Swimming Letters Sensory Bag

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Here’s a fun way for toddlers to practice tracing as they starting out in letter recognition. Bonus points: the activity doubles as a sensory bag!

To set up, fill a large zip-top plastic bag with liquid. I made two versions of this, although neither was quite right. The first one had corn syrup and a little blue glitter, but this was a touch too thick. The second one I filled water with a little blue glitter glue, but this was too… watery. I think hair gel would be the perfect in-between solution, and I’ll aim for that next time! Regardless, once you’ve added your liquid and glitter, you’ll need to add the best part: drop in a plastic fish toy.

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Seal the bag tightly and secure with duct tape. Next, write letters of the alphabet on pieces of construction paper, ideally with a blue background, although I only had purple. Once I had colored the letters in with green marker, they sort of looked like waving seaweed!

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If you want to, you could go through all 26 letters for your child. Today, I focused on two letters: V for Veronika and T for big brother Travis. Place the fish sensory bag over one letter at a time and show your toddler how to “swim” the fish along the lines to trace it.

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It’s hard to tell if Veronika really picked up on the learning, or whether she just loved the activity because she was enamored with the fish. She loved making it swim so wasn’t necessarily following the lines, but she could tell me whether she was looking at a V or T.

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Overall, I loved the idea behind this activity and may return to it when she’s a little older!

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Glowing Lava Lamp Sensory Bags

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We’ve played with plenty of sensory bags in daylight, but this one is meant for after dark!

To set up, I poured a generous amount of baby oil into a large zip-top bag. Since we wanted to make two bags and I was out of baby oil, cooking oil worked in a pinch for the second bag. Squirt some glow-in-the-dark paint into each bag. Ideally I would have used watercolor paints, but even glow-in-the-dark fabric paint worked for this. Veronika absolutely loved the bright neon colors, even as we set this up during the day.

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But the real fun came once the sun went down. You can simply look at the bags in the dark, but for added effect, I recommend switching on a black light. The kids were immediately squealing with delight at how the colors looked, so bright and glowing.

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Encourage your kids to squish, squash, and watch how the bubbles of color move through the oil (a little bit like a lava lamp). If you have more than one color in each bag, as we did with a pink-and-blue version, see if the colors can mix together.

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For sensory bag gets high marks for novelty.

Sticky Sheep

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In like a lion, out like a lamb, or so the saying goes, and this adage of March has certainly been true this year. Needless to say we’re looking forward to the docile lamb weather to come. While we wait, Veronika and I decided to make our own woolly lamb inside! This activity combines farm animal play with tactile play in a very cute way. First, I printed out the face and leg templates for a sheep found at No Time for Flash Cards.

Next, I cut out almost a cloud shape from a large piece of contact paper, then attached this to the wall with clear tape and peeled off the backing. If you have white paper that is large enough, you could place the contact paper on the white paper such that you’re left with a white rim.

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Attach the head and legs, and your sheep is ready. I brought Veronika over and immediately she said “baa baa” to the sheep. I invited her to touch the contact paper, so she would realize it was sticky.

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Now, I told her that the sheep was cold and we needed to help him find his wool! I set out a tray of cotton balls, and she immediately got to work. She was so proud that she could help the sheep: “We’re making him so woolly!” she exclaimed.

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Once or twice she tried to stick a cotton ball on the wall where there was no contact paper and was so surprised when the cotton fell to the floor. This was a very teachable moment, and she realized she needed to stay within the lines of the contact paper.

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She proved remarkably adept at finding even tiny holes that needed to be filled with cotton until we had one very woolly sheep. “It’s like stickers!” she said with delight at the way that the cotton balls stayed on.

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When your toddler is done, you’ll have an adorable (and tactile!) piece of artwork on the wall. We plan to keep this up until March goes out like a lamb.

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Squishy Button Sorting Bag

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This cute twist on a regular squishy sensory bag adds the concept of sorting into the mix! Squishing buttons through the hair gel inside will be an absolute delight for toddlers and preschoolers alike.

To set up, I drew two circles on a large zip-top plastic bag with sharpies, using colors that corresponded to buttons in our craft bin. Next, squirt in a generous amount of hair gel, then add buttons in at least two colors. (Note: You can make this harder for preschoolers with additional colors). Seal tightly, adding duct tape to the seal if you worry your child might want to open the bag.

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First I just let Veronika experiment with how the bag felt. She loved squishing the buttons through the gooey insides of the bag…

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…or pressing her hands down firmly on top of it.

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Once she’d had time to explore, I showed her that she could nudge the buttons deliberately, each one toward the correctly colored circle. She picked up on the idea right away, although occasionally I had to help her with the fine motor skills needed to scoot a button in the right direction.

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To mix up the activity, I then showed her how the bag looked with the buttons completely sorted. Then it was up to her to scatter them! In sum, this was a nice variation on an idea that never gets old.

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Shaving Cream Bonanza

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Today, Veronika went bananas with a shaving cream bonanza! Much like finger painting in the tub, this activity is perfect because you’re exactly where you need to be to rinse off at the end. In fact, your tub may be cleaner than when the game began, thanks to the soapy shaving cream.

I dressed Veronika in her bathing suit and placed her in a dry tub, then simply squirted out shaving cream: lots! I probably used about three-quarters of a container, but this was so fun that I might use a full bottle or two next time.

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First, Veronika had fun with her tub toys in the oceans of foam. Plastic boats looked like they were in an icy sea!

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She also liked adding bath toys like a penguin and dolphin, which could romp through the soapy waves.

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Your kids might want to play with the shaving cream on the floor of the tub or to smear it on the walls. For the latter, you could even take the opportunity to draw shapes or letters, but honestly we skipped that part today.

