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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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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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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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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Indian Corn Squish Bag and Painting

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Indian corn makes a beautiful decoration this time of year. And not only does it look great on a harvest table or doorway, but it makes for fantastic sensory play, too!

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Today, I set out three ears of this multicolored corn on a tray for Veronika and first just invited her over. She wanted to smell it, one of the first ways she likes to approach a new item.

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We discovered that if we cracked an ear in half, we could then pick off the hard kernels. This left behind smooth divots underneath. She loved running her finger over the cob, feeling the contrast between these soft and hard parts.

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Next, we turned the corn kernels into part of a sensory bag. I didn’t have any hair gel on hand to fill a small zip-top bag, but corn syrup worked in a pinch. I added a little seasonally-appropriate yellow food coloring, and then some of the corn kernels we’d pulled from the cob.

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Seal tightly and pass over to your child. “It’s a squishy bag!” Veronika said with delight, now familiar with the concept. And this one was great for squishing. She could squeeze it between two fists…

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…or chase around little kernels of corn with a finger.

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With a few corn cobs still on the tray, we decided that they would be fun to paint with. I pulled out brown, red, and green, and poured a little of each color onto a plate.

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Show your toddler how to roll a cob in one of the colors and then across a piece of sturdy paper. I placed the paper in a craft tray to contain (most of) the mess.

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Note: If you do this project with red, green, and black paint in December, it would also make a lovely Kwanzaa craft given corn’s symbolism during the holiday.

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As a finishing touch, we decided to add dots of glue over the dried corncob painting and pressed on a few of the final loose kernels of corn.

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What fun play we had simply by exploring a piece of seasonal decor!

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Fall Hair Gel Sun Catchers

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I wanted to make a couple of orange sensory bags for Veronika this morning, with Halloween and autumn in full swing, only to realize I didn’t have any orange food coloring! I didn’t have yellow, either, which meant I couldn’t even mix red and yellow to make orange.

On a whim I decided to see if I could dye things the old-fashioned way (spices!) and there was orange turmeric in the spice rack. The result wasn’t perfect, but adding the spice turned out to be half the fun.

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I squirted a generous amount of clear hair gel into each of two small zip-top bags to start. In the first, I added about a teaspoon of turmeric and mushed around until it was orange. Veronika loved the smell of the turmeric, and wanted to help measure out the spoonful!

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Then I added orange leaves we’d brought home from the playground yesterday. The turmeric did make the bag slightly cloudy and hard to see the leaves, but it worked fine if in direct sunlight.

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For the second version, I drew jack o’ lantern features directly on the plastic bag with a black sharpie. Again I added 1 teaspoon turmeric, along with 1 drop of red food coloring. This made a great orange!

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Because the black features were on the outside, the graininess of the spice didn’t matter this time. Veronika loved playing with this squishy bag where I taped it against the window.

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These turned out to be so fun, and spot-on for the season, too.

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Fall Squishy Bag

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This quick sensory bag was very similar to a recent sensory bottle I made for Veronika, except this time it was in squishy form!

To start, fill a large zip-top bag with clear hair gel. I added yellow food coloring for the perfect autumnal hue.

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Next I added leaves and acorns. You have two choices here: opt for silk leaves and plastic acorns if you have them from the store. And if not, simply use the real thing! We sure have lots of acorns and leaves from recent nature walks, so we went with the real deal.

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Veronika really seemed to enjoy the contrast between soft leaves, squishy gel, and hard bumpy acorns.

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She picked it up to see if it made shaky noises, but then realized this one was better suited to squishing around with her fingers.

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She also tested out standing on it!

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The bag was gorgeous sparkling in the light when the sun hit it mid-afternoon. In sum, a easy sensory bag, just right for autumn.

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Beach-Themed Sensory Bag

Beach-Themed Bag (6)Here’s the perfect way to bring a bit of the beach home for your toddler after a day at the real thing. It’s a great way to extend the sensory play while remembering a day of fun in the sun!

While you’re at the beach, make sure to tuck aside shells or other little treasures.

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Once home, I filled a gallon-sized zip-top bag with hair gel. Either leave the gel clear, or add a few drops of yellow food coloring, if desired. Then add your beachy treasures!

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We had some beautiful finds, including a mussel shell, a razor clam, snail shells, and one that was nearly translucent gold. Veronika loved the contrast between the shells and the gel. “Bumpy!” she said first, followed by “squishy”!”

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It was fun to watch her move the shells around within the bag. Next time, I might bring home a little bit of the beach itself and add sand, too!

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Perfect beach house fun.

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Nature Sensory Bags and Suncatchers

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I hadn’t made Veronika a sensory bag in a while, and she seemed due for some squishy fun.

Normally for a nature-themed activity like this, the first step would be a nature walk! But we needed to stay close to home this morning so ended up just walking around the neighborhood. The kids still found plenty of treasures!

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“I found a baby pinecone,” Veronika told me proudly, as she added leaves and pinecones and other finds to the bag. I also made sure to add a few pretty flowers, knowing I’d want them for the suncatcher.

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When we got home, I filled both a gallon-sized zip-top bag and a snack-sized zip-top bag with clear gel. (Either hair gel or aloe vera gel work well; use whichever you can find that is largest and cheapest!).

For the small bag, I added only the flower petals, spaced nicely apart. I then taped this to the window. An instant suncatcher!

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Veronika poked at it curiously, but I think the sun hurt her eyes because she didn’t linger as she has with previous sunlit projects.

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Then I added everything else into the goo of the larger zip-top bag. This version, a more classic sensory bag, received way more of Veronika’s attention. Through the gel, she could feel all the various textures.

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Prickly pine needles, hard pinecones, soft flowers. She needed to show it to her doll, of course!

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She loved picking it up and squishing it, especially around the firm pinecones.

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I love to leave bags like this out where a toddler can return to them over the course of a day or two, interacting with it slightly differently each time.

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For security, use hot glue along the zipper when you seal the bag shut, and you won’t have to worry about any unexpected messes disturbing the fun!

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