About Ali Cummins

Posts by Ali Cummins:

Painted Shapes Canvas

painted shapes canvasThis simple craft has very few guidelines. Perfect for toddlers or small kids but engaging enough for older siblings to paint along. Holiday coming up? Use a holiday-themed shape! A ghost for Halloween, a pot of gold for St. Patrick’s Day. We’d love to see your creations!

What You’ll Need:Painted Hand

Acrylic paint

Paint brush


Masking or Painter’s Tape


1) Cut strips of tape, both large and small. You will need the smaller pieces to make rounded edges.

2) Place tape on the canvas in the shape of your choosing.

3) Paint!

4) Let the painting completely dry and remove tape. That’s it!

Nurture the experience:

This is a great opportunity to weave in a lesson on shapes. Begin on a scrap piece of paper and draw, or have your child draw, a series of shapes. Heart, circle, triangle, square, rectangle, etc. Take the time to point out important characteristics of each. For example, you could say “The triangle has three sides, one, two, three. How many sides does this square have?” Use their answers to build on the differences between each shape. The square has four sides and so does the rectangle. What makes them different?

After some time discussing similarities and differences between the shapes, draw the image that you will be putting on the canvas. Ask your child what shapes she sees that make up this image. This type of questioning can help your child begin to use shape recognition skills.

Paper Plate Fans

It’s getting hot out there! This weekend, it was just cool enough that I couldn’t justify turning on the air conditioning but hot enough that we needed a little reprieve. So, we got out our crayons and paper plates and started working on our personalized fans! They did just the trick.

What you’ll need:Paper plate fans

Paper plates

Crayons or markers

Popsicle sticks



Paper clip


1) Cut paper plate in half. These are personal fans, so we want to keep them small. The smaller size also helps it stick together.

2) Color and decorate the plate any way that you want! That’s the beauty of it! Be sure to color the back side as well since both will show when you fold it.

3) Fold the paper plate accordion style.

4) Put a large drop of glue in each fold at the bottom. Place Popsicle stick in the approximate middle fold. Add a little more glue to the fold with the Popsicle stick.

5) Fold it back up and paper clip the bottom closed until it drys! Be careful not to get any glue on the paper clip so it does not rip it when you take it off.

Nurture the experience: 

This is a great opportunity to teach your kids about symmetry. Practice drawing shapes on a separate piece of paper. Talk to your kids about what it might look like when it is folded in half. Will it line up perfectly, or will there be edges that don’t line up? Explain to your child that when the edges do line up, that it is called symmetrical. When it doesn’t, it is asymmetrical. Take a break from the project and take a look in the mirror with your child. Talk about the human face and whether or not it is symmetrical. You’ll probably get some pretty funny responses but it allows your child to transfer what she is learning about the shapes to other real-life examples.

Recommended Reading: 

Take some time to learn about the Japanese culture and their beautiful fans! Here are some sites for some quick facts.

PBS Learning


Talk to your child about what you’ve learned and make it relevant to her with these books.

The Magic Fan

The magic fanA great story about realizing your gifts! This tale is about a Japanese builder who is very creative and will build just about anything. While struggling to find inspiration, he comes across a magic fan that gives him all the creativity he needs. His village mocks his new creations until the village is saved from a tidal wave by a bridge he built. When his fan is swept out to sea by the tidal wave, he learns that it was his imagination all along, not the fan.


Tikki Tikki Tembo

Tikki Tikki TemboOkay, Tikki Tikki Tembo is set in China, and it is not about fans at all, but I had to include it. This was definitely at the top of my to-go list as a child. So take the opportunity to talk about another Asian country and pick it up! If you read these sequentially, I would suggest noting the differences between Japan and China. This story is about a pair of Chinese brothers who were playing around a well. The folktale in this story states that the firstborn son would receive a long name to honor him and the second born would receive a short, simple name. The eldest son’s name is Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo, and the youngest is Chang. The youngest son falls down the well first, and Tikki Tikki Tembo is able to get help for him very quickly. However, when Tikki Tikki Tempo no Sa Rembo chari Bari Ruchi pip Peri Pembo falls down the well, Chang is not able to communicate it clearly. While it is not an accurate portrayal of Chinese history (what folktales are?) it is a fun book to share with your kids.

Post-it Note Spelling

One morning, I turned around from my cleaning to discover yet another mess had been made behind my back. Sound familiar? Sadly, this wasn’t a surprise as it happens pretty much any time I think I might actually be making headway on the cleaning. Sigh. This time, Riley had found the Post-it notes. Oh boy. I couldn’t bear to throw out three packs of perfectly good, although slightly crumpled, Post-it notes, so we created a game–/””””'[‘/l..a game in Riley’s mind, a learning experience in mine. Here’s what we did:

I wrote out the alphabet, one letter on each note. We started by spelling Riley’s name since she already knew how to spell that. I asked, “What’s the first letter?” When she responded with the correct letter, I stuck it to the table. We continued until we had spelled her name. Then we started on some easy, short words–for example, can and run. We spelled one word.

Post It note spelling can

Then, we replaced the first letter to spell a new word.

Post It note spelling ran

I’m proud to say that Riley can now spell her name and can recognize letters in different settings. Not all because of this game, of course, but it definitely helped to reinforce what she has been learning in school. Not only does this help with spelling and letter recognition, but it is also teaching rhyming word recognition.


Spring is just around the corner! With that comes up and down temperatures with usually a fair amount of rain in the forecast. Need something to do on those rainy spring days? These crafts will help you get ready for spring festivities and curb the rainy day blues.

Cotton Ball Sheep

I love artwork that incorporates little footprints, and my daughters love dipping their feet in paint. It’s a win-win.