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Instead, I placed a basin of warm water next to Veronika and she loved scooping water up in cups and pouring it over the toys. This was neat because it made some of the shaving cream dissolve each time. She then decided it was more fun to scoop up shaving cream in her hand, rinse in the basin, and repeat. She got into such a groove solo with this activity for a while, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

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As she was finishing up play, we turned it into clean-up, simply rinsing each toy and watching the shaving cream go in runnels down the drain. A quick rinse for her hands and feet and clean-up was done!

Valentine’s Day Soapy Sensory Foam

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Soapy sensory foam is an idea we first found at Hands on As We Grow when Travis was a toddler, and it’s one of those easy activities you can return to over and over. You can switch it up for just about any holiday simply by adding that season’s colors with food coloring. To wit, today Veronika and I turned the foam pink!

I added about 2 tablespoons of water and a squirt of dish soap to a blender, along with a few drops of red food coloring. Run the blender for just a moment and you’ll get a thick foam that’s ready for play!

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I spooned the mixture onto a tray for Veronika and set out kitchen utensils such as a whisk, spoon, and a few measuring cups. Let the soapy, foamy bakery begin!

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Veronika told me that she was adding cups of “flour” very seriously as she scooped the foam into a loaf pan.

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She also loved using one measuring cup to fill another.

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The whisk was great for stirring it around!

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This activity kept her busy for quite a while. And while it looks like messy play, don’t forget that you literally just have soap in all those containers. It rinses off in a moment and everything is sparkly clean.

Rainbow Sensory Bags

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Mixing paint is such a great way to teach kids about the difference between primary and secondary colors (namely, that you achieve one of the latter by mixing two of the former), and I’m always looking for ways to make the lesson hands on. These hair gel bags make it easy to mix the colors together in a fun and squishy way!

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To start, squirt a little clear hair gel into each of three sandwich-sized zip-top bags. Add the primary colors on either side of the gel, so you have one bag that contains red + yellow, a second that contains yellow+ blue, and a third that contains blue + red.

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Seal tightly and add a strip of duct tape at the top of each for security. Now invite your toddler to squish and mush!

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Veronika was particularly pleased when the red and blue combined to make her favorite color (purple).

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We simply made this about the squishy sensory play today, but see my previous post on primary color storytime for reading suggestions that can go along with it.

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If you have enough paint, you might consider making one bag that contains just red paint + hair gel, one with yellow paint + hair gel, and one with blue paint + hair gel, in which case you’ll wind up with the full rainbow lineup at the end.

Snow Squishy Bag

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I’ve put together complicated sensory and squishy bags for Veronika before, but sometimes nature supplies you with all the materials you need! To wit, we had fresh puffy snow on the ground outside when we woke up this morning, so I simply dashed out, filled a bag with snow, and then sealed it shut. Instant sensory bag!

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Of course the first thing your toddler will discover with this particular bag is the temperature. “Brr, that’s cold!” Veronika said with surprise.

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And then she promptly placed her hands down again.

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You can squish the snow around in fun ways inside the plastic. Then Veronika requested purple snow. I hadn’t even thought to add color, but why not! We squirted in red and blue food coloring and then tested whether we could mash the snow around enough for the two colors to blend.

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And then of course the other fantastic thing about snow is that your toddler gets a quick STEM lesson on states of matter. It wasn’t long before the fluffy snow started to change…

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…into purple water, instead! This sensory bag is by its very nature (heh), short lived, but lots of fun.

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Easy Winter Sensory Bin

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If you need to occupy a toddler on a cold winter day, simply throw a few items that seem “wintry” onto a tray and call it a winter sensory bin!

Yes, this really was as simple as that, just some odds and ends to keep Veronika busy for a short while. I raided the craft bin for items that fit the theme and ended up using: packing peanuts for their snowy white color and puffy texture; sparkly silver and gold ribbon; white and blue pom poms that were like mini snowballs; and some sparkly silver and blue chenille stems that seemed like icicles.

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The mix of textures, sizes, and shapes turned out great! Veronika could pretend she was sifting through snow with the packing peanuts and pom poms.

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For a little fine motor work added in, I also set a couple of spring-type clothespins on the tray and encouraged her to pinch some of the items.

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She proudly lifted a pom pom! The crinkly ribbon, meanwhile, made a wonderful sound and was great fun to lift up and then let “snow” down.

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Her bin was a mess by the end, the sure sign that she’d had some tactile wintry fun.

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Primary Colors Squishy Bag and Storytime

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This activity is 50% storytime and 50% art activity, and 100% fun for your toddler.

I set up the color squishy bags first so they would be ready to go. Squirt one primary color into the bottom left corner of a small zip-top plastic bag, and then a second primary color in the top right corner. Seal tightly and tape down to the floor with duct tape. Repeat so that each primary color is paired once with the other two.

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Now I was ready to invite Veronika over for this hands-on storytime! There are so many wonderful color books you can read, but we love Press Here and Mouse Paint, both of which are particularly good for talking about primary colors.

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As we read through Mouse Paint, we copied the mice! As the red one danced in the yellow paint, we squished that bag together and got orange! The middle mouse mixed yellow and blue to make green, and we followed along with our squishy bag.

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And finally the third mouse mixed red into blue, and Veronika did the same. She loved that the storytime was so interactive, not to mention simply loved the squishy feel of the paint bags!

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There were lots of ways for her to continue the play solo, whether continuing to have fun with the sensory bags or leafing through the pages of the books.

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What’s your toddler’s favorite book about primary colors? Please share in the comments!

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