Non-Academic Skills to Practice During the Covid-19 Quarantine

I’ve seen a lot of parents worried about the things their children will miss during this period of suddenly homeschooling. I invite you to try a more positive mindset and consider what they don’t learn at school. These 10 options make a great jumping board on what your kids, and maybe you, could learn this week.

  1. Thread a Needle, Sew on a Button, Stitch the Basics. I love sewing activities in general, because they are great for fine-motor development, but I also know that I’m one of a select few in my friend group who can do repairs on my clothing without having to bring it to grandma.
button and needle
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2. Plan, Plant, and Perpetuate a Garden. This is another activity that I encourage for children simply due to my own route in homeschooling, but I know that if this outbreak had occurred a little bit later and my garden had been a little bit farther along with my own crops, I would have been less stressed about my food supply. Keeping plants alive, even if they aren’t garden veggies, teaches great responsibilities. Plants can also improve air and emotion. If you live in an apartment and don’t have room for a vegetable garden, consider a hanging tomato or strawberry plant near a window for a quick snack you raised yourself.

garden starter kit, plan, and seeds

3. Write and Address a Letter to a Loved One. A lot of us don’t write letters anymore, but I think we should still know how. Right now, my younger sister is still at college (supposedly the only campus in the country still holding classes, but I haven’t fact-checked that.) and the care packages I’ve send have meant the world. Right now, medical professionals would love to know how much we appreciate them, and adults in nursing homes would love to see the work of some children as they can’t have visitors, so this activity won’t go to waste.

handwritten envelope
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4. Cook an Egg (or Other Simple Meal). To be fair, there are over a hundred different ways to cook an egg. When I was working as a restaurant chef, my dad said that I could have the hat my grandmother had given him in that position, if I could learn one way to cook an egg for every pleat. I didn’t, but I do know quite a few and I think that learning to cook a scrambled egg and a hard-boiled egg would be a great place for children to start to be able to use the stove and feed themselves.

two hard-boiled eggs
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5. Fold a Blanket, a Towel, and a T-Shirt. You may have to be a bit more creative to make this one interesting to your kids, but I think it’ll be well worth it. Consider getting the whole family involved, and turning it into a race.

retail clothing exhibit
Photo by Aleksandr Neplokhov on Pexels.com

6. Memorize Their Home Phone Number and Address. This could take a long time to fully grasp, but the earlier your children can learn it the better off they will be. While we hope they are absolutely never separated from us, we want to know that they would be able to contact home (or tell a police officer how) if there was an emergency. I’ve seen some great activities for learning phone numbers, where kids jump to the appropriate number on a cardboard phone face. As an added benefit for big kids, discuss safe internet usage.

young girl on cell phone
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

7. Learn a Strategy Related Card Game. I used to go camping with my family every single summer. Old school style camping, where we could only bring what fit in our back-packs. A deck of cards was always worth its weight though, because there were so many games that could be played. Card games teach kids strategy, and are a great thing for them to be comfortable with for when they learn statistics and probability in 3rd grade.

card-playing hand
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8. Learn to Tie Basic Knots. To be honest, the only knots I know are a few from sewing and a few from climbing. My boyfriend, who was a Boyscout, blew me away with his ability to build a try-pod (the start to our garden Teepee) without thinking twice about it. He also knows quite a few other fishing and survival knots, and I can definitely see how that’s a useful skill. A cabin I vacation at in Upstate VT houses a mug with two strings wrapped around the handle, and diagrams of the most basic sailing knots. I wish I had paid more attention.

rope knotted around a post
Photo by Bella White on Pexels.com

9. Bake a Cake, and Knead Bread. Baking projects are great because they include a lot of fractions, math, and very specific chemical reactions. A cake mix would offer the simplified version, and from scratch will require more work. You could double of halve a recipe to practice math, and still get a wonderful reward at the end. When I broke most of my hand in a pitching incident, my physical therapist released me early because my job at the time included rolling a few hundred balls of pizza dough per weekend, which stretched exactly the right muscles and repaired my fine-motor motion.

