Mushroom Spore Prints

Did you ever make MUSHROOM SPORE PRINTS as a kid? They’re super-easy to make and super-beautiful! Lately the girls and I have found lots of mushrooms around the yard, at L’s school, and when out hiking in the woods! Mushroom spore prints are so mush fun to make…you’ll be out looking for mushrooms everywhere you go! When looking for mushrooms, you’ll want to find some that are fresh (just a day or two old), before they’ve dropped their spores. Mushroom spores are no bigger than a speck of dust and the wind scatters them all around. As you probably assumed, the spores are mushrooms’ “seeds.” In making spore prints on paper, you’ll be amazed at how many just one mushroom has!

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While it’s fun to poke and prod at mushrooms, investigating them and marveling at their unique beauty, be sure to remind your kids that we NEVER eat a mushroom that we find outdoors. Only experts know the difference between ones that are deadly and ones that are okay to eat.

 

Materials needed:

  • mushrooms
  • sharp knife
  • dark paper or card stock
  • a large bowl or container

 

First, find a good mushroom or two. Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes…you’ll want a typical dome-shaped mushroom cap, though it doesn’t matter what color.

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After you’ve carefully removed the mushroom from the soil, cut off the stem close to the top of the mushroom.

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Flip the mushroom onto a dark piece of paper.

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Cover it with a large bowl or container, and let the mushroom sit for a few hours or overnight.

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Carefully remove the container and lift the mushroom off the paper without smudging the spore print.

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Fascinating and beautiful!!!

Homemade Elder-Blossom Nectar

Inspiration for our HOMEMADE ELDER-BLOSSOM NECTAR came from one of my favorite children books, “Linnea’s Almanac” by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson. L rediscovered the Linnea books a couple weeks ago and has been poring over each page. In the July section of the book is a recipe for Elder-Blossom Nectar. Since I had never made it, but always wanted to, we got to work! The very day we came across the recipe, we spotted an Elder Tree on one of our outings! How lucky were we!?! A few days later, we went on an early morning adventure and harvested the Elder blossoms.

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Ingredients:

  • 25-30 Elder blossom clusters
  • 1-2 lemons
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 1 quart water

Before you harvest Elder blossoms, you want to make certain that you have the right type of tree. There are other blossoms that are similar, poisonous Elder and poison Hemlock, but are not the same. True Elder blossoms will be on a tree. The white flowers are in big, flat, round clusters that have a strong, sweet smell. (see pictures below) Poisonous Elder grows in pointed clusters that are yellowish-green and they do not have a strong scent. Poison Hemlock has a very different, fern-like leaf shape, and it grows more like a weed…not a tree.

 

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Once you find your Elder tree, you’ll want to cut off 25-30 flower clusters. Have your kids help you count the flowers, inspect them with a magnifying glass for fun, and put them in a large jar.

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Next, back at home, slice your lemon and add it to a pot with the water and sugar. Heat the mixture to a boil, then carefully pour it into the jar with your Elder blossoms. Cover the jar and let it sit for three days.

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While the nectar is setting, time to find and clean some bottles! You want to make sure your bottles are well washed in preparation for the nectar.

After three days, it’s time to bottle your nectar! Opening the lid, you won’t believe the sweet aroma that’s been bottled up inside! (I have to admit, I cheated. We opened the jar everyday to smell our nectar…it was just so tempting!)

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First remove whatever blossoms and lemon pieces you can with a fork or spoon.

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Next, tie a cheese cloth around the top of your jar. Strain the nectar thru the cheese cloth, pouring it into a large pitcher.

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From here, you pour the nectar into the clean bottles or jars you’ve prepared. Make sure you fill the bottles to the top and secure the lids tightly. If done properly, your nectar will last for six months in the refrigerator. After you open a bottle, you’ll have to devour the contents within a month…no problem there! It’s just so good!

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Uses and Recipes:

We use our nectar similar to other syrups or honey.

  • First we made a cold, summer drink by adding 4 tablespoons of the nectar to a quart of water. Yum!
  • You can make a warm, milky, tea-like drink as well. Stir together 1 teaspoon of nectar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 cup of milk for each person. Warm the mixture in a saucepan and pour it into a teapot. (This tea is perfect for summer night tea parties, while watching the stars, lightning bugs, and bats come out!)
  • You can also drizzle your nectar on pancakes or over hot oatmeal or grits for breakfast. Delish!

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Bjork, Christina and Lena Anderson. “Linnea’s Almanac.” Stockholm: Raben & Sjogren, 1982. Print.

