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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Rainy day and wet weather indoor activities

Now that the wet weather has begun, there will be days when we are inside most of the day. Energetic children need some outlet and without outdoor time to let off steam, some energetic indoor activities are a must. That surplus energy has to go somewhere and that “somewhere” will not be good if we don’t channel it appropriately. Here are some ideas for winter days to keep a variety of ages well occupied and to help create a peaceful (although not necessarily quiet!) and productive atmosphere in your home.

Dressing up Pull out the dress-ups and let the creative juices fly. A mirror low enough for them to see themselves full length greatly enhances the joy of this activity and once dressed up many other imaginative play activities can follow. Stock your dress-up box with pretty, spangly, sparkly bright things for the girls, but don’t forget to cater for the boys as well. While commercial costumes are great, they somewhat limit creativity. Op shops are a great source for props and perhaps the best items are a selection of large fabric pieces that can be used for anything that takes the children’s fancy. Choose different fabric types, colours and textures to promote different kinds of pretend play. Eg. chiffon is good for veils, stiff netting for tutus, red satin for hero capes etc. Don’t forget to take photos of the wildest outfits. Keep them for their 21st birthday parties!

Some specific ideas are scarves, hats, shoes, belts, beads, bangles, gloves, handbags, crowns, wigs, men’s ties, workmen’s safety clothing, old dancing costumes, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses and a variety of men’s and ladies clothing. Cut clothing down to suit younger children (eg. shorten sleeves in a men’s jacket, cut off the length in a ladies nightie etc.)  Raid Mum and Dad’s and the Grandparents’ wardrobes for the brightest, most “out there” items that you will never wear again and chances are they will be a hit. Take the kids with you to an op shop, swap-meet or market and let them help you pick out the most interesting items they can find. They may surprise you with what they like.

Our Doctor’s surgery. Certain children prefer to be patients, rather than Doctors or Nurses!

Pretend play Dressing up links in beautifully with pretend play and there are so  many options available. The children may be able to come up with their own ideas but I find that if I offer a little structure to begin with, the play is more purposeful and has a sense of direction. That usually takes the form of setting out a selection of objects to suit a theme, rearranging the furniture with the children’s input and spending a few minutes getting play started by joining in. Often I will model a couple of ways to “pretend” with the objects I have provided which sparks off ideas of their own and I then leave them to it.

There was a lot of pirate related pretend play while we were reading Peter Pan. The old street directory got a great workout as the ship was navigated about.

Some of the play ideas we have set up are:

  • Washing day Strong card box with flap as lid, filled with shredded paper or cornstarch packing beans. Milk bottle lids glued on as nobs, empty washing powder box and scoop, dolls clothes to wash and string line and pegs to hang clothes out. Maybe even real soapy water in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry if you are game and don’t mind a little mess!
  • Doctor’s surgery (See photo above) Pillow slip coat (cut hole for head and two holes in sides for arms or use an old white business shirt), doctor’s bag, identity badges, bandages (strips of old fabric/sheets) film canisters, empty bottles and containers for medicine, old mattresses/dolls bedding for human or toy patients to sleep in, notepads, telephone books, appointment pads, clipboards, pencils and pens. A huge hit for my children is a supply of currants to use as sugar pills after reading the Little Golden Book “Nurse Nancy.”
  • Shopping centre Pretend food, household items, money, tray for cash register, shopping bags and baskets. Making their own pretend money and items to sell keeps them occupied for a while.
  • Beauty salon/hair dresser Old clean bottles, jars, empty make-up containers, cotton wool balls, brushes, combs, sheets, curlers, hand mirrors and stools or chairs. You may like to warn children that there will be no real cutting of hair under any circumstances!!
  • Office/post office Computer keyboard/typewriter, variety of papers, files, clipboards, pens, pencils, scissors, telephone, envelopes, contact paper “stamps”, cardboard box with slot and back flap for posting letters, calculators and mail bag.
  • Fix-it shop Play tools, safe real tools like screwdrivers, old electrical equipment with cords removed for tinkering with, Mecano or other construction sets.
  • Icecream shop Card cones, pompoms, cotton balls or small bouncy balls, icecream scoops, empty icecream containers, felt, cardboard or other pretend toppings, squeezy bottles, paper cups, spoons, small bowls, pretend money etc.
  • Shoe store Chairs and foot stools (could be just a box), lots of shoes and shoe boxes, mirror.
  • Restaurant/cafe Tea sets, pretend food (felt, wooden, plastic, salt dough or pictures from food junk mail glued onto paper plates), paper or thin card to make menus, pens and pads of paper to take orders, table cloths, napkins, place mats, coasters, empty clean food containers (cereal boxes, milk cartons, coffee jars etc.) vases, aprons, trays. Making salt dough or cutting and gluing pictures of food onto paper plates to make meals is an activity in itself.
  • Vet clinic or pet shop Stuffed animals, vet outfit and doctor’s kit (see doctor above), box cages/beds, collars, leads, bowls, brushes and blankets.
  • Florist Artificial flowers, a variety of vases and containers, ribbons, block of florists foam to stick stems into. (The grey foam crumbles less than the green.) Make your own flowers with popsticks and pattypans, paper cut-outs, small branches from the garden etc.
  • Car wash (Outdoor idea) Turn the hose on low and add buckets, sponges, suds, “polish” cloths and empty container. Use to clean ride-on cars, trikes and other outdoor toys.

