Toddler bags for out and about: How to get through a restaurant meal with a toddler.

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Any parent of young children knows that a meal out in a restaurant can be taxing with a toddler in tow. There are ways however to minimise the stress and make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

Firstly, train your child at home to sit in their highchair after meals for a period of time with a few toys or activities, or perhaps a book or two and include playpen time (or room time) and mat time in your daily routine. Having these daily periods where your child is used to happily playing with the toys you give them, whilst staying within a boundary, is excellent preparation for other occasions when they will need to sit quietly for a longer than normal stretch of time.

Spend a little time preparing some new and interesting activities that are kept aside for use while you are out. Either purchased toys and books or some simple (and cheap) home-made ideas like the ones that follow. Toddler’s generally do not have a well-developed imagination and tire of toys that don’t “do” something relatively quickly, so having to buy new things continually to keep up with their changing developmental needs and interest can become very expensive. These home-made toys are great for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination and when introduced at the right developmental level, will be stimulating and interesting for your young child. If a task is too easy it will not hold their interest. Too hard and they will become frustrated and lose interest.

This is the bag of “toys” I put together for my 18 month old to use during a lunch we attended on the weekend. He only used a couple of them as I bought them out one at a time and only changed them over when necessary.

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Posting bottle: Posting noodles into an empty vanilla bottle and tipping them back out again.

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Posting box: Pushing pompoms into the hole in this twine box. Help is needed to open the box to tip them out again but as we are sitting right next to him this is not a problem.

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Small spaces jar: Posting earbuds into a spice jar with holes in the lid. He discovered after I had taken off the lid and tipped them all back out about 5 times that he could shake them out one at a time through the holes so that added a new dimension to the activity.

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Posting tin: Posting plastic poker chips through a slot into an empty baking powder container. Yes, I know, it’s another posting activity. But at this age, my son LOVES to post stuff so I’ll run with that for a while and change when he is no longer so fascinated!

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Surprise boxes: Opening and closing these little pill containers to find the small toy inside is great for fine motor development.

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Dolly peg and hair bands: Sliding hair ties on and off a wooden dolly peg may be a little difficult for him but we will give it a go and see what happens. I haven’t used this one yet.

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Dinky car: Having older siblings means that interest in cars has developed early and he knows how to play with them form observing his brothers.

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Pipecleaner box: Shoving them in and out and bending them into different shapes could be fun. (We haven’t done this yet either but I remember one of my older children using this idea as a toddler and spending a very long time poking the ends into the small holes in the chair he was sitting on.)

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This old bag is how we cart the activities around. The fact that it has several different compartments as well as zips means that it is an activity in itself.

Having children will certainly change your life, but it shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you love. Train your children and you will reap the benefits.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Mat time on the go

Activities to make for toddlers and babies

Buffet training

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

Oh the things you can do with a box!

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We had a new oven delivered last week after ours decided to stop working a while back and of course the most exciting part about that was the box! When you get the chance to keep one of those extra-large cardboard boxes, grab them and marvel at the entertainment it will give your children.

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You can:

  • fill it with sensory box materials (I tipped in a bag of popsticks – that’s it!! The kids were in there for ages with nothing but popsicle sticks, posting them in and out of the side flaps.)
  • use it as a cubbyhouse by cutting door and window flaps
  • make a shop, restaurant or cafe and “cook” inside it

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  • put a set of crayons, pencils or textas inside for some drawing fun
  • paint it (outside on the back lawn!)
  • leave it outside for some imaginative play
  • join it together with other boxes to make a maze of tunnels. (I remember as a child having a stack of smaller boxes all joined together in our garage for us to crawl through. There were flaps in the tops so that we could stand up and look out.)
  • make a puppet theatre
  • use it as a quiet time place with some pillows, books, teddies and quiet toys. (Good for after lunch rest times when older children are no longer napping.)

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Masking tape vehicle tracks – quick, cheap and lots of fun

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I saw the idea of using masking tape to make vehicle tracks a while ago and have since seen many people’s examples. Some have the tape going up and over chairs, mats, couches and all through the house. All you need is a roll of masking tape and some cars to drive on it. Let your imagination go wild as you design roads all over the place or in a more civilised fashion in just the one room.

