Shampoo Science Lab

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When your bottle of baby shampoo is near the end, never fear: you have the perfect amount left to make a mad scientist lab!

To set up a mini “laboratory” for Veronika today, I first poured the remaining shampoo into a glass measuring cup, then added other tools and ingredients. Think: beakers, measuring cups, whisks, and basters, along with other ingredients like baking soda, white vinegar, and water.

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Now it was simply time to mix and match! I demonstrated for Veronika to start ,adding some baking soda and some vinegar to the cup with the shampoo for a fizzy reaction worthy of a witch’s cauldron. But then it was up to her!

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She loved pouring water into all the various cups and containers, especially once we tinted it green and yellow with food coloring.

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The baster was a big hit for sucking up one potion and transferring it from container to container. Incidentally this is great for fine motor skills, too.

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Even once we neared the end of play, and I began rinsing out the cups and spoons, she loved getting her hands soapy and tracing the leftover baking soda in the bottom of the tray.

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What’s your little scientists favorite concoction? Please share in the comments!

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Condiments Smell Test

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The next time you clean out the fridge, getting down to the bottom of all those old condiment jars, you have the perfect opportunity for… a smell test! So many condiments have strong, sharp scents that are just right for olfactory sensory play.

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To start, I dipped a cotton ball into each item we would be testing and placed them in the compartments of an ice cube tray. We had the following:

White vinegar

Salad dressing

Mustard

Ketchup

Soy sauce

Lemon juice

Sweet relish

Now it was time to smell and discuss! Veronika recoiled back from the lemon juice immediately, no surprise there!

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When concentrated on a cotton ball, the rich tomato notes of the ketchup and the sugary sweetness of the relish really came through.

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The opportunity is rife here for great vocab worlds. Beyond just asking whether she liked a scent or not, I encouraged Veronika to explain what she smelled.

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Vinegar was sharp, soy sauce was pungent and earthy, mustard smelled spicy, and more!

Make Pasta Noodles

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I’ve tackled many homemade recipes with kids, but we’ve never properly made fresh pasta noodles. Today was the day to take the leap! Technically, I knew this recipe wasn’t going to turn out “right” with a toddler, but mostly the intention was for Veronika to have hands-on flour-y fun.

To start, I placed down several sheets of wax paper to protect the floor, then scooped out 2 cups flour. Instant fun! Veronika helped mound this into a volcano shape in the center of the wax paper.

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I then whisked 4 tablespoons flaxseed into 12 tablespoons cold water for flax “eggs”, although honestly you could just use water. Veronika loves when we make vegan eggs like this, though, and is proudly in charge of the whisking.

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Make a well in the center of the flour mound and begin adding the flax mixture, a little at a time.

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Veronika loved helping stir with a fork after each addition; the flour begins to pull into the liquid in a way that’s quite neat to watch! Eventually you’ll need to start to using your hands, kneading until it forms a ball. I was so proud of Veronika for getting her hands right in there after a moment of hesitation.

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Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. While a pot of water comes to a boil, roll the dough into a rectangle with a rolling pin. Veronika “helped” with this part, although mainly by jabbing at it with the rolling pin.

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At this stage, things turned more into sensory play, so I wasn’t able to cut the noodles as suggested by online sources like Parents magazine. But I did slice off little bits of dough that we cooked up in boiling water anyway, just to see! Cook for about 3 minutes (until they float to the surface), then serve warm with marinara sauce. The kids declared the noodles yummy, although a bit odd in texture!

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Jel Dessert Sensory Bag

I enjoy making squishy bags for the kids, but don’t always love going through bottles of hair gel (a convenient base of choice) to do so. A great alternative, with the added bonus of the leftovers being edible, is to make a squishy bag from your favorite jel dessert!

The night before, I prepared a batch of the orange flavor from Simply Delish so it was chilled and set by morning. Fill small zip-top plastic bags with some of the jel, then add something fun to squish around in it. We used a mix of beads and bottoms. Note: For something a bit more gruesome around Halloween, use wiggle eyes instead!

Veronika loved the cold and squishy texture on her hands, which she could feel even through the plastic.

We hung it in the window where the sun made it almost like a suncatcher, too. She would press both palms against it so intrigued…

…and also enjoyed pushing individual beads around.

A simple way to keep little hands busy.

