Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bug Off

Bug Off Juice!

O has been itching and scratching like crazy these days.
We made up a concoction that is keeping the mossie's away and smelling nice too!

Natural 'Bug Off' Repellant
~15-20 drops Eucalyptus Oil
~2 Tablespoons Witch Hazel
Mix and store in container.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mrs. Dress Up

The many faces...
...of toddlerhood!

O loves to dress herself.
She is officially a toddler, so she is fully capable of doing everything by herself, so she tells us.
We do our best to step back and let her explore her abilities...and out comes the many faces of O!

More than anything, she loves socks. She likes putting mine on, as they are easy ankle socks with no a lot of fidgeting to get them to work the way she wants. She often puts several on one foot and walks around like she has a cast on! She also likes wearing socks on her hands, to eat, build towers and tend to her dollies.

We made a bag of random pieces of clothing. This is her go-to toy bag on many occasions.  We have been saving costumes, but those are not even necessary. She just loves socks, leg-warmers and scarves to date.

Gather a basket of clothes; moms, dads or baby brothers. It is much easier to put on dads shirt and photo-worthy watching your Mini Me walk around as if they were three feet taller!

Bag O Socks: Great game for toddlers. Mix and match socks of all different colours and sizes.

Rainy Day

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thinking Inside the Box

Baby Bum-Washing
Remember those sand/water tables in kindy? 
This simple IKEA tote has brought so much joy to our living room, we're doing a bit of re-posting!
Below is a starter list of tools & ideas for sensory sensational free-play.
All with the help of one, fabulous tote!

OUR ROTATING BEANS & GRAINS (add to the list!)
~mixed beans (Lovely colour contrast)
~soybeans  (They act like a conveyor belt, which always has Dabby and I very intrigued!)
~rice (Nice and soft. The go-to for pouring in and out of containers.) 

O usually picks her favourite of the week, which is usually rice because she gets away with eating more of this than she does the dried beans! I've got nothing in terms of keeping what looks very much like edible food, out of the mouths of babes. 
When O starts eating, she is usually done playing.
Who can blame a kid?! Parents are always trying to get them to eat and when they do, we tell them not to. Confusing, no?
~pom poms
~TP rolls
~bowls/spoons/kitchen stuff/containers!!
~toy cars
...basically whatever you can think of, keeping it to under 5 items or so.

O is an expert dish-washer and dolly bum-washer!
~pouring vessels
~rubber duckie/dolly
~soap bubbles
*keep towel close unless you like Slip 'n Slide in your living room!

~bowls/molds/cupcake tins

Same clear IKEA tote can be expanded into light table!

For sensory brilliance, check out more on Tinkerlab!

Bury. Build. Pour. Rake. Scrub. Fill. Dump. Dry. Smooth.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Naturally Dyed Playdough

Good enough to eat!

Homemade Playdough
~1 cup flour
~1/2 cup salt
~1/2 cup water *use dyes below to tint water prior to cooking
~2 tablespoons oil
~2 tablespoons Cream of Tartar
Combine ingredients over medium low heat and stir until a dough forms.
Knead out lumps. Cool and store in airtight container.

*Natural Dyes
~Beet juice.
Use 1/2 cup beet juice in place of water. Boil beets and use the remaining juice.
~Carob powder.
Add 1 teaspoon of carob powder to 1/2 cup water called for in the recipe.
~Barley powder.

No Cream of Tartar? Best no-cook playdough around and no need for cream of tartar (does anyone use this for anything EXCEPT playdough?) Recipe at Reading Confetti (affectionately named Ice Cream Playdough!)


Sensory Patches

Sensory Patches

Sensory patches are super simple, quick and cheap to prep and offer loads of options for games and sensory learning. As pictured, we used a heavy quality orange felt for the base rectangle cards. Then we searched the fabric tote and Dabby's tool box for materials with varying surface textures. By making two of each, it increases the number of games you can play using these patches alone.
O was very intrigued by the stack when she woke up from nap.
She explored them on her own before we introduced some games.
We brushed our fingers along each surface, while talking about adjectives like smooth, bumpy, rough and soft.
We scratched the surface with our nails for a different kind of sensory experience.
I picked up one patch and asked O to find the matching patch.
Dabby laid out three patches and asked O to find the patch that was different.
Then Dabby and I played a game of Memory by flipping the patches over;)

Memory Game; The more patches made, the more tricky it will be to remember their place. Keep in mind, you will need to sew approx same size patch on each card, otherwise it will be easy to tell which ones match from the back.

