Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sensory Bins

Let's talk sensory play, shall we?  Start with this: Little children learn by physically exploring the world.

To begin with, your baby explores by moving his body through space.  But as soon as he gets some control of his body, he'll be interested in exploring the objects around him.  Any time your baby touches an object, he is engaging in tactile sensory play.

Of course you don't need any special toys or supplies for tactile play.  Your baby will be delighted to touch anything he can get close to with both his hands and his mouth.  As long as you give him a variety of safe objects to explore, he'll be learning about how the world works and how his body is part of it.  Any plastic, fabric, or metal object that isn't sharp, breakable, electronic, or a choking hazard can be a tactile toy, and if you give him more than one tactile toy, it's an additional learning experience for him to see how they interact.  This blog post has some fantastic ideas for putting together a "treasure basket," or collection of household objects for your Little to explore.

All that said, however, it can be both fun and beneficial to give your baby or toddler opportunities to explore a variety of less common tactile experiences.  You've probably seen sand and water tables in the toy aisle of a store, but sand and water are just two of many possibilities for sensory play.  Below are a few tips to make sensory play fun for both you and your Little, and after that, a huge list of possible materials for sensory exploration.  Have Fun!

Tips to make sure you BOTH have fun
1. Only do it if you feel comfortable with it.  A lot of the suggestions below are choking hazards, not edible, or just plain messy.  True, many paints are nontoxic, but it's still best not to eat them.  If you know your Little will grab a handful of anything presented and immediately swallow it, only give her things that are safe to ingest.  If you know that sloppy messes on your floor are going to make you crazy, don't set up a messy experience in the kitchen.  Know yourself and your child before you try any idea.

2. Find a container.  You don't need an expensive sand or water table.  A dish tub, 9x13 cake pan, wide and shallow bowl, under-bed storage box, plastic shoe box, toddler pool, or baby bathtub can be set directly on the floor for the play time.

3. Be prepared for dumping, mixing, and spreading.  It will happen!  If the weather accommodates, many of these ideas would be perfect outside.  Simply sweep the mess into the grass or hose down the play area after you're done.  If you're setting up inside, a drop cloth, tarp, or sheet under the play area is a good idea.  For some of the messiest suggestions, you might want to set up in the bathtub.  Play in the dry tub, and when you're done, clean up is as simple as turning on the tap.

4. Dress both yourself and your Little for the play experience.  For some play, anything you want to wear would be fine.  For messy play, stripping your Little naked or to just a diaper might be advisable.  But remember, your child may want to share her exploration with you, and you will certainly need to wipe your child clean or carry her to the tub after she's finished playing.  Be prepared by wearing clothes you don't mind getting dirty yourself.

5. Know how much you want to play.  It's ok for you to get down in the mess with your baby, to model using the materials and then step back, to describe your baby's play without participating, or to simply supervise.  If you're comfortable with the material and confident your child will use it appropriately, setting up sensory play can give you a bit of a break to, say, cook dinner or make a phone call.

