Build a 2D Christmas Tree with LEGO

This is a simple but not so easy activity that will teach your child S.T.E.M. as well as fine motor skills. Make a Christmas tree out of LEGO bricks, and decorate it! You can also use Duplo bricks if your child is younger

Best Ages for This Activity

Two to three

How to Make It

Supplies

    • A LEGO baseplate
    • Green LEGO bricks
  • Brown LEGO bricks
  • White LEGO bricks (optional – you can use 2 shades of green instead)

Other small colourful bricks to decorate your tree with (see picture)

Let’s get Started!

  • Invite your child to build a two-dimensional Christmas tree using LEGO bricks
  • Give them time to figure out how to build it. They can choose to start from the top or the bottom. The important concept they will learn is to either increase the length or decrease the length of the rows, depending on where they start from.
  • There is no right way to build the tree, so the more children use their imagination, the better. Use any pieces you have at home and see what your child comes up with!
  • Here are some ideas:

 

Learning Opportunities

Your child will learn S.T.E.M., especially engineering and math. They will also exercise their fine motor skills, which is very important in order to learn to write. They will also use their imagination and creativity in making their very own art piece!

Learning Vocabulary in This Activity:

Use math vocabulary that describes length, like short, shorter, long, longer, longest, etc.; also describe the size, colour and shape of the pieces you use. Practice using these words.

Natacha’s tip: Remember to let your child do as much of the process as they are capable of.

Extended Learning Opportunities

  • Try making different Christmas themed things using LEGO:

  • Make ornaments using LEGO:

  • Try making one of the LEGO sets I included below, in the “Toys and Other Things Your Child Might Like” section. They are a little more complex, but my son could work on sets much earlier than the age recommended on the box – it all depends on your child’s interests and abilities. You be the judge.
  • Look online with your child to find LEGO Christmas trees built by experts, which is amazing to see! Look at these ones, for example:

Things to Keep in Mind

Please keep in mind that children need adult supervision at all times, especially using small LEGO pieces that can present a choking hazard.

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Toys and Other Things Your Child Might Like


Making Edible Christmas Trees

I can’t decide if this is a fine motor activity or a little chef’s activity, because once these Christmas trees are decorated, the last thing you will want to do is eat them – they look so nice! We do them every year at our CEFA Early Learning schools. I remember when my one-year-old did one when he was in the CEFA baby classroom. As soon as I saw it I melted – it was so beautiful! And I could only imagine the hard work that had gone into ensuring that the delicate ice cream cone was covered in frosting – not an easy feat for one year old!

Try it at home! All you need is ice cream cones, frosting with green food colouring and some sprinkles or candies, and you have a project that your child will love doing!

Best Ages for This Activity

One to five

How to Make It

Supplies

  • Any cone shaped ice cream cone
  • White frosting
  • A few drops of green food colouring
  • Sprinkles or candy to decorate. Here are some ideas:

  • ¼ cup icing sugar and a strainer (optional – to make it look like snow on to pf the tree)
  • A butter knife or plastic knife (to spread the icing)

Let’s get Started

  • Lay out the materials on a table in an attractive fashion
  • Invite your child to decorate a Christmas tree
  • First, mix the food colouring into the icing. Put as many drops as you want, depending on the intensity of the green you would like to obtain (as your child “do you like it like this or would you like a more intense green?” this will teach your child about math.
  • Once the icing is read, show your child how to spread the icing over the ice cream cone delicately so as not to break the cone. This is a difficult fine motor skill for your child to practice.
  • Once the icing covers the whole cone, invite your child to decorate the tree with whatever sprinkles or candy they choose. This is also a good fine motor activity to practice. The smaller the decoration, the harder it is for your child to place it on the icing, and the larger it is, the harder to make it stick to the icing. To put yourself in your child’s position, imagine you had to decorate the tree (icing and ornaments) using your feet. That is as much control as a young child has over the small muscles of the hand.
  • Here is what it may look like, depending on the age of your child, plus some ideas on how to decorate it. You can always do more than one!

Learning Opportunities

Children will learn fine motor skills, cooking skills and self-confidence. Invite your child to clean up the workspace once they finish working.
They can learn to rinse the bowls, put everything in the dishwasher the right way (it is an excellent S.T.E.M. activity – they have to use their engineering skills to place things in the best possible way so they get washed). Show them how to clean a counter, etc. These are all excellent life skills.

Natacha’s tip: Remember to let your child do as much of the process as they are capable of. If your child has difficulty or gets frustrated trying to spread the icing with the knife, invite them to use their fingers instead. This will be a good sensory learning experience for little ones!

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How to Bake Natacha’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

You might think that my recipe is famous because it tastes amazing, and you would be right – ever since I started baking my own, many years ago, I can’t go back to store bought pumpkin pie. But that’s not the only reason it is famous – the main reason is because it is so simple and easy to do, even if you don’t bake. My partner, who is a great cook but definitely not a baker, once made it at my house with his daughter at Thanksgiving, and not only does he remember the experience of baking together fondly, he also could not believe how easy it was.

Cooking with your child is a wonderful way to build family traditions, and to teach your child to prepare a dish with love, to share with the whole family, or to bring to a friend’s home. It can give your child a sense of belonging, responsibility and contribution.

If you celebrate Christmas at home, then pumpkin pie is probably on the menu already, and imagine the pride your child will feel knowing that they prepared the dish that everyone will eat!

At our CEFA Early Learning schools, baking this pie is part of our little chefs’ program, which teaches children how to cook and always ends with the class eating what they prepared. Try it at home!

Best Ages for This Activity

Three to five, but younger children can still help and as they get older, you’ll find they will be doing it all by themselves.

How to Make It

Supplies

  • A single pie crust (you can buy these fresh or frozen at the supermarket)
  • 1 can of pumpkin (425 grams)
  • 1 can of evaporated milk (340 grams)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • Whipped cream (optional but oh so yummy!)

Let’s get Started!