Shaving Cream, Inside and Outside

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Veronika’s fun with sensory materials continues, first inside a bag, and then out! Today, it was shaving cream’s turn as the starring material. To start, squirt a little shaving cream into sandwich-sized zip-top bags, then add a bit of food coloring to each.

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I used just green for one bag, but combined yellow and red in a second for some coloring mix. Seal tightly and add duct tape across the top for security.Veronika loved helping disperse the colors in the bags by squishing them. These were as soft as pillows to hold!

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But now it was time to get messy. I placed a few toys in the bottom of a craft bin. Choose items that will be easy to wash off, like plastic dinosaurs or animals, or toy cars. Now fill the container with shaving cream! I used about 1 and 1/2 bottles of shaving cream to completely bury the items.

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Veronika’s job was to dig! Your kids might want to immediately get up to their elbows in the stuff.  Veronika preferred to start with a wooden spoon, daintily stirring to uncover items.

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When she found the first car, she wanted to rinse it, so I gave her a separate small bucket of water.

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Now she wasn’t afraid to get soapy! She would dip her hands in the shaving cream, transfer a toy or her hands to the water, rinse, and repeat. “Now giraffe will be all clean,” she said proudly. Sometimes she wanted to dunk a toy right back in the shaving cream after rinsing it off!

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The messier the better with this one, because all said and done, your child is really playing with… soap!

Sensory Paint, Inside and Outside

Lately, Veronika has loved sensory play where we begin with a material contained in some way (a bottle, a zip-top plastic bag) but then take it out of the container for something much messier! To wit, today we started with paint in the bag and then moved it out.

For the inside version, I squirted a generous amount of hair gel into sandwich-sized zip-top plastic bags, then added bright neon colors of tempera paint to each. Bright food coloring gel would work, too. I deliberately chose colors that felt just right for a hot sunny day: think neon oranges, pinks, and yellows. Press out most of the air, then seal the bags. You can add a little duct tape at the top if you’re worried about curious fingers opening the bag.

Veronika briefly squished the vibrant colors all around, and liked tossing them to the floor with a splat.

They were also fun to stomp on with bare toes! But, as I anticipated, they didn’t hold her interest long.

Neither did a second sensory bag for writing practice. For this one, I used a gallon-sized zip-top bag and only a thin layer of paint so that the squiggles and shapes she made would show up clearly.

I showed her a few letters like V for Veronika, and we even could make hand prints. Still, she lost interest after a few swirly lines.

It was time for something decidedly messier. Lay down a piece of cardboard to protect your patio or lawn, and place sheets of white paper on top.

We made blobs of paint on the paper and then covered each with a cotton pad. (Note: You could also apply the paint directly to the cotton pad, and then set down on the paper). Now whack with a wooden spoon!

Similar to fly swatter painting, whacking the paper is sure to be irresistible for kids. The clear winner once more? The outside messy way!

Sticky Table Sensory Play

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Here’s a fun twist on contact paper collages for toddlers, taking the concept up a notch: turn a whole table into a sticky canvas!

To be honest, I only had enough contact paper to cover half of the table, but that didn’t seem to matter to Veronika. Place the contact paper on a tabletop, sticky side up, and secure with masking tape around the edges.

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I then presented Veronika with a variety of items from the craft bin that she could adhere. My original intention was to use pom poms, but we recently used ours up! Still, there were plenty of materials to test out. Some, such as strips of gift ribbon or pipe cleaners, she could pull up easily.

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Others, like yarn and cotton pads were much harder, sticking on firmly. The cotton pads were particularly fun since she could pull them up and see bits of cotton fluff left behind!

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We also tested out squares of bubble wrap and pieces of felt.

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The point of the activity was mainly sensory play for Veronika, feeling not only the sticky paper and observing its effect, but also enjoying the various textured materials. For something more artistic, simply turn the final creation into a collage by placing a second sheet of contact paper on top!

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Rainbow Water Bead Sensory Bags

If your kids love water beads but you hate the mess, consider these eye-catching sensory bags. Kids still get the look and squishy tactile fun, without the risk of all those beads skittering across the floor!

To set up, it helps to buy a rainbow pack of water beads where each color comes separately; I promise that you don’t want to try to sorting water beads once saturated.

I filled a zip-top bag with about 1 tablespoon of each bead color, then added water so they could soak overnight. If you notice the beads have absorbed all the water, just add a bit more.

