Summer Week 1: June 5-9

Real. Meaningful. Family.


Make a Tie like Daddy’s

Parent prep: From white construction paper, cut out a tie shape. From other various colors of construction paper cut out fun shapes for your child to glue onto the tie. It could be stripes, circles, zig zags, hearts, stars, anything that will be fun for the tie.

Let your children decorate daddy’s tie. For younger children it is sometimes easier to dip the decorations into a small puddle of glue. Older children get get their fine motor muscles working by using a stick of glue or squeezing liquid glue onto the paper. It’s ok if it gets messy! Let them decorate their tie as much as they like. Describe what they are doing and ask them to describe back to you as much as they can.

Stuff to Have


-Construction paper, for tie

-Construction paper decorations

-Stickers, optional


Developing Skills

Fine motor, art…

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25 Super Duper FUN Learning Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

When I say the word “learning” what do you think of?

Books… School… ABC’s & 123’s… Math… Science… Grammar… History… Quantum Physics?

Not bad associations with the word learning!  Now check out my 25 Super Duper FUN Learning Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers and I’ll catch you on the flip side to talk about it!

  1. Go to the grocery store.
  2. Play at the park.
  3. Blow bubbles.
  4. Play with play dough.
  5. Build a fort or a tent.
  6. Cook something together.
  7. Pick wildflowers.
  8. Play music and dance or make up new moves.
  9. Sort toys by color, shape, or size.
  10. Run, jump, and climb, inside or outside.
  11. Make a sticker collage.
  12. Take a bath.
  13. Pretend play.
  14. Find shapes in the clouds.
  15. Have a snack.
  16. Go for a walk.
  17. Color.
  18. Roll a ball.
  19. Make and play homemade instruments.
  20. Play hide and seek.
  21. Sing a song.
  22. Finger paint.
  23. Bring your child’s favorite animals to life with a puppet show.
  24. Read a book.
  25. Do nothing. Rest and snuggle together!

Are you thinking that is NOT a super duper FUN list of learning activities for toddlers and preschoolers? Are you thinking that is a super duper boring list of things that happen every day for toddlers and preschoolers?

You’re right! These are super simple things that are huge sources of learning for toddlers and preschoolers. Learning for young children doesn’t come in the traditional form of learning that we typically think of and it doesn’t come from making them sit down and learn what we want to teach them.

Learning starts with US! It takes us asking questions, making every day interactions interesting and applicable to their lives. Describing what we see and making connections for them. Playing along side them allows them to see our ideas and try them in their own play, it makes our relationship stronger, and is teaching them ways to interact with others.

So, this list of 25 things are some of the best (although not the only) ways that we can play with our kids on a daily basis. They will learn so much about themselves, social interactions with us and others, their language abilities will grow, as well as personal experiences with scientific and math properties (water, volume, matching, colors, observation, sorting, seriation, etc.), fine motor processes to lead to future use of scissors and writing utensils (stickers, picking up small objects, using utensils like forks, spoons, measuring cups, stirring, dumping etc.), problem solving abilities to stick with problems in their environment, art processes and letting creativity and imagination thrive, and lot’s of other areas of learning!

These are the types of concepts that I try to spread out throughout the weeks in my weekly activities. They should be simple, they should be developmentally appropriate, and they should be opportunities to play together to enhance their learning and your relationship! That is what my goal is every week with these activity plans. Not to create toddler or preschool “school” but to set aside time each day to ensure we are playing together with our little ones!

So, let’s go play together!

Capturing the Rainbow

 The work will wait while you show your child the rainbow…

But the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.

-Erik Erikson

Just a sec… no, I’m not tearing up, I just have something in both eyes…

That quote gets me every time!

I have a major tendency of going overboard for special occasions… birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, holidays… I have that in common with Clark Griswold I guess…

I think there is something great about setting aside that time as different than the rest of life. Life kind of stinks sometimes, right? The world is chaotic, even scary at times, and in general ranges from over-scheduled chaos to the hum drum boringness of making food (it’s constant right? Or is that just my house?), folding laundry, and cleaning up the latest milk spill on the floor. So, when something is special, I want it to feel totally set apart from all of that… not ordinary, or every day, but fun, pretty, exciting, sometimes sparkly, and different. This isn’t to say that this is normal or necessary (my husband can attest to this), but just to give a glimpse into some of what drives me.

I realized a couple of years ago that I didn’t just want special occasions to be set apart from daily life, but I wanted to have chances every day that were set apart and meaningful. I was tired of putting my kids to bed feeling like I hadn’t done anything with them, rather we had just kind of gone through the routine of the day, coexisting rather than interacting.

