Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snow Dough & Other Winter Activities for Toddlers

On the same weekend that folks in the north east were snowed in. our neighborhood brought in snow. Welcome to Texas!

Maddie had a great time playing in the snow and even went sledding for the first time!

In preparation for our neighborhood Snow Day, Maddie and I spent the week doing winter activities. She had never actually seen snow before, so I was super excited to introduce the concept with this snow dough from Powerful Mothering. I even stored it in the freezer to make it more realistic. The "dough" (more of a powder) was awesome - it made a crunchy sound/feel like snow, wasn't too terribly messy, and held Maddie's attention for like 20 consecutive minutes on multiple occasions! ;) 


We also made these super cute mittens. Maddie loves to play with pom poms, and gluing them on paper was a big hit! I used this coloring page as a template.


I super lucked out a couple weeks ago and found some winter crafts 90% off at Hobby Lobby. Yes, 90%. I picked up a package of large wooden snowflakes for about 50 cents. Score! I let Maddie paint them without much assistance. I'm proud of myself when I step back and let her go on her own ;) I taped them on the paper roll on her easel, and once the paint had dried, I removed them from the paper and hung them on a window. Toddler painting tip: egg cartons make great painting palettes!

I was pretty excited about this no mess winter sensory bag from A Little Pinch of Perfect, because - no mess! I didn't have Tapioca Pearls (what?) or water beads, so I just left those out. I did find some cheap snowflake confetti at Michael's, so I added those in. If I could do it again, I would leave out the mini marshmallows. They made the gel cloudy and were generally just a little gross looking. I made the sensory bag while Maddie was napping and popped it in the fridge to chill. So fun! While I was making the bag, I also made a sensory bottle using the same items but water instead of hair gel. I love the way the glitter floats around in the bottle - my fascination greatly trumped Maddie's.


We also colored this cute snowman, and as usual, checked out a few snow related books/DVD from the library.

This week was probably as close as we'll get to "winter" in central Texas. The high next Sunday is close to 80 degrees, so we'll be pulling out our shorts rather than donning winter coats. You will absolutely not find me complaining. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Toddler Zoo Animal Activities [and a blog remodel!]

First things first, you'll notice that I've re-branded the blog. I felt it was time for a few reasons:
  1. Frankly, nobody calls me Coop or even Cooper. But somebody calls me Mama roughly 800 times a day. When I first started this blog, we had just bought a house, I was obsessed with HGTV, and I had planned to write about house projects and decorating. But let's be real, since we didn't win the $900M power ball jackpot last night, our house isn't getting remodeled any time soon. We've done a few small projects here and there, and maybe I'll share them sometime, but the focus of the blog has really shifted to my experiences in motherhood. I felt that adding "mama" to the name would better represent what I write about.
  2. Why "polka dotted"? Because of my life-long love for polka dots, of course! When I was 5, my mom redecorated my room in red and white polka dots. Ever since, I've been hooked. I love polka dots because they can be simple and classic or spunky and fun. "Polka dotted mama" sort of sounds like I've been splattered in paint or something, and I'm planning to share more crafts and activities on the blog. Some of my posts have been a little heavy lately, so I'm hoping to make things a little more light-hearted in the new year. Of course I'll still share my life honestly, even the hard parts, but I'll also share the day-to-day fun we have: crafts, activities, favorite recipes, etc.
The old URL will no longer work, but you can still access all of my old posts using the new URL:


And now, on to toddler zoo animal activities! As previously mentioned, I've been selecting a theme each week now that I'm home with Maddie. I plan a few crafts, activities, or "field trips" related to the theme. I received some blog feedback that my readers might enjoy seeing more details about the activities Maddie and I are doing. Last week, we focused on zoo animals. We even capped off our fun week with a visit to the Austin Zoo! 

Let me also caveat that I personally don't feel Maddie (20 months) is ready for a "school" schedule or structure. Rather, I'm just incorporating learning into play time. I also think that repetition is really key at this age, so focusing on the same topic for a full week really helps drive it home.

Animal Matching Game

I picked up these animal figurines at Hobby Lobby (regularly $9.99 but used a 40% coupon from their website), and I already had a set of animal flash cards (similar to these) from the Target dollar aisle (I've seen similar ones at the Dollar Tree too). I laid out the animal figurines for Maddie and then one-by-one we went through the flash cards and matched them to the figurine. She really only had the attention span to do this one time though, but we did a couple times during the week. 