More than 100 super sensory play ideas
1. Sand
2. Water
3. Water with liquid soap or bars of soap
4. Rice - raw or cooked
5. Pasta - one kind or a mix; can also be colored
6. Snow
7. Leaves, acorns, twigs, pine cones
8. Hay
9. Soil - use organic for safety; add live worms if you're brave
10. Sod
11. Homemade silly putty
12. Jello - make it the night before and let it set in the fridge.  You can dump a whole pan in or cut it up first.
13. Cereal
14. Sugar - or colored sugar
15. Salt - table salt, rock salt, Epsom salt, or ice melting salt.  Note that the last two are NOT edible.
16.  Ice cubes, crushed ice, or a large block of ice.  Ice and salt together adds another layer of play.
17. Shaving cream
18. Easter grass
19. Shredded documents - from a regular or cross-cut shredder
20. Birdseed
21. Seaweed
22. Pellets used for animal feed
23. Dog biscuits
24. Fish tank gravel
25. Flour
26. Dried corn - popcorn or seed corn
27. Packing peanuts - biodegradable ones are safer than Styrofoam
28. Cedar chips - check your local pet store
29. Sawdust - ask your local lumber company
30. Marbles and cardboard tubes
31. Feathers
32. Applesauce
33. Cotton balls
34. Strips of bubble wrap - you can buy it in large rolls
35. Plastic "jewels"
36. Beads and string
37. Cooked spaghetti - add a little oil to keep it from sticking or a lot of oil to make it a slippery mess.  Try another pasta shape for another layer of play.
38. Curling ribbon
39. Homemade play dough
40. Yarn and string
41. Confetti
42. Pebbles, gravel, rocks
43. Hair gel
44. "Oobleck" - equal parts cornstarch and water
45. Shells
46. Cream of Wheat or another grain-based cereal - raw or cooked
47. Homemade slime
48. Magnets and small metal objects, like paper clips
49. Potato flakes or instant mashed potatoes - raw or cooked
50. Shampoo
51. Grass clippings
52. Tinsel
53. Small amounts of various spices - cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, nutmeg, etc.
54. Natural clay
55. Real or fake flowers
56. Bubble solution
57. Water and a bottle of mineral oil or baby oil
58. Finger paint
59. Jingle bells
60. Wood scraps and sandpaper
61. Papier mache - mix equal parts flour and water to make paste, add strips of newspaper
62. Hand lotion
63. Sponges and soapy water
64. Dry beans.  Heck, cooked beans would work, too.
65. Buttons
66. Insides of a cleaned-out pumpkin.  Or just chop the top off of said pumpkin.  Kids typically prefer pumpkin guts and seeds in water, though.
67. Pudding - Tapioca has a unique texture
68. Used coffee grounds
69. Toilet paper - Just put in a whole roll for your Little to unravel, or add a little water if you like
70. Cornmeal
71. Different kinds of tape or pattern scissors
72. Doll or pillow stuffing - really cheap at Wal-Mart
73. Separate bowls of vinegar and baking soda for mixing
74. Polymer crystals - they are used to provide water to plants; they absorb the water and turn into a gel
75. Toothpaste
76. Oatmeal
77. Nuts - use a variety, still in their shells
78. Crepe paper streamers
79. Pom-poms
80. Poker chips
81. White glue
82. Stretchy/squishy toy worms/insects
83. Fake snow
84. Any Grain - raw or cooked.  Look in the baking aisle as well as near the rice in your grocery store.
85. Whole gourds/mini pumpkins/decorative corn
86. Fabric scraps
87. Yogurt
88. Beanbag filler
89. Cat or dog food.
90. Cat litter
91. Clean Mud - Mix 1 roll white toilet paper, 1 bar grated Dove Soap, and warm water. Tear up the toilet paper into small pieces (great kid job). Put into big bowl with grated soap. Pour in water in small amounts while mixing paper and soap with hands. Add water until the mixture is the consistency of thick cool whip. The more you work with it, the softer it gets.
92. Cloud Dough - Combine 1 part oil with 8 parts flour.  So, 1/4 cup oil with 2 cups flour, or 1/2 cup oil with 4 cups flour.  Use baby oil or cooking oil.
93. Grits - raw or cooked
94. Cotton Balls
95. Flubber: Mix 2 cps white glue with 1 ½ C water and food coloring. Separately, Mix 4 tsp of Borax with 1 1/3 C of water. Mix two mixtures and knead until water is incorporated. WARNING _when dried will not come out of carpet, clothes or Hair. Blow it with straws and cut with plastic knives.
96. Mardi Gras Beads
97. Holes from a hole puncher
98. Popped popcorn
99.  Potpourri
100. Powdered milk
101. Whipped cream
102. Cool Whip
103. Tissue paper and wrapping paper
104. Toothpaste
105. Fake snow
106. Water beads
107. A diaper and lots of water to pour into it
108. Flax seed
109. Whipped cream, cool whip, or both.
110. Glitter. Use the cheap big stuff, not the ultra-fine.  And be careful of your Little rubbing his eyes with glittery fingers.
111. Combine any two of the above.  For example, play-dough and rice, 2 kinds of beans, glitter and slime, pom-poms and fabric and jingle bells, whatever strikes your fancy.

