Fun for Little Ones

Seasonal activities just for parents of kids under 5.

Everything in this slideshow

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Photograph by Julie Bidwell

What's Up, Dough?

Deck out your wee one's Easter basket with a sugar-free, holiday-themed play dough kit.

Fill cone-shaped cellophane favor bags (available at craft stores) with orange play dough, then tie the tops with short, curly green ribbon. Place the carrots in a basket with accessories, such as Easter- or spring-themed cookie cutters and a mini rolling pin.

Ages: 18 months and up

Originally published in the April 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Julie Bidwell

Flight of Fancy

Let your child's imagination soar with a pair of pretty poster board wings she can decorate herself.

You will need:

  • Tempera paint and brushes
  • 1 sheet (22- by 28-inch) white poster board
  • 1 sheet (22- by 28-inch) colored poster board
  • Glue stick
  • Clear packing tape
  • Hole punch
  • 2 (10-inch) lengths of 5/8-inch-wide fold-over elastic

  1. Have your child paint the white poster board. Let the paint dry.
  2. Fold the colored poster board in half lengthwise, then draw a rough B shape, using the fold as the flat side of the B (ours measured 12 by 18 inches). Cut out the shape and unfold the wings.
  3. Trace the wings onto the back of the painting. Draw a line about 1/2 inch in from the tracing, then cut out the shape along that line. Glue the pieces together and let them dry.
  4. Hold the wings up to your child's back and draw a light pencil mark just above each shoulder, then add a second mark about 3 inches below. For extra durability, adhere clear packing tape over each of the pencil marks, then punch holes through them.
  5. Knot an end of one length of the elastic. Starting from the back, thread the other end through the bottom hole and out the top. Securely knot the end and trim any excess. Repeat with the other side.

Ages: 3 years and up

Originally published in the April 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Allie Cottrill

At-Home Art Gallery

Another day, another stack of masterpieces to admire -- and display.

Rather than cluttering up the front of the fridge, showcase your kids' artwork on wall-mounted café curtain rods with ring clips, which make adding new work a snap (we got a rod and clips at Lowe's for about $13). To keep things organized, assign a rod to each child. You might even hang a photo of the artist on the end.

Ages: 18 months and up

Originally published in the February 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Barbara Peacock

Blah Busters

FamilyFun Facebook fans share their favorite ways to cure cabin fever.

Fill a plastic container with snow and bring it inside so that the kids can play with their toys in the snow without their noses freezing.
Lianne and Paul S.

Set up indoor bowling with cups and a tennis ball.
Amy R.

Roll out paper and make a hopscotch design or a small town with a track, or simply trace the kids and have them color in their outlines.
Priscilla H.

Set up a small inflatable pool and fill it with balls for a homemade ball pit or with stuffed animals and pillows. Or throw in shredded newspaper and treasures for the kids to uncover. Everyone stays busy and happy for a long time!
Camille G.

Dress up like the characters in a book.
Chris R.

Make your own play dough and add vanilla or spices to the recipe. It smells great, and little hands stay warm.
Carlene E.

Ages: 1 and up

Originally published in the February 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Barbara Peacock

For the Birds

Invite more wildlife into your yard with this festive feeder. The project starts with a walk to collect the sticks.

You will need:

  • Ribbon for the frame (we used two 40-inch lengths), plus extra for decoration
  • 3 sticks (ours are 7, 10, and 13 inches long)
  • Birdseed
  • Nut butter

  1. In each ribbon, tie three loops large enough that you can slide the sticks through them.
  2. Pour birdseed in a cookie tray. Have your child coat the center of each stick with nut butter, then roll the sticks in the birdseed. Hang the sticks in the loops as shown.
  3. Tie ribbon pieces on the bottom stick, if you like, then hang the feeder. When the seeds are gone, you can take out the sticks and coat them again.

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Prints Charming

Even young kids can help make this gift of holiday tea towels that family and friends will treasure for years.

