Thursday, January 31, 2013

DIY Name Building Activity

Now that my son is starting to recognize letters with exposure from the alphabet board, I wanted to create an activity where he could see the letters in his first name. I came up with this simple name building activity. I saved a piece of cardboard that was folded in a bed sheet set I bought a while ago and it worked out perfectly! (See how it pays to upcycle!) The top of the cardboard was bent upward slightly which was great for holding up the letters. I gathered the letters in his name from the Melissa & Doug magnetic letter box I had. I traced the letters with a marker to make them stand out on top of a yellow sheet of construction paper and taped it to the cardboard. The result was a fun letter matching/name building activity.

I ended up removing the white paper because it seemed to make the letters slip. In the above photo, I mixed up the letters and my son built his name. He grasped the concept very quickly and was so proud of himself when he completed the activity.

There is another simple way to set up this activity. Since the letters are magnetic and I have an easel, I taped the paper up on the easel and put the letters on it. My son enjoyed building his name this way too! This can be done on anything magnetic, like a refrigerator, if you don't have an easel. See the picture below:

The box of magnetic letters I purchased at TJ Maxx came in very handy with so many different learning activities. This was my sons first experience working with the letters in his name. An extension to this activity is to have my son build his first, middle, and last name. 


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Upcycling Egg Cartons For Color Matching Games

Once you start upcycling, or converting waste products into something of better value, you will think twice about throwing anything away. That is what happened to me with egg cartons. There are probably thousands of creative ways to reuse them. My son loves any activity involving pom poms, so I created a color matching game using egg cartons and pom poms. As shown in the above photo, I colored in each space with a marker and left pom poms to match on the inside top of the carton. The result was a great color matching activity to keep my son busy, engaged, and thinking.

The second photo shows another option when using pom poms and a smaller egg carton. The activity is shown completed. I simply lined up one row of pom pom colors and left the second row empty for my son to match the colors.

Since the cartons are upcycled, all I needed to do was to purchase a bag of pom poms at the dollar store. This is another example of an inexpensive, simple activity to create for children. It is so easy to close the carton with the pom poms inside and keep it on a shelf anytime my son wants to play with it.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Build & Learn Shapes With Velcro Craft Sticks

I wanted to create a new way to play and learn about shapes with my son. Craft sticks are great for making shapes but I wanted to be able to build shapes that stayed together. I went to Michaels craft store and purchased a bag of small, round Velcro stickers to adhere to the craft sticks. These worked out great! Since my son is two, I build shapes for him and we play an I-spy shape game. I simply ask where the shape is and my son picks up the shape and shows me. It has been a great go-to learning activity that he enjoys. We keep the sticks stored in a box that I purchased at Michaels craft store for $1.

This learning activity is especially great for older children that can build shapes on their own. You can provide flash cards (or simply index cards) as an example of how many sides each shape has along with the name of each shape to help them as they build.



Discussing color patterns when making shapes with colorful craft sticks can be another teachable moment during this activity as well.

This activity is another example of how learning can be fun and inexpensive. My son even loves the sound that the Velcro makes when we disassemble the shapes. There is nothing more exciting to spark the love of learning in little explorers than hands on learning activities.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

DIY Egg Maracas

My son loves to sing and dance to his favorite "Wiggles" CD all of the time at home. I wanted to create an instrument for him to play with while he listened and danced to the CD. I came up with these DIY maracas.

I found inexpensive, large, see through plastic eggs at Michaels craft store and they were perfect for making maracas. This DIY project reminds me of making sensory bottles. They were so much fun to make! Simply fill the eggs with sparkly, colorful, noisy items that would be exciting to watch being shaken around.

Here is what I used to fill the egg maracas:
Mini pom poms
Mini alphabet beads
Colorful beads

This is a fun DIY project that you can create with your children. I learned that it is so important to seal the eggs with a glue gun to avoid spills and cracks, especially when using these with toddlers.

Taking the time to shut off the television and enjoy music is such a great activity during the day. Turn up the music up and shake, shake, shake!


So True...

This speaks volumes on what my blog is all about. This is adapted from the famous Benjamin Franklin quote courtesy of

DIY Alphabet Learning Board

My son is starting to show an interest in learning letters so I created an alphabet board for him. I found the large board shown in the photo at Michaels craft store. I love this board because it is magnetic and dry-erase. I glued flash cards onto the board that I purchased for $1 at Michaels. I also found a great deal at TJ Maxx on the Melissa & Doug magnetic letters shown in the photo. This activity was so easy to create. Typically, I don't like to spend this much money on DIY learning activities, but I knew this was a great learning tool that would really benefit my son for years to come.

