Toddler activities: Sensory tables

My sensory table in the kitchen; set up for water play.

Sensory tables are an excellent way to keep a toddler absorbed and concentrating for a good length of time while you homeschool older children, cook some dinner or wash the dishes. They are filled with open-ended activities and once the basic set-up is in place, are easily updated with the addition of household items for a new “theme.” Toddlers will love them and learn to focus and concentrate in the process.

A low table is ideal, however a large crate with lid, old television stand, coffee table, big wooden box or regular bench or table with the legs cut down will all suffice. I used a very large, sturdy crate with a fitted lid and covered it with a beach towel for a non-slip surface.

The sensory tray itself needs to have low sides (around 20 cms high) and be quite large. Under-bed storage crates or something similar are ideal because plastic lends itself to water and sand play and can be easily cleaned out. If the shallow crate comes with a lid this is even more ideal as it can be clipped into place when the tray is not in use.

For water play (as in the photo above) I have a smaller crate that I fill with water and a very shallow tray that goes underneath. This gives me a dry area for the accessories that are not in use and somewhere to put muffin trays for sorting and other activities near the water tub. For dry activities like pasta, the accessories can be kept in the large tray with the pasta and just put to one side.

The tray needs to be low enough for a young child to stand at comfortably, with their hands able to reach to the bottom of the tray. With very young children, you may choose to provide a sturdy step to bring them up to height, rather than cutting the table down too low – remember they will grow very quickly.

Think about age suitability. Scissor activities are not appropriate if it is likely that your 12 month old will get hold of them! Put towels underneath the table for indoor wet play. Plan for an easy clean-up by spreading out a sheet or blanket underneath when your child is using dry materials and simply gather the spills up in the sheet to tip back into the sensory tray when they are finished. You may choose to line it with fabric to cut down the noise, although this is sometimes part of the fun!

Now – what to put it in? (Keeping in mind of course that some materials pose a choking hazard and will not be appropriate for children who still like to put everything in their mouth.)

Some ideas are listed below and there are heaps of other great ideas at:  http://www.perpetualpreschool.com/sensoryideas.html

 

material in tray accessories to add
cheap costume bead necklaces (On strings for children to cut apart.)  Tie scissors to table legs so they are always available and do not get lost in the tray. Provide large tweezers to pick beads up and sort into muffin tins or other multi-compartment trays. Use beads for art and craft activities once interest has died.

 

sand plastic flowers, garden tools, rocks, pebbles, gloves, spray bottles for garden play.
sawdust or washed blue chip gravel or pea gravel or dried coffee grounds or dried tea leaves trucks, cars, rocks, pebbles, road signs
sawdust or shredded paper or packing cornstarch beans magnetic bingo wand and magnetic bingo chips (Chips will attach to wand as it is swept through the tray) or large horseshoe magnet (or similar) with paper clips, cutlery, metal pencil sharpeners etc
water aquarium rocks, pebbles, plastic bait fish or sea animals ($2.00 shops are a good place to look) aquarium net, small containers/buckets for caught fish.
water or wheat (Extremely large bags of wheat are available for at places like City Farmers.) turkey basters, squeezy sauce bottles, cups, containers, funnels, tubes, measuring spoons, sifters, egg cartons, pots, pans, jugs, measuring cups etc.
shredded paper or cotton balls or packing cornstarch beans or birdseed, wheat, pasta, rice, split peas or other clean grain. plastic or wooden letters/numbers/shapes and sorting trays to place in once found. Could be colour coded trays/containers to encourage sorting. Puzzle pieces – put puzzle tray for pieces to be inserted into once found, until picture is complete.
smaller tray – can be a table activity buttons, tweezers and iceblock trays for sorting.
chosen dry material foam board (from craft shops cut into animals or shapes to sort.)
smaller tray – can be a table activity beans and numbered egg carton (child to put correct number in each egg cup.)
ribbons, segments of curling ribbon, strips of crepe paper etc small sections of gutter guard, small hole chicken wire or commercially available weaving mats to thread ribbon through.
water sinking and floating – ping pong balls, boats, sponges, rocks, shells, other household  objects that float and sink. Encourage child to make a prediction before they check to see if the object sinks or floats. Aquarium nets to fish out objects once tested.

