Sensory tubs; A rainy day and new baby activity

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With a new baby on the way and wet weather kicking in, some plans for rainy day activities have become my priority. I have used mini sensory tubs in the past with great success as individual activities, but this time I want to keep several little people busy at once. After trawling the web and building up an inspiring Pinterest list of ideas, the last step in the plan was to find a suitable container.

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While a large, shallow plastic tub will certainly do the trick, as will a scrubbed out water play table, I was lucky enough to find a secondhand wooden under-bed drawer that is ideal. It is on castors so I can push it to wherever we want to use it and then simply cover it up and roll it back under the gamesroom table to get it out of the way. Being wood, it is also strong enough that if the children lean on the sides it won’t break.

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After raiding the pantry for some oats as the first play experience, I fished through the cupboard for suitable play accessories. Bowls, trays, scoops, tongs, measuring cups, ladles and jugs were laid out in an “invitation to play” as I have recently heard it termed. (Basically just placing materials in a way that attracts children to the activity.) I know some people don’t like to use food as play because they feel that it is wasteful, but I do keep my basic manipulatives (rice, oats, pasta etc.) and reuse them over and over again. I have rice in a container in the cupboard that has probably been used for 7 or 8 years now.

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Initially all 6 children were excited to play (Yes, even the 11-year-old boy!) so I added some extra accessories (jars with clip lids, plates, jugs and teacups) to cope with the numbers. This turned out to be a little difficult to manage however and with friction developing (read bickering, arguing and annoying each other) I directed the older three to go and find another activity and leave the younger three in peace.

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This was a much more amicable arrangement and much baking, cooking and food preparation was enjoyed for almost an hour in total.

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Of course the 2 clip-lid jars turned out to be the favourite accessory so some patience and sharing practise was required! (Why is there always one item that everyone wants?)  Note that his hand is firmly attached to the top and I don’t think was removed for more than a second at a time to ensure that nobody else got hold of the jar!

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Tongs are such great practise for fine motor skills and help develop finger strength for pencil grip later on.

The one rule I made before we started playing was that the oats and containers had to stay in the tray, not on the sheet. This did require some reminding when all 6 were playing as there wasn’t enough room for them to spread out everything they wanted to do, but once three children were using the sensory tub I only needed to remind the youngest a couple of times to keep the oats inside. Any deliberate spilling would mean that the offending child was done with the activity.

I cover the box with a large sheet when it is not in use and it is this same sheet which is spread on the floor to catch any accidental spills. When play is finished, I roll the box off and pick up the sheet by the 4 corners, simply tipping the spilled oats back into the tub. There were a few strays left behind but as we have a new vacuum cleaner it was quite a novelty for the little boys to fight over take turns cleaning up the couple of oats that got away. On hard floors a quick swish with the dustpan would have done the job.

I can see hours of fun ahead throughout the winter season and we will keep this as a special rainy day only activity. I plan to change the accessories every week or so to keep interest up (leaving the oats in place) and completely change the entire contents about every month. With the amount of ideas I have listed for items to add to a sensory tub, I have enough to keep going for years!

What are your favourite rainy day activities?

(After using our oats tub for a week or so I have made a few adjustments; see here.)

 

 

 

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Flower dolls for dolls houses

IMG_8293The last addition to our homemade dolls houses is complete. These peg doll style pipe cleaner and bead flower girl dolls are my favourite and were so easy that this whole set took only around an hour to make.  IMG_8289

The method is exactly the same as the peg dolls in my previous post, with the only difference being that the flower dress clothes are made from cheap artificial leis. I just cut the string and pulled the flower segments off, sliding them up the pipecleaner bodies and hot glueing them slightly apart from each other to cover the body.

Because the pipecleaners are bendy, the girls can make the people sit down in the clothes peg furniture we created or take on any manner of positions and expressions. Combined with the shoebox dolls houses, they make a wonderful travel activity and are great for room time, table time or when you are out and about and need to pack something portable to keep little ones interested.

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

Travelling with young children – plane trips

Earlier this year we took a plane trip with 5 children aged 8 and under. While our children are generally well behaved, it was not without some trepidation that we embarked on this experience, particularly when we thought about the long hours with TWO 15 month old toddlers to keep entertained.

We also had 5 days at a conference once at our destination and although there was one session per day of children’s activities planned, we had potentially a lot of time throughout the remainder of the day when we would have to keep the children quietly entertained. What to pack?? Here is our survival list, both for the plane trip itself and for quiet times throughout the day.