You will need:

  • 1 to 2 cucumbers
  • Newspaper
  • Cotton towels (we used flour sack towels), washed and ironed
  • Fabric paint
  • Paper plates
  • Fabric pen

  1. Wash and dry the cucumbers, then cut them crosswise into 2-inch sections.
  2. Lay a piece of newspaper under a towel. Pour a thin layer of fabric paint on a plate.
  3. Help your child dip the dry cut end of a cucumber into the paint (use a new section for each color), blot the paint on the newspaper, then firmly press the cucumber onto the towel for about 5 seconds. Repeat. Let the paint dry.
  4. With the fabric pen, draw an ornament top as shown. Follow the manufacturer's directions to set the paint and marker.
    1. Originally published in the November 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

Artful Gift Tags

Even kids just learning to draw can help make these creative gift tags. Simply cut gift tag shapes out of your toddler's artwork (or copies of the originals), then punch a hole in one end and add a ribbon tie. After the packages are opened, you can hang the tags on your tree as pretty keepsake ornaments.

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

Beyond Finger Painting

Nurture your toddler's creativity with art activities that have him use everyday items in new ways. Pour small puddles of nontoxic washable paint into shallow containers and set out a variety of easy-to-clean items to inspire him. A few of our favorites:

Toy vehicles: Have him drive the wheels through the paint, then race the cars across the paper to make colorful tracks.
Round scrub brush: Show him how to stamp dots on paper. It's like a tot-friendly introduction to pointillism.
Hair comb: He can make curvy patterns and draw lines by dipping the teeth in paint and dragging them at different angles over his sheet of paper.

Crafter's Tip: To make cleanup easier, lay a shower curtain or plastic tablecloth on the floor under your work surface.

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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Photograph by Laura Doss

Bowling by Numbers

Encourage number recognition and counting skills with a simple game that makes the most of the contents of your recycling bin.

Using number stickers or a marker, label ten plastic bottles with numbers 1 through 10. Help your kids to set up the bottles as shown, then let them knock them down with a ball. Talk about the numbers on the bottles after each roll ("You knocked down 1 and 3!" "Can you knock down 2 and 4?"). To introduce basic addition skills, count up the points after each roll.

Age: 2 years and up

Originally published in the September 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

Mini Meterologists

Teach your child about the weather -- and how to pick out the right clothes to wear -- with this handy chart. To use it, ask her to think about what's happening outside (Is the sun shining? Is it cloudy? Do we need an umbrella?), then have her move the pin to the appropriate symbol.

You will need:

  • Glue stick
  • 4 (6- by 6-inch) squares of decorative paper, plus scrap
  • Foam core (we used 3/16-inch), cut to 6 by 24 inches
  • Card stock in solid colors
  • Clothespin
  • Tape
  • Ribbon

  1. Glue the paper squares to the foam core.
  2. Cut out a sun, cloud, raindrop, and snowflake, or other weather symbols. Glue one in the center of each square.
  3. If you like, trim a scrap of paper to fit the top of the clothespin and glue it in place.
  4. Tape a ribbon loop to the back of the foam core for hanging.

Age: 2 years and up

Originally published in the September 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Hen in a Nest

Make a flock of these adorable chicks to celebrate spring and use up any leftover Easter eggs.

For each chick, pile 1/4 cup of cooked spaghetti on a plate (we used whole wheat and broke the pasta into pieces before cooking it). Place a small scoop of your favorite egg salad recipe on top (about 2 heaping tablespoons), then decorate with olive eyes, a steamed carrot beak, and a parsley comb (optional).

Age: 1 year and up

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Barbara Peacock

Smart Art Collage

Got a prolific little artist in your house? Here's a pretty way to showcase her work -- and manage that growing collection. Display just one interesting detail from each piece or shrink down an entire drawing or painting.

Using scissors or a large craft punch, cut same-size shapes from your child's artwork (from the original or color photocopies). Arrange the shapes in a grid on a piece of mat board cut to fit your frame (we got an 11 1/2- by 27 1/4-inch Norrlida frame at Ikea for $9.99). Attach the art to the board with a glue stick. Let the glue dry completely before putting the mat board in the frame for hanging.

