Ball Pit Fun!

Lately, Stella has been really interested in throwing, catching, and rolling balls.  She throws them all around the playroom and walks or crawls after them, often giggling.  I was thinking of ways to expand on her interest and I remembered seeing a baby pool ball pit over at Play at Home Mom a long while ago.  I jumped on Amazon Prime and ordered a small inflatable baby pool and a set of 100 ball pit balls! I set it up in the playroom last night and Stella discovered it this morning.  She was thrilled, to say the least.  It’s pretty much the only thing we played with all morning.

She would wave her hands through the balls and say, “Splash!” as if she remembers splashing in a pool like this last summer! (I wouldn’t put it past her — this girl amazes me with her memory every single day!)

She would wave her hands through the balls and say, "Splash!" as if she remembers splashing in the pool last summer!

She laid down and told me she was going “night night” in the ball pit. LOL 🙂

She said she wanted to go "night night" in the ball pit. LOL :-)

I plan to add items like ramps and tubes to the ball area in the playroom soon (or on a larger scale outside) to expand on her interest even more, so stay tuned! 🙂

Homemade “Moon Sand”

Today, we explored homemade moon sand in the sensory table!  Stella really liked it, but not as much as the three-year old I watched today.  He was absorbed in this stuff for a very long time and kept coming back to it, adding more materials (vehicles, geometric shapes, play kitchen utensils, cups and bowls…), and exploring it in different ways. I found the idea over at The Imagination Tree and we’ll definitely be making it again! The recipe called for 5 cups of flour and 1 cup of baby oil and I ended up doubling it to fill our large tub.  I was skeptical because of the flour (how could flour be like sand?!), but this stuff was awesome!  We added glitter to the mixture later in the day and that added another level of fun.

Not a great picture, but it at least gives you an idea of what it looks like:

Homemade "Moon Sand"

Sensory Play: “Doesn’t she put that in her mouth?”

I post a lot of pictures to my Facebook page of Stella engaging in sensory play.  I try to offer some form of sensory play every day (it doesn’t always happen though) and I enjoy sharing what we do to give other parents ideas.  In almost every picture’s comment section, you’ll find someone asking a variation of, “Doesn’t she put that in her mouth?” or “How do you keep her from eating that?”  It’s a common question and a valid concern, so I decided to go ahead and blog about it.

Soapy, sudsy water and a whisk (7 months).

Soapy water and a whisk (7.5 months).

To answer the question, yes, Stella puts things in her mouth.  In fact, she puts almost anything into her mouth that she can get her little hands on!  Mouthing is a typical (and good!) baby behavior because it is one of the important ways they learn about their world.  Putting objects in her mouth helps a baby discover obvious things, like taste and texture, but also not-so-obvious things, like size and shape.

Because mouthing is an important part of babyhood, and because I believe it’s important to avoid constantly telling a baby, “no,” I don’t offer a lot of things to Stella that I’m not comfortable with her putting in her mouth.  That being said, my comfort level may be different than yours…and that’s okay!  I’m comfortable with her putting most of our sensory items into her mouth.  Some of these things include:

-Play dough (I make ours, so I know exactly what’s in it)

Dry rice

-Salt (to a certain point, anyway)

-Flour

-Paper/cardboard (until it becomes soggy and could break off in her mouth)

I haven’t always been comfortable with babies putting things in their mouths.  Even after learning about the importance of letting babies explore with their mouths, it took at least a year of working with babies every day at an early learning center for me to actually feel comfortable with it.

How did I become okay with it?

I had to be mindful of my feelings and question whether I was redirecting a child from putting something in their mouth because it was actually a safety issue or simply because I didn’t want them to (for any number of arbitrary, often unnecessary reasons).  I did this by pausing before I said, “That’s just for your hands,” and asking myself, “Why not?”  (Asking yourself, “Why not?” before reacting to something your child is doing can be a powerful tool in lots of areas, but more on that in another post.) If I couldn’t think of a really good and legitimate answer to “Why not?” then I didn’t redirect.  Instead, I just went with it.  “I bet that play dough tastes really salty.”  “How does that flour feel in your mouth?” “That rice is probably kind of hard, huh?”

Playing with dyed rice and stacking rings (7.5 months)

Playing with dyed rice and stacking rings (7 months)

Just because I allow Stella to explore things with her mouth, doesn’t mean I would let her eat a handful of salt, rice, play dough, etc.  I’ve offered sensory experiences since she was a tiny infant — I think we were playing with rice by the time she was three months old (I didn’t let her put sensory items in her mouth until after she started solid food at six months though), so she has had a lot of exposure to it.  Often, she will put something in her mouth a few times and then she’s satisfied (because I let her actually have the experience) and will just use her hands.

Rice play at 4.5 months. Feet don't have to be excluded from sensory play!

Rice play at 4.5 months. Feet don’t have to be excluded from sensory play!