…I have a point, and it does relate to this blog…

So, I started to fashion my schedule around my kids as my first priority and using these activities as a set way to know what I was going to do with them. Instead of working my kids in around everything else, I started trying to work in everything else around my kids. Now obviously it doesn’t take a plan, or special materials to connect with our kids or to have them learn. What this plan did for me was take away the constant “what should we do today?” It was just ready to go and I could focus on our time playing together.

And that’s what I want to share here in this blog “space”… my first goal is getting moms (or dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters) playing together with kids in a developmentally appropriate way. To take out the guesswork and have little to no prep, in order to set aside time each day to do something together with our kids. Not to mention, they are going to be learning, because toddlers and preschoolers are constantly learning!

Now, as an aside… the takeaway here is not perfection in parenting or teaching children. It’s about being real too. There are still busy days that we don’t get activities done. So, that’s why I wrote 25 Super Duper Fun Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers. Check that out to learn more about how these little guys learn… I think it will help take a lot of pressure off of your daily life! 

What’s in store for the next year you ask?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

The activity plans will continue to post with fun, developmentally appropriate activities and my tips and ideas to keep them fun and interesting.

My goal for the next year is to talk about research as it applies to children, development, families, relationships, discipline, education, and on and on… tons of topics that I think anyone with kids will want to hear. When I was in grad school I always felt like research information that would benefit families got stuck in something of a research cloud. It’s been my goal ever since then to get that information out to people that it matters!

So, that’s a little bit about where I’ve been and where I’m headed. It doesn’t feel possible that a year has gone by, but I’m extremely happy to have that milestone under my belt. If you want more information about me or my blog check out these pages:

Welcome to Real. Meaningful. Family.

Dr. Emily’s Story

Why Real. Meaningful. Family?

And of course…

Happy Playing!

There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

-C.S. Lewis


Winter Week 12: February 20-24


Yarn Mittens

This art activity gives your child to “knit” their own mittens while using their creativity and fine muscle movements. Cut various lengths of yarn. Let children either dip their yarn in glue or squeeze glue onto their mitten. Then they can stick their yarn onto the mitten and decorate it as they like. Talk about what the child is doing (narrate) and ask them questions. It’s a good opportunity to talk about colors and texture of the yarn, as well as to expound on the activity by talking about what our mittens feel, look like, and what their purpose is.

Stuff to Have

1 (or 2 for a pair) large mitten(s) cut out (see “Mitten Match” instructions below)



Developing Skills

Art, fine motor, color, gluing

Fine Motor

Cotton Balls

This is the same idea as the classic sensory sand table (the at-home version) only instead of sand use cotton balls or white craft balls. Fill the large plastic container with 1 or 2 bags of cotton balls. Your child can dig in and experience the texture of the cotton balls, the weight, and also volume when they use the cups and measuring cups.

Stuff to Have

Bag of cotton balls

Large plastic container

Measuring cups, bowls, spoons, etc.

Developing Skills

Fine motor, sensory

Problem Solving

Snowball Transport

Set out cotton balls (or craft balls) in a large bowl along with the empty muffin tin or ice cube tray. Let your child experiment with different types of utensils (tongs, spoons, tweezers) to move the cotton balls from the larger bowl to the small compartments. Younger children will have an easier time using spoons, and older children might enjoy the challenge of tongs or tweezers.

Variation: If using colored craft balls make sure to talk about the colors. Older children might enjoy sorting by color adding an early math concept to this activity.

Stuff to Have

Cotton balls or craft balls

Spoons, tongs, tweezers, etc

Muffin tin or ice cube tray

Developing Skills

Fine motor

Early Math & Science

Mitten Match

Adult prep, making the mittens: Grab 5-8 different colors of construction paper. Use your own hand, or your child’s hand to trace around. Make sure to keep all 4 fingers together and thumb sticking out to get the mitten look. Cut 2 mittens out of each color. Have children match the mittens based on color.

Variation: cut out 4 mittens from each color. Cut 2 small and 2 large. Children can not only match based on color, but also based on size.

Stuff to Have

5-8 pairs of construction paper mittens

Developing Skills

Early math, colors

Cooking & Baking

Mitten Cookies

This is going to be pretty easy, but a fun way to incorporate the mitten theme into cooking this week. Mix up your favorite sugar cookie dough recipe, or just use store bought. Whatever’s easiest. Then roll it out to about a 1/4 inch thickness, just like if you were going to use cookie cutters. Now, instead of using cutters, place your child’s hand on the dough with four fingers closed and thumb out… the shape of a mitten! Repeat as often as you can on the dough, and you have cute, mittens just the size of your little one!

