Let Them Grow: Feeling Fall

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Feeling Fall

Fall is such a busy time for the valley. Apple picking, pumpkin patches, hay rides, and fall festivals. All of these adventures are well worth the visit, but you can also get your kids engaged with nature based craft and sensory activities that are easy and inexpensive. Here are a few:

Prints

You can use any fruits or veggies for prints. When doing veggie prints I find it best to use a small tray with only a dab of paint on it. Using too much will distort the prints and ink-pads can develop mold. I find that using tempera paint in small amounts is ideal. Allow your child to dab or roll the fruit and then splat it firmly onto the print paper (card stock or cardboard). I find that apple, lemon, and corn prints to be some of my favorites. I like the detailed prints that onions create, but they can really burn the eyes. Combining apples and lemons makes a wildly vibrant and vivid print.

Toddlers love industrious work. Let them enjoy the print making, but also exploring the fruit, taking out the seeds and even tasting it! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: First Day Blues

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Three years ago I wrote a post about (daycare / preschool drop-off) separation and how to make it an adventure. This year, I am the mom, not the not the teacher, and it is far from an adventure; closer to a nightmare.

My three-year-old daughter had no interest in the big adventures her new preschool had to offer. She consistently woke up in the morning adamantly protesting the plans we had made for her. In my mind, I see her sweeping into the classroom with pride and confidence, greeting her teacher and friends. Instead, I was kissing and reassuring, and then ducking through smiling faces trying to escape the sirens of my child calling for me from her teacher’s arms.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Make Camping with Toddlers Easier with these Tips

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Camping with Toddlers

We, meaning my partner, our almost three year old, and our eight month old, are on a camping adventure. This year to make our vacation easier and more enjoyable with the baby, we ditched the tents for cabins at our Berkshire getaway. Savoy State Forest and Mohawk Trail State Forest are spots places with cabins in the Hilltown. So, when I say “get away,” I mean it!

There is nothing but the lake the trees and the cabins. This are no playgrounds, camp stores, popsicle stands, or hordes of other children. It is just the four of us, surrounded by the crisp morning air, the ripples on the water, squirrels, and a camp fire.

This is what I love about camping. Checking out from the day to day and enjoying my kids and my partner, one on one. While there are no distractions, full-day or multi-day outings can be stressful adventures with toddlers if you are not prepared, relaxed, and ready for the adventure! I love these types of outings and find a sense of pride when I actually have a moment to sit back and watch the kids play engaged and happy without constantly tending to them. What’s my secret? Here are my secret tips for camping with toddler:

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Two Simple Craft Projects for Toddlers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

My Pop Rocks

Dad, Aba, Pappa, Baba, Daddy, Pop… Yesterday was Father’s Day and like any teacher or mother I was racking my brain to find the most unique way to help my toddler say “I love you.” We like to find clever ways to tell the father figures in our lives that they are appreciated, needed, and most importantly, loved. Here are two fun gifts we whip up that you can do any time with your toddler and preschooler to make that special person feel even more special!  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Games and Practices for Naming and Identifying Family

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Family: A Name Game

Mother’s Day is every day for your toddler and preschooler. The love our children have for us is immeasurable.  A toddler is just beginning to express this love. “ I lobe you so much” I hear each night from my own toddler. I “lobe” her back, but she isn’t aware, or even capable for that matter, to being to understand how that love encompasses me as a mother.  It is even more unfathomable for her to begin to understand how terrified I am of anything bad ever happening to her. Mother’s Day is a good time of the year to help a toddler begin to identify these feelings and figure out what unconditional love looks.  It is a time for

Mother’s Day is a good time of the year to help a toddler begin to identify these feelings and figure out what authentic love looks.  It is a time for a family to talk about what it means to be united as a community. What it means to be together and help to keep each other safe. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Dirt Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Dirt is Some Thing

Spring has arrived here in Western MA, which means we can now move our creative play outdoors! Toddlers can make the best of anything… especially dirt! Children love playing with dirt. It is soft and malleable; cool and versatile. Children can make anything with dirt! Just recently I was served a dirt grill cheese and a side of fries. As the adults, we have to be willing to provide the dirt and the place to play. We have to be willing to see the benefits behind the mess.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Anatomy Canvas for Preschoolers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Our Paintable Body

Kids especially toddlers like repetition.  They like knowing the outcome, they like knowing the answer.  Most toddlers I know love themed based curriculums because it allows them to master a topic. It seems that every week there is a new theme in my life. Not a theme I would personally choose to embrace like types of orchids or sheet composting. Things the children in my life are interested in learning are less complicated and blatantly much more fun.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Arts & Crafts for Presidents’ Day