  • Invite your child to make pumpkin pie. The more they do, the more they learn math, science, reading, sensory learning, and self-help skills, so always try to intervene as little as possible and only if needed (for example, to help them read a word, or put something in the oven). Here are the steps to follow:
  • In a large bowl, mix the sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
  • In a separate bowl, crack the eggs (teach your child how) and lightly beat them (you can use a fork or an electric mixer – my boys loved the electric mixer!
  • Add the eggs to the large bowl
  • Open both cans (pumpkin and evaporated milk) – teach your child how. This is a great fine motor skill! Then also add these to the large bowl
  • Mix well. You can do it with an electric mixer or just use a large spoon or a fork – just make sure it is mixed well.
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (talk about how hot that is and encourage your child to see how long it takes for the temperature to rise, as well as read the numbers as they rise for added math. When the oven reaches 425 degrees, add the pumpkin pie and bake for 15 minutes (teach your child how to set a timer).
  • Reduce the heat to 350 degrees (with the pie still in the oven of course) and bake for another 45 minutes. Again, invite your child to observe how long it takes for the temperature to get from 425 to 350 degrees.
  • Take the pie out and cool on a wire rack (any rack is fine, or even the rack on top of your stove if it’s not hot) for 2 hours and voilà! It is ready to eat!

Learning Opportunities

Children will learn S.T.E.M., fine motor skills, but more importantly, social + emotional development skills. Your child will:

  • Have the opportunity to contribute to their family by preparing a snack for their family, including siblings
  • Gain cooking skills
  • Gain a great amount of self-confidence and empathy

Invite your child to clean up the workspace once they finish preparing the pie. They can learn to rinse the bowl, put everything in the dishwasher the right way (it is an excellent S.T.E.M. activity – they have to use their engineering skills to place things in the best possible way so they get washed). Show them how to clean a counter, etc. These are all excellent life skills.

While they are preparing the pie and you are supervising, make sure you tell them that it is really kind of them to prepare this treat for the whole family to enjoy. Once you taste it, tell them how delicious it is! Ask them what they would like to make next time for the family. The rest of the family (especially siblings) should of course thank them also for the pie.

Natacha’s tip: Remember to let your child do as much of the process as they are capable of.

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Toys Your Child Might Like


 

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Choosing the Right Toy for Every Age Group

More than ever, parents are faced with a dilemma when purchasing toys for their children: Should they buy what their children really long for? Or should they buy a good, educational toy they choose on their child’s behalf?

In our society, children are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting toys often designed to break within a few months or be replaced by their own “newer” versions. The toys your children want are not necessarily the ones that are of great quality or of any educational value for that matter, but they are the ones advertised constantly, and the ones all their friends own at school: the “cool” toys. Often, however, when children get these toys, they fail to play with them. The problem is that, if you observe closely, there is not much that they can do with the toy. It does not inspire the child to use their imagination, or any other skills for that matter.

It is important for children to play. They don’t necessarily need toys to play, but often, as is common in our culture, they look for “something to do”.  The new toy offers no possibilities, so they look for other answers. Unfortunately, the options are, more often than not, watching tv, playing video games, or yearning for the next toy that promises hours of fun.

If there is one word of advice you can draw from this article, it’s this: look at what you are going to buy and, before you decide, ask yourself “how can my child play with this toy? What does it do? What skills does it promote?” If you have good answers for those questions, chances are you are in the right path.

Children spend an estimated 34 hours a week interacting with toys and games, listening to music or watching movies.  The toys you choose have both short and long-term impacts. Not only do they provide creative outlets and help strengthen physical and mental skills, studies have shown they can bolster parts of the brain used to make decisions later in life.

This means the decision you make in aisle four could have long-lasting effects on your child’s brain.  Here are a few factors to consider before approaching the check out counter this holiday season:

Age Groups

A child’s brain is at its highest level of development before the age of six. Babies are developing their sense of sound, sight and touch, and familiarizing themselves with the world that surrounds them. Toys that assist in hand-eye coordination, visual skills or any of their senses are a good choice.  Look for toys with bright, attractive colors or patterns, mirrored or reflective surfaces, varied textures, and safe to mouth (meaning easy to wash!) Toys they can pull, chew, discover, hear, grab, and get a sound out of are some good choices. Lamaze has some good choices for young babies, but there are many exciting choices in the market. I also recommend soft blocks and cars, rattles and washable books. Here are some concrete ideas.

Toddlers are in a stage of exploration and are finding their independence. They are developing their motor skills and using their imagination. Ride-ons or anything that can be pushed or pulled are great choices. Even better if they have elements of everyday life that they can use to pretend-play, such as lawnmowers, grocery carts or dolls and strollers. These toys are also great for early walkers. Toys they can use in the sand or water are not only great but also necessary for their development. Non-toxic finger paint and shape sorters or puzzles are also perfect for their budding imaginations. You will find, however, that some of their favorite things to play with will be right in your kitchen! Here are concrete ideas for one year olds and two year olds.

Preschoolers are jumping, running and interested in so many things! Good toys will challenge them and engage their imagination and reasoning skills. Vehicles and bikes are great for gross motor skills, while puzzles, building toys such as Lego, brio trains and tracks, and art supplies develop their fine motor skills (and their imagination and reasoning skills). Realistic dolls and house furniture and accessories of any size (from real-sized babies to Playmobil) are great for role-playing and imagination as well. Science kits are amazing for this age group, and books and toys that help them learn to read. Here are concrete ideas for three year olds, four year olds and five year olds.

Young Children have well established social skills, and love to play in groups even more than they did before. Board games and group games are a great choice for this age group, as are art supplies and crafts projects, as well as more complex building sets and science kits. Books they can read on their own are a wonderful gift, and magic kits or circus-type toys such as devil sticks promote better motor skills. I love to encourage outdoor toys for this age group as well, such as skates, basketball, jump-ropes and Chinese elastics, ping-pong, badminton, or anything that will promote healthy outdoor play and invite new friendships.

Tweens and Teens are the age group that people struggle the most with. I have one at home and, personally, I find this age group fascinating! As veteran toy consumers, they are hard to impress. Often, the only toys they gravitate towards are videogames. However, this is the perfect age to introduce them to some of the things you still like to play with as an adult! Our son loves to make animation movies. He inherited one of our cameras, and we bought him a computer and some plasticine. He also invites his friends over and together, they make movies which they later can post on YouTube. Choose things that will give your child a great sense of accomplishment and engage them to the fullest. This age group is incredibly creative! Other choices can be a real instrument and some lessons, a painting kit (I love the type that come in wooden cases with handles, which they can take outside). Knitting or sewing projects (even a simple sewing machine), woodworking, clay, an easel, a pet they always wanted; the possibilities are endless. Look for toys that show you trust them and believe in them, and you can affect them for life!

