Swamp Sensory Tub

It’s gooey , it’s gross and it’s green! It’s a swamp and this sensory play idea was a huge hit with both my 5 year old and my toddler. It was surprisingly easy to make and a great way to spend some chill time outside. Sensory play is so much more than squishing things it’s about discovering with all your senses and pretend play as well. My kids spent a good about of time simply making sounds with the goo, sounds like glurp, goop, glug, squish , slip , slurp. It was fun to see how they both narrated their experience and the giggles were amazing too.

  1. Gather your materials. You will need some gelatin ( I used plain because I had it on hand and added kool-aid for color but plain jello without the sugar should work too). You will also need a large container,  pool noodle, some plastic swamp creatures, water and a large tub or water table to play in.sensory fun for kids
  2. My daughter helped me make the gelatin. I followed the directions on the back for fruit jellies doubling the recipe.fun things for kids
  3. I love that by using kool-aid the gelatin smells awesome and is so tart even if kids do taste it , they spit it out. Also I used this old animal cracker container because it was a perfect fit for a space I had in my fridge. And it had a lid which was important since it was at kid level too. We let the gelatin set overnight in the fridge even though ours was ready to go in about 3 hours.
  4. We cleaned the water table ( it had dirt and rocks in it from our last play adventure) – this was an activity all on it’s own.
  5. Then the next morning after the gelatin was nice and set I filled one side with the gelatin and the other with water – added sliced pieces of pool noodle for lily pads and just enough creatures to invite play.
  6. And play they did.sensory tub ideas
  7. My son loved flopping the gelatin into the water side and it was neat to see how it would sink  to the bottom.sensory tub with jello
  8. My daughter loved squishing and squishing and squishing . I just kept taking pictures and soaking up the giggles. Did I mention it smelled amazing too, much better than a real swamp.jello sensory bin
  9. In the afternoon the sun melted the gelatin and my kids were bummed but we covered it and sure enough the next morning it was all congealed again and they had an absolute blast pulling the creatures out of the goo,sensory ideas for toddlers and we noticed the imprints they made too.  gelatin sensory bin We’ll see how many days we can keep it going!

Mud Soup – Outdoor Sensory Pretend Play

outdoor sensory play Once nice weather makes it our way in the Seattle area we run outside and stay until the rains come. We have been playing outside a lot and I needed something that both kids could be engaged in so I wasn’t trying to watch one outside while the other was inside . This was the ticket , you will see that they weren’t doing the same thing at the same time but everyone was happy and I sat in the sun listening to giggles under a blue sky. Pretty perfect, of course I had to strip them both down at the door so my carpets weren’t ruined but that’s the price you pay for fun. As you will see there was lots of learning happening too.

Gather your materials. We grabbed a bunch of different sized containers, some spoons, shovel and bucket.  We have raised beds in our yard with soil in them so we used that too.dirt soup outdoor play
We dug some dirt.
They got water together
And that’s when we lost my wee girl. She decided she’d play with water – and drink a lot of it.outdoor play
My son was deep in mud soup making.  He soon noticed that if he put the dirt on the water it sank. We talked about why while my daughter continued to drench herself at the tap.outdoor play
He counted and added bits of weeds, leaves, flowers, rocks, clovers…outdoor play
Then pretended to give it a taste before adding a little more of this or that.outdoor play for kids
Oh look who came back to see what we were up to. She finally joined in adding dandelions and water.mud pie play
Then I sat watching them play soaking up the giggles.

What’s your favorite outside activity with your kids?

Easter Egg Suncatchers & Messy Play

Easter craft for kids

This Easter craft was not planned at all but sometimes beautiful things happen on hard days. This happened when my daughter refused to nap on a day I needed to pack for a trip , I just wanted her to sleep but she had other plans. Instead of trying and trying to get her to sleep and getting more and more frustrated I decided we’d play. Play we did. I had no plans on turning it into a craft but I am so glad we did because every time we pass the window where these eggs are with my daughter she claps and points with pride.

  1. Gather your materials. So my plan was just to do an Easter sticky table so I grabbed some confetti and Easter grass, contact paper and painter’s tape. easter craft for kids
  2. I popped the contact paper on the table sticky side up using painter’s tape to keep it on the table. Added the confetti and Easter grass to stick on. My son was mildly interested but she was in love.easter craft
  3. She poured and poured and asked for more.
  4. Picked it up and let it drop.
  5. All over the table and the floor.easter fun for kids
  6. It was a blast. But to say it was messy would be an understatement . I confined the mess by sealing the confetti under a 2nd layer of contact paper. easter craft for kids
  7. Then cut them into egg shapes. Aren’t they pretty??
  8. I used a little double stick tape to make sure that the paper was stuck together, because there were so many layers of confetti that the contact paper didn’t stick. The double stick tape did the trick and I put them up in the window. Even in the dark gloomy rain these brightened up our playroom!

She never did nap but wow did we have fun!

Alphabet For Starters – Easy Touch and Feel Alphabet

alphabet for starters no time for flash cards

Make your own touch and feel letters for your littlest learner easily and without breaking the bank. These frugal and educational letters let beginners explore letters through their senses.  Alphabet For Starters is our series of simple activities for children just beginning to explore and learn letters. A great rule of thumb for when to start is when your child starts pointing out letters on shirts, in books or boxes. If they haven’t yet but this they might enjoy it,  try these activities and see if they are interested. If they are engaged  jump in and explore some more,  if they aren’t don’t push. We want letters to be fun, playful and interesting and if we push them on kids that aren’t ready we set up everyone for frustrating experience.