Crafter's tip: To get our uniform shapes, we used Fiskars 2 1/2-inch Squared Lever Punch (4XL). $26.49,

Age: 1 year and up

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Barbara Peacock

Unbeatable Easter Eggs

This shaving cream printing project combines entertaining sensory play with gorgeous final results. When the paint is dry, you and your tot can take turns hiding the eggs around the house or tape some to a string for a festive garland.

You will need:

  • 2 trays
  • Shaving cream
  • Washable paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Thick paper or card stock, cut into egg shapes
  • Bath squeegee or plastic ruler
  • String and tape (optional)

  1. Cover the bottom of one tray with shaving cream.
  2. Zigzag lines of paint over the shaving cream.
  3. Drag the handle end of a paintbrush (or your fingers) through the paint to make swirly designs.
  4. Press one side of a paper egg onto the cream (an adult's job), then set it paint-side-up on the second tray.
  5. Using the squeegee or the edge of the ruler, scrape the excess shaving cream off the egg.
  6. Hang the egg to dry. If the paper curls, place the dry egg overnight under a heavy object, such as a book, to flatten it.

Age: 2 years and up

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

Thanksgiving Crayon Caddy

This adorable turkey makes a festive addition to the holiday kids' table. Each holds enough drawing supplies to keep young guests entertained right through dessert.

For each, cut six feathers from card stock (ours are 2 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches) and crease the centers. Arrange the feathers in a fan shape on a piece of double-sided foam tape, then attach them to a 9-ounce paper cup. For the face, cut two circles (ours are 2 inches and 2 1/2 inches) and facial features from card stock. Tape the circles together, then glue on the features. Tape the face to the cup. Fill each turkey with crayons. Set the holders on the table with place mats cut from kraft paper.

Age: 18 months and up

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

Familiar Faces Finger Puppets

Turn pictures into props for a one-parent show that will help your tot stay close to those dear to her.

Select photos of family and friends that are less than 2 inches across. Cut them out. (For perfectly round edges, we used a 1 1/2-inch hole punch.) With hot glue, attach one photo to each fingertip of a knit glove. Let the glue dry, then entertain your child with first-person stories from the ones she loves.

Age: 12 months and up

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

Colorful Vellum Votives

Great holiday gifts for family and friends, these delightful decorations let your kids' art shine.

You will need:

  • Vellum (available at craft stores for about 65 cents a sheet)
  • Glass container with straight sides
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Double-sided tape
  • Battery-operated tea light

  1. Wrap the vellum around the glass container, then trim the paper to fit with a 1/2-inch overlap.
  2. Lay the vellum on a flat surface and invite your child to draw on it.
  3. Wrap the vellum around the container drawing side out, then tape it in place. Set a tea light inside.

Age: 18 months and up

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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Photograph by John Dolan/Trunk Archive

Sense-Sational Outings

Encourage your family to get outside and explore your surroundings with a variety of themed scavenger hunts that put your sense of hearing, touch, and smell to the test.

Here's how to get started: first write up a list of things that you're likely to experience in your area. On a "sound" walk, for example, you might listen for water splashing, leaves crunching underfoot, kids playing, a dog barking, and so on. On a "texture" walk, you might search for bumpy tree bark, smooth stones, and soft plants, such as moss. And on a scent walk, you can challenge your kids to sniff an acorn, a chrysanthemum, or just the tang of crisp fall air. Take your list and a crayon or washable marker with you and check off the items as you and your kids identify them. When you complete the list, your family can brainstorm more items to discover using a different sense, then set off on another adventure.

Age: 2 years and up

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

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Photograph by Peter LaMastro

Play Dough Print Shop

You can help your preschooler learn her letters with this spellbinding idea. Simply set out some dough, a rolling pin, and alphabet cookie cutters and encourage her to play around with the ABCs. When she's ready to form words, write them on a piece of paper for her to copy.