This board has three levels of learning activities. Since my son is two years old, he uses this board on its most basic level by matching each uppercase magnetic letter to the correct card. We also practice saying letters and the words on each card. He has a lot of fun playing this letter matching activity and I love that he is being introduced to the alphabet and letter sounds as he plays.

The second way this board can be used is shown in the above photo. The magnetic Melissa and Doug letter box also came with lowercase letters. When my son is a little older he can practice matching both capital and lowercase letters to each card. This is such a great activity for letter recognition. 

The third way this board can be used is for letter writing practice. Since this is also a dry-erase board, I left room underneath each card so that my son can practice writing letters when he is ready. He can use the letters on the cards as an example of how to form each letter correctly.

*If you are looking to save money and create this letter matching activity board, simply purchase a large oil drip pan used for cars at Walmart or from an auto store. Also, this activity can be created in a smaller version with a cookie sheet and an alphabet strip. Oil drip pans and cookie sheets are magnetic! Otherwise, use a coupon for the board at Michaels craft store, which are very easy to find, as I did. 

This board has so many play-based learning activities all in one. This is a great, easy, and fun learning tool to hang up on the wall in a bedroom or playroom. It is so exciting to watch your child learn as they play!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

DIY Counting Activity - Simple & Educational

I wanted to create a fun counting activity for my son today. I realized I could use one of his favorite snacks, Fruit Loops, as part of the activity. Since my son is only two, I figured using a cupcake tray with six spaces would be a great start for number recognition and counting practice. A cupcake tray is also great for holding multiple Fruit Loop counters. I took cupcake liners and placed a number sticker within each liner. I did not want to use a marker so he could reuse and eat the Fruit Loops. The result was an exciting, and tasty, math learning activity for my son.

Here he is in action:

There are so many other options to use as counters besides Fruit Loops:
-Small rocks
-Pom poms
-Cotton balls
-Jelly Beans
-Goldfish crackers
-Linking cubes
-Paper clips
-Play-doh balls
-Jingle Bells

My son still puts everything in his mouth so I figured edible counters would be best for him right now. I was right! During the activity, he did snack on the Fruit Loops which made it even more enjoyable as it kept him actively engaged.

This activity was so simple to create with items I already had in my kitchen. I love the fact that I can teach my son important learning concepts at home without having to spend extra money.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

DIY Grouping Shapes Activity - This Cost $4 Total To Create!

I began teaching my son shapes by playing an I-spy flash card game. I knew he was ready for a hands on activity involving shapes once he was able to recognize them. So, I went to my local dollar store and created this activity for a total of $4. I purchased the party tray, a pack of flash cards, and two bags of foam shapes. I glued down a card in each section and put a mix of shapes into the middle section. I was amazed by how quickly my son picked up on how to group shapes to complete this activity.

I introduced this activity by putting one example of each shape in each section. Eventually, my son was able to complete this activity on his own. My son has fun with this learning activity and he is so proud of himself when he puts the shapes into the correct section. I always praise him for his effort and great work, which makes him smile as he plays and learns.

It is so amazing and very exciting as an educator, and as a mommy on a budget, what can be created by shopping at a dollar store. I am thrilled to share this activity because of its huge educational value at such a low cost. 


DIY Color Recognition & Sorting Learning Activities

There are so many different and inexpensive ways to create exciting color learning activities for your child. In the above photo, I set up a "toddler tray" for my son to explore. I used a cookie sheet as the tray, tupperware that I purchased at the dollar store, and brought out pom poms that I had been using for another activity. Within each tupperware bin, I put a cut out of a circle of construction paper. I challenged my son to match the pom poms to the correct bin. I was surprised by the result. What I thought might be a difficult concept of sorting, turned out to be a simple yet enjoyable task for him. We would also say the names of each color as he was playing and learning.

This color sorting activity can easily be created by simply using a cupcake tray and pom poms as well. Simply put one pom pom of each color in each section to get your child started. This is a great learning activity that works on critical thinking and organizational skills for the cost of next to nothing at all!

The above photo shows another color sorting activity I set up for my son. I purchased a pack of flash cards for $1 at Michaels craft store and found crayons to match the colors on the cards. My son really enjoyed matching the crayon to the correct crayon picture. He put the crayon on top of the picture to complete the activity.