Tin Can Telephone

Now I know this craft, toy, activity is as old as they come, but how many of you have actually made a TIN CAN TELEPHONE for your kids yet!?! L has been begging for weeks for us to make one and today was the day! It was so quick and easy to put together and the kids played with it all afternoon. L already has plans for tomorrow and how we’ll make a longer TIN CAN TELEPHONE that will stretch to the neighbor’s porch. And yes…if you’re wondering…yes, it does work!!! As you probably remember, the key is making sure the string is pulled taut when you’re talking to each other, and try not to rest the can against your face as well. Enjoy!

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Materials needed:

  • 2 tin cans, clean and lids removed
  • Sharpie markers (optional)
  • awl or nail
  • scissors
  • string
  • tape (fabric, duct, or gaffer)

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First, color the cans with Sharpie markers. Of course you could always paint the cans, glue paper to the cans, or leave them plain as well.

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Next, put tape on the cans to protect your kids from any sharp edges. To do this, measure the tape, to get the length right.

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Carefully roll the can over the tape, wrapping the tape around the can, and leaving about half an inch of the tape hanging off the edge.

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Next, use scissors to cut the tape as pictured. Then, fold all the flaps down over the can’s edge. No fear of little hands getting cut now!

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Using an awl or a nail, poke a hole in the bottom of each can.

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Cut a piece of string and thread it through the hole in the bottom of a can. Double or triple knot the string. Repeat on the other side of the string with the second can.

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If the holes seems to be a bit sharp on the inside, and you have especially little hands that you’re afraid may explore the inside of the cans, you can put a piece of tape over the knots and holes of the cans.

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Now, time to play! Your little ones can experiment talking across a room, through fort walls, up and down stairs, from one bedroom to another…the possibilities are endless.

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Such simple, wonderful, old school fun!!!

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Pajama Walks & Dandelion Walks

A couple years ago, our family started going on “Pajama Walks” during the warmer months of the year. They’re not something we do on a daily basis, but maybe once every couple of weeks. Pajama walks are perfect for nights when the kids have been really good, dinner was on the early side, and you want to do something special to end your perfect day. They’re also great on days which have been a complete disaster, as your last hope to turn the day around! Or maybe on rainy days when the clouds part and the sun decides to come out just before it sets…

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Basically, you eat dinner, give the kids a bath, and instead of reading a bedtime story, you take a stroll around the block. You sing songs, talk about your day, watch the moon come out, and unwind as a family.

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Over the past few weeks our pajama walks have morphed into something beautiful: “Dandelion Walks.” While on our walks, L started picking dandelions and other pretty weeds like all kids do. She then started leaving them on people’s doorsteps, in their mailboxes, and even gave a dandelion to a neighbor’s cat napping on their patio.

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So now on our pajama walks, the kids pick flowers for one block and share them for three. The neighbors might not even notice and the girls know this, but it makes them happy leaving these little surprise gifts of sunshine all the same.

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I’ve always told our girls, “Dandelions are where the sun kisses the earth when it rises in the morning.” And it’s true.

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To inspire your kids further, I highly recommend the book “Sidewalk Flowers” by poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith. It’s one of our favorites!

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DIY Nature Frame

Is your child a nature collector or, as Pippi Longstocking would say, a “thing finder”? If so, the DIY Nature Frame is the perfect project for them! Just about every day of the year, L fills our stroller, our wagon, or our pockets with things she finds on walks. We could be going for a walk around the block in the city and she still comes home with feathers, sticks, rocks, butterfly wings and seed pods! This past weekend we went for a walk and L brought home pinecones and pine needles that she wanted to “do a craft” with, ie. glue to paper. I knew that wouldn’t quite work, so in less than 10 minutes we put together this Nature Frame!

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The best part about having a Nature Frame, is that it’s a project that is constantly changing, evolving throughout the year. While ours has pine cones and pine needles in it now, the end of February, I’m sure within a month or two it will be filled with Spring flowers, robins eggs, and fallen bird’s nests. In the Fall, our Nature Frame will most likely be glowing orange with fallen leaves from the backyard…finally, a place for all our nature findings!!!

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Materials needed:

  • an old frame
  • string
  • scissors

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First, dismantle your frame. I bought this old and ugly print, among a collection of 5 other framed pictures, for $1.75 at an antique auction. I liked two of the pictures and that was worth the $1.75 and getting stuck with 3 I didn’t care for so much! So I stashed the ugly pictures away in a closet and I’m glad I did…the frame on this one was perfect for a Nature Frame! You can find similar frames for pennies at secondhand stores, yard sales, and antique shops.

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Next, tie your string to the edge of your frame and, with the help of your child, wrap it criss-cross around the frame. We used three different strings that were three different colors…anything works!