1. Snacks

Any parent of young children knows that you never leave home for any length of time without snacks and this was no exception. We bought an assortment of dry snacks and treats that wouldn’t make a mess and shared them out between little ziplock bags. Each bag was labeled with the child’s name and when it was for; one for the plane ride over, one to come home and one for each day of the conference. They included yoghurt coated sultanas, mini pretzels, dried banana, several varieties of cereal, tiny teddy biscuits and a lollipop per bag and as we rarely buy this kind of food they were a real treat.

2. Books

  

A couple of new books (new to the kids anyway) and a few favourites that were suitable for all ages. At one point we looked over and the big burly gentleman that had the dubious pleasure of sharing a row with us was reading one of the books to our 3 ½ year old! Not sure how that came about but it was very cute.

3. Sticker books

Another quiet and absorbing activity and as we were catering for a variety of ages perfect for us. The three older children all love to do stickers, particularly the girls.

4. Drawing equipment

     

Magic markers (they change colour when you draw over the top with the colour change pen) were new to the children and so had novelty factor. A mini whiteboard and eraser is good for even the littlies under supervision and a general supply of gluing, cutting and drawing equipment was useful for when other children wanted to join in.

5. Activity books

Dot to dots, mazes, colour-by-number and other simple puzzles keep the older two busy and number 3 enjoys simply colouring in the pictures.

6. Water painting books

These are brilliant. A small brush and a little water is all that is required and the pictures change colour in front of their eyes. The children especially loved these, although they completed them very quickly and they were fairly pricy considering the small amount of time they occupied. I had a lot of trouble locating any in the shops and ended up buying this set on ebay for around $5 per book including postage.

7. Toddler toys

       

 

I find toddlers the hardest to cater for. They have the shortest attention span and are easily bored with the toys they have already used at home, plus commercial activities often tend to be large and bulky. I have found with my own children that a selection like the ones above of new activities with equipment I can gather from around the house is even better that trying to pack their usual toys and holds their interest longer because they are new. I also capitalized on current interests such as putting on hats, brushing their own hair, Velcro, posting objects etc Obviously, behaviour training is very important and teaching toddlers to sit and concentrate at home during highchair time, mat time, playpen time and other structured elements in your routine pays off in situations like this. If a toddler is not taught to sit still and focus on an activity and to stay where Mum and Dad put them, then a plane ride is not going to be a pleasant experience at all.

8. Playdough

I didn’t get this out on the plane but it was a nice afternoon quiet time activity and was easily shared with new friends.

9. Lacing and sewing activities

    

I purchased the Filo lacing and lacing cards from Skillbuilders, an occupational therapy business. They are excellent for fine motor control but do require more effort. I use these in my homeschooling activities but find that the children would not generally choose to use them just for fun. They were well used on the trip though simply because they were new.

10. Toy cars

Again, good for all ages and compact for travel. We were allocated one item of carry on luggage and one suitcase per person (including the twins), plus a baby bag, a portacot and a twin stroller and we used every single bit of it. The eldest child dragged two carry on suitcases on wheels, the girls had one each plus a jacket and hubby and I had the rest between us plus 2 babies. Moving about was not an easy affair but we did get excellent service as the air hostesses took one look at us and instantly we had pity factor. Especially when we first arrived and hubby went to park the car after dropping us and the luggage off at the entrance. I was asked in horror(?) if I was travelling alone with the children as the bags were carried through and we received one on one attention to get through the queue.

11. Wikki Stix

These are wax coated bendable sticks (also known in Australia as Bendaroos) that will stick to themselves and almost any smooth surface. The children can make models, spell out words, make pictures and put them to a variety of other uses due to their open ended nature. They are clean, quiet, small and easily portable so brilliant for travel. I did read on one parenting forum though that they are poisonous if ingested so without knowing if this is true or not, I am very cautious with the twins not to let them get a hold of them.

Two more activities that we didn’t take this time, but have used for travel activities in the past are:

12. A roll of alfoil.

Yep, that’s it! You’d be amazed at what kids can do with a roll of alfoil; it makes an excellent sculpting material. I trawled the net and found a bunch of pictures and included these as springboards for ideas and they went from there.

13. A packet of pipe cleaners.

Again, I found heaps of pipe cleaner creations on the web, printed them out as ideas and the kids created to their heart’s content.

In the end, we only used half of the activities that we took, but we made it there and back in fairly good humour and the people around us didn’t have much to complain about!

Check out this post and this one for more related travel activities for toddlers and children.