Play and theme-based learning with our children

Friday, March 23, 2012

Small World Play

Tiny toy objects play big in the minds of kids. Small world play unleashes the potential of a kid's flexible imagination to both focus and expand moment-by-moment.

As a kid, I spent countless hours playing out animal figurine scenes. I craved those well-crafted German ones made to look like the real thing, but managed fine with the less accurate dime-store versions. (Of course, I had to buy the real deal for myself my little guy.)

Beyond doll houses and Legos, two mainstays of small world play, there's many great ideas from the crafting and kid play community. Check out my Pinterest board on small world play. I'm digging the fairy gardens, though we'll have to work up to the level of sophistication of the gardens I've pinned!

At preschool this winter (bye!!), my guy made a bear cave (pictured at top), and if he's lucky we'll make a winter wonderland this weekend using shaving cream!

For now, I'm happy to keep it easy. During a break in our rainy days, we played dinosaur outside by turning a planter into a terrarium.

Keep playing!

Markers + Paper = A Very Long Story

We were on Kiwi Crate this week!
I know what you’re thinking. I’m getting thin on ideas, right? Well, maybe. But consider this a twist on the usual. I wrote this one up because of how my son surprised me by what he did with such everyday ingredients.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

For Pi day, we made a camellia flower circle in our back yard in the rain. I attempted to explain pi to my preschooler.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Marshmallows + Toothpicks = Sculpture

It’s early on a Sunday, and I’m up with my 5 year-old son and infant while my hard-working husband sleeps in. The morning sun streams through the window, illuminating our marshmallow sculptures we made (an oldie but goodie inspired by a recent post from The Artful Parent).

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ice and Snow Melting Experiments

Old man winter finally woke up and puffed a nice blanket of powder up in the Sierra mountains last week. Luckily, we were able to make the trek over the weekend to play in the snow with friends. Skiing, sledding, snow ball fights – we did it all!

We often make a requisite snow man too, though this time we tried making sculptures by dripping water onto snow. We filled water bottles with water. I was thinking the kids would at least get a kick out of squirting water on the snow (if not on each other).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Foil + Plastic Cup = Pirate Hook

This post first appeared on

Yo ho! It’s pirate month at Kiwi Crate! From the moment our green crate hit the doorstep, my wee pirate wasted no time plundering his monthly-delivered treasure.  He soon recruited fellow swashbucklers for a pirate play date.

Pirate Telescope Spotting Game

This post first appeared on I repost here to keep memories in one place!

For little explorers and pirates alike, the telescope is an essential play accessory. And kids certainly know how to convert a tube into a scope! For us it’s a weekly occurrence that I toss a spent paper tube to my 5 year-old son, who immediately puts it to his eye for spotting.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Freestyle Cardboard Painting Turned Castle (Saves the Day)

This post first appeared on

OK, I’ve got a crying, hungry baby in one arm and an antsy preschooler pulling on the other. As a quick fix, I grab a cardboard box from the garage, a handful of paint jars and paint brushes. I put it all outside on the deck, setting my almost 5 year-old son loose, unsupervised. I mention as I’m walking back inside that he has enough paint brushes so he can keep his colors separate if he wants. Ha!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Heart Day!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I know, I know. The day's almost over. It was such a busy one over here I didn't have the time to send my love and good wishes to my friends.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Trials and Errors Crafting Our Jellyfish

Watch the video first. Now, if you're planning to make your own jellyfish in a bottle with the kiddos, please learn from my mistakes. I made it look easy, right? Well, here's what really happened:

Watercolor Resist Paintings: Under the Sea

Inevitably, the afternoon lull arrives. It usually comes around the time my son would nap when he was younger. But since “big boys” clearly can’t take naps (even if they’re rubbing their eyes and getting grumpy), it’s a good time to do something peaceful together. I also like to have a few tricks up my sleeves to keep things interesting.
This time, I’ve prepared a watercolor surprise for H. The night before, I drew sea creatures directly onto contact paper, cut them out, and stuck them each onto a piece of thick watercolor paper.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Make Your Own Diving Fish: A Science Experiment

 In this "diving fish" experiment, your kids learn about bubbles and buoyancy.  I'm glad to see the video is getting a good number of views. My "assistant" was totally engaged and curious, and loved doing the experiment by himself.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Foam Packing Peanuts + Glue = Sculpture

Being a busy parent with an infant, I love the convenience of online shopping, but don’t always enjoy the packing material collateral. My favorite packing materials are long sheets of paper, since they’re perfect table cover for messy projects. My least favorite are foam packing peanuts since their recycling potential is more limited.  So today, I want to see if I can put them to use and hand my son a batch of packing peanuts plus glue. I invite him to get busy making whatever he wants. I set him up outside and let him run with it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Life Lesson in a Turtle Surprise

First thing in the morning, my oldest son exclaims he wants to go for a walk in the woods so he can find a turtle. No wait. So he can find 3 turtles. We've never seen a turtle in the "wild", so I'm not sure from where he gets this idea. Though we did rescue a box turtle off the streets of our neighborhood, right before it got nailed by a car. We named him "Logo", and he's now living in a turtle rescue haven.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Play Dough + Dental Floss = an Earth Exploration

For a great time, you can pair play dough with just about anything. Check out NurtureStore to get a year’s worth of play dough play ideas. I’d personally like to thank play dough for being a perfect way for my son to stay happily busy while I make dinner.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Moon Craters

"The moonscape is strange, but it doesn't look dangerous. The dust reminds you of cake flour. You wish you could take off your suit and play in it."  - From If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith Mcnulty

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Best of 2011

For our final holiday reprise before getting back to work, we explored the California Academy of Sciences (one of my favorite places on Earth) and played at a park teeming with kids ready (or not) to get back to school. The weather has been gorgeous out here. If you're not jealous, you should be.

In small moments between, I've been checking out some of the "best of" posts spreading across blogs.  TinkerLab has their "Top Post of 2011" where you can add your own linky to your one top blog post of your choice. I'm looking forward to browsing those all week.

From Nogginmama, I picked "Gift Trees".