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Presidents’ Day

Certain holidays are hard for small children to grasp. A great example of this is Presidents’ Day. It’s a vague concept for young preschoolers and toddlers to understand there is a hierarchy in government. Instead, I have found that by focusing on a theme in the holiday children can learn and explore the idea open ended. Collages are a fun way to explore art with limited restrictions and open a dialog about complex concepts.  Here are two fun President-themed activities. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Ice Transforms the World Around Us!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Amazing Ice

It’s snowing here as I write this, and it maybe snowing where you are as you read this. It is winter in the Valley and the Hilltowns are beautiful, the river still flowing, glazed like pottery with ice. My toddler watches hypnotically as the water runs in and under and around. Clear blue water meets white ice; it’s fascinating. Getting too close to ice and water in the winter does not sound like fun with a toddler.  So I decided to come up with some creative ways to experiment with ice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: The Gift of Warm-Heartedness

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Gift of Warm-Heartedness

Photo courtesy of Dylan

During this season of giving, it may be hard to help young children fully enjoy giving to others. They can’t empathize fully with others yet, so why share? As we joke, “If I touched it, it’s mine.” Toddlers are inherently greedy; they can’t help it. It’s a learning phase and they will grow more caring and kind because of it. By making giving gifts a fun and engaging activity, we can help teach our children that sharing, giving, and going out of our way for others can be rewarding and enjoyable. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Baking with Toddlers Offers Sensory Learning & Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Baking With Toddlers

Some of my favorite time with children is spent baking. Children love it, and if I am not too performance driven, I love every minute, too! Baking with toddlers can also be a disaster, if you are not prepared or try to make extravagant things with too many steps. Baking should be fun. Baking can also be a math lesson, an art lesson, and a culinary experience. It is a time to bond and a time to create. I have two favorite things to make with toddlers, especially around the holidays: bread and apple crisp, two easy baking projects. Here are the recipes!  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Pumpkins Support Sensory Learning & Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Fruit of the Season

It’s pumpkin time in Western Massachusetts, surrounding us with their plump beauty of orange (and even white, red and yellow!). I try to stretch the pumpkin and squash season out to make the most of this harvest season. Working with toddlers makes me really appreciate the sensory experience a fruit can give them.

This week we talked about: orange, soft, seeds, and squishy. We talked about: tasty, stringy, tough skin, and soft innards. We talked about bake goods like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins. We talked often about the way pumpkins grow and what they can give us. Toddlers can begin to understand that this fruit has numerous uses — some productive and some really fun! We are going to focus on the fun.!

Last year I did a post about the fun new ways to decorate pumpkins. This year, it’s all about sensory exploration!  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Emergent Curriculum

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Emergent Curriculum: Honeybees

Now that I have a toddler in my life full time, not just during the day, I have to be more creative in my play with her. A two year old is hit or miss with activities. The smaller sensory activities are often not enough of a challenge and pre-school age activities are often beyond her ability.  That’s where child emergent based activities come into play for me at this time in my life.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: How Bugs Can Teach Toddlers Kindness & Tolerance

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Bugs of Summer

Toddlers love bugs and insects or they are terrified of them! Either way the curiosity that bugs and insects evoke in young children is endless. I am a true believer that a child that is exposed to the natural world around will have a heightened respect and a deep regard for that world. Insect’s can be scary, they are foreign, and they don’t speak, ride bikes, or eat crackers. They come in thousands of shapes and sizes. Some are safe to touch and some are not. Some are a nuisance and some are allies. How can we teach our toddlers to be kind and safe around bugs and set aside our own deep-seated opinions on bugs? How can we show them the world wouldn’t be the same without bugs? A great book for this is the 1967 classic  Be Nice to Spiders by Margret Bloy Graham. This books looks at a zoo over run with flies without the help of spiders. It is a fun read and a great topic of discussion.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Art Abandonment Supports Acts of Kindness Through Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Abandoned Art

Recently my brother got into painting rocks and leaving them for strangers to find. Art abandonment he calls it. I hadn’t heard of it, but now that I have, I thought this is a perfect way for a toddler to spread love, gain empathy and become more generous.  Not to mention a great way to brighten up the landscapes around town.

Toddlers have very little sense that they do not own the world; that every does NOT belong to them. Preschoolers are relinquishing this concept, but it’s never too early to start giving.  The concept is simple; paint rocks and leave them in areas where you know members of your child’s community can find them.  You can attach a little note or write on the back:

  • “You found free art, share it”
  • “Love is colorful”
  • “Generosity is learned”
  • “Share”
  • “Spread art, spread joy”

Or just put them out there as is. My brother chooses the dot pointillism approach. This is a great technique for the older toddler or preschooler to learn. By adding a single-color at a time in the form of a single dot can help a child experience art with extreme intention. They can focus on one color or a series of colors.

