Bring a little luck o’ the Irish into your home this St. Patrick’s Day, with these darling DIY Salt Dough Shamrocks both you and your Little Pnut will enjoy making together. You’re sure to have a visit from a Leprechaun, or two, with these hanging about the house.

 

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need:

  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 cup flour
  • Shamrock shaped cookie cutter
  • A straw
  • Various colors of green paint
  • Ribbon or string
  • Paint brushes
  • Baking sheet
  • Mixing bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Rolling pin

Make & Bake the Salt Dough

To make the salt dough, mix the flour, salt and warm water together until a soft dough forms. We like to get ours started in the bowl and then finish kneading it on a floured cutting board until it’s just the right consistency. It should feel a bit like soft play dough. Little Pnuts love doing the mixing so let your Little Pnut get their hands into that dough!

Next, help your Little Pnut roll out the dough on a floured surface. Using a shamrock cookie cutter have your Little Pnut cut out shamrock shapes.

Important: If you want to hang your shamrocks, this is the time to use a straw to poke a hole in the shamrocks before baking. Don’t forget to remove the straw before baking though.

Place the salt dough shamrocks on a cookie sheet and bake them at your oven’s lowest setting until they are completely hardened.  Usually around 250 degrees fahrenheit and about 2 hours but it could take more or less depending on how thick your cutouts are. Check them every hour and turn them so they don’t get too brown. Once they are completely hardened remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Paint Your Shamrocks

Once your shamrocks have cooled completely they are ready to paint. Present your Little Pnut with some green paint and let them have fun painting their shamrocks.  The more shades of green the better! We ended up with some with a beautiful swirled marble effect on some of ours by mixing multiple shades of green.  Once the paint is dry string some ribbon and hang your shamrocks.

Try a Variation: Add a little green food coloring when you are mixing your dough and you’ll have green salt dough shamrocks you can either hang as such or paint further.

Most importantly have fun! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy Playing!

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Fine Motor Skills, Focus and Concentration, Strategic Thinking, Color Recognition, Shape Recognition, Hand-Eye Coordination, Sensory Play, Cognitive Development, Creative Play, Imaginative Play & Free Play.

—Jennifer Haas, founder of Plain Vanilla Mom.
 
 
 

If you are a parent or caregiver looking for activities for young children, you’ve probably noticed that “sensory play” is all the rage on kid blogs and Pinterest. There are even entire websites devoted to sensory play for little ones, and while they are full of creative ideas, you may find yourself asking, “Does my child REALLY need sensory play for development?”

To answer this question, let’s look at what we know about sensory play.

 

 

WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?

Sensory play is simply play that encourages children to use one or more of the senses.  Often called “messy play,” sensory play experiences focus on stimulating children’s senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement.

Research tells us…

  • Young children rely on sensory input to learn about their environment.
  • Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.
  • Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.
  • Children’s exposure to sensory play opportunities is declining.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

The first three points on the list above are pretty self-explanatory. In a nutshell, sensory experiences are like food for the brain…they provide valuable input that allows the brain to build new pathways that in turn support growth in crucial areas of development.

The fourth point, however, is what sheds some light on the answer to our original question, “Is all this REALLY necessary?”  You may be thinking, “My parents didn’t do sensory play with me, and I turned out ok!”  The fact is, our little ones spend much less time outdoors than their parents and certainly grandparents did as children.  Since the outdoors is naturally full of sensory play opportunities, this has definitely had a part in the decline of sensory play.  Secondly, although children can definitely fulfill their need for sensory play indoors when given periods of unstructured playtime with stimulating materials, the truth is that indoor time is often monopolized by television, battery operated toys, or toddler/preschool programs that focus on drilling academics rather than fostering important play skills.  This has resulted in a generation of children who may not even know how to play when given the opportunity…how sad is that?

So in short, the answer to your question is yes, sensory play is crucial for your child’s development. And since children today are no longer given ample opportunities for naturally occurring sensory play, it is up to us as parents to be sure their needs are met.

BUT WAIT!!  

Before you rush out and buy the materials to recreate every zany sensory activity you ever pinned on Pinterest, here are some much less time-intensive activities that you can do to enrich your child’s “sensory diet” without losing your sanity as well.

