3 Fun Ways to Paint with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

As a stay-at-home mom, I’m always trying to come up with fun activities for my kids to do beyond coloring and Play-Doh.  Not that there’s anything wrong with these things, but my kids get bored of them pretty quickly.  And when they get bored, what do they do?  Bug each other.  Which in turn bugs me.  So it makes everyone a lot happier if I have a few new activities to offer, especially during the winter when it’s cold and we’re stuck inside and even when it’s summer and it’s hot outside. *wink*

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The ideas I’m sharing today all use the same basic medium: paint.  I bought a set with 6 different colors from Walmart for about $6.  The paint is nice and bright and easy to clean up with soap and water.  I also opted for tempera paint which is more opaque.  You could easily use acrylic paints for any of these projects as well.

No Mess Finger Painting

This is a great project for young children.  They can’t make a mess because the finger paint is inside a bag, but they still get the sensory experience from moving the paint around with their fingers and seeing the bright colors.  We did this activity with my son (21 months), my nephew (2.5 years) and my daughter (4 years). (At the time of the original post.)

For this activity, you’ll need:

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!
  • A resealable bag, such as a Ziploc, in a quart size
  • Construction paper or cardstock
  • Paint
  • Masking tape (optional)

Step 1:  Cut your paper down to size so that it fits in the bag when sealed.
Step 2:  Shake your paint well and then squirt different colors on top of the paper in various spots (the paper should be inside the bag.)

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Step 3: Seal the bag.
Step 4: Tape the bag to the table on at least 2 sides to prevent it from moving around.  (We decided not to do this and it still worked fine.)
Step 5:  Let your child “finger paint” on top of the bag.  They can feel the paint under their fingers as they move it around, but it won’t make a mess since it’s in the bag!

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Marble Painting

I remember doing this activity as a young child in preschool and loving it!  My kids liked watching the marbles roll around the bin and all over the paper.  I bought the bin and marbles at the dollar store (just two of the awesome craft supplies you can buy at the dollar store) which I can easily reuse the next time we do this activity.  I had to help my son move the marbles around, but my daughter had no problems doing it herself.

For this activity, you’ll need:

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!
  • A medium plastic bin with sides at least 3 inches high
  • Construction paper or cardstock
  • Paint
  • Marbles 

Step 1: Cut your paper down if needed to fit inside your bin.  Mine had rounded corners to I just used a roll of masking tape to round out the corners of the paper.

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Step 2: Put the paper in the bottom of the bin and squirt different colors all over the paper.

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Step 3: Drop 3-4 marbles in the bin and start shaking the bin around to get the marbles rolling through the paint.
Step 4: Remove the paper to dry and start all over!

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Cookie Cutter Painting

This activity is more geared towards preschoolers since it’s not as contained and more likely to make a mess.  Also, the bottom of a cookie cutter can be a little sharp which might be a hazard for smaller children without close supervision.  My daughter did great and just got a little paint on her fingers as she dipped the cookie cutter in the paint.  This is also a great activity to do for holidays (heart for Valentine’s Day, clover for St. Patrick’s Day, etc) or preschool (letters, number, animals, etc).

For this activity, you’ll need:

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!
  • Cookie Cutters
  • Paint
  • Construction paper or cardstock
  • A shallow container to put the paint in, such as a pie tin or paper plate
  • Tape (optional)

Step 1: Squirt some paint onto your paper plate.  I tried to squirt mine in the basic shape of the cookie cutter I was using (ie. train=oval, heart/star=circle) to make it easier to get the paint on the cookie cutter.
Step 2: Tape your paper to the table to prevent it from moving around.
Step 3: Dip the cookie cutters into the paint and press it onto the paper in different places.
Step 4:  Let dry.

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

Painting with your little kids doesn't have to be messy and can be a lot of fun!

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it gave you some fun ideas for activities to do with your kids!

What are your favorite indoor activities to keep your kids busy?

Bubble Snake

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

The weather here in Utah has been pretty crazy lately.  It will be sunny and 80 degrees one day and the next will be rainy and 60 degrees.  My poor kids ask me every morning if it’s going to be a warm day outside so they can play in the yard.  Thankfully, today the answer was yes and they were outside as much as they could be playing on the swing set, jumping on the trampoline or splashing in the water.