One child will group like colors together and others may create an image from multiple colors.  Some may choose to paint the rocks a solid color and that’s fine. You don’t have to restrict your child into a particular technique, instead encourage them to be as creative as they would like. Offer several different colors of paint and a bunch of different shape and size of rocks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Garden Herbs

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Garden Growth and Gifts

Our garden herbs are growing and it’s time to start reaping the rewards! Young children love to harvest, allowing them to connect to the land and have a sense satisfaction from the work they have put into growing their garden. This early summer we are using garden herbs as gifts for Father’s Day, teacher appreciation and birthdays. Here are a few recipes of the garden-based gifts we’ve made so far…  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Spring Craft Idea

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Painting With Nature

We have talked a lot about engaging children in nature-based art. It is a fun and easy way to get outside, have fun and expose your child to the process of art. We love taking the children out and collecting bits and pieces that can be used in the process. Spring is a great time for it. But, lately in the Valley and Hilltowns the weather has been unpredictable- making it tough to plan a full day outside. It has been cold and windy in the morning and warm and sunny in the afternoon. For toddlers, it can be tough to spend a long time outdoors, so we have found that we can break projects up into two parts: Collecting and then Doing, to make it more toddler friendly. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Spring Craft Idea

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Spring Craft Idea

Contact paper is a dream tool of mine. I find that children love tactical experiences and using contact paper is an easy way to offer this experience without getting messy.  Springtime is a fun time to create beautiful masterpieces that can hang in the window and catch the early light of the summer on the horizon.

My favorite thing to do is collect early spring flower pedals and let them dry for use on the contact paper. Daffodils, crocuses, dandelions, daffodils, early mint leaves are all out now and ready for picking. Dry your pedals out so they stick well. Make this a learning experience, identify the flowers and prepare them flat to make you sun catcher, place mat or art piece with contact paper. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Creative-Free Play with Kitchen Scrapes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Compost to Good Use

Spring in western MA!  Now is a time where I always like to move toward more nature-based art.  Using natural object as a medium allows us to make the connection between the land and art.  I have many favorite nature-based art projects, but my all time favorite is vegetable stamping. It’s an engaging and simple activity for even the youngest artist to participate in. All children love doing this activity, most will even eat vegetables during it! This idea is simple; use vegetables to create beautiful prints that will be worth saving and worth doing again.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Playing Sick

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Playing Sick

This has been the worst season for sickness. Well for me anyway, a first time mom with a toddler in daycare! It seems toddlers are the best and worst patients. They can ride out colds for months, in a steady stream of mucus. Or they can go under in a hail of fevers and vomit. Either way it is no fun for anyone.

After experiencing my own sick toddler, I began to think about how to smooth out the rivers of sickness that flood though our kids and find was to play sick.  Here are a few fun ways to pass the sick days away… Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Snow in the Kitchen

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Snow Where There is None

Looking for ways to “make” snow at home? Check the kitchen pantry! Shredded coconut. Potato flakes. Flour. All are great for inspiring creative-free play during a snowless winter!

Winter is here. But without snow in New England it feels a little different. I am not complaining, because it is nice to take the children out without the gamut of snow gear, however it does feeling like something is missing; SNOW!

Often winter indoor activities are quiet, clean and predictable. I have found that by creating toddler friendly sensory activities help these cold winter days just melt by. Here are a few fun snow related activities that can be adjusted for even the littlest toddler.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Words a Gift

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Words a Gift

Every month we take preschoolers to the Calvin Coolidge Nursing Home to visits whom we call, the Grandmas and the Grandpas. We have been doing this for a few years now and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how impacting it is on both generations.  It wasn’t until one of them put a call in on a banana to one of the Grandmas and told her he was coming soon and he missed her. He missed her and this is the way a 3-year-old says he cares. He missed her and he was thinking about her. What could be better than that?

The visit itself to the nursing home is an amazing gift for both the children and the residents there. The children are the center of attention (which they love), laughter fills the room and the residents are happy and engaged. Often they reminisce about the past and their children, whom are grown and grandparents themselves. They gently sweep the faces of the children and they both smile. A priceless gift!

Here are a couple of gifts that integrate creative-free play with thoughtful ways children can reciprocate their love and caring of the elders in their life… Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Giving Back This Holiday Season

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Giving about Giving

Recycle brown paper bags into “donation bags” this holiday season and join a local family friendly effort to bring kindness and giving to the holiday season!

This is the time of year to think about not just our families but also for our community. Living in such a small valley makes it easy to make connections that are meaningful and valuable. One easy activity that will help your children understand the value of giving and gratitude are donation bags!