 

sand, shredded paper, crepe paper strips, sawdust or birdseed, wheat pasta, rice, split peas or other clean grain. plastic animals, bugs, rocks, shells. farm accessories etc.

(Wheat is available from places like City Farmers for $10.00 for a huge bag. Cheap enough to just sweep up spills and throw out if dirty.) Provide insect or animal books for children to look up their “catch” as they unearth their finds.

iceblocks of a variety of sizes use salt to stick blocks together to create ice sculptures
water different kinds of rocks to scrub, wash and dry (provide t/towels, scrubbing brushes, cloths etc.) Set up a couple of factual book about rocks away from the water for children to try and find their rocks and research rocks in general.)

 

shredded paper, packing beans fishing pole (wooden pole with string tied to the end and a magnet tied on the end of the string.) Cut fish shapes out of card and glue a paper clip to the nose of each. Write numbers, letters, sight words or whatever you are working on onto each fish and have child name them as they are caught. If they cannot recognise the letter etc. toss the fish back and catch again later. Do not work on too many new letters or numbers etc. at a time – ensure most catches are successfully named!

 

dog food stuffed animals, pet accessories, bowls (For the child who is old enough to resist the urge to eat the biscuits!)

 

nature items dry leaves, rocks, sticks, pine cones, honky nuts etc. with magnifying glass. Add plastic animals, bugs, cars etc. later, after the interest in the nature items themselves has worn off.
straws provide different sizes and colours for children to chop up. Tie scissors to leg of table to stop them getting lost in the tub. Once straws are all cut into smaller pieces, hide other objects (as for the ideas above) to find and sort or use cut straws for threading.
fossil dig freeze plastic dinosaurs in a deep tray in a thin layer of water coloured with food colouring. Once frozen, add another layer of different coloured water and so on. Dig out the fossils with metal spoons. Read dinosaur books and information about palaeontology as an intro or follow-up.

De-bone a chicken and soak bones overnight in bleach. Bury “fossils” in selected material for children to dig out.

 

cutting bright scrap paper, wrapping paper, magazines, pictures etc. for children to cut as desired. Hole punches, fancy scissors and staplers can all be added.

 

water pure soap flakes and hand beaters.

 

soapy water dolls clothes, tea sets or plastic dishes to wash and dry up or peg onto string line. Add dish mops, sponges, pegs, bottle washers etc.

 

corn starch packing beans can be used to hide many objects and are edible (ensure you get the correct ones. Encourage children not to eat them, just know they won’t be poisoned if they do!)

Once you have used them for a while dry, you can provide spray bottles filled with water to dampen the beans which are then mouldable.

 

soap and paper clay grate one bar of  soap and mix with equal amount of water then combine with one roll of white toilet paper (torn up) to make a mouldable sculpture material.

 

cities layer bottom of tray with garden soil and sprinkle well with grass seeds. Provide water spray bottles for daily watering. As the grass grows, lay small blocks for roads and add cars or other accessories. Make junk model city buildings and houses and trim “lawns” with scissors.

 

sand shells, seaweed, flags, buckets, yoghurt pots or other containers and water spray bottles to dampen sand.
chosen dry material spray small rocks gold or use plastic jewels or vase rocks as treasure. Link to pirate stories. Make box pirate ships to pile treasure into.
marble run clear flexible tubing, wooden blocks or real pipe and a variety of joiners to create pathways for marbles.
chemistry lab fill a container within the main crate with water. Provide “lab coats” to keep scientists clean and dry. Have a number of small jars containing vinegar, baking soda, flour, salt, oil, red, blue and yellow coloured water. Put small teaspoons in non-liquids and eye droppers in liquids. Children choose two ingredients for each experiment to mix, observe result, then rinse mixing jars in water. Provide t/towels for drying before starting a new experiment.
colour mixing as above, but only with the 3 prime colours in water. Perhaps use before introducing chemistry lab.
soap finger paint beat pure soap flakes, a little food colouring and water to form a thick, shaving cream consistency. Finger paint in crate or directly onto table surface. If painting onto table surface it is better done outside and hosed off once finished. Provide shirts or aprons to protect clothes. Make a print of painting by smoothing paper over lines drawn with fingers or plastic objects.
supersand equal parts cornmeal and dried coffee grounds make “supersand.” Use with many of the ideas listed here.
water different sized bottles and containers. Draw lines for children to fill to. Work together to decide which holds more.


