activities, Best Idea Ever, toddlers, water play

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 7: baby doll bath time

My kids, like most other young children, are happy when they are wet. Water draws them like no other activity. 

What better way to cool off and fight the grumpies than splashing in a tub of water with some baby dolls on a hot afternoon?

We put a tub of water with a squirt of baby soap on the front porch. I added some baby dolls and a few cups for pouring, and we had an instant baby bathtub.

Nora always drinks the bathwater, even when it isn’t her own. She will reach into the tub when SuperSam is bathing and try to get water to drink. When she and Lucy bathe together, she drinks the water the whole time and sucks it out of the wet washcloths floating around her. I’ve almost given up trying to prevent this, despite the implications. (Two toddlers in a bathtub means there is almost a 100 percent chance that she is drinking pee, right?) 
Since there were only imaginary babies (and therefore imaginary pee) in the bath this time, I didn’t even bother asking her not to drink the water.
It’s tough to find an activity that can peacefully involve and occupy all three of my children at this stage. This one worked nicely for everyone. I’m planning to try this indoors with the girls one morning while SuperSam is working on some of his projects. So far, the most challenging thing about homeschooling is finding things to keep The Sisters occupied during “school time.”
activities, preschool science

Science Rocks! Baking soda and vinegar activity

SuperSam has been all about doing experiments lately. He likes to wake up early from afternoon nap (before The Sisters are up) and use the time to do “Science Stuff.” It’s nice for us to be able to spend some time one-on-one, and it gives him a chance to feel like he is doing Big Kid Things. Usually, he spends at least part of the time talking about how this activity (whatever it is) “wouldn’t be appropriate for The Sisters.”

He loves that word, appropriate.
I am probably to blame for that.
Anyway. I set up a baking dish for him with cups of vinegar (one with blue and one with yellow food coloring added), an eyedropper and a dish of baking soda. I didn’t give him any further instructions.
He started out slowly.
With the first fizzy reaction, he got really excited and fell off his stool. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt and went right back to work.
Soon, the eyedropper wasn’t making things happen fast enough for him. I gave him a syringe. Then things got wild. He started making sound effects as he squirted the vinegar.
An unsuspecting Tyrannosaurus who happened to be hanging out nearby was pulled into the action.
Finally, SuperSam abandoned the syringe completely, dumped everything in together, and turned it into a sensory activity with a side of process art.
This activity is easy to set up, easy to clean up, and lots of fun to watch. I’m definitely adding this to our official List of Things to Do When We Need SuperSam to Stay Busily Occupied for about 20 Minutes Or So.
Have you done this activity? How did it go? I’d love to know if you try it.
activities, preschool cooking, snow

Sharing our snow with y’all: Snow Cream Recipe

We finally got our snow day! Both of the Sisters have been wandering from window to window all morning, pointing and saying “Snow! Snow! Snow!” SuperSam has been running and shrieking and jumping off furniture. We were finally able to get everyone outside for a bit (as you can imagine, the process of dressing three wiggly, excited little people in snow-appropriate apparel is really something). There is a lot of snow out there, and it’s still coming down.

Last night, we made our predictions about how much snow we would get and put out some yardsticks to measure. SuperSam marked each stick with our initials and a line to mark each person’s prediction. We put one on the deck, one by the swingset in the backyard, and one by the mailbox in the front yard. This morning, all our markings are covered up. Happily, I think we all underestimated this one.

After coming inside, we made our first batch of snow cream (though I’m sure there will be more batches in the next few days). I have been told this is a “southern” thing, which makes me laugh for two reasons:

  1. I grew up in the South, so I don’t know if it’s a southern thing or not…it just seems normal.
  2. We don’t really get that much snow in the South, so we only get to do this every few years. If I lived in Michigan, I’d be making this stuff all the time.

For those unfamiliar with this special wintry treat, snow cream is really simple to make. Here is our favorite recipe:

This post-it lives in the front of my recipe binder all the time, just in case.

We usually just bring in a big bowl of clean snow and scoop out of there without measuring until the texture seems right. Today, I used about 6 heaping cups of snow to 1 cup of milk. You can scale it as needed (3-4 cups of snow seemed to work well with 1/2 cup of milk).

We used whole milk today. Heavy cream is nice, too, if you have it.

Some yummy variations:

  • Try maple syrup instead of sugar. 
  • Add chocolate milk powder (like Nestle’s Quik)
  • Add mashed or pureed fruit (bananas work well)
  • Add cinnamon 

Some people like to add raisins (and rum!), but I’ve found the raisins always just get really hard, and I don’t really like them that much to start with. Some people also add raw eggs. I don’t. I just can’t get over the whole salmonella thing, you know?

Whatever you choose to use, assemble your ingredients, and fetch some clean snow in a large bowl. Have a second bowl ready for mixing.

