Jessica's Picks

Sun, 07/03/2011 - 3:17pm

Arts and Crafts:

1. Bingo Dabber Art: If you are looking for a quick, simple art activity head down to your local dollar store and pick up some bingo dabber markers. Toddlers find it very satisfying to dab, smear and pound while they explore color and shape. Challenge older preschoolers and children to find creative ways to create animals or bugs using the circular dabber shape, like Bria's butterflies below. 

2. Paint Popsicles: While they may look good enough to eat, these popsicles are perfect for outdoor painting exploration. Thanks to The Artful Parent and Babble's new Toddler Times blog for this fantastic idea!

3. Paper Mache: It's messy, it's goopy, it's sloppy and kids LOVE it! While the weather's nice save your sanity house and take this project outside. Set up the wading pool and throw on a bathing suit for fast and fun clean up. Check out the video below for a simple paper mache recipe. 

4. Sun-catchers: With the extra hours of sunlight streaming through your windows why not jazz them up a bit with some home made sun-catchers. Try Tissue Paper and Mod Podge (see below, tutorial coming later this week) , Wax Paper and Crayons (second picture below), or Contact Paper variations.

5. Wading Pool Painting: Remember when we explored marble painting? This is the same concept just at a bigger scale, a much bigger scale. Dry out the wading pool and roll out a sheet of paper, find balls of various sizes, dip them in tempera paint, and start rolling! Don't be surprised if your kids ask to do this one over and over again! Another variation? Dip the tires of toy cars and trucks into paint and let your little ones drive colorful pathways on paper.

6. Splatter Paint: Tap into your child's inner Jackson Pollock with an afternoon of splatter painting! Tape a roll of paper onto the side of your house, garage, or desk, set out the tempera paint and brushes, and start splattering! When you're done have the kids help with clean up using soapy sponges. This is one clean up job they wont complain about. 

7. Paper Bag Trees: I love this beautiful idea for a sculpture from! The perfect summer table centre piece and a great way to use up those extra scraps from other craft activities. I think this is one I'll enjoy making as much as the kids!

8. Print Making: Need to make use of the styrofoam meat trays from your summer BBQs? Check out my friend Sarah's blog, over at Childish, for this great tutorial on how to do print making with young children! 

9. Literature inspired Art: Let your favorite children's book illustrator inspire the art you create! Try my Eric Carle inspired watercolor and tissue paper project or check out Teacher Tom's Leo Lionni inspired "spray painting" project. Write a poem or story of your own to go along with your illustrations. 

10. Summer Scrapbook: Let your child tell the story of their summer! Collect pictures throughout summer (or let your child take their own) and work together on creating a book of memories! Check out this article on Easy Step for Scrapbooking with Young Children  from for tips and ideas. 

Dance and Movement

11. Water Ballet: Turn on the sprinkler and turn up the tunes! Let your kids dance, run, jump, and wiggle to the music while playing in the water. Stay active and stay cool!

12. Bubble Wrap Dance: Popping takes on a whole new meaning! Lay out some bubble wrap and let your kids dance and move across it. They will love the feeling on their feet and the sound effects! 

13. Flashlight Dance Club: Make your own dance club at home Let the kids stay up late or go down to the basement and turn off the lights. Turn on the tunes and flashlights (or buy glow sticks at the local dollar store) and boogie down. Be sure to clear any bumping or tripping hazards out of the way for safe dancing!

14. Dancing ribbons: Even the youngest children love dancing with ribbons. Make your own! Buy large hair elastics or rubber bracelets. Cut long pieces of ribbon and tie them to bracelets. Leave them straight or curl the ribbons with scissors. Wearing the ribbons around wrists will leave your kids hands free to explore more movement without worries of dropping the ribbons. 

15. M is for Monkey Bars: Want to help your child develop the fine motor skills needed for writing? Take them to the park to play on the monkey bars, have wheel barrel races, or try crab walks! Check out Moving Smart's blog for more ideas to keep your kids moving!