  • Play with sand, mud, water, shaving cream, cornmeal, water beads, dried or cooked pasta, dried beans or lentils, etc.  Provide a variety of containers, kitchen tools, and small toys for your child to explore with.
  • Sing and dance to music.  Use child-sized instruments, scarves, ribbon wands, etc. to encourage participation and engage multiple senses.
  • Build with blocks, empty cardboard boxes, or canned goods.  Knock down your towers and talk about the loud noises.
  • Add essential oils or extracts to play dough and compare all the different scents as you play.
  • Pick out a variety of fruits and vegetables at your local market (try to choose some that are new to your child).  Have a “sensory picnic” where you encourage your child to touch, smell, taste, and play with all the different produce.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood or in a wooded park.  Let your child stop and pick up leaves, sticks, rocks, or whatever else interests him/her.  If you want, bring a bag to fill with your “treasures” to bring home and make a collage with, or just simply to show to another family member.

MORE GREAT STUFF JUST FOR YOU:

To learn how to use fun sensory play activities to help get your toddler talking, check out Building Language with Sensory Play. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/sensory-play-and-language/)

For an entire gallery of  sensory play ideas, click HERE. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/category/play/sensory-play-little-minds-tot-school/)

Stephanie HaassLittle Pnuts Early Childhood Activities Expert & Blogger, founder of www.two-daloo.com

 

Little Pnuts love to put their art on display, no matter what medium they have worked in. Today we have the perfect Valentines Day activity that lets them put their love on display just in time for that special day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need:

  • Poster Paint, preferably in Valentines colors
  • White Paper
  • Heart shaped cookie cutters or other heart-shaped items. We used cookie cutters, little heart-shaped treat boxes and sponges cut into heart shapes

Get Ready, Get Set..

Pour some paint onto a paper plate or into a shallow bowl. Tip: A small piece of cardboard makes a good artists pallet too. Then, let your Little Pnut dip their heart shapes into the paint and stamp them onto the paper until their little heart’s content. When they are done, set their paintings somewhere safe to dry.

Play!

Now for the fun part! Decide how to display your Little Pnuts art. Some ideas for you.

  • Hang it as is
  • Use it as wrapping paper
  • Cut out heart shapes for it and string together to make garland
  • Cut out heart shapes and tie them off individually with ribbon to hang around the house (that’s what we did)
  • Help your Little Pnut write a Valentine’s message or To  & From on the hearts and hand them out as homemade Valentines.

Happy Playing!

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Fine Motor Skills, Focus and Concentration, Strategic Thinking, Color Recognition, Hand-Eye Coordination, Cognitive Development, Creative Play, Free Play.

—Jennifer Haas, founder of Plain Vanilla Mom.
 
 
 


Does the Polar Vortex of 2014 have you and your Little Pnuts looking out the window, wishing you could run outside and play? We have the perfect activity to help bring a little outdoors in eliciting hours of giggles with oodles of learning through play!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need

  • Floral Water Beads in a variety of sizes and colors
  • Water
  • A large container
  • A variety of scoops, spoons and small containers
  • Various Small Toys, ie, Squirting toys, shells, to set the theme
  • *Optional – light table (see our DIY light table for how to make your own) Light Box Fun

 

Get Ready…

Prior to play, you’ll need to hydrate your water beads. Simply take your water beads and sprinkle them into your large container and add enough water for your water beads to absorb and plump. We recommend adding at least an inch to two inches of water to the container. The water beads will need 6-8 hours to absorb all the water in the tub. Your Little Pnuts will enjoy watching the time-lapse of your water beads changing and growing.

Get Set…

Once the beads have plumped to the size of small marbles or grapes they’re ready for play. Set up the container of water beads on a table or on the floor. Spread out a variety of tools for your Little Pnuts to use for scooping and stirring. We used regular table spoons, measuring spoons and measuring cups for scooping. We also used small containers to scoop into, pour out and sort.

Play!