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We added our wooden construction blocks for houses, bridges and buildings but you really don’t need to have anything like this, the tape alone is interesting. Allow your budding builders to design the layout with you and they will be hooked. Apart from the visual display, there is nothing to trip over so the roads can be left out indefinitely. Having said that, after a long time masking tape does get a bit trickier to get off. We played it safe and pulled ours off in under a week but I’m sure it would have been fine for longer than that. j car under bridge IMG_8617

This is a great activity for a rainy day or during quiet time when younger siblings are napping, or perhaps younger children could play while older siblings are being homeschooled. We did it as a family activity with all the children together and constructed a whole city. The younger children returned to it over and over again in the next couple of days and were disappointed that we had to take it off. We will definitely use this again another day.

(I have also seen a role of masking tape with a small car attached and instructions for this activity as a birthday party gift. It would make an inexpensive gift that any young boy would love. Or put it on your stocking stuffer list!)

Other posts you may like:

rainy day activity: balls and stockings

101 mostly stay at home family night ideas

sensory tub ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers

Magnetic pompoms

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Magnetic pompoms are a great idea for table time, highchair time, mat time, while travelling with children or any other time you would like a quiet activity for your toddlers or preschoolers.

Simply buy your pompoms and hot glue gun magnets on the back. I used the free flexible strip fridge magnets that come in the mail on the back of advertising.kissing man on fridge IMG_8450

For a sit down activity, use a small magnetic whiteboard, biscuit or cookie tray or any other magnetic surface. They could easily be adapted for sorting by colours and/or counting or simply combined to make creative pictures on the fridge as my daughter is doing in these photos. counting IMG_8285

My original plan was to use them with the multitude of “do-a-dot” pictures that can be found on the internet, so I printed out a stack and laminated them for durability. (These pictures have circles all over them that you can dot with bingo markers or stick on small stickers for a fine motor activity.) The fridge magnets however are not strong enough to hold the pompom on to the surface through the laminate so I am going to make a second set with stronger magnets for that purpose and leave these for free creating. pompom heart IMG_8284

Montessori style tray activities for toddlers

These square jewels were so attractive to the twins that they spent a good deal of time examining each one and just moving them around by hand. Only once they had had their fill of touching and examining them were they ready to try transferring them which was the original purpose of this activity.

The twins are 2 years and 5 months old and were in need of some new highchair and table activities. These are the latest Montessori style trays that I made up for them in under an hour a couple of weeks ago. Once you have a good selection of materials and equipment to work with, it’s easy to mix and match and throw together some new ideas. Using a category for each tray type is helpful to me. (See Montessori tray activities for toddlers: starting out.)

I have done tray activities in the traditional Montessori style before (on a piece of carpet to designate a work space) but I find it easier at this age and with two at a time to keep them in their highchairs. This means I can use the time to prepare or clean up a meal or any other task and flit in and out of the room while they work on their activities without coming back in to find 5 trays up-ended on the floor at once! It also helps them to concentrate on the task at hand and learn to fully complete each activity before starting a new one. Concentration time is extended as they learn to stay focussed until I am ready to change the materials for them.

Pegging is excellent fine motor practice. Make sure the pegs you use are easy to press to begin with as toddlers do not have the finger strength to open very firm pegs. Dolly pegs or pegs that slide are a good option for those who cannot manage regular squeeze style pegs.

Providing a four sided container and pegs in four colours quickly turns this into a colour sorting activity. If you added some coloured sticky dots in the same colours as the pegs then younger children can begin to match the colours by pegging each peg onto the corresponding coloured dot.

This bead threading activity was the favourite of the lot and both twins want to do this again and again. They do enjoy chewing the straw though so I have had to replace it several times. Luckily this takes only a matter of seconds to do – see below.

All you need are some large beads, a container, a straw and a piece of masking tape. Bendy straws already bend over at the ends so I simply taped it over so that the beads will not fall off the end. That’s it! I will definitely be making some more threading activities soon. Beads on pipecleaners next.