At my daycare we have teamed up with Lindsay Fogg-Willits, owner of Art Always in Florence, and came up with this awesome easy activity. Giving helps us all feel fulfilled in so many ways; it helps establish the means for empathy are caring, besides it just feels good.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Halloween a Thanksgiving

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Halloween a Thanksgiving

This Halloween, kids can give back when receiving candy from their neighbors. Here are 4 easy handmade crafts kids can make before Halloween night to carry with them and to give back to neighbors.

It is Halloween, a time of year everyone dresses up! Young children especially love this time of year! For them, this their costumes and love for pretend play, it’s Halloween all year round. Finally everyone is playing along!

It is also a puzzling time for toddlers and preschoolers. When toddlers go door to door during Halloween it is exciting and mysterious. They knock on strangers’ doors and get candy for being brave, dressing up, and playing along. A fun way to make the whole experience more engaging and reciprocal is to give back to those neighbors, to the community, to the generous people behind the candy.

Here are a few easy crafts that you can carry along with your children the night of Halloween.  Invite them to exchange their handmade craft with their neighbors giving out candy, strengthening community connections and allowing your kids to give back.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: 4 Pumpkin-Based Arts & Crafts

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

What Else to Do with that Pumpkin

Pumpkin time is here!  I thought of all the basics of what to do with the pumpkins outside our door: cook them; paint them; smash them; carve them. I love all of these ideas, because I just love pumpkins! Most of all I love carving pumpkins. But, having infants and toddlers around makes pumpkin carving a little more interesting, a little less mainstream, and a lot less intricate. I went from detailed mountain scene to a face that not a face at all, but more like two juxtaposed triangles and a rectangle block mouth. I thought to myself, pumpkins should be more than that… They deserve more than that! And so do the kids! This month I’m sharing four pumpkin-based projects you can do with your toddlers that support creative-free play while celebrating the season! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Three Edible Creative Free-Play Recipes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Eat What You Play!

Now that my newborn is becoming a toddler overnight, I have begun to include her in toddler–esque art projects. This is exciting in so many ways. As all kids, she explores, experiments and creates every waking moment. Like every one-year-old she loves sensory exposure at its best- mostly by mouth. So, the question became how do I include her without poisoning her, letting her choke, or dumbing down toddler activities? Because she mouths everything and taste it just the same, I decided to create a few sensory activities that would be safe and fun for both infants and toddlers. And what do they both love? Food! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Nature-Based Art

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Nature-Based Art

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It is summer, it’s warm and the season is the child’s pallet. Summer time water play is always a go to and there are many amazing outdoor nature-based art projects for toddlers that will keep them engaged and involved at home. Nature-based art is not only fun and beautiful but it is also a free and open ended way for your child to explore art in a natural way.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Creating Child Friendly Food Experience

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Play With Food

Stirring, whisking, beating, blending, pouring and smearing are all ways that your child can help you in the kitchen. Using these verbs while working can be very helpful to making cooking and creating fun and help your child become more skilled in these areas.

I can see why adults are continuously reminding children not to play with food. It’s messy, it’s rude and it’s bad mannered but it is FUN! So, why not? Food is fun, it’s squishy and adults are always playing with it. We are always there at the kitchen counter cooking, cutting and serving so why not let your little one have a little fun in the kitchen and allow your child to experiment with foods in a natural way.

Cutting foods, pouring water and self-feeding are amazing skills that even the youngest toddlers can master with little practice. Introducing utensils at a young age can only help your child develop the fine motor skills that it takes to self-feed and master skills that she will need to become a skilled independent preschooler.

Offering the opportunity is the first step in creating a child friendly food experience. It is easy to prepare a child friendly work and feeding space in your home or outside. This area will help give your child clear expectations of what should happen there.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Getting Engaged Through Blowing Bubbles

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Giant Bubble Day

Bubbles are so much fun for everyone, they are strange and exciting and have the characteristics of a liquid, soil and air all at once. Infant and toddlers will want to explore all areas of the bubbles. Making giant bubbles is so much fun for adults as well. Try to encourage the toddler not to eat them or get them in their eyes. Otherwise let them play. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Getting Ready to Travel

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Getting Organized for Travel is Key to A Successful Trip

Fruit kebabs. Organize a bento box with a lot of different fruits and little wooden skewers – Include a pattern sheet that your child can try to match: apple, grape, apple, strawberry . This is a fun brain game!

As Spring rolls in, many of us will roll out. The travel bug may bite you too! The idea of free play while traveling in airports and on planes can seem nearly impossible for you and your toddler. However, by planning appropriately and creatively, you can make travel with your toddler a great adventure and a great memory for the whole family. Read the rest of this entry »

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