Updated: May 1, 2019
Hello! My name is Jenna and I am a former preschool teacher, mommy blogger at Noticing the Happy and current stay-at-home mom to Ava (2) and Mabel (8 months).
I have been doing theme weeks for several months now as a way to streamline my home activities with the girls, so when Desert Moms asked me to create an All About Cactus Week, I was so excited! There are so many great resources locally, and a TON of fun crafts to do at home. I definitely got carried away this week, but hopefully it’ll give you lots of ideas to do at your house.
The first thing I like to do is to “create a space” where it’s on theme and gets the kids excited to learn. We have a big bookshelf along the wall and it is perfect to hang a shower curtain (I found this cactus one on Amazon). We use 3M command hooks so I can move the curtain as needed, and still have access to the items behind it.
We use an IKEA Lack TV stand (that works perfectly as a bookshelf) to highlight books and then created a nice reading nook for my book-loving toddler.
Because I did a cactus-themed first birthday party for Mabel in February, I took a little extra time to make a DIY Light Up Cactus (with Ava’s help). It’s been really nice to have the lights up – it adds a lot to the space.
When I start planning a week, I have set categories that I try to cover (a residual side-effect of lesson planning for a preschool classroom).
When you are learning about cactuses, there is no better place to go in Phoenix than the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG). There’s so much to look at and they have these wonderful tables set up along the way for deeper learning opportunities. The people at DBG took the time to show my girls everything from saguaro ribs to the inside of a cactus. Both Ava and Mabel thought it was pretty fascinating to see the different textures.
As we were walking, we sang our “Don’t Sit on a Cactus” song (see below) and looked for holes in the cactus where the birds live. As part of exploring sharp vs soft, I would let Ava gently touch the prickles (after I tested it first) and we talked about how it would hurt if you accidently bumped into a cactus or stepped on one.
We really loved just being outside and looking around. At the end, we stopped by the gift shop for a special treat (see below).
SENSORY TABLE This week, we filled our sensory table with sand, rocks and mini popsicle stick cactus to create a Desert Sensory Bin. It’s been a huge hit – it’s hard to go wrong with sand. I have the table on a carpet that I don’t mind if it gets dirty, and we just occasionally vacuum as necessary. Ava is pretty good with keeping the sand in the table so there hasn’t been too much mess. Plus, the good news is that the weather is so nice right now, I could take it outside if she was having trouble keeping the sand in the table. In general, I try to make “fail free” zones to give room for the kids to make mistakes and learn. That way, if a little sand gets on the floor, it’s not a big deal – I just keep encouraging her to keep it in the bin.
THEMED BOOKS There are so many great cactus and desert books at the Chandler Public Library! I also saw a few of my favorites at the DBG (so if you are looking for a souvenir from your trip, books are a great one). For teaching your littles about cactuses, my top two recommendations are The Seed and the Giant Saguaro by Jennifer Ward and Cactus Hotel by Brenda Z. Guiberson. For a fun addition, you can pick up The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell. I love how they talk about using saguaro ribs to build a house – especially since Ava was able to hold one at DBG earlier in the week. Clementina’s Cactus by Ezra Jack Keats is another cute addition – there are no words, just beautiful illustrations, and I’ve found that for littles, it’s a great exercise in storytelling for both parent and child. When you get to describe what’s happening on the page, it’s a more interactive experience and leads to more dialogue with your child, which is fantastic for language development.
My favorite silly cactus song is called “Don’t Sit on a Cactus” by Joel Frankel. We have been singing it over and over. It has several verses like: “Don’t sit on a cactus cuz it’s not something to practice. If you sit on a cactus, you’ll say ouch! – if you want to sit down, sit on a couch.” My toddler thinks it’s hilarious. When we visited the Desert Botanical Garden, we were singing it and Ava kept threatening to sit on a cactus. I would say “Noooooo!” and she would giggle like crazy. It’s really fun and silly – you can find it on iTunes for purchase or listen to it on YouTube. THEMED TV SHOW OR MOVIE
Netflix has a really silly cartoon called Oscar’s Oasis where a little lizard named Oscar navigates the hazard of the desert. It’s short and silly and helped me occupy Ava while I fed the baby. ART PROJECT
We let Ava use the leftover green and white paint from our DIY Light Up Cactus to paint on some paper from an Amazon package. We hung it on the garage door with painter’s tape and she was excited to paint “just like Rapunzel!”
When she was done and the paint was dry, I drew the outline of a cactus over her painting (after asking her permission first).
Next, I cut the cactus out and cut out the shape of a flower pot.
Now we have cactus art!
One of the coolest parts about a cactus is how it can store a lot of water for a really long time. To show Ava how this works, we did the Cactus Sponge Experiment.
I also wanted to introduce the idea of a cactus’ sharp prickly spines to my toddler before we went to the Desert Botanical Garden. A really fun and easy way to do that is by making some Cucumber Cactus.
Ava is just starting to do more counting, so I knew I wanted to offer a math activity. I made a Counting Cactus activity but I think it would actually work better for preschool age. It includes some mini clothespins that were a little hard for Ava right now. Hopefully she will like it more a little later on. Large Motor Activity
An easy way to encourage movement is simply by giving a toddler targets on the floor. Then they can walk to them, jump from one to the next, or zig-zag around them. So we created a Cactus Walk this week where I took die cut cactuses that I found at the dollar store, laminated them (so they would last longer) and then taped them to my tile floor with packing tape. Ava had fun walking from cactus to cactus, then running in and out of the circle.
You can’t have a cactus week without introducing some cactus candy! We picked one up at DBG and Ava got one big bite during each snack time this week.
That’s all for now! Thank you for “sticking” with me – I hope there’s a few ideas here that you’ll try at home with your littles. Because that’s my favorite part – that we get to play together!