Great Games for Toddlers and Preschoolers

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Buddy is really into games right now. It’s really fun that he’s finally old enough for us to play games as a family. Before Christmas, we started playing memory and go fish with a tiny Thomas the Train card set, which was a favor from his Thomas the Train birthday party. We also tried a game from our library (Zingo), and he immediately fell in love with it. I asked my family to get games for us for Christmas, and we got some awesome ones! All of them are appropriate for both toddlers and preschoolers.

Disclaimer – the Amazon links below are affiliate links, and they are all products I love. If you choose to purchase an item through one of these links, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting my family. 

Most of the boxes for these games suggest them as for ages 3 and up, but they can be appropriate for younger kids. I’ve listed the needed skills for each to help you decide if it is appropriate for your child. Right now, Buddy is 33 months old, but he would have been able to play most of these at a younger age. Not only are these games a lot of fun, but they also help Buddy to work on many different skills, including learning to take turns and to be a good winner/loser.

Zingo

Skills Needed: Matching pictures

Skills Practiced: Fine motor skills, counting, comparing numbers

Zingo is Buddy’s favorite game right now. We play at least 3 rounds of it every day, and he can’t get enough of it! The idea is simple – be the first to match all of the pictures on your card. The red shooter dispenses the pictures, and they can be inserted in a slot on the shooter if they aren’t needed. We count how many pictures we have, how many more we need, and who has more pictures. There are two different levels of cards, and one side has more overlapping pictures between the cards to make the game more competitive. There are several other versions of this game including sight words, counting, and spelling.

Uno Moo

Skills Needed: Matching colors and farm animals

Skills Practiced: Colors, counting, fine motor skills

Uno Moo is a great version of the classic Uno game for young children. Each player starts with five animals, and you take turns putting them into the barn by matching either the color or the animal. There are figures that represent wild cards (the little boy) and draw two cards (skunks). Buddy loves the little figures, and it’s easy for him to know what can and can’t be matched. I got the older version of this game because I wanted the haystacks to hide the animals and the puppy figures. (Both are not included in the new version.) There is also a card version of this game.

Stack Up

Skills Needed: Stacking blocks

Skills Practiced: Colors, counting, fine motor skills

Stack Up is a cooperative game. Players work together to stack all 12 blocks before the smasher smashes the tower. Younger players use their hands to stack the blocks, but older players work together to use sticks to stack the blocks. You spin the spinner to determine what color block to stack. If it lands on the smasher, the figure moves forward one space. If any blocks fall, the smasher moves forward again. Buddy can hardly stand the excitement by the end of the game (see the second picture above)! There are challenge cards and two different types of sticks to challenge older players.

Seek A Boo

Skills Needed: Matching pictures

Skills Practiced: Memory, vocabulary, counting, shapes, colors

Seek a boo is a spin on the classic memory game. There are 36 large circle cards and 36 square find it cards. All of the cards are split into groups of six with a different color and a different topic (shapes, animals, clothing, outside objects, food, and toys). The child spreads out the six cards, and the parent shows a square card with a picture to find. We count how many times it takes for Buddy to find the matching card. After you do the first six, you can do another round with a different color. You can do two or more colors at a time to make it more challenging for older children.

Go Fish

Skills Needed: Matching farm animals

Skills Practiced: Find motor skills, counting, comparing numbers

Go Fish is a classic card game that is usually played with older kids. I really wanted to find a Go Fish deck for Buddy’s stocking since he loved playing it so much with his Thomas cards. But his Thomas set only had 8 matches, so it wasn’t really enough to play a good game. Most decks out there are made for older kids that can read numbers. But the set that I linked above just has pictures of farm animals. The deck is set up to get all four cards of each animal, but we just play with half the deck and have two card matches. We got this card holder to help Buddy hold his own cards, and it’s a great fine motor activity putting cards in and out of the holder.  When we finish the game, we count the amount of matches that each person has and compare the numbers to see who wins. We have also played memory with these cards.