Bake according to your directions, let them cool, and then decorate. My icing recipe is below.

Of course, all throughout get your child involved as much as possible. Dumping, stirring, rolling out dough. Make it their project and you will have an easier time letting them fully participate.

For the icing:

Combine butter and powdered sugar and about 1/2 cup of the cream. Slowly add more cream until you reach the desired consistency for your icing. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Separate into smaller bowls and add desired food colors.

Stuff to Have

Your favorite sugar cookie recipe or store bough sugar cookie dough

For the Icing:

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup-1 cup Half & half cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

Various food colors, optional

Developing Skills

Fine motor, sensory, cooking & baking, early science & math

Add on Activities

Large Motor: As it starts to get colder getting large motor movement into the day gets harder and harder to do. Definitely take every chance you can to bundle up and get outside to run, jump, climb, and play! But on the days that you can’t, get creative. Try yoga for young children, keep a balloon up in the air, toss scarves up and try and catch them, or have a silly dance party. Not only will your kids have fun, they will be learning and growing at the same time!

Music and Rhymes: Have fun looking for winter themed music and rhymes! Hearing rhymes and the sing-songiness of music is building a foundation of phonics for learning letters and reading in the future! But for now, just be expressive and silly and have fun with it!

Books: Head to the library or read some of your favorite winter books. Reading is such an important activity for building vocabulary and adding to that foundation for reading in the future. Not only are they getting so many learning benefits from reading, but you are getting special one on one time with them!

Join us on Facebook!  For more tips about play, activity plans, large motor, music and rhymes, and book ideas check out the Real. Meaningful. Family. Facebook page at

Mostly enjoy your child and happy playing!

Time for Art: Foot Christmas Tree

Real. Meaningful. Family.

You can’t beat a craft that involves those little piggies! Collect your construction paper, green paint, and have a wet towel on hand (don’t forget that, or while you go get it, you’ll end up with a path of green footprints through your house!).

Oh look at that cute little foot!


Paint the bottom of your child’s foot green, make sure to get it nice and coated! Then press it down onto the paper, careful to not let it slide around. Now, if you’ve read my art posts in the past, you know I’m a big fan of just letting your child experiment with the art process rather than instructing them and over controlling them through the process. But, in the case of this first step I say help them get a good stamp of their foot on the paper. They can have control again when it comes to decorating…

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Cooking and Baking with Young Children

Real. Meaningful. Family.

Is it just me, or are some of your fondest memories getting to cook as a child? But, does the thought of cooking and baking with toddlers make you cringe thinking of the mess?

Head to toe covered in flour and sugar,

                 eggs stuck on the ceiling…

                                           chocolate chips up the nose…

Of course it’s never that bad, and cooking and baking can be quite fun, even for us! There are two pieces of advice I have for you when you are cooking and baking with toddlers and preschoolers

  1. img_1221Before you start… mentally prepare beforehand and accept the mess. I’m being dramatic of course, but realize it is going to be messy, and messy experiences are good for our kids. Hopefully you’ll…

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In the Kitchen: Pumpkin Pie Muffins

I think I’ve said before that I’m no baker or chef… my training is definitely in families and child development. I do enjoy cooking and baking though, so I’m always excited when I accidentally come across something that we all end up really liking! I guess what I’m saying here is I’m no food blogger… but I think you all might like this!

A couple of weeks ago I had some leftover pumpkin, and an unexpected itch to bake by myself for once. So I went looking for a recipe to use up my pumpkin as well as a package of pumpkin pie pudding that I had, had in my pantry since last fall (don’t worry it was still good I checked!). I was so impressed with myself thinking of killing two birds with one stone! So, I came across a recipe that I thought I would try. I got going mixing together my dry ingredients, and then my wet ingredients.

I’ve got the pudding mix used finally, and as I’m halfway through mixing together the wet and dry ingredients I realized I hadn’t used the leftover pumpkin! That was my whole reason for making these in the first place! This pumpkin recipe had no actual pumpkin in it, just the pumpkin spice pudding! I had to get that pumpkin used, so I thought what the hey I’m doing it, I’m putting it in too. They’ll just be extra pumpkin-y, the kids won’t mind! So, I plopped the rest of that pumpkin in and called it good. I decided at that point I was going to call these muffins instead of cookies, and once they were baked off I was blown away. They weren’t too pumpkin-y, they were moist and delicious, and had a cross over consistency between pumpkin pie and a muffin… so, they are my pumpkin pie muffins!