Using craft sticks is another way to teach sorting by color as seen above. I was so excited to find these different colored bins at the dollar store. I happened to have craft sticks that match the colors of the bins. I purchased the craft sticks from Michaels craft store. This is another inexpensive toddler tray matching and sorting activity.

My son really enjoyed the activity in the above photo for months and months. I simply upcycled a shoe box, poked holes in it, and purchased some colorful large straws. I set up one side with different colored straws and had my son match the colored straws on the other side. This is a great activity that works on fine motor and critical thinking skills for the price of a pack of straws.

Have fun teaching colors and the concept of sorting with your little ones!


Monday, January 21, 2013

Toddler Collage A.K.A. Sticky Wall Art

This creative experience for toddlers is super fun and very inexpensive to set up. Simply purchase a roll of contact paper, tape the paper to a wall or door, and provide items for a child to stick onto the paper.

Here are some inexpensive craft items that my son has used to make a sticky wall collage:

feathers, pom poms, tissue paper squares, pipe cleaners, stickers, foam shapes / letters / numbers / animals, ribbon pieces, buttons, craft sticks

Even try clear contact paper taped to a glass door on a sunny day for a very colorful collage result. My toddler just loved how each item stuck to the paper. This is such an easy and exciting project for toddlers to enjoy.


Sensory Bottles

Beach Themed Sensory Bottle
I have been so excited to write about sensory bottles since I started this blog. They have been my absolute favorite toy to make for my son. I started making sensory bottles for him when he was just a year old. He is now two and a half and they never get old. The possibilities are endless!

Different Sized Voss Water Sensory Bottles
So what are sensory bottles? Sensory bottles are created by upcycling water bottles and filling them with an array of items, such as colorful beads and sequins. The purpose is for children to use their senses to explore the bottles. My son loves to shake, roll, and observe how items in the bottles move around. He has always enjoyed watching when I shake a few bottles at a time as seen in the next two pictures. My son had just turned one when I introduced sensory bottles to him on his high chair and he loved them instantly.

I purchased the Voss water bottles at TJMaxx. I was drawn to the shape of the bottle because I knew my son would be able to roll them easily on the floor. They come in a pack of six for about a dollar each. Just a word of advice... be sure to use a glue gun to seal the bottles securely to avoid any accidents.

Here are a few of our favorite sensory bottles:

Glow In The Dark Bottle
Imagine how exciting it would be to fill a dark room with a few of these bottles for your toddler! I purchased these glow in the dark bracelets from the dollar section of Michaels craft store.

Dinosaur & Glitter Bottle
It kind of looks like an interesting science experiment as you observe these dinosaurs in the bottle. I purchased the dinos at Michaels craft store for $1. Adding glitter gave it an interesting look.

Green Monster Bottle
 This bottle is so fun and silly at the same time. I used green food dye and two googly eyes to make this monster bottle.

Marble & Ribbon Bottle 
My son loves holding this bottle by each end and observing how the marble moves from side to side. This bottle seems to calm him down as he keeps an eye on the marble as it slips in and out of the ribbon.

Here are some more sensory bottle ideas:

From left to right:
1. Water, oil, kitchen soap
2. Glow In The Dark - as mentioned above
3. Sequins & Jingle Bells 
4. Ocean Mix - Mix of blue beads and sequin mix in water
5. Beach Mix - Sand, pearls, glitter, shells, beads
6. Pom Poms & Glitter

From left to right:
1. Dinosaurs & Glitter- as mentioned above
2. Mini pom poms, sequins, and glitter in water
3. Pipe cleaners cut up in water
4. Marble mix in water
5. Feathers & Glitter

From left to right:
1. Sequins & Glitter in water
2. Tissue paper squares in water
3. Marble & Ribbon - as mentioned above
4. Buttons in water 

In the above photo are mini plastic discovery bottles. These are mini, travel sized, plastic containers I purchased at CVS because they look just like the Voss water bottles. It was a very exciting find for me!

Since I have collected and created many different sized bottles, I taught my son the difference between small, medium, and large. Here he is in the above photo showing me a large bottle.

Sensory bottles are just another example of an inexpensive DIY toy that will benefit your child. It is so much fun to watch my son pick up the bottles I create for him and watch as he explores. As he gets older I will create bottles to focus on more advanced skills (For example: I-Spy word bottles, magnetic bottles, density bottles, sink/float bottles.)