While anticipation of a gleeful smile and wish fulfilled should, of course, play into your purchasing decisions, what you put under the tree can have a lasting impression on your child. A little research combined with a lot of love will ensure your child has an extraordinary present with benefits that last far beyond the holiday season.


Winter Holiday Magic Milk Experiment

This is the holiday version of our magic milk experiment – an incredibly simple science experiment that will mesmerize your child! Using only dish soap, milk, food colouring, 2 q-tips and a cookie cutter, your child can learn about chemical reactions. They will set off an explosion of colour that keeps changing in waves, right before their eyes! Our students at CEFA Early Learning schools love it!

I guarantee you that your child (and you) will love this hands-on experience.

Best Ages for This Activity

One to five, but older children also love it!

How to Make It

Ingredients

Let’s Get Started!

  • Invite your child to try a science experiment
  • Follow the steps below, ensuring that your child does as much as the process as possible without help. This will allow them to learn the many concepts this game offers:
  • Pour the milk in the plate (make sure it completely covers the bottom of the plate) and let the milk settle
  • Place a cookie cutter in the centre of the plate containing the milk
  • Add a few drops of green food colouring to the inside of your cookie cutter:

  • Add a few drops of red food colouring to the outside of the cookie cutter:

  • Soak one end on your q-tip in dish soap

  • Ask your child: “what do you think will happen if we dip this soapy q-tip in the milk?” your child make a prediction (a hypothesis).
  • Invite your child to try it:
  • touch the tip of the cotton swab to the centre of the milk that is inside the cookie cutter (the one with the green colour) and leave it for 10 to 15 seconds without stirring it. You will be amazed at the beautiful reaction of the colour in the milk! A picture does not do it justice, please try it

  • Now soak the tip of the other cotton swab and touch the tip of it to the outside of cookie cutter on the same the plate, where the red food colouring drops are. Below is an example with different colours, just to show you how incredible the reaction looks (you have to try it for yourself, a picture does not do it justice):

  • You can even take the cookie cutter out and see how the colours mix together in this beautiful dance! You can try several cookie cutters and more colours if you wish!

  • Did your child predict what was going to happen? What did happen?
  • You can try it as many times as you want, each time adding a drop of soap to the q-tip. You can also experiment putting the soapy q-tip in different places in the milk. Notice that the colours in the milk continue to move even when you remove the q-tip.
  • Ask your child: “why do you think the colours are moving? What is happening?”

The Science Behind this Experiment:

Milk is made up of mostly water but it also contains minerals, vitamins, proteins and fat. The fats and proteins react to the soap.

The molecules of fat bend, roll and twist in all directions as the soap molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. You wouldn’t see this chemical reaction without the food colouring! During all of this fat and soap molecules movement, the food colouring is getting bumped and pushed around, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity.

The soap molecules are trying to catch all the fat molecules. When there is no more movement, all the fat molecules have been found. Are there any more hiding? Try another cotton swab dipped in soap and see what you can find!

Learning Opportunities

This is a thrilling S.T.E.M. activity where your child can see a chemical reaction as it happens. For better science learning, follow the steps of your scientific method with your child. Make sure you use as much math vocabulary as you can (for example, name the colours; observe if the movements are fast or slow, or slowing down; see the difference when you add soap near a big drop of food colouring versus a small drop; see if the colour touches the edge of the plate or if it stays I the centre; see if it goes to the left or to the right; etc.).

Extended Learning Opportunities

  • Try my original magic milk experiment for an even more beautiful reaction!
  • Invite your child to draw their observations. This is excellent for S.T.E.M. and writing.
  • Invite your child to film the reaction and use their vocabulary to tell you what happens, in their words. This is a wonderful way to use technology (S.T.E.M.) to further the learning experience, and to work on expressive vocabulary (literacy)

Natacha’s tip: Remember to let your child do as much of the process as they are capable of.

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For 3+

For 5+

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Make Winter White Play Dough and Fun Play Ideas

CEFA Early Learning schools use play dough almost on a daily basis, from the time our students are very young. We make our own, and I will share with you one of our recipes so you can make it at home with your child. They will really enjoy spending time making it with you! Make sure to save the playdough once you are finished as it keeps a week or two, even longer sometimes.

This is an activity that is inexpensive to make and has no chemicals in it.

Best Ages for This Activity

One to five

How to Make It

You will need

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ¾ cups salt
  • ½ tbsp cream of tartar

You will also need

  • Wax paper (or any other non-stick surface to protect your countertop). You can easily use a cookie sheet

Let’s get started!

  • In a pot, help your child (if they need you to) mix all of the ingredients together until you have a uniform batter.
  • Cook on low to medium heat for 7 to 9 minutes until it can form a ball.
  • Put your new ball on the wax paper and let it cool off until it is cool enough for your child can handle
  • Knead the play dough until smooth (1 minute or so) and voilà! You can start playing with it!
  • Store in an airtight container (Tupperware is fine) or in a freezer bag (then seal it)

This will give you white play dough.

To make coloured play dough, follow these steps.

To make extra white play dough, you can add 3 tablespoons of white tempera paint before cooking. The paint not specifically labeled washable (like this one) works best, but they all work.

Learning Opportunities

Children will learn S.T.E.M. while making the playdough because it’s a science experiment. Questions you can ask your child during the experiment are:

  • Will the batter harden enough to make it like playdough?
  • What colours would you like to make?
  • Which colours do you think we need to mix in order to make (for example) purple playdough?
  • How long will it take to cook?
  • How long do you think it will take to cool off?
  • How many drops of food colouring do you think we will need to make it an intense colour?
  • What will you make with it once it is done?

By helping you measure, mix, describe textures and colours, as well as the intensity of the colours as they get absorbed, they will be using math. As they are mixing and pouring, following all the steps, they are learning sequencing, which is great for reading as well as math and science. Kneading is quite an intense process, so it counts as a physical activity.