Reading corners When we set up this little reading nook with child and teddy sized chairs, blankets, cushions, pillows, foot rests and crates of books, the children sat and read for hours! Books that they hadn’t had off the shelves in months caught their attention simply because they were put out in full view again and it was like re-discovering old friends. The netting is a mozzie net for a queen sized bed that I loved the idea of and never used in our bedroom because the ceilings were not high enough. It has served as a room divider for countless pretend play areas and the kids love it.

Puppet theatres Hand and finger puppets are easy to make using socks, paper bags, wooden spoons, toilet rolls, felt, fabric, wool, ribbons, stuffed toys and many other readily available items or widely available for purchase. Set up pairs of chairs, use a broom or mop handle to hang the front sheet on and let the creative juices flow. Have periods of rehearsal and performances with the rest of the family acting as the audience. Older children could even write scripts and cooperate together to act out stories or find scripted plays already written by surfing the net or borrow from the library. Video the performances and watch them again later for another rainy day activity.

Teddy Bear’s Picnics Everyone has dolls and teddies and when all the favourites are pulled out it makes for quite a crowd. Get out all the pretend food (see ideas under “restaurant” in pretend play above) and provide non-messy snacks like sultanas and Cornflakes for the kids to enjoy as well.

Sheet tents, cubbies and camping games Get out the sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, doonas, suitcases, backpacks, bags and torches and clean off the table for some fun tent making. Couch cushions and lounges also work well, as do chairs. Once the camping area is set up, packing the bags with tonnes of camping necessities will keep them occupied for quite a while. If you have real camping items like billies, folding chairs, 2 man tents etc. let the kids incorporate these into their games. Of course the next question will be “Can we sleep in our tent tonight Mum?”

Jumping mattresses It needs some planning to keep it safe, but some mattresses or piles of pillows and cushions on the floor in an open area and something stable to jump off is a great way to get rid of extra energy. Teach the kids how to do forwards and backwards rolls and award points for the most interesting jumping styles.     

Dancing and moving Don the dress-ups, put on some boppy music and get moving. Double the fun if Mum joins in and great exercise for you too. Play musical bobs, statues, follow-the-leader or other games to keep interest going.

Stocking balls You need a covered back veranda or patio for this but it is a great activity for all ages, particularly older boys. See instructions here.

Chalk boards and table activities Not for energy releasing, but when you’ve moved around a bit and want something quieter to do, here is a list of ideas to sit down and do at the table. Surf the net for unlimited art and craft ideas for older children.

Bubble-baths Plop the little ones in a nice deep hot bath and toss in some bath toys, containers, scoops, watering cans and cloths and let them tip and pour to their heart’s content. Set the older children up just outside the bathroom door and read aloud from a good book or listen to an audio book while you supervise the little ones from inside the bathroom. There are thousands of free audiobooks available to download from www.librivox.org (Be aware that most bubble-bath liquids have toxic substances in them. If you are going to use one, do your research and buy a product that is not harmful to your children, especially girls. The suds won’t be quite as good but their health is more important than good bubbles!)

Our pasta play sensory table.

Sensory trays Again, not a physical activity as such but so many ideas to use that will keep all ages going, however many are directed at the toddler and preschooler ages. It’s this age that I find harder to keep well occupied for lengthier time periods anyway, the older children are able to direct the use of their time much more productively. Heaps of ideas and a full explanation here.

Rainy day activities: Balls and stockings

Ahh, the first rains of winter have hit. Easter as usual has suddenly turned cool and I must dig out the winter clothes and have a trying on and handing down session as the children’s little goose-pimpled legs are freezing.  While I quite like the rain (especially if I am curled up somewhere warm with a good book to read) it brings with it its own challenges for a household full of energetic children. What do you do with them when it’s too wet to go outside and all “sitting and concentrating” capacity is gone?

Time for the stocking balls. We are lucky enough to have a large patio area out the back that gives us a reasonable amount of play space under cover. I gather up a bunch of old pantyhose, stockings or tights and slide a tennis ball inside one leg before tying them to the cross beams of the patio. I hang a couple at a time so several children can play at once and have them at varying heights to cater for a range of sizes. They also need to be well clear from each other and preferably out of walk ways or those toddlers will almost definitely end up with someone’s bat in the face.

We use bats from the totem tennis set, tea-ball bats and whatever else we have at the time and everyone whacks away as hard as they like. (A sturdy cardboard tube is a good option for those not so coordinated toddlers.) Boys in particular seem to like this activity, using up energy and having a good time smashing away. The stockings do tend to stretch after a while so perhaps hanging them a little higher than you actually want them would be useful and yes, the balls will eventually break through the stocking. Mine have lasted for several weeks at a time and can simply be thrown away and replaced when they wear out. An economical and easy to set up activity that will help to bring peace to my household this winter. Now, where are those stockings…