16. Brain Play: Research has shown that kids need to MOVE  for healthy brain development. Try our Brain Play Movement Activities for Babies and Toddlers/Preschoolers to nurture the Brain/Body connection. 

17. Car Dancing: If you've planned a family road trip, keep the kids moving (and happy!) in the safety of their car seat. Turn on the tunes and try calling out different body part to try moving to the music. Try different clapping patterns to the beat. Have each family member come up with a move and put them together to create "car choreography". Play freeze dance! The hours of driving will zoom right on by!

18. Moving through Nature: Take a walk through your local park or forested area. Listen to the sounds of nature. Encourage your children to move like the nature around them. Can they sway like tree in the breeze? Sail like a bird? Wiggle like a worm? 

19. Animated Story Telling: Take a favorite story or fairy tale and add actions to the words! Feeling even more inspired? Dress up like the characters in the story! Not enough time to come up with your own? Move along with Sandra Boyton's Barnyard Dance ("Stomp your feet! Clap your hands! Everybody ready for the Barnyard dance!") or Eric Carle's From Head to Toe.

20. Dance Daily: Check out our dance activity and movement archives for even more ideas to keep you moving throughout the summer! Keep track of how many minutes you are active as a family with a simple graph chart! Are you getting in your 60 minutes daily?

Science and Math

21. Sand Volcanos: This was my favorite science activity as a kid! Check out eHow's step by step instructions. If you don't have a sand box of your own, pack up your materials and head to your local playground. It might be the perfect way to make new friends. 

22. Cornstarch Slime: Another messy activity that kids love, and you'll love to let them do it outside! This cornstarch slime recipe from  is non-toxic very simple to make.This non-toxic goo hardens like a solid when you squeeze it but flows like a liquid when you pour it. Make it in your water table or wading pool for hours of slimy play!

23. Super Bubbles: What is summer without bubble play? Try making this Super Bubbles recipe for long lasting, giant bubbles! The secret ingredient is glycerine, which does not evaporate as quickly as traditional soap and water bubbles. 

24. Marshmallow Geometry: Don't know what to do with that bag of stall marshmallows from last month's hotdog roast? Need a quick, low mess activity on a rainy day? Try exploring shape and geometry by building sculptures out of toothpick and marshmallows like we did earlier this year. Another variation? Use playdough or plasticine and straws to build even bigger creations!

25. Invisible Ink: Using a cotton swap or paint brush, let your kids write messages or paint designs on white typing paper with lemon juice. Let dry.  Hold the paper close to a light bulb until the writing becomes visible by turning brown. Why not send grandma a secret message in the mail? Just be sure to include instructions on how to read it!


26. Musical Art: Put a large sheet of paper or newsprint on a children's table. Ask your kids to move around the table to the music, making marks on the paper the way the music makes them feel. Pause the music and call out freeze! Turn on a different kind of music. How does different music make your kids move/draw?

27. Homemade Drum and Mallot: Find an old ice cream bucket or coffee tin for your drum (you an also decorate it if you like). To create your mallot use either a new pencil of chop stick. Cut out a piece of square fabric about 2x2 inches. Place a few cotton balls or cotton batting in the middle of the fabric square. Place one end of the pencil or chop stick into the middle of the cotton. Fold the corners of the fabric up to the pencil/chop stick creating a soft ball. Secure with an elastic band. These mallots will create a nice soft drumming sound, pleasing to both your kids and yourself. Check out Busy Bee Crafts for more homemade instrument ideas

28. Make a Summer Soundtrack: Make a cd or playlist with your kids (and your) favorite songs! Add some fun new summer inspired tunes such as Wipe Out!, Hawaii 5-0, and Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride. Play these songs in the car, while making dinner, during clean up, or just for fun! 

29. Musical Mondays: Challenge yourself to play your kids a different kind of music every Monday all summer! Share with them your favorite songs growing up, explore music from around the world, listen to music from genres you don't usually listen to. Talk to your kids about what they like and don't like about each kind of music. 

30. Write a Song: Take a tune to a song your children already know and write your own lyrics! Here's one I use in my dance programs to greet each dancer:

Welcome Song (sung to the tune of Frere Jacques)

Stand up (child's name), 

Stand up (child's name),

Stand up tall, stand up tall!