Whisk together everything except the snow in the second large bowl until it is well combined.

Add the snow a cupful at a time until the texture seems right to you. (Remember that it will start melting pretty much immediately, so it will be runnier than ice cream.)

Eat it!

Do you make snow cream (or did you grow up doing it)? What do you like to put in it?

Check out SuperSam’s snow creations from the afternoon here.
activities, Best Idea Ever, dramatic play, projects, rainy days, recycled materials, SuperSam

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 3: Build a rocket out of boxes.

On a truly cold day, outside play is not practical for our family. Lucy isn’t walking yet, so she gets really cold if she’s just sitting in the swing or being pushed in a ride-on vehicle. SuperSam dislikes wearing coats or anything with long sleeves, so clothing ends up being a battle on particularly cold days. And Nora won’t leave on her mittens, so her hands get cold quickly. I’ve heard it said that there is no bad weather for playing outdoors, just bad clothing, and I generally agree…but if the children in question won’t wear the appropriate clothing, it’s hard to make it work.

So, on a recent bitterly cold day (when everyone was cranky and bouncing off the walls), I pulled out the giant cardboard packing boxes I’d been saving since Christmas. Add a box cutter, a roll of duct tape, and some crayons, and we had a morning activity waiting to happen.

I assumed we’d build a fort or a playhouse of some type, and I started putting the boxes together with that in mind. End to end, we had about a refrigerator box and a half’s worth of cardboard real estate with which to work. The Sisters set to crawling in and out of the boxes immediately. SuperSam grabbed some bubble wrap, held it up to one end of the boxes, and said, “This can be the windshield. It is thick enough to withstand the rays of the Sun when we do a flyby.”

That’s when I realized we were actually building a rocket. (Silly me.)

SuperSam got out his tool box and passed out hammers and screwdrivers to The Sisters, and they all started happily banging away. I cut some windows in the boxes and taped everything together while SuperSam added some coloring and numbers (“like NASA has on their rockets”) to the sides of the structure. Then Captain SuperSam and I made a seat out of a smaller box so he would have a place to sit in the cockpit. He insisted that Navigator Nora have a seat, as well, and I persuaded him that making one for Lucy would be the kind thing to do. (I don’t know why Nora gets all the best gigs in these situations.)

Finally, we made a control panel by gluing buttons and knobs (caps from gallon milk jugs and various bottles) on the bottom of a little box. The spacecraft was ready for flight.

The children played in it all week, first in the kitchen, where we had built it, and then later in the living room, where it took up almost all the floor space. It is currently stationed in SuperSam’s bedroom, where it will remain until he gets tired of playing in it. He tried to fit his bed inside, but the box wasn’t quite big enough for that. He did take a nap earlier this week just inside the opening of the rocket on the floor. “I’m training to be an astronaut,” he said, “so I might as well learn how to sleep in a rocket.”

activities, rainy days, sensory play, SuperSam, water play

Play with Water Beads

They bounce. They roll. They’re slimy. They disappear when you put them in water. They are the coolest things that didn’t exist when you were little. Water Beads!

The brand name is Orbeez, and you can buy them in many colors from Amazon, among other places. I found some clear ones at The Dollar Tree and bought two containers. (I love that store.) I have been saving them for a day when we need something a little snazzy to perk things up around here. I thought it would be a bad weather day…but it turned out that we needed just such a novelty to snap SuperSam out of a funk during his sisters’ nap.

We put the beads in a clear plastic shoe box, and he dove right in. (Not really, but almost. I think he would have stripped off his clothes and gotten into the box if it were possible.) He poured them in and out of containers, scooped them up in his hands, stirred them with spoons, and squished them to see what would happen.
After a while, he said, “What would happen, I wonder, if we put them in water?”
We decided to find out.
I filled a clear plastic measuring cup halfway with water, and he started dropping them in…and something amazing happened.
I thought they had dissolved. (I know, that makes no sense, but it’s the first thing that occurred to me.) We couldn’t see them at all. We held the cup up to the window, shook it around…no sign of the aqua beads. Then SuperSam stuck his hand into the cup and yelled, “THEY ARE STILL IN THERE!”
He was kind of spooked, actually.
We decided it was a good thing we had bought clear beads (all they had at the Dollar Tree) instead of the colored ones – this cool discovery would never have happened otherwise. 
The Aqua Beads were everything that water play usually is and more. We had a great time with them. They came out two more times during the day for “experiments” before I caught SuperSam trying to fill the bathtub with them “so I could see what it would be like to get under them with my whole body.”
“This AquaBead looks like Haumea.”
If anyone wants to sponsor this project, I am willing to host it in our bathroom. Please send donations of AquaBeads to SuperSam at our address. 
activities, celestial buddies, mail, planets, post office, projects, rainy days, SuperSam

Interplanetary Mail…SuperSam goes "postal"

Given my history with the post office, one might think I’d be reluctant to recreate it here in my house. SuperSam and his planets need to send Valentines to each other, though, and he has decided to be their postman. “I need a postman bag,” he said, “and a postman hat and outfit.”