A simple tong transfer practical life activity. I found a huge packet of large hair lackies at the $2 shop and they are great for beginning tong transfer because they are so easy to pick up.

One to one correspondence is an important pre-number mathematics skill. In this activity, preschoolers scoop one pompom into each depression in the iceblock tray.

Jewels, rocks and other decorations that are used for potplants and vases make excellent Montessori materials. They are very attractive to children of all ages and even my older children love to use these for maths manipulatives. This is a simple scooping transfer activity from one bowl to another.

Another transferring activity. I tried several kinds of tongs for transfer but my son was very frustrated by them, finding them too difficult to use. I decided to leave them for him for a while and let him enjoy transferring with spoons and scoops. His pencil grip is perfect so I am not too worried about his fine motor skills at this stage!

Other related posts you may like:

Montessori style tray activity for toddlers: Bucket of giant beads

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Pasta play

Getting dinner on the table: arsenic hour

Rainy day and wet weather indoor activities

Now that the wet weather has begun, there will be days when we are inside most of the day. Energetic children need some outlet and without outdoor time to let off steam, some energetic indoor activities are a must. That surplus energy has to go somewhere and that “somewhere” will not be good if we don’t channel it appropriately. Here are some ideas for winter days to keep a variety of ages well occupied and to help create a peaceful (although not necessarily quiet!) and productive atmosphere in your home.

Dressing up Pull out the dress-ups and let the creative juices fly. A mirror low enough for them to see themselves full length greatly enhances the joy of this activity and once dressed up many other imaginative play activities can follow. Stock your dress-up box with pretty, spangly, sparkly bright things for the girls, but don’t forget to cater for the boys as well. While commercial costumes are great, they somewhat limit creativity. Op shops are a great source for props and perhaps the best items are a selection of large fabric pieces that can be used for anything that takes the children’s fancy. Choose different fabric types, colours and textures to promote different kinds of pretend play. Eg. chiffon is good for veils, stiff netting for tutus, red satin for hero capes etc. Don’t forget to take photos of the wildest outfits. Keep them for their 21st birthday parties!

Some specific ideas are scarves, hats, shoes, belts, beads, bangles, gloves, handbags, crowns, wigs, men’s ties, workmen’s safety clothing, old dancing costumes, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses and a variety of men’s and ladies clothing. Cut clothing down to suit younger children (eg. shorten sleeves in a men’s jacket, cut off the length in a ladies nightie etc.)  Raid Mum and Dad’s and the Grandparents’ wardrobes for the brightest, most “out there” items that you will never wear again and chances are they will be a hit. Take the kids with you to an op shop, swap-meet or market and let them help you pick out the most interesting items they can find. They may surprise you with what they like.

Our Doctor’s surgery. Certain children prefer to be patients, rather than Doctors or Nurses!

Pretend play Dressing up links in beautifully with pretend play and there are so  many options available. The children may be able to come up with their own ideas but I find that if I offer a little structure to begin with, the play is more purposeful and has a sense of direction. That usually takes the form of setting out a selection of objects to suit a theme, rearranging the furniture with the children’s input and spending a few minutes getting play started by joining in. Often I will model a couple of ways to “pretend” with the objects I have provided which sparks off ideas of their own and I then leave them to it.

There was a lot of pirate related pretend play while we were reading Peter Pan. The old street directory got a great workout as the ship was navigated about.

Some of the play ideas we have set up are:

