Dolls houses in a shoebox

G's shoebox dolls house IMG_8279

Dolls houses in a shoebox are a wonderful travel activity, take away toy for holidays, table activity, quiet time or room play idea or highchair activity for younger children. They are very portable,  simple to make (these examples were created by my 5 1/2 and 8-year-old daughters) and the possibilities for open-ended imaginative play are endless. We will be making them with a group of girls for our 8 year old’s birthday party next month and with a little bit of preparation, they will be an easy craft to engage a group of young ladies for a couple of hours.c's shoebox dolls house IMG_8272

I will be adding some miniature food (novelty erasers from a discount variety store) plus a couple of ceramic ornaments to use in their little houses and the girls will create the furniture, make wooden peg doll babies (instructions in my next post) and decorate their rooms.mini dolls house furniture IMG_8275

The furniture is made from balsa wood hot glued together with beads for legs and felt pieces for cushions. We cut up cheap plastic bead necklaces to decorate the top of the chairs. A jar lid glued to a plastic shot glass and covered with a circle of fabric and ribbon forms the table. The mirror is a piece of CD surrounded by beads and glued to two shells as the base. The lamp is a small craft stick with a large wooden bead on top and a circle of card cut to form the lamp shade. It stands in a wooden circle that came with the sticks.

A printed clock face glued to a plastic disk, plus some old tiles from a board game with miniature photos inside, decorate the walls. Photos and magazine pictures of outdoor scenes give our rooms a view.mini dolls house furniture bottoms IMG_8278The girls were able to wall-paper and “carpet” their boxes, plus put together all the contents in a couple of hours and with a little more preparation our party guests should be able to complete theirs in an hour and a half.

Lots of fun for all ages and a lovely gift for any little girl.

Other posts you may like:

Wooden clothes peg dolls house furniture

My next post (still to come) on simple peg dolls from pipecleaners and wooden beads.

Sensory tub ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

sensory tub A teddies IMG_8196

Sensory tubs are great for mat time (blanket time) or as a table activity and are excellent for when you need to school older children, cook dinner, or during any other time when you need your little ones well occupied and absorbed in a worthwhile activity.

They are quick and easy to put together, cheap or free (depending on what you already have lying around the house) and can be used daily as part of your flexible routine for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even older children. Obviously the materials you present will change according to the age of the child who will be playing with them, with safety always a factor for little ones who may put small items in their mouths.

There is no limit to what you can put into your tubs. Ideally the materials will be open-ended; that is they can be combined and used in a variety of ways.sensory tub trains IMG_8187

Younger toddlers do not have a well-developed imagination and therefore need more hands-on options, rather than pretend play materials. For example, in the trains tub above, I included a variety of scoops and containers to fill, transfer, tip and pour as well as the trains themselves. A young toddler may examine the trains before setting them aside in favour of transferring the stones from container to container. The older children may go straight for the trains and set up a complicated rail system with rocks delineating the tracks and the containers used as sheds for the trains. Another may decide to serve dinner on the silver pie tins or set up a picnic for the trains.

sensory tub trains JIMG_8193

I find that the tubs themselves are not large enough for the children to play within. They like to sort through, put aside what they are not using and generally spread out, so I use a blanket or sheet for them to play on. When play time is finished, the corners of the sheet are lifted up and all the materials can be quickly tipped straight back into the tub without a tedious pack-up session.

sensory box horses jewels IMG_8183

The older girls were practically drooling over this jewel and miniature pony tub as I was putting it together – usually a sure sign it will be well-loved by the younger children as well! Again, a variety of scoops, containers, bottles and boxes with sparkly jewel squares and pebbles. (The kind used in vases or to fill bowls – from the discount shop.)

sensory box sea IMG_8185

Blue and green gem stones, plastic sea animals, shells, bowl, spoons, scoops and empty pill boxes. This tub covers opening and closing skills, spooning, scooping, tipping, pouring (all transferring skills) and could be extended to sorting and categorizing as well as the pretend play options.

sensory tub S jewwels IMG_8192

My youngest daughter used the pony and jewel tub this morning for the first time. She carefully removed all the ponies and put them back in the box before making a picnic for her teddy bear and the 12 disciples (!) with the containers and jewels. The older girls (6 and 8) have already asked to use it later and tell me they plan to set the jewels up as food for the ponies. The beauty of open-ended, attractive materials is that they will appeal to a variety of ages. My 15 month old can barely restrain himself and wants to dive straight in whenever he sees these tubs out. Unfortunately the pieces are just too small for him to use safely.

sensory tubs A teddies IMG_8194

This is the 15 month old’s sensory “tub” this week. He loved it and used the scoop (a large measuring spoon) to transfer from the large basket to the small bowl, filled and stacked the metal cups and filled and tipped out the basket numerous times. Provide a container or two and something to put in and dump right back out again and it will always be a hit with anywhere from an 8 month to a 2-year-old. 12 to 18  month olds particularly love to fill and dump.