Animal Sensory Bin

I'm not even going to pretend to fully understand the concept/purpose of a sensory bin. But basically I think it's just a container filled with some sort of rice/bean/pebble/water/sand/etc and some objects/cups/funnels/etc thrown in. Then the kiddos get to pour, stir, feel, and play. For our zoo animal theme, I borrowed (yes borrowed, I plan to return!) some little rocks from our neighborhood playground. I put them in a plastic bin and tossed in some sticks, leaves, and her animal figurines from above. I thought she would enjoy digging her animals into the rocks. But I was wrong... she just wanted to throw the rocks out of the bin (argh). We had a good experience with a fall sensory bin I put together using different colored beans, but the rock bin was a fail for us! We'll try again another time.

Magnetic Animals

I picked up a few of these painted wooden animals from Hobby Lobby for $0.67 each. I already had a roll of flexible magnetic strip on hand, so I attached a piece to the back of each wooden animal. I used green painters tape to make zoo "cages" on the fridge, and Maddie had fun rearranging the animals. You could use this concept for farm animal "pastures" or blue painters tape for underwater animal "tanks".

Coloring Page Puppets

I printed out a few zoo animal coloring pages that I found by doing a google image search. After Maddie colored this one, I cut out the animals and glued popsicle sticks to the back to make puppets. I don't think she really grasped the concept of "puppets" but still enjoyed naming the animals when we played with them.

Animal Stamping

On our Hobby Lobby run, I also spotted these zoo animal foam stamps. Maddie has already entered the "I do it myself" stage, so crafts are getting a little trickier (read: sloppier). I usually plan to have enough supplies on hand to do a craft twice: once with assistance and once independently. For the stamping, the first time through I helped Maddie dip/paint each stamp with a color and carefully place it on the construction paper. The second go-round, I just let her have at it. You can't make out many of the animals, but she was really proud of herself ;)

In addition to the activities we did, we also checked out a few zoo-related books from the library, and the "Zoo Train" Signing Time DVD. Prior to this week, we had only watched the Baby Signing Time DVDs. The regular Signing Time DVD, intended for older children, was still entertaining to Maddie. It worked well for us to learn animal names even if she didn't really pick up on any of the sign language.

And finally, on Friday morning, we visited the Austin Zoo! It was my first time at that zoo, and Maddie's first ever zoo trip. The Austin Zoo was cute and affordable. Until she turns 2, Maddie gets in for free at a lot of places, including this zoo! I'm soaking it up while I can. The Austin Zoo is unique because it's a rescue/rehabilitation zoo, meaning that they assist animals in need (elderly, sick, surrendered, from labs, etc). Maddie's favorite animals were the llamas and the deer because we got to feed them. And by "we", I mean me. I conquered my own fear of letting them eat out of my hand, but Maddie wasn't quite ready. She also really enjoyed riding on the choo choo train at the zoo!

All in all, I think zoo animal week was a success. Maddie now recognizes many of the animals we learned about and likes to talk about the "mamas and cheer" we fed at the zoo! :)

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Day in the Life

So, what exactly do you do all day at home?

While no one has flat out asked me in those terms, I know that people wonder, just like I did before it was my reality. On my last day at the office, a male coworker (obviously childless) asked me in complete naivety if I was looking forward to sleeping in every day on my long vacation.

Every day is a little different, but I generally stick to a routine of: morning errand, nap, afternoon activity. Each week I designate a theme and we do a few related crafts/activities. Here's a glimpse into an average day (today):

6:45 am: I wake up to my (snoozed once) alarm and get dressed/ready before Maddie wakes up.

7:15 am: Maddie is up and we read a few books in her room. This is new and I'm pretty sure she'd read every book on shelf at this time if I'd let her. It's a stark change from the past 8 months when she would ask to "eat eat eat" breakfast as soon as I walked through her door.

7:30 am: Breakfast downstairs. Today it's banana bread muffins (that she "helped" me bake yesterday), and blueberry Greek yogurt. During breakfast, I call the dentist to make an appointment for Maddie. Over the weekend, she chipped her two front teeth in the bathtub. The dentist has an 8:30am appointment available so I nab it.

8:00 am: I teach Maddie the meaning of the word "hurry" while we race to get out the door for the dentist. She sort of grasps it, as evidenced by that fact that her arms are pumping as I wrangle her into clothes, brush her teeth and hair, and gather everything into our bag.

