Think Outside the Box

Squishy, sensory fun!  Whether it be a rainy day activity, or a sculpting competition between friends, play dough is always fun!  It’s even more special when you put your own spin on it.  Play Dough recipes range from the basic salt dough, to amazing smelling – even scrumptious tasting – concoctions for little hands to mold and smash and squeeze and just have a ball with.

I’ll start you off easy.   A basic salt dough.  You’ll need:

  • 2 cups plain flour (all purpose)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • Up to 1.5 cups boiling water (adding in increments until it feels just right)
  • food coloring (optional)
  • few drops glycerine (optional- adds more shine!)

Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a large mixing bowl.  Add food coloring to the boiling water, then into the dry ingredients.  Stir continuously until it becomes a sticky, combined dough. Add the glycerine (optional).  Allow it to cool down then take it out of the bowl and knead it vigorously for a couple of minutes until all of the stickiness has gone.  (If it remains a little sticky then add a touch more flour until just right.)

That’s just a start.  There are endless possibilities.  Add glitter and make it fairy dough.  Add some extract and make your sensory activity smell amazing!  Hide objects in the dough and make yourself some “discovery dough.”  Throw in some trucks and construction vehicles and make a construction site.  Plastic dinosaurs make a great fossil dig!  Grab some grass, pinecones, rocks, and other outdoor materials and make your own forest or meadow.

If you’re not “play doughed” out by the fun you’ve had with your child after all that, we’ve got a great secret recipe you’re both sure to love.  Just follow the directions below to make some CHOCOLATE play dough!

  • 1/2 cup margarine (butter works too.)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • mixture of 3 tablespoons water and 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder  (Make sure the only ingredient on the container is cocoa.)

Mix both kinds of sugar in with the room temperature margarine.  In a separate bowl, mix together 3 tablespoons of water and two teaspoons of baking soda.  Add this mixture to the sugar mixture.  Mix in the remaining ingredients.  If the dough seems too sticky, add a little extra flour.  Once the dough has been mixed thoroughly, you can spoon some out for the kids to play with.  Grab some cookie cutters and a rolling pin and make your own bakery!

We know you’re sure to have fun with any one or all of these fun ideas – but we’re always eager to hear what YOU came up with!  Please let us hear your ideas!

Think Outside the Box

Textures.  Sticky, soft, bumpy, smooth – so many textures to explore.  Sensory play is important in the early years.  Sensory activities improve motor skills and raise awareness of how the world works.  Different stages of growth provide unique opportunities to help our children experience sensory play, and in turn, mature and grow.  Learning through play is the whole premise to thinking outside the box!

Babies may be limited in mobility, but the not their ability to interact with the world and those around them.  Tearing and feeling paper, splashing in a tub or pool, or billowing a scarf above the child’s head as they lie on a soft blanket, these are all sensory activities that you can introduce to your child.  Talk to them about what’s happening to help with language development.  Make a smock from an old shirt or apron.  Sew or Vel-cro different textured scraps of material all over the shirt.  Stuff scraps of material into the pockets and allow pieces to hang out so baby can grab it.  Wear this” feelie smock” when you’re caring for baby.  Encourage her to find, rub and play with all the new textures she finds.

Older children act a lot like scientists when they learn through their senses.  A preschooler in a sandbox full of wet sand may ask questions that describe a phenomena (“Why is the sand so wet?”), construct a hypothesis (“Maybe the water came from that water pump or a nearby hose”), make a prediction (“I’ll pull on the water pump to see if it works”), test the hypothesis (pull on the nearby water pump), and draw conclusions (“Yes, that’s how the sand got to be so wet”).  There are endless activities to keep a preschooler happily learning through play!  Make a ‘texture box.’ Glue small patches of different textures in the bottoms of egg carton compartments.  The child will have to reach in with a pointed finger to feel the texture.  Have some ‘Sticky Fun!’  Cut a large square of Contact or similar self-adhesive paper and tape it low on the wall, sticky side out.  Put a box of light-weight things to stick to it close by.  Consider natural materials such as dried leaves or weeds, feathers, fabric pieces or tissue paper.  The children will be fascinated by feeling the sticky surface.

The entire world is made up of textures – and infants, toddlers and preschoolers want to experience them all!  Be conscious of this throughout your day.  A nature walk or even ten minutes outdoors will offer many textures to experience.  Be sure to place babies on a big blanket and talk with him about all that he sees around him.  Bring things for him to touch and see from a garden or nearby bush.  Show him the leaves rustling in the trees and how they feel when they fall to the ground.  Photograph outdoor experiences with textures—the feel of soft grass, crunchy leaves, squishy mud – and make your own sensory story!