Memory

Skills Needed: Matching pictures

Skills Practiced: Memory, counting, comparing numbers

Memory is a preschool game that has been around forever. It’s a great way for young children to work on remembering things, which is a great skill to practice. I made the set shown above on Shutterfly with pictures of our extended family. We have a large extended family, and none of them live close to us. This is a great way for Buddy to learn everyone’s names. He loves seeing everyone’s pictures and pictures of himself with them. When we finish each game, we count our matches and compare to see which person won.

Candy Land

Skills Needed: Color recognition

Skills Practiced: Fine motor skills, colors

Candy Land is another classic game for preschoolers. Small characters travel a multicolored path towards the Candy Castle. Players draw a color card to figure out where to go on the path. Specially themed candy cards send players forward or back to specific points on the board. Whoever reaches the castle first wins. Picking one card off the top of the deck and moving the figure on the path are both great ways to practice fine motor skills.

Our family loves playing all of these games, and I ‘m sure your family will too. Have I missed any great toddler or preschool games? Please leave your ideas in the comment section.

Wooden Puzzle Storage from the Dollar Store

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Did your child get wooden puzzles this holiday season, and you’re wondering how to store them? If so, you are in the right place.

Buddy got some wooden puzzles for his first birthday, and I wasn’t sure how to store them. The puzzle racks are kind of expensive and take up a lot of space. They also didn’t fit the Melissa and Doug Chunky Puzzles, which we have. So I went looking for alternative puzzle storage solutions. I saw the idea for using plastic envelopes from the dollar store on Ally’s Helpful Hints for Mommies’ Blog. These large envelopes are packaged three for a dollar, and they are the perfect for wooden puzzles!

The regular peg puzzles fit perfectly into these envelopes without any adjustments needed. 

The chunky puzzles fit in the envelopes, but they were too big to close with the snap provided. I used two Velcro dots to fasten the envelope at the right place. I store these puzzles on their edges lined up like books in Buddy’s closet. They take up little space when placed vertically, and all of the pieces stay together in the envelope. I can’t take the credit for coming up with this idea, but I hope my sharing it has been helpful for you.

Laundry Basketball

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Happy New Year! My resolution for 2017 was to blog every Monday of the year, and I’m thrilled to say I was able to keep it! I hope to maintain that goal for 2018 as well. Thanks so much to everyone who has read this blog in 2017. Your comments and pins mean so much to me.

Buddy and I made up the game of laundry basketball a few weeks ago. It is so easy, and so much fun, that I had to share.

Usually, when I fold Buddy’s laundry, he’s always in my way. Sometimes he wants to help put away things like washcloths and small blankets. But often, he wants to either dump everything out of the basket or put a bunch of stuffed animals in it. (Read here about our laundry basket stuffed animal activity.) Both make it difficult for me to get the laundry folded and put away.

Buddy has a beach ball in his room, which we throw around a lot. On this day, Buddy decided to try to throw it in the laundry basket. This game was the perfect activity for the two of us while I folded laundry! Much of the time, he missed the basket, so nothing affected my folding. When he missed, he happily ran after the beach ball to try again. Sometimes, the ball came into the basket when I was pulling out clothes. When this happened, I batted the ball away, and he didn’t get a basket. Buddy thought this was hilarious! And sometimes, he was able to get a basket when my hands were busy folding or putting things away.

When I got around to taking pictures, my laundry basket was mostly empty. But when we started our game, it was completely full!

This game was the perfect activity for the two of us. Buddy got some practice with his gross motor skills, and he had a ton of fun.  I was able to fold laundry and have fun at the same time. Best of all, there was nothing to clean up when we were done. Laundry basketball will definitely be a regular game in our house for a long time.

Do you have any ideas for other easy games? Please share in the comment section!

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Christmas Cutting Box

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I’m always looking for fun and easy ideas to do with Buddy. When I first saw the idea of doing a cutting box on Paper and Glue’s blog, I knew Buddy would love it. He’s been learning to use scissors at school, and he’s very excited about it. We’ve done very little cutting at home so far. I want to help Buddy learn, so I knew this would be the perfect activity for him.

I bought these toddler scissors (affiliate link) for Buddy. They are kind of magical. They cut paper, but they don’t cut skin, hair, or clothes. These scissors are perfect for helping Buddy learn to cut in a safe way.

