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.

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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.

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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 »

Let Them Grow: Bringing A Taste of Winter Indoors!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Chipping Away at Winter

As winter begins to wind down and we are left to unbury ourselves from the squishy sugar snow, I would like stir in a few more weeks of winter themed activities.

Recreating a frozen world is easy and by bringing a piece of winter to the table, you can create a fine motor and sensory adventure for your little one! All of these winter themed activities are variations of the same basic idea, freeze things inside ice and challenging your child to get them out. You can freeze the objects in ice cube trays, small plastic bowls or in giant trays. Add food-grade dye to match the theme, use sparkles or sand for texture- Have fun creating a mini frozen world. Then, offer tools such as squirt bottles of warm water, eye droppers, toothpicks, forks, child knives, tweezers, mini hammers, chop sticks… or whatever you can dream up to help excavate the ice.

Here are just a few suggestions. I like to do these at the table, in trays to hold the mess. These activities also work great in a water table, in the bathtub, or outside on the ground: Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Setting Up the Toddler Who Wants to Get To Work!

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Industrious Toddler

I have found that young toddlers thrive on exploring the world around them. Finding new ways to create and explore can mean the difference between a boring day and a day filled with the emergence of new skills. Lately with the snow over the babes heads, finding new ways to master skills such as cutting, grasping, gluing, sorting and creating has taking up the bulk of our art time.

Toddlers love repetition, as you may have noticed. They love the predictability of repeated motions, motions that will soon be a mastered skill. They thrive in a child-centered environment. A place where all the tools on the table are for them to explore, there is no one telling them “please don’t touch” instead all the supplies are screaming “touch me” and “ figure me out.”

The industrious art projects that can help you through this winter are just as much educational as they are fun. Help your toddler master fine motors skills such as scissors, tweezers, knives, forks, spoons by giving them the opportunity to uses such tools on a toddler friendly forum! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Nice With Ice & Snow

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Frozen

No, this piece is not about a Disney movie that I am sure in part I have not seen because A: Oh Please No! and B: My daughter is only 4 months old- Instead this is about being literally frozen. Frozen, so cold that even 36 would be warm. Frozen so hard that the play yard and bike tires seem a solar system away. This inaccessibility is only intensified by the constant fear of the hum of boredom coming around the corner.

Toddlers and preschoolers can really spend a lot of time outdoors in the proper clothing. But there is a limit. This recent winter weather has been far from “kid friendly.” Snow is one thing, soft and fun once you shovel out, but ice is a whole different beast. Here are a few great ways to grab that beast by the horns and let the kiddos blow off some steam… Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Empowering Children to Support their Wellness

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Sick- Ok

Children love creating in the kitchen and by allowing them to help create herbal remedies; it can open the discussion on wellness and how food and plants can keep us healthy in the winter months. – To discover more folk remedies for colds and flu, check out this post from the Hilltown Families archives: 25 Western MA Folk Remedies for Colds & Flus

Having a sick child is the only thing worse than being sick yourself and ‘tis the season. In our Family Child Care, we are very particular in paying attention to the cleanliness of the children and ourselves. As the frequently used adage goes around here, “hand washing first.” When the children arrive from home they are first asked to wash their hands. They also wash after toileting and before eating. The children love washing their hands, we make it fun by singing, making lots of bubbles and discussing the importance of those clean little paws. They are also beginning to understand the importance of it without us, as adults bombarding them with too big words like “contagious” and “spread of infection”; words that can only scare a child without fully understanding them. Often in their private little circle they can be overheard pretending to wash at the play sink, or wiping their sneezes away with a tissue– this is when you know you have done a great job!

Children around the age of two begin to learn about germs. They do not really have any real sense of the huge impact this imaginative creature can have on them but they begin to follow along with the social cues we are teaching them; “cover your mouth” and “ wash both hands”. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Finding Ways to Allow Little Kids to Express Big Emotions

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Thanks Tangible

These ARE big feelings for little people. How do you get your child to express a clear emotion?

As everyone knows children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, can have a hard time expressing their emotions in socially acceptable ways. Young children love their parents, love their bothers and sisters and their families and friends more than they have the words to express. They cannot spend hours contemplating the complex feelings and compiling a love letter to mommy. They often don’t know that pushing and hitting and jumping on aren’t the only ways to show their friends how much they really appreciate them. With Thanksgiving coming, I thought this would be a great time to offer a few suggestions on how young children can acknowledge their feelings for the people that are so important to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Messy Process of Creating Art Brings Creative Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

The Convenience of Crazy

Paint brushes

Bringing a bit of order to creative free play.