We’d love to hear your ideas!  Please let us know what YOU do to ‘Think Outside the Box!’

Think Outside the Box

April Showers bring….lots of fun!

It’s Spring, and that means rain.  And sometimes thunderstorms.  And lots of learning opportunities!  Take time during the rainy season to make some discoveries and have some good times with your child.

You can begin – even on a sunny day – by learning why it rains.  What makes the clouds, and why does the rain fall from them?  When water becomes warm enough, it evaporates as vapor into the air. When a mass of air quickly cools to its saturation point, the water vapor condenses into clusters of tiny water droplets and frozen water crystals. We call these clusters clouds. Over time, the droplets and crystals that make up a cloud can attract more water to themselves. When water droplets grow heavy enough, gravity pulls them down as raindrops  Grab a bowl with some water, some cotton balls, and use the ‘cotton ball clouds’ to soak up the water and squeeze them to make it rain.  Or make your own rain model using a bowl of warm water covered with plastic wrap.  Put an ice cube or two on top of the plastic wrap.  Watch what happens on the underside of the plastic wrap.  Another ‘make it rain’ activity that’s fun to do:  Use a clear plastic cup filled with water.  Top it with shaving cream and add drops of blue food coloring on top.  The food coloring will drip through the shaving cream clouds and ‘rain’ into the water.  Make a rain catcher with your child using the bottom of a plastic water bottle.   Mark off the inches using a permanent marker, and place it outside in the rain to measure how much rain falls.  Using a paper towel tube, rice, some duct tape and markers or crayons, you can make a rain stick to enjoy the sound of rain, even on a sunny day.  Or, during a gentle rain, simply go outdoors and (with your rain gear on, of course) do some puddle jumping and just enjoy dancing in the rain!  We hope you have fun with these ideas, and add more of your own!  As always, we look forward to hearing from you – and how you and your family ‘Think Outside the Box!’

Think Outside the Box

Spring is in the air! What a relief! Thoughts of spring bring to our minds images of new growth – flowers, baby rabbits, and GARDENS! Planting a garden with your child can be a treasure-trove of learning moments.

Let’s begin with some ideas for a garden. First, decide what kind of garden you want to plant. An indoor garden? Grab some pots, soil and seeds, and you’re set. A pallet garden is a nice way to have a small garden either on your patio or a corner of the back yard. A container garden (made with 5 gallon buckets – holes drilled in the bottom and pebbles placed inside under the soil) is a fantastic, easy to manage method! Or you can opt for the full-on garden in the backyard, with rows and rows of yummy goodness come harvest time.

Once you have decided what type of garden you’re going to plant, you need to choose your plants. Discuss with your child how each type of plant grows. Is it a vine? Will the food grow underground (carrots), or above ground (peas). How many different plants should we grow? The ideal garden will have all three. Then the fun stuff! As you add the soil to the containers and plant the seeds in the soil, you can play a counting game. And once you’re done, as you water the new garden, an extra container of soil and some water make a great sensory activity.

Caring for your container garden is a wonderful activity for you and your child to share. Watching the plants grow, estimating when they will begin to become something we can eat, and finally, harvest time all hold so many lessons for you to share with your child. We hope you will share your gardening adventures with us! Photos, stories, and things that you did to “Think Outside the Box!”

Think Outside the Box

The Winter Olympics are almost here!    We can’t think of a better way to learn about the games than to play them yourselves.  Endless family fun in Olympic form!  So much learning can be packed into this theme, it’s almost overwhelming, so choose what works for you and run with it.

Start by making your torches – use what you have on hand – paper, aluminum foil, paper towel tubes, paper plates, tempera paint, go crazy with it!  Make your medals.  You can make them simple or elaborate.  I’ve seen medals made of paper and ribbon, or even salt dough medals.   Another cool idea is to make some sugar cookies and use fruit loops to represent the Olympic  logo – edible medals!

Choose your teams.  You can use this opportunity to learn about the other countries competing in the Olympics.  Where are they?  What language do they speak?  What kind of foods do they eat?  What colors are on their flags?

Choose your competitions.  A ring toss, an ‘ice skating’ competition in your socks in the living room, and if you’re lucky enough to have snow, have a sledding race. A skateboard can be used for a snowboarding activity, and substitute hopscotch or shuffleboard for curling.  Be sure to foster good sportsmanship, and have plenty of fun.  There are so many things you can add to this.  Have fun with it.  Make it your own.  It’s always fun to “Think Outside the Box!”

Think Outside the Box

Winter is being tough on most of us this year.  Many people have more snow than they know what to do with right now!  Why not put that snow to use?  Have some fun and spend some of that ‘snowbound energy’ the kids are full of!  Learn about snow – and play with it at the same time. Read more