CEFA tip: Remember to let your child do as much of the process as they are capable of. This means they measure, mix and pour (not you).

The process of making the playdough offers your child sensory learning by using their senses to feel the texture, mix in the colour, feel the temperature changing, etc.  Sensory learning is especially important for writing. While you play with your child, use vocabulary to describe:

  • How the play dough feels
  • The temperature of it
  • The intensity of the colour (how it changes from white to extra white once you add in the paint)

Don’t forget to use math vocabulary such as:

  • Measuring
  • Volume
  • Quantities (more than, less than, the same amount, 1 cup, etc.)
  • Cool
  • Warm
  • Hot
  • Intensity (of colour)
  • Soft/softer/softest
  • Hard/harder/hardest

Describing while using vocabulary is one of the most important learning outcomes at this age. It teaches them reading and mathematics.

This activity also teaches your child patience as they have to wait until the playdough is cool enough to mix, and perseverance as they knead it to obtain a smooth texture. This activity also improves your child’s ability to focus on one task (attention span) – especially once they get to do other activities with the playdough, like making things, making an art piece or using it for building – which all contribute to your child’s social and emotional development and artistic development.

Extended Learning Opportunities

Once it is ready and your child gets to play with it, they will gain writing skills by using their fine motor skills, and dramatic arts through pretend play. If you use the play dough to build, you learn S.T.E.M., especially engineering. You can add beads, shells, tiny branches, pebbles or anything else you and your child like, to make it piece of art.

This white play dough is wonderful for dramatic play as it reminds your child of snow, and all the wonderful things that can be built with it! Presentation is everything, so set it up in a way that inspires your child to be creative with it and imagine all the things that can be added to it or built with it!

Here are some examples of how to use your white play dough:

Use it with tools to work on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Use it to stamp and also work on fine motor skills this way, as well as dramatic play. Explore the difference between stamping and cutting. You can try lots of everyday objects to stamp your play dough – not pre-made just stamps. Try branches, a pinecone, leaves, the edge of a popsicle stick and see what amazing patterns they create!

Decorate snowflakes or whatever else your child wishes to make. This is excellent to work on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, both necessary in order to learn to write. Plus, sequencing and the understanding and prediction of patterns is an important math skill to learn.

Make snow monsters!

Read the book snowmen at night and re-create scenes of the book for dramatic play! This will teach your child reading comprehension and dramatic play. Here's more snowmen at night activities you can do, plus a video link to the book read aloud if you don’t have it. If you build the scenes described in the book (for example, the skating rink, or the mountain where they go sledding), you add S.T.E.M. learning to this reading comprehension activity. You don’t have to use play dough to build everything! Use anything you find around the house, from big milk jugs to make hills to a mirror for the skating rink, or cups, wood and sticks. Use pine tree branches you find outside to make the trees if you like!

Invite your child to make your whole family out of play dough! In addition to the fine motor skills required to make snowballs out of play dough and then snowmen, it is a great social and emotional development activity and is often used by child therapists for role-play and for bringing issues to the surface. Ask questions like: if we were snowmen for a weekend, what would we do as a family? What would you do? What friends would you invite? Then why not build the places to go and what you will need? (for example, a snowy mountain to slide from and sleighs for the family). This is excellent for S.T.E.M..

Another excellent S.T.E.M. activity is to use a very small pipette and add food colouring to your white play dough, then play with it to watch it blend and mix together. Add another colour to see what colour you get and learn about primary and secondary colours that way.

Make candy canes and teach your child how to make snakes (lines with play dough, as well as how to twist it – this is wonderful for fine motor skills (a precursor to writing) as well as for life skills. Also, you can add a few drops of peppermint extract or essential oil for added sensory learning.

Use it to learn about natural science, exploring which animals live in the snow. You can also make footprints of those animals in the snow! Build their habitats for added S.T.E.M. learning and natural science.

Make a sheep with your white play dough! This is a great fine motor skills exercise as your child has to roll tiny balls with the play dough, using their fingers.

For more ideas on how to play with play dough, please see this activity, where you will also find the recipe for coloured play dough. Have fun!

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Snowmen at Night Story and Reading Activities

Our students at CEFA Early Learning schools have always loved the book snowmen at night, they want to read it over and over again! It is very well written and beautifully illustrated. It is a wonderful story to read together and is such a great way to welcome the winter. Enjoy the story, explore the illustrations, imagine what else the snowmen are up to and fully explore every aspect of the book together. The rhyming in the text is excellent for strengthening your child’s phonemic awareness. But reading the book is just the beginning! Below are some fun activities to do after reading the book, that work on many skills essential for learning to read, learning vocabulary, math, writing, the dramatic arts and other skills.

Best Ages for This Activity

Zero to five

Activity 1: Read and Discuss the Book Together

You will need:

  • The book. It is a very nice book to own and your child will want to read it time and again. Some of the extended learning activities I share with you will need the book for them as well, but if you cannot purchase it and cannot borrow it from the library, the video below reads the story for you.

Let’s get started!

  • Invite your child to read the book together. While reading, pause to discuss the book as you read. For example:
    • What do you think showmen do at night? I don’t think they move from their spot, do you? Let’s see what they say in this book
    • Do you know how to build a snowman? Should we try next time it snows?
    • Do you think snowmen slide down the streets to meet at the park? That is funny! Imagine!! (when you get to that page)
    • Why do you think they drink ice cold cocoa instead of cocoa?
  • Look at the beautiful illustrations together. Notice how much fun the snowmen are having, and how happy they seem to be playing in the snow together with friends.
  • Talk about your child’s friends – who do they like to play in the snow with? What do they like to do when they play in the snow?
  • Have they ever built a snowman? Would they like to? How tall would they build it?
  • Just talk about the book, what they notice, what they like, what else they think about when they are reading it.
  • Notice any new vocabulary and teach your child the new words, as well as how to use them. Review them over the next few weeks where appropriate.

Activity 2: Draw One Image the Book Makes You Think About

You will need:

Let’s get started!

  • Ask your child what their favourite part of the book was, and invite them to draw it
  • If they can write (many of our CEFA Early Learning school students can by age four), invite them to write a sentence about it as well (for example: If I were a snowman at night, I would build another snowman to have as a friend)
  • You can add a title to their drawing together (or you can do that first if you prefer) so they remember what book they read.

Activity 3: Use play dough to explore the story

You will need:

  • White play dough: You can buy this set which already comes in winter colours. If you don’t have enough white for all the snowmen you plan to build, you can get just white. I will also post an activity later this week that’ll teach you how to make your own!
  • The book (to refer to).
  • An easy to wipe surface where you can build a little town for your snow people to play at night. If you want, why not add a flashlight or Christmas lights and play when it gets darker? So fun!
  • Anything else you can use to make houses (like pieces of carboard) a hill, a skating rink (it can be an old mirror), etc.

Let’s get started!

Read the book snowmen at night and re-create scenes of the book for dramatic play! This will teach your child reading comprehension and dramatic play.

Start by building your snow people. Build as many as you like! Build snow mothers, snow fathers, snow babies, whatever your child want to build! Make your own snow people factory to do this!

If you build the scenes described in the book (for example, the skating rink, or the mountain where they go sledding), you add S.T.E.M. learning to this reading comprehension activity. You don’t have to use play dough to build everything! Use anything you find around the house, from big milk jugs to make hills to a mirror for the skating rink, or cups, wood and sticks. Use pine tree branches you find outside to make the trees if you like!

Once you have your snowmen and their play space, just play! Pretend they are sledding, or drinking a chocolate milk, or racing! You don’t have to stay with your child the whole time, let them explore this play invitation on their own as well. It is good for children to play on their own and use their imagination without relying on you for help.

Leave the installation for as long as your child shows interest. It can be weeks! As the days pass, think of other things the snow people could do. For example, build them little beds together so they can sleep after so much play. Or build them a spaceship and see if they want to visit another planet, or put a train set through the town so the snowmen can take the train whenever they want – anything your child wants to try! This activity is great for reading comprehension, imagination and creativity, as well as dramatic play.

Activity 4: Write a List of Activities to Do

This activity is an excellent writing and literacy exercise. Your child will understand the need for expressing themselves in the written language by making a list. Part of learning to write is feeling the desire and need to write (in this case, to write down ideas so we don’t forget them). If your child cannot yet write, they can draw, or they can ask you to help them write the list. If you are the one writing the list, make sure they are watching you write it, and name every word as you write it, so they understand that each work they say is written down. For example, say “go ice skating” as you write it. Here are more detailed instructions:

You will need:

  • The book (to refer to).
  • A pad of paper, notebook or just a simple 8½ x 11 clean piece of paper or lined paper.
  • A pencil or fine tip felt pen

Let’s get started!

After reading the book, discuss with your child how much fun the snowmen seemed to be having at night (you can look at the expression of their faces, at how their bodies are moving, etc.) then ask: “would you like to do some of these things as well? What would you like to do?” and listen to your child. Some of their ideas might be from the book, and some might not (they might tell you they would want to roast marshmallows on an open fire or build an igloo). Ask open questions like “what would you do if you were a snowman and had all night to play?”

After discussing all the things you would like to do (which is excellent for building vocabulary), you can say “why don’t we make a list of all the things we want to do then start doing those things?” and that is when you write your list  your child can illustrate it if they wish, instead of writing the words, or you can write the words on a separate piece of paper for them to copy onto their list (one activity at a time): “this is how you write drink hot chocolate with my friend”, or you can write it for them as they watch you say and write every work. You can explain to your child that sometimes lists start with a little box next to each item so they can tick it when they have completed the activity. Show them how to draw a square, and they can draw it at the beginning of each sentence, even if you write the rest of the words. It will give them great pleasure later to check each item they completed!

Once the list is done, place it somewhere your child can see it (for example, on the refrigerator door) and at their height. They will most likely try to read it often as they walk by, even before they can read. This is a very powerful way to teach literacy skills to your child you will be surprised at how much they learn just by being exposed to that list. They may remember the list by heart and not really be reading each word per se, but they are being exposed to the written language and how it is used.

Some items on your list (that can also be found in the book) may be:

  • Build a snowman (or many) Go back to the book if you need and make a list of what you will need (ex: a carrot, a hat, a scarf, etc.)
  • Make hot cocoa (what ingredients will we need? Should we try ice cold cocoa?
  • Make invitations to close friends to come for cocoa and to build a snowman together (when it is safe to do so, not during the pandemic)
  • Organize races with friends
  • Go skating on ice
  • Play in the snow
  • Play snowball baseball with snowballs and a broom!
  • Go sledding
  • Make snowballs

Activity 5: Explore the Story by Relating it to Everyday Life

You will need:

  • The book (to refer to).
  • The list you created in activity 4

Let’s get started!

Now that your child wrote a list of all the things they would do if they were a snowman at night, start doing each one! It is easy to do in the winter when it gets dark so early, because it really feels like they are going out at night and doing all these things  Read the list together (follow each word with your finger as you read it) and ask your child what they would like to do that day. If they want to do something that can’t be done immediately (for example, go ice skating), involve them in planning the activity. This will be less frustrating for the child than having you say no to all the ideas on the list without an explanation. Use my trick, always say “sure! Let us see how we can do it!” Here is an example:

  • I want to go tobogganing!
  • That sounds like so much fun! Let’s see where we can go to do that (then research together on the internet) … It says here we can go to Grouse mountain on Saturday mornings for tobogganing. Do you want to go this Saturday? Let us look at a calendar together to see when that is… it is in 4 more days! Shall we call and book it?
  • I want to go tobogganing now
  • Yes, that does sound like fun! Let us call to see if they are open right now… No, they only open on Saturday for that. Do you have any other ideas?
  • encourage your child to solve their own problems as much as you can and as often as you can. For example, if it is a snowy day, your child might be happy to go to the part two blocks away and slide using a sheet of cardboard. If no other ideas are better than waiting till Saturday, you can move on:
  • Ok let us book for Saturday and make a note on our calendars so we will not forget. In the meantime, maybe there’s something else on the list we can do today!
  • We could make hot chocolate!
  • Yes! Let us plan to make hot chocolate after dinner!
  • But I want hot chocolate now…
  • Ok, let’s get started on making it and I will make you an early dinner so you are ready to have it as soon as you finish eating – does that sound like a plan?
  • Yay!

