Sensory tubs – mermaids and beautiful beads

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Assorted beads, scoops, spoons, jars, bowls, and cups make an attractive Montessori style dry transfer sensory tub.

Now that our long-awaited baby has arrived, planning for uninterrupted breast-feeding times has moved up in priority. We have chosen to keep our flexible routine going throughout these early weeks, rather than taking holidays as we find the children get along so much better with the structure in their day. With Daddy home for a few weeks and a new sister, there is enough change without taking away their daily structure at the same time.

With that in mind, I have overhauled the school cupboards with new preschool activities (photos coming soon) in preparation for Daddy heading back to work next week and created a couple of new sensory tubs for quiet afternoon table or mat play.

Training my little ones to sit in one place and play with what I give them has paid dividends on many occasions, but especially in times such as these. Knowing that I can sit down and feed with everyone happily occupied means no mess to clean up later and no bickering to deal with.

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Rice, mermaids, fish tank plants, blue plastic shells, bowls and sea creatures allows much scope for pretend play and imagination. My girls have been drooling over this since they saw me putting it together!

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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.)

 

 

 

Quick food for busy families: Pantry mixes and (nearly) instant meals

With an 11 day old baby in the house, time for leisurely cooking just doesn’t exist. As part of my quest to prepare for our new baby ahead of time, I have a fully stocked freezer full of meals. As much as possible however,  I am saving them for when my wonderful husband goes back to work and I have to face the reality of homeschooling and running a household of 8 with a newborn in the mix.

My latest find to assist with menu planning and being able to throw a meal together in minutes has been pantry mixes. This is a totally new concept to me but I love them. There are so many mix recipes that can be made up in bulk ahead of time and either stored in the pantry, fridge or freezer. When you are ready to prepare the recipe, the addition of just a couple of simple ingredients in no time at all creates a freshly cooked meal or snack.

Today’s lunch (in the photo above) literally took 10 minutes and that includes getting everything out of the fridge, making the cheese scones, cutting up the fruit and cleaning up the mess. My kind of cooking! Not to mention that they are super tasty hot from the oven. As I try each new bulk mix I will blog about the successes so today here is the link for baking mix (bisquick) which takes 10 minutes to put together and sits in the fridge waiting to be made into all manner of yummy things. So far I’ve only used it for scones (biscuits) but there are numerous recipes that use it as a base. (Scone instructions under the basic mix recipe at the “baking mix” link above.)

My other new favourite is a pantry mix for brownies. In less than 5 minutes I can whip up a batch of delicious brownies and have them ready for unexpected visitors, take them for supper when I remember an hour before I am supposed to leave or just make them for the fun of it. The mix itself again takes about 10 minutes to mix up and sits in the pantry waiting for the addition of 3 wet ingredients to turn it into fresh brownies.

Another great benefit of these recipes other than the time-saving factor is that my 8 1/2 year old is quite capable of mixing them up independently. The first time through I keep an eye on proceedings and from then on he is on his own. I slide them into the oven and 20 minutes later we have hot brownies.

I have a huge list of recipes to try that I am slowly working through. Last night I used one of my pre-prepared bags of seasoned rice mix. I had already diced and browned bags of sausages, bacon and chicken and put them in the freezer and stocked up the frozen mixed vegetable supply. We were out in the afternoon and arrived home with no meal ready, a hungry baby and 5 children who needed to get through the shower. All I had to do was dump the pre-measured seasoned rice into the rice cooker, fill with water, add a bag of cooked diced meat and a cup or two of mixed frozen veg and it was  done. Dinner was ready 20 minutes later with less than 5 minutes of preparation required.

We followed it up with some chocolate pudding from our pantry which looked and tasted almost exactly like Yogo from the supermarket “only better” according to the children who raved about it. This one required about 10 minutes to actually cook it (it requires stirring) and a little while in the fridge to cool it down and set but we went off and did our family devotions while we were waiting and came back for dessert. Delicious and definitely a keeper. It could easily be done earlier in the day and served whenever you need it.

I am definitely hooked on the pantry mix idea and will be seeking to have a store of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack foods sitting at my fingertips for days when I just don’t want to cook can’t do anything else or my older helpers want to prepare a meal to bless us all (and get the rave reviews and pats on the back that always accompany their efforts!)