hand shaped cookies
Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

10. Identify Poison Plants and Venomous Animals Common to Your Area. I’ve seen a lot of posts online where people are asking if they can leave their house. Here in NY the official statement is that you should spend time outside, if possible, while still maintaining other guidelines, like distancing yourself from others and washing up often. We always wash well when we come inside, and check for ticks. If you are able to spend some time outside, its a great time to talk to children about what they may encounter in their environment. In mine, I’m most worried about deer ticks, poison ivy, rattlesnakes, and bears. C is still a little too young to understand most of those concepts, but I keep them in mind when I’m outside with bigger kids.

orange tree-tops from below
Photo by Immortal shots on Pexels.com

Honestly, We’re scared over here too. My sleep schedule hasn’t been normal in about a week, and the migraine from hell is slowly building. Everything is scary, but, like I said, I want to keep as much of this from my baby girl as I can. While I do understand that we are expected to attend classes on Zoom and finish homework packets, I also wanted to suggest some out of the classroom learning. If you have more ideas for this list I would love if you would drop them in a comment or email them to us to try out.

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Quarantine Home-Schooling For Toddlers:

Activities to try with items you already own and adore.

A lot of us aren’t used to entertaining our kids all day every day. They go to daycare, or spend sections of time with relatives, babysitters, music teachers, etc. Travel-bans and shelter-in-place orders are making it so that we can’t take our children out of the home to entertain them at places like the movies, the playground, and the zoo.

We are all looking for new ways to keep them busy, for our sanity and theirs, and we don’t want to lose any of the progress they may have made academically, so we need to keep activities in mind that have an element of educational material.

  1. Letter Recognition. While the whole alphabet may be too much for some kids, it’s important for them to start to be exposed to the letters that make up the whole world around them. Generally, I like to start with the letters in the name of the child, and then maybe a pet, before expanding to all words.

2. Letter Blending. After learning a few letters, what they look like, and what sounds they make, children can learn about letters that make different sounds when they are together, like the “ph” sound in phone. It’s a great idea to start exposing them to this idea early, even if they can’t completely grasp the concept yet. We wrote the word “BLIP” because that was the name of a storybook we had been extra into lately.

Many children will be able to recognize the letter shapes before they can write them. Our daughter does a great job of finding every C in her environment, but can’t quite control a pencil.

3) Tracing Boards. Tracing boards help to bridge the gap between recognizing letters and being able to use them. They often come with child-sized pencil-shaped styluses to be used for tracing, or can be filled with sensory materials like rice, beans, flower petals, etc.

4) Fine Motor. In addition to learning to write the correct shapes of letters, it’s important to let children practice holding a pen and learning how they can move their hands to make lines while still maintaining control.

5) Practicing the Shapes. After kids learn to write, they will be able to start reproducing the shapes with other elements. M is a bit too big to be a considered a toddler, but he showed so much patience in turning these rice grains into his name that I had to share.

6) Learning the Sounds. Some rhyming words are spelled the same, and some are not. In this activity, W told me the names of her rhyming words from the pictures, we spelled them together, and then she circled the parts that were the same so that she could see that rhyming words generally are spelled the same near the end.

Beyond writing letters, other activities help to create solid fine motor foundations, and it’s important to remember that foam letters can be used for other activities too.

7) Painting. Painting is so rewarding for children. Using different sorts of brushes, paints, and surfaces will expand this activity and keep it exciting as well. I try to give C a purpose when she’s paining, rather than just piling up papers with toddler-art. If you’re worried about children eating the paint, try a food safe version like the one mentioned in my baby quarantine activities post with yogurt and food coloring.

8) Color Names & Recognition. Almost all items in your child’s environment have a color. You can talk to them about it whenever you see the opportunity, and they will start to tell you what colors they see pretty quickly.

9) Shape Names and Recognition. Just like colors, it’s important to let your child start to learn shapes. We use puzzles, foam, felt, and all sorts of other activities to talk to the baby about her shapes. So far, Squares are her favorite

10) Expand Understanding of Shapes. After learning about the 2D shapes in the world around them, kids can learn how to put those shapes together to create 3D structures.

11) Try New Things. Especially as the food that we would normally be buying from the grocery store becomes unavailable due to over-shopping, we can use this time to due food experiments with our children. Sometimes even changing the shape of the food can throw children for a loop, so it’s important to be patient with them.