Each time you do something from the list, you can make a checkmark by it, until you have done all the items your child wanted to do. You can also invite them to plan for something to do the next day, so you can prepare in advance together. This will teach our child to organize their day and make plans. It is a good life skill to have.

Learning Opportunities

This reading activity has so many learning opportunities, aside from vocabulary, literacy and reading, that I have highlighted them throughout the document instead. I think that this will also show them how much fun grown-ups can have in the snow.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alone During the Holidays? How to Bring the Magic Home Despite the Pandemic

I am not sure what is happening where you live, but here in British Columbia, the number of people affected by COVID-19 is rising every day and we have been asked to isolate. I know that our situation is not unique, and wherever you are in the world, you are probably staying home, and preparing to celebrate the holidays without your family as well.

I love the holidays, and so do my boys - we have so many traditions! One of them is getting together with my whole family on Christmas Eve and spending the whole evening together, sharing dinner and exchanging presents. My family is my two sons, my partner, his two daughters and myself. I am also very fortunate to have almost my entire family live close by: My brother, sister-in-law and my three nieces, my sister, brother-in-law and their three little ones, my mom and my grandmother – we love spending time together, and Christmas is no exception.

This year, however, like many families, we will each be in our own homes instead of together. My sons are old enough to understand it, but I think of my little nephews, who have been working on their list for Santa since July and looking forward to a loud and happy family get together, and I feel sad for them. I think of my 93-year-old grandma whose main joy is to spend time with family – these are the people who are affected the most by having to spend the holidays on their own.

But at least each one of us has a loving family at home – and I feel so grateful for that. What about those who are in care homes and cannot have visitors, or at the hospital, or on the street? What about those battling COVID-19, those who lost family members during the pandemic and those who lost their jobs? Compared to so many, we are very lucky to be healthy, to have a warm home, to have each-other, to be loved.

This year will be difficult for many people. It will be hard for young children, who don’t understand why the holidays are different this time, and who have been so patient since the beginning of this pandemic (almost a year ago now) and have seen their parents and siblings worried, depressed,  distracted, even angry and somewhat distant, although everyone is staying together indoors. Being together did not always mean that we were “being together”, enjoying each-other, taking time for one another. Instead, our children have seen us divide our time between them, our jobs, the laundry and all the things that have been altered since the pandemic. They have learned to be quiet when we are on calls, to understand that their friends can’t come over, their activities have stopped, and even school is different. Over the past year, young children have also had to endure the stress of the pandemic, just as we have. Many have not seen their grandparents for months, or their friends, and we can’t tell them when they will be able to see them again. For a young child who is just trying to understand the concept of time, and who is used to adults having answers to many of their questions – this pandemic has been difficult to cope with.

So, what can we do as parents to make it easier for them this holiday season? Make it magical! Here are some of the things we do each year at my house which make the Holidays such a special time for us, even now that my sons are 18 and 21.

We Set Up the Tree Together

Every year on November 1, I get the tree out and all the decorations, and set it up in our living room. It symbolizes the start of the winter for us, and instantly makes our home glow with the beautiful, peaceful light of the tree, which in turn makes us all even happier and more at peace. I know it is early to set up the tree, but somehow it makes the holidays last so much longer, and it symbolizes the time to be together as a family in the evenings, happily spending time together by the fire while it is rainy and dark outside. Maybe this year, just to make things a little more magical, try setting up the tree early, as a family.

We Watch Holiday Movies Together in our Pajamas

I must admit, I do this much more often than my boys do, especially now that they have grown up. I used to have all these holiday cartoons and movies for them when they were little, and every few days, we watched one together. The fun part was all of us spending time together, cozy in our PJs, with hot chocolate and popcorn, by the light of the tree and with a fire warming our place. You don’t have to watch a movie if you don’t want to, you can play a board game instead, or just cuddle, but spend the time together each day.

We Bake Together and Make Each-Other Special Drinks

I love baking, and I especially love baking during the holidays. It is such a great way to spend time together, and to pass down family recipes and teach your children how to bake. Not a baker? Not a problem. There are boxed cakes, cookies and even gingerbread cookie mixes that make it so easy to do! All you have to do is add water and a couple of eggs and you have the perfect cake 30 minutes later. Cake pans can be purchased at the dollar store for two dollars – you don’t need to get fancy. You can even buy some Christmas cake toppings and sprinkles and decorate pre-made cupcakes or decorate a gingerbread house! The nice part about baking is that you can teach your child to make something for others. We love baking cookies to share; I bring them to work, or we offer what we bake to our friends and family. This year, with COVID-19, we won’t be able to share our treats with everyone, but we can at least bake together.

As for the special drinks, I can tell you that mine contains Bailey’s around the holidays, but as a family, we love making each-other hot chocolate and add whipped cream and special seasonal sprinkles on top, or shaved chocolate. Making a beverage is simple and even a young child can do it. It is a way to teach them to give to others.

We Make Presents Together

One of my nieces brings every single person of our big family a handmade present every year at Christmas. She puts so much thought into making each one, and really takes the time to think about what we each like. You may not be able to see the family this year, but you and your child could think about each person and what they would like and make them a gift. It can be as simple as a drawing and as fancy as a bracelet – you decide!

We Play Board Games Together

This is not just during the holidays, but since you will have a little extra family time, why not teach your child how to play a new board game and leave it set up during the holidays? Also, try a puzzle you can all complete together!

We Play in the Snow

We may not be able to go ice skating or do many things that involve a public venue, but we can always build a snowman in the backyard! Spending time outside is healthy, and there are plenty of things you can do, like building a fort, building a snow pal, going sledding or going on long walks around the neighborhood.

We Read Together

I love reading, and so do my children. During the holidays, why not start a longer book together that you can read over a week or two? You can cozy up by the fireplace and read it as a family without having to worry about bedtime. Most children only read at school or else right before bed, but there is something magical about curling up with your little one and a nice book in the middle of the day – give it a try, you will see!