Last weekend, when I was wrapping some gifts, I set aside scraps for Buddy. I included several different sizes of wrapping paper, some paperboard, ribbon, and a bow. I meant to put in some tissue paper in there as well, but I forgot. 

We have a Christmas activity advent chain (read more about it here), and I set this as an activity for one day. It was great as a low prep activity. I pulled out the box and scissors, and that was everything we needed.

Buddy was very excited about cutting the different items. He did well with the wrapping paper. He’d cut a piece, scrunch it up, and hand it to me. “Here’s your present!” Buddy thought that was a lot of fun. When I left to start dinner, he ran back and forth over and over to give me more “presents”. (His table is within my eye sight in the kitchen. If he was using sharper scissors, I wouldn’t have let him finish this activity without close supervision.)

Buddy did have some difficulty cutting the bow and ribbon with his safety scissors. I was able to do it, but both needed to be held taught  to be cut. If you are using regular kids’ scissors, it shouldn’t be a problem to cut ribbons and bows.

This would make a great after Christmas activity because there is always a bunch of wrapping paper trash once packages are open. I’m planning to set some of that aside for Buddy, and try again after Christmas.

From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!

 

 

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Tips for Making a Gingerbread House with a Toddler

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Gingerbread houses have always been a special holiday tradition for my family. My mother used to host a gingerbread workshop at our church every year. As a result, I learned a lot about constructing a solid gingerbread house and what types of candy are best for decorating.

My first gingerbread house, made with help from my mom and little sister.

I still love gingerbread as much as I did as a kid. I love finding the perfect candy for decorating the house. And I love building gingerbread with people I love. My friends and I have an annual tradition of making haunted gingerbread houses at Halloween. This year, Buddy helped for the first time. However, the house was a bit of a mess. I knew I wanted to try again at Christmas, so I put some thought into how to make Buddy’s house a successful one. Here are my tips for making a gingerbread house with a toddler (or for kids of any age).

1. If you are new to gingerbread, use a kit. 

I love homemade gingerbread, but it takes a lot of practice to do it well. When you make it from scratch, not all edges will be perfectly straight and not all pieces will be the same thickness. Royal icing hides mistakes well, but it’s easier if everything is shaped the way it is supposed to. It also is a lot less time consuming to just buy a kit.

2. The younger the kid, the more candy you will need. 

You will need more candy besides just the kit. The pictures on kits have a little candy and a lot of icing decorations. But young children can’t do that. I bought some extra peppermints, spice drops, m&ms, and Wilton icing decorations. Other favorites are sugar ice cream cones (for trees) and white chocolate covered pretzels (for fences) and snow caps.

3. Get your house built and candy set up before bringing the toddler to the table. 

We did a gingerbread train kit because Buddy is obsessed with trains. While Buddy took his nap, I constructed the train. I also took all of the candy out of the packages and put into small bowls. The kit icing comes with a cap so you can easily do some early and the icing will stay fresh. If you do a real royal icing, a wet dish cloth over the bowl will keep the icing fresh for a couple hours.

4. Give your toddler easy decorating tasks. 

The tiny candies are really hard for small hands to place accurately. Large candy has to be held to dry, otherwise it slides down the house . Neither of these things are particularly easy for toddlers to do. The best places for toddlers to decorate are flat surfaces. Buddy was most successful decorating the wheels (which rest on the ground), the top of the train, the top edge of the caboose, and the fence/yard.

5. Let your toddler have some input over the more difficult decorating tasks.

I asked for Buddy’s input on places that I knew were going to be tough for him to decorate himself. Some sample questions I asked were,  “What candy should go here?”, “Where else should we decorate?”, and “What color should I use next?” We also ended this way when Buddy couldn’t resist the candy any more and every piece in his hands went into his mouth. (Eating the candy is the best part of decorating, so I don’t blame him!)

6. Let your toddler be creative. 

Toddlers and adults see the world in very different ways. A toddler’s viewpoint is actually great for gingerbread houses. Buddy wanted to add some dinosaurs to our train to make it a dinosaur train. And while I never would have thought to do that, I think it adds charm to our train.

