Wednesday, August 31, 2011

R Week- Food

R week was a great one for food!

As I mentioned during T week, I had hoped to make T-shaped pancakes but never did. I gave R-shaped pancakes a shot, but they were a huge flop, so I made normal ones. Then the thought hit me that I could just make an R on each pancake with chocolate syrup. Perfect! Next time I attempt to make letter-shaped pancakes, I will need to make a thinner batter and dispense it from a squeeze bottle of some sort. Trying to do it with a spoon just doesn't work for most letters.

I made a batch of Six Week Raisin Bran muffins as well. My mom made this recipe often growing up. It makes a huge batch so you can just bake as many muffins as you want at a time and store the rest of the batter in the fridge for up to six weeks. The flavor of the muffins gets even better as it sits, so when I think ahead, I make the batter several days before I want to bake the muffins.

They are amazing right out of the oven, but also stay moist for a couple of days in a container or zip-top bag. I like to eat them any time of day with butter or cream cheese.

Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins

1 (15 oz.) box raisin bran cereal (the kind with "crunch"/granola is good too)
1 quart buttermilk
1 cup canola oil (vegetable would work too or part coconut oil, part canola)
4 eggs, beaten
3 cups sugar (I usually use about 2 cups)
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt

Crush cereal in bag then pour into a large bowl. Add buttermilk and mix. Let soak for 5-10 minutes to soften cereal. Mix in oil and eggs, followed by sugar, then dry ingredients. Mix well. Bake immediately or store batter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 400*F for 15-20 minutes, until browned and toothpick comes out clean.

Some time ago, I had seen an episode of the Rachael Ray Show when she made Ridiculously Good Chicken Riggies. It looked delicious, so I wrote down the name as something to try. R week finally prompted me to make it. I figured you can't go wrong with pasta, chicken, mushrooms, peppers, and a little cream. We were not disappointed. It was a great change from the regular pasta and red sauce and will definitely be on the menu again soon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

R Week- Hide and Seek Bowl

Since the hide and seek bowl was such a success last week, I collected lots of R objects and made a new one. Again, Trip asked to see it each day. He calls it the "towel" activity so I think the towel is sticking with us when we have a hide and seek container.

The rainbow pasta I made was the perfect cover for our treasures.

The great part about the salad macaroni was that we could scoop it up in our hands and make it "rain" over the container. Trip loved that!

Monday, August 29, 2011

R Week- Rainbow Rigatoni

I had never realized how easy it is to dye pasta. Armed with the little bit of knowledge that it takes, I got to work.

I colored two 16oz. boxes of pasta, one rigatoni and the other salad macaroni. I divided each of the boxes into six more or less equal amounts. Next, I took six quart-size zip-top bags and poured 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol in each one. You can use vinegar instead of rubbing alcohol if you prefer. After 10 to 12 drops of food coloring in each bag, they were ready for the pasta. I put the filled and sealed bags on a foil-lined cookie sheet to contain any potential spills. I left the bags like that all day, turning them a few times, although I think an hour or two would have been sufficient. Once I was ready to dry the noodles, I drained out as much liquid as possible in the sink and then dumped the pasta back onto the foil-lined cookie sheet with a few added layers of paper towels to absorb the remaining liquid.

I put the tray outside to dry since the alcohol smell was quite potent. If outside is not an option, I would suggest a garage or other place where no one has to smell it. It dried quickly, but I ended up leaving it outside for about 24 hours to completely get rid of the smell. The colors were definitely lighter once they dried, but looked great nonetheless. I'm guessing that the color would have been a little more even if I had just used one size of noodles.

Basic pasta-dyeing formula:

1/4 cup rubbing alcohol or vinegar
10 to 12 drops food coloring
about 1 cup pasta
a zip-top bag

Mix alcohol/vinegar with food coloring in bag. Add pasta and seal. Let sit for 2+ hours (or as long as you leave it), turn once or twice. Drain as much liquid as possible then let pasta dry on paper towels. Air out for up to 24 hours to eliminate alcohol/vinegar smell. This recipe can be doubled for larger amounts of pasta.

I had hoped to get Trip to string the rigatoni on a shoelace but he wasn't interested so I made him a necklace that he enjoyed.

The rainbow salad macaroni was perfect for our R hide and seek bowl.

R Week- The List

The PDF of my R week list is posted here.

