Sensory Bean Astronaut Box

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In honor of SpaceX’s would-be historic launch today, I set up this easy astronaut-themed sensory bin for Veronika!

All I used were two different colors of dried beans, which I poured into a shallow tray. I originally had the box half filled with dark red beans and half with white, but they very quickly were mixed together.

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Then I simply added a few astronaut toys, including aliens and a little space rover for Veronika to play around with. It was an instant hit!

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She loved the sound that the rover made as it drove over these bumpy “moon rocks”.

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Of course we could also collect samples of rock to take back to Earth.

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She moved the little figures around in the beans, enjoying the way this made the beans scatter. I also showed her how to bury the alien underneath them, and she could then go digging.

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A sensory box like this would work with just about any toy of course, whatever your toddler currently likes best! Or just add scoops instead of toys, for practice pouring. But the astronaut theme felt perfect in conjunction with today’s historic event, even when we later learned the launch was a no-go for bad weather.

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Towards the end of her play, she discovered that if she raked her astronauts quickly through the beans, they scattered over the edge.

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So then this happened.

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Which is just fine because dried beans are one of the easiest sensory items to clean up ever! You can do this activity over a towel for even faster clean-up, but I find it just as easy to sweep all the beans into a dustpan. They sweep up with zero mess, unlike other materials I could name.

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We are wishing the astronauts good luck on their voyage!

Ooey Gooey Noodle Worms

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I love activities that introduce new textures to a toddler, even if they might seem a little gross to us grown-ups. Veronika has no qualms about getting her hands dirty, so on today’s menu was mud worms!

I cooked up a batch of linguine for the “worms”, and then placed them on a shallow tray that we could take out to the patio. Now we just needed to bury them in “dirt” a.k.a. chocolate pudding.

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She gleefully began scooping through, using both fingers and a sand shovel

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In retrospect, I would have used a lot more pudding and a lot fewer “worms”, as this wasn’t really hunting or digging. We just had lots of worms crawling all over the tray! But of course the pretend play was a bit advanced for her anyway, and she loved scooping.

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We got our fingers in the mixture together and used words like “slimy” and “goopy” as we played.

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When the noodles landed on the patio, they did sort of look like little worms after a rainstorm.

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Then Veronika decided it was even more fun to scoop them up from the tray and toss them on top of other items on the patio.

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Admittedly that made clean-up a little tougher, but she was having so much fun I didn’t stop her! All in all this was good gooey fun.

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Rainbow Salt Tray

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Here’s a project I remember doing with Travis when he was a toddler, and the seeming “magic” of it never grows old. I told Veronika that today she was going to paint a rainbow!

To set up, line the bottom of a shallow tray with construction paper, arranging the pieces in rainbow order.

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Oddly, our pack of paper doesn’t include purple, so I quickly colored a white piece with purple marker to fix that! Tape down the pieces of paper so they overlap. It’s helpful to use clear tape along all the seams, so salt doesn’t slip in between the sheets in the next step.

Now just cover the paper with a layer of table salt!

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I showed Veronika the tray and handed her a paintbrush. “Paint?” she asked. She began swirling the paintbrush through and immediately saw blue.

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A huge smile appeared on her face. As she worked, she uncovered all the colors of the rainbow.

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Of course she got a little impish and enjoyed sweeping salt out of the box for a time, too.

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You can make this educational by drawing big letters or shapes in the salt. (Hint: it might make for good sightword practice if you’re homeschooling a kindergartner, too!).

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But mostly Veronika just had fun, seeing what color would magically rise to the surface next as she brushed through each portion of the tray.

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You’ll notice that the tray was great fun to sit in, even after we’d dumped the salt!

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Texture Touch

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I have a neat set of fabric swatches for Veronika, featuring a pair of each item ranging from the nubby to the scratchy to the smooth. Today we played with the swatches in multiple ways, for games that involved both sensory play and learning.

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First, I hot-glued one of each pair onto a baby food jar lid. Hot-glue a magnet onto the other side. Now, the swatches had become magnetic toys that Veronika can slide around on a baking sheet!

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I set them out for her to explore at her own leisure, but then we took the time to go through the pile together, talking about each one. Rough and scratchy were definitely interesting.

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Veronika also loved any that were soft and smooth. When she felt the fluffy ones, she said our cat’s name and started rubbing it all over herself!

