Monday, August 31, 2015

Travel Activities for Kids

  I frequently get asked what I pack in the car for Z-Rex. I deliver locally for Farm Table so I've got 3 kids under 4 in the car for around 3 hours every week, plus all the day trips we do to nearby attractions. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas and get you prepared for your next family adventure. 

My first piece of advice it to be prepared. Pack plenty of busy bag activities, fidget toys, snacks, and music. Plan plenty of stops for potty and to get the wiggles out. 

Let's talk about storage. I LOVE LOVE these clear plastic pencil pouches. They keep all the pieces together and are easy for the kids to use independently. 

31 zipper pouches are also amazing for busy bags. I keep Magformers in one, fidget toys in another, and Z's mail center in yet another. They are super durable and washable. 

I get these little bins at IKEA in the children's section. A 3 pack is just $1.99! Right now I've got a mini play dough kit and a few letter puzzles in them. 

Another item I'm in LOVE with is theses Lakeshore Learning messy trays. We use them frequently for projects and they make an excellent lap tray in the car. Perfect work space for dry erase letters or our mini play dough kit!

Notebooks are always a HUGE hit for a busy bag with all the tots. I've included different size notebooks and a variety of pencils: regular size, carpenter style, one made from a stick, and a thicker beginner pencil (not pictured). Another way to squeeze in a little handwriting practice while keeping it fun is a mail station. Note cards, cardstock, envelopes, and markers. Z loves to write letters to his friends! 

We try to never leave home without Z's favorite LEGO kit. Normally at home we play with Duplos so the little bricks are a big time treat. This is great for car rides, waiting rooms, and even restaurants. It was really simple to make too. I used a metal lunch box  then hot glued magnetic strips on a small LEGO plate. The building plate sticks to the lid while the box contain all the extra pieces. 

Stickers and paper are another easy favorite. I peel off the backing of each sticker sheet to help little fingers and ease frustration. I cut construction paper in half so that it easily fits into a plastic pencil pouch. Check out my Pinterest Busy Bag board for more ideas. 


Science kits are a must have for us. These are all rocks we've found at a local creek plus a few of his favorite shells. I keep his headlamp in here, but he also uses it in the dark with his other activities. The magnifying glasses and rocks keep him engaged for quite a while. We have another science kit with magnets in it. The divided containers are from IKEA for around $3.
This Melissa & Doug board never leaves the car. Dry erase on one side and magnetic on the other. I rotate out different magnets sets of letters, shapes, animals, and a few others to keep it fresh. Crayola dry erase crayons are as much fun to draw with as they are to erase. I was pleasantly surprised when we tried them out. Bonus they don't seem to melt in a hot car as long as the are out of direct sun.  

Z is is big time fidget. He ALWAYS needs something to keep his hands busy. I keep a stash in the car and our go bag all the time. The car is also the one place we allow battery operated toys, so we've got a few of those too. For nighttime travels those crazy light up toys are a HUGE HIT! we found a Buzz Lightyear at the Disney store and he is very loved. You can also pick up glow sticks at the dollar store.  

Lastly I keep everything neat and organized in a big 31 utility tote. It's really full right now as we gear up for a weekend away. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Nature Scavenger Hunt

We LOVE to take Z-Rex hiking. He's loved it since he could walk. I think this summer we are going to track our miles to see just how far we can go.

Recently we invited some friends from our outdoor art & play group to join us for a hike. 

I love watching the kids at the park. My favorite park is a local wildlife refuge. No play ground, no crowds, no distractions. Just us enjoying nature and each other. 

I made up this Nature Scavenger Hunt that was perfect for the our preschool crowd. 

The kids had a great time exploring and trying to find every thing on their list. 

A kids hike seems to have developed into a weekly tradition I hope to continue. Hands on learning at it's finest!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day Slime

I don't make slime often. Clearly I need to make it more. I had lots of special activities planned for today, but the tots ended up playing with this Valentine's Day slime for almost two hours. 

You Will Need:
2 cups clear or glitter glue gel
1.5 cups water

(I used two 6oz bottles of Elmer's red glitter glue plus one 4oz bottle of clear glue gel)

1tsp Borax
1.5 cups warm water

Pour the glue into a large mixing bowl after measuring. Fill glue bottles with warm water and shake well to get the last little bits of glue. Then measure out 1.5 cups water, pour into the glue and stir well to combine. 
At this stage I added the heart confetti and a few drops Cinnamon Leaf essential oil, it smells like red hots candies!! You could add extra food coloring or glitter too. 

In a separate bowl mix 1.5 cups very warm tap water with 3/4 to 1 teaspoon borax. Stir well until completely dissolved. The more borax you use, the thicker the slime will be. 

Pour the borax solution into your glue solution and mix well, stirring fast. The slime will quickly form and be very sticky at this point. Keep mixing until it forms a ball. You may or may not have some water left in the bowl (we didn't this time). 

That's it! Slime is super simple to whip up and super fun to play with. It's not sticky to play with and doesn't need much to go with it. Z Rex was very excited to start playing.


He loved squeezing the slime in his hands, feeling it ooze out between his fingers. Great exercise for building fine motor strength. 

Z Rex took his time investigating the physical properties of the slime. Squishing, squeezing, pulling, and stretching to see how the slime would react. I love sitting back quietly at this point during sensory play just to watch his expressions and reactions. 