The activities we did this week include:
  • an R-themed hide and seek bowl
  • hunting for colored rocks
  • following a recipe- Six Week Raisin Bran Muffins
  • reading at the library
  • a paper R decorated as a road with race cars on it
  • rainbow rigatoni stringing
  • rainbow ice cubes in a bag

Friday, August 26, 2011

T Week- Thomas and Friends

Since Thomas is one of Trip's favorite characters, I knew T week had to include some Thomas activities. Other than watching his two Thomas DVDs, we used Thomas in three other ways too.

Each week we're making a paper letter to hang on Trip's bedroom door or in his room. I figured that Thomas would be perfect to cover our T. Since I didn't have any Thomas stickers, I printed a bunch of the same image of Thomas and cut them out. I then put some double-sided tape on the back of each one. Trip stuck some of them on and was done, so I ended up finishing it myself at the end of the week. It now hangs on his door and he likes to touch it each day.

I thought it would be fun to make some sort of matching game as well. I found images of Thomas and his friends online and made some cards to print. Once the cards were printed and cut, I laminated them to make them more durable. Eventually they can also be used as a memory/concentration type game, but for now I just ask Trip if he can find Gordon, for example, and then tell him that we need to find two Gordons. After a couple of times playing the game, he caught on quickly and would find both cards right away.

You can download a PDF of my matching cards for your own personal use here.

I had also seen a Thomas Tot Book on 1+1+1=1 that I liked, so I decided to make one of my own. I used the free downloads of "How Many?" and "Shapes with Thomas" and then created my own "Colored Trains" book with a coloring sheet I found here.

I used a Thomas coloring sheet from the official Thomas web site for the cover.

The whole thing fits nicely in a gallon zip-top bag to store it safely and transport it easily.

This will be a good book to bring with us if we have to wait somewhere for an appointment and will be a good reminder of things we did during T week.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

T Week- Which Animals Have Tails?

A fun activity and a little lesson in sharing too.

Trip has many stuffed monkeys, but one in particular has become his favorite. It is a must-have at nap and bed times. He likes to hold its tail under his nose for comfort.

This gave me an idea. Let's look at the other stuffed animals in his room and see which ones have tails and which ones don't. Since the majority of his stuffed animals are monkeys, most of them did have tails, but it was a fun activity nonetheless and he was pretty good at identifying the tails.

He loved having his monkeys in his crib and kept repeating "All monkeys!"

This activity would be fun to do with any stuffed or plastic animals. It would also be a great thing to do at the zoo or while looking at animal books.

Trip is only allowed to have his pacifier when it's time to sleep so it stays in his crib. He discovered it while we were playing this game. I asked him if he could share it with his stuffed animals and he was happy to oblige.

A mommy never complains about some impromptu sharing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

T Week- Food

My silly boy just wanted to tilt his head back, laugh, and be silly while I was trying to get a picture of him enjoying some of his T foods.

Thinking of foods that start with our letter of the week helps add variety to our meals and makes shopping fun too. I didn't have a T food at each meal, but tried to at least have something at lunch.

We went to the store early in the week and bought a container of grape tomatoes, which thrilled Trip to no end. He LOVES tomatoes in most any form and the little ones are his favorite. He kept getting them out of the fridge and asking to eat some.

We also enjoyed tortellini and veggies in a homemade cheese sauce. Just melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a pan, then add an equal amount of flour to make a roux. Once the roux has cooked a little, add in one to two cups of milk. The sauce will thicken and then add some cheese of your choice (I used Parmesan and mozzarella). When the cheese is melted, season with salt and/or pepper to taste. I tossed in some cooked tortellini and veggies, and our super simple but delicious meal was ready.

Tortillas, turkey, and teriyaki chicken were also on our menu. I had plans of making pancake Ts and cutting Ts out of tortillas, but didn't make it happen, so we'll save those for another letter.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

T Week- Hide and Seek Bowl

Our very first activity of the week was a T-themed hide and seek bowl. Trip enjoyed it so much that we got it out at least once each day. I first saw the idea here and knew it would be a great game for us. It's so simple, but has something so intriguing about it for little ones.

I got my bowl of T items that I had collected (read more about that here),

and dumped in a bag of alphabet pasta to cover the treasures. Voila! A hide and seek bowl! Use any kind of pasta, dried beans, popcorn kernels, shredded paper, or anything similar that you have on hand. I will probably switch out the alphabet pasta for something else every few weeks to change things up.