Patterns: Introduce simple patterns. If you make more than two of each patch, you can create complicated patterns for older children

Blindfold: Place patches out on a table and blindfold the player. Have the player match the patches by feel only.

Festival of the Double Fifth


Festival of the Double Fifth (Dragon Boat Festival) is celebrated in China this weekend.
Around the world, people celebrate with Dragon Boat races, continuing the tradition of paying homage to the Gods of Water to ensure a good farming season. June 23 is the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar; a dangerous time in terms of yin and yang balance.
We were lucky enough to visit with our friends who just happened to have homemade Zongzi for us to try! The mixture is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, which looks amazingly complicated to wrap and like so many Chinese specialties, a savory or sweet surprise in the center.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One Girl Band

O's First Choice
Music Box Stash

Introducing the One Girl Band!
O's first choice of instrument is always the harmonica. So much so, that it floats around the house and lands wherever it was last played.

Over time we have added a new instrument as we come across an interesting new one (thank you, Yu Gardens!), both from China and Canada. We even picked up a couple of frog glockenspiels in Cambodia, whose backs are ridged and supposedly sound like frogs croaking. It would be great to add to the collection through travels; adding to the diversity of sound.

I am not particularly musical, but love instruments for their versatility and the fact that they are long-lasting toys that will always have a place on the shelf.

Music Box:
~wooden washboard
~xylophone (notes stamped into the metal...brilliant!)
~wooden train whistle
~rainstick (a bit prickly)

Make Your Own; A million potential instruments are lurking around the house. Fill containers with dried beans, rice or salt. Secure some elastics around a shoe box. Transform plastic Easter Eggs into maraca's (...then continue checking out Dana Made It! WOW!) 
More make-your-own instruments at PreKinders

Music for Kids: Elizabeth Mitchell ranks high in our house. Putamayo Children's CD's features songs and lyrics from around the world. Oldies but goodies include :Sharon, Lois & Bram, Raffi and Free to Be You & Me.

Vegan Bites: Black Hummus

Hamming it up for Hummus

O is not a huge fan of hummus.
Black hummus is another story!
Chock full of calcium, proteins & fats it is a fabulous toddler dip.
O eats it by the spoonfuls!

~1-2 cups cooked, black/dark brown chickpeas
~1/2 cup black sesame seeds
~1/2- 1 cup olive oil
~1-2 teaspoons salt
~1/2 teaspoon pepper
~1 teaspoon cumin
~1 fresh lemon
~chopped cilantro

Whiz sesame seeds with enough oil to get a nice paste.
Add spices and chickpeas.
Continue adding oil to reach desired consistency.
Add lemon and cilantro to taste.

Serve with pita bread, veggie sticks or just use a spoon!

Thanks to our friends M&M in Shanghai for their tahini-making tips!

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'm Melting!

Colour Love

Melting run-of-the-mill Crayola's are a simple way to give baby a better grasp when creating masterpieces.
We have a heart-shaped ice cube tray, but IKEA claims they are only for water, so I was afraid to melt the mold. Instead O and I peeled the paper off of each crayon, broke them in bits and made sure each cup had the same colour, though rainbow crayons are also an option. We placed a sheet of foil over top and put the oven on low heat until the crayons changed form (about 20 minutes.) Once cooled, they peel right out of the mold.

Pinterest is teeming with melted crayon masterpieces! Some pretty artsy people out there!
Warning: Pinterest is addictive and makes even Martha Stewart look lazy!

Emotion Rocks

Emotional Literacy

This idea is credited to the amazing mama at Our Feminist Playschool. I am a HUGE fan of the learning opportunities she provides for her son and I'm always anxious to read her next post.To learn more about how she made her Emotion Rocks read

O and I went outside to collect and clean our rocks, which became a project that O really enjoyed. Adam helped us access the 'emoticons'. Then we were stuck for finding Modge Podge in Shanghai; a craft product for decoupage that I have never used. A recipe online proved cheap and simple, so we set out to make our own. The result was likely too clumpy and the quantities produced mountains of Modge Podge, but it worked well. We also bought a clear, acrylic paint to protect the paper faces from drool!

