Toddler Project Fails and Wins


Harper's assessment of homemade slime: "Mama made a big mess."

It’s been a long winter, and between New York’s unfairly Arctic snowdrifts and me being all big and pregnant for what seems like the past nine years or so, for us it’s been a season of inter-apartment adventures. Which really is okay. I tend to get sort of excited about projects. Maybe too excited. Harper’s winter refrain has become “Mama made a big mess.” And it’s true. Apparently my idea of a good time is engaging in complex craft projects that are entertaining for about 5-7 minutes and then involve lengthy clean-up on my part. Smart!

The above photo features “clean play slime,” which looked like a total housebound-afternoon godsend when I saw the recipe online. Harper found the finished product somewhat distressing, played with it for a few minutes after much coaxing, and then watched me wipe cornstarch off every surface in the kitchen. “Mama made a big mess.” Indeed.

Then there was the noble attempt at homemade finger paint. I don’t know what happened here, but I ended up with what looked like a big old pan of something I don’t want to type here for fear of all the googling creepos it might attract.

finger paint?


That’s right. Mama made a big mess.

painting toast

This is neither here nor there, but it occurs to me that one of the funniest things about doing this blog is how often it has me publicly posting photos of my crappy and oft-loathed kitchen.

We have had some successes, though. Painting toast, a salmonella-less amendment to painting cookies, was suggested by the clever and crafty Lara Newsom.

painting toast

It's really hard. You probably couldn't handle it. You mix up food dye with milk, the kid paints it on bread, then you toast it. I can only do this because I am a total supermom.

Now this is a great project. Easy set-up, easy clean-up. A little wasteful, I realized guiltily when Harper started painting her ninth piece of bread.  Maybe in the spring we will bring some painted bread bits to the ducks in the park and cutely poison them all with food dye. Anyway Harper loves this project and asks to do it often, and swears the finished product tastes like a rainbow.

painting toast

Mmm! Rainbow toast!

Then there were the smiley pizzas. Man, was this one a hit. Part of its success was pure pedagogy: the whole thing was Harper’s idea. She’d been eying the recipe in her High Five magazine for weeks before she finally asked, “Maybe try it?” So we did, during one of those “existing on air” weeks, in the hopes that maybe if she was involved in making some food this child might actually eat something.


The sous-chefs study the recipe.

I made whole-wheat dough, which is super easy, even for me. Harper and I relieved our cabin fever stress by kneading it.  The dough had to bake for a few minutes first, which added to the anticipatory drama.

Then Harper applied tomato sauce, shredded cheese, a red-pepper smile, broccoli nose, and olive eyes.


Hard at work.

Then, a bit more baking, and voila: dinner.


The sign of a truly great toddler project: completely edible at all stages.

smiley-face pizzas

The perfect meeting of Harper's twin loves: happy faces and cheese.

I really hope Harper has enjoyed the ambition of these projects, no matter how misguided they sometimes are, because for the next few months the main project I have planned for her is called The Super Awesome Fun Change the Diaper Pail for Mama Game.

8 responses to “Toddler Project Fails and Wins

  1. Looks like Harper has a blast making all those fun projects!
    When I was a preschool teacher we made slime often but used glue and borax. The kids LOVED it.

  2. Happy Faces and Cheese…sounds like a title to me.

  3. I’m confused–what is the slime supposed to be? Just something slimy? Is H old enough for playdo yet? That is really fun to make at home and pretty easy to clean up if I remember correctly. And, you can use all that food dye to make cool colors.

  4. I can still remember the taste of my mom’s homemade playdoh. Delicious and salty!

    • Ha! Well, and look, you turned out ok. Harper loves to nibble the ‘doh. The other day she also smelled it and listened to it (it sounded like rain! Coincidentally, it was also raining outside).

  5. Pingback: Toddler Projects to, Ahem, Dye For. | household words

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