Well, I am officially a mother now. Not just a care provider from 8-5, I am a Mama. I can’t send my daughter home after I have cleaned up and waved goodbye to all the other children. She stays – always.

I have historically been enthusiastic advocate for the arts and as my Bio states: “I revel in hands on messy projects.” But now, I see why some parents avoid it. The ‘messies’ are not convenient. Messy projects do not fit neatly into the nightly routine, the bath, the story and bedtime. It throws a big greasy wrench into the nice white mix of the night and clunks around in there distracting you. It distracts us from the dishes, the laundry and that book that you have really wanted to start. So how do we as parents, balance those projects with the rest of our lives? Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: “Toddlers, Meet the New Baby”

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Getting Big Ones Ready for a New Little One

Chocolate Chip Cookie…inspiration for the name of the new arrival!

I just had my first baby. I have been waiting excitedly for nine long months to meet her and finally two weeks ago she arrived. I am not the only one who has been waiting anxiously for this little love. There is a gaggle of toddlers all in which can’t wait to meet the little munchkin, whom they named Chocolate Chip Cookie for all of my pregnancy.

Chocolate Chip Cookie will be joining our troupe as the youngest among a slew of rowdy toddlers. So the question is how to prepare them to handle a newborn, how to encourage them to be kind and gentle, to be caring and loving. How to teach them about the world infants and how it differs a great deal from toddler universe. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Power in Separation

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Separation an Adventure

With the beginning of a new school year upon us, many parents might be planning on sending their children to school, daycare or even playdates for the first time. If your child experiences separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help ease their transition and enjoy their time away. As a daycare provider who often helps families move through separation anxieties, I cannot stress enough how significant it is to help your child build this early trusting relationship. In my opinion, children often learn to trust during these times of separation. They learn to trust that you as the parent will always return. “Mommy’s and Daddy’s always come back” is my go-to line. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Helping Toddlers Form Authentic Friendships

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Fostering Friendships for Toddlers

By encouraging your toddler to be a good friend, they will make good friends and have lasting meaningful relationships into their later years and even adulthood!

Watching toddlers and preschoolers grow and mature is a beautiful and amazing thing. It is such a small window and one day it swings open and the toddler who was waddling and whopping with his friends just six months ago, is now the preschooler with a strong moral compass and a kind heart. It is remarkable how fast this transformation can be and it is even more incredible to be apart of it. Watching early friendships form, fostering a child natural longing for meaningful relationships, is awe-inspiring and humbling at the same time.

Laying the Groundwork: The Foundation of Friendships

Younger toddlers do not yet have the ability to see the world from others perspective. So often it is hard for them to play “with” other children. They often play “alongside” them instead. It’s not that they don’t like or care for one another, it’s just where they are developmentally. Children even at birth love one another; love spending time together.  We are social creatures; it is what we do. Put two infants face to face and anyone can see how that interaction is special in itself. However, babies and young toddler haven’t really developed a sense of what is a friendship. It is not a give and take yet; it is more a large game of take. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Pulling the Chicken Chore Card

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Keeping Chickens with Toddlers

Chicken CoopHaving chickens is rewarding in many ways; they connect us directly to the food chain, give us a sense of belonging to the land and allow the children to take a hands on approach to caring for animals. Having chickens in or backyard brings the farm to us. It gives us the familiar rewarding feeling that hard work can bring. This sense of accomplishment is tri-fold to a toddler!

We have just recently begun the art of animal husbandry at our family day care, and my toddlers love chickens! When they pull the chicken chore card, they are so excited, becoming focused and eager. The chicken chore is combined with the compost chore, since the compost area is nearby. We usually have four chicken and compost helpers per day. With the proper preparation is in place, I have found caring for chickens to be extremely easy and rewarding for toddlers. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Backyard Bird Paradise Brings Toddlers Closer to Nature

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Feeding the Birds, Feeding the Curiosity

The Downy Woodpecker is one of six species of woodpecker found in Massachusetts. They are easily attracted into your backyard by building simple Woodpecker feeders.

Now that the warmer weather is here, it is easy for us to work outdoors.  Creating a backyard bird paradise is easy and fun.  By encouraging your toddler to take ownership of the feeders you will enable your child to build a great relationship with the nature in his or her own backyard.

Relating to nature allows toddlers to feel connected to something bigger, something beautiful and something alive. Toddlers love the opportunity to watch the world; by creating a backyard bird attraction you bring nature to your home and to your child.

In western Massachusetts, there are some very amazing birds that will join in the feeding frenzy if you put out the right seed, including Cardinals, Blue Jays, song birds, and of course the famous Woodpeckers.

Woodpeckers are intriguing to watch and can be easily attracted to your feeders. Using store bought or homemade suet and feeder, you can attract several different types of woodpeckers.

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Let Them Grow: Planting and Water Stations for Toddlers

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Next Stop: Planting Station

Spring is here and its time finally to start that garden. 
Toddlers love to play in the dirt, but are not always the most gentle with seedling and plant. This is a great learning opportunity, a time to teach your young children about the delicate parts of nature. Demonstrate to them how a stick is easy to snap; however, a seedling can break with just a gust of wind. At dinner time make the connection between food you serve and how it is grown and harvested.

Let your toddler explore the magic of the life cycle of plants by creating a planting station for them. Use an existing sand/water table or a child size picnic table to create an area just for them.  Here is what you will need… Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Learning Activities for Mud Season

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Mud Season Activities

Mud Season is the time between winter and spring. It is when the snow disappears and the grass has yet to grow. It’s when mud is the primary ground cover. It is still often too cold to take your toddler out for long periods of time, but it is warm enough to get out there for a short spell and get dirty. It is in between snow boots and galoshes; ice and mud puddles. It is the time of year that we start to think about spring but it isn’t spring enough to be able to act like spring yet… or is it? Here are several learning activities you can take advantage of during mud season with your young children that have hints of spring and loads of fun: Learning Activities for Mud Season

Let Them Grow: 10 Easy Chores for a Two Year Old

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

What A Two Year Can Do

To help your toddler gain their independence, create day-to-day learning experiences that are toddler-friendly. Attach a key ring to their zipper and buy them shoes that are easy for them to put on, and watch their self-esteem soar as they get dressed to leave the house in the morning!

What can a two year old do? I often ask myself when working with a group of twos, what can they really do. How far can I push the idea of independence for which they so much strive. What is the threshold of their capabilities? Two years old is a very special age. It’s the age where they want to do everything “On my own” and “By myself.” It’s the age of the beginning of independence, self-reliance and perseverance.

Parents are sometimes surprised at how much a two year old can do. They are talented little people with a great desire to learn and grow. With a little help, a two year old can pour milk, drink from a cup, set the dinner table, use a fork and clear the table when the meal is finished. She can take her shoes off, put on a hat, and find the missing sock. With minimal assistance, a two year old can accomplish these tasks and in doing so, develop life skills and build self esteem. Yes, sometimes this can take longer, but this extra time is valuable and can afford many beneficial learning experience.

In order to help your child have these experiences, make tasks child friendly so that they can participate. Here are some 10 easy chores a two year old child can do: Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Four Steps to Support Toddler Art

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Art Under Three

Creating art with children under three years old can be challenging if you don’t remember that it is not about the artwork itself. For a toddler there is no end result in sight. Rather it’s the process; it’s the doing. Art with this age group is the art of creating and mushing and mixing and smearing. It is the art of identifying colors and textures. It’s a depth of imagination that many of us have forgotten about.

Art with the under three crowd is messy and scattered. Projects at this age are never finished – well, until they are crumpled, ripped into pieces and thrown at the walls. That’s why when we introduce art to children in this group it is important to have age appropriate expectations and to be prepared… Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Fresh Ways to Engage Toddler’s in Creative Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Bringing the Outside In: Activities for Toddlers

It is important to recognize that at around the age of 18 months, toddlers begin to use their imagination in play. An outdoor themed bin for an older toddler should support this imaginative play and can consist of a variety of outdoor elements….

With the cold weather upon us, it is tough for a toddler to spend long bouts of time outside at the park or walking in the woods. Even with good gear, a toddler’s span outside in the cold weather is limited, so be creative and bring the outside in with the help of a “busy bin.”

The concept of a busy bin is not something I created, but one that I use regularly to keep toddlers engaged, inspired and imagining. Create several bins with your toddler and rotate their use to keep your child engaged. By helping your toddler assemble child friendly busy bins, you are encouraging imagination and innovation. Collecting the busy bin contents and putting them together with your toddler will give them a sense of ownership, as well as teach them the benefits of following through. When a bin begins to lose its appeal, simply store it away, switching it out with a different one!

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