Although it's nice to have most of the items hidden, it's fine if a few things peek out. It will just make your child more eager to dig in and uncover what's inside. I placed the container on a towel to contain any spills but told Trip that the pasta had to stay in the bowl. He did a great job keeping things on the towel all week and wanted the towel on the floor each time we got out the tub.

The highlight of the tub for him was the toothbrush and toothpaste.

He had to brush his teeth (or mostly eat the toothpaste) each time we played the game and later started asking for "straber" (strawberry) before he had even uncovered anything.

The hide and seek bowl was such a success that we will definitely be repeating it for other letters.

Monday, August 22, 2011

T Week- The List

You can find my list of T words here. It is of course not an exhaustive list. I mostly chose words that Trip knows or should know. I also avoided words that start with T but don't make the "t" sound (like th words). If the word starts with a T in Spanish like it does in English, I included the Spanish word in parentheses. I had to add words to my list throughout the week as I thought of more and more. A list is not entirely necessary, but I find that it helps me remember what to highlight. It works nicely to keep it on the fridge or other visible place. This gets the whole family involved in pointing out your letter of the week with you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Letter of the Week

Trip has begun to show an interest in letters and has learned a few of them. For some reason or another, he usually recognizes G, O, and T. All letters used to be A and B but are now mostly G. The alphabet song is called "A-C-G." He likes to point out words and letter and says whatever letters or sounds come to mind. These things are very cute, but are also a great sign that he's getting these concepts of letters, words, and reading.

In order to build on this interest, I have decided to do a letter of the week with him and do as many fun activities as possible each week to reinforce the concept of that letter. A great place to start for toddlers is with the letters in the child's name. With this in mind, I set out to plan our first four weeks for the letters T, R, I, and P. If you have more than one child, start with the first letter of one child's name the first week, and then do the first letter of the next child's the next week, and so forth. You could also alternate days and work on two or three letters for two weeks. After the first letter of each child's name, go to any letters their names have in common or any letters that represent a common interest of theirs (like a toy, activity, sport, or character). If you have older children who already know the alphabet, get them involved and have them help you put this all together.

My first step was to make a list of all of the words that I could think of that start with T, R, I, or P. I also thought of foods, friends/family members/characters/sports teams, and songs that start with each letter. I initially wrote it all down on paper and left it out so that I could easily add words as I thought of them throughout a couple of days. Once I had the words, I came up with activities that could go with each letter as well. Later, I typed this all up in a neat list so that I can share it with you each week.

Next, I went about collecting items around the house that start with my chosen letters. I have a bowl or container for each letter so that as I see a toy or household item that fits into one of the categories, I can just add it to the collection. This makes the whole process less time-consuming because it naturally builds as I find a few more items each day. Plus, these items give me ideas of projects that we can do. Thinking ahead also makes actually doing the activities easier because everything is ready, so I can just pull something out when Trip is in a good mood or when he needs a distraction.

I gave myself almost two weeks from when this idea first came to me to when I actually started our first letter of the week. If you choose to do something similar, you may only need one week, or you might want three or more. Do what works for you. This is meant to be something fun to do with your child, not something to add to your already stressful life. Once the school year starts in a few weeks and I start substitute teaching again, I may not have as much time each day to prepare and to do activities with Trip. We will just continue to do this as it fits into our lives. The days when I am home, we will do more, and if I am working, we'll just do a quick game in the evening. A lot of this has to do with being purposeful in pointing out the letter we're studying and bringing it out in our normal daily life.

On Monday, I will begin to share about our experience with our first letter of the week, T.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Favorite Book: Eating the Alphabet

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A-Z by Lois Ehlert was a favorite book of mine in the classroom and is now a favorite of Trip's as well. For a while, we were reading it multiple times a day upon his request.

It's a very simple book with fruits and/or vegetables for each letter of the alphabet. The letters are presented in both upper and lower case, which I like. The names of the fruits and vegetables are written in both forms as well. This book is fun for children of all ages since it contains some produce that is familiar, and others that they may never have heard of or tried. Toddlers like this book because there are plenty of foods that they recognize and can name.

For older children, there is a glossary in the back that gives information about each of the fruits and vegetables featured in the book.

In the future, it might be fun to make a chart of which items we have eaten and which ones we haven't. We could then try to find some of the things that we have never tasted before to find out if we like them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Playdough Recipes

A great tactile activity to do with toddlers is homemade playdough. Making playdough yourself is so quick, easy, and cheap, plus you can customize it to nearly any color or scent. Trip still likes to eat things so I like knowing what he's putting in his mouth and knowing that although it won't taste good, it won't harm him.