Even though I feel comfortable with Stella exploring a lot of things with her mouth, there are obviously some things I can’t allow for safety reasons (mostly choking hazards) — water beads, dry beans, rocks, etc.  In cases like these, I just do lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of modeling and redirecting when necessary — “These are just for your hands.”  “Keep them out of your mouth.”  “Look how we can…(squeeze these water beads, drop these rocks, scoop these beans, etc.).”  It takes a lot of patience.  I also don’t offer these types of sensory experiences unless I am going to be right beside her the entire time to help her keep them out of her mouth.  Not cleaning up the kitchen with her on the floor nearby.  Not visiting with a friend.   Not checking Facebook.  RIGHT BESIDE HER and actively engaged, making sure it’s not going in her mouth.

Stella exploring water beads.

Stella exploring water beads.

If you want to offer sensory experiences and want to allow your child to mouth things, but aren’t entirely comfortable with it yet, you could start out by acknowledging what they’re doing — “You’re putting the play dough in your mouth.  I bet that tastes salty.” — and then try to gently redirect — “I’m going to roll my play dough into a ball.  Oh, that’s neat!  Now I’m going to squish it!  Do you want to try!?”  This way, you’re not denying them their experience or telling them, “no,” but you’re also attempting to get them engaged in a way you’re more comfortable with.

It can take a lot of exposures to sensory play before a baby or toddler will avoid putting the objects in their mouth and actually use her hands to play with it instead, but it’s so worth it!  Remember, they can’t learn if they don’t ever have the opportunity!

So, is your jaw still dropped from reading that I let my 8-month old put play dough in her mouth?  It’s okay; I’m used to people thinking I’m a little crazy when it comes to babies 🙂 A few years ago, I would have thought the same thing!  Just give it a try — it may surprise you how quickly your baby can learn!

Sound Boxes — a do-it-yourself toy for baby!

I saw this cute little idea over at Carrots Are Orange and just had to get in on the fun!  I bought some small boxes at Hobby Lobby for $0.99 each and filled them each with various things I already had around the house and then used my hot glue gun to seal them.  I used pasta shells, rice, pennies, cornmeal (I wanted one with a “soft” sound), and peppercorn, but you could use anything.

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I still need to drool-proof them with some clear packing tape, but I would like to paint them each a different color or mod-podge some pictures of family members on them before I do that.

Sound boxes are a great sensory toy because your child can explore the different sounds that each box makes….bonus points if you talk to them about the different sounds, too!  Sound boxes also teach cause and effect — baby learns, “when I shake this, it makes noise!”

This was probably the easiest “DIY” project I’ve ever done.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Supporting Development Through Rice Play

One of Stella’s favorite things to do lately is play with rice.  In fact, it has even solicited giggles the past couple of times we’ve done it!  In case you’re new to sensory play, I thought I would give you an idea of what this experience typically looks like with my four month old.

I don’t have a sensory table yet (though the hubs is working on building it!), but she would be too small to reach it right now anyway.  For now, I’ve been just keeping the rice in the tub that I store it in while we play with it. I usually set up the experience while she’s napping.  All it involves is spreading a blanket on the floor to catch the runaways and setting the tub of colored* rice on it. Pretty easy.  Sometimes, I place a mirror nearby which just adds another level to the play by letting her see what she’s doing as she explores.

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A few minutes spent playing with dry rice in a plastic tub covers all of the following aspects of development:

-Language and Communication – narrating the experience during play supports baby’s language development; responding to baby’s noises and facial expressions helps baby learn how to communicate her needs

-Social and Emotional – watching for and responding appropriately to the baby’s cues lets baby know she’s important and facilitates a trusting relationship with the caregiver

-Cognitive – babies use their senses to explore the world around them – this particular sensory experience provided stimulation by way of touch, sight, and sound

-Physical – kicking her feet in the rice and grasping it with her hands works on motor skills

When she’s ready to play, I sit down on the floor with her, show and talk to her about the tub of rice, and then help her touch and play with it.  These are the things I would typically say as I help her explore the rice (and, yes, I sometimes feel a little silly, but all of the conversation/explanations are important in facilitating her development):

– “Do you see the red rice in the tub?  Would you like to play with it?”

– “Let’s take the lid off so we can touch it.”

– “Oh! It feels kind of cold and grainy!”

– “Would you like to touch the rice? Do you like the way it feels in your hands?”

– “Would you like to see how feels on your feet?  I’m dropping it onto your toes! Oh, that made you smile!  You must like the rice on your feet!”

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– “I wonder what it sounds like when we drop it.  Oh, it kind of sounds like rain, doesn’t it?  That’s neat!”

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– “I see that you’re starting to get upset.  Are you all done playing with the rice?  Okay, we can do something different.”