12) Let Them Help. I know it isn’t always feasible, but when we can it’s great to let them get involved with the food preparation process. It’s such an easy way to teach math and chemistry as they get older, and they get to use their creativity.

13) Share With Them. Especially if they got to be a part of the prep, children love a good tea party. They can bring all their stuffed friends and use child sized, fancy plates, none of which they are necessarily allowed to do on an average day. I saw one blog post from a dad who treats his tea-parties with his daughter as kingdom planning sessions, and talks to her (as if she was the queen) about how she would problem solve and cooperate with the people in her community.

14) Build Together. Indoor forts are great too, but we followed some CDC quarantine protocol by taking out play outside for a while and built a teepee. Right now, it looks a little bare, but as the weather warms up plants will grow up the sides, like a trellis, and C will be able to better hide inside the fort.

15) Plant. We started things inside, and I’m glad we did because we got 6 inches of snow a few days later. C has been excitedly waiting to see sprouts in our trays, and diligently reminding me to water them. When the snow melts again, we will be able to move some of the plants outside and spend all of our time in the garden.

16) Hike. I expected this to go a lot worse than it did. I didn’t give my child enough credit and assumed that I would have to carry her by the time we got half-way to the destination, and the whole way back. She rocked it though, and even decided to extend the activity herself by collecting rocks, acorns, and leaves that we used to do other projects when we returned home, and talked about while we hiked.

17) Climb. My child loves to climb, run, jump, roll, and basically do everything that expends some of her energy. We’ve been working on our natural playspaces outside so that she has room to do all of the above, and we are so glad that we’ve already started now that playgrounds seem like dangerous places to be.

18) Discuss Weather. Rain or snow doesn’t mean your child should stay inside, it means that you should talk to them about how to properly dress themselves for the elements. My child loves to wear her boots to jump in mud puddles, and carry an umbrella to keep her head dry. Kids benefit so much from being outside, even when its hard as a parent to want to sit through the rain or snow.

19) Gross Motor Skills. Like jumping, rolling, etc. Throwing and catching get children using their entire bodies, coordinating their arms and their eyes, and focusing on a specific task. We love to play ball, whether it be rolling, kicking, or throwing.

20) Clean up & Check for Ticks. Especially now we need to instill in our children the importance of good hygiene. Telling C that we are checking for ticks has helped her understand, and even sometimes remind us, that it’s something that needs to happen every day. Besides, she LOVES bath time.

21) Read Some Stories. I’m not going to get into all of the benefits of reading with children, so just trust me when I tell you that they are pretty much endless. If you’re tired of the books you have now and can’t get more from your local library, check out some of the authors reading their stories on YouTube during these difficult times.

22) Read Some More Stories. When we are done reading by ourselves, we share the stories we enjoyed with some of our animals. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of reading a book about a cat, to a cat?

23) Take Care of Your Pets. We have a lot of pets, more than most people. Christina spends time with all of them, which is developing a great sense of responsibility for her.

24) Talk About Your Pets. As a 4H youth, one of your main events every year is a public presentation. SO MANY kids do their presentation on their pet, and its easy to see why. Talking about pets allows kids to feel a sense of pride, and encourages the pets to be friendly and cooperative. It also gives children a chance to talk about their responsibility to their pet, verifying it to themselves.

25) Let Them Mimic You. In addition to trying to do a million educational activities with my little one, i’m trying to use this time to get some projects done around the house. We planted trees, then built a fence and a compose bin to help us care for them. C also tried to build a fence, with her rainbow blocks.

26) Pretend Play. Pretend play has so many possibilities, and gives children a great chance to mimic their caregivers and figure out how to act in certain situations, and exposes them to the vocabulary of specific situations. C got to help her Daddy put up some shelves, and she had a great time doing it for herself for the rest of the day.

27) Learning Life Skills. In addition to doing all of our construction projects, we’ve been doing pretty extensive disinfecting. For toys, I soaked them in warm water with vinegar, so that there were no toxic chemicals sitting on the surface if Christina decided to put them in her mouth, though she seems mostly past that stage. She loved helping me put them in the bucket, and then stirring them around to make sure that they all got soaked.