For a stack of ideas to fill your sensory tubs,see this post. Many of the other ideas I have posted as table activities, highchair activities or mat time activities would all work in a sensory tub. See pasta play and teddy food play as examples.

Ziploc activity bags for toddlers and preschoolers

Noodle threading is always fun, just remember to tie one on the end to stop all the others sliding off while children are threading. When they have had enough of threading they can pretend to cook the noodles for dinner.

Ziploc activity bags are simply self-contained activities for toddlers, preschoolers and young children that include everything necessary for the child to complete the activity. Thus named because they are often stored in Ziploc plastic bags that are readily available from the supermarket. These bags have a plastic zip-style closing system that is easy for young children to manipulate, however we haven’t found them to be very long-lasting. Shoe boxes, trays or other containers are of course equally suitable but not so easily transported. Press-loc or snap-loc plastic bags are not as good because young children are not able to re-seal them independently, but if you don’t mind a few seconds to close each bag when they are done, they seem to last longer.

The kind of activity you can include is endless and their uses wide and varied. Some Mothers save them for school time activities while the older children require their attention. Others use them to take on holidays, while travelling in the car or when visiting with friends. They are useful for meals out in a restaurant, at home for mat time, blanket time, highchair time or table time activities. Whenever you need to keep a young child happily occupied these can be whipped out for hours of entertainment.

So what do you put in them? Almost anything really. Ideally they wouldn’t contain anything too messy if you want them to be easily transportable, but for home use anything goes.

Department stores have packs of paper shapes in the scrapbooking section which are great for gluing.

  • Glue stick and paper shapes for gluing

    When young toddlers first start to draw, tape one page at a time onto the table or highchair tray. For two reasons – it won’t keep slipping around and every page of the colouring book will not end up with a single blue line down the middle!

  • Drawing
  • Playdough
  • Stamping (stamp pads and ink stamps)
  • Lacing, threading or beading
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Construction toys
  • Pattern blocks
  • Stickers and sticker books
  • Small tea sets and mini teddies

    Finger puppets work best when the characters represent well knows stories that the children have heard you tell before.

  • Finger puppets
  • Mini whiteboard and eraser
  • Small chalk board and duster

    Simple stacking pegs are interesting once toddlers have the dexterity for it. This one kicked in at about 2 years when they could handle the quite stiff pegs.

  • Peg boards
  • Board games
  • Dot-to-dots and mazes
  • Colour-by-number
  • Stencils

You could include learning activities for basic maths and language skills. Starter Styles are a maths activity that cover a variety of beginning language and mathematical skills.

There are heaps of brilliant websites and blogs with an abundance of ideas for Ziploc bag activities;

Chasing Cheerios is one of my favourites with lots of wonderful toddler activities.

Natural Parents Network has some good ideas, including coloured pasta beading, pasta sorting, mini-books and stickers, lid sorting, playdough, cut and glue collage bag, and mini-playmats with cars and things.

Intrepid Murmurings has preschooler activity bags here.

There are lots of ideas for what they call “tote bags” here – just scroll down. They get better as they go.

Montessori inspired practical life: dry pouring tray activities for toddlers

If you are looking for inspiration for toddler tray activities, dry pouring is a great place to start. It is a practical life skill that is easily introduced in a simplified form and can be gradually made more challenging as your toddler progresses. Learning to pour liquids carefully and accurately is difficult for young children, so starting with a dry material is a more forgiving and easily mastered beginning. Giving children cups and containers to pour water in the bath develops the skill in a non-messy environment and dry pouring activities are great for mat time, highchair time or table time.