Age: 3 years and up

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Photograph by Peter LaMastro

Hungry Hamper

Here's a simple way to turn cleanup into a game: have your tot feed dirty duds to a ravenous frog!

You Will Need:

  • black and red duct tape
  • parchment paper
  • 2 baseball-size practice balls
  • plastic tub with handles (we got our 6.9-gallon Tubtrug at a hardware store for $12)
  • 2 (11-inch) zip ties

Step 1: Adhere several inches of black duct tape to parchment paper, then cut out 2-inch circles for pupils. Peel off the paper and stick a pupil on each ball, pressing firmly around the edges.

Step 2: Attach the eyeballs to one of the tub handles by threading the zip ties through the holes in the balls. Trim the excess plastic.

Step 3:To make the tongue, adhere several strips of red duct tape side by side to parchment paper and cut out a tongue shape. Peel off the paper and stick the tongue to the tub as shown.

Age: 28 months and up

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Photograph by Peter LaMastro

Sweet Sock Art

This memento from your tot's early days will help you remember her tee'y tiny tootsies long after she's graduated to shoes.

You Will Need:

  • foam core
  • shadow box (ours is 20 inches square)
  • colorful fabric or paper
  • duct tape
  • 6 to 10 baby socks
  • glue dots
  • card stock and marker

Step 1: Cut the foam core to fit inside your shadow box.

Step 2: Fold the fabric or paper around the foam core and secure it with duct tape.

Step 3: Arrange the socks as shown, then attach them with glue dots.

Step 4: Write your child's name and birth date on a piece of card stock (ours is 3 inches across) and attach it with glue dots.

Step 5: Place the foam core in the shadow box and hang it on the wall.

Age: Newborn and up

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Photographs by Peter LaMastro


Three family-friendly bathroom solutions:

Step 1: Decorate a wooden stool with nonskid tub decals, to help keep your child steady on his feet. Turtle Tub Tattoos, SlipX Solutions, $4.99 12 months and up

Step 2: Put small toys, such as plastic snakes or flowers, in a liquid soap dispenser for a fun twist on a discovery bottle. It may even inspire your child to wash his hands more often. 12 months and up

Step 3: Protect your funny bone with the padded Moby Bathtub Elbow Saver. Bonus feature: a waterproof pocket for storing watches and jewelry. Skip Hop, $15 Newborn and up

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Photograph by Ronnie Andren

Play Sand

Bring the thrill of the beach inside with this soft, moldable dough that feels like sand.

In a large bowl, combine 4 cups flour with 1/2 cup vegetable oil, mixing with your hands until the oil is incorporated. Put the mixture into a plastic bin, preferably one with a lid, and add some playthings, such as measuring cups, cupcake molds, and toy cars and trucks. Store the dough in the bin or in a sealed ziplock bag.

Age: 15 months and up

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Photograph by Mark Mantegna

Watch Me Grow

We love this growth chart project that reader Katie Chesnut came up with. She made a chart for each of her sons, Cole, age 4, and Knox, 23 months. "My kids enjoyed stamping the boards," says the Polo, Illinois, mom, "and I got to preserve their small footprints in a creative way. I wrote the date on the back so that I'd always remember how old they were when they made them." To personalize the chart even more, we added an acrylic picture frame. You can slip in a new photo whenever you mark your child's height.


  • 1- by 6-inch board, cut to 4 or 6 feet
  • Acrylic paint and paintbrushes
  • Cloth measuring tape
  • Strong double-sided tape (we used Terrifically Tacky Tape)
  • Double-sided foam tape
  • Magnetic acrylic picture frame
  • Hanging hardware, such as a small sawtooth hanger

See the next slide for instructions.

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Photograph by Mark Mantegna

How to Make a Growth Chart

Step 1: Sand the board, if needed, then paint it. Let the paint dry.
Step 2: Coat the soles of your child's feet with paint, then help him make footprints on the board, reapplying paint as needed. (Crafter's tip: Put a rag and a pan of warm water at the end of the board so that your tot can easily wash the paint off his feet — and not make tracks around the house.) With a baby or an unsteady walker, do one foot at a time.
Step 3: Using your child's birth length (21 inches, say) as the starting point, cut the measuring tape to fit the board, then attach it with the double-sided tape. Use the foam tape to secure the picture frame.
Step 4: Hang the board on the wall at the correct height.