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There are then lots of ways to extend the play. I gave her the other half of the swatches (not glued to magnetic lids), and helped her find the match for each one.

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Although the ability to find a match will probably be beyond your 18-month-old’s ability, there has to be a first time for introducing any concept! I made things easier by giving her a choice of only 2 or 3 swatches. “Which one is the pair?” I asked her.

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Then we lined them up in order, going from softest to roughest.

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She also loved transferring the magnets over from the baking tray to our fridge. After that, I left the little swatches in a bin which meant she could return to them throughout the day. I have a feeling we’ll get a lot more play out of these!

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Shaving Cream and Colored Sand

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Is there much educational value to this sensory tray? No. But is it fantastic messy fun? Yes! And sometimes that’s all you need with a toddler.

I originally intended to use sand for the craft, but didn’t have any. In a pinch, I made colored salt! I first put coarse salt into small zip-top plastic bags and added a few drops of food coloring to each. Seal and knead to disperse the color. (Meanwhile, you can also use colored sand from a sand art kit or add your own food coloring to sand at home).

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Now squirt a generous layer of foamy shaving cream onto a shallow tray – the more the better! If you prefer, you could do this activity right on a craft table, but I liked containing it (somewhat!) on the tray.

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Sprinkle with the colored sand or salt. I added a few plastic spoons to facilitate things, but Veronika immediately had her hands in the mixture without any encouragement. She liked scooping it onto the floor in big dollops…

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…and also enjoyed testing how it felt with her fingers. The contrast of smooth creamy shaving cream and very coarse salt is of course the point here, and she seemed fascinated by this mix of textures.

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I thought she might just spoon through it, but soon her little toy figures were in the shaving cream. Once they were messy, she couldn’t quite decide if this was funny or if she was worried about them! I rinsed the toys off before she got upset.

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In retrospect, I would have done this project at bedtime, rather than early in the day. That way I could have stripped Veronika down to a diaper and plopped her into a bathtub right after. As it was, I felt bad cutting things short before the mess got out of control, once I realized she was walking around with shaving cream all over her hands, feet, and legs.

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But she still got in a good twenty minutes or so of fun.

What’s That Smell?

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For some olfactory fun today, I presented Veronika with smells from around the house and we had fun naming each item as we smelled it. Unlike when she was little, now she can parrot these words back to me, hold the items herself, make yummy noises of delight, and more.

I wanted to clearly differentiate between edible and non-edible items in the game, so we started with the latter. I laid out a flower, tea bags, spice jars, and three different scents of soap.

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One by one, I held them to my nose, then showed her how to do the same. For breakable items, like the spice jars, I waved the item under her nose. But she got the hang of it solo with the soap!

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The tea bags were a big hit, so much so that I got out a bag of coffee and let her inhale that one deeply, too.

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She looked so pleased when she smelled the cinnamon sticks, but she pulled back quickly from curry and a few other spices.

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Next we moved on to items she could smell and eat. I set out a few pungent foods, like cooked vegan sausage and yogurt. Berries would be good, too. Or berry yogurt!

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Veronika then found other fun ways to play with the items, and I was more than happy to watch her toddler brain explore. The cinnamon sticks were fun to take in and out of the jar, and the yogurt was fun to spoon through.

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Finally, I made her a chart with a smiley face for the scents she had liked and a sad frown for ones she did not. Older toddlers will get a kick out of this part of the lesson, and may want to add to it on occasion.

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Have fun continuing this kind of play no matter what room of the house you’re in, whether the bathroom or even outside.

Erupting Chocolate Ooblek

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Today I made Veronika a new version of ooblek. Wanting to make this one stand out from the crowd, not only did this version feature chocolate, but it could explode! And yes this activity is toddler safe.

As a reminder ooblek is about 2 parts cornstarch to 1 part water. From there, there are so many ways to fancy it up. Unfortunately I messed up the texture of our ooblek from the get-go because I thought I had a full box of cornstarch in the pantry. It turned out I only had less than 1 cup left, and I’d already poured in over 1 cup of water to a plastic tub. So our mixture was on the watery side, not true ooblek.

But that’s okay, because there was more for Veronika to play with here! First, we sprinkled on cocoa powder in addition to the cornstarch. This was purely for the heavenly smell. Yum!