I think we have this dapper postman guy to thank for that. Our local mail delivery lady looks nothing like this.

Postman from Clifford Barks by Norman Bridwell

With no mailman hat, I am improvising. We created some mailboxes out of coffee cans from Trader Joe’s. We covered them in bright paper, decorated with markers and stickers, and nailed the bottoms to some scrap wood to make them stand up. I stuck the ends of the pieces of wood into an upturned cardboard box (just cut x’s with a box cutter and pushed them in). We covered the box with green construction paper “grass.” and voila! Mailboxes.

I didn’t look on Pinterest. There is bound to be someone who has made cuter, easier, snazzier mailboxes. There is probably a step-by-step tutorial about how you can do it, too. I am not that woman, as usual…but I am happy to report that the boxes are sturdy enough so far to withstand the forceful play of my three small people. (The Sisters have found their boxes and like to hide items in them and find them again later.) Besides, there’s a lot to be said for using what you have on hand when you need to do something like this.

SuperSam: Mama! Let’s make a post office!

Mama: Great idea! First, we need to drive an hour to the nearest craft store to get cute Valentine-themed contact paper and brads that are heart-shaped!

Yeah, that’s not my life. I think if Macgyver’s mother had been a preschool teacher, she would have been kind of like me: resourceful, creative, able to make something functional out of almost nothing. Pretty, color-coordinated Valentine contact paper? Meh.

Continuing with my “function is more important than form” theme, we also made a mailbox out of an empty Tide detergent box by covering it in blue paper and cutting a slot in the lid with a box cutter. (SuperSam added the planetary graffiti. I guess he thought it needed some cutening up.) The little postman gleefully retrieves the mail from the box, puts it into his mailbag, and delivers it to the appropriate post office box. We added some “window” envelopes that had been headed for the recycling bin and some catalogs.

SuperSam gets up really early (well before 6:00 AM every day), so we sometimes leave out “invitations” for him in case he needs something new and different to work on in the mornings before everyone else is ready to go. I have come to really enjoy being awakened by the sound of his voice down the hall, talking excitedly about what he’s doing with the materials I left for him. Before going to bed, I set out a tray with paper, envelopes, colored pencils, markers, and labels for him.  I also left some “mail” in his box, including a note from the newest Celestial Buddy, Earth. The next morning, SuperSam played with this stuff for about 40 minutes, chatting animatedly with Earth about writing letters to all the other planets. By the time I came to the kitchen, they had covered the floor with mail. Exciting!

The postal serivce here has been in high demand as all the Celestial Buddies write each other letters on personalized stationery created by SuperSam. He even made stamps out of the labels (with pictures of planets and constellations on them, of course). Apparently the cost of sending a letter from one planet to another has not been affected by the economy…and if the volume of mail is any indication, these planets prefer to stay in touch the old fashioned way.