  • Washing day Strong card box with flap as lid, filled with shredded paper or cornstarch packing beans. Milk bottle lids glued on as nobs, empty washing powder box and scoop, dolls clothes to wash and string line and pegs to hang clothes out. Maybe even real soapy water in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry if you are game and don’t mind a little mess!
  • Doctor’s surgery (See photo above) Pillow slip coat (cut hole for head and two holes in sides for arms or use an old white business shirt), doctor’s bag, identity badges, bandages (strips of old fabric/sheets) film canisters, empty bottles and containers for medicine, old mattresses/dolls bedding for human or toy patients to sleep in, notepads, telephone books, appointment pads, clipboards, pencils and pens. A huge hit for my children is a supply of currants to use as sugar pills after reading the Little Golden Book “Nurse Nancy.”
  • Shopping centre Pretend food, household items, money, tray for cash register, shopping bags and baskets. Making their own pretend money and items to sell keeps them occupied for a while.
  • Beauty salon/hair dresser Old clean bottles, jars, empty make-up containers, cotton wool balls, brushes, combs, sheets, curlers, hand mirrors and stools or chairs. You may like to warn children that there will be no real cutting of hair under any circumstances!!
  • Office/post office Computer keyboard/typewriter, variety of papers, files, clipboards, pens, pencils, scissors, telephone, envelopes, contact paper “stamps”, cardboard box with slot and back flap for posting letters, calculators and mail bag.
  • Fix-it shop Play tools, safe real tools like screwdrivers, old electrical equipment with cords removed for tinkering with, Mecano or other construction sets.
  • Icecream shop Card cones, pompoms, cotton balls or small bouncy balls, icecream scoops, empty icecream containers, felt, cardboard or other pretend toppings, squeezy bottles, paper cups, spoons, small bowls, pretend money etc.
  • Shoe store Chairs and foot stools (could be just a box), lots of shoes and shoe boxes, mirror.
  • Restaurant/cafe Tea sets, pretend food (felt, wooden, plastic, salt dough or pictures from food junk mail glued onto paper plates), paper or thin card to make menus, pens and pads of paper to take orders, table cloths, napkins, place mats, coasters, empty clean food containers (cereal boxes, milk cartons, coffee jars etc.) vases, aprons, trays. Making salt dough or cutting and gluing pictures of food onto paper plates to make meals is an activity in itself.
  • Vet clinic or pet shop Stuffed animals, vet outfit and doctor’s kit (see doctor above), box cages/beds, collars, leads, bowls, brushes and blankets.
  • Florist Artificial flowers, a variety of vases and containers, ribbons, block of florists foam to stick stems into. (The grey foam crumbles less than the green.) Make your own flowers with popsticks and pattypans, paper cut-outs, small branches from the garden etc.
  • Car wash (Outdoor idea) Turn the hose on low and add buckets, sponges, suds, “polish” cloths and empty container. Use to clean ride-on cars, trikes and other outdoor toys.

Reading corners When we set up this little reading nook with child and teddy sized chairs, blankets, cushions, pillows, foot rests and crates of books, the children sat and read for hours! Books that they hadn’t had off the shelves in months caught their attention simply because they were put out in full view again and it was like re-discovering old friends. The netting is a mozzie net for a queen sized bed that I loved the idea of and never used in our bedroom because the ceilings were not high enough. It has served as a room divider for countless pretend play areas and the kids love it.

Puppet theatres Hand and finger puppets are easy to make using socks, paper bags, wooden spoons, toilet rolls, felt, fabric, wool, ribbons, stuffed toys and many other readily available items or widely available for purchase. Set up pairs of chairs, use a broom or mop handle to hang the front sheet on and let the creative juices flow. Have periods of rehearsal and performances with the rest of the family acting as the audience. Older children could even write scripts and cooperate together to act out stories or find scripted plays already written by surfing the net or borrow from the library. Video the performances and watch them again later for another rainy day activity.

Teddy Bear’s Picnics Everyone has dolls and teddies and when all the favourites are pulled out it makes for quite a crowd. Get out all the pretend food (see ideas under “restaurant” in pretend play above) and provide non-messy snacks like sultanas and Cornflakes for the kids to enjoy as well.

Sheet tents, cubbies and camping games Get out the sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, doonas, suitcases, backpacks, bags and torches and clean off the table for some fun tent making. Couch cushions and lounges also work well, as do chairs. Once the camping area is set up, packing the bags with tonnes of camping necessities will keep them occupied for quite a while. If you have real camping items like billies, folding chairs, 2 man tents etc. let the kids incorporate these into their games. Of course the next question will be “Can we sleep in our tent tonight Mum?”

