Critters Close Up

Critters Close Up


We pulled together a wonderful sample of wintertime activities that allow your child to play, explore, and learn the way all toddlers do: through their senses. Many of these activities focus, specifically on the sense of touch; however, all of the senses are represented here! Our Critters Close Up program includes opportunities for you and your child to explore Iowa animals and the winter season through activities that also introduce the concept of shape, color, texture, and pattern. Happy Winter!

Activity: Lunch is Served

  • Set up a feeding station for the squirrels (sunflower seeds are a tasty treat!)
  • For the birds, hang a scooped-out orange, half filled with peanut butter and birdseed.
  • Don’t forget fresh water! Make a dinner bell (otherwise known as dripping water). It will call in all sorts for birds and it is easy: Hang a milk carton of warm water above a small tray. Place a small hole in the bottom of the milk carton and let it drip into the tray. Replace it when it freezes.

Set up the feeding station outside of a window. Place a cozy chair nearby and watch who comes to visit. Don’t tap on the window. That will scare them away! If no one is visiting, grab a book to pass the time.

Activity: Ice Block Igloos

Using ice cubes or larger blocks of ice (freeze water in cardboard milk cartons), make igloos. Build a town of igloos. This works great outside where large walls can be constructed in every season!

Activity: The Critter Shuffle

Put on some winter music and dance with your tot while waving scarves or clutching a critter! Encourage your tot to listen to the music and dance the way the music sounds. Is it fast, slow, going up, going down?

Activity: Ice Block Designs

This is a fun winter science experiment where you can observe with your tot how salt melts ice, and create colorful designs in large blocks of ice. You will need large ice blocks, coarse salt, food coloring, and eye droppers. To make large blocks, freeze water in empty cardboard milk containers. When the water is completely frozen, tear off the cardboard container and place ice blocks on a tray with a lip, covered with several layers of newspaper to catch melting water. Sprinkle coarse salt on top of the ice blocks. Drip various color of food coloring on top of the ice blocks. Tunnels of color are created as the salt melts through the ice block. Put the colorful ice blocks outside. If it’s cold enough, they should stay frozen for several days. With your child, continue to examine the melting process during outdoor play. If you don’t have food coloring, use gelatin or drink mix in a bit of water. It smells great and it’s colorful.

Activity: Hide and Seek (critter camouflage)

Cut simple animal shapes out of construction paper. Cut a bear out of brown, a weasel out of white, a fox out of orange, etc. Cut out winter “habitats”. These can be simple shapes like a white construction paper hill, a brown rock cave, an orange fallen log. Ask your tot to find the best hiding place for their critter. Show her how a white weasel can hide on a white construction paper hill.

A simpler at-home version to introduce your child to the concept of camouflage: cut shapes out of different colors of construction paper. Have your tot match each shape to the corresponding background color (example: white circle goes on white piece of construction paper (that’s how polar bears hide in their snowy home!); gray triangle goes on gray paper (a deer grows a grayish winter coat so that he can hide in his winter surroundings, etc.) You could say to your tot (if age and mood permit): “Look how hard it is to see that shape on the same color of background! That’s called camouflage!” (of course, don’t expect your tot to understand this concept yet, but there’s never any harm in introducing the language!)

Activity: Snowflake Surprise

Have your tot help you to fold a coffee filter in half and then in half again. For the adult: Cut small triangles out of the folded edges. While you are cutting, let your tot place the small triangles into a cup. Show your tot how to “make it snow” by dumping the cup. Let her/him dump and fill as long as she/he likes. When you are done cutting, ask your child to help you carefully unfold the filter to see the snowflake that you have created.

Activity: Sandpaper Rubbings

Sandpaper has a great feel to it. Talk about how it feels. Cut the sheets into different shapes. Place the shapes under a piece of paper and rub a crayon over it. The sandpaper shape will appear. Use the side of a crayon when making a rubbing. This gives you the smoothest design.

Activity: Sandpaper Play

Have you ever noticed how yarn sticks to Velcro? It also sticks well to sandpaper! Make a design with the yarn provided. This is a great activity for the car or the shopping cart as well.

Activity: Critters Close Up

Using the magnifying glasses look at the animal pelts, bones, antlers, and insects. Explore the textures, colors, and patterns. Introduce words like smooth, bumpy, hard, soft, fuzzy, etc.

Activity: Texture Board

Find several materials of different textures. Cut small squares of each type of material. Glue the materials to a poster board or large piece of cardboard. Explore the different textures. Talk with your tot about each texture. Examples of materials include: fake fur (soft, furry), vinyl (smooth), sandpaper (rough) and wood (hard).

Activity: Peek-A-Boo Bag

Place an item inside a bag. Ask your tot to feel the item without looking. As you feel the item, describe to your tot how it feels.

For instance, does it feel smooth, bumpy, soft, or hard? Show your tot the item. Name it. Try a different item. Suggested items include a snakeskin, a piece of fake fur, an antler, a bone, a rabbit’s foot, or a nut that has been chewed on by a squirrel.

Activity: Peek-a-Boo Books

Create a simple peek-a-boo book by cutting out a small shape like a square in a piece of card stock. Place a picture of an animal under the card stock. Ask your tot to guess what is under the shape. For a sturdier book, laminate and place in a binder. If you place the animal picture in a plastic sleeve instead of laminating, it is easy to change the pictures for future use.

