child how to thread the beads onto the pipe cleaner (supervise little ones so they don’t mouth the beads). When your child has added several beads, help them poke the straight end of the pipe cleaner into the Styrofoam ball, then bend the pipe cleaner slightly in the middle to create a “bug leg”. Continue adding legs, and use two smaller pipe cleaner sections to create antennae. Finish your bead bug by gluing on googley eyes, or by simply drawing eyes on the Styrofoam using a ball point pen.  This is a great little project for beginning beaders, as it is much easier to thread beads onto a pipe cleaner than onto a string.
Helpful Hints:
·         If you don’t have beads or would prefer not to use them, cut drinking straws into short sections and thread these onto the pipe cleaner instead.
·         If your child isn’t quite ready for this fine motor challenge, try this very simple threading activity: Cut the egg cups out of a cardboard egg carton, and punch a large hole into the bottom of each egg cup. Loop and twist one end of a pipe cleaner to prevent “beads” from slipping off, and help your child practice threading egg cup beads onto the pipe cleaner. A great introduction to this tricky concept!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Smoothie Popsicles

Ah, summer. There is nothing else quite like it. And though our summer has been incredibly busy this year (hence my negligence in posting!), it has also been lovely. What could be more wonderful than sitting in the sun out on the back deck with your munchkin? Well, perhaps sitting in the sun out on the back deck with your munchkin and popsicle!!
As the mommy of a typically picky toddler, I’m always looking for ways of getting healthy food into that cute little belly. This summer, smoothie popsicles have been the answer. Every time I make a smoothie for my daughter, I double the ingredients and pour whatever is left over into a popsicle mould. My little princess gobbles them up as though they were candy…and yet they’re very healthy and nutritious (shhh – don’t tell her that).
To make your own smoothie popsicle, simply blend together…
Yogurt (go for the plain, unsweetened kind –  it’s healthier, and your kids won’t notice the difference)
Whatever fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand
Pour well blended smoothie into popsicle moulds (available at most dollar stores) and freeze. Then simply serve and enjoy!
Helpful Hints:
·        This is a great way of using up slightly over-ripe fruit, or making use of yogurt that has almost reached its expiry date.
·         Be sure to make a few extra popsicles – mommies and daddies will love them too!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Play Clay

Here’s a fun and different twist on traditional playdough. This clay has an interesting consistency, almost like stretchy plastic. And like all really great kids craft recipes, it is safe for little ones as it is entirely edible (but tastes awful!). To add this recipe to your joyful mommy repertoire, you will need…
1 cup corn starch
2 cups baking soda
1 ½ cups cold water
Few drops food colouring
Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Transfer clay into dish, cover with a damp cloth and allow to cool. When mixture has cooled, knead until it becomes stretchable. Then have fun creating and exploring together with your child!
Helpful Hints:
·    Play clay dries out quickly, so store clay that you are not using in an airtight container with a lid.
·    Use a little bit of water to join pieces of clay together.
·    Play clay is sticky! Wax paper taped securely to the table surface makes clay a little easier to work with.
Happy clay playing, everyone!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bug Box

In the midst of life’s craziness, what could be better that some moments of joyful simplicity with our little ones? The pace of life in our household has been quite frantic the past several weeks (hence my utter negligence in posting!). But no matter how harried the pace, we make an effort to savor un-rushed moments with our munchkin every day. One of the best of those moments happened a couple of weeks ago, as my hubby, my munchkin and I literally sat in the dirt together and created our very own “bug box”. It was one of those joyfully simple moments that I cherish. It cost us not a penny. And my daughter’s eyes were wide with wonder…

To create your own bug box, you will need…
An empty clear plastic container with a lid (large salad containers work particularly well)
Masking tape
A small shovel
Garden gloves (optional)
A garden space suitable for bug hunting!
Punch some small air holes in the lid of your plastic container. Then simply sit with your child and dig in the dirt! Talk about all of the amazing things you discover together – bugs, rocks, grass, twigs, leaves, dirt – the options are endless! Sprinkle a little dirt at the bottom of your bug box, then collect items to create your bug habitat – some sticks and rocks for variety, and some leaves and greenery for your bugs to eat. Hunt for bugs to live in your bug box – worms, beetles, snails – whatever you are able to find. Take your time and enjoy the hunt! When you are finished, securely tape the lid to your bug box so that your child can explore it from every angle without the worry of bugs and dirt spilling everywhere.
Helpful Hints:
·         Scatter only a small amount of dirt at the bottom of the box. If you use too much dirt, the bugs will hide in it and your child won’t be able to see them.
·        Add water to your bug box (daily if you plan to keep it for a while), as bugs get thirsty too.
·        Slugs shouldn’t be kept overnight as they tend to dry out (lesson learned in my own childhood!). Snails are fantastic as they creep along the sides of the box and are very interesting to watch.
This is a fabulous activity for promoting language development , as little ones will be fascinated and there are endless topics to talk about together! And the memories you build are the kind that last for a lifetime. Happy bug hunting, joyful mommies!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cheerful Choo Choo Birthday Cakes