In the morning, the bags were full! I dumped out about half the beads from each to make room, then added a little extra water and tinted it with the appropriate color of food coloring. Seal tightly (it helps to add a strip of duct tape for extra security!) and hand over to your tots.

These are great lying flat on the ground so Veronika could see the beads. She loved that she could push the beads through the water inside with her fingers.

But she also loved picking them up and tossing them! Having the full rainbow is great for teaching ROYGBIV order of course, as well as visually gorgeous.

For all that effort to seal the beads up, she did still want to play with some beads out of the bag. So I poured the extras into a wide bin. Pretty soon, toys were swimming through, and big brother Travis needed to join the fun. Luckily, not too many went skittering away!

Wave Bottle, Inside and Outside

Many toddlers are fascinated by wave bottles and sensory bags, and yet Veronika always just wants to get her hands on the items inside the jar or bag, rather than merely to observe. So today I did a bit of a test, first making a wave bottle in the bottle and then putting those same items out of the bottle, to see which she liked better. The verdict was quite clear, so read on!

To start, we set up a classic wave bottle. Add water to an empty plastic water bottle until it’s about two-thirds of the way full. Veronika helped squirt in a few drops of blue food coloring, but even already she wanted to pick up the bottle for pouring and transferring. I had to hold her back!

I showed her a few trinkets we could put inside; we made one version with beads and one with small pom poms, and then we added wiggle eyes to both. Now, fill each bottle the rest of the way with vegetable oil, and seal the cap on with hot glue.

Of course the fun is meant to be in watching the items wave back and forth, especially how globs of oil will move through the water since the two substances don’t mix. The wiggle eyes, in particular, pop right to the top of the bottle no matter how you shake it, which is fun to watch.

But did this hold Veronika’s interest? No! She immediately wanted hands on all the little trinkets we’d inserted into the bottles. So next we set up an “open” wave bottle. First, we placed the pom poms, beads, and wiggle eyes into the bottom of a craft bin and then she carefully poured in water from a clean bottle.

Then she squeezed in the blue food coloring when I wasn’t even looking!

She loved stirring through, as well as selecting an item and picking it out by hand, for example with all the wiggle eyes.

The verdict was clear: The closed bottle interested her for less than ten seconds, whereas she spent almost half an hour with her open “wave”.

Which version does your toddler prefer? Please share in the comments!

Dirt Day!

 

Armed with a giant bag of potting soil, Veronika and I had a day all about dirt! Here are three ways we played.

We started out inside, with a giant Mud and Dirt Sensory Box. Pour in dirt (or the above-mentioned potting soil), and add a few items that are fun to get, well, dirty! That meant a few of Veronika’s toy construction trucks, plastic cups for scooping and dumping, and some marbles.

First she explored with the trucks. She loved digging through the dirt with the bulldozer and then dumping into one of the cups.

We then pretended that the marbles were little seeds for planting, perfect imaginative play for springtime! She loved digging holes with a spade and pressing the marbles down in the dirt. Then we decided to make some of the dirt into mud; simply pour in a few cups of water and stir. Veronika marveled at the new consistency, as well as the earthy smell that resulted right away! When you’re done, take that sensory bin outside for a rinse down with a hose.

But we weren’t done yet with the dirt! I made a few circles with chalk on the back patio, labeled with point values. Older kids can play a classic game of bullseye, with concentric circles. For Veronika, I spaced the circles all over the patio with different point values based on their size.

Now we needed mud! I scooped some potting soil into a cup and we poured in water. Veronika was in charge of stirring until it was thick and goopy.

Big kids can now stand back, pick up handfuls, and take aim!

Veronika preferred to scoop up the mud with our spade and dribble it over the point values, delighting in the splat of the mud hitting the patio.

Bullseye!

Finally, we took some of that mud and decided to make art! I divided the mixture among 4 plastic cups and we squirted a generous amount of food coloring into each.

Dip in paintbrushes, and brush onto thick white paper. This made surprisingly beautiful colors, from vivid yellow…

…to a deep blue.

Veronika loved pouring and mixing the “paints”, too, or sometimes pouring them directly over the paper and then scribbling through with a paintbrush.

Older kids (and grown-ups!) can have fun making artistic paintings, like this little fishy fellow.

In sum, we had fantastic fun on this dirt-y day!