Look Mama, I can see through it like glass. 

He quickly realized that if he held it up, the slime would slowly ooze down and thin out some. The light shining through was really pretty! We took turns pulling to see how far we could stretch the slime. This always ended in fits of giggles when it finally broke.

Slime is SUPER stretchy!
He did this over and over and over again. 

After about an hour of just playing and exploring the slime, I gave Z Rex a few heart cookie cutters to try out.  When he picked it up there is an impression for a few seconds, but it quickly disappears into the ooze. He had fun pressing them into the slime and seeing the slime ooze out around it. 

Overall slime is moving it's way up on the favorite sensory play ideas for Z Rex. He's already asking to play with it again.
There are lots of other recipes for play slime using liquid starch or even  Metamucil. We may try one of those next time to compare. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Valentines Day Shaving Cream Messy Play

I'm always looking for ways to help make the holidays fun and exciting for the tots. Shaving cream messy play is always a favorite at our house, so I added some Valentines Day bits for extra fun. 

These little faces are really excited to get started! I filled up our sensory table with almost 3 cans of sensitive skin shaving cream. Then I stirred in a few drops cinnamon leaf essential oil as I smoothed it out. Drizzled a bit of red washable paint on top then added some foamy hearts I picked up in the dollar spot. The Kids are armed with paint brushes and an assortment of random kitchen utensils.

They really enjoyed discovering the foamy hearts, realizing they could stick on the walls and on each other!

Little Miss A usually isn't too into anything messy. Digging in with two hands was a BIG step for her. Z Rex on the other hand is all about getting as messy as possible!

It is always fun to sit back and watch how they interact and play with the given materials. Today there was lots of wall painting and drawing.  

 Z Rex is all about the full body experience with any kind of sensory based play. It never takes him long to be completely covered, in the bin, and having a great time. He's a messy play loving kid at heart!

As the kids naturally wind down after their initial excitement, I try to demonstrate a new way to interact with the play materials. They were excited to see they could write and draw on the bottom of the sensory table with the shaving cream. The red paint swirled through beautifully and the cinnamon leaf EO made everything smell like red hots candy. 

 The best part of messy play in the shower or tub is that clean up is a snap. We let the water run for a little while to add yet another dimension to our messy play experience. They really liked mixing the water and shaving cream to see it 'melt' together. Then we used cups and scoops to splash the walls washing away all our mess. Everyone got a good scrub down, then off to bed for these guys. 


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Everlasting Play Dough

I jokingly call this the play dough that just won't die. Because it won't. If keep in an air tight container or zip top bag, this dough will last for months without refrigeration. I only throw it away because its gotten gross from so much play. It is super simple to make and change up to meet your child's play needs. 

4 cups flour (I use bleached because it takes color better in my opinion)

1 cup salt
4 tbsp cream of tartar (mine are usually slightly rounded)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 cups boiling water

I use to make play dough by hand. Then one day on a whim I tried our stand mixer. The heavens opened, angels sang, and I've never looked back. 

Add all the dry ingredients to the bowl and give it a little stir.
Add the oil and another quick stir. 
Pour in the boiling water and mix until a dough ball forms. 

Put the dough ball on a slightly floured surface and knead until smooth. 

That's it! I know, who knew the world's greatest play dough was so simple. 

Here's some tips and tricks I've learned along the way:

  • Use boiling water! Hot tap water will not work. 
  • Add food coloring or a kool aid packet to the boiling water BEFORE adding to dry ingredients. This will help evenly distribute the color. 
  • You need a good amount of food coloring. You shouldn't be able to see through the water. Gel or liquid food coloring work well. 
  • Essential oils or spices can be added to the dry mix before pouring in the water
  • Only use the superfine powdery glitter, the bigger stuff falls out while playing with the dough
Trouble Shooting:
  • If your play dough is sticky, sprinkle with flour then knead through adding more until it is smooth
  • If it feels dry or is cracking, drizzle with oil and knead well
  • If left out, wet your hands with water and knead through to revive. 

We've done all sorts of varieties with this base recipe. One of our favorites was beach play dough for a play date at the park. I kneaded in some sand from the craft store, then supplied the kids with beach glass, seashells, smooth rocks, and decorative glass beads. 

We continued to play with this play dough for months after our park play date. MONTHS.

Another favorite with our outdoor art group was ABC play dough. For this I used packets of frosting creations and kool aid to scent and color, I added some extra food coloring to give it a boost. We had pink bubble gum, blue cotton candy, and purple grape. It smelled AMAZING and the colors swirled together beautifully. 

We had alphabet dough stamps from Lakeshore Learning, letter cookie cutters, and foamy letters from a dollar store puzzle. Baby Rex got a set of alphabet rubber stamps for his birthday which also work really well with play dough.

 Other favorites have included Turkey play dough. Scented with pumpkin pie spice with feathers.

Red cinnamon scented play dough with heart cookie cutters, foamy spots, and black pipe cleaners to make love bugs.

Blue or white peppermint scented dough with jewels and snowflake cookie cutters for Frozen inspired play.

Strawberry frosting creations with pink glitter. Beads and jewels for princess play dough. 

Black lavender scented with silver sparkles for space dough. 

The possibilities are endless! So get out your mixer and have some fun!