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.

Routines: Highchair time

Do you want your baby or toddler to be able to sit and focus for an extended length of time? Do you want them to be able to sit and wait patiently during an unexpected delay in a public situation? Do you want time to tidy up the kitchen after meals, clear and wipe down the table and move to the next activity of the day without leaving a trail of devastation that needs to be cleaned up later?

Like all behaviours and character traits, we must actively work to build patience and concentration in our children. Highchair time is a practical way to achieve this goal with our little ones. It is easy to consistently implement and work into the daily routine without having to change much at all.

After each meal is finished, simply wipe up your child and hand them a book to read or small toy to play with. Around 20 minutes is a good time to aim for and if put into place after breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives you three daily training periods to work on these skills.

Initially, your little one may not be thrilled with Mum’s new plan and a common response will be to cry, complain, whine, throw the books and toys down and other such behaviours. If you ignore this kind of behaviour and simply go about cleaning up the kitchen, you will find that over the next few days, your child will be showing great strides towards happily sitting and concentrating on whatever it is you have chosen to give them.

If you pick up toys that are thrown down, then a very amusing game of fetch will be instigated. You may leave a child for 5 minutes and then return a dropped toy, instructing them that they need to stay in the highchair until Mummy is ready to get them down. If it is dropped again, leave it there. They will soon come to the conclusion that it is better to have something to do than nothing at all and keep what they have been given.

You may need 3 or 4 little toys or books and change them over every 5 minutes or so to keep their interest,  however this should be in Mum’s timing, not the child’s.

If you have heard about the 4 personality types, you will know that a choleric child loves to be in charge. A lot of the battles you have throughout the day and at bedtime with any child, particularly the choleric child, will be eliminated by instigating a parent led routine throughout the day, rather than allowing your young child to plan their own day or giving them large blocks of free time to fill.

An excellent resource for routine planning is Terrific Toddlers by Mel Hayde. It is my “must have” toddler and young child training book and I have gone back to it over and over. It is an easy read but is full of wisdom and excellent advice that will enable you to love the toddler years and eliminate the “terrible two” syndrome that everyone talks about. I will be posting ideas of activities to give your little one during highchair time over the next couple of days.

Mega Marbles: A Montessori style transfer activity

Mega Marble Transfer

This was the first Montessori inspired activity I ever made. I presented it to my now 4 year old daughter when she was a toddler and she absolutely loved it. The large ladle was easy for her to manipulate successfully and the marbles were very attractive to her. She always completed this activity several times before putting it away and it was a favourite for some time. The marbles came from a $2.00 shop, the ladle from my kitchen junk drawer and the tray and wooden bowls from a Good Sammies recycled clothing shop. All up it probably cost me $5.00 and all the materials can be re-combined and used again with other activities.  I would usually present it with the marbles in the left hand bowl to encourage left to right directionality in preparation for reading and writing.

DESCRIPTION:

The child uses the scoop provided to transfer the marbles from one bowl to the other and back again. Materials are replaced as they were found before returning the activity to the shelf.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

Practical life

CONCEPT/SKILL:

Fine motor development

Control of ladle

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

Ladle

Large marbles or alternative material to transfer

2 wooden bowls or alternative containers

Tray

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

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.

 

 

One-to-one correspondence

One-to-one correspondence is a basic mathematical skill and without it children are unable to count accurately. To be able to say one number to one object seems very simple, but anyone who has ever watched a child who is in the very beginning stages of counting will have seen them saying numbers out loud while pointing or touching objects, without those numbers actually matching up with the objects being counted!

Another simple developmental counting error you will see is a child who counts the same object more than once or skips objects entirely. Presenting activities that allow opportunity in a self-correcting way to practise this one-on-one correspondence helps put in place the experience necessary for successful counting.

They are self-correcting in that there should be only one object in each compartment and running out or having some left over allows the child to see that an error has been made. These activities can be presented to children anywhere from around 18 months and upwards, depending on the developmental level of the child.