Homemade Modge Podge
~1 1/2 cups flour
~1/2 cup sugar
~1/4 teaspoon oil
~1 cup water
On medium low heat, combine water, oil and sugar, stirring until dissolved. Slowly whisk in flour to desired consistency (liquidy pancake). Continue to stir and cook without boiling (avoid clumping!) for 5-10 minutes. Store in airtight container and refridgerate.

We did not refrigerate ours and by the next morning, it became a bubbling science experiment!

O can demo a 'happy' and 'shad' (sad!) face and yawns when she see's the 'bored' emoticon!

Puppetry; We have noticed if O's Bear or Owl puppets are putting on a show, she is all eyes & ears! Use puppets or stuffed animals to re-inact a highly emotional event taking place in your house!

Picture Box: Have your children cut faces out of magazines. Set aside all the misc. photos that just aren't making it into a photo album (or the millions of doubles that have no home) Throw all the cut-outs and photos into a box for chit chat about facial expressions and emotions. Even tiny ones can imitate faces, if they cannot yet name the emotion.

Vegan Bites: Pancake Tuesday

 Blueberry Tongue
Pancake Tuesday

Super quick, cheap and easy recipe for Pancake Tuesday (today is Tuesday & we made pancakes!)
~2 cups flour
~1 teaspoon baking powder
~1 teaspoon baking soda
~2 cups oat milk (rice/hemp/soy etc.)

Mix dry. 
Add milk. 
Add blueberries (or berries of any kind) as desired.
Pour in hot griddle.
Even baby can help with the mixing if you don't mind a mess!

Read together; If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff (her series of If You Give...are funny and sweet!)

Pancake Shapes: O likes personalized mini circles. Letters and numbers work well if you pour the batter very thinly as it flattens quickly!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Little Lemon

 Little one loves lemon...
...and making us laugh!

O asks for lemons on a daily basis now. 
She walks to the fridge, makes a sour face and starts thrusting her tongue out. As soon as she see's us reach for a lemon, she smiles. 
Then the show begins. 
I think she loves getting us to laugh as much as she loves the action her tastebuds experience!

Sweet, Salty, Bitter & Sour: Introduce your child to the four main tastes (there are six in total, according to most cultures). Look at diagrams of the tongue and what happens when the sample is placed on the area it effects. Talk about facial expressions connected to tastes. Photograph and identify.

A Nose Knows: Montessori-inspired 'sniff' jars are a great tool to get in tune with your sense of smell. You can create homemade 'sniff' jars by making a felt cover or use a toilet paper roll to hide the spice contained. Encourage your child to sniff near, not directly over the jar!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Walk the Line

 From inside.... outside

'Walking the line' I first learned in Montessori education. By far, my favourite activities with children are those that are simple to create and have unlimited learning value. 'Walk the line' definitely fits the bill. It encourages concentration, balance, rhythm and movement. There are many variations you can create for your child's developmental level.

All you need is masking tape. 

Carpet is a more practical surface than flooring simply because it is relatively mess free to peel masking tape off of carpet. Floor also works though.

You can create whatever pattern you like:
~a simple line
~a 'maze' structure (above)
~a more complex maze with dead-ends & trick passages
~lines leading out of the room to secret treasures

In Montessori lesson the children are encouraged to walk the square to soft music. My guess is to help keep things slow-moving. Though my experience has noted this is not very effective; every classroom has at least one child who insists on being at the front of the line or has a strong need to run all of the time! Montessori uses the line walk to practice carrying trays. This does not slow down the marathon child either!

You can also:
~change the music to encourage slow & fast movement
~have one child call out different ways of moving; hop, skip, sidestep, gallop, forwards, backwards
~have the 'leader' of the line determine the type of movement
~stop & start the music for a 'freeze' game
~use coloured tape for 'colour hopping' (much like Twister)

Most enjoyed when you think outside the box!