Establish a theme and decorate accordingly with your small toys. We thought a colorful & playful theme would be fun using the squirt toys the Little Pnuts have in their bathtub. They loved hiding the toys under the beads and scooping them out or feeling for them. The texture of the beads are fun, similar to jello marbles and our Little Pnuts enjoyed feeling them fall through their fingers. They also loved seeing how they would bounce and roll on hard surfaces

Variations of Play

Our Little Pnuts enjoyed a variety of ways to use our water beads. We used scoops and containers to teach volume and mass. Separating the beads using various sized spoons allowed for counting and number recognition, the 1/4 teaspoon allowed one water bead to be scooped up while the tablespoon would scoop 5-6 beads at a time. We were able to segment out colors using our 1/4 teaspoon to scoop one colored water bead at a time and separate them into separate containers.

*We advise that parental supervision should be present at all times. If your Little Pnut is still putting things in their mouth we recommend you wait before introducing them to water bead play.

Water beads really are an amazing way to enhance sensory exploration. Our Little Pnuts enjoyed many hours of learning through play.

Watch the Video:

Little Pnuts Learning Through Water Bead Play!

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Fine Motor Development, Language Development, Focus and Concentration, Sensory Exploration, Cognitive Development, Number Recognition, Color Recognition, Hand-Eye Coordination & Team Work.

 

—Melissa Pia Bossola Beese, Little Pnuts Founder
 
 


Stuck indoors? Here is a fun activity for your Little Pnut that combines science, art, sensory play, and fine motor practice. Read on for instructions on setting up your own Colorful Ice Play!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need

  • Ice cubes or an ice block (we made ours by freezing water in a plastic butter container)
  • Colored water (we used diluted liquid watercolors, but food coloring also works great)
  • Salt
  • Medicine droppers or pipettes
  • *Optional – light table (see our DIY light table for how to make your own) Light Box Fun

 

Set Up & Play

Set up is simple – place your ice or ice block on a tray (use a clear one if you plan to use the light table). Provide containers of colored water and salt for your Little Pnut to experiment with.  Our Little Pnuts enjoy squirting the water on the ice with pipettes and watching the colors mix on the tray.  Sprinkling salt on the ice will cause it to melt quickly where the salt touches it, creating beautiful patterns. Our Little Pnuts love this activity and yours will, too!  Using a light table kicks up the fun one more notch – place your clear tray on top of your light table (wrap the light table in plastic to protect it) and watch the colors mix and swirl.

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Fine Motor Development, Language Development, Focus and Concentration, Sensory Exploration, Problem Solving

 

—Stephanie Haass, Little Pnuts Early Childhood Activities Expert & Blogger, founder of www.two-daloo.com
 
 

The holidays are always bright and cheerful and tend to bring a coziness into the home. This holiday while busy prepping, keep your Little Pnuts entertained with a tree they can decorate on their own. 

 

 

 

What You Will Need:

  • Green Construction Paper
  • Pom Poms in a variety of shapes and colors
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Get Ready…

Draw or trace a Christmas tree shape onto the green construction paper. If your Little Pnut is able, have them cut out the tree with the scissors. If your Little Pnut is not using scissors yet go ahead and cut out the tree for them ahead of time.

Create invitation for your Little Pnut to decorate their Christmas tree by setting out your materials in an inviting manner. I set our tree on our table on top of some paper towels to protect our work space. Putting the pom poms in a small bowl makes them inviting to little hands.

Trim Your Tree!

Let your Little Pnut glue and stick pom poms onto their Christmas tree until their little heart’s content.

Variations:

If you want to challenge your Little Pnut, give them some tweezers or tongs to manipulate and place the pom poms with.

If your Little Pnut is still not ready to use a bottle of glue try pouring a little glue into a small bowl or cup and allowing them to dip the pom poms into the glue prior to placing them on the tree.

Finally, sit back and admire their tree. Don’t forget to find the perfect spot to hang it for the holiday season!

Happy Playing!

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Fine Motor Skills, Focus and Concentration, Strategic Thinking, Color Recognition, Hand-Eye Coordination, Cognitive Development, Creative Play, Free Play, Imaginative Play.

—Jennifer Haas, founder of Plain Vanilla Mom.
 
 
 

You Are Your Child’s Best Toy!

Photo Credit: Sujin

We first need to begin by saying; Parent Education has saved us from ideologies that were not known to man centuries ago. The same goes for toys; what toys do you buy? What toys do you accept? Why? Can you even answer that question? Well for many years we met families who could not, and we realized we needed to explain the fundamentals of brain development and the importance of “sufficient”, “crucial” and the  “necessary” factors about the toys in your child’s room. Trust me, you might have never known that certain toys can be detrimental if not used properly!

What is Brain Development?  Why, do children benefit from having their experiences enhanced?  According to the National Center For Infants, Toddlers, and Families, “The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development. A newborn’s brain is about 25 percent of its approximate adult weight. But by age 3, it has grown dramatically by producing billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses, between these cells”.  At birth the brain is said to be unfinished and underdeveloped, but we know children use their brain to create cognitive skills, emotions, social skills and more. The brain has been said to develop in the world and not in the womb. Are you focused yet?  Great, let’s move on.  Research shows that 75 percent of a child’s brain occurs after birth! So now take a look in your child’s room and quietly examine all the toys, and pick out what you feel enhanced their brain development, better yet did someone even interact with them while using these toys? Now, this is to get you zoned into reality for your child’s optimal success not to feel down because you might not have been clued on to this topic. When we know better, we do better and as educators we want you to be the best you can be!

 

Here are 5 Things You Did Not Know About Battery-Operated Toys & Their Effects on Brain Development!

 

Developmental psychologist Rachel Keen notes, parents and teachers “need to design environments that encourage and enhance problem solving from a young age” (Keen 2011).

  1. They do not promote math skills, social skills, problem solving skills, and cooperative play, but blocks, hands on objects, and wooden toys do.
  2. Going back to the basics allows language development to grow. When your child has to interact to play, this is the benefit of high success. There is not much interaction with battery-operated toys.
  3. Infants and Toddlers brains are dependent on the responses of adults.
  4. A baby forms 700 neural connections in the first year of life. Now think if this child was playing alone with battery operated or do it yourself toys.
  5. A newborn is born with most of the brain cells we have for our entire life, but do not know how to connect and use them. This is where we come in to understand how crucial interaction and brain development is for young children.

So tell me what will you go home and do now?

 

Photo Credit: HABA.de

—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.

It’s the perfect weather for outdoor water play. Stay cool in the hot summer sun while introducing your Little Pnuts to the joy of fishing. A great game of strategy while encouraging concentration and focus. Perfect for a play date or for individual play, Fishing for Ping Pong Balls, will get your Little Pnuts excited about splashing around!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need

  • Ping Pong Balls (as many or as few as you like) 
  • Something to fish with like a butterfly or bug net or a kitchen strainer with a handle or even slotted spoon would work.
  • A body of water. Think kiddie pool, bathtub, water table or large plastic container.

Set Up

Fill your designated container with water and drop in a few ping pong balls. We found that the ‘more the merrier’ in respect to the ping pong balls was especially true for this activity. Give your Little Pnut his fishing gear of choice. We used a kiddie sized butterfly net but a kitchen strainer with a handle works great too.

Let Them Fish!

See how many ping pong balls they can catch. Have them count them with you.  If your Little Pnut is capable, challenge them to catch a particular number of ping pong balls. If you happen to have different colors of ping pong balls have them catch balls of a certain color. Ours were all white so we focused on making this a counting activity. For the littlest of Little Pnuts it’s great hand-eye coordination just for them to catch the ping pong balls and throw them back in the water.

 

Happy Playing!

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Gross Motor Skill Development, Fine Motor Skills, Focus and Concentration, Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving, Cognitive Development, Coordination, Cooperative Play, Group Play and Individual Play.

—Jennifer Haas, founder of Plain Vanilla Mom.
 
 
 

We all know that The American Academy Of Pediatrics does not suggest any screen time before the age of 2 years old! What I find so funny is many families we service are in a state of shock! Today, families are resorting to screen and television time at extreme rates. Can we remember when children were entertained without it? I sure do! We know, you say well what do I do with my children, then you say does it really matter what they watch? Then you ask what if it is a children’s show, because there are so many of those now.  Sorry to burst the bubble, all are the same and it is not healthy for brain development. We are going to explain to you why and hope that you will rethink your ideologies. Trust, it is only difficult because we see it everywhere today, even in our home we make a conscious habit of turning it off.  So let’s jump right in!