Highchair time: home-made toddler activities – pasta play

One of the easiest “home-made” toddler activities for high-chair time is pasta play. Raid the pantry for some interesting pasta shapes and gather a bunch of little containers of different varieties and you’re done. While most toddlers will have the self-control not to put the pasta in their mouths, keep an eye on them simply because of the choking hazard it could pose. As far as them having a bit of a chew though, there’s really no problem – it is just pasta!

If you start simply, changing materials as interest wanes, there are unending ways to extend this kind of play. Some ideas are:

  • a cup of pasta and cake tin to tip it into. (Tipping out and refilling a cup is surprisingly absorbing for a toddler and a good introduction to dry pouring.) The tin also makes a satisfying  sound as the pasta is poured.
  • a cup of pasta, cake tin and scoop. The child now learns how to scoop the pasta back into the cup from the tin.
  • a container of pasta and a second container to transfer it into. Transferring is another practical life skill that develops fine motor control. Vary this by changing the kid of tool used for the transfer (spoons, scoops, tongs, ladles etc.)
  • a jug and something to pour into.
  • a variety of different sized containers
  • glass containers (It is interesting for the child to be able to see the container filling up from the outside.) Think about the floor underneath – glass and tiles do not mix!
  • add a teddy with a plate and spoon
Pasta play is an open ended activity that can be independently accomplished and will keep a toddler’s interest for a significant length of time, particularly if you are regularly training them to expect high-chair time throughout the day. Use the time to wash the dishes, make the dinner, homeschool your older children or whatever it is you need to get done.

Routines: Highchair time activities for babies

After the post about highchair time yesterday, I thought it would be timely to follow-up with some suggestions as to what to give an older baby or toddler in a highchair to hold their attention and promote the concentration and patience we are working on.

I like to think of toy types in phases of development:

1 to 12 month old babies love toys that are good to mouth and sensory based toys that make sounds, feel interesting and look visually stimulating. Obviously within this age range there is a big difference in the kind of baby toy they are interested in, but in essence they are all “baby” toys for holding, touching, pulling, sucking, crinkling etc.

12 to 20 months olds enter the transition zone. Over the next few months the baby toys begin to lose their appeal and imaginative play has not yet kicked it properly. This means that the shiny red car is looked at, possibly mouthed for a minute or two, shaken, the wheels are spun around a couple of times, possibly pushed along and interest is gone. It doesn’t DO anything exciting and the child does not yet identify it as a small version of a car and drive it around making car noises because the pretend play element is not there yet. What they do like are toys that respond to their actions – that DO something. Pull a lever and an animal pops out, pop a ball in and music plays, tap the pegs and the turtle’s head pops out. This is the hardest age to supply toys for, because interest dies very quickly and those bright, colourful and interactive toys are expensive. You can join a toy library, swap with friends or make your own. (Lots of ideas coming soon.)

20 to 24 month olds and up are beginning to use their imagination, especially if they have siblings or a willing parent to show them how to play. They will begin to have tea parties, feed a teddy, set up the train tracks and create their own pretend play situations. The possibilities open up enormously and this age is so much easier to cater for.

In general, there are some great baby and toddler toys that can be purchased, however interest in most is short-lived as the child moves on to the next developmental level or simply has seen it enough to no longer be attracted to it.

Why not capitalise on the toddler’s natural attraction to learning new skills, copying Mum and Dad and using “real” things around the house to put together your own activities. They are cheap to make and can be disassembled once interest has passed. Important practical life skills can be introduced that will be used every day, many of them developing fine motor skills that will be vital for pencil grip and general hand control later on.

Here is my list of activities to make for babies with instructions for each. Practical life and general toddler activities will be posted individually from time to time and categorized under workjobs and Montessori activities so keep an eye out for them.