Have fun creating with the endless possibilities of sensory bottles!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Easy & Educational - Sand & Glitter Box

I purchased this box at Michaels craft store for $1. I had some pink sand and glitter in my craft collection and used it to fill the box. The outcome was a great sensory learning activity for my toddler. We practice learning letters, numbers, and shapes with this box. For younger children, you could write in the sand yourself and have the child trace over it with their finger or a paintbrush and have them say what they wrote. The next step would be to have your child practice writing on their own. A great strategy would be to focus on one letter, number, or shape each week. To assist the child to work independently, a flashcard with a letter, number, or shape (or simply a post-it) attached to the inside top of the box would be another great way to practice. The way the light hits the glitter makes this such an exciting activity when the box is presented to the child too! Have fun learning!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

From Trash To Treasure: Upcycling Juice Containers Into Toddler Activities

Sorting Craft Sticks & Pom Poms Into Correct Container

It is so inexpensive and easy to create toys for toddlers using recycled items such as juice containers. In the above photo my son was sorting craft sticks and pom poms by pushing them into the correct container. Besides being fun, this activity works on fine motor and critical thinking skills.

Pom Pom Drop

Of course for younger children, simply setting up an invitation to play with pom poms and an empty juice container on the floor is just as exciting. My son loved pushing the pom poms into the hole and seeing it drop to the bottom. This was his absolute favorite activity that kept him busy for months and months! Hours of entertainment and fine motor skill building for the cost of a bag of pom poms.

Straw Drop

Any item that will fit into the top of the juice container makes for a great activity. My son loved pushing large straws through the opening just as much as the pom poms.
Other items that we have used to drop into juice containers include clothes pins, markers, and colorful pipe cleaners.

Ribbon Stuffing Activity

Another option is to set up an invitation to play with ribbon and a juice container. The child simply stuffs the ribbon into the container. This activity also works on fine motor skills. This is another inexpensive idea that will keep your toddler busy for the cost of some ribbon in the clearance section at Michaels craft store. Another option for this stuffing activity would be to use long feathers.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Sensory Bins

Simple Water Sensory Bin

Creating sensory bins are so easy, inexpensive, and fun! Sensory bins are made by filling a bin with items (such as dry pasta or buttons) for a child to scoop, pour, mix, touch, observe, smell, hear etc. Small world experiences can be set up as well as a sensory bin, such as a farm or underwater theme, for an exciting sensory learning experience.

The sensory bins I have created for my son consist of plastic tupperware bins and mostly materials I found at a dollar store, Michaels craft store, or items collected outside in our backyard. For an exciting sensory experience, simply add cups, spoons, buckets, sifters, sand rakes etc. Sensory bin play helps strengthen fine motor skills as children play, learn, and get messy.

I began setting up sensory bins in our backyard last summer when my son was a year old. I made these bins for outside play:
Water Bin & Sand Bin

Bubble Water Bin

Sand Bin With Name Dig Activity

Sand Bin With Rock Collecting & Counting Activity

Water Bin With Upcycled Milk Container Used As Water Toy

Cloud Dough Bin - 6 Cups Flour + 1 Cup Baby Oil

I wanted to create sensory bins for indoor play as well. I shopped at my local Dollar Tree store and made these bins:

Dry Pasta Bin

Farm Bin Using Dry Bean Mix

Rice Bin

Colorful Cooked Pasta Bin

I created other sensory bins with materials I purchased at Michaels craft store.

Sand, Sequins, and Pom Poms - Rainbow  Bin

Water Bead Ocean Themed Bin

Colorful Sand & Sequins Bin

Play-doh Bin

For younger children who still put everything in their mouth, food sensory bins are a great option.

Cheerios Bin

Sensory bins can also be used as an introduction to writing letters, numbers, and shapes. Children can use their fingers or a paintbrush to practice.

Salt Bin With Construction Paper At Base

Another great activity is to put sensory bins side by side for children to compare, contrast, and explore.

My Son Using Cups To Compare & Contrast a Sand Bin, Rice Bin, and Cloud Dough Bin

Sensory bins are great to keep in the house as a great go-to activity. I currently have four bins with lids stored in my playroom for my son to play with whenever he desires. These indoor bins tend to get messy so I always have a lightweight vacuum handy. I hope I have inspired you to gather some inexpensive materials and let your kids get messy with sensory bins all for the love of learning!