Age: Newborn and up

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Photograph by Carl Tremblay

Get a Grip

Give your child's fine motor skills a boost with these activities that use everyday supplies (all require adult supervision).

Indoor Gardening
Hand your tot a clean plastic squeeze bottle, such as a recycled dish-soap container or baby shampoo bottle, to water plants. She'll love having her very own job and the squeezing action will help strengthen her finger and hand muscles. Ages 2 years and up

Toddler Tote
Tuck used gift cards and outdated IDs into an old wallet, then have your little one satisfy her curiosity— and hone her pincer grasp —by pulling them out. Ages 2 years and up

Mini Mechanic
Gather a collection of large nuts and bolts, then show your tot how to find the pairs and twist them together. This practical puzzler promotes eye-hand coordination as well as bilateral integration (using two hands at once), which is an important prewriting skill. Ages 2 1/2 years and up

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Photograph by Carl Tremblay

Indoor Energy-Burners

Help channel your child's limitless energy (and maybe even tire him out before naptime) with these boredom- busting activities.

Stuck in the Mud
Tape a 2- to 3-foot strip of Con-Tact paper tacky side up on the floor and peel off the backing. Younger ones can experience the simple thrill of touching the sticky paper or setting down toys and peeling them off, while toddlers can try walking, jumping, and dancing across it (lifting their feet makes a wonderful sound). Ages 6 months and up

Firefly Tag
Get your tot moving with this catchy flashlight game. Using a pushpin, poke holes in the bottom of a paper cup to create a simple insect shape, then set the cup over the lens of a flashlight. Shine the light on the wall or floor of a dim room, moving the beam so that the insect looks like it's flying. Now encourage your toddler to "catch it." Once she gets the hang of it and you're comfortable giving her the flashlight, switch roles. Ages 12 months and up

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Photograph by Ronnie Andren

Mess-Free Sponge Painting

Inspire your toddler's creativity — and curiosity — with a printing project that keeps her hands, clothes, and everything else clean.

You will need:

  • Card stock
  • Gallon-size ziplock storage bag
  • Kitchen sponge
  • Tempera paints
  • Masking Tape

Step 1: Trim a piece of card stock to fit in the bag, and slip it inside.

Step 2: Dampen the sponge and cut it into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Press each piece into a different color paint, then put the sponges in the bag and zip it closed. Add a piece of tape to secure it.

Step 3: Set the bag on a table and encourage your toddler to press down on the sponges to make prints or shake the bag to move them around. When she's done, take out the card stock and let it dry.

Take It Further: For different patterns, dip marbles in paint and let your little artist roll them around inside the bag.

Age: 18 months and up

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Photograph by Ronnie Andren

Balloon Badminton

For a fun twist on a classic game (and a great hand- eye coordination booster), use homemade rackets to keep a balloon off the ground. Once your child gets the hang of it, place a pool noodle or rope between you for a net and try volleying the balloon back and forth.

To make rackets, cover paint stirrers or rulers with electrical tape. Cut craft foam into circle or flower shapes (ours are about 8 inches across), then attach the shapes to the handles with more tape as shown. Blow up a balloon and let the games begin!

Editor's Tip: Don't have a balloon? Make a lightweight ball by crumpling up a piece of newspaper and securing it with a strip of tape.

Age: 2 years and up

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Photograph by Ronnie Andren

My First Family Tree

Give your child a sense of his place in the world with a photo display that does double- duty as a (supervised) plaything. The pictures are attached with Velcro, so your budding genealogist can reposition the pictures as often as he likes while learning who goes where.