We Wrap Presents Together

Since before I had children, I always chose a night to wrap all the Christmas presents for my family. I would put some music on, have a Bailey’s on the rocks (I swear the holidays the only time of the year I drink Bailey’s!) while I carefully and beautifully wrap each present. My youngest son has, since he was just a few months old, joined me in that tradition. He loves wrapping all the presents with me and placing them under the tree. The only ones he does not wrap are his own J Some families don’t have presents under the tree until “Santa brings them” but in our family, they know that presents come from me and from the family. Santa brings one present, and it is always unwrapped. We open our presents on the 24th at midnight, and the next day when they wake up, they run to see what Santa brought them. We spend the rest of the day playing with their new gifts. We all have different traditions, and that is the one I made for my home. I find that my sons learned a lot from watching me choose a present for each person in my family and wrapping them with love and dedication. Plus, learning to wrap is not as easy as it seems, so it is excellent practice for your little ones if they start doing it with you.

We Write Cards for our Friends

You may not be able to see your friends as much these days, but you can write them a card or make them a drawing, then mail it together. Ask your child what they like about the person they are writing to and help them write that on the card if they are too young to write. For example: “Grandma, I like that you help me with my math homework” or “Sam, I like having you as a friend because you always make me laugh”. This way, your child learns to appreciate others, and to express that appreciation.

We Find a Way to Contribute Together

My sons have been volunteering with me from a young age, as well as donating time or money towards causes they believe in. Around the holidays, we have always found a way to give to others. We bought and wrapped presents for families who needed them, then delivered them. We distributed food and blankets to people on the street, we helped at soup kitchens, and contributed to the food bank. Every year from the time they were little, I chose a way to contribute that they could understand (for example, it is easy to explain to a child how a food bank works) and participate in. This teaches them to be grateful for what they have, but also to share with others.

We Stay Close to Those we Love

Children are, by nature, resilient, quick learners and adaptable. My mom told me yesterday that my sister called her via Facetime so she could sing her new baby to sleep. My mom was beside herself with pride and happiness. Although she could not hold her new granddaughter, she felt close to her and experienced such joy while singing her the lullabies she used to sing to us when we were little. Invite your child to use zoom, facetime, or any other app you have at your disposal to virtually get together with friends and family throughout the holidays, and you will teach them to care for others and stay in touch.

There are many more things we do during the holidays. Some we won’t be able to do this year due to the pandemic, but many traditions can still be honoured, and new ones can be added as well. This year, our focus is on being close, helping others and finding new ways to keep our big family together while being apart. What are your favourite holiday traditions? I would love to hear from you in the comments, below.


Leaf Prints on Play Dough

This activity seems quite simple but your child can gain fine motor skills, learn math, and even learn about natural science! Plus, you will need a nice outdoor walk by a park or forest near you to collect these beautiful autumn leaves to begin with, which gives you and your child a chance to connect with nature. Take a camera for your child  to photograph all the leaves, the trees where you found them, the beautiful scenery around you (an excellent visual arts activity), and take the time to play and jump on the biggest pile of leaves you can find (gross motor play) and feel how the weight of your child’s body makes them crackle (sensory learning). We love using nature to learn at our CEFA Early Learning schools.

Best Ages for This Activity

One to four

How to Make It

You will need:

Let’s get started!

  • Go on a walk outside and take the time to play with leaves before you collect them (optional). During play, ask your child about the way the leaves feel on their hands, or how they sound when they walk over them. Chat about the scents of fall, the colours they see, the shapes of the leaves, the size of the trees and of the leaves, the different sorts of leaves and trees they find, etc. Don’t “quiz” your child, just talk about these things as if you were chatting to a friend about it. These types of conversations are the ideal way for your child to increase their vocabulary as well as they math language and math knowledge. Your child will also learn about nature, about why the leaves fall, about the trees and how many years it takes for them to be as tall as they are (if you are not sure, google is your friend here). Explore, explore, explore. Enjoy nature with your child and they will develop a lifelong love for the outdoors, and respect for the natural world. Don’t rush this part of the activity – fully immerse yourself in it!

  • Take the time to take beautiful photos (on your phone is perfect) show your child how to look through a lens, how to capture what they find beautiful through a photograph. This will make a perfect visual arts activity.
  • See if you find any friends amongst the leaves and find out how they live. You will at least fin a few interesting insects

  • In a basket or recyclable bag, collect a few leaves of various kinds that are not yet dry. This is important because you will have to “peel” the leaf apart from the play dough to see the print, and a dry leaf will just crack and break. Out of respect for nature, only take leaves that have fallen.
  • When you get home, look at all the leaves you found. This is where you could introduce math activities such as:
    • Counting the leaves
    • Sorting by colour
    • Sorting by size
    • Sorting by type/shape
    • Sorting by level of dryness
    • Etc.

  • Invite your child to make prints on play dough with the leaves they choose.
  • Demonstrate if needed, or play alongside your child to show them how to do it:
    • First, flatten a ball of play dough with your hands, then use the rolling pin to flatten it evenly.
    • Next, carefully place one leaf, right side up, on the flattened play dough. Flatten gently with your hand.

    • Use the rolling pin to gently go over the play dough (and the leaf) without damaging your leaf.
    • Lift the leaf to look at the print it made!

    • Try with different kinds of leaf, and experiment mixing the pressure you apply on the leaf. Try pressing with your hands instead of the rolling pin, observe what happened (science), etc.

Learning Opportunities

Making an even imprint with a leaf is harder than you think for your child. It is an excellent fine motor activity. Pulling the leaf apart from the play dough also requires fine motor skills as your child has to be delicate enough not to break or rip the leaf.  Your child will also learn math, creativity, art, S.T.E.M., natural science, literacy, independent play and so much more.

Extended Learning Opportunities

  • Once the leaf is placed, try cutting around the play dough in the shape of the leaf before pulling the leaf out:

  • Instead of play dough, try the same activity using clay, which dries and be painted afterwards (another fine motor skill that will help with writing) – it is a beautiful art piece.