What you’ll need:Cotton Ball Lamb

  • Construction paper or cardstock
  • Paint
  • Cotton balls
  • Glue
  • Googly eyes
  • Popsicle sticks, cut in half


  1. Cover your work surface with a cover to keep paint off the floor. Painting tarp, cardboard, or old newspaper works nicely. Pour paint in a container big enough for a foot. Dip child’s foot in paint and then press on paper. Make sure footprint is on the side of the paper to allow for the body of the sheep. If you have enough space (and trust your children), let them stamp their painted feet over the floor covering. Fun!
  2. Let child glue cotton balls on the paper in shape of a sheep.
  3. Glue googly eyes to sheep’s head and Popsicle sticks to sheep’s body.
  4. Draw a tail and let creation dry.
Riley's Cotton Ball Sheep

Riley’s Cotton Ball Sheep

Nurture the Experience:

This project is so much fun it will make you want to sing! Okay, that may be a little dramatic but adding song while you create adds another level of engagement to this craft. Singing is an essential piece of early literacy and aids in language development. The rhythm of the song helps children hear the different sounds incorporated in each word and makes the syllables clearer. Have a child struggling with language development? Clap along with the song to emphasize the syllables. This breaks the word down for the child and allows him or her more time to process the sounds.

Singing as a group is also proven to lower stress, relieve anxiety, and create a positive feeling. Check out this Times article.

 Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb.
Mary had a little lamb,
its fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
and everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,
school one day, school one day.
It followed her to school one day,
which was against the rules.

It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play, laugh and play.
It made the children laugh and play,
to see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
turned it out, turned it out.
And so the teacher turned it out,
but still it lingered near.

And waited patiently about,
patiently about, patiently about.
And waited patiently about,
till Mary did appear.

“Why does the lamb love Mary so?”
Love Mary so? Love Mary so?
“Why does the lamb love Mary so,”
the eager children cry.

“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know.”
The lamb, you know, the lamb, you know,
“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,”
the teacher did reply.


Glass Jar Ducks

These little guys can be a fun centerpiece for your spring table or a spring decoration for your child’s room.

What You’ll Need:

Jelly Bean DucksGlass jars (I used baby food jars)


Paint brush


Mod Podge

Googly eyes

Hot-glue gun



1) Paint jars desired color. You don’t have to make ducks. They could be white chicks, bunnies, etc. Set aside and let dry.

2) Cut beak and feet from felt.

3) When jars are completely dry, add a coat of Mod Podge to act as a sealant. Note: You may need to apply more than one coat of paint. Have an impatient toddler? Try using a hair dryer to speed up the drying process.

4) Use the hot-glue gun to attach feet to the bottom of the jar and beak to the center of the jar.

5) Attach googly eyes.

The Zoo

Zoos are inherently fun. They offer animals from around the world and often have several animal-themed attractions. Nurture the experience of your next zoo trip by making your little ones explorers. Each area of the zoo is full of new animals and habitats to discover. They will need a few supplies, though: binoculars to closely examine their finds and clipboards with paper and crayons to document these details.


Zoo binoculars

What you’ll need:

2 toilet paper rolls

Paint or markers



1) Color or paint the toilet paper rolls. If you have animal stickers, this would be a perfect place to use them. If you are using paint, allow the two toilet paper rolls to be touching while they are drying. This will help them stick together.

2) Glue the two toilet paper rolls together. I used Elmer’s glue, but if you are worried about them falling apart, you can always use super glue.

3) When dry, use a sharp-tipped object to make holes in the sides of the toilet paper rolls for the string. I used a nail, and also a pen at the zoo when we had a slight binocular malfunction. You will want to make sure that your object makes a big enough hole for the string to fit through.

4) Tie the string through each side of the toilet paper roll so that it will fit around your child’s neck and be long enough for her to hold the binoculars up to her eyes.

Riley with binocularsStory with binoculars



Zoo Drawings and Clipboards

Zoo pictures

What you’ll need:


Crayons or markers

Large, hard-cover books


1) Use the clips to clamp a pile of paper to the cover of the book. I used food storage clips, but you can use binder clips as well.

2) Have your child draw each animal that she sees at the zoo, or just her favorites.

Two steps! Wasn’t that easy! You can label each paper with the name of an animal that they will see, or if you are working on spelling, have your child help label them. Be sure to bring your crayons with you! If it is a hot day, consider bringing markers as the crayons may begin to melt.

The girls drawing zoo animals


Zoo Reading

There are so many books about animals out there that it is hard to choose. We just read our Nat Geo Wild Animal Atlas for Earth Day, which was a great resource for our zoo trip as well. To get some other ideas, I took a look at the gift shop selection at the zoo. Here are a few books suggested by the zoo itself:

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Giraffes Can’t Dance tells the story of Gerald the Giraffe who is not very coordinated. The dimensions of his body keep him from gracefully dancing with his friends at an annual festival. On his walk home, a wise cricket tells  him that he won’t be able to dance until his finds his song and encourages him to listen to the music of the forest. He does, and lo and behold, he turns out to be a fantastic dancer. He just needed his own song. Ask your child what makes her dance. She may have some dance moves you’ve never seen before.


 The View at the Zoo

>When you are at the zoo, who is viewing who? This book takes a look at what the animals might be saying about the visitors to the zoo. We just might be a little bit more like our animal companions than we think. This can make for interesting conversation with your kids. Read this prior to your zoo visit and then ask your kids at each animal’s habitat, “What do you think that bear is thinking? What do we look like to that kangaroo?”

What To Do If An Elephant Stands on Your Foot

What will you do if an elephant stands on your foot? What will you do if you run into a tiger? This book talks about the best way to handle this type of experience when you are on a safari. From a kid’s perspective, anyway. Fun and humorous, this book will help you start building your escape plans from zoo mishaps with your child on the car ride to the zoo.