28) Togetherness. At the end of the day, this time in our lives doesn’t need to be scary to the children, even though it’s scary to us. I’ve seen parents call it a reset, and note how they now have time to teach things that they otherwise wouldn’t, like sewing on a button or tilling a garden. C doesn’t seem to have noticed that there is too much different going on in the world, except for the fact that mom & dad have been spending extra time at home. We’ve been holding her a little extra tight and snuggling a bit tighter. We hope you and your family get to spend the same quality time.

Let us know how you are spending your quarantine time with your family through our Facebook. IG, email or dropping a comment below. Good luck to everyone in these trying times, and let’s all keep washing out hands.

Quarantine Activities for Babies.

It feels like weeks have been packed into the past couple of days here at my house. As out baby girl (2 years old) doesn’t go to school yet, she hasn’t really noticed that much different is going on, but I’m already starting to feel restricted. I spend all day every day working with kids of all ages, but when it comes to my own it feels like she’s already seen all of my tricks, and the things that I show her aren’t as enriching as they could have been.

For babies too, it can be hard to figure out how to entertain them. Their abilities are limited, and the amount of toys that we have to give them that would be safe for them to play with, and basic enough for them to interact with, can be restricting. It’s important to remember that kids are creative, and finding new ways to play with old toys is a great way to stretch both of your minds.

Babies are naturally fascinated by the world around them, because there is so much of it that they haven’t gotten to experience yet. When trying to come up with ideas for babies, I try to focus on some specific elements in their toys and environments, including:

  • Bright Colors
  • Repetitive Shapes and patterns
  • Unique Textures & Sounds
  • Safety (Especially for Tasting…)

A large box to sit inside of, or a cozy blanket on the floor creates a great space for you and your child to explore the items that you’ve chosen. Boxes are great for coloring, pretending, and so much more, even as the kids get bigger, but they also provide a space that will limit distractions, letting the baby focus on exactly what you want them too. Blankets are nice because they can be soft or silky, bringing a sensory element to the party at the very earliest stage. in either case, you can surround the baby with objects and let them explore each one.

Baby peaks her head out of a box decorated with crayon markings to investigate the world beyond her small fort..
Baby peaking out of a box to see what is going on beyond her box…

My go-to activities with babies tends to be providing them with objects stacked on top of one another, whether it is a toy that was designed that way or not. I think this is because I have so much fun stacking them, and it gives children the opportunity to have fun “un-stacking” them.

Blocks are a great early learning activity because they teach children about balance, utilize fine motor skills, and give them an attainable goal to reach for (like the tower or house they are trying to build.) Block activities are also super easy for parents and caregivers to expand on in a multitude of ways.

  • Discuss the Color, Size, Shape etc. of each block as it gets added to the tower.
  • Ask the Child if they can stretch really really tall like a tower, or curl up really really squat like a house.
  • Compare the sounds blocks make as they fall and hit each other, the carpet, hardwood floors, kitchen pots, etc.

Sorting Activities are also great fun, and can be done with virtually any toys that you already have in your house. Sorting is a great activity because it teaches kids to draw comparisons about their objects, and can get more complex as the kids get older. Our Etsy shop currently has one sorting game up for grabs, and more will continue to be added in the future (Most likely when we can get out for a materials run again…) Some elements to sort by for beginners could include:

  • Color
  • Shape
  • Size

This last picture started out as a texture activity, before the baby girl turned it into a sorting activity. While it is hard to show the texture of these objects, there is a foam sheet, a paper sheet, and a felt sheet. We surrounded her with the objects so she could touch them, scratch them, crinkle them, etc and learn about different sounds and feelings. We’ve been doing a lot of sorting activities lately, so she tried that instead, but we will give it another go soon.

Sound is another element that is tons of fun for babies. Almost all objects can be knocked together to make sounds if you don’t possess any instruments. A good way to demonstrate this is to spread objects out on a blanket and show the baby a few of the sounds. They are likely to want to try to recreate the sound on their own.

Two Children Collaboratively Play the Drums.