Toys, Tools, and Accessories
Any of the above sensory explorations would be fantastic on its own, but to extend the play value (especially if you're involving older siblings), you can add any one or more of these toys, tools, and accessories.

  • Food coloring - Just one color to mix in, two colors to combine, or a bunch of colors to paint with
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Cooking and serving utensils: Spoons, tongs, mashers, whisks, etc.
  • Funnels
  • Paintbrushes
  • Lengths of plastic pipes and flexible tubing (hardware stores carry different diameters)
  • Small lidded containers
  • Bowls
  • Strainers/colanders
  • Toy people, boats and vehicles
  • Toy construction equipment
  • Plastic animals and insects
  • Cookie cutters
  • Plastic fruits and vegetables
  • Squeeze Bottles (Honey bear, dressing, ketchup)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Dowels
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Clothespins
  • Fishnets
  • Small buckets and shovels
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Bubble wands
  • Spray bottles
  • Eye droppers or pipettes
  • Turkey baster
  • Straws
  • Magnet wands
  • Toothbrushes
  • Watering Can
  • Aluminum Pie Pans
  • Detergent Scoops
  • Egg cartons
  • Fake Gems
  • Film Canisters
  • Formula Scoops
  • Ice cube tray
  • Latex gloves for filling
  • Muffin Pans
  • Orange juice cans
  • Ping pong balls
  • Soda bottles

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Week Plan Wednesday, and a Midnight Snack.

My single, solitary new year's goal is to have a healthy midnight snack once a week.  The Hubby and I seriously eat or drink a snack between 9:30 and 11:00 PM every single day.  The quality varies.  Sometimes it's just a beer.  Last night it was sliced pear, whole grain crackers, assorted cheeses, and red wine.  Milk and cookies, as well as chips and salsa are in the regular rotation.  One unequivocally healthy snack a week isn't too much to ask.  Today it's Pumpkin Pie in a Mug.  Trust me, that's healthy.

Pumpkin Pie in a Mug
In a saucepan on the stove over medium heat, combine equal parts pumpkin puree and milk.  You could sub almond- or soy- or hemp-milk, but I just used regular 2%.  Either home-made or from-a-can pumpkin puree is fine, just don't get the "pumpkin pie mix."  
For every cup of milk, add a pinch of each ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, plus a 1/8 tsp cinnamon.  Otherwise, used 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice. 
Stir in brown sugar to taste and adjust seasonings.  I used about 1/2 tsp sugar per cup of milk.
Serve in a mug with optional whipped cream and/or graham crackers.

Wednesday- Cream of broccoli soup, buns.

Thursday- Taco salad, without the tortilla shell.  Or Mexican Pile-Up, without the chips.  You get the idea: ground beef, re-fried beans, cilantro-lime rice, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, sour cream, piled on a plate.

Friday- Eggplant burgers.  I found a recipe in the Weelicious lunch cookbook.  It looks good.  I'm trying it.

Saturday- The last Christmas Party of the season!  I'm bringing a shredded beet and carrot salad.

Sunday- Cabbage and mushroom stir-fry, brown rice.

Monday- BBQ ribs, roasted cauliflower, baked potatoes, and microwaved frozen peas.

Tuesday- Pasta with mushroom white wine sauce, carrot sticks.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A lady stole my boots

Not going to lie, I enjoyed the sudden and brief popularity brought on by my BINGO cards.  Thanks for the love, all.

Today was The Gibbon's birthday celebration.  Five!  Woo hoo!  Since I find throwing kid birthday parties more stressful than rewarding, we're experimenting with the "King for a Day" birthday model, whereby the birthday child gets to make the decisions we parents usually make.  For example, what to eat, when to go to bed, where to go, and who to see.  In the future, there will probably be a budget to work within, but not this year.  The Gibbon still gets confused by numbers over 35.

We originally planned for swimming, but The Sparrow is sick, and nobody thought taking a sick 2 year-old to the pool would be fun.  We tried to arrange for The Gibbon to go swimming at night with Auntie A, but the scheduling didn't work out.  So instead, we went to Pump It Up, he watched movies during naptime, we all went out to dinner at 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, and Auntie A took him out to a movie at the theatre after dinner.

