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

11 2013 085

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.

11 2013 091

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

11 2013 088


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.

11 2013 075

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

11 2013 074

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.

11 2013 083

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.

11 2013 080

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!

11 2013 073

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!

9 2013 095

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.

9 2013 094

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:

9 2013 096

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

9 2013 097

But then their caution evaporated into curiosity:

9 2013 105

Which led to an extravaganza of scooping and stirring:

9 2013 122

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!

9 2013 113

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!

Getting Started Playing School

Now that Grace is two, I’ve been wanting to add just a little bit of structure to our days. It’s a looooong day with a bored 2 year old if I don’t have *some* kind of a plan. That plan, however, is really loose. I most identify with a Charlotte Mason educational philosophy, which looks a lot like unschooling in the younger ages. Lots of playing outside. Lots of reading worthwhile books.

I’m using a lovely curriculum called Hubbard’s Cupboard as a “jumping off” point. It’s lovely as is if you’re looking for something print-and-go and a great inspiration curriculum if you’re looking to add more yourself. I’m using Joyful Hearts, their 2 year old program.

My changes: They plan 2 lesson days a week; I’m leaving Grace’s theme basket available to her whenever she wants to play or read from it. They have a Bible theme but no particular lesson; we’re incorporating reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible and other places. I’m having to adapt some of the books based on what I can find at my library, plus adding in non-fiction books. I grabbed a couple theme-based videos at the library, too – we’re not big TV watchers, but some days I need her to focus alone while I get something done (like make lunch!). I’m also adding a hymn for each theme since Grace LOVES music!

The first theme is Beaches and the Ocean, for 2 weeks. Grace and her 2 friends that I watch are really loving it! Today I’ll show you our sensory activities. I’ll post our complete resource list next week when we wrap up the theme. There’s a couple books I’m still hoping to get from the library, plus a couple that I got I doubt we’ll actually use. I want an accurate list for my records.

8 2013 009

Our seashore theme basket: books, a movie, a tin full of real shells, and the Melissa and Doug ocean-themed instrument set

8 2013 006

Tropical drink mix flavored play dough plus shells to press


8 2013 008

Beach sensory tub: cornmeal, gold glitter, sea shells, shovels, and a set of pouring toys

8 2013 012

They loved it! Playing on our beach towel outside

I’m really enjoying playing school. It’s just enough structure without being academic. I didn’t do the math activities this week but will probably add them in as we go. I’m using the planning sheet more as inspiration and less as a rule book – mixing, matching, and adapting as I go. The next theme is camping and I’m super excited – that’s our new hobby of the summer, so Grace will really connect!

Rainy Days and Sensory Play

Are you sure this is July? This has been the weirdest year for weather I can remember. Days of steady rain more normal for April or October have us stuck in the house. Since we don’t have cable and I hesitate to turn on a movie (again) I’m delving into my treasure trove of sensory play activities to keep us entertained. Here’s a collection from the past few weeks:

Water beads plus measuring scoops and a ladle (buried in the beads)

Water beads plus measuring scoops and a ladle (buried in the beads)

A "Small World Play" with toilet paper tube trees, a water bead lake, green rice, a bear and some people

A “Small World Play” with toilet paper tube trees, a water bead lake, green rice, a bear and some people


White board and markers - CLOSELY SUPERVISED!!!

White board and markers – she wrote me a story

7 2013 412

Washing dishes at the water table in between rain storms

Then we got brave and made some new-to-us play mediums I’ve seen floating around Pinterest for a while.

7 2013 422

First we made cloud dough. It’s a silky soft dough that you can shape and mold like wet sand, except it feels better. It’s similar in some ways to that “Moon Sand” that was popular when I was a kid. I used 6c all purpose flour and a little under 1c baby oil. I just dumped them in the bin and let Grace mix to her heart’s content. As she played I added a little salt for texture and some glitter for sparkle. A few kitchen tools gave her things to scoop, shape, dump and fill.

7 2013 426

She absolutely loved it 🙂 I’ve heard this will keep indefinitely, since there’s nothing in it that could spoil.

Then today I made a colored salt writing tray. This idea keeps popping up on one of my favorite blogs, The Imagination Tree. We made sort-of-purple salt with anther generous shake of glitter. Here’s one post on the idea. I left out the essential oil since I don’t have any except Tea Tree – wonderfully useful, not wonderful for smelling.

7 2013 430

Grace isn’t writing yet, but we did practice some shapes in between free playing:




Circle (ish)

This is another that should keep indefinitely. But even if it doesn’t, these are super cheap to mix up another batch. I think the salt tray has about $0.25 worth of material. That half hour of complete focus was worth every penny and more!

Do you have a favorite sensory activity when the weather keeps you inside? I’m always looking for more!

Spring Flowers Sensory Bin

Have you heard of sensory bins? I’m completely in love! The basic idea is a plastic tote filled with things for your child to explore using all of their senses – things to touch, rattle, stack, bang, squish, study, sort… I started making them for Grace in the fall when she was about 15 months old. They’re usually organized around a fun theme, but I’m also intentional about adding teaching concepts in, too. This is her first new one since January!

4 2013 005

Spring Flowers sensory bin

4 2013 007

Flower gems for counting and sorting


4 2013 006

Small, medium, and large


  • Easter grass base – 3 different types stirred together
  • Small, medium, and large boxes
  • Silk flowers
  • Gardening gloves
  • 20 flower counting gems
4 2013 013

I don’t usually allow dumping but she was SO excited

4 2013 016

Trying on the gloves – another skill to practice


4 2013 009

Counting 🙂

She was so excited! I told her the new box was in her room and she took off sprinting to find it. Usually the base item (grass this month, beans, rice, pasta, etc) must stay in the bin. I’m not a fan of cleaning up little bits for months on end. But this time she was so happy and fast I didn’t stop her. I need to buy a flat sheet to store with the bin for making clean-up easier.

I budget $10 / box and came in a little under this month which is always nice. I can usually find what I’m looking for on clearance or at a dollar store – this time I went out the day after Easter so all the springy decorations were on clearance. I tend to get intimidated when I see sensory bins online as many of them are expensive or time consuming (rainbow rice, anyone?!).

Analyzing a piece of the grass

Analyzing a piece of the grass

Today I let her free-play in the bin. We will also have some directed play to practice specific skills:

  • Small, medium, and large – Using the boxes, we’ll see which fits inside the others and stacking. If she isn’t grasping, I’ll remove the medium to just practice small/large
  • Sorting – grass colors, flower colors, etc
  • Counting – There are 10 each color of the small flower gems to practice 1-10
  • Fine Motor – Putting on gloves and manipulating objects while wearing them
  • And most importantly, cleaning up!

Happy Exploring!