Spring Herbs Play Dough

Last week the girls were begging for new play dough. Having recently seen some beautiful invitations to play on Imagination Tree, it didn’t take long to gather supplies to let them explore the abundance of herbs blooming in our garden.

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Snip some fresh herbs from the garden (peppermint, spearmint, oregano, and chive blossoms. There might be some sage on the tray, too).

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Fresh batch of green play dough, plus tools to explore.

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Lots of time to freely explore the scents, colors, tastes (herbs only!), and textures.

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They quickly transitioned into their favorite game – Princess in a Castle.

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Play dough is excellent for fine motor practice.

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It’s all kinds of beautiful! Especially the purple chive blossoms against the green dough.

I kept this play dough for a week after our activity. The girls love it and have been using it to play ice cream stand. It was still in great shape and would have lasted longer, but I can’t handle the smell of the oregano anymore… so to the trash it goes, replaced with normal grape kool-aid glitter dough.

Original inspiration credit: Natural Mint Play Dough; Natural Herbal Play Dough. Except I use my basic cooked dough recipe as follows:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 T cooking oil
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
Food coloring or 1 Kool-Aid mix

Stir together and cook over low heat until dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Lemon Tarts Play Dough

I haven’t posted much about our sensory play lately. We’ve spent the past several months mostly stuck inside due to the weather – sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow (for this area at least). We are still doing lots of sensory play, but it hasn’t been terribly original or ground breaking. This activity turned out cute enough to share, though: Lemon Tarts!

 

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I whipped up a quick batch of lemonade scented play dough using my basic recipe (read more here) then turned the kids loose with various kitchen implements that Grace got for Christmas to use in her play kitchen. Plus glitter – there is ALWAYS glitter around here! The bowl full of lemons was just sitting there for inspiration.

Lemon Tart Play Dough at Gabi Sunshine

Aren’t these tiny tart pans the cutest?

We continue to use the play dough, but the glitter is a one-time thing. I put it away after our first use. By then the glitter is worked all the way through the dough and more just means more mess for cleaning up. These girls never get tired of playing Bakery. Every time the play dough comes out, they ask for tart pans or cake pans plus a handful of tooth picks and craft sticks for candles. It’s been their go-to game for about 5 months now.

In case you didn’t know, play dough is a great activity for developing hand strength and fine motor skills. I can tie a lot of learning in without any pressure. I offer simple ideas to direct their play in ways that work on the target skill. We used this activity to practice making balls and putting them on sticks – also known as cake pops! This reinforces shape knowledge, hand strength, and lots of coordination to actually make the balls, line them up, and get them on the stick in the middle without pushing too far.

Lemon Tart Play Dough at Gabi Sunshine

What are you playing this long, snowy winter? Without sensory play, I know we’d be going CRAZY by now!

Crafting the Christmas Story

For the past several years, I’ve been somewhat disillusioned about Christmas. I’m sure you’ve heard it – “Christmas is for kids.” Whether that’s true or not, it’s how I’ve felt. After getting married and having Grace, we’ve waffled back and forth on what role we want Christmas to have in our family. I’m sure it’ll be an annual conversation, but for this year we wanted to focus in on the Bible story and actually celebrate!

Which sent me into the crazy twilight zone that is Pinterest, where I was promptly overwhelmed. I thought about combining a little of this; doing a little of that; modifying the creepy elf thing; calenders, paper chains, oh my! And then a friend pointed me to Truth in the Tinsel. It’s like the best parts of what I was trying to create, except already created! (which was good, since it was already December 3 at this point).

Every day, there’s a short Bible story focusing in on one aspect of the Incarnation – Christ coming to earth as a man. Each scripture passage is used at least 2 days to really drive it home. Then, there is a simple ornament craft to help you remember that element of the story. We collected the ornaments on a small 3′ tree I call our “touch tree” – Grace can’t touch the big tree so I redirect her to the little one to play with as she pleases.

new tree

It was such a blessing to share this experience with our friends who join us 3 days a week. The big girls get each other all excited as we do the Bible story. They each remember different parts of it so by the end of each lesson we’ve covered all of it. Even the little guy happily joined us as we sang various Christmas carols – Joy to the World is the smash hit of 2013! I love how every time we reviewed, they knew exactly what each symbol on our calendar meant and how it pointed to Jesus. Same with each ornament. For the calendar, the green square symbols are included with the ebook. My husband made the number circles in PSE. The board was a hideous painting that I covered with wrapping paper. I may post a quick tutorial later this week.

calendar

And what did we make? A mess, mostly, of paint and glitter and straw and yarn. Fuzzies from cut pipe cleaners. Broken crayons. And lots of lovely memories! We didn’t get to every ornament this year, partly due to scheduling and partly due to ages (1.5, 2.5, 3.5 years old), but I have every intention of doing the program again in 2014. And then the little hands will be better equipped to tackle some of the ornaments. All the same, I’m super thrilled with our collection! 12 out of 24 ornaments isn’t bad, and we actually hit about 16 of the lessons through combining.

ornament collage copyFrom left to right: Row 1 – The sun; a crown; Mary and Joseph; Row 2 – a CD (for Mary’s song in Luke 1); 3 wise men; zzz (Joseph dreams of Gabriel), a candle; Row 3 – The angel Gabriel; the stable; a sheep; Bottom middle – Baby Jesus in the manger

Now that Christmas is over, I’m a little torn about not having an activity and a lesson all laid out each day. I may keep some of them up in Grace’s room as decorations. One thing I won’t miss though – glitter all over everything! (Though I did see something on the author’s blog of Truth in the Tinsel that she’s got a non-seasonal lesson guide… so we might be right back at it again soon!)

Autumn Sensory Play {And my favorite play dough recipe}

I almost titled this post, “Come on, people, it isn’t Christmas yet.” Apparently pretty much everyone in retail missed that memo… Oh well. November! The beautiful finale to the masterpiece called autumn. There’s more leaves on the ground than in the trees. The wind turns a little more brisk. Rains keep us inside. Recipes switch to more storage crops – I think I used either butternut squash or sweet potatoes every day last week. Thanksgiving is coming (even if the stores forgot it). We have much to be thankful for 🙂

And much indoor sensory play to be played!

Fall Harvest Sensory Bin

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A friend gave me a gallon bag of field corn, which the kids ADORE playing with. It makes a delightful sound when it “rains.” Everything else is from last year’s bin – silk leaves, both oak and maple; “gumball” seed pods from a tree down the street; and sparkly foam pumpkins. Plus an assortment of scoops and spoons for digging around with.

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For some reason, they’re making soup. The pumpkins are tomatoes. I don’t ask too many questions – I love their creativity! Crazy kids 😀

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Pumpkin Pie Play Dough

We love play dough around here. Last month we had some random purple sparkly mess that 9 times out of 10 was shaped into birthday cakes. I should have known showing the birthday episode from Little Einsteins would lead to much imagination play. It’s time to move on… some songs get really really annoying about the 3rd time a couple toddlers sing it. When you hit the 30th you decide to set out a new invitation to play.

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So in honor of the mass baking that will be occurring over the next week, Pumpkin Pie scented dough.

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This is my basic recipe for play dough. I always forget it, so I’m posting it here for my reference as much as for anyone else:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 T cooking oil
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
Food coloring or 1 Kool-Aid mix

Stir together and cook over low heat until dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the pot.

I claim no rights to it! I got it from a friend, who got it from a friend, who I think got it from one of the local preschools. But it’s almost identical to several I’ve found online. I’ve tried several different no-cook recipes and they all turn out sticky messes for me. This one has been fail-proof even if it does take a little longer. My first batch lasted 4 months of almost daily use and would have kept going if the toddler hadn’t left it out on the table overnight.

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To make it pumpkin pie scent, leave out the kool-aid. Add 1tbsp ish (I’m not big on measuring) of pie spice blend – store bought or make your own, heavy on cinnamon with a little ginger, nutmeg, allspice, etc. A little food coloring makes it pleasantly orange. On the table, I’ve added a rolling pin, muffin tin, pie plate, small spatula, sil-pat mats, and a couple cookie cutters.

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And after seeing today’s facebook link from The Imagination Tree, shakers of cinnamon and gold glitter 🙂 I buy my cinnamon in bulk at a local warehouse store and it’s over a year old, so it’s time to use it up and buy fresh. This is as good a use as any!

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Plenty of lovely autumn sensory play to get us through the last week and a half. THEN it can be Christmas, folks! It’s just not special if it goes own for 7+ weeks. Besides, I haven’t had my fill of pumpkin lattes yet!

Rainbow Rice Sensory Play

For years now, I keep seeing rainbow themed sensory bins pop up on Pinterest and the creative play blogs I follow. And while I have colored rice for Grace to play with, I’ve never gone all out to make several colors for a true rainbow.

Until now!

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Awww… pretty colors! If you haven’t done it before, coloring rice is super easy. I put two cups rice in each of six ziplock bags (sorry indigo… not going to even try). Add roughly 6 drops of regular liquid food coloring and a small squirt of rubbing alcohol. The alcohol helps spread the dye and evaporates quickly. Toss and shake your rice and color until you get what you’re looking for – I know I had to add extra color to the yellow. Then let dry before playing. I just opened the bags to let air flow; some people spread on a cookie sheet. If you use only a tiny bit of alcohol opening the bags worked quite well enough.

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To add to the exploring, I found colored tooth picks that have been sitting around for a couple years. I didn’t have purple so I used a regular marker to color a plain wooden pick. Then I pulled a tool basket from my stash of sensory bin items. I have a shelf in our basement filled clear plastic containers, scoops, spoons, shovels, forks, plus items from previous bins and various odds and ends I’ve discovered. Here’s what they get this time:

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The kids had a total blast! At first they just stared:

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But then their caution evaporated into curiosity:

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Which led to an extravaganza of scooping and stirring:

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Even the littlest guy got in on this one, though I did have to watch him closely – apparently rainbow rice looks a lot like candy!

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I’m glad I finally got around to making rainbow rice. It only took a few minutes – maybe 10? – to color all the rice. Rice is super cheap and everything else I had around the house. It obviously didn’t stay sorted by color very long but I actually love the way it looks combined. We’ll keep playing with it as is for now then store it as a base for a future bin down the road.

Happy playing!

Let’s Go Camping Learning Basket

A few weeks ago, our Learning Basket for Play School was all about camping. Camping is our family’s new thing this year – we’ve really come to enjoy slipping away for a night or two to be outside and away from the regular routine. It’s a nice chance to refocus on us without the distractions that come with our current lives. A full schedule of meetings, play dates, chores, and technology draws us apart and wears us out. I love our quick forays into simplified, just-us time.

So it only made sense to do a camping themed learning basket!

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Fiction:

  • Lady Bug Girl and Bingo (by far the favorite!), David Soman and Jacky Davis
  • Flat Stanley Goes Camping, Jeff Brown and Macky Pamintuan
  • Fancy Nancy Stellar Stargazer!, Jane O’Connor
  • Because your Mommy Loves You, Andrew Clements

Non-Fiction (I forgot to mark the specific titles; they were very general though)

  • Knots
  • Campfire activities for girls
  • General camping book

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My husband carved this awesome wood forest toy set for Grace last Christmas. It was a little early for imagination play then, but now several months later she thought they were just the coolest things. They were made using patterns from Natural Wooden Toys. I’m crazy about them and want him to make dozens more this winter as we move from outside activities to inside activities when the weather turns.

We had lots of fun playing with the flashlight. Nothing specific – just playing 🙂

This next activity I’ll show you, but let me be really honest – it’s way about toddler abilities. I thought it would be neat to make a card with strings on it so I could teach the kids knotting. 2 year olds and 3 year olds can’t tie knots. Their little fingers just don’t work that way. However! I love these cards! I’m storing them in our play school box to bring out again in a couple years:

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We even did a quick painting project. My philosophy on art/craft projects with toddlers is it’s all about the process, not the finished project. Due to that, we do a lot of projects on recycled brown paper grocery sacks that, after hanging around for a few days, find themselves moving on to the recycling bin. I want to move into more of the Charlotte Mason style handicrafts eventually, but at this point, art work is more sensory play so I just let Grace explore. Here’s our campfire. First we colored the logs, then hand printed the fire:

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I’m so glad it’s fall! This is by far my favorite season. I hope you’re finding a chance to enjoy the outdoors, too 🙂

Oceans Resource Wrap-Up

I wanted to give a completed resource list for our play school unit on beaches and the ocean. We’re using Hubbard’s Cupboard free 2’s curriculum as a jumping off point, but as you’ll see, we added and adjusted a bit. Please go to the original curriculum for math, art, and theme activities because this unit at least I didn’t get creative. Maybe next time!

Bible:

  • Creation from the Jesus Storybook Bible
  • Genesis 1 from NASB
  • Counting and talking about the days of creation

Hymn and Verse songs:

  • My God is So Big (change “valleys” to “oceans” in the 2nd verse)
  • Genesis 1:1 (See Hubbard’s Cupboard, it’s from their list)

Fiction:

  • Beach Feet by Kiyomie Konagaya
  • Sea, Sand, and Me by Patricia Hubbell (the girls’ favorite!)
  • Sand in my Shoes by Wendy Kesselman

Non-Fiction:

  • Looking Closely Along the Shore by Frank Serafini
  • A Swim through the Sea by Kristin Joy Pratt
  • Habitat Survival: Oceans by Claire Llewellyn
  • On the Seashore by Anna Milbourn (reads like a picture book – good intro to nonfiction)

Movies

  • Eye Witness: Seashore
  • Reading Rainbow: Dive to the Coral Reefs
  • Bob the Builder at the Seashore

We’ve gotten a ton of use out of our sensory bin, which is made to look like a beach. It has a bed of cheap cornmeal, a sprinkle of gold glitter, 2 shovels (one for each toddler), a few shells, and a few beach toys. They LOVE running the cornmeal through their hands. And then, of course, throwing it in the air to be pixie dust… I love the way kids think!

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Another big hit was singing and playing “This is the way we go to the beach.” If you couldn’t guess, it’s to the tune of “Here we go round the mulberry bush.” The curriculum has a list of different verses you can add; I usually just made some up. We ran to the beach, jumped to the beach, spun in a circle to the beach, marched to the beach, swam at the beach… you get the idea. Fantastic energy burner!

Next week starts the Camping unit. The curriculum only has you making one sensory bin a month, so the kids will continue playing beach – unless I get bored and make something different! I just picked up a bagful of books from the library. Tonight I’m planning to pre-read everything to get it sorted and remake the basket. I love having the theme basket out first thing in the morning when the other kids arrive! It’s just so inviting to dive right in to our exploring.

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