One of their favorite things to do outside is blow bubbles.  We go through more bubbles than almost anything else they play with.  (This could also be due to the fact that they tend to spill the bubbles…)  While my son was napping, my daughter and I made a little contraption that when you blow into it, a stream of bubbles comes out the other end.  We call it a ‘bubble snake’.  It’s really simple and costs practically nothing to make.

What you’ll need:

  • sock
  • empty waterbottle
  • scissors
  • duct tape

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

First, cut of the bottom inch of the water bottle.

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

Then cut the sock below the heel.  You may need to cut a little more off depending on the size of the sock and the size of your waterbottle.  Just keep trimming until it’s about an inch or so below where the bottle starts to taper towards the top.

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

Use some duct tape to secure it to the bottle.  Make sure you pull the sock tight so that it’s not baggy at the bottom.  This will create a better bubble snake.

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

Mix up some ‘bubble juice’, as my kids like to call it, by putting some water and liquid dish soap in a shallow bowl or container.  You can also use the pre-made stuff from the store, but I think the homemade kind works better for this activity.

Put the bottom of the sock in the soapy water and then blow through the top.  Don’t suck back in otherwise you’ll get a mouthful of bubbles (not that I know this from experience or anything…).

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

My kids love this activity.  They will take turns making bubble snakes while the other one will try to pop them.  Super fun.  Super cheap.  Super easy.  Definitely my kind of kids activity.

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

Bubble Snake: My kids love making these bubble snakes and I love that they are free to make!

I hope you have fun!

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag--Learn about how seeds grow!  A great activity to do at home with the kids or for a pre-K thru 1st grade lesson.

A few weeks ago, I thought it would be a good idea to get some starts going for our garden.  I bought some soil and those little biodegradable pots and used some seeds I already had and then planted two of each kind.  I made sure they were watered, got plenty of sunshine during the day and brought them in at night because it was still pretty cold.  This lasted about three days.  One afternoon, we had a crazy windstorm and guess what got left outside.  My little plants.  My daughter discovered them and came running inside with tears streaming down her face: “Mom!  The seeds!  They blew over!”  She was really sad about it.  Sure enough, there was dirt all over the patio and no seeds to be seen.

Since then we’ve had some snow and rain and sunny days and I haven’t attempted to start any more plants, not sure if it was really springtime yet.  One day, I remembered a time in first grade starting seeds in a plastic bag using a wet paper towel to keep the seeds moist, then sticking it in the sun and watching the seeds sprout.  Duh.  Why didn’t I think of this before?  (Answer: Probably because even though I’ve had a garden for the last few years, I’m still an amateur gardener.)  Turns out this is actually a viable way to start seeds for your garden and not just an elementary school experiment.

I decided to turn it into a little activity for my kids so they could see how plants grow.  I gathered the supplies: seeds, zip-top bags and paper towels.  (I’ve also read you can use coffee filters instead of paper towels.)

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag--Learn about how seeds grow!  A great activity to do at home with the kids or for a pre-K thru 1st grade lesson.

This was a super easy project to have the kids help out with.  I simply chose three different kinds of seeds out of my stash (which I keep in the freezer).   Then I got a paper towel and folded it down to size so it would fit inside the bag.  Using a spray bottle, I got the paper towels wet but not soaking, then placed them inside each bag.  My kids loved squirting the water out of the bottle and had lots of fun with this step.

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag--Learn about how seeds grow!  A great activity to do at home with the kids or for a pre-K thru 1st grade lesson.

I poured a few seeds into their hand which they put inside the bag on top of the damp towel.  I helped space them out, then pressed out most of the air because I wanted to tape the bags to a window and didn’t want the seeds shifting.  Another site I looked at showed them actually blowing air into the bags and then sealing them before setting them in a warm spot.  Either way you do it, the bag acts as a mini greenhouse and you shouldn’t have to open it to add any water during the germination process.  I labeled each bag with the type of seed and then taped the bags to my kitchen window.

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag--Learn about how seeds grow!  A great activity to do at home with the kids or for a pre-K thru 1st grade lesson.

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag--Learn about how seeds grow!  A great activity to do at home with the kids or for a pre-K thru 1st grade lesson.

And let’s be honest: this was just as much an experiment for me as it was for my kids.  They wanted to see things grow.  I was curious to see which seeds would sprout (if at all), which would sprout soonest, etc.  It took me back to my little first grade self, learning about how seeds grow and the excitement of watching my own seed sprout.