Activity: Simple Puzzles

Glue a picture of an animal onto a piece of cardboard. Cereal box cardboard works well. Cut the picture into 2 pieces. Once your tot has mastered putting the “puzzle” together, cut one of the puzzle pieces again This puzzle can grow with your child and if a piece gets lost or chewed on…it’s easy to replace the puzzle with a new one!

Activity: Play dough Fun

Using cookie cutters, cut shapes out of play dough. Create scenes with the shapes. For example, a triangle on top of a square can be a house, a circle on top of a rectangle is a tree, a triangle on top of a rectangle is an evergreen tree. Can you make a mouse or an owl from the shapes? Make a winter scene by a using cookie cutter that is a snowman or snowflake.

Activity: Indoor Arctic Playbox

Fill a large container with cold salt. Use cups, containers, and spoons, to fill and dump just like you would in a sandbox. Can you feel around and find the hidden items?

Activity: Mail time

At home, for a simple sorting activity, cut several different shapes out of paper. Gather several shoe boxes. Assign each box a shape by gluing a shape to the side of a shoe box. Ask your tot to sort the shapes into the correct box. Our Toddling on the Wild Side activity is a bit more elaborate. Ask your tot to be a letter carrier. The postcards provided have the address on it as to where it belongs. For instance, Clara Moon lives at 1 Crescent Drive. The crescent moon shape is on the postcard and needs to be matched to the mailbox. When you find the correct mailbox, slide the postcard through the slot.

Activity: Snow box

Fill an old baby bathtub, basin, or plastic box with snow. Bring inside. Give your tot mittens. Add to the tub: scoops or other objects for playing and digging. Other snow box ideas: Use a spray bottle with water/food coloring mixture to create colorful designs on the snow; turn it into a science project by watching snow melt into water throughout the day; add ice cubes to build mini igloos; build snowmen; add small farm equipment and trucks for imaginative play. Popsicle sticks make great pretend trees.

Activity: Going on a Critter Hunt

Children love to follow paths and trails—especially when they realize that there is a surprise at the end! Choose one of the footprints from our track sheet. Make copies of your chosen track and cut out the tracks. Find a stuffed animal that matches the footprint you have chosen. Spread your footprints throughout several rooms (up and down stairs too, if you wish) with the end result being the hidden animal (don’t make your tracks too far apart). Tell your child that you are going on a hunt to find “a raccoon” (tell them ahead of time what you will be searching for). Quietly with your tot, follow your animal’s tracks on tip-toe throughout the house. You can draw the shades if you wish and bring out the flashlight for some added fun! Allow your child to make the discovery. Tell your little one to give his animal a squeeze as he names the animal.

Activity: Winter Walk

Wintertime is the perfect time to take a walk! Use your senses to explore the season. Does the air feel cold or hot on your skin? How does snow taste? Are there leaves on the trees? Where did they go? What sounds do you hear? Smell a spicy evergreen or pine cone. Bundle up and have fun exploring your neighborhood, an area park, or woods.

Wintertime Songs and Finger-plays

Have You Ever Seen An Otter?
Use a stuffed otter (or otter picture) when you do this activity.
Have you ever seen an otter?
An otter…an otter!
Have you ever seen an otter swim this way and that?
Swim this way and that way…and this way and that way?
Have you ever seen an otter swim this way and that?

Have you ever seen an otter?
An otter…an otter!
Have you ever seen an otter slide this way and that?
Slide this way and that way…and this way and that way?
Have you ever seen an otter slide this way and that?

Have you ever seen an otter?
An otter…an otter!
Have you ever seen an otter scurry this way and that?
Scurry this way and that way…and this way and that way?
Have you ever seen an otter scurry this way and that?

One little beaver…feeling very blue (hold up one finger)
Called for his brothers then there were two (hold up two fingers)
Two little beavers…swimming in the pond (swimming motion)
Called for their sister then there were three (hold up three fingers)
Three little beavers waddle on the shore (waddle)
Call for their mother, then there were four (hold up four fingers)
Four little beavers learning how to dive (make diving motion)
Call for their father, then there were five (hold up five fingers)

Counting Badgers
1 little…2 little…3 little badgers
4 little…5 little…6 little badgers
7 little…8 little…9 little badgers
10 little badger girls

1 little…2 little…3 little badgers
4 little…5 little…6 little badgers
7 little…8 little…9 little badgers
10 little badger boys

Sing a Song of Winter
Sung to: “Sing a Song of Sixpence”
Sing a song of winter,
Frost is in the air.
Sing a song of winter,
Snowflakes everywhere.
Sing a song of winter,
Hear the sleigh bells chime.
Can you think of anything
As nice as wintertime?

Will You Read To Me?

Take time to enjoy a story
Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee
Mouse’s First Snow by Lauren Thompson
The First Day of Winter by Denise Fleming
Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft and Richard G. Van Gelder

Activities provided by:

E Resources Group
2550 Stagecoach Road
Webster City, Iowa 50595-7375
Toddling on the Wild Side was supported by REAP-CEP

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✓ 1-2
✓ 2-3
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Category: Adult-Child

Iowa Early Learning Standards:
1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.3, 4.2, 5.1, 5.4, 6.2, 7.3

Related Kindernature Resources: Other Resources: