What We’ve Been Up To

I realized that I haven’t done a real “what we’ve been doing” kind of post up since mid-October. So, without further ado, here’s what the girls and I have been up to!

Let’s start with the end of October and November. These were some of our fall activities!

Fall wreaths. Dirt pudding. Thanksgiving “thankful turkeys”. Pine cone bird feeders.

Next up is December. These are some of our Christmas activities. We spent a good portion of December at my other nanny family’s house since his school was closed for the holiday, so we didn’t do as many arts and crafts things as we typically do, and somehow I didn’t take as many pictures of what we did do as I usually do.

Gingerbread house. Christmas presents for their parents.

Here’s some of the other activities we’ve done to keep us busy during the brutally cold days we’ve had.

Baking soda and vinegar science project. Bounce house. Kinetic sand. Microwave play dough. Making snow in our sensory bin.

I try to do one outing or one bigger project (art, science, working on math, writing, etc) each day. We still don’t watch TV or have any screen time (with the exception of the very few sick days, and even then it’s limited to one show). Occasionally, I let the girls have more of a free play type day where I don’t necessarily structure something, but we still have a schedule we follow which I’ll elaborate on in another post.


Shaving Cream Fun!

One activity that I’ve seen just about every kid I’ve done it with love is playing with shaving cream. There’s something about watching it change from a gel to a foam (if you use that kind) and then spreading it all over a table and making a huge mess that kids just love.

As a bonus, spreading shaving cream also helps get rid of build up gunk and grime on tabletops. It will leave a bit of a film on most tables, but you can easily get that off with a baby wipe or a damp paper towel.

This activity gets pretty messy, most kids have it up to their shoulders by the time it’s over. So, I suggest putting them in old clothes or an art smock.

If you have a young child who would put the shaving cream in their mouth, I suggest using whipped cream or cool whip!

Extend the Activity: After your child gets bored with just playing in the shaving cream, encourage them to draw shapes or write letters and words. You can also add some food coloring or finger paint to color the shaving cream. Add two colors and encourage mixing to create new colors.


Fall & Halloween Sensory Bin

As I said in yesterday’s post, our first sensory bin has a fall and Halloween theme.
Our first step was finding something to fill the bottom of our bin. With Halloween colors being black and orange, I wanted something in one of those two colors. I decided on using black beans. Since this was the first sensory bin with the girls I wanted something easy to spot on their carpet (thus easy for them to identify and help clean up if spilled). We got our black beans from the dollar store. I used 4 bags (12 oz each) to just cover the bottom of our bin. I plan on getting more, but since this is our introductory bin I’m starting out slowly.
Then we set out on finding objects to fill our bin with. Also at the dollar store we found glow in the dark plastic insects and skeletons, as well as packs of small foam gourds and pumpkins, all in their seasonal section. In the party aisle we found magnifying glasses, M in particular is obsessed with these. In the toy aisle, we found plastic lizards and a squishy sticky bat and scorpion. We headed to Target to buy our bin (since the dollar store didn’t have one big enough) in their dollar bins we found squishy light up orange spiky jack-o-lantern. We also found small acrylic leaves and pumpkins. We picked up a squishy caterpillar and a pack of foam acorns from the dollar section.
Total cost of this sensory bin – $16, not including the bin itself. We’ll use the bin the way it is (but adding different utensils such as table spoons, big cooking spoons, scoops, etc throughout the month) until at least the 31st of this month. Past the 31st, I can easily take out the more Halloween themed items (skeletons, spiders, etc) and put in things we already have – fabric leaves, real leaves from outside, real acorns, etc. That bin we could use until the end of fall in mid December. $16 for something that will last over 2 months and that we can reuse parts of throughout the year for various activities and all together again next year, not too bad!
The girls love it. The first day we used it we set it up and played with it before nap. I told them the rules [Beans must stay in the bin, if they come out please pick them up] as I set it up. After nap, it was the first thing both of them wanted to play with. They were still playing with it after I left. The next day we added their stacking cups to the mix and M even came up with the idea of using a magnifying glass as a scoop to fill the cups.
They’ve played with this for hours already. I’d count this as a success. It’s a perfect rainy day activity and a boredom buster as well. I’m already thinking of new items for our next sensory bin!


Sensory Bin

Now that the girls are out of the “every single thing must go in my mouth” stage, I was finally able to do something I’ve been waiting to with them for a long time. We made a sensory bin!

Today, I’m going to share what a sensory bin is, what it can do for your child, how to make a sensory bin, and where to find items to go in the sensory bin.

First, what is a sensory bin? Basically, it is a bin that includes items that appeal to many of your child’s senses. For sight – draw them in with multiple colors, bold, and contrasting colors. For sound – think of the sound your substrate, or base (rice, sand, beans, etc), makes against the objects inside the bin and on the bin itself. Touch – put different textured items in; sticky, slippery, soft, hard, rough, smooth, etc. Smell isn’t a sense I strive to appeal to in a sensory bin, but you can scent your substrate if you want or add different scented objects (small balls of scented play dough, flowers, etc).

What can a sensory bin do for your child you ask? Easy answer. Almost anything you want it to. Children, especially those 3 and under learn through their senses. You can count the objects, add some, take away some, to help learn math skills. Put different objects in that your child isn’t familiar with to learn new item names and descriptive words to improve their language skills. Use water beads as your base for a science aspect. Not only does it improve cognitive skills, but it improves physical skills as well. As children pick up small items they improve their fine motor skills. When they move them from one area of the bin to another or from one cup to another, they’re also improving their eye hand coordination. I could go on and on. Plus, sensory bins are just plain fun!

Sensory bins are super easy to make too. You need some sort of container with a tight fitting lid (that way little hands are kept out when you don’t can’t actively supervise them) and tall enough sides so that what’s in the bin won’t come out easily, and then materials to go in it. You could use something as simple as a shoe box (put it in an out of reach place when not in use, and be sure to not use any wet materials in it) or you could purchase a sensory bin with a stand from a store like Lakeshore. I opted for a simple bin. We purchased this 34 quart storage bin from Target (Kmart sells it online for $10, Target has it in store only, but cheaper) for around $9. It can hold any substrate (provided it doesn’t get cracked), it’s big enough for both girls to play in without being crowded, and small enough to be moved easily.

Making a sensory bin doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. You can fill it with simple items from around the house, grocery store, dollar store, and dollar bins at Target. If you want to go the more pricey route, you can buy sensory bases at Lakeshore.
Check back tomorrow to see what we put in our first sensory bin – our theme is Halloween and Fall.


Cloud Dough

Cloud dough is so much fun! Super simple to make too! (recipe at the bottom if this post)

I had been waiting for what feels like forever to do this project with the girls. I thought about it a lot during the winter and early spring. I knew I wanted to do it outside so that the mess wasn’t inside {this is a pretty messy activity} and I knew they should probably be in onesies because I didn’t know how well it would wash off their clothes. This meant I’d have to wait till it was nice and toasty warm outside. Finally the weather really warmed up and we had a nice hot day, perfect for making cloud dough.

I didn’t want to be constantly telling the girls to keep the cloud dough in the container so I ended up pulling out their baby pool and putting the container and the girls in that. That way, even if they got it all over, it was still contained and easy to get rid of.

It’s somewhat hard to describe cloud dough without giving someone the chance to actually touch it, but I’ll do my best. It’s flour and oil so it’s soft to the touch, silky really, and resembles a plain powder. However, if you squish it in your hand, it will form somewhat of a ball shape. If you’re careful you can move the ball shape around and even pass it to another person but it does crumble relatively easily. It’s a great sensory experience for kids. 
It’s fun for adults too!
I gave the girls big mixing spoons and measuring cups. They liked squeezing it in their hands, sharing it with me, packing it down and then crumbling it up, and using both spoons to mix it all up. They even stuck their feet in it. They found sticks on their own and added them to the mix. Somehow we ended up making a birthday cake and singing happy birthday to both Elmo and Cookie Monster. 
Every time we went outside over the next week or so following this activity, I’d hear “cloud dough!?!” from one or both of the girls. We made it second time pretty shortly after because of this. I’ve also done this activity with an older child, a 4 year old. He loved it too. With both ages, the activity lasted well over 30 minutes. While the 4 year old was pretty clean after (not so much for the floor!) the girls were messy as can be. They had it head to toe. Luckily I had put them in just onesies so I took those off and ended up basically hitting them against the porch railing like you would a rug. Then they went straight into the washer. It brushes off skin pretty easily. 

We will absolutely be repeating this activity a few more times this summer!
Now time for the super simple recipe!
1 cup oil (I used vegetable oil so that it was edible, but you can also use baby oil)
8 cups all purpose flour (this seems like a lot, but it’s not!)
Just one step – Mix the two together! You may need a bit more oil (I’m talking adding more in tablespoon increments), but ours seemed to become a better consistency/texture the more we played with it, so be sure to play with it for a bit before making the decision on whether you want more oil or not.
*I have somehow had this post half finished, waiting to be completed for weeks. Unfortunately for me, one of my dogs is (re)injured and the other is essentially having a panic attack because of the crazy loud thunder storm we are having outside. I decided to make the best of the situation {since my terrified dog is currently trembling and shaking next to me, so clearly I’m not headed off to dreamland anytime soon} and finish up this post!*


Flour & Water

While I’m anxiously awaiting St. Patrick’s day to get a little closer so we can begin the explosion of all things green, I wanted to do an activity to take up some time and give the girls a sensory experience. So, we went upstairs and I dumped some flour on their high chair trays. They played with this for a few minutes, using their fingers to move it around and even slapping at it and watching what happened.
Once I could tell they wanted more to this activity, I dumped some water on their tray. Not only did they like watching the water splash onto their tray (I poured it from 8-10 inches above their trays) but when they started mixing the flour and water the real fun began. They did it with their hands and then I gave them each a paintbrush. They loved mixing it together and watching it form a sticky paste.
We didn’t have any food coloring on hand but I did have some pink frosting left over from Valentine’s Day when we made muffins (I had to add pink somehow, so each of the girls’ muffins were topped with a pink heart). So, I ended up adding that.
E apparently somewhat enjoyed the taste and kept licking her flour/water/frosting covered paintbrush. M took one bite, made an awful face, and decided she didn’t want to try it again. They played in this for quite a long time. Eventually I added more flour and then more water. I would have probably been able to wipe it off their hands and arms when they were all done but E showed M how to paint it into her hair. So in the end, both had to get rinsed off in the sink. For easy clean up wherever you do this table (it needs to be contained, so I’d recommend doing it in a highchair) have a sponge near by. Paper towels didn’t make much of a dent once it started to dry, but a sponge took care of it easily.
This is definitely an activity we’ll be doing again!


Colored Pasta

This was such a fun activity for the girls and pretty simple for me too! I’ll give you the instructions on coloring the pasta first –
1) Cook your pasta according to directions, then strain and give a rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. {I used an entire box for two kids, but probably could have used less}
2) Gather enough ziplock bags for as many colors as you want to make.
3) Add food coloring to the bags {I did about 15-20 drops per color, even if I mixed two colors I still used 15-20 drops of each color}
4) Add about a tablespoon of water to each bag
5) Add pasta to each bag {I tried to keep equal portions in each bag}
6) Close and shake each bag until the pasta is fully coated. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
7) Rinse in strainer until no color is coming off pasta. 
8) This is where I got a little OCD and dried my pasta before putting it back in the bags. Next time I’ll add a tiny bit of oil to it instead.
9) Play!
Super simple. Making 6 colors took me about 20-30 minutes tops including cooking time. {Note: to save time, mix bags of color while pasta cooks!}
At first they were slightly hesitant about pulling the pasta out and playing with it. They’d pull some and then drop it back in. So, I took the entire {huge} bowl and dumped it onto the ground. We used our picnic blanket/tarp/floor protector that we got from Babies R Us so I wasn’t worried about any staining or damaging the carpet. Once I dumped it, the real fun began.
As they played, we talked about how it was sticky, what each color was, how some pieces were long and some were short, how many colors there were, how it was squishy, etc. I also encouraged them to use not just their hands, but their feet as well!
They really enjoyed playing with the pasta and it took up a good solid half hour to 45 minutes of our day. Next time, I’ll be sure to add some oil so it’s not sticky again (then we can talk about how it’s slippery) and I’d love to see how neon food coloring works out too. We will definitely be doing this activity again!


Pumpkin Guts and Spider Webs

Happy Halloween (almost a week late…) The girls had such a good Halloween. They dressed up as cupcakes, and were in a little neighborhood parade. Too cute!

I decided instead of opening up the pumpkin I had bought and bringing the guts in, I’d open up the pumpkins that they painted in front of them so they could see where the guts and seeds came from. I put them in their high chairs a few feet from the table and cut the pumpkins open on the table. I gave them the stem first and then a few spoonfuls of guts and seeds.

Talk about a fun activity! The girls LOVED it. They played in them for quite a while. They loved manipulating the seeds around on their highchair trays as well as pulling apart the stringy parts of the pumpkin guts. I narrated what they were feeling while they played with the guts and seeds – “what does it feel like? Is it slippery? It’s pretty stringy too. Look! Your hands are turning orange from the orange pumpkin!” and so on. Remember, babies need to be talked to about everything. They don’t know what “slippery” means until they’re able to feel it and it’s up to you to tell them what they’re feeling is slippery.

I’ve done this with many groups of kids, as young as 7 or 8 months and all have loved it. The older kids I’ve done this with don’t mind getting their hands messy and sorting seeds from the guts. We’d then roast the seeds and let them try them. The orange from the pumpkin will turn clothes orange, so be prepared to wash clothes or put them in a shirt you don’t mind messing up.

We also made a spiderweb painting. The girls painted with white paint on black paper. When they were dry, I drew a simple spiderweb on each. This was a super easy and quick project.