  • Try threading leaves (activity here)

  • Make a beautiful leaf collage (visual arts) with the leaves you have left

  • Make a leaf garland and teach your child to tie knots (fine motor skills and practical life skills)

  • Learn about the trees and leaves in your neighborhood, and about why leaves change colour (natural science, nature appreciation) and classify them (math)

  • Make a beautiful leaf mobile (visual arts) for a baby brother or sister (empathy and contribution)

  • Paint with leaves, or paint the leaf itself (visual arts and sensory activity)

  • Learn to draw the different leaves (art, math, fine motor skills – a precursor to writing)

  • Colour match (math)

  • Make graphs of your findings (math)

  • Make your leaves come to life (dramatic arts, creative play and art)

  • Using the play dough, make sculptures using leaves, branches and other outdoor treasures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Go on A (Real) Virtual Safari

I traveled to South Africa last December and was really excited to go on a safari – watch the animals in their habitat, and how they interact with one another. It has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. More than anything, I wanted to take my own children to see it, and when they could not come, we decided to wait until we could all do it together on another occasion.

In looking for interesting activities for your children, I found this site which offers live safaris hosted by experts in real time. You can even ask them questions as you go! It is the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon and see a little bit of our beautiful planet, at least until we can go again in person one day.

So, next rainy day, why not get ready to go on a safari. Pack a lunch, dress accordingly, bring a notebook to take notes and draw what you see, bring a camera to capture the animals, and settle into your family room sofa (which we are now pretending is a jeep) to go along for the ride!

We will certainly try it at our CEFA Early Learning schools when we study the animals of Africa. Please share with me how you did it at your house (pictures too, if you dare!) The best part of this home safari is you can pause and start the video as many times as you want to look at an animal in particular, or a scene. I bet you’re going to love it so much that if and when you go on a real African safari, you will wish that the zebras had a pause button too!

It is beginning to get warm in South Africa, so go on, take a virtual trip in the sun!

Best Ages for This Activity

One to five

How to Make It

You will need:

  • A computer, tablet or smart TV
  • This link
  • Your best khakis to wear on your safari - optional
  • A picnic and snacks (remember not to feed the animals) - optional
  • Binoculars – optional
  • A notepad (for notes and drawings)
  • A camera or phone (to take photos of the animals that can then be glued to the notepad afterward).
  • A card for your child to find the animals while on the safari (I included one here)

Let’s Get Started!

  • View the video first to make sure that it will be of interest to your child. If so;
  • Invite your child to go on a (pretend) Safari (the more you get into the role-play, the more dramatic play opportunities for your child. Get into your safari clothes (khakis or even camouflage clothes, binoculars, cameras, etc.)
  • Turn on the video
  • Comment on the animals you see as the video is playing, ask questions, take photos (yes, of your TV screen), listen to the sounds that the animals make, roar like a lion, run like a gazelle – whatever you feel like doing.

Learning Opportunities

Children will learn about our natural world in this activity, especially, about how animals live in the wild, and about animals from Africa. They will learn S.T.E.M. as they use technology to learn about the world, and natural science. Also, because of all the trouble you went into to get into character, they will have an opportunity for dramatic play. If you explore new vocabulary, they will learn literacy. Plus, they will learn that grown-ups too can pretend play.

Extended Learning Opportunities

For the next few weeks, learn about animals that live in Africa using an atlas, books or the internet (check this link here).

  • Print the poster of African animals included here and hang it in your child’s room so you can study the animals together, talk about them according to your child’s interests. The point is not to memorize every animal’s data, it is to develop in your child a curiosity about the natural world, and to open the conversation so your child can ask questions about what really interests them about the safari experience (for example, one child might be fascinated with how fast each animal can run, while another might want to know what they eat, and another how large or small each animal is, or your child might be interested in absolutely all of these things, it depends.) go with the interests of your child, explore the world through their eyes, and enrich it where you can. The poster can act as a conversation starter.
  • Use the notebook you started for your child to gather all the information they are learning. For instance, they might want to glue the photos of all the animals on it, then write below what they learned about them, then also try drawing them. This extension of the activity is excellent for teaching vocabulary and S.T.E.M. (particularly natural science and math) as well as reading and writing
  • Incorporate math into the activity by actually measuring (on your floor or on your wall, with painter’s tape or string) how tall each animal is, and comparing them, organizing them by height, seeing how much room they would take up in your house (“could we have a rhinoceros in our living room? Let’s measure how much room they would take!”; or “how many lions could fit in our bathtub?”; or “would a giraffe fit through the door if we invited it in the house?”)
  • Another math activity would be to see how fast each animal is, and try to run as fast as they do (use a chronometer or your phone timer)
  • Invite your child to learn about Africa, its culture, its history, its geography, its people and everything your child wants to know! Show them on the globe where it is, what bodies of water surround it, where the animals live mostly, etc. you can use some of the books I suggested below for this. Culture immersion is something we teach at our CEFA Early Learning schools.
  • Another excellent activity for dramatic play, creativity, problem-solving, reasoning, literacy, S.T.E.M. and natural sciences is to invite one of the animals to live with you for a day or two. To help your child conceptualize it, try giving them the actual animal they choose to carry around, like a stuffed animal or a figurine of one. You most likely have one of these around the house. Take the animal with you all day long – to breakfast, lunch and dinner (“what does your lion eat?” “how many times does your lion eat each day? Is it as many times as you? Is it less than once a day? Why?”) and in each scenario, figure out what your animal needs (this is where google, an encyclopedia or a book come in to save us!) take the animal to sleep with you (“where does your lion like to sleep? On top of a hill? In a cave? In a pile of grass? Do they get cold? Do they use a blanket like you? Let’s find out!”) and to the bath (“does your lion use a shower? Does he use a bath? How does he get clean? Where does he get clean? Does he brush his teeth? Does he brush his mane? Etc.) – your child will learn about the animal and draw comparisons between a wild animal’s lifestyle and their own. Next time, you can invite a different “animal” for a day and do the same.
  • Draw or paint African animals in their natural habitat for writing and visual arts.

  • Invite your child to add to their notebook, under each animal, pictures of parents and their babies. This fascinates young children. You can also compare sizes (birth to full grown) for an added math Talk about how long babies stay close to their moms, and how long until they are independent. This is a wonderful natural science activity and also teaches empathy. There are plenty of videos online that teach you about the animals and show you real footage, just screen them first to make sure you don’t show your child something they are not ready to see (like a gazelle being ripped apart by a couple of lions.)

With your child, build a safari or a jungle for them to play in or with, in their room. It does not have to be professional, just anything you have around the house or anything you can build or draw to stir their imagination! You can also build it out of lego together! Here’s a set