I found a great collection of playdough recipes at Pocketful of Posies. You can download the free e-book here. I have made the basic recipe several times now and we have enjoyed its great texture. Plus, stored in an airtight container, it has lasted us for several weeks. I look forward to trying the chocolate dough and the sand dough.

Recently I came upon several boxes of Jell-O that were way past their expiration date. I figured that there must be a way to make playdough with Jell-O. A little looking online later and I discovered this recipe:

Jell-O Playdough:

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup warm water
1 (3 oz.) package Jell-O

Simply combine the ingredients in a pot and stir over med heat until it forms a ball. I read that it can burn easily, so watch it carefully. Once it forms a ball, turn it out on a lightly floured surface. Let dough cool for a few minutes until comfortable to touch. Knead, adding small amounts of flour if needed until playdough is no longer sticky and has a nice texture.

The fun thing about the Jell-O playdough is that it has both color and scent built-in. I gave the first batch I made to some friends of ours, and they were thrilled with it. We have discovered that making a fresh batch of playdough is a great activity when Trip's friends come over. They enjoy helping to choose the color or scent, like to see the process of making the dough, have fun playing with it, and are then super excited if they get to take some home.

More than just something to make for your own children, homemade playdough also makes a nice hostess gift for a play date, a thank you for another mom or family, or a get well gift for a sick child. With so many great options, why not make some today?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paint with Water

When I saw the DIY Paint with Water Pages on I Can Teach My Child, I knew they would be perfect for Trip. He could get the satisfaction of painting without the frustration of not being able to paint everything in sight and without the huge mess. A mess is fine some days, but other times we need something fun that's easy to clean up.

The pages don't take much time to make and I had all of the ingredients on hand, so I made a bunch one afternoon during nap time. Although paint with water books are available online and probably in stores as well, I liked making my own so that I could choose pictures that I knew Trip would like. These are also made with card stock so the paper is thick and withstands the water better than the commercially made ones.

He still doesn't paint them completely, but sure enjoys trying. Sometimes he even lets Mommy help. They have been fun to hang on the fridge and Trip likes to look at his artwork, especially the sports ones.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Learning Placemats

I discovered these number playdough mats at Homeschool Creations and was inspired to make some learning placemats to keep on the table for meals, snacks, and playdough time.

My first one includes Trip's name, the numbers 1-5, and five sports balls (his favorite). I used a self-sealing laminating pouch that my husband had left over from a project he had done some time ago to protect my creation. These are pricey, but durable and super simple to use. They are available from Amazon or at most office supply stores (and possibly even at Wal Mart or Target). Clear adhesive laminate would work just fine as well. Of course if you have access to a heated laminator, that's even better. Doing projects like this makes me miss the laminators I had access to when I was a teacher creating things for my classroom!

The next one has the numbers 0-5 and is designed to use with snacks and playdough. So far, I have been the one to put snacks on each dot, but eventually Trip will be able to do that himself. The numbers are large enough that in the future, we will be able to use them as a pattern for playdough numbers as well.

Since I didn't want to waste half of a laminating sheet, I made an alphabet to go on the back of Trip's name placemat and shapes for the back of the number grid.

The number grid, alphabet, and shapes are available as a PDF here. Feel free to print and make these for your own personal use. If you write about them in a blog post, please link back to Teach Love Grow- I would love to hear about it!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pipe Cleaners in a Bottle

One of the first activities I made for Trip is a super simple one: pipe cleaners in a bottle. I simply took an empty ricotta container, put a large sticker over the lid (to cover up the writing and make it easier to see the holes) and poked holes in it with scissors. A drill would have worked too for making the holes. I had also considered using a hole punch, but it didn't reach very far into the lid and I didn't want all of the holes to be around the edge.

I then bent/twisted up some pipe cleaners, and the activity was ready to go.

Bending and twisting the pipe cleaners not only prevents little fingers from getting hurt on the pointy edges, it also makes them more rigid and easier to push through the holes. This is the method I used:

This activity was a hit form the start. Although we first attempted it at 23 months, I think Trip probably could have done it a few months sooner.

I have since made several nicer ones to give away. This one is made of a bread crumb container. I was able to use a special hole punch while at my mom's house to make these holes and like having different sizes and thus different difficulty levels.

I also covered this container with some scrapbook paper to make it more interesting.

Large spice jars work well too and are even easier to re-purpose since they have built-in holes.