At this age, I obviously facilitate the play and guide her through her it, actually doing most of the things myself and for her.  As she gets older it will be easier to follow her lead during play. It’s still important right now, though, to read her cues and try to follow them.  For example, if she seems to like feeling the rice on her feet, I keep doing it (and talking about what I’m doing) until she seems disinterested.  If I do something that she seems to dislike, I acknowledge what she’s doing that tells me she doesn’t like it (i.e. “You’re making a mad face, so you must not like that.”), stop what I’m doing, and try something different.  Aside from helping her figure out how to communicate effectively, following her cues also lets her know that I respect her, that she’s valuable, and that she can trust me.

By narrating everything I’m doing, I’m aiding Stella’s language and vocabulary development by letting her hear all kinds of different sounds, figure out that there is meaning attached to words, learn how words are strung together to make a sentence, etc.  When I talk about how she is feeling or what she is doing, I’m again letting her know that she is important while also giving her the correct vocabulary so that she can eventually describe her actions and emotions herself.  This will be important, because children who are able to accurately describe what they are feeling with words are less likely to act out on their emotions by displaying challenging behavior.

Bottom line: Sensory play is awesome.  If you don’t give it a try for the developmental reasons, then at least consider doing it for the giggles 🙂

 

 

*To make colored rice, I use 3-4 tablespoons rubbing alcohol mixed with several drops of food coloring, stir it into dry rice until it is coated evenly, and then spread it out to dry.

Sensory Play…It Makes Sense (repost)

*This is a post I wrote for my old blog that I’m re-posting.

 Picture this: Ten kids under the age of six in bare feet and underwear, skating on shaving cream on the kitchen floor, falling down, getting back up, laughing and squealing! This was the scene I encountered upon entering my father-in-law’s house not too long after my husband and I met.  At that moment, all I thought was, “Ah, yes…this is totally the right family for me!”

By engaging in play that utilizes their senses, children (at any age) are using scientific inquiry.  To an infant or toddler, everything is new, so lots of questions develop which leads to exploration.  The child explores objects and materials using his senses, gathers information about them, and attempts to answer his own questions. 

Not only does sensory play create connections in your child’s developing brain, but it also serves as a calming mechanism and can help children release emotions that they may not yet be skilled enough to sort out verbally.  For example, the process of scooping and pouring a substance can feel very calming and relaxing (water, rice, sand); squeezing and pounding a material can help release anger and frustration (playdough, clay).

Consider this:

You hit the power button on your TV – it won’t turn on.  “Hmmm,” you think, “that’s strange.”  If you’re like me, you probably continue to hit the power button, harder each time, hoping it will eventually work.  It still won’t work so you follow the power cord and realize it is not plugged in. Duh.

When a toddler displays challenging behavior (biting, hitting, screaming…), I typically first ask myself if they have had enough access to sensory play (by first, I really mean after I stupidly keep trying whatever I am trying in the first place that isn’t working).  Often times, I find a connection between a lack of access to sensory play and the challenging behavior.  In this way, I liken sensory play for a young child to a power cord for a TV — just like the TV cannot properly function without the power cord plugged in, a young child cannot properly function without opportunities to engage his senses.  If your toddler is driving you over the edge with challenging behavior, consider implementing some sensory play into her day and see if you notice any differences.

That day in the kitchen, my nieces and nephews weren’t just participating in what will become an awesome childhood memory for them, but they were also creating valuable connections between pathways in their developing brains.  The feeling of soft, foamy shaving cream between their toes; their feet sliding around on the smooth, slippery floor; the fresh, musky scent; the sounds of laughter around them — the kids were engaged in a meaningful activity full of lots of sensory input — two things that are very conducive to appropriate brain development.  AND…the kitchen floor got a good “mopping” in the process!  See?  Good for everyone!

So go ahead…engage those senses and have some fun!  Your kitchen floor needs cleaned anyway, right?

few of my favorite sensory activities (it was hard to narrow my list down to a few!):

 Cornstarch + Water (touch) — this is just pure awesomeness…is it a solid or a liquid?! Try it.  You’ll love it, too.

— Texture Collage (touch):  gather materials of various textures (cotton balls, sandpaper, ribbon, beans, etc.) and let your child glue them to a piece of cardboard.

— Coffee Sand (touch and smell): mix coffee and sand together = fun texture and yummy coffee smell.

— Flubber (touch): Click here for recipe.

— Colored Rice (sight, sound, and touch): Mix a few drops of food coloring with a teaspoon or two of rubbing alcohol and add it to uncooked rice.  Let it dry and then get to playing!

— Plain Water (sight, touch, sound): add measuring cups for scooping and dumping, wash clothes and dishes for “washing,” water wheels, sponges…the possibilities are endless!

Links to other great sites with wonderful sensory ideas:

Lekotek: Sensory play ideas from Lekotek, complete with recipes. 

Mommy Poppins: This site has 99 great ideas for sensory activities. 

What’s your favorite sensory activity?