Studies also suggest that early exposure to music will help children with academic skills later on in life.We listen to a lot of music in our house, because the benefits are practically endless. C loves to play the piano, but we are holding off on lessons until she is older. We want her to simply enjoy it for now. We also play music throughout the day while we are home. She has dance parties to kids music every day before nap-time, but also listens to classical music, e-books, natural sounds, etc.

The baby stage is also when Children learn object permanence, and their sense of self, which is all technical language for “I’m the baby in the mirror, and my stuff still exists if i put it somewhere out of sight.” Encourage your baby to watch you crawl in and out of forts, walk behind walls and back again, and put toys inside of toilet paper tubes and let them roll back out. If you have a children’s mirror its great to set it within their view while they are playing, even if it isn’t the main focus, so that they can see themselves and their objects at new angles.

Baby Boy Realizes his toys Remain the Same In or Out of the Tent.

And for my final trick, anything that is both messy and edible will be a huge success. Adding a drop of food coloring to some yogurt and letting them smear it around their high-chair tray will create tons of taste-safe joy for them, and some super-adorable Instagram content for you. You can even include more than one color, allowing them to move and mix.

When you’ve exhausted all of these options, check out our earlier post about sensory boxes for more great ideas, and remember than sensory play doesn’t have to happen in a box. Laying in the grass could be wildly sensory for a baby, as could the bathtub.

We’ll be trying to stay active on social media during all of this chaos and have shifted our focus to finding new ways to play and learn with the items we already have in our home.

Thanks for reading, we hope you survive, stay safe, wash your hands, and stay in touch!

What Every Child’s Bedroom Should Have

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Moving to a new house was super exciting, because it was an easy way to totally reinvent the baby’s bedroom and playroom. I thought long and hard about what elements were to be in each space, so that she would be learning and playing all at once.

While we haven’t made it all the way to the 100% wooden toys stage of our Montessori journey, there are many Montessori routed ideas that I tried to incorporate into our babies bedroom.

If you aren’t sure what Montessori is all about, there are so many Instagram famous moms you could easily check out just by following the hashtag #Montessori (plus about a million other versions of that), or you could grab the Montessori handbook or other published guidelines wherever you buy or borrow books.

The Montessori element that I have latched onto the most, is the idea of having fewer toys, bu choosing toys that offer options. For example, the famous wooden rainbow toy teaches stacking, colors, and size just to name a few and can be stacked small to large, large to small, in flat circles, or into ball runs (among other idea my limited mind hasn’t reached yet…). Our rainbow, though a knock-off and not made by the famous, German toy-making company, is a staple on our shelves.

This image shows a child's toy storage. Colored bins house play items in a visible, reachable way that is easy to organize and change over time.

In addition to limiting the toys, you want each toy to be visible and accessible to the child, Many people use cube shelving units, which, I admit, I adore, but we had this unit already so we’re sticking with it. We’ve left off the top row because those were harder for her to reach, and, honestly because she doesn’t need to have that many toys.

Toy rotation helps keep your children from getting too bored of the same thing, and limiting the amount of toys on hand helps your child stretch their imagination and creativity as they find new ways to play with them. Having a playroom and a bedroom makes toy rotation easy for us, because mixing up the toys is almost as exciting to our little one as pulling out new toys. This week the wooden blocks and the stacking rainbow are both in her bedroom, and she’s already starting to stack them together.

A bookshelf at child height, with book covers facing out, like a display shelf.

We also discovered that when she can see all of her toys, she makes a more conscious decision about which ones she takes out and plays with, because she is aware of what all of her options are without dumping all of the boxes on the floor. We tried the same theory with some of our books, and its been working great.

This shelf is at just the right height for our 2 year-old to see the books, and decide which one she wants to read. While I have seen some mesmerizing photos of shelves with book spines organized by color, this seems to work way better for us. Our baby girl can communicate with us about which book she wants, based on what she sees on the cover, rather than having to pull out a dozen to see them all. We rotate these books out, so she is being exposed to different ones.

The blog “Raise Them Reading” shares more tips about choosing and displaying books for little ones in this recent blog post, and we can’t wait to put some of these ideas to the test, like creating a reading nook with a basket of our most-loved.

a DIY art desk for a toddler.