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We also added 2 tablespoons baking soda because we wanted our ooblek to erupt. (Note: Be careful, because the baking soda will offset the now-solid-now-liquid property of ooblek, as it will dissolve in the water).

To make the explosions, add white vinegar to squeeze bottles and squirt in a bit at a time. This is great for exercising those little fingers.

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Veronika almost couldn’t believe it when the first bubbles appeared. I had to help out with lots of the squeezing, but she was transfixed watching the eruptions every time the vinegar hit the baking soda.

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The resulting bubbles are really neat ones, too, almost like honeycomb, but with a quasi-solid texture. They won’t pop until you pop them!

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This made for lots of fun poking and prodding. Veronika was a little hesitant to get her hands messy, but adding a spoon helped her get in there.

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There also was also an added auditory component to the fun, thanks to the hissing sound whenever baking soda mixed with the vinegar.

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In sum, this project made for one happy girl!

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Rainbow Jello Sensory Play

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I originally intended this as a sensory project for Veronika, but it turned out that my kindergartner loved it just as much; it was a nice reminder that even though he’s into battling Star Wars Lego figures, he’s still a little boy at heart.

First you’ll need to make jel dessert in all colors of the rainbow. Regular jell-o is available in every color, but not the vegan brands. I can find vegan jel dessert in red, orange, and yellow, but for the other colors, I use clear jel dessert and add food coloring.

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Prepare all the colors, then set in the fridge until firm. (Note: the green never did firm up, which may have been because I used too much food coloring and made it too watery. As a result, our sensory play had a variety of textures).

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Spoon the jel desserts onto a tray in rainbow order. It won’t stay this way for long…

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I placed the tray over a few towels and stripped Veronika down to a diaper – no worry about sticky clothes here – then let her loose with spoons and spatulas. She immediately got started!

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As mentioned, big brother Travis wanted an equal share of this project. He couldn’t wait for a jello snack.

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And just to play!

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Soon the kids were scooping and stirring and mushing. They layered rainbow “cakes” and stirred up rainbow “soup”. “Soup!” Veronika proudly repeated back when Travis used the word.  There were lots of fun vocab words to use, like soupy and lumpy and blobby and wobbly.

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Plus: “Yummy!” she said, whenever she got a little taste. A perfect way to fill over 30 minutes of play.

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Glowing Creepy Crawly Sensory Bag

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I used a black light and glow-in-the-dark spiders for this novel sensory bag. I thought Veronika would be very into the glowing bugs, but it turns out the black light was too interesting and distracting! I had read online that tonic water glows under black light. It was hard to tell if this was actually true, but the project was still fun!

To set up, combine 1 bottle of hair gel (use clear or yellow) and about 1/4 cup tonic water in a large zip-top bag.

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Seal and mix, then open the bag back up to add your “creepy” stuff. I had glow-in-the-dark spiders, as well as a few googly eyes from the craft bin.

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Seal the bag, then place on the ground and turn out the lights. Turn on your black light and watch it glow!

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When the black light was on, the hair gel mixture was most evident. If we turned it off, the glow of the spiders became more apparent.

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Veronika loved poking at the eyes and bugs with a finger, and generally just squishing her hands all over it.

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But as mentioned, the black light was very distracting, so I’m going to think of ways to make a glowing sensory bag that doesn’t involve the light. Stay tuned!

Glitter Water Blob Sensory Bags

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Veronika has been having so much fun with sensory bags lately. What’s better than a rainbow array of bags to play with? Rainbow bags with glitter and bubbles inside!

To make these glittery bags, fill sandwich-sized zip-top bags about one-third of the way with water. Now add food coloring and glitter.

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They will look best if the glitter and food color are in the same family; so for example I used a purplish glitter in the red bag, gold in the yellow bag, and silver for the blue and green.

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Seal the bags (tightly!) and place where your toddler can come discover them.

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Veronika first just loved squishing her hands on them and watching all that glitter and water move about.  She seemed especially intrigued by the red one.

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Then we stood them upright so she could lift the bags and grip in two hands, which was good glittery fun. We talked about how sparkly they were!

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If you lay one bag over the other, as with blue and yellow, you get a color-mixing effect, too, although this was a bit lost on her.

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The most fun was when we shook the bags and produced bubbles inside – sometimes huge! – which she then chased around with a finger.

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These easily kept her busy for about a half hour, a big hit.

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