Photo Credit: Imagery Majestics

According to The New Yorker, by The American Academy Of Pediatrics “Since the AAP made its original recommendations in 1999, passive entertainment screens — televisions, DVD players, computers streaming video — have become ubiquitous, and the average 12-month-old gets between one and two hours of screen time per day. (Interactive screens, such as iPads and other tablets, are considered in the new recommendations.) The 0 – to 2-year age group has become a prime target for commercial educational programming, often used by parents convinced that it’s beneficial”. This should say a lot to your family! Whoa, who would have thought? So why are so many families engaging in excessive screen time and how do we fix it?

  1. Screens are not to be used as rewards or punishment – Doing this will allow your children to feel as if it is more important, it should not be an important object in your home. This also gives you as a parent time to see where else you can stop using certain items as reward or punishment. Allowing it to be seen as a sometimes event will maximize the conversation, while your family engages in any screen time. Use this time to communicate with your child, ask questions, what do they like or dislike? How are their emotions while watching?  If age-appropriate you can even discuss TV ads and commercials and get an understanding of your child’s thought process.
  2. Allow children to problem solve, and entertain themselves – Did you know that even an infant can be allowed time to entertain themselves? Learning problem solving and enhancing cognitive skills is a life lesson for your child. According to Dr. Ari Brown, media, even in the background distracts infants and toddlers from play. There have been studies proven that language development can be diminished and developmental delays may become present.  Children’s brains grow profoundly in the first 5 years of life. The issues come when children can be learning how to interact and engage and we do not allow it.  Proven fact, is that a paren speaks about 940 words per hour to their small children and with screens even in the background that number drops between 600-700. Do you want to take those risks with your children? If you are what you eat, then you are what your brain experiences a philosopher once said. Even though infants and toddlers stare, their brain is incapable of making the connections and sense of what is going on with screen time.
  3. Make all meal times, family time – This can be such a lifelong lesson in your home, use the time to engage in physical touch, use eye contact, positive words and modeling behavior. This also allows you the on-on-one time with your child to get to understand and know them better. Doing this will help with language and self-compassion.   Try not to create separation in your home just for screen use.

Photo Credit: Imagery Majestics


—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.

Photo Credit: Cheltanham Parks.

When we think of Play and Structured Play, we immediately realize that observation skills and learning go hand in hand. Both are highly beneficial to your child’s development. Do you often ask, “What is Child Development”? According to Kid Sense Child Development, “Children’s development occurs across a range of skill areas including: physical (motor) skills, speech and language, social and emotional, cognitive and intellectual abilities”.  Monitoring of Child Development is crucial to your child’s success, while making sure their milestones are being met. Let’s delve into helping your families use three techniques to take your fun playtime and make it slightly more structured, you can do this without your child even knowing they are learning! Here it goes!

  1. Introduce (1-2) specific concepts for daily playtime sessions – Choose specific times whether early morning or after afternoon snack to structure your child’s play. Get on their level and engage with them. Find something you know your child likes and set up an activity around it. This could take place at the carpet, table, or outside on a walk. Use props, materials and high energy. Ask open-ended questions, discuss observations, and use visual cues. Your child can go into any direction they choose and you follow their lead, this will make a huge difference for the future. This will offer a wealth of knowledge for the child.
  2. Create a home model of an educational space/classroom – This can be used for children infant to preschool. Purchase bins, drawers, chairs etc. and turn your child’s entertainment space into an educational realm. This means having everything in its order and all materials having a home. I.E. books on a shelf, small table and chairs for art, puzzle rack, stuffed animals on a shelf, cars in a bin. This will give it a structured look and even free play will be semi-structured.
  3. Use team building and appropriate social skills on playdates – We encourage children having play dates and or friends. A play date is the perfect time to see what developmental, and social level your child is on. Use special techniques to discuss emotions, proper sharing techniques, and listen to the language they use with peers. Take notes, and see how you can improve these for the next visit. Encourage success using positive words and modeling appropriate behavior.

    Photo Credit: Cheltanham Parks.


—Jessica Howard, Little Pnuts Educational Play BloggerFounder and CEO of Kid’s Night Out Parent’s Night Off in NYC.