Reach up to the sky now!

Reach up very high now!

Now sit down,

Now sit down. 


31. Alphabet Scavenger Hunt: On a piece of paper write out each letter of the alphabet in a column. Go on a walk and try to find things in your neighbourhood for each letter of the alphabet and write them on the page. Could you find something for each letter?

32. Colors Scavenger Hunt: On small pieces of paper write the word for different colors (make sure if you write pink you write it using a pink marker, this will help with learning color sight words). Let each of your kids draw a color and give them a bag. Set your timer to 5 minutes and have them search the house for items of the color they picked. When five minutes is up have each kid show what they found and let the other kid (or yourself) guess what color they picked. Put everything away and play again!

33. What's Missing?: Show your kids a series of objects (e.g. a small book, teddy, and a sock). Cover the objects with the scarf and without your kids seeing take one object away. Lift the scarf and ask what is missing? This game is great for short term memory development and retention skills. 

34. What's in the Bag: Find items your kids would easily recognize around the house. One at a time place an object in the bag without your kids seeing. Then let them put their hands in the bag and feel the object. Can they figure out what the object is by touch alone?

35. Obstacle Course: In your yard or in your house, an obstacle course is a fun way to help burn off energy and develop agility skills. Create obstacles that allow your kids to explore climbing over and under and going around or through. For older kids let them set up their own obstacle course and time them to see how quickly they can move through it. 

36. Disappearing Island: Spread out a blanket, parachute, or sheet in the middle of the room. This is the disappearing island. When the music plays the kids will dance around the island. When the music stops they must quickly jump onto the island. Before turning the music on again fold disappearing island in half, making it smaller each time. How can everyone safely fit onto the island as it shrinks?

37. Penguin Waddle Race: Place a squishy ball, pillow, or bean bag between your kids knees and have them race from one point to another, waddling like penguins the whole way. Another variation? In a crab walk balance a bean bag or pillow on their tummies, moving from one point to another. Which did they find more difficult?

38. Over or Under: Place a skipping rope in the middle of an open space. Each kid gets turn to decide how to move over or under the skip rope. How many different ways can you come up with?


39. Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn:

  • Microwave popcorn
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 3 tbsp of brown sugar
  • pinches of cinnamon

Melt butter in the microwave. Stir in brown sugar until it reaches a syrupy texture. Pour mixture over popcorn. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Mix and serve! The perfect combination of salty and sweet!

40. Banana Wrap:

  • 1 (8 inch) flour tortilla
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp jelly or honey (optional)
  • 1 small banana (peeled)

Warm the tortilla in the microwave. Spread on peanut butter and jelly/honey. Place banana near one end of the tortilla and roll. Serve whole or cut into smaller circles and hold together with a toothpick. Remove toothpicks before eating.

41. Apple Smiles:

  • 2 apple slices
  • 4-6 mini marshmellows
  • peanut butter (or almond, pea butter, etc)

Spread peanut butter on one side of each apple slice. Place marshmallows upright along peanut butter side on one apple slice.  Place other apple slice on top. It's not very often your snack smiles back at you :)

42. Bear-y Snack Mix for Sharing:

  • 2 cups bear shaped cookies
  • 2 cups mini oreos
  • 4 cups popped popcorn
  • 2 cups smarties
  • 1 cup gummi bears

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Store in a plastic bag or covered container. Share with bear-y special friends!

43. Berrylicious Popsicles/Ice cubes:

  • Grape, cranberry, or mixed berry 100% real fruit juice
  • Chopped up strawberries, raspberries, blue berries

Popsicles: Place 2 tbsp of chopped berry mix into each popsicle mould. Pour in juice and freeze. Enjoy once frozen

Ice cubes: Place 1/2 tbsp of chopped berry mix into each ice cube section of tray. Pour in juice and freeze. Use in water to make add a splash of flavour, or enjoy with sprite or ginger ale for a refreshing summer treat!