Pump it up was great fun.  It's a giant inflatables place.  And they do Preschool play from 9:30 to 11 AM every week day.  What a great idea!  Also, more fun places should have that kind of schedule. 

The baby slept through the entire morning (I know, right?!), so I just jumped and played with the bigger littles and chatted with a couple of other moms.  When it was time to go, I went to the cubbies to get our stuff, and my boots weren't where I left them.  I spotted them 2 rows down.  No big deal.  Then the boots don't feel right.  I looked at the bottoms to see if I had them on the wrong feet (because sometimes I do that), and immediately realized they weren't my boots.  Same brand, same style, different size, and mine got resoled this summer.  Not.  My.  Boots.

I ran out to the lobby, looking at everyone's feet and shouting.  Yes, I'm the crazy lady!  In stocking feet!  Waving boots in the air!!  Gone. 

Then one of the employees noticed me acting weird.  "Did someone take your boots?" she asked?  Turns out the other mom had gotten home, realized she had the wrong boots on, and called.  She came right back (just enough time for me to feed the baby, who conveniently started to fuss right as they kicked us out).  And as luck would have it, she was one of the moms I had chatted with earlier.  Her comment was, "Oh!  I'm glad it was you!"  Not sure about that one.  But I'll take it.

Yay happy ending.  Also, the burgers were great.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Suboptimal parenting BINGO

I'll admit to shamelessly stealing this idea from The Ugly Volvo.  But I thought the cards could use a little tweaking.  For starters, there were some important things she missed.  Also, I wanted the boxes to be a little more objective. 

These cards will work great if you have a preschooler.  A baby would probably be fine for most of them.  I'm not so sure about an older kid.  Any feedback on that?  Please note that the more kids you have, the faster you'll "win."

Here's how to play!  Pick a number between 1 and 10, count down to the corresponding card, and keep track of how life is improved by your child(ren)!

If you are an IRL friend of who lives within 10 miles of me, send me a message when you get a BINGO, and I'll reward you with a cheap bottle of wine and some sympathetic company.  If you're not an IRL friend who lives within 10 miles of me, I suggest you concoct a similar arrangement with a few parents in your neck of the woods.  Tell me how it goes.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

On the Menu!

I totally promise that I've been doing my meal plans.  I haven't been posting them, but I have been DOING them.  So, C- for execution, but B+ for effort!  I'm good at typing with one hand while nursing the baby, but our computer now requires me to type while holding the keyboard, and clearly that isn't going to happen while nursing. 


Wednesday- So Very Fancy Vegetarian Cassoulet.  AKA Skillet potatoes with random vegetables. 
Sautee a diced onion in hot oil. 
Add garlic after a couple of minutes. 
Then throw in diced potatoes, carrots, celery, bell pepper, and/or as much of whatever vegetables you have on hand as you can fit in your pan. 
Add also some wine. (I used the dregs of three separate bottles, two white and one red.  So fancy!) 
Salt and pepper and one or more herbs (dried thyme here). 
Vegetable or chicken broth would be nice, but I didn't have any handy and couldn't be bothered to get the bullion from the fridge. 
Cover to cook faster, uncover to reduce the liquid.  Throw a little water in your pan if it looks like it's getting too dry. 
Stir in a can of white beans now or later. 
When everything is cooked and hot hot hot, turn off the heat and toss in a couple big handfuls of some kind of bitter green (rapini has been on sale here, so that what I did). 
Serve with big hunks of French bread for everyone and glasses of wine for the grown-ups.

Thursday- Corn chowder.  With maybe some sliced carrots and nothing else on the side, because it's snowing and I'm not going to haul the littles out shopping in this mess.

Friday- Black beans and butternut squash with Mexican flavors (cumin, garlic, chili, lime, cilantro, and maybe tomatoes).  Over brown rice.

Saturday- White bean soup with a ham hock.  Buns.

Sunday- Crock pot chili.  Maybe leftover buns, if I've got them.

Monday- Eggplant parmesan.  Pasta with red sauce and homemade meatballs.

Tuesday- Probably going out.  Otherwise, grilled cheese and a salad.

Also, FWIW, I've given myself a pass on the homemade bread until The Baby is 6 months old.