Preparing for a new baby

Having now prepared 3 toddlers for the birth of a sibling and about to do it all again with 2 more, I thought it was time for a quick review of some of the ways to do this so that the whole family greets the newest arrival with joy and enthusiasm. I have tried all of these ideas myself and the transition that occurs when a new baby joins our family has generally been fairly smooth.

The hardest so far were the twins who were 9 weeks premature and stayed in hospital for 7 weeks. That put a bit of a spanner in the works, however we still tried to keep everything as smooth as possible and have not seen the jealousy that some families experience. The rough road with the twins stemmed more from me being away for home on a daily basis than any negative feelings over the babies themselves and the children were so glad to finally have their babies (and Mum) at home with them. They have in fact been heard to complain that we should have had triplets as there are not enough babies to go around.

My “how to” includes:

  • Put routines in place well in advance to give you time to work through the kinks before bub arrives. Think about feed times (how many and when they may occur) and plan around these. You may have around 5 feeds when toddlers are awake to begin with, so plan good independent activities for these times that they are well used to doing without your help or interaction. If you can’t mop the floor or cook dinner in peace now, with a well occupied toddler, then there is no way you will be able to breastfeed in peace later!
  • Involve siblings in choosing a gift from them to the new baby and have the baby “buy” one for them in return. When the children came in to the hospital for their first visit we always have a small gift waiting for them in the baby’s cot. Gifts are exchanged after time with Mum and meeting their new baby.
  • Plan for their first meeting with the new baby to be a time when there are no other visitors around to compete with Mum and Dad’s attention. Try and time it so Mum is not feeding or holding the baby so that she can greet children with a big cuddle and kiss before introducing the baby.

  • Have children visit regularly if you will be staying in hospital for any length of time and take a pack or box of toys, activities and small snacks to the room. The novelty of looking at a sleeping bundle wears off very quickly! Mine still remember that we let them have mini tiny teddy packs when the third was born. It was a highlight for them! Poor treat deprived children! 
  • While the twins were in hospital, the children all drew pictures and wrote about their new babies. I scanned and shrunk these on to one A4 page and laminated them. They were stuck up on the end of each of the twin’s isolettes. Every time the older children came in to visit they could see their special work on display.

  • Ask friends and family to be mindful of not bypassing older children for the baby during visits. They can fuss over them being a big brother or sister now as well. That said, of course this will happen to some extent regardless, just be a little aware and try to make them feel special too. Children also need to be taught to be happy for their sibling when they receive something special. This is your first opportunity to begin teaching this attitude. There is no need to have a gift for the older children every time the baby receives one, but there is something to be said for keeping that side of things a little low key.
  • Get all changes to bedrooms, big beds, car seats etc. made well ahead. Closer to the time, talk about where the baby will sleep, where they will go in the car, their room, that you will be away for a little while, who will look after the children and any other arrangements you can think of. Do not tell children they will have a brother or sister to play with – there will be no playing for a very long time!
  • Practice being gentle with teddies, pets, dolls, teddies and other babies and talk about delicate bodies, being easily hurt, not touching faces etc. This is especially important for the toddler in the family.

  • Read books about caring for babies but be wary of the kind that promote the idea that there will be jealous feelings, Mummy and Daddy will be too busy for them now and other negative themes.
  • Borrow/buy/make a baby change mat, mini bath, little bed or any other baby related stuff you can think of, with all the accessories like spare facecloths, nappies, cotton wool, empty paste container etc for children to use with their special teddies and dolls. They may enjoy making them out of boxes and cut up fabric and other bits and bobs close to the time that bub is due. Even young boys at this age will often be surprisingly into this for a little while before reverting right back to their car loving selves. When you are busy bathing or with some other baby chore they might like to copy and work right alongside you with their own “baby.”
  • Have lots of really positive conversations about how wonderful it is that they will be a big brother/sister, how lucky they are to have a new sibling coming, how much the baby will love having them as a big brother/sister etc.
  • Pray. This is a wonderful time in a family and babies are a gift and blessing from God. Teach your older children this attitude right from the beginning.