7. Accept that it won’t be perfect. 

I am a perfectionist, so I want my colors to be in patterns and my candy to be nice and neat. It just won’t happen if a toddler is an active part of the decorating process. And that’s ok. We had a lot of fun  together, and I think our gingerbread train turned out great.

Please comment if you have any questions about anything related to gingerbread! And good luck with making a gingerbread house of your own.

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Stocking Stuffers for Babies and Toddlers

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This time of year, I’m always looking for great gift ideas for Buddy. Stocking stuffers are especially difficult for little ones because anything too small can be a choking hazard. But there are still a lot of great things available for stocking stuffers for young kids.

Buddy was 8 months old at his first Christmas, and a year and a half at his second Christmas. This year he is two and a half. Below is a list of things that I’ve gotten  for his stockings. I’m also including a few of our favorite travel toys that we got at a different time of year, but that would be great in a stocking.

*Disclaimer – I have included affiliate links for your convenience.  Should you choose to purchase a product through one of these links, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting my family*

Great for Both Babies and Toddlers

  • Bath Toys – I got the Munchkin Barnyard Friends bath toys for Buddy’s first Christmas, and we still play with them. This year I bought the Munchkin Fishing Toy to go in Buddy’s stocking.
  • Balls – I bought the Bright Starts Activity Balls for Buddy as an infant, and they were a favorite for a long time. We throw beach balls around all the time at our house, and that would be great in a stocking. Koosh balls are also lots of fun.
  • Pull back vehicles – I got a pull back James train last year and it is by far the best pull back toy I’ve ever seen. Buddy didn’t even know Thomas and Friends at that time, and now that he’s obsessed with trains, he loves it even more.
  • Cars – Buddy got O’Ball Go Gripper cars last year. This year I have a small Lightning McQueen car for him.
  • Small board books – As an infant, Buddy loved small finger puppet books. We have also done Indestructible books in stockings, and they are so great because they take up no space! The dollar store also has nice, small board books.
  • Snacks – Puffs, yogurt melts, fruit snacks
  • Small stuffed animals
  • Toy phone or remote – Buddy got this Fisher Price phone in his stocking as an infant and this VTech remote last year. This year we got a Thomas the train “phone” that makes sounds for a small board book.
  • Finger puppets
  • Mittens and mitten clips
  • Ornaments – This year I bought a firetruck ornament for Buddy on one of our trips this fall that will be in his stocking.
  • Small instruments – kazoos, egg shakers, or other small instruments. Buddy loved this musical instrument set as an infant (his favorite gift on his first Christmas.) Some of them are too big for a stocking, but several would fit well.

Baby Stocking Stuffers

  • Teethers
  • Rattles
  • Bibs
  • Pacifiers

Toddler Stocking Stuffers

  • Two piece puzzles – We got a great one from the Target dollar spot. This one is similar to one I made for Buddy.
  • Crayons – We love Crayola triangular washable crayons. Our current set is well loved and it will be nice to have a new box.
  • Color Wonder markers – We have one book (Thomas – of course) but it only comes with a few markers. Buddy will find more in his stocking and extra Color Wonder paper later on Christmas day.
  • Card games – Buddy is just starting to get into games. We have a family memory game made on Shutterfly, this Go Fish animal game, and an World of Disney Eye Found It card game for his stocking this year.
  • Thomas the train minis – I bought one set of these minis before a trip this year and Buddy LOVED it! I’m excited to give him some new ones with some of his favorite trains.
  • Stickers – Puffy ones are our favorite, and right now there are some great ones at our dollar store. Party stores also have great stickers for cheap.
  • Duplo animals – Buddy is obsessed with Duplos. We got him this animal set earlier this year. I found some small bags with a mystery animal and a few squares at Toys R Us that we will put in his stocking this year.
  • Colorforms – They are reusable stickers that are so travel friendly. We love them! Here is a link to some great ones from Frozen, but you can also find them sometimes at the dollar store.
  • Fun Band-aids – Buddy wants Bandaids all the time. I’m sure he’s not the only toddler who would find this fun.
  • Play doh and tools – Last year I wanted some small tools that we could use on a plane. I found these dough tools from Caryko that are great!

