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! :)

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