Jumping mattresses It needs some planning to keep it safe, but some mattresses or piles of pillows and cushions on the floor in an open area and something stable to jump off is a great way to get rid of extra energy. Teach the kids how to do forwards and backwards rolls and award points for the most interesting jumping styles.     

Dancing and moving Don the dress-ups, put on some boppy music and get moving. Double the fun if Mum joins in and great exercise for you too. Play musical bobs, statues, follow-the-leader or other games to keep interest going.

Stocking balls You need a covered back veranda or patio for this but it is a great activity for all ages, particularly older boys. See instructions here.

Chalk boards and table activities Not for energy releasing, but when you’ve moved around a bit and want something quieter to do, here is a list of ideas to sit down and do at the table. Surf the net for unlimited art and craft ideas for older children.

Bubble-baths Plop the little ones in a nice deep hot bath and toss in some bath toys, containers, scoops, watering cans and cloths and let them tip and pour to their heart’s content. Set the older children up just outside the bathroom door and read aloud from a good book or listen to an audio book while you supervise the little ones from inside the bathroom. There are thousands of free audiobooks available to download from www.librivox.org (Be aware that most bubble-bath liquids have toxic substances in them. If you are going to use one, do your research and buy a product that is not harmful to your children, especially girls. The suds won’t be quite as good but their health is more important than good bubbles!)

Our pasta play sensory table.

Sensory trays Again, not a physical activity as such but so many ideas to use that will keep all ages going, however many are directed at the toddler and preschooler ages. It’s this age that I find harder to keep well occupied for lengthier time periods anyway, the older children are able to direct the use of their time much more productively. Heaps of ideas and a full explanation here.

Highchair and mat activities: Montessori style practical life tong transfer activity for toddlers: Pom-poms, fruit and bugs

Over-sized pom-poms and tea bag tongs are a great starter set for tong transfer activities. The tongs are easy to manipulate and the pom-poms do not slip out.

As I have been tweaking my routine this week in readiness for our latest bundle of joy (now 3 days overdue!) I have been setting up some new tray activities for highchair time. Having toddlers on the loose while I breastfeed (especially when there are two of them) is a recipe for disaster. These activities can be used in a highchair, on a mat, for table time or for playpen time , however because I am introducing them to young toddlers and need to keep a close eye on them to begin with , I use highchair time.

Tonging is a simple practical life activity for toddlers and is excellent for fine motor control. Try to find small tongs that are not too stiff or your little ones may not have the dexterity to manage them. Tea bag tongs are easy to squeeze, as are ice tongs. Check your local opportunity shop (secondhand shops, $2 shops etc.) for supplies. Two containers and something to tong are your only other materials and usually with a bit of imagination you can find something around the house that fits the bill.

When I set up my trays I have a category for each kind of activity so that I can quickly change them over every couple of weeks without a lot of thought. Tong transfer is one category that I use and these are some of the examples I have set up in the past.

Slightly smaller pom-poms with the same easy to manipulate tea-bag tongs take the activity to the next level of difficulty.

The easiest first experiences are soft items like oversized pom-poms, cotton wool balls, balls of wool, or anything else that will not easily slip out of the tongs. Put only a few items in the container to begin with to encourage success as toddlers may quickly tire of the concentration and control needed to manage the tongs. Our “rule” with tray activities is that they should be completed before they are packed away so I want to ensure that the toddlers can be successful right from the beginning.

Larger and longer tongs are more difficult to use. These are still easy to squeeze but their length makes them more unwieldy to handle.The fruit are plastic iceblock shapes from the $2 shop.

A small set of salad tongs and a bag of plastic bugs were all that was needed for this tray.

The reality of young toddlers and tray activities is that they will have a limited concentration span and the interest shown for each activity will vary. I try to make each tray so that they can be easily completed in around 5 minutes. This means that if you want 30 minutes of highchair time to be well occupied, you will need around 6 activities. Some will be very absorbing for the child and they will complete and repeat them over and over. They will find some very challenging and perhaps even difficult and may want to spend less time on these. Reduce the amount of material on these trays accordingly. If you see that an activity is too difficult for the child to complete successfully, simply remove it and re-introduce at a later date. The perfect activity has a bit of a challenge but not so much that the child is frustrated by their inability to complete it.