8:25 am: We arrive at the dentist just in time. Maddie does great during her appointment and the dentist doesn't have any immediate concerns about her chipped teeth. Off we go to our next stop!

9:15 am: Quick trip to Hobby Lobby to grab a few items for our theme week: Zoo animals!

10:00 am: We arrive at the neighborhood library for story time. We pick out a few zoo themed books and DVDs while we wait. Maddie listens to one story time book and then dances around obnoxiously during the remaining books (sorry other attentive babies). Afterward we visit with friends outside for a few minutes.

11:30 am: Back home for lunch. Maddie whines incessantly while I attempt to heat up some soup and mixed veggies. I calmly explain to her that I can't hold her because I need to make lunch and she should find a toy to play with in the meantime. She continues on... "up, up, up!" I lose my cool and spew something along the lines of "for the love, this will only take me 5 minutes!!" I regain my composure and put in one of the DVDs we checked out, Signing Time: Zoo Train. This holds her attention for approximately 10 minutes, just long enough to get lunch on the table. During lunch, she spills half of her soup on the table and smears her hands through it while saying "mess, mess!"

12:15 pm: We read books again in Maddie's room and get ready for nap. 

12:45 pm: I slip out of Maddie's room after rocking her to sleep (yes, yes, I do still), and throw in a load of laundry. We're having slow cooker lasagna soup for dinner, so I toss the ingredients into the crockpot. On Mondays, I deep clean the kitchen, sweep/mop the floors, and clear out the fridge & pantry so they're ready when I grocery shop on Tuesday. Afterward, I tidy up the living room and switch out the laundry.

2:15 pm: Ideally, I still have about 30 mins left of nap time. I set up our afternoon zoo activity - magnetic animals in masking tape "cages" on the fridge. Then I sit down on the couch to read a magazi- ha! Almost had you. I do sit down for 5 minutes to recharge. Then I see Maddie start to squirm on the monitor, so I head upstairs to change into gym clothes before she's fully awake.

2:45 pm: You guessed it, we read more books in Maddie's room! :) Then we head downstairs for a snack. Today it's peanut butter tortilla "sushi" rolls and raisins.

3:15 pm: I fold the laundry I washed earlier, and Maddie "helps" by pulling all of her clothes out of the basket and strewing them across the living room floor. Thanks, girl. She repeats the word "santa" no less than 40 times while she practices the zipper on her Christmas jammies (that she's still wearing in January, no shame).

3:30 pm: We put on our jackets and shoes, then take Bailey down the street to run free in an open field. Maddie runs around too until she hears sirens in the distance and then begs to be held for the remainder of the outing. Trucks, airplanes, motorcycles, lawn mowers, sirens, anything remotely a little bit loud - all terrifying for Maddie. Also, the sun is really bright and she keeps asking me to turn it off ;) Did I mention that we can't turn on our dining table light? or the bathroom lights? If Maddie deems a light to be too bright, she will repeatedly demand that you turn it off immediately.

4:00 pm: I strap Maddie into her stroller and we go for a quick jog around the neighborhood pond and stop at the playground on the way back. She doesn't care to climb on any of the equipment today, she's content just to play in the rocks. I let her pour rocks all over my yoga pants because, whatevs.

5:15 pm: Back home to finish dinner preparations. The whining starts again, so I turn the DVD back on, but she doesn't give two toots. I successfully convince her to play with the animal magnets on the fridge.

5:45 pm:  Dinner time! I realize I've made a mistake in meal planning and we're having soup twice in one day. Oops! Maddie doesn't seem to mind.

6:10pm: Dad's home!! He joins us for dinner and Maddie tells him about her day. She demonstrates how she said "ahhh" for the dentist and that she played with her friend Isobel at the library. Then Tom does the dishes while I clear the table and tend to Maddie. Isn't he the best? 

Before I started my new gig staying at home, I worried that we'd be bored all day. But I've actually found it to the be the opposite - I struggle to fit everything in! I am really enjoying our routine. When I was working, I felt like I wasn't doing my best at work or at home. It was like I just couldn't keep up with either, so I was failing at both. I finally feel like I have my life in order now. The house is (fairly) clean, we always have fresh groceries, the laundry piles have diminished, and most importantly, I am so much happier. I know that I'll have to go back to work someday, and I'll figure out how to balance it again, but for now I'm savoring these days with my little girl. Given the choice, I'll take reading Zoom Zoom Baby for the 5th time over reading emails any day.