I took pictures on day 1, 3, 5, and 7 and you can see in the pictures how much, or how little, they grew in a week’s time.

Kid Science: Growing Seeds In A Bag--Learn about how seeds grow!  A great activity to do at home with the kids or for a pre-K thru 1st grade lesson.

I didn’t do anything scientific with my kids in terms of measuring the size or drawing a picture of the seed, but I might do this activity/experiment next year when they are a little older and my daughter will be five.  You could easily adapt this activity depending on age group.  I found a website that had a lesson plan about growing seeds in a bag and a worksheet included.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try and plant these seeds in my garden but I think I’ve still got a little time to leave them in the bag before they start to go bad.  (Garden Betty’s website gave a lot of great information on how to do this.  Check out her post for more information.)

Do you have a favorite method for starting your seeds in the spring?

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!
This post originally appeared on Muddy Little Toes where I was previously a co-contributor.

One of the first songs I remember singing to my daughter was the alphabet song.  I’d sing it while changing diapers, in the car, during bath time, waiting for dinner…pretty much all the time.  When she was about 20 months, she started singing the song on her own with a little help here and there.  By the time she turned 2 years old, she knew the song and could recognize some letters (mostly the ones in her name).  Currently, she is 3 (turning 4 in January) and she knows all the letters by sight, can write about half of them, and knows 3/4 of them by sound.  I’m not telling you this to toot my horn or say that I’m a great teacher when it comes to letters.  But there are some tools I’ve used that have proven to be successful for my daughter, and my son is starting to catch on as well (he is 18 months).  Check out the list below and see if anything catches your eye!

Sing the ABCsI mentioned this one already, but I wanted to include it as part of the list.  This is the simplest way to expose your kids to the alphabet.  Most babies and young children like songs and music and catch on quickly.  Even if you only sing the ABCs anytime you change their diaper and they’ll hear it at least 5 times a day.

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

Watch Sesame Street alphabet videos
Say what you will about letting small children watch tv, but it was something that I allowed my daughter to watch for maybe 10-15 minutes a day when I needed to distract her while I got dinner ready or used the bathroom or straightened up the house.  I wanted to make sure that any exposure she had was educational, so I simply subscribed to the Sesame Street channel on YouTube and let her watch alphabet videos and other songs.  Before long, she’d ask for the “elemeno” song and would try to sing along.

Sidewalk Chalk (3 variations)

  1. In Order: Write the alphabet out on the sidewalk, driveway or patio with chalk.  I got into a habit of doing this almost every time we went into our backyard in the summer (starting when my daughter was about 18 months).  She didn’t pick up on a lot at the beginning but just seeing the letters consistently helped her recognize them more easily as she got older. 
  2. Mixed Up: Write all the letters of the alphabet on the sidewalk, driveway or patio with chalk.  Then quiz your child on where any given letter is.  This is an activity to be used once your child is older, probably 3+.  It stimulates them mentally and physically since they are walking/running to each letter. 
  3. Trace Letters: Write all the letters out on the sidewalk, driveway or patio with chalk.  Give your child some chalk and help them trace the letters as you tell them what the letter is.  Not only does this expose them to the letters, but it also helps strengthen their fine motor skills which are important for activities like writing.
12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

Bath Crayons
This is really just another way to help introduce letters to your child.  It is fun for them because the get to color in the bathtub, but it’s also an opportunity to teach them where they (generally) won’t run away from you.  You could do all of the same activities as you would with bath crayons as you do with the sidewalk chalk.

Foam Bath Letters
Foam bath letters are similar to bath crayons but nice because the are reusable and cheaper than bath crayons.  The same activities used with chalk and crayons can be used with these as well.

Refrigerator Magnets
I bought some inexpensive letter magnets from the dollar store and wrote out the alphabet on a piece of construction paper and stuck it to the fridge.  Then I gave my daughter the letter magnets and told her to find the letter that matched the one I had written and place it on top.  She loved this activity and has asked me to do it multiple times.

Alphabet Books
This is kind of a no-brainer, but alphabet books are awesome tools to help your child learn their letters.  My kids love the ones that have the letter and objects that start with that letter surrounding it.  I think it’s a good way to help them make an early connection between letters and reading and the objects around us.

