The Dumpling Turns Three: Cake, Cake, and More Birthday Cakes!

In what felt like a blink of an eye, the Dumpling turned three last week. It was the first year that she understood what a birthday is, and ironically, it was also the first time I didn’t throw her a party. (My rationale was a bit complicated—something to do with me no longer feeling guilty about us not spending enough time together.) Instead we did a few birthday-themed activities leading up to the big day and took a family trip to Disney Hong Kong for the grand finale.

Blowing “candles”

The Dumpling’s lungs got a workout as she practiced blowing out pretend candle made out of marker caps. We even played a bit of “air bowling” by arranging the caps like bowling pins and trying to knock them all down in one huff.

Scrap Paper Cake

We used pieces of scrap paper that were cut into varying lengths to build our first cake. I even managed to sneak in a numbers exercise by labeling the strips 1-10 and asking the Dumpling to glue them in chronological order.

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3D Styrofoam Cake

For our second cake, we painted styrofoam circles and stacked them to create a 3D layer cake.

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Birthday Breakfast of Champions

On the morning of the Dumpling’s birthday, I made her favorite breakfast food—pancakes. I added a candle because pancake is a cake…right? Those candle blowing exercises paid off because she kept blowing the candle out before I could snap a picture!

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The actual birthday cake

The Dumpling wanted a chocolate cake, so I asked jigg to pick up something cute at Harbour City since the selection is somewhat limited in Discovery Bay. While I was expecting cartoon characters, he came home with this chic gourmet dark chocolate cake from Paul Lafayet. Even though the Dumpling gobbled it up, I think jigg and I need to recalibrate our definition of “cute” in the future.

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Disney Hong Kong

Despite talking about going to Disney for months, the Dumpling was absolutely miserable when we got there. She only smiled on the “Small World” ride and was Miss Grumpy Pants the rest of the time. Womp womp.

Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of August 2018

Summer in Hong Kong is absolutely miserable—contstant rain, high humidity, or terrible air quality has forced us to stay indoors for most of August. As a result, the Dumpling and I have been extremely busy at home.

Below is a recap of all the indoor activities we have done in August. Most of them involve common household materials! I also included links to external tutorials and recipes I used.

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Create Faux Sea Glass

Apply Elmer’s glue mixed with food coloring onto glass bottles or vases to create a faux sea glass effect. Once dried, the stained glasses cast the prettiest light shadows in the sun!

Decorate a Cardboard Picture Frame

Cut the shape of a picture frame out of cardboard and wrap it with white paper. Decorate the frame with paint, pom poms, feathers, stickers, etc.!

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Decorate Cookies

I’m not much of a baker, but everything tastes better when we add sprinkles.

Turn Chopstick into Wands

I hoard “trash”—cardboards, plastic trays, bottles, even takeout chopsticks. I knew the last item would come in handy one day because they made wonderful wands!

Paint with Droppers

Another odd thing I save is kiddy medicine droppers because they can be converted into coloring tools. Combine water and food coloring in a small container and use the dropper to squirt the colored mixture onto paper towels or baby wipes.

Decorate Cookies with Puffy Paint

This three-ingredient puffy paint recipe (made with flour, salt, and baking powder) is my absolute favorite—I always have a batch stored in the fridge. The paint is actually puffy and stays puffy and it can be air-dried or microwaved dried.

Turn Colored Transparencies into Stained Glass or Lanterns

Similar to the faux sea glass activity, apply Elmer’s glue tinted with food coloring onto plastic transparencies to make stained glass or suncathcers. I also taped the sheets together to make a lantern and lit it up with my phone flashlight at night.

Paint with Toy Cars

Squirt some paint on a piece of paper and run toy cars through the paint.

Have a Soap Bubble Tea Party

Pouring stations are always a hit with the Dumpling. I added pom poms and foam soap for her to scoop into our “tea”.

Mix Baking Soda and Vinegar

Add food coloring to vinegar for a colorful eruption.

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Create a Popsicle Stick Puzzle

The Dumpling loves looking at herself, so it’s no surprise she was really into solving a puzzle of herself. This classic craft is made with a photo glued onto popsicle sticks using mod podge.

Bust Out the Play Dough for Open Ended Play

I usually make a HUGE batch of fresh play dough every few months, store them in separate ziplock bags in the fridge, and bust one out whenever I’m in a bind.

I rotate the accessories that I put out with the play dough—different cookie cutter shapes, lego blocks, scissors, etc. If the dough is on its last legs, I let the Dumpling mix in all sorts of stuff…like coffee grind.