I also decided that it was important for our child to have an art-station, because she loves to be working on things “like mama.” This particular art station is honestly just an upturned plastic bin, because we had a lot of them left over from moving and it was just the right height for her little body to stand at.

Our wonderful babysitter got the easel for us at a mega sale from one of our local art stores. One side is a chalk board, while the other is a white board with clips for hanging paper and using all sorts of supplies on. Next to it, we keep the rest of the art supplies as organized as we can in a shower caddy. We limit the choices here as well, and rotate them out when things get old. We currently have two coloring books, a handful of sheets of white card-stock, 4 crayons, and 2 different “WATER WOW” painting sets.

If you’re wondering why we only have 4 crayons, the answer is simple. We are trying to get our child to start saying the names of the colors, and we don’t want to overwhelm her with too many at once. Her art skills aren’t yet to the point where she thinks about drawing a specific thing, the beach, for example, and then chooses colors based on what that scene would look like in reality, instead she just scribbles. Therefore, she doesn’t need a ton of choices all at once.

a farm themed play station, featuring related books, puzzles, and figurines.

We also offer her another child-sized table. This one I keep full of thematic items, currently the farm. She has her farm figurines, a farm animal puzzle, and all of the books we have that are about farm animals.

The number of items on this table can vary, but we always try to give her multiple ways to connect with the same theme. A lot of our farm-play connected to discussions of our own animals, and whether they were similar to these animals. We’ve also used the puzzle to focus on animal sounds, and the figurines to focus on animal homes, both of which we can re-touch on in our own home and yard.

a felt board to utilize the space underneath the child-sized book shelf. This felt board shows letters for the child's name. to begin letter recognition.

In addition to the theme table, we have a felt board because it is so useful for so many things. Right now we have a snowman felt set, since we haven’t had enough snow to make one outdoors, and we are beginning to work on recognizing the letters to her name. While we are not pushing her to learn letters yet, we are starting to make sure they show up over and over again. I will frequently add her letters to her felt board when she is done playing so she will see them. We also stick them to the wall in the bath tub, and write them for her on her art papers.

Our felt board is under our bookshelf because it was a spot that the little one had already decided she wanted to hang out in. This felt board is one that I made on my own, which is listed on Etsy in two colors and two sizes. We also keep one in the playroom, in a smaller size that she uses flat on the floor. She loves the way the felt sticks together, and I love that there are felt board options to cover almost any educational goal and theme.

decorative test: "SHOW US YOURS"

Do you have a station similar to ours? Do you have an idea that you think we would love to try? Tag us, text them to us, or leave a comment so we can try out what works for you. Need our help with designing a great playroom or bedroom? Send us a message and we’ll help you however we can!

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My D.I.Y. (Dollar Store!) Sensory Boxes

Sensory Box Decorative Header

We LOVE our sensory boxes. We even posted in early Instagram history that the boxes sometimes even enticed dads, older siblings, and other people who wouldn’t normally be involved in my play time with the “littles.”

When I started traveling with sensory boxes, I only planned time to use them with my kids 4 or younger. I expected the bigger kids I watch (6 and 10 at the moment) to tell me that the texture tubs were “too easy” or “for babies,” but as soon as they found the first box of water beads in the backseat, they were hooked. They began asking me to make sensory boxes for them specifically, with smaller, harder to find objects and with less color.

In fact, all of my kids have asked for specific things to be incorporated into sensory boxes at one time or another, which just goes to show exactly how versatile they can be!

 Toddler immersed in corn based, animal themed sensory bin
Ms 1.5 Enjoying a box she had requested, “FARM ANIMALS!”

I buy my boxes themselves from Michaels (I usually order them online, and stock up when there is a coupon). There are plenty of other plastic bins that would be great for this purpose, but I made my decision based on the fact that they are offered in many colors, have lids that close pretty tightly, and are big enough for 2 children to play in them cooperatively, but small enough to still be portable. Many people do great sensory boxes in Flisat tables from IKEA, and if I’m ever stationary rather than traveling I may transition to the same. The food items I purchase with my normal groceries, and the small objects I buy almost exclusively at the dollar store! This keeps the cost of the boxes totally manageable within my materials budget (and of course you could buy one of mine instead of creating your own, over on etsy.com!).