 Photo Card (above) & Bookmark (below)

Gimme a "D"!

With Daddy's Day on it's way, O and I have been brainstorming clever card-making idea's. I have seen some photography sites use letter cards to spell out names/phrases. We decided this route would work well for a Fathers Day card.

You might notice we have some spelling issues. DABBY is O's homemade nickname for her Dad. She can say Daddy, but doesn't! We thought this would be more personal if we stuck to a first name basis;)

By the second "B" shot, O had decided this was not a fun activity, hence my hand holding the slate! It is quite a challenge to get an 18 month old to hold the slate with the interesting letter facing outwards! We were only able to complete the "Y" when she was sidetracked with her newest skill; sucking both thumbs at once!
Appropriately, she grabbed Baby for one of the "B"'s!

Me thinks Dabby will appreciate a tiny version of these pictures on a bookmark.

LEARN THE ALPHABET: Create your own personal alphabet book with your kids. Have them take a photo with each letter of the alphabet. Include colours or items in the picture that start with the letter shown.

BIG FAMILY; BIG OPPORTUNITY: Have each family member hold a different letter to spell LOVE or HAPPY or FAMILY. Include extended family or pets for one giant photo show; everyone in one photo!

Chalk & Slobber: Birch Bark

 Hello Birch Baby!
Camera Lens as a Canvas!

Since O is just starting out in the world of art, we are opening  the doors with chalk. It is not such a bad idea considering it can be wiped off of all surfaces (so far!) Note; the camera lens is absolutely a blank canvas, but O is taking this quite literally! Chalk as a medium gives us ample chance to talk to O about which furniture we would like not to have to replace when we leave this rental.

Chalkboards are a lovely addition to any house, with or without babes. Adam and I have used a tiny slate for years, writing notes and pictures back and forth throughout the week. We upscaled a bit for O's chalkboard ( a good quality blackboard, nearly as nice as slate!) and hung it at her height. I try to rotate some positive quotes written at the top (mostly to remind me about the important things in life). 

Today we turned the chalk sideways and made lines that ran from top to bottom. Then we licked our fingers (yes mom, I licked my fingers and encouraged O to lick hers too) to make birch bark lines. I added some strong outlines and voila! Easy, peasy baby art!

Zebra's, Ladybugs & Other Patterned Friends: Brainstorm other animals, plants & insects that have patterns. Use dots, lines, circles & imagination.

WET NOODLES: Former preschool students 'ate' this activity up! Bring cooked noodles (preferably spaghetti) cooked al dente to the chalkboard. Practice letter and shape formations with the wet noodles!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Follow Me

 What's the big idea?
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Yesterday we braved the Shanghai heat for a Photo Safari. The plan was to take pictures of our favourite outdoor friends (flowers, butterflies, ants etc.) for a simple book. 
Plans became deterred when O discovered her shadow. 
This was not their first encounter, but you wouldn't have known it by how enticed she was! At first she was running away from it. Eventually she embraced it's presence and befriended him. Her, I guess? Maybe not? No need to tack a gender to it.

In my former ESL preschool, I used to start some days with the Shadow Game. The kids ate this one up, even the evidently shy bunch that were not big on being in front of the class. Once absorbed in the game, there was no getting them to sit down! O will play this game (to her grandmothers amazement) for a very long time. Specifically, rather ONLY, when she is the one being shadowed, meaning, she is the leader and mommy must follow suit!

FOLLOW ME; Shadow Game; generally two people play for dramatic effect; one mimics the others movements and gestures. Prepare to laugh a lot. Prep with yoga as the kids will make you do some things your body would rather not!

DRAWING SHADOWS: From one of my favourite websites Tinkerlab, brilliant and artisitic mommy chalks up shadow drawings of her kids playing outdoors! Her samplet is baby on a bike~how flipping clever and simple!

SHADOW PUPPETS: A simple solid bedsheet, a few cut out subjects on chopsticks/straws and a flashlight! Re-create your favourite stories or ad-lib as you go along!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Start Your Engines!

Start Your Engines!