Jump On An Oobleck Muddy Puddle

Oobleck (cornstarch mixed with water) is one of my favorite messy play materials. Being seemingly both solid and liquid at the same time, the Dumpling is endlessly fascinated by it.

I set up a Peppa-themed activity with her Peppa toys, muddy puddle made out of oobleck, and bubble bath made out of foam soap…I think all of the Dumpling’s Peppa dreams came true with this one.

Jump On Real Puddles

Sometimes cabin fever can only be cured by escaping to the outside world. We just put on our boots and embrace all that the heavy rain has left behind.

Seven Summer Fruit Art For Kids

To celebrate the arrival of summer, the Dumpling and I created an art series featuring a few of our favorite summer fruits! We experimented with a different technique for each—from making paper mosaics to coloring with makeup to stamping prints out of various household materials. While we did the activities side-by-side (with me adding the finishing touches), the dissimilarities in our work are quite telling of how differently we approach each task!

1. Paper Cutout Watermelon

Paper cutout watermelon.

Directions:

Although this was a straightforward activity, working with my two and a half year old brought an interesting twist because her imagination isn’t yet fully bound by how a watermelon (or anything really) is supposed to look like. As a result, our compositions were as literal or abstract as we wanted it to be.

2. Paper Mosaic Pineapple

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Paper mosaic pineapples.

Directions:

  • Print the pineapple template.*
  • Cut yellow and green colored paper into approximately quarter inch tiles. Optional: Use different shades of the same color to create contrast.
  • Glue or tape colored the pieces on. (I used double sided tape.)

This was a perfect example of how the Dumpling and I diverge in interpreting directions—of me giving them and of her following. Instead of placing the pieces one-by-one, she just dumped everything on. It didn’t create the pixelated effect I was aiming for, but she did complete the activity…and it does look like a pineapple.

3. Thumb Print Strawberries

Thumb print strawberries.

Directions:

  • Apply lipstick (paint or stamp ink would work as well) on your thumbs and stamp to create heart-shaped prints.
  • Outline the prints with a mixture of rounded triangles and hearts.
  • Add leaves and speckles for seeds.

4. Wine (or Juice) Stained Grapes

Wine stained grapes.

Directions:

  • Download the grape template* and color each grape with blue, red, and/or purple watercolor pencils.
  • Blend colored grapes with a brush using red wine or juice (instead of water).
  • Drip red wine or grape juice onto the drawing for added effect. If you don’t have a dropper, soak a cotton ball and squeeze the liquid out onto the paper.

(This was a solo activity because I was that possessive of my wine…and I didn’t have grape juice.)

5. Bottle Cap Stamp Cherries

Bottle cap stamp cherries.

Directions:

  • Apply red paint on water a bottle cap and stamp.
  • Add stems and leaves on the berries after the paint dries.

Midway through our fruit series, I realized that I’m learning from the Dumpling as much as she’s learning from me. While I was carefully laying the cap on my sheet of paper in attempt to create perfect circles, the Dumpling just slathered a ton of paint on and stamped away. She used both ends of the bottle cap, creating a combination of outlined and colored-in circles—it was something that I didn’t think of until she showed me!

6. Pom Pom Smash Blueberries

Pom pom smash blueberries.

Directions:

  • Soak pom poms into blue and purple paint and smash them with a toy hammer. To limit the splash radius, cover the pom poms with clear plastic wrap.
  • Draw star on the berries to from the calyx once the paint dries.

7. Bubble Wrap Print Raspberries

Directions:

  • Cut a piece of bubble wrap into an oval-ish shape and glue onto a large beverage cap.
  • Apply pink and/or red paint onto the bubble wrap and stamp.
  • Draw circles to form drupes once the paint dries.

Like the cherry bottle cap printing exercise, the Dumpling’s unstudied approach uncovered another technique that didn’t occur to me. She just stamped and re-stamped over and over again—often on the same spot, which gave her raspberries a layered effect!

This project taught me that I should act more like a kid sometimes. I tend to over-think, over-plan, and over-analyze…while my toddler just does it. She keeps trying and experimenting until she runs out of paper or paint, whichever comes first. While my artwork often turned out as expected, the Dumpling’s carefree method often led to serendipitous effects. In the end, it was my toddler who taught me a thing or two!

* The printables look differently than my photos because my fruits were all initially free drawn; the templates were created after.