44. Hawaiian Burgers: Dress up your burgers for summer with a great recipe from the Food Network! 

45. Cheese Stuffed Celery Sticks: If your child has a peanut allergy, check out the Food Networks cheesy alternative! Yum!

Around Your Community

46. Visit a new park: If your kids are getting bored with their familiar community playground, take a bike or car ride to a nearby community and explore a new playground! Maybe you will make some new friends as well. 

47. Museums: No longer dreary and boring, museums have become much more hands on to encourage younger learners to explore and discover. Check out your local museums as many now offer tours or programs specifically for moms and babies, parents and tots and preschoolers!

48. Take a ride on public transit: Little kids LOVE riding the bus or the subway! And in many cities they ride for free! Go on an public transit adventure and do your part for the environment, your kids will thank you for it today and in the future!

49. Visit a Seniors Home: Teach your kids about the value of our aging community members by volunteering at a local seniors centre. Not only will you teach your kids the importance of helping others but you will brighten the days of often overlooked, but important members of your community!

50. Celebrate!: If your community doesn't have any of its own festivals or events during the summer, create your own! Pick a theme, plan a party, and invite friends and family! There is always something to celebrate, especially during the summer!


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Sun, 06/26/2011 - 10:10pm

I think I know every word to every Raffi and Sharon, Lois, and Bram song. Seriously... Every. Single. ONE!  And although I have many fond memories of listening to these songs with my girls and throughout my own childhood, sometimes Mama needs music, that well, is more for Mama! I'm sure you can agree, there is only so much shaking sillies out and skinna-merinky-dinky-dink even the most saintly parent can take. So here are a few of my compromise songs. These songs still get the A+ rating for being for the kids, but secretly I might love them more!

Song: The Rainbow Connection

Artist: Sarah McLachlan  

Where to buy it: iTunes

Why I Love it: Rainbow Connection is my favorite childhood song. I have fond memories of my Dad putting on my Muppets Movie record so I could listen to it over and over again. He even learned to play it on the guitar so I could sing along. For my wedding, I surprised my Dad during the Father/Daughter dance by playing Sarah's version. My Dad cried tears of joy while we danced to this beautiful, lullaby inspired, version of the original. A perfect song for naptime, bedtime, or snuggles.

Song: La la la la Lemons

Artist: Barenaked Ladies

Where to buy it: iTunes

Why I Love it: Remember "If I had a Million Dollars"? Who didn't know all the words to this song at the peak of it's popularity? The witty banter and humor that made A Million Dollars so popular is back in Ed and Steve's song about the Letter L! La la la la Lemons has an almost Sesame Street feel with it's word play, or as Ed explains in the song "lovely lilting words" like lollipop. lamp post, and laughter! A great song for a giggle and a perfect way to introduce the letter L to pre-readers!

Song: The Littlest Birds

Artist: The Be Good Tanyas

Where to buy it: iTunes

Why I Love it: This song makes me want to sit in the backyard and sip lemonade, hang laundry on a line, and run through a sprinkler. Ok well maybe not  the laundry part, but you get the idea. There is something so relaxing and sunny about this song, it is like a summer day for the ears. With it's folky sound and optimistic vibe it is guaranteed to make you feel good!

Song: The Dog Days Are Over

Artist: Florence and the Machine

Where to buy it: iTunes

Why I Love it: Ok this song might break the rules of a kid's song adults love, it is more of an adult song that kids love! But when my kids (or I) are grumpy this song always cheers us up! This song just makes us all want to run, jump, and thrash around for a few minutes and when you have two high energy little girls... well let's just say music like this can be a sanity saver! My oldest loves this song because of the contrasting fast and slow tempo throughout. I love that although it is a song with the word Dog in the title it is not about BINGO! 

What are your favorite compromise songs? I'd love to add them to my playlist!

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Sun, 06/12/2011 - 9:40pm

Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes..... If you have a child over the age of 1 you probably know this song. And you probably know that kids LOVE action songs! As a dance teacher I love using  action songs to fine tune gross motor skills. Action songs provide the repetition that young children crave and also support memory development and recall.