A very special birthday cake for a very special little boy. We baked and decorated FIVE of these train-themed birthday cakes, complete with licorice rope train tracks, rock candy landscaping, and cheerful choo choos emerging from tunnels. Decorating five of these was no small feat – but absolutely worth the effort when we saw the end result. We know one little three-year-old was smiling…
These cakes would be perfect for a “Thomas the Tank Engine” birthday party, but we used “The Little Engine That Could” trains instead – just as adorable but a lot less expensive (particularly since we made five of them). To make your own train and tunnel cakes, just use a large round cake for the bottom layer. We used our “Barbie dress” cake pan to make the tunnel, but you could simply build the tunnel out of layers of cake baked in a regular pan. The simply ice your cake using green for grass, blue for a pond and waterfall, grey for your mountain, and black for the opening to the tunnel (a trip to the cake decorating store is a must – professional quality gel colouring makes your icing colours so much more vibrant). Then simply trim the edges of your cake with rock candy, build your train tracks with licorice rope, and finish off with a cheerful-looking train and perhaps a plastic tree or two. Perfect for any train-loving girl or boy (and have you ever met a preschooler who doesn’t love trains?).
These cakes were a labour of love for us, and we were so happy with the result. We hope they bring smiles to your family as well…

Friday, April 15, 2011

Endlessly Entertaining Easter Eggs

While Easter basket fillers are still available in stores, I thought I’d pass along this fun activity suggestion that can be used any time of year. This twist on the traditional Easter egg hunt is a fabulous activity for promoting fine motor skills, language learning and sensory exploration with your little one. Simply find a large container and fill it with multicoloured Easter basket hay (you’ll find packages of this thinly shredded paper or plastic anywhere Easter baskets are sold). Then use an assortment of plastic Easter eggs (also usually available in bulk packages in the Easter basket aisle) and hide them in the hay. Throw in a few clean sandbox toys, such as buckets, rakes, and shovels, and you’ll be surprised how long your kids will be thoroughly entertained! (Be sure to supervise  little ones, as you don’t want them trying to eat the hay or mouth the eggs).
As with all great play activities, there are endless variations you can make to this game…
·   Pulling the plastic Easter Eggs apart and putting them back together (tricky!) is a fantastic way for kids to strengthen fine motor skills.
·    Try hiding little toys and other objects inside of the Easter eggs for a great language building game. Little ones will be fascinated as you pull toys out of the eggs and tell them the names of the things you find. Beginning talkers will delight in telling you what they’ve discovered. And older kids will love the challenge of trying to guess what’s inside the egg before they open it.
·    When your munchkins grow tired of playing in the hay, throw in a fun sensory twist. Try hiding Easter eggs in a container full of uncooked rice, cornmeal, puffed wheat, or even some fabulously fun and slimy goop (click here for goop recipe). Happy Easter egg hunting, everyone!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Earth-Friendly Spring Flowers

My hubby and I married young, and as ours was the first wedding among our circle of friends, we were blessed with an abundance of wedding showers – seven, to be exact. And it was at those wedding showers that I first earned my reputation as a tissue paper hoarder. As a general rule, I detest wastefulness, and couldn’t bear the thought of piles and piles of perfectly good gift wrap and tissue paper simply being thrown away. So my guests were forced to sit patiently as I carefully unwrapped each gift, painstakingly sorting and folding every salvageable morsel of gift wrap.
By the time my daughter arrived ten years later, my friends and family were well aware of my gift wrap salvaging obsession. And at each of my three baby showers, a paper-folding assistant quickly materialized by my side. There have been a few giggles at my expense. But I remain proud of my meticulously folded gift wrap stash, which over the years has saved me considerable money while keeping all of that unnecessary waste out of the landfill.
Now that my daughter is an expert gift-unwrapper, there is nothing at all meticulous remaining about my stash. Tissue paper is crumpled. Gift wrap is shredded. But all is not lost! I recently separated out all of the truly mangled bits, and put them in a large box in our craft supply cupboard. There are endless craft projects just screaming to be made. But we started with a simple one, perfect for spring…

You will need:
Construction paper
OR for an environmentally friendly twist, reuse backs of printer paper or empty cardboard packaging
Tissue paper in bright colours (used, of course – the more crumpled the better!)
Crayons or felts
Tissue paper flowers are so easy to make that even the tiniest of tots can do it. We drew on leaves and stems with crayon, but for a fun and authentic touch, go for a walk and collect some real twigs to use as your flower stems (collecting the twigs will likely be the most fun part of this activity!). If you are attempting this craft with a toddler, or just don’t want your child exposed to all of the chemicals in craft glue, try using my incredible edible craft glue recipe – it really works! Be sure to sit down with your child and join in on the fun of this super simple, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly spring craft activity. Enjoy!