Teach the Way They Learn

“If a child cannot learn from the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

Ever since the Dumpling was a newborn, I have dutifully incorporated reading as part of her nightly routine. On regular rotation were classics such as Goodnight Moon, Are You My Mother, The Runway Bunny, and nursery rhymes. Although her “meh” reaction was initially discouraging, online articles by child experts assured me that my efforts were not wasted. They seem to unanimously agree that reading to kids from an early age constitutes quality bonding time, promotes early literacy, develops their imagination, and brings an abundance of other benefits down the road.

As the Dumpling grew older, so did her interest in books…but not in the way I expected. While she was teething, they became her chewing toys. Then she went through a phase where she ripped off all the flaps from her flap books. Now she just loves flipping maniacally through the pages. On some evenings, she wouldn’t even sit through an entire story before wiggling away. I initially thought it was my choice of literature, but her behavior was the same whether we read her “favorite” story or a Toys“R”Us circular.

While the futility of our reading time didn’t escape me, it didn’t bother me either…until I actually tried teaching her something. It started when the Dumpling developed an interest in colors at around 19 months, so I picked out a few books to help her along. While nothing in our routine changed, my perception of it did. Instead of a leisurely past time, reading now had a purpose.

Information Overload

The reality was that the Dumpling’s primary interest laid in flipping, crumpling, or ripping pages; the content was secondary. Delving into my graphic design background, my guess was that there was just too much visually going on to hold her interest. As a result, she looked at everything—and therefore, nothing at once. For a toddler learning a new concept, a spread with seven to eight colors along with pictures, words, and numbers can be overwhelming. Even if an entire page was dedicated to one color, her attention was often fixated on familiar objects but not their attributes. For example, she would focus on the frog rather than the frog being green. This was understandable since her vocabulary up to this point consisted mostly of nouns and verbs; adjectives were new territory.

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Excerpts from the Dumpling’s books: there’s too much going on!

After a few attempts, I shifted away from books to experiment with a few activities designed to channel the Dumpling’s attention. I have always been a hands-on learner, so I built a color lesson around finger painting. I started by hiding all of the paint colors except for one and kept repeating that color over and over again. When the Dumpling started losing interest, I took the first color away and introduced a second. Again, I repeated the new color until I brought out the third and hid the second.

In our first painting session, she was exposed to a total of four colors: yellow, blue, red, and green. Once they were all introduced, I laid them out of reach and asked her to point to what she wanted as I named the chosen one aloud. Towards the end of the 30 minute activity (which as about 25 minutes longer than what I would have gotten out of reading), she was pretty much able to point correctly to a color when asked and verbally name blue and yellow.

In the next few weeks, we replicated this approach by playing with sets of identical objects that came in different colors, such as crayons, balls, pipe cleanerspom poms, and spoons. I was strict with having only one color of each available at the beginning. For example, if we were playing with pit balls, I had one red, one blue, one yellow, and one green out even though the set came with 100 balls. I didn’t want her to be distracted by the other 96 balls bouncing everywhere because our attention was on the colors, not the balls. Once I felt she developed a solid understanding of the initial four colors did I introduce additional ones.

Learn Through Play Activity Ideas

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  • Rolling balls: There’s something very calming about rolling balls down the stairs and watching them bounce. The Dumpling could spend 40 minutes doing this (she would have gone on longer, but I was tired picking them up), so it was an opportune time to talk about colors!

  • Fishing with pipe cleaners: I molded pipe cleaners into fishes, handed the Dumpling a magnet, and asked her to “fish” for different colors. (Tip: Find a magnet strong enough to pick up the pipe cleaner, but not so strong that it picks up multiple ones. Otherwise the game would be over very soon.)
  • Color sorting pom poms: After cleaning out plastic takeout sauce containers, I layered the bottom with colored construction paper and showed the Dumpling how to color sort. We started on easy mode with four colors and slowly added more.

YouTube also became an effective medium after the Dumpling started watching videos of an animated baby sliding into a ball pit. The character would do this repeatedly, except the balls were a different color each time.

Through simple and repetitive activities, the Dumpling learned to identify and say 10 colors before she turned two. As I was dressing her recently, she demanded to wear a blue outfit. When I was about to put a baby blue shirt over her, she stopped me and said “NO! Dark blue.” Apparently she can now differentiate between light and dark hues too.

I still read to my daughter on a regular basis in hopes that she would develop an interest in books one day. However, I also recognize that reading doesn’t always necessary equate to learning. While books are great resources, they’re only as useful as the amount of information a child can extract from of them. Just in case the Dumpling learns more effectively through other methods, I’m always ready to explore new activities as we learn together.