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Now, after you’ve been for a nature walk and your little one’s pockets are full, you can fill your frame. And then, hang it in a place for everyone to enjoy! We hung ours in our kitchen by the back door…L’s findings usually end up on the floor by the door, so now they can go up on the wall instead! I just love it!

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Enjoy!!!

 

DIY Bird Nesting Kit

The “DIY Bird Nesting Kit” is the perfect project for little hands and little helpers! L and I made three kits this week: two gifts and one to hang in our own backyard, next to our DIY Tin Can Bird Feeder. It took less than a day for our feathered-friends to find it and start picking away, flying bits of string home to cozy-up their nests! The DIY Bird Nesting Kit costs only $2.50 to make (I’m not kidding!) and it’s a wonderful project to help teach kids about giving, sharing, and caring for the world around us….aaand about birds and the various types of nests they make of course!

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Before making our Bird Nesting Kits, the girls and I read “Mama Built a Little Nest” by Jennifer Ward and Steven Jenkins. It is fascinating book with beautiful, collage-like illustrations, depicting all kinds of birds, their families, and the homes they build. (It’s best to read in a pile of beach towels, swirled around on the floor into your own nest.) I highly recommend it!

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Materials needed:

  • Wired bird suet holder
  • yarn scraps
  • scissors
  • ruler (optional)

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First, have your little one cut the yarn scraps up into pieces about 3-5 inches long. You don’t have to measure them, but your little one might want to with the ruler!

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After you have a nice pile of yarn pieces, it’s time to stuff them into the suet holder. Then, close the suet holder up and it’s all done. It’s that easy!

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Now, time to find the perfect place outside to hang your Bird Nesting Kit…someplace where the birds will find it and you can spy them doing so is best!

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If you’re giving your Bird Nesting Kit away as a gift, you may want to include a little card inside explaining what it is. Your friends will be sure to love such a colorful, quirky, and fun gift! Enjoy!!!

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Snow Paint Fun

This activity is so easy, so simple, it almost seems silly to write a blog post on it…but people have asked, so here it is! Earlier this week, we had  35 inches of snow fall in our area and it’s given us an opportunity to do anything and everything snow-related…we’ve built igloos and tunnels, gone sledding, and eaten snow cream. I thought today would be a fun day to give “snow paint” a try. Every recipe I’ve seen floating around the internet involves dying water and putting it in separate spray bottles or squirt bottles though, something we just didn’t have. I figured why not just use our tempera paints!?

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We rarely use tempera paints, because frankly I don’t really like them. They’re absolutely perfect for this activity though! Tempera paint in general is washable and non-toxic, so it won’t stain clothes or harm the environment when the snow melts.

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To prepare for snow painting, I gathered 8 small plastic containers, 8 paint brushes, all our tempera paints, and a large plastic container. Even though the paint is washable, we went ahead and put aprons on over our snow clothes and wore old gloves too.

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Outside, spread the small containers out with a good squirt of paint in each one, as well as a paint brush. Now simply, paint the snow! After a day of the snow melting and then refreezing, our snow had a nice icy layer on top…it was perfect for painting!

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An hour or two later, when it’s time to go inside (L could’ve painted all day!), gather all the brushes and throw them into the larger plastic container. Stack up your paint cups and put them in the container too. Now it’s easy to carry everything inside in only one trip! Just rinse your containers out and put them in the dishwasher to clean…and don’t forget to rinse your brushes too! Super easy to clean up…definitely worth the hours of creativity outside! Enjoy!!!

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Mixed-media Fall Art

We have some glorious October weather in Virginia this week…cool mornings, sunny days, and brilliant leaves falling from our trees! L’s been painting outside these days, in a world of October color! Yesterday she made a beautiful fall tree using acrylics, melted crayons, and a sprinkle of “leaf glitter” (tiny pieces of actually leaves). The outcome is beautiful!!! I made a similar piece last year that I also adore…the process is as much fun as the piece of art itself!

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Materials needed:

  • canvas (you could do this on cardboard too!)
  • acrylic paints (blues, white, brown)
  • crayons (oranges, yellows, and red)
  • knife and cutting board
  • oven

*A tip when buying crayons for this project…when you’re looking for orange crayons, buy a box of 24 crayons. The larger boxes contain more crayons, but not any more orange and yellows!!! We always seem to run out of orange crayons this time of year!

First, have your child paint their canvas blue. We like to use some darker and some lighter blues, mixing them all together.

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Next, have them paint a few white, fluffy clouds.

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As the sky is drying, sit back and look at the trees with your child. Point out how the trunk is usually straight and thick. As you move up the tree, the branches get smaller and smaller, and they get more squiggly!

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As you continue to discuss trees and their features, lay out a few various-sized paintbrushes. Have your child put them in order from biggest to smallest. Now they know which paintbrush to use for their tree’s trunk and all its branches!