As a parent I love action songs because they are fast and easy on rainy, snowy, or too hot to play outside days. Whether your a parent, teacher, child care provider, or dance educator action songs can be a great way to get moving with limited space and resources. I hope you enjoy a few of my favourites!

Song: There Came a Girl From France

Artist: Raffi (Album: Corner Grocery Store)

Where to Buy: iTunes, Chapters/Indigo, Amazon  and most public libraries will also have his cds in their children's music section

Why I love it: What parent doesn't love Raffi? Well unless he has been on repeat for the last 30 days, but you know what I mean. Raffi's songs have been delighting children, well, since I was a child! I listened to this album on our family's record player over and over again. There Came a Girl from France was one of my favorites! Between marching to the beat (Knees up Mother Brown! Knees up Mother Brown!), hopping on one foot (and then the other) and whirling 'round and 'round, this song is sure to get your kids moving! Just don't blame me if it ends up on repeat for the next 30 days ;)

Song: A Tooty Ta

Artist: Johnny Only

Where to Buy: iTunes

Why I love it: This body parts song is silly silly fun! Each verse adds a new body part to A Tooty Ta with during the chorus. (general shaking and wiggling). "Thumb up! Elbows back! Feet apart! Knees together! Bottoms up! Tongues out! Eyes closed! Turn around!" This song helps develop recall skills as kids must remember each body part that is added. By the end of the song kids have a hard time not exploding into a fit giggles.

Song: Hip Hop Exercise

Artist: It's Hip Hop Baby, Fruit!

Where to Buy: Amazon

Why I love it: As our culture becomes more and more sedentary I believe getting our kids into healthy habits at a young age is critical. So I love music that not only gets kids moving but that sends a message that exercise is cool. "Exercise! It's what we do! Exercise! You can do it too! Exercise! It's lots of fun! Exercise! It's good for everyone!" Between stretching, jumping, and running, your kids will be sweating by the end of this song. It's a great warm up for dance/sports (I use it in my Fit Hop Totz program) or could be a fun way for everyone in your house to start the day!

Song: No More Monkeys

Artist: Asheba (Album: Animal Playground)

Where to Buy: Amazon Chapters/Indigo, J'Adore Dance 

Why I love it: Not too many of us traveled through childhood without learning the poem 5 Little Monkeys, but Asheba, an artist from Trinidad, and Putumayo Kids take it to a whole other level! I pull this song out every session I teach with all of my classes from ages 0-5. The kids love it! It is the most requested song at our studio. As Asheba exclaims in the intro "It's jumping time again! Children they love to jump! Here we GO!". The kids do not stop jumping! And you know what? It is so infectious the parents jump right along with us. I promise this one won't disappoint! Check out the music video below!

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Mon, 06/06/2011 - 10:15pm

Over the next few weeks I will share some of my favourite activity songs for young children. Dancing at home is a fun, inexpensive way to keep your kids active. But sometimes it can be hard to plan activities to go along with the music. These songs provide a simple way to get your kids (and hopefully you too) moving and grooving just by following the music. Each week I'll focus on a different kind of activity song. 

Start and Stop Music:

Start and stop music, or freeze music, is enjoyed by children of all ages. The concept is simple: Move and dance when the music plays, stop/freeze when prompted or when the music stops. The game is built right into the music, and can be played in large groups or solo. Children as young as 18 months quickly figure out the game and older children enjoy the challenge of quickly stopping their bodies mid movement. Indoors, outside, or even in the car, these songs can work in pretty much any space! Add these songs to your playlist and get your whole family dancing together!

Song: Shake Your Hands

Artist: Jen Gould

Where to Buy: iTunes store

Why I love it: This juno winning Childrens artist knows how to do a start and stop song that adult and children will both love. Each verse encouragingly starts with "Well c'mon everybody its time to....." adding a simple movement, ending with " It's time to STOP!". As the song gets longer with each verse when each new action that is added! The song has just enough razzle dazzle to get older siblings to join in on the fun!

Song: When the Music Stops

Artist: Captain Music

Where to Buy: iTunes store

Why I love it: The bluesy rock feeling in this song is sure to get everyone in the house tapping their toes! The pauses in the song are the perfect length for young dancers. The strong simple beat also makes this song ideal for adding instruments or shakers to the game!

Song: The Mexican Hat Dance:

Artist: Salsa Tots

Where to Buy: iTunes store

Why I love it: This family friendly version of a traditional latin folk song, not only cues dancers to "FREEZE" at various intervals but also gives verbal and musical cues for dancing fast and slow, adding more fun and challenge. Just be sure to be close to the pause button, as the freeze cue is too fast for most young dancers. Pausing the music when the song says freeze quickly eliminates this problem.  

Song: Freeze Dance

Artist: Suzie Levilev

Where to Buy: iTunes

Why I love it: This song is great for older preschoolers who are learning a variety of dance and movement skills. The song changes rhythmic patterns with each different step that is presented (walking, jump, hop, skip, etc) with a freeze in between. 

Song: Freezedance

Album: Kids World Party

Where to Buy: J'Adore Dance, Amazon

Why I love it: Another great piece from the newest Putumayo Kids newest album, Kids World Party.  This Funk Jazz piece is fun for both adult and kids to move and groove to. You need to listen carefully for the freeze cues, they are sneaky!

If you hop onto iTunes and search "Freeze Dance" lot of other options come up as well! These are just the songs that I have been using at home and in my classes for the last few months, but I am excited to try some more! What are your favourite start and stop songs? Comment and share!

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Fri, 03/25/2011 - 6:00pm

Unlike trinkets and toys that may quickly be forgotten, Grandma J (my mom) finds gifts that always provide the girls with hours of fun. Having been an elementary school teacher for over 30 years, she has taught me much about parenting, teaching, and how to pick gifts that last.  This past Christmas she did not disappoint. She combined her large gift for the girls this year (more on that in another post) but gave each girl a stocking filled with some fun goodies. The ongoing favourite has been the Juno Award winning CD Music Soup by Canadian children's artist, Jennifer Gould. 

From a first listen I could tell Jennifer had experience as a musical theatre performer. Her voice has character, spunk and the ability to weave a story that young listeners (and their parents) will enjoy. Jennifer is also a  preschool music educator and a mother, and both of these experiences filter into her music. She understands what will get kids singing, giggling, and dancing along! Don't be surprised if you find your kids (or yourself) humming her catchy tunes throughout the day. 

Her songs speak to the issues and experiences of her young listeners. Gina Meana tells the tale of the meanest girl in school who eventually changes her ways and becomes "the nicest girl we know." The Lemonade Song is the musical sales pitch for the "Worlds Best Lemonade" that salesman woefully continues to decrease in price throughout the song due to limited demand. You and Me is a fun anthem that teaches despite being different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside, a great message for children Fry A Hot Dog is a comical musical exchange between Jen and a young singer who is singing Frere Jacque the way she hears it. This one always makes me giggle because as a child I thought the words for Tiny Dancer were "Hold me closer Tony Danza". I watched just a little Who's the Boss growing up ;)  

Bria and Malia's favorite song is probably Googali Eyes, the story of a Monster who does not think he can ever fulfill his life's destiny to be a terrifying monster because of his cute googali eyes. Luckily he meets another monster with googali eyes who teaches him he is still a scary monster even with his googali eyes. In fact Mimi just busted out the songs catchy chorus (Googali eyes, googali eyes, goo-ga, goo-ga, googali eyes!) as she plays beside me, no joke! The girls can't get enough of Googali Eyes (I think we need to make our own Googali Eyes Monster craft!). 

My tune is the action song  Shake your Hands! Each verse encourages dancers (C'mon everybody it's time to...) to add a new, fast paced action that is simple for the youngest dancer to pick up before "it's time to STOP!" This start and stop song is perfect for burning off some extra energy, shake those sillies out, and practice starting and stopping skills.

If you're looking for a CD to satisfy your youngest music lovers over Spring Break I definitely recommend giving Music Soup a taste!

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