We got the pumpkin added at the right time the second time around!

I had pumpkin muffins in the plan for this week, so how perfect to use my newly found accidental pumpkin pie muffins. And they are a great fun way to get your child involved dumping, scooping, mixing, and then at the end tasting of course! I’m sorry though, we went through the process so quickly this time I didn’t get any of my usual pictures at the end. I guess we ate them too fast! But you know what a muffin looks like, right?

I started with great intentions on the picture taking, and I got off to a great start showing what it looks like when I start cooking with my kids. I like to have everything ready. If I don’t I end up running all over the kitchen leaving kids unattended with irresistible ingredients. It just makes it so much easier and more efficient.


2 1/4 c. flour (we used whole wheat)

1 pkg. (3.4 oz) pumpkin spice pudding

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. butter, softened

1/2 c. packed brown sugar

1 c. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Cream together butter and brown sugar and then add pumpkin puree and vanilla. Once well combined add eggs to wet mixture and mix well.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Combine well, but don’t over mix. Finally, fold in chocolate chips.

Drop batter into muffin tins and bake for 10 minutes for mini muffins and 12-15 minutes for larger muffins.

Enjoy and Happy Baking!


Time for Art: Torn Paper Apple

I may or may not be a little obsessed with apples, leaves, and pumpkins in these fall activities! I guess those are what represent fall the best to me.


Just like in most other art activities the objective for this is the process, not the outcome. So, things like tearing the paper, getting acquainted with and experimenting with the paper and the glue, and then figuring out what happens when they stick little pieces of paper to the apple, are the main parts of this activity. For that reason, you can get creative with what your child is making. If you are sick of apples and pumpkins, make a football shape and your child could fill it in with brown paper; or draw a bare tree on blue paper and let your child tear up red, orange, and yellow paper to fill in the fall tree branches with “leaves.” You can modify the activity to fit your child’s interests, age, and their individual level of development.


To start off with this activity draw your apple (or pumpkin, football, tree…) and cut them out. You can make them big, little, medium… whatever size you think your child can handle. Keep in mind though, too big might be overwhelming. Now pull out a piece of construction paper- the right color for whatever you are doing and let your child go to town. Ripping paper for some reason is so fun for little kids, but surprisingly, it takes quite a bit of forearm and finger strength. I sometimes give some help with this by getting some tears started to keep my kids interested (especially when they are on the younger spectrum of age).


Let’s talk about what’s going on in this activity:


Art Processes: Kind of like I said earlier, this is all about getting to experiment and try new things with paper and glue, all the while making their own artistic creation. It’s really as simple as your child realizing, “Hey, this looks more like an apple the more red pieces I glue onto the paper.”


Fine Motor:  If most art projects include fine motor processes, this one is super loaded! The paper tearing plus gluing and sticking on the little pieces of paper is a great workout for those little fine muscles.


Happy Playing!


In the Kitchen: Apple Pie Pockets

Well somehow I missed this post coming out a few weeks ago when apple pie pockets were planned, so I thought why not share it now on this free cooking and baking day! So, read this and then go make something yummy together!


Preheat your oven to 400. Start by rolling out your pie crust- and when I say rolling out I mean unrolling, because ours was definitely from the store! I did stretch it out a little with the rolling pin to get a little more out of it. Now get your child involved (with your help) to cut out the pockets. We worked together with a pizza roller to trim the edges and make a square and then cut the dough into 4 large squares.

You could cut any shape you want though, circles, squares, rectangles, or using an apple cookie cutter to make an apple shaped pocket would be so cute! Just remember if you cut it out with a shape cutter you need a top and a bottom rather than folding the dough over.

Now, combine the apple chunks, sugar, and cinnamon together. Spoon about a tablespoon of the apple chunk mixture onto one half of the dough square and run a finger wet with water around the edge of the square. Fold over from corner to corner (your final product will be a triangle shaped pocket if you chose to cut out the square shapes) and crimp the edges of the dough to make sure it stays closed.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

As you go through this baking process try to get your child involved in as much as you can. Have them scoop and dump the sugar and cinnamon into the apples, help them cut the dough, they can run their finger around the dough with water, fold it, and crimp the edges maybe with a little help from you! You can ask questions about what they think is going on, describe what you are doing when they really can’t help (ie. cutting apples and using the hot oven), help them taste the cinnamon and sugar on the apple chunks (it’s delicious!), turn the oven light on so they can watch the change, and continue the discussion when you finally get to eat your treat! Doing all of this, and making it their cooking activity will make it so fun and special for them, all the while they are learning so much!