activities, four year olds, planets, preschool, SuperSam

Earth to SuperSam

SuperSam’s favorite toys of all time are his Celestial Buddies.
This is a photo of Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction, taken by SuperSam himself. He is especially fond of making his planets interact and asking us to guess what astronomical events we think he is representing. This never seems to get old for him.
I wouldn’t have guessed there was a big market for stuffed planets with faces, arms and legs, but my son is truly the target for this product. He loves his Celestial Buddies more than anything and plays with them every day. He sleeps with them every night. He takes them in the car everywhere we go, and we always have to have a big discussion about why they can’t come into the grocery store or into Mass with us when we get to church. He feeds them and talks with them about their feelings and drives them around in laundry baskets and helps them do chores. He’s a huge fan, truly. I doubt there is a more devoted, more loving caretaker of celestial objects anywhere (other than the Architect of the Universe himself).
So, the other day, when he announced he wanted to buy a new buddy for his collection, I was not surprised.
Being only 4 years old (not even 4 1/2 yet, as he’s fond of saying), SuperSam doesn’t exactly have a stream of income. He sometimes gets money for his birthday or other holidays, which he stuffs into his green and blue piggy bank. When he finds change on the floor or in the couch cushions, he adds that to his stash. I had no idea how much money was in the piggy bank, but I knew it couldn’t be much.
He was doggedly persistent in his argument that he be able to buy a new planet, listing out his reasons and building a case as the day went on. “I practically have half the solar system,” he said, “and I think it’s definitely time that I added someone new to my collection.” I was sure he wouldn’t have enough money, but he insisted repeatedly that we find out how much he had. “I think I have at least 42 in there,” he said. I knew he meant 42 coins, and I dreaded having to explain to him that a coin was not the same as a dollar. It seemed so complicated, and he was so excited by the whole idea that he was literally bouncing off the walls (making crashing sounds as he did it). My mind kept saying, “He is too young for the money conversation. He won’t understand if you try to explain it. He’s too worked up right now to focus on anything. It’s not even developmentally appropriate.”
It’s not developmentally appropriate. I know that. For better or worse, though, some children get to concepts before they are really “ready” to understand them. My child is one of those children. He’s not “ready” to understand the solar system and the universe, either, and yet he’s constantly spouting facts about nebulae and planets and constellations, quizzing us about which star is the biggest one known and whether we can be really sure that our entire solar system won’t be sucked into a black hole somewhere near the Andromeda galaxy. He picks his nose while he talks about how many Earths can fit inside the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and how Neptune has the strongest storms in the solar system (even though Jupiter’s best-known storm is more famous). He uses his chunky preschool crayons as he colors picture after picture of all the planets in order by size, or by distance from the Sun, complete with planetary symbols and moons. He depicts all the dwarf planets and loves to debate whether they ought to be included in the count and whether Pluto and Charon should be considered a binary system. He may only be four, but he believes he is a space scientist, and there’s no stopping him when he wants to know something. Who am I to stand in his way?
I took a deep breath and told him to go get the piggy bank.
We emptied it out on the table, and I made some little signs to help him know how many of each type of coin made up a dollar. He sorted all the coins into piles, then began arranging them in groups to add up to a dollar.
After he had sorted all the coins and separated them into groups, I helped him count all the dollars. He then asked to go “to amazon-dot-com” to see how much a Celestial Buddy would cost. We wrote down the amount of money he had and the price of his top three choices for Celestial Buddies.
He planned at first to buy The Sun, but it was $24.00. He only had $20.88. He then planned to buy Mercury (super cute with his little running shoes on, by the way!), which was only $18…but he then found that Mercury was only available from a seller in England and would take weeks to arrive. (“I will wait and get Mercury the next time I’m in England,” he said casually.) Finally, he made the decision to purchase Earth, which was $21.88. He was a dollar short.
I told him if he helped unload the dishwasher I would give him 50 cents. He helped fold some laundry to earn the other 50 cents, and then he was all set.
He handed over all the coins and bills to us, and we ordered his planet. The confirmation screen came up, and George showed it to him. The newest addition to the family, Planet Earth, would arrive on Tuesday.
SuperSam looked stunned. “Tuesday?? When is Tuesday?” he choked.
George looked surprised. “Well, it’s on Tuesday.” he said. He pointed at the days on the calendar, showing SuperSam where we were in the week. “Today is Friday. Earth will be mailed to us and will probably be delivered Tuesday. That’s the day after Monday,” he explained, patiently.
SuperSam was appalled. “There’s no way I can wait until Tuesday, Daddy,” he said, his voice rising. “I actually don’t even really know when Tuesday is!”
And that, I guess, is the difficulty in having a child like SuperSam. He had no problem with the money sorting, counting, comparing amounts…but he still doesn’t really understand when Tuesday is. He’s four. He doesn’t need to know any of this stuff yet. I’m never sure whether we are doing the right thing by explaining things as they come up with him, but I’m not sure what else we could do. He is full of curiosity, and he expects us to help him find ways to discover answers when he is looking for them. We try to keep it at an appropriate level, but it’s hard to keep pace with his questions and inquiries and research and ideas and projects if we only “let” him do things that are “appropriate” for someone his age. In some ways, he’s just different, so we have to handle things differently…and that often means thinking on our feet and processing things as they come up.
Happily for all involved, The Earth Truck (aka United Parcel Service) arrived a day early, bringing an adorable stuffed Earth to a very delighted little boy. He proclaimed, “Aw, he is just so cute!”, then announced that Earth is his very favorite planetary object ever because it is a “comfy” planet and that he will be playing with Earth every day for as long as he lives. He also mentioned a plan to write to his babysitter Katie and tell her about Earth “so she can be expecting a new planet the next time she comes to play with me, so she won’t be too surprised when she sees that I have added someone new,” he said. “And when she asks me ‘who gave you that planet?’ I will tell her, “Katie, I bought this for my very own self and no one even helped me buy it except Mama and Daddy had to order it on amazon-dot-com because I do not have a credit card, anyway.”

Earth is in for many exciting adventures here, I am certain…he has already been on a picnic with the gas giants and been for a stroller ride with Saturn pushing him (they were kind enough to pose for a photo, above, while SuperSam had snack). He has not yet been introduced to his moon, but I feel sure they will be fast friends.