This is the first dry pouring experience I give my toddlers. Tipping the jewels out of the cup into a baking tin and collecting them up again is surprisingly absorbing and makes a satisfying racket as they do it. If you prefer a quieter option, try pompoms (see below), however I can guarantee the children will enjoy the jewels, beads, rocks or other noisy versions more!

Pouring from one container to another is the next step. Choose 2 containers of the same size, without handles. A set of straight-sided small tumbler type cups is best; something that is easily gripped in a toddler’s hand. Add small objects such as dried beans to pour from one to the other and change the containers and material to pour every so often to keep interest high.

Rice is one of the last materials to introduce. If you colour it, it is very attractive but it is almost guaranteed to spill and is not quite as easy to clean up. Toddlers need to be taught how to collect the spilt rice in one corner of the tray and carefully pour it back into the container.

I was able to find a cute mini dustpan and broom which I include with my rice pouring activities to clean up the spills which is a practical life skill in itself. Tape a square shape with masking tape in the centre of the tray and teach the children how to first sweep the rice into a little pile within the tape boundary before sweeping it into the dustpan.

Adding funnels to a dry pouring activity adds yet another dimension and when I have had simple pouring activities available for quite a while, I set up a combined scooping, pouring and funnelling tray for a  more complicated experience. After I have changed this around for a while, I then add teddies and other small animals or toys and turn it into more of a pretend play type activity. This allows a broader scope of play and promotes longer engagement by older toddlers and preschoolers.

Make your own baby and toddler toys

There comes an awkward age somewhere between 12 months and two years where it becomes more difficult to keep babies and young toddlers interested in their toys. They are no longer content to just shake and slobber on something that feels and look appealing, toys now need to DO something.

To complicate matters further, children generally do not develop imaginative play skills until around the age of 2. New toys are appealing but often lose that appeal quickly once they have been explored a few times and are too expensive to be constantly purchased. You can swap with friends, join a toy library or simply make your own. For me, the make your own option is the easiest, the possibilities are almost endless and they often turn out to be the long-term favourites. Here are some of my home-made baby toys that I use for mat time, highchair time, playpen time, table time and room time.

Find a bunch of small flat-bottomed toys, blocks, shapes, plastic figures or suitable objects and a base to stick them to; piece of smooth wood, plastic lid, small tray etc. Use self-adhesive velcro to attach each piece to the base so that children can stick them on and take them off again, enjoying that satisfying ripping sound as they do so. If you have enough, it is better to cover the base with the velcro so that objects can be stuck anywhere rather than only on a small matching dot. Older toddlers like this too if small people, animals or other figures are used and enjoy manipulating the pieces to play-act and tell stories.

Use an old baby wipes container and any flat objects that are slim enough to fit through the slot and not so small as to pose a choking hazard. Old credit cards, large plastic construction pieces, dominoes, poker chips, Jenga blocks  or anything similar will do. When interest wanes, simply change the material to post.

Wooden dolly pegs have dozens of uses. Young children find it challenging to slide them on and off objects and enjoy the sound of plunking them into tins and containers. My youngest loved to take them off the sides of containers like the ones above but not to put them back on again. They only did that part once – when they packed the activity away! Posting bottles and tissue box posting are other ways to use dolly pegs.

Formula tins have a large number of uses. They are great as rattle cans for crawlers to push about and with a hole, slot or cross-shaped cut in the top, act as posting tins for any number of small objects. Pegs, popsticks, dominoes, wooden shapes, milk bottle lids or whatever you have will do.

Toddlers are fascinated with Mum’s purse although most of us will agree that it is not a toy and it is unwise to allow toddlers to access it in that way. Because of that, some parents feel that even providing a similar option is not a good idea, fearing that children will not know the difference and think it is ok to touch Mum and Dad’s. I wondered about this too but in my experience have found that by the time they are able to manipulate cards and photos in and out of a purse or wallet, they are old enough to tell the difference between the play version and the real thing.  Find a bunch of old family photos, some fake credit cards (the display version that comes in junk mail trying to get you to sign your life away) and any other small objects that will slide in.  An old handbag is another version that toddlers love. Pick one up from an op-shop with as many zippers, pockets, divisions and press-studs as you can find and fill it with a bunch of small items. This works great for mat time on the go and can be re-stocked with different items on a regular basis to keep interest high.

For more toddler and baby activities, click on the “toddlers and babies” or “workjobs and Montessori activities…” categories on the left hand side bar.

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.