  1. Gather your materials. You will need some construction paper , double stick tape ( or glue if you have time to let it dry), scissors, a marker, some materials that have various textures.  We used felt, some sticky back sparkly foam and regular sticky back  foam. I also used some emery boards but they didn’t stick to the double stick tape, and I was going to use some contact paper for sticky but forgot….  The main thing to remember is to have a handful of different textures.
  2. Start by choosing a few letters . I limit the letters only because I want my daughter who is almost 2 to explore them without being overwhelmed.  There is no way she’d go through and explore each at this stage so I only made a handful. If you want to make all 26 letters go for it just follow your child as they explore .
  3. To make the letters I started by cutting some construction paper in two and writing a letter on it. alphabet for starters no time for flash cards
  4. Add double stick tape or glue and stick the felt on. The foam has a self adhesive back so it’s even easier to use. alphabet for starters no time for flash cards
  5. After adding the textured material I cut the letters out .
  6. Added more double stick tape.
  7. And popped it on another sheet of construction paper so they are a little sturdier.
  8. Time to play!  She intuitively started tracing the letters. As she did I narrated a little ” That M is sparkly!” ” Does it feel nice on your finger?”
  9. She loved the squishy foam.
  10. Use descriptive words like, soft, smooth, squishy and of course label the letters as you play.
  11. The sparkly foam made a really scratchy sound and she loved it!alphabet for beginners

For her 6 letters was just the perfect amount. We’ll play with these letters again soon , and slowly switch in new letters as she is ready. Follow your child’s cues if they aren’t able to verbally tell you when they are past the prime learning zone. Once they are visibly less engaged, move on to something new.

Alphabet Books For Beginners

LMNO Peas by Keith Barker is such a cute alphabet book. The only characters are tiny little peas which just happen to be one of my daughter’s favorites foods right now so this was a hit by the letter B. What makes this book such a great pic for beginners is that it’s filled with big colorful letters. The text is a simple listing of jobs and roles for each letter of the alphabet with the peas dressed up as all these things among the huge fun letters. My favorite pea is the one dressed as Elvis , how could you not love a book with a pea dressed as The King? More important than it’s sense of humor is how well my daughter sat and flipped through the pages with me, exclaiming loudly when we got to a letter she knew and still happily engaged when it was one she didn’t.

Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming is a wonderful example of what an alphabet book should be. Perfect for toddlers and preschoolers learning their first letters, the text is short , the letters are front and center and the illustrations are fun and interesting. My son loves this book, I grabbed it at the library after remembering how much my Pre K class loved it too.Many alphabet books are too long to read entirety at circle time or in one shot with a toddler but this my 19 month old will sit through Z every time. {This review is from when my son was 19 months old in 2008. His love of this book was really a jumping off point for his love of letters in general. I wish I could say I taught him his letters but really reading this one particular book over and over at his request probably did the trick. }

Chicka Chicka ABC by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault  is a fantastic board book and shorter version of the longer book. My kids love this book and it’s the perfect amount of text for a toddler, the illustrations by Lois Ehlert are so bright and bold that even very young babies will respond to it. The text is so melodic I don’t know many who can read it without adding a sing song voice to the reading. I love this book.  A must have for all bookshelves.

Need more alphabet books?  Here are a bunch!

Playdough + Drinking Straws = Simple Fun

Guest Post by Cathy James

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Playdough is such a versatile play material that we really can’t get enough of it in our house. My elder daughter is nine now and we’ve been using playdough since she was around the age of one. We make a fresh batch using our favorite homemade recipe every few months and have it out to play most weeks. That’s a lot of playdough playing! I think it’s remained one of our favorite ways to play because we’re always adding new elements – new ingredients or accessories to give it a twist and invite the children to try the dough a different way.

Have you ever tried adding drinking straws to your playdough? This was a super frugal material for us as they’d already been used for scissor practise and making some contact paper art – but how would the kids use it with playdough? It’s always interesting to offer a new combination of materials, sit alongside an observe, and see what they children discover.

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Firstly, my 5-year-old discovered the drinking straws were great for making circle patterns in the playdough – and sometimes the playdough stayed inside the straw and she made lots of holes.

IMG_4619-1 Even more fun was discovering that with a gentle squeeze she could make lots of playdough worms pop out of the straws.

IMG_4640-1 She tested out how to make the straws stand upright in the dough and we mixed in some math play by ordering the straw pieces from the biggest to the smallest. She also made families by collecting all the straws into matching color groups – great classification practise while she played.

What could you add to your playdough this week to give you children something new to discover? We’ve tried chocolate, toothpicks, pencils and leaves with great fun results.

5733152631_944482ec16_mIf you’d like a printable version of our favorite playdough recipes, together with a year’s worth of ideas of things you can add in with your playdough, please stop by NurtureStore to get a free copy of our Let’s Play Dough ebook. I’d love to welcome you over on our Facebook page too – please come and like NurtureStore and I’ll keep in a regular supply of new play ideas.

 

Cathy James is the creative force behind NurtureStore a blog devoted to play ideas, kids’ crafts and fun activities.