You will need:

  • Kraft paper
  • Glue stick
  • Presentation board (with the flaps cut off) or cardboard (ours is 23 by 30 1/2 inches)
  • Paper copies of family photographs
  • 3-inch wood disk for each family member (available at craft stores for about 30 cents apiece)
  • Mod Podge and brush
  • Velcro dots

See next slide for instructions

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Photograph by Ronnie Andren

How to Make a Family Tree

Step 1: Draw a tree shape on the kraft paper, cut it out, and use the glue stick to attach it to the presentation board. We added a wrapping paper frame as well as leaves, grass, and a bird cut from decorative paper.

Step 2: Trim the photographs to fit the wood disks. Attach each picture to a disk with Mod Podge, then add a coat of Mod Podge over the image to seal the surface. Let the disks dry. Trim any excess paper around the edges and brush on a final coat of Mod Podge.

Step 3: When the Mod Podge is dry, adhere each disk to the tree by attaching one side of a Velcro dot to the back of the disk and the corresponding side to the tree.

Crafter's Tip: For a simple storage solution, add extra Velcro dots across the bottom of the board, as shown.

Age: 12 months and up

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Beautiful Bouquets

Help your child show a loved one she cares with a flower basket crafted from her artwork.

Have your tot decorate a square sheet of paper (ours was 24 inches). Fold the paper into a triangle with the artwork on the outside, then fold over 1/2 inch of the long edge. Roll the triangle into a cone with the folded edge at the top, trim the ends, and secure with clear tape. Punch holes in opposite sides of the cone, through the folded edge. Thread a ribbon through the holes, then knot the ends. Wrap the stems of your flowers with a wet paper towel, place in a plastic bag, then into the cone.

Ages: 2 years and up

Originally published in the June/July 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Picture-Perfect Keepsake

Document your baby's first year with a set of themed monthly photos.

We love this simple idea for showcasing a child's growth from birth to age one. Every month, take a photograph of your tot with the number of toy blocks that match her age (one block for her first month, two for her second, and so on). At the end of the year, display the collection of images together to form a cute time line.

Ages: newborn and up

Originally published in the June/July 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Rainbow Writing Tray

There's no cheerier way for kids to hone their fine motor skills than by drawing shapes and letters in this tactile box.

Glue strips of colored card stock to the bottom of a sturdy, white gift box with a lid (we got our 11 1/2- by 8 1/2-inch box at The Container Store for $4.99). Alternately, you can use tempera paints to make the stripes. Let the glue or paint dry. Cover the bottom of the box with salt, then encourage your toddler to draw shapes and wipe them away. Be sure to supervise her play and store the box out of reach when not in use.

Ages: 2 years and up

Originally published in the June/July 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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Colorful Soap Foam

Looking for some good, clean fun? Try this sudsy sensory experience adapted from 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, by Asia Citro. If you make a few different hues of this fluffy foam, your preschooler can experiment with mixing colors.

In a large bowl, place 2 tablespoons dish detergent (clear works best), 1 tablespoon nontoxic tempera paint, and 1/4 cup water. Using an electric mixer on the highest speed, blend the ingredients until stiff peaks form (1 to 2 minutes), then transfer the bubbles to a large plastic bin. Rinse out the bowl and repeat to mix other colors.

Ages: 3 years and up

Originally published in the June/July 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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DIY Activity Box

Babies love to experiment with cause and effect, and this pull-the-string busy box lets them do just that -- without your having to pick cereal up off the floor.

You will need:

  • Sturdy gift box with a lid (we got ours at The Container Store)
  • Screwdriver
  • Strips of fleece or jersey, new or repurposed from old T-shirts (ours were 10 inches long)

  1. Push the screwdriver gently through the lid to make holes.
  2. Place the lid on the bottom of the box. Make a pencil mark in the center of each hole, then remove the lid and make holes with the screwdriver. Smooth out any rough edges.
  3. Thread the strips through the bottom of the box and the corresponding holes in the lid, then put the lid on. Securely knot one end of each strip (we quadruple-tied ours). Trim each strip to 7 inches and tie another secure knot. Be sure to supervise play.

Ages: 9 months and up

Originally published in the June/July 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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