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

White Board
When you feel comfortable letting your child use markers, a white board is a good indoor activity to use to help your child practice recognizing, tracing and writing letters.  (We’ve also used our white board for shapes and numbers.)

Letters of Their Name
The first letters my daughter became familiar with were the letters in her name.  I would write her name over and over and we’d practice saying each letter.  She got to the point where she could recognize those letters in books, on signs, cereal boxes, etc.

Pencil/Pen and Paper
Recently, my daughter has been asking for pen/pencil and paper to practice her letters.  Sometimes we’ll write the alphabet and other times we’ll write words or names.  We started with her name and we’ve expanded to writing my son’s name, “mom” and “dad”.  This is another activity that helps strengthen their fine motor skills.

12 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child the Alphabet--these activities feel more like playing than learning so they'll want to do them!

Leap Frog
Once your child hits about age 3-4, letting them watch the videos put out by Leap Frog may be something you want to look into.  They cover everything from letters to numbers to reading.  I really like them because they are simple, straightforward and they use music to supplement the learning, which kids love.  My two favorites are Letter Factory and The Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park.
 

Bananagrams
Another activity we’ve been doing recently with my daughter is using the game Bananagrams to quiz her on letters.  We also spell words with the letters or ask her to spell some of the words she knows. It’s just another activity to help with letter recognition.

I hope you found something that you think will help your child learn their alphabet!  Keep in mind that all kids learn at different rates and what works for my kids might not work for yours.  But I think the key is consistency.  If you are working with your child on a fairly regular basis, they will catch on eventually and at their own pace.

What have you done with your kids to help them learn their alphabet letter and sounds?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

How to Make a Chore Chart for Preschoolers

I’ve been thinking for a while now that I wanted to give my daughter some daily chores.  She’s turning 4 next week and it’s the beginning of a new year so it seemed like a great time to get a program going for her.

I started out by making a list of chores.  The easiest way to do this was to search for ‘age appropriate chores’ on Pinterest.  There are tons of charts that break it down by age that I found so it didn’t take long to make a list of my own.

Next I had to consider her development in terms of what she understands.  The best way for her to know what chores need to be done is by using a picture.  So I looked through my list of chores and thought of one picture that represented that chore (make your bed=bed, brush your teeth=toothbrush, etc).

The biggest challenge was deciding how to help her make sure she was getting her chores done each day.  In other words, what type of chore chart did I want to do?  What was going to make the most sense to a 4 year old?  I made a list of ideas and settled on something simple: a magnet board with accompanying sticker chart.

I researched a few options and the least expensive one I found was at Hobby Lobby for $8.99.  Throw a 40% off coupon on top of that and I only paid $5.39 for an 11×14 whiteboard/magnet board.  I already had magnets and clear glass accent gems (see picture in ‘how to make magnets’ section) on hand and knew I could find some simple clip art online for the chores.  I also decided to use stickers and vinyl to organize it into an easy-to-understand chart that I could always change up or take off completely if I decide to go in another direction later on.  Plus, using my trusty Silhouette would make the design a cinch!
I took my daughter with me to pick up the magnet board and let her choose some stickers for the days of the week.  My husband and I had told her a few days earlier that I was going to make her a chore chart so she was aware of what was coming.  Plus, I wanted her to be involved in the process as much as possible so it wasn’t just us saying, “here’s a chart that I made you with all the chores you have to get done every day”.  My daughter is one that likes to know what’s coming ahead of time so she can prepare herself.

Before we get any further, let me give you a list of supplies you’ll need to make your own chore chart:

  • Magnet board or whiteboard/magnet board, size of your choosing
  • Stickers for days of the week and child’s name
  • Magnets
  • Strong glue for gluing magnets to glass accent gems (I used Loctite GO2 Glue)
  • Inkssentials Glossy Accents clear adhesive (or similar)
  • Clear glass accent gems (I found mine at the dollar store)
  • Magnet paper (I used the Silhouette brand)
  • Vinyl
  • Cardstock
  • Printer 
  • Ruler

*Note: While I used my Silhouette for this project, it is not necessary to have one in order to make this chore chart.  I will make small notes in each step where you could tweak it if you don’t have a Silhouette machine.

Making the Chore Chart

When I got the magnet board home, I measured the magnet/whiteboard itself so that I could plug those numbers into my Silhouette design studio.  I found that while the entire board was 11×14, the usable part was only 9.5x 12.25.  Glad I measured!