Here is what goes into building a sensory box, beyond investing in a few good boxes:

The base of the box is super important because it gives a guideline to what the rest of your box should hold: will this material be wet, cold, small, flexible, squishable, stackable or breakable? Some objects will go better in a fine, soft base than they would in a cold, moist base.

For example, ping pong balls are a lot of fun in a water-bead base, because they almost always find a way to float back up to the top. Kids learn science principals while trying to bury them, just make sure that this game stays light-hearted and doesn’t frustrate them too much…

Sometimes it can also be fun to use thematic items. The box shown above features farm animals, which were requested, and feed corn. The corn is what many of those animals eat, be it exclusively or as a treat, and we got to talk about it while playing in the box. We also used that box to talk about the names of animals within a group: the male, the female and the baby. We practiced pairing the sound of each animal to the mouth that makes it, and we compared sizes and colors. We talked about where each animal would sleep, if they all lived on the farm together. (It was argued very well to me that chickens sleep on the backs of goats, although mine still never have!)

Some fillings will be better for scooping, and some fillings will be better for sifting. No matter what, trying different things and changing it up frequently is key to keeping sensory play engaging and educational.

Some Ideas for Sensory Fills:

-Beans

-Pasta

-Corn

-Cornmeal

-Snow (real or pretend)

-Oobleck

-Rice

Some bases are also more messy than others! In the warmer months I like to do sensory play outside, as that limits the clean up, but inside is good too. I would recommend playing on the floor, and a hardwood one at that. My littles have all gotten used to helping sweep up when the game is done.

The objects in a sensory bin can be LITERALLY ANYTHING. We can chose them based on a theme we are studying, or a concept we are trying to learn. We have done bugs or words that begin with “B.” We have done exclusively items of a single color, or only items that were round. You can do objects that will be easy to find, scoop, count, etc.

We often reuse items from other boxes and games, and borrow them from our daughters toy collection. When coming up with a new box, our items are generally purchased on a stroll through the dollar store.

Check out some of our examples here, but keep in mind that the items you chose can be literally anything, and you can combine as many or as few concepts or themes as you choose:

If you want to get started with sensory play but don’t know how, we’re willing to help! We will build you a custom box and send it to your door (with or without a plastic box) or help you plan it via email! We love collaborating on ideas for amazing kid enrichment, no matter who and where you are!

The last thing we love about sensory boxes is the fact that they encourage hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Having children stick their hands (sometimes even their feet or their noses!) in the boxes gives them a great tactile exploration of what you are showing them, but including objects that will use their fine motor skills will bring this to a whole new level, and allow kids to learn about the properties or various materials.

Scoops, funnels, bowls, tongs, and spoons are a great way for kids to explore the items and the fillings within their box. They will see what is light or heavy, what is buoyant or less so, what does and does not fit through a funnel, etc. Sometimes our fine-motor skill improving elements fit the theme of the box, and sometimes they do not.

We generally buy these items at the dollar store on the same trip as the objects. They can be a bit harder to find, given that it sometimes requires some thought. These tiny pails came from the baby shower section, whereas our metallic bowls were in the holiday sections, the brushes in the art section, and the mini spoons and ladels from the kitchen aisle.

Measuring cups can also make a great scooping object, as can smaller bowls, cups, etc! Kids can also be interested in objects that they can color match to their bowls or cups, or being able to see vs. hide an object within a container. The container can even include sections to organize the objects into, but this is totally optional!

Sample Sesory box;  corn meal fill and various scoopers and objects

Sensory boxes are great versatile play for children of many ages. They are engaging and educational, and can be used to tie many other activities and principles together.

Fall themed sensory box from 2019  - beans, pumpkins, broomsticks and pine cones

We hope you and your children give sensory box play a try, and we would love to see what you come up with! Tag us in your games on any social media platform, or send it to us directly so we can share it for you on ours! Happy Educational Play Time!!!

Gift Gratitude

This year, I wrote thank you cards to every. Single. Child I babysit on a regular basis. Did they all give me packages tied up with ribbons and bows? No. Did some give me no packages at all, and maybe even some extra stress with their desire to schedule times at the last minute so that they could get their shopping done while mine got tossed to the back burner? Yes.