I hope this helps with your holiday shopping! Please add a comment if you have a great stocking stuffer that I’ve missed!

DIY Salt Dough Ornaments

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Salt dough ornaments have always had a soft spot in my heart. When my parents were first married, they couldn’t afford to buy ornaments, so they made a bunch out of salt dough. As a result, our tree always had a ton of salt dough ornaments. If preserved well, they can last forever. I still have the one they made for me the year I was born.

When Buddy was born, I knew that salt dough ornaments would be a good gift to make for family members. We have made them for his first two Christmases. The first year, we did Christmas tree fingerprint ones and a couple Santa handprint ones. Last year, we did Santa handprint ones for everyone.

The recipe for salt dough is very easy: 2 parts salt, 2 parts flour, 1 part water. I think both years I did 1 cup salt, 1 cup flour, and 1/2 cup water.

When you roll it out, you will either need to flour the surface or put it on wax paper. I usually flour the surface and my rolling pin as well. Once you have a flat surface, you are ready to start cutting out the ornaments. After the ornaments are made, they bake at 200 degrees for 3 hours (or until they look completely dry). They will need to cool before painting.

Fingerprint Christmas Trees

For the trees, I used a cookie cutter to form the outline. I put them onto a cookie sheet, and I used a straw to cut out a small hole at the top for the ribbon. Then, I had Buddy put his fingers all over them to form the lights.

Once the ornaments were baked, I painted the green background first with a glittery paint. Then I did different colors for the lights. Once that was dried, I used a silver paint pen to connect the lights. After everything was dry, I sealed it with two coats of Mod Podge. I finished by writing Buddy’s name and the year on the back. Then I added ribbon to the top.

Handprint Santas

For the Santas, I rolled out the dough, and then had Buddy stick his hand in it. It was tough to get it in enough to leave a print, but not too much so that it would break the dough. Whenever I got a good one, I used a butter knife to outline the handprint, and then used a spatula to put it on the cookie sheet. I used a straw again to make a hole for the string.

Once the Santas were baked, I used a black paint pen to outline the edges of the beard and the bottom of the hat. Then I filled in the beard and hat with the red and white paint. At the end, I added the eyes and nose. I used two coats of Mod Podge to seal the ornaments after they were finished.  Once again, I wrote Buddy’s name and the year on the back of the ornaments. Then I added ribbon to the top.

I always make extras, because sometimes salt dough ornaments break. Also, sometimes the painting or finish of the dough doesn’t look the best every time you do it. (Although if you are very artistic, maybe you don’t have that same problem that I do.)

Salt dough ornaments are a fun and easy way to decorate your tree. I was amazed at the difference in Buddy’s handprints between his first and second Christmas, and I’m so glad I have them to keep forever. My dad cherishes these homemade ornaments so much he leaves them out year round.

I hope you enjoy your salt dough ornaments as much as I have. If you have any other great ornament ideas for kids, please share. I still haven’t finalized our plans for this year yet!

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Christmas Activity Advent Chain

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My mom always made an advent chain with activities every Christmas. It is one of my favorite Christmas memories. My sister and I looked forward to doing something new together every day. Now that Buddy is two, I think he’s finally ready for his own Christmas activity advent chain.

To start, I brainstormed a list of possible activities. I looked at my local park district and library websites for special events to do. Then, I found a bunch of easy activities on Pinterest. I also included some activities I remembered doing from my childhood.

Once I had my list, I made a calendar for what we’re doing each day. My mom said sometimes she had to switch links between days, and I’m sure I will have to do that too. I filled in the special events we will go to, and then I filled in the rest of the activities. There are several different categories of types of activities, and I tried to spread them out evenly.

I’m including all of my ideas below, even ones that I won’t use this year.