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The art project that wasn’t…

We’ve had a whirlwind few days. The weather was gorgeous for a few days so we spent a lot of time at the park. The girls both love the swings again. We had a period of time where one of them went from absolutely loving the swings to being terrified of it. I worked with her slowly, putting her in and BARELY swinging her and holding her hands which she didn’t mind. After a few times she is right back to kicking her legs with a huge smile on her face! The weather is about to turn ugly here for the next 3 or 4 days, so we also went to Storyville to get some new books since we won’t be able to for at least the beginning of the coming week thanks to the weather (Hurricane Sandy).
In between our outings, we did an art project. It was supposed to be more of a stamping type project, but the girls had other ideas. I was completely fine with this, as I’ve said before art is all about the process not the end result. It ended up being more of a sensory project than I had intended anyway which was good.
I cut one of the gourds that we explored the other day, basically making it into a little cup. The original plan was to paint the edge and have the girls stamp it and smear it around the page, using it almost like a paintbrush. The girls had other plans. 
The girls had way more fun exploring the painted gourd than actually painting with it. They loved touching the inside of it, pulling pieces off, and manipulating it in their hands. I’m not even sure if they noticed there was paint on it, in fact I’m about 75% sure the paint that did make it to the paper was merely because the paper was on the tray and just got in the way. Either way, the girls enjoyed themselves, saw and touched the inside of a gourd, and got messy. Can’t complain about that! 
We also painted pumpkins another day using red and white paint. They mixed the colors on the pumpkin and made partially pink pumpkins instead of orange. This activity took up a lot of time as I gave the girls all the time they wanted to paint them. They were pretty excited about smearing (and smacking) paint onto something other than a piece of paper!
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The Power of Playdough (& a recipe)

Happy Monday! I’m going to just get right into it and I apologize to those who don’t like reading long posts…this will be one.
Who doesn’t love mushing a good chunk of playdough with your hands? Playdough can teach children from infants (yes, infants) to preschoolers so much! Here’s just a few examples and how you can help –

    – Have children describe what they’re doing (or for younger children, narrate what they’re doing for them)
    – Model words they might not be familiar with (“are you layering your playdough? I see you’ve put the red on top of the blue” “tell me about the texture of your playdough – what does it feel like?”)
    – Discuss what they’re making, what colors they’re using, what tools they’re using, etc
    – Making letters out of playdough

       – Measuring out ingredients to create homemade playdough
       – Making numbers out of playdough
       – Counting out pieces of play dough
       – Identifying shapes
       – Discuss/identifying sizes of playdough


         – Mixing colors
         – Mixing ingredients to create homemade playdough
         – Make scented playdough
         – Add texture w/ rice, sand, etc
         – Observations during cooking process (if using homemade playdough)

        Not to mention, playdough encourages imagination, improves fine motor skills, and it’s a great sensory experience! I could go on and on about what playdough can do for a child.

        Some of you are probably thinking “playdough with infants? She’s crazy!” But, I can tell you that it is a great sensory experience for them as well. I’m all about doing what you’re comfortable with. If you aren’t comfortable giving an infant a chunk of playdough, don’t do it. I’m just sharing my experience with you. 
        This is one of those things (like the fall sensory bags and the pom poms) where you do not want to leave your child alone or take your eye off them. The way I like to do it is with the baby in a bumbo chair or a high chair. I give them a chunk of playdough and let them do what they want with it. I don’t however, let them put it in their mouth. If the baby uses a pacifier (my girls don’t) it would probably be easiest to let them have it in their mouth during playdough time. Imagine how many connections are being made in their brain during this! They’re using so many senses – touch, sight, hearing (you should be describing what they’re touching and what they’re doing), perhaps smell as well! 
        Manipulating playdough in her hands.

        Figuring out what playdough is all about.
        Here’s the Microwave Play Dough recipe. It’s my go-to recipe since it’s the easiest and in my opinion makes the smoothest play dough. It also lasts a nice long time.

        1 cup water
        1 cup flour
        2 tsp cream of tartar
        1 tbsp oil
        1/2 cup salt
        food coloring (optional)
            1. Mix all ingredients together except water and food coloring in a microwave safe bowl.
            2. Mix water and food coloring together.
            3. Mix water/food coloring mixture with the rest of the ingredients.
            4. Microwave play dough for one minute, then 30 second increments, stirring after each increment (will take around 3 minutes total, give or take – playdough will easily form a ball and look like playdough… hard to explain but you’ll know it when you see it)
            5. Play dough is HOT, put on lightly floured surface and carefully knead till cool
            6. Play! Store in an airtight container or ziplock bag when not in use.