Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kid's "Busy Bag" Items: Part I

I've decided to take up a new creative enterprise and make up some portable activities for toddlers and young children to use in the car, on planes, at restaurants, in doctor's offices, or any other place kids are expected to sit quietly. I've decided to make up several different little activities that I can put into these "Busy Bags" and then sell them at local craft shows.


The first one that I've made up is something that you might have seen floating around the internet already, and that's the DVD case turned into portable drawing/colouring station. The first one I made was definitely a bit of an experiment, but I think it turned out quite well and is something that I can work with to perfect the pattern for the next one.


I also really love the concept of upcycling and giving old materials new life--especially when it comes to kids stuff since they grow and change so fast.


I think the idea of having something like this to tuck away in your diaper bag/purse/stroller is genius and would definitely make life a little easier sometimes. What do you think?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beef and Sausage Slow-Cooker Stew

When it gets chilly outside nothing beats throwing dinner together in a slow-cooker and letting it simmer away all day. It's such a relief to come home to a hot dinner that's filled the apartment with delicious smells and is ready when I am. We're trying to use the slow-cooker more, and part of that has been venturing out into stews. I'm not a huge fan of stew because I don't dig chunks of meat like that, but making it myself was a much better experience. I was able to trim the meat to my preferences, and I made sure to dice it into smaller bite sized pieces (rather than the huge chunks you often see--which, I'll admit, gross me out.)

This is the recipe that we used this week:

Beef and Sausage Slow-Cooker Stew:


Ingredients:


- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 TSP salt
- 1 TSP black pepper
- 3 lbs beef for stew
- 1 can diced tomatoes in juice, undrained
- 1/2 lb smoked sausage, diced
- 3 potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 cup chopped leak
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 4 stalks of celery, diced
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 3 gloves of garlic, minced
- 1 TSP dried thyme

Directions:


1. Combine 1/2 cup flour, salt, pepper, and beef into sealed bag and shake to coat.
2. Place beef in slow cooker, and add remaining ingredients. Sir well and cover. Cook on low 8 to 12 hours, or on high 4 to 6 hours.
3. If stew is too liquidy before serving, add a TBSP of flour to stew and stir well. Simmer until stew thickens and serve!



This delicious stew will go perfectly with a nice big hunk of zucchini and cheese damper too! The meat was so tender it essentially fell apart in the stew making it almost more of a ragu than a stew and it was delicious. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Popsicle Stick Matching and Slot Game

We've been doing lots of activities to work on the boy-o's fine motor skills after hearing that many 2 year old no longer have properly developed fine motor skills from spending so much time playing on phones and iPads. He doesn't get any screen time yet (TV either) but it still concerns me that this could even be a thing, so we do lots of sensory stuff to work on his fine motor skills anyway!

He really likes to match things, and he's quite good at it actually. So our newest game is to take a pile of coloured Popsicle sticks and hand him a colour, and then he finds all the other sticks that are the same colour. (Not colour blind-check!)


I converted an old ice cream bucket into a slotted sorter, and once he's matched up the colours he pushes the Popsicle sticks through the small slots on the lid into the container. Once he slides them all in he likes the sound of shaking the bucket and then asks for them to be dumped out so he can do it over again.

The slots in the lid are just barely bigger than the Popsicle stick, so he has to line them up just right and push them to get them through. For little ones who are just beginning to work on motor control you could make the slots much bigger.


This fine motor activity is great because he'll sit there for 30 minutes sliding the sticks in, dumping them out, and starting over again. There is no mess to clean up and the sticks can store inside the ice cream tub for next time. It simultaneously works on colour recognition, matching skills, and fine motor skills. Eventually I'll get around to decorating the bucket, but for now, it works just the way it is! It's the first toy he's gone for the last couple of mornings after waking up, so it must be a keeper!


Monday, October 27, 2014

Moon Dough/Cloud Sand

After posting my last recipe for play dough, I had several people asking me about Moon Dough (also sometimes called Cloud Sand) so I figured I'd try that out with the boy-o today. You can buy Moon Dough from most toy stores, but really for what you're getting it costs a fortune! Moon Dough is spectacularly easy to make at home, and when stored in an air tight container it lasts for many re-plays.


Not only is Moon Dough super easy to make, it only requires two ingredients (three if you want to get fancy), but it's a wonderful in-expensive sensory activity to do with your little. Moon Dough acts very similar to wet sand, but has a much softer and velvety feel to it. We added a tiny bit of food colouring to the oil when we made ours, and since oil and food colouring don't mix well we ended up with flecks of blue colouring in the sand rather than all blue sand which made a really neat effect.

 

Moon Dough (like sand) can be quite messy, so we played with it in one of our trays and we put a smock on the boy-o. We had him strapped into the highchair and put the metal tray on top of his highchair tray. It worked out really well and sweeping the spills off the tile floor was quick and easy. 


We added a few Tablespoons and some dishes from his kitchen to enhance our play with the Moon Dough. The boy-o loved scooping it up and dumping it into another container and then dumping it out and starting all over again. He played well by himself for a bit while I finished up making supper, and then I joined in for a bit too. He loved watching it "snow" when I dropped it between my fingers making little flakes of it fall.

Moon Dough Recipe:


Ingredients:

- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup oil
- Food colouring (optional)

Directions:

1. Add a few drops of food colouring to oil if desired and mix.
2. Add oil mixture to flour and using your hands work the Moon Dough until the oil has touched all the flour and made a crumbly mixture that sticks together when pressed firmly together. 
3. Play!
4. When finished store Moon Dough in an air tight container for another day of fun.


Another great rainy day activity or boredom buster!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Super Soft No-Cook Play Dough

Play dough is one of my favourite kid's toys to play with. I love squishing it and making little sculptures with it, and then rolling it all back into a ball to play with again another day. The boy-o had never played with it before so I figured it was definitely time to make some for him to try out. I wasn't sure how well he would like the texture, but since we've been trying to focus on sensory activities the last little while, it seemed like a great time to test it out! Making your own play dough is also so simple and cost effective that once you try out this recipe you'll never bother buying it again!

The Cream of Tartar is the secret to making super soft play dough that will still that way for months.


No-Cook Play Dough Recipe:


Ingredients:


- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 TBSP vegetable/olive oil
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 TBSP cream of tartar
- Up to 1 1/2 cups of boiling water
- Food colouring

Directions:


1. Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil together in a large bowl.
2. If using food colouring, add desired amount to the boiling water.
3. Slowly add water into dry mixture and only add enough to combine all the dry ingredients together.
4. Allow play dough to cool down for a few minutes and then remove from the bowl and knead with hands several times until the dough becomes workable and the stickiness is gone. If dough is still too sticky add more flour.
5. When you're finished playing, you can store your play dough in a sealed container for up to 6 months. (6 months!)



As I predicted the boy-o was a little unsure about the texture of the playdough, and did his little dance routine where he sort of pokes at something new really quick and then hops around it, and then pokes at it again, and does some more hoping around. (It's pretty adorable and hilarious to watch...) But once he saw mama and daddy playing with it and we grabbed one of his hands and stuck it in the play dough he warmed up pretty quickly.

        

Once he got comfortable playing with it we brought one of his trucks into the mix. We drove the truck back and forth over the play dough looking at the tire tread marks that it made, as well as whether it rolled better on the play dough or on the floor. 

  

Then once he was comfortable playing with his truck in the play dough we added in some of the plastic play knives from his kitchen to cut the play dough with and carve pictures and letters into it. In total he sat and played with it for about 30 minutes, and if it wasn't dinner time I'm sure he would have happily sat and played even longer!


This play dough will keep for about 6 months in a sealed container though, so we'll have many more opportunities to play with it another day!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sorting with Rocks

While I was playing with the boy-o in my parents backyard the other day with rocks from their garden (possibly his favourite thing on earth...) I noticed a black plant tray that was sitting on their driveway and had a great idea. I was thinking back to the pompom and muffin tin activity we did a little while ago, and figured we could make up something very similar with the plant tray and his beloved rocks.


Although there was no colour dimension to the activity this time, there was still differently sized rocks, as well as the auditory pleasure of dropping the rocks into the tray. The boy-o could literally sit and play with rocks for hours, so this activity was of course a huge hit! He loved piling the rocks into the cups and moving them around from one to the other. This activity worked on fine and gross motor skills as well as playing around with textures and sounds.



He even tried to pick up the tray and drag it over to Grandpa to show off his work when he was all done! There was almost no clean up involved in this activity, and the rocks will be there waiting for us the next time we want to play with them.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Our First Indoor Softplay Experience

We had some really miserable weather the other day with a cranky boy-o trapped inside and we were pretty desperate to find something to do with him that would get us out of the house. If we were still living back in Toronto we could have met up with some of our baby friends for a playdate, but sadly we don't have any baby friends here so that wasn't an option. (oh, how we miss you all!!) So I started looking up indoor playgrounds or soft plays. We had never been to one before, but decided to give it a try to see how it worked out for us.


It was $3.50 for the boy-o to play which was quite reasonable, and even though there still wasn't really any kids his age there, he had a great time and it allowed him to burn off some energy without making us totally crazy! He was a little overwhelmed at first and unsure about what to play with, but he slowly warmed up. They had a special toddler area which was great so I didn't have to worry about him being accidentally flattened by an older kid. They had a huge ball pit, a toddler trampoline, a car-coaster, a marry-go-round, and some stationary cars to rock back and forth on as well as a tiny slide. It was a great way to spend some time playing with the boy-o. 


They have a no outside food/drink policy in effect which I totally understand because they want you to purchase your snacks there. The offerings they had were quite reasonably priced, but none of it was even remotely healthy which annoyed me since you couldn't bring in your own fruit etc. We only stayed for about an hour because by that point the boy-o was exhausted, but with their limited snack selection we wouldn't be able to stay much longer than that anyway since I don't want feed him that kind of junk. So it was great for a short stay and play, but we couldn't make an afternoon of it. It'll be a good trick to keep in mind for the next rainy day!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nature Collage: Sensory Play

I saw a friend post this idea a little while ago on her blog: the Natural Momma in Me, and I knew that I had to try it out with the boy-o too! I really love the idea of making a nature collage and since the boy-o has been staying at Nana and Grandpa's during the day the last month or so, he's been spending tons of time outside in their back garden playing with rocks, plants and dirt so I was pretty sure he would love making it too.

To start off with we wandered around my parents garden collecting little leaves, flowers, petals, and bits of plants with different textures and smells. We made sure to get some lavender because the boy-o really likes to sniff it. One of these days I think he's going to sniff it so hard it'll end up going up his nose... but that's another story.


Once we got home we examined our pile of collected plant bits and I attached some Mack-Tack to our balcony door with the sticky side facing out. This was going to be our canvas for the collage. The boy-o was pretty interested in the sticky feeling and kept trying to pick it up. I showed him how to place the flower bits on the sticky surface to hold them there, and he got down to it!


He had a bit of trouble getting some of the leaves to stick since our Mack Tack was pretty cheap and not as sticky as it could have been, but with a little help we got all of the bits up and completed our wonderful nature collage! When we were all done I took a second piece of Mack Tack and placed it sticky side in so it was like our plant pieces were laminated between the two and now we can hang it up next to some of the boy-o's other masterpieces!


This was a super easy activity, that was not only very cost effective, but there was minimal clean-up required. It provided the boy-o with an opportunity to explore the plants around him though and experience some different textures as well as some different smells. This could be an interesting activity to do once each season and then compare them together to see the different kinds of plant bits you could forage.