I opened up my design software and inserted the dimensions of the board into the ‘design page settings’ so I could see the full size I was going to be working with.  Then I opened a new page and chose the ‘letter’ size.  I pulled the clip art I saved onto this page and sized it down to fit the approximate size of the clear glass accent gems (about 1.5″) and drew a circle around it.  (Without a Silhouette: Open a word program and pull clip art from online and size it to fit your accent gems.)

Then I made it into a print and cut file (check out this tutorial for more details) and sent it to my printer.  I loaded the paper into my Silhouette machine and changed the settings to cut out the circles around the images I just printed.  I pulled them off of the cutting board and set them aside.  (Without a Silhouette: Print images, trace a circle around them and cut out using scissors or circle punch.)

Next, I opened up the file with the dimensions of the magnet board to start laying it all out.  I decided to put the days of the week going down the left third of the board and two columns going down the remaining two-thirds for the done/not done chores.  In keeping with using images instead of words, I used an ‘X’ for the ‘not done’ column and a check mark for the ‘done’ column.  You can see my screen shot of the layout below.

Since I knew I was using stickers for the days of the week, I only needed to cut out the ‘X’ and the check mark.  I had recently used the Silhouette magnet sheets for a project and knew it would be perfect (check out this tutorial for more details).  I found an ‘X’ and check mark clip art online and moved the images onto my page and sized them according to my layout.  Then I moved them to a new page and cut them out using the same method as the tutorial I just referenced.  (Without a Silhouette: You can still use the magnet sheets, but you would need to cut the shapes out by hand.)

With all my cutting done, I grabbed the magnet board and my ruler to measure out a little more exactly where I wanted everything.  I used a dry erase marker to draw my lines out to my liking then I got the stickers for the days of the week and put them on the board. (Note: Make sure that you have enough letter stickers for the days of the week, otherwise you may end up having to go back to the store to buy more.)

I used my paper cutter to cut thin strips of vinyl to separate each section which made it look nice and clean.  Then I placed the ‘X’ and check mark at the top of each column.

Lastly, I used some other stickers I had on hand to put her name in the corner of the board.

Making the Magnets

To make the magnets, you will need:

  • Clear glass accent gems
  • Magnets
  • Chore images (printed and cut)
  • Strong glue (I used Loctite GO2 Glue)
  • Glossy Accents (or similar)

Lay out your chore images in front of you.  Look through the accent gems to find the ones that are mostly round and will cover the image.  I had to sort through a few to find the ones I liked.

Open the Glossy Accents and turn it upside down over a piece of scrap paper.  Do not shake it, as this will create bubbles.  Squeeze a little out to get the flow going and then squeeze a decent amount in the center of the paper.  Take your accent gem, flat side down, and place it over the top, pressing down slowly.  As you do this, the Glossy Accents will spread out underneath the accent gem.  If it oozes out the edges, just wipe it off and set it aside.

Repeat with the remaining gems.  Let dry 20-30 minutes.

When the Glossy Accents is dry, get your magnets and strong glue.  Place a small amount in the center of the magnet and then place it on the back of the gems/chore images.  Let dry overnight.

Sticker Chart/Reward System

The sticker chart is how we keep track of how many days she’s done all her chores each day.  If she gets everything done, she gets a sticker.  If not, no sticker for the day.  If there are chores that didn’t need to be done that day, they don’t count against her.  I made a simple chart in my Word program with rewards for every 10 stickers she gets.

10 stickers=treat or candy of her choice
20 stickers=toy from the dollar store
30 stickers=ice cream cone

For my daughter at age 4, these rewards are enough to motivate her, but you could easily change them to suit your own child’s interests.

How It’s Going So Far…

As I was putting my daughter’s chore chart together she kept asking me, “Is my chore chart ready?  Can I use it yet?”  I was happy to see her excitement as I made it for her and even more happy that she likes using it so far.  It’s only been 4 days but it’s encouraging nonetheless.  Each day she moves her ‘Today’ magnet to the current day (which also helps her learn the days of the week) and looks to see what chores she needs to do.  The fact that she knows exactly what’s expected of her and that she has control over moving the magnets to the ‘done’ column is something she really enjoys.  It’s a great visual for her.

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and that your new chore chart works well for you!

What chore charts/systems have you liked using for your kids?