Other posts you may like:

Mega marble transfer

An introduction to sorting

Bucket of giant beads transfer

Montessori style water transfer tray activity for toddlers

For those of you who like water activities, scooping water is another basic Montessori style tray activity for toddlers. Great for the sensory table, as a table activity or perhaps even a highchair activity if you can fit it on. Most toddlers love to play with water and this gives them a contained way of enjoying water while practising a worthwhile skill at the same time. If you are not afraid of colouring clothes then a few drops of food colouring adds interest. Ice blocks can also be added, as can a variety of floating objects to scoop out.

DESCRIPTION:

The child uses the scoop provided to transfer the water from one bowl to the other and back again. I normally include a small sponge to use for soaking up spills and squeezing the water back into the bowls. The cloth is for drying up the scoop and tray when the activity is done. A variety of scoops and containers can be used to keep the activity fresh and interesting over time.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Practical life (liquid transfer)

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development
  • Control of scoop/ladle/spoon etc.

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Scoop (or other transfer utensil)
  • 2  stable containers for water
  • sponge
  • cloth
  • tray with a lip to contain spills (a baking tray or biscuit tray would do)

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Homeschooling with toddlers: Duplo copy and build

Here’s another fun yet educational activity for your toddlers or pre-schoolers to do while you homeschool the older children (or just get some dinner cooked!) It works as a Montessori style tray activity, table activity, playpen activity or mat time (blanket time) activity and can be adapted in difficulty to suit a wide range of ages.

Assuming you own Duplo (or any other suitable construction toy) and a digital camera, it costs almost nothing to make and is simple to put together. Older children could be enlisted to make the models required.

Simply make a selection of small models, photograph them individually and put only the pieces needed to construct each one into separate containers. Print the photos (laminate if you want them to last) and put them with the corresponding model and that’s it! The child simply uses the blocks supplied to copy the photo. The activity is self-checking in that there will be no spare blocks left at the end if they have copied correctly.

The easiest model for a 2 year old to copy might simple be a stack of 3 or 4 square Duplo blocks. Each set given from then on can increase in difficulty by adding more blocks and changing the complexity of the designs. It may need some teaching at first for the very young children to grasp the concept, but once they understand what to do they will be off and running. After each model is created children can play with the little set of bricks and try to make something different with it. Little boys in particular love to build, however my girls have enjoyed the challenge of making the colours and shapes of the blocks match exactly.

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Pasta play

Cleaner than water and sand – but just as much fun – pasta play is a great activity for busy toddlers. Useful for mat time and any time that you need to keep little ones happily occupied. If you have trained your toddlers to stay on a designated area for blanket time (mat time) then they will happily spend time tipping, pouring, filling, scooping, posting and otherwise manipulating pasta shapes.

All you need is a couple of bags of dry pasta, a variety of containers and a bunch of scoops and ladles and you are all set. Spread a sheet out on the floor to catch the dropped pasta and clean-up is a breeze. Simply collect up all the accessories into a container or tub of some sort, flick the pasta onto the sheet and pick it up by the four corners. If you will be using it regularly then find a container big enough to put the sheet bundle straight into (rather than tipping the pasta off the sheet) and you are all picked up in seconds. Of course, teaching little ones to help pack up is an important skill and if everything is being tossed into an open container then it is an easy matter for them to help you clean up.

Yes, they will probably have a bit of a chew as well, but it is just pasta! Keep an eye on them as always because  pasta could pose a choking hazard for toddlers but all in all, this is a very easy activity to set up and by simply changing the containers and accessories you put with it you can renew interest and keep the activity fresh.

It works well as a sensory table activity and can be adapted and set up as a Montessori tray activity for practical life posting, scooping, sweeping, pouring etc. The photo above shows pasta play set up at my sensory table in two plastic crates, however for toddlers I prefer the sheet method as they tend to spread it far and wide around the sensory table.

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