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Activities for a great staycation with your toddler

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Ways to stay and play

Not going anywhere this summer? You aren't alone. In fact, so many people are planning to vacation at or near home that a whole new phrase has been coined to reference the experience: Staycation. The experience is a back-to-basics approach to vacationing . . . and it can be a lot of fun. Answers to the ubiquitous question that is asked again and again each fall ("What did you do over the summer?") might be a bit different this year.

Mother and ToddlerGrowing up, I always had a good answer for the what-did-you-do-this-summer question - camp, the beach, sometimes a fun trip with a friend's family. But these days things are different. Airfares that could make an accountant blush, gas prices that not long ago seemed like doomsday science fiction and overextended incomes (hello, mortgage crisis!) are the norms. Worse, they are inhibiting the abilities of families to get away. Still, your children can happily say they did fun things at home with their parents this summer ("I built a volcano in my backyard!"), if you plan your staycation right.

For parents of toddlers and preschoolers, that can be extra challenging though. Fortunately, Kathy Peel, family manager for Lloyd's BBQ, offered some tips for me to share with you.

Get creative

Kids love to make things. It taps into their inner creativity and lets them express themselves - even if they are too young to verbally do so. Even a toddler can take crayon to paper and create a masterpiece.

Peel suggested these fun crafts for young kids:

  • Make a bird feeder by rolling a pinecone in peanut butter, then in birdseed. Hang it with string from a branch in your yard and watch for hungry birds.
  • Make a "volcano." Mound dirt six to ten inches high and then clear a hole down the middle of it. Put two teaspoons baking soda in the hole. Pour in some inexpensive vinegar and watch your "eruption."
  • Make quick costumes from old pillowcases. Help your child cut a hole for the neck and arms. Use markers, acrylic paints, scrap fringe or lace to decorate the pillowcase. Ribbon or heavy yarn can be used for a belt. Pretend characters are unlimited.
  • Make spuzzles: Wash and dry some wooden ice cream sticks; lay them beside each other. Secure a piece of tape across all the sticks. Turn them over and draw a picture with markers. Remove the tape, then mix up the sticks, and put the picture together.

Explore your world

You don't have to head to the Grand Canyon to experience the great outdoors. In fact, there is a world of exploration right at home. Peel suggested several activities that would turn any ordinary home into an exciting adventure.

Her suggestions:

  • Animal safari: Hide your preschooler's stuffed animals around the house—under the bed, peeking around a chest, inside a cabinet or in a closet. Turn off all the lights and use a flashlight to go on a safari to capture the animals.
  • After a picnic at a park, turn an ordinary walk into an alphabet hunt. On a pad, list all of the letters of the alphabet. While you're walking, check off the letters when you spot something that starts with the letter you're looking for.
  • Create a backyard obstacle course where your kids can crawl under lawn chairs or through tunnels made from large boxes, walk or hop along a curvy garden hose, and dodge an oscillating sprinkler.
  • Stash old bedspreads or quilts in a convenient closet to pull out and lay on after dark. Listen for nocturnal animals.

Sounds incredible

My seven-month-old daughter is intrigued by sounds . Even though she is just a crawling infant, she can identify and find where certain noises come from. Her almost-three-year-old brother also loves a good hunt. So when Peel suggested some sound-based activities, I knew she was on the right track for us.

  • Hide a kitchen timer and have your child search for it by listening for its ticking sound.
  • Make musical bottles. Line up an assortment of empty bottles in various sizes and shapes, add water, and blow gently across the top. By adding or pouring out water, you can change the pitch. See if you can play a tune.

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