They all get thank you cards, no matter what.

They get thank you notes because it is important for them to know how to write a letter rather than a text message, to read handwriting that they may be unfamiliar with, and to understand that there are always things to be thankful for.

I thank my kids for being willing to spend time with me, to tell me jokes, and to share their excitement about the holidays. I thank them for spending so much time with me, so that they know how appreciated they are. I thank them for letting me be apart of their childhood and getting to watch them grow.

They get thank you notes in the hope that they will realize that there is more than material items to be thankful for. I am thankful for the fact that 2 of my children, who hate the latest color of my hair, wanted to get me hair dye for Christmas, even though they didn’t. I’m thankful for that moment, because it was hysterical, and I’ve gotten to tell the story at least a dozen times in the past 12 days of Christmas.

I’m thankful for the 2 year old who pulled me to the door, mentally kicking and screaming, because she wanted to play in the snow and I did not. Her childhood innocence brought me out to have a great time, that I otherwise would not have (and it gave me this hysterical video…)

I’m thankful for the children who got to be so proud of themselves for decorating cookies, or turning a million pieces of paper cut out to the size of their hands into a beautiful present for mom and dad to treasure. (Find our handprint wreath tutorial here, in case you’re still in the holiday spirit!)

Often our kids are thankful for the things they got at Christmas, but are soon to busy playing with them to remember saying so. We focus on gratitude over thanksgiving, but by the time the next holiday has come into play it is often forgotten.

I will write holiday cards for every child, every year, because they should know how appreciated they are, even when they have nothing to give but themselves.

Winter Felt Play

Young girls decorating a Felt Christmas tree

Felt Play is great, because it is both textural and versatile. There are so many colors to choose from, and the limits to what you can create lie in your own creativity. This winter we’ve been rotating through Snowmen and Christmas Trees.

The snowmen are fun, especially when paired with your own Version of Frozen’s “Do you want to build a snowman?” to begin the activity. (In the summer we may try “I’ll be doing whatever snowmen do in summer” with these same snowmen, just for a change of pace! We loved this song during the first snowstorm…)

For the snowmen we made one piece bodies, although three pieces would have been just as much fun! We chose the one piece bodies because we had designed the activity for slightly younger kids, and thought it may be easier for them to visualize where they eyes, nose, buttons, hat, and scarf would go if they already had the base pre-assembled.

Felt snowman set (available on our Etsy store)

We also have been decorating our Christmas trees over and over… This can be done in conjunction with many books or as a cozy activity near the real tree. This is a great activity because it opens easily to discussion of colors, shapes and patterns.

Our trees were designed to fit onto our smaller felt boards, and we chose to use only circles, again to keep it simple for our smallest participants. One thing I would like to do differently next year, would be to make the Christmas tee about 3 feet tall rather than 15 inches, and attach to the wall. The ornaments could be more intricate, and presents could be added. This would be fun for all children, and could be especially helpful for children who want to pull the ornaments off the tree: they will have their own tree, with safe ornaments, to decorate and redecorate as often as they wish.

Felt Christmas tree set

In the coming months we look forward to adding more felt board options to our Etsy store and our babysitters kits. Have any idea you would like us to try? LET US KNOW! In the meantime, we are working on designing our patterns for “re-decoratable” gingerbread men, and a shape-matching activity that resembles well frosted sugar cookies.

My Dream is Making Theirs Come True

HOW DID I GET HERE?

Even 8+ years into my babysitting career, it had never been my full-time thing. It was something that I did on the side, because I made extra money.

After about 8 months of a desk job I could never seem to invest myself in the way that I did with every single babysitting client, I decided I would look into whether or not I actually could make babysitting my full-time job.

I did the interview process and had several new offers within days, that would cover the same hours as my office job, plus some. I would make more money than my office job, even after factoring in losing out on my benefits and having to pay for them out of pocket.

Having the money and the people figured out, the only thing I had left to worry about was whether or not I would seem like an actual adult if I spent all of my time babysitting. I decided to move forward as a childcare professional, because that title encompassed so many more of my goals.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

WHAT ARE MY GOALS?