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Time to paint the tree!

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The next step is a little “out of the box,” but that’s what makes it so great! Have your child pick out which crayons are the colors of the fall leaves before them. Using a sharp knife and a cutting board, remove the paper off the crayons and chop the crayons up into tiny pieces. I think we used half a lime-green crayon, one yellow, three or four oranges, and one red crayon.

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Lay the painting down on a flat surface and have your little one sprinkle the crayon shavings all over the trees branches. L also crumbled up an actual leaf from the yard and sprinkled some of it among the crayon pieces. It’s a minor detail, but it’s my favorite. I’ll always remember this day and where L made her Fall Tree.

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Once the crayon shavings are all dispersed, put your painting into the oven at 200 degrees for about 3-5 minutes. Watch the pieces as they melt. (Our painting was too big to fit in the oven this time, so I carefully held it under the broilers with the oven set on broil. I did one end, then turned it around and did the opposite.) When you remove the artwork from the oven, be careful to hold it flat and steady…until the crayon wax hardens, the wax will drip if it is tilted at all.

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Isn’t the outcome gorgeous? It’s perfectly imperfect…just like a fall leaf.

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If you think this is just a craft for kids, you’re wrong…you can totally do this as well! “Mixed-media Fall Art” is fun for anyone and everyone! Enjoy!!!

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DIY Toy Sail Boat

One evening this summer, while we were getting ready for bath time, L pulled a wine cork out of her pocket. She had been saving it all day to float it around and play with in the bath tub. That got me thinking…I knew with a few toothpicks and some leaves we could turn her wine cork into a little sail boat! Leaves work great for this project, because they’re naturally water-proof and easily replaceable!

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Materials needed:

  • 2 wine corks
  • 4 toothpicks
  • 2 leaves
  • old pencil
  • scissors

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Take one of the wine corks and stick three toothpicks into it, all pointing in the same direction in a line.

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Next, push the second wine cork into the opposite ends of the toothpicks.

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Stick one more toothpick vertically into the middle of one of the corks.

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Find a medium-sized leaf and weave it through the bottom toothpicks. We used a balloon flower leaf. This step isn’t necessary, but it makes a nice lil bed for anything you may want to sail on top…a bug, a rock, a fairy friend.

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Next, find a slightly larger leaf and thread it onto the vertical toothpick, making a sail. We found the hosta leaves to work best for this, though any thick and sturdy leaf will do!

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To make the sail boat safer for little hands, twist an eraser off the top of an old pencil. Cut it in half with scissors and push it onto the top of the sail.

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Now, time to play! L had hours of fun blowing her boats around our rain barrel!

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The boats may not seem like much, but ours withstood some submarine plunges under the water and lasted through two nights of bath time play! Tomorrow, we’ll replace the leaves and keep sailing!

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Enjoy!!!

Coffee Can Stilts

A few weeks ago a family friend called me up to ask if I had a use for a bunch of old coffee cans. While I was a little afraid to tell my husband that I had said “yes” to accepting such a large bag of junk, taking up more room in our house, I was over-the-moon excited to be acquiring these cans! I knew just what we’d use them for…COFFEE CAN STILTS!!! These are so quick and easy to make and are so much fun for the kids! Walking on stilts is all L wants to do these days!!! “I can almost touch the sky from up here, Mom!”

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Materials needed:

  • 2 coffee cans
  • church key can opener
  • rope
  • scissors
  • paint (optional)
  • acrylic sealant (optional)

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First, if you want your stilts to be colorful, have your little ones paint the cans with acrylic paints. After the paint has dried, spray on a coat of acrylic sealant to give the cans a glossy finish.

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Next, using a church key can opener, make two holes on the bottoms of the cans. The holes should be opposite each other. Try to bend the metal all the way back inside the can, so no sharp points protrude out. (Your kids shouldn’t have their hands inside the cans at anytime, but you never know when the curious ones may take off the lid while playing and reach inside…so, better safe than sorry!)

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Cut two pieces of rope. To find the correct length, have your kid stand on the rope, holding both ends in his or her hands pulled up to chest-level. This is a good place to cut it. After the stilts are assembled, the rope handles should reach your child’s waist.

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Thread the rope into the holes of the can from the outside. Once both ends are pulled through, tie a knot in each end. Repeat on the second can.

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Place the lids back onto the cans and flip them over. Having the lids isn’t a necessity, but it may save your floors from being scratched up while your children walk around inside. Now, time to play!!!

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As your little ones practice, they’ll get better and better at walking on their stilts and they’ll be oh-so-proud!!! Future circus performers, anyone?

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Talk about good hand-eye-FOOT coordination! Enjoy!!!

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