Crafts

  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Construction paper snowman
  • Use Christmas stickers to make a Christmas scene
  • Christmas coloring pictures
  • Make a paper plate wreath

Doing Things for Others

  • Make ornaments to give to family
  • Buy a toy for an angel tree or Toys for Tots
  • Draw holiday cards for family
  • Donate coins to Salvation Army
  • Choose toys to give away

Food

  • Eat a candy cane and read a book
  • Drink hot cocoa
  • Coca colas in glass bottles (a favorite as a child, but Buddy’s not ready for that yet)
  • Make toast with green and red sprinkles
  • Decorate Christmas cookies
  • Make chocolate dipped pretzels

Christmas Activities

  • Learn Jingle Bells and sing for others
  • Christmas dance party
  • Go to the library to check out Christmas books
  • Drive around and look at Christmas lights
  • Play with “snowballs” (cotton balls)                        
  • Find a hidden surprise (this year it is a new ornament for our tree)
  • Make a tree with Play doh and decorate with sequins or pop beads.
  • Visit Santa
  • Set up the Nativity
  • Watch a Christmas movie
  • Read a Christmas story

I’d love more ideas to do this year, and to save for future years. If you have any great ideas, please share in the comments.

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Cooking with Kids: Apple Pie

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Hubby loves to cook and bake. (I’m so lucky!) Both of us have been trying to teach those skills to Buddy whenever we can. A few weeks ago, apples were on sale, so Hubby and Buddy decided to make apple pie. Hubby has made this recipe himself, and adjusted it after several tries. (The full recipe is listed at the bottom of this blog.)
To start, Hubby peeled 9 apples. Then, he had Buddy put the flour, sugar, and salt into a bowl. He asked Buddy to give the salt a few shakes, and he pre-measured the other dry ingredients. 
While Buddy had lunch, Hubby sliced the apples. Then they added them into the dry mixture together. Hubby added a little lemon juice on top.
Hubby put a pre-made pie crust into the pie pan, and then he poured in the apple mixture. They added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter on top of the apples. Then Hubby put the pie crust on top. Finally, Buddy coated the top of the pie crust with an egg wash. Then it baked for 50 minutes at 425 degrees. 
This pie was amazingly delicious, and Buddy was so proud that he helped.
Apple Pie Recipe
6-7 large Granny Smith apples (or 8-9 small apples), cored/peeled
Dry Mixture:
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
Pinch of salt
Mix apples/dry mixture, add one squeeze of lemon juice.
Pour apple mix over unrolled pie crust, top with cinnamon and nutmeg,
Add 1 tbsp butter cut into four small squares.
Cover with 2nd pie crust, sprinkle with light addtional cinnamon and sugar. Cut slits into crust to vent. Brush on an egg wash made from one egg and a tablespoon of water.
Cook at 425 degrees about 45-50 minutes.
Let sit for a couple hours to cool and allow liquid in filling to congeal.

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Floating Letters

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Buddy loves playing in water. Several times this fall, he’s asked to play in our water table, but unfortunately, it’s just too cold. When I saw this floating letters activity on Busy Toddler’s blog, I knew it would be perfect. Buddy would get to play in water, but we could do it inside.

I pulled out Munchkin bath letters and numbers (affiliate link) for our water play. These were purchased months ago, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so they hadn’t been used. Buddy was very excited about playing with his new toys in the water. While the sink was filling with water, Buddy threw some letters in the sink.

Buddy pushed a chair over to stand on while playing in the water. He helped me choose some letters and numbers to put in the water. Eventually we dumped them all in the sink.

I gave Buddy a spatula to pick up the letters. He loved it! It was a different tool for him, and he enjoyed using it. It kept this activity pretty neat because it didn’t scoop up water, and Buddy wasn’t putting his arms into the water.

As we were playing, I asked Buddy to find different letters or colors. He was always so proud to find them. Buddy actually knew more letters than I thought he did. It was exciting to see what he’s learned at school.

I happened to pull out a toy boat from our swim bag earlier that day, and I left it on our kitchen counter. Buddy asked to use it with the letters. He wanted to pour water on top of the letters. “I’m washing the letters.” 

Buddy played contently for 45 minutes, and he would have been happy to play for longer. (A poopy diaper stopped our play, and then it was time to get ready for dinner.) There was almost no water mess until I let him use the boat, and then there was a little splashing. When we were done, we put the letters into a drying rack to dry. This activity was so easy and so much fun! Buddy really loved it, and I know we’ll do again sometime soon. If you have any other ideas for ways to play with our letters, please share in the comments.