Numbers give me butterflies.
This likely has to do with the fact that I could not, for the life of me, recite my times tables as required in fourth grade, despite the chart my parents had pasted to my wall and the 'extra' attention I received along with the group of other kids who were lagging. From then on, I gave numbers a bad name.  Arts and language became my best buddies. They may have anyways, but I often wonder how badly bad impressions can turn kids off of interesting subjects for life.

My husband loves numbers. He is a logic guy. Between the two of us we can cover a lot of basis with O.

O can count to ten. Cutest thing ever. She counts everything she see's while pointing with her little fingers. It is convincing me that numbers can't be that bad after all. The more I am reading from 'unschooling' sources, the more I realize that the 'm' word (referring to math) is everywhere and does not have to be part of some forced memorization effort. It begins with counting, telling time, finding patterns and seeing shapes in every day life. It cascades into baking and budgeting, even fun projects like origami can be considered a lesson in math. So many homeschooling families have some amazing 'math' projects that take the butterflies right out of the equation.

A while ago, I made O a car caddy. Today we added a parking garage with the numbers 1-10. As she counts, we can help her recognize the 'symbol' that matches the number and park cars. Later, as we are learning more about numbers working together, we can extend the lesson to find the sum of simple equations. The Car Park can extend to other lessons using words or picture symbols. As I saw on a fabulous site, her kids practice word recognition in Sight Word Parking Lot.

Feeling less intimidated by subjects someone has told us we are not good at, takes time to reverse. Hopefully with that in mind, I can bring math lessons to our daily life without the butterfly effect.

Read The Phantom Tollbooth for hidden lessons in language and math!
In the Top Ten of my fave books EVER.

Domino's & Dice: In John Holt's first published issue of Growing Without Schooling he talks about how numbers should come in all kinds of patterns, as opposed to a line of objects counted from left to right. He suggests using domino's (dice would work too) to show how numbers can take on different forms. 

Look into kids lit for math-inspired reading:
Sir Cumference Math Adventure Series by Cindy Neuschwander
Alice in Pastaland by Alexandra Wright
Equal Smequel by Virginia Kroll
Once Upon A Dime by Nancy Kelley Allen

NOTE: See for great kids lit related to every subject!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Pint & A Bucket


 "Cutting" orange slices
 Balancing Act; note intense concentration
Waiting for Mariposa's

Seeking opportunities to introduce the natural world to a toddler in Shanghai takes concentrated efforts. It is a big, smoggy city with busy business-people; a concrete jungle. They do have some lovely parks and the use of apartment buildings helps move urban life upward rather than outward. Getting in touch with nature, is still a bit of a challenge.

O is in the bug phase. It may be longer than a phase as she is REALLY into bugs. She insisted I squat beside her at the park yesterday to watch a colony of ants parade around. We did this for twenty minutes. Bugs gift her with an attention span I cannot compete with!

On that particular walk in the park, we chanced upon some cabbage moths (we called them butterflies) and ONE, beautiful black and blue butterfly. Though she was a little leary due to the fact that they are much more fluttery than ants, she was so keen on them, she signed a whole made-up scenario to Dabby when he came home last night (she signed butterflies and then signed that she stepped on them. I think she is confusing this with the poor worm that met his fate under her shoe the other day!)

On the way home from the park adventures, we bought an orange to see if we could entice butterflies to enjoy our balcony. Years ago, Adam and I went to the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Ontario and I remembered the butterflies enjoying orange slices. When I mentioned  to O that we had to cut the orange in slices, I found her running to her velcro veggies to get the wooden 'kiddie' knife (see pic. 1!) 
Once sliced with a 'big' knife, we carried the tray of oranges out to the balcony and sat waiting.

Even if the oranges attract ants, it will be well worth the wait!

At brilliant Mama orders caterpillars for metamorphasis!

Check out to receive lovely stories addressed to your child.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Frog Pad

The Frog Pad

Bean bag frogs followed suit after our Bean Bag fun week, since they seemed the next logical craft to pursue. Mommy did the sewing, "Dabby" has the patience for turning mommies sewing inside-out and Olivia always gets to be the toy-tester; sliding, throwing and hiding the frogs all over the room.
There are three-sizes of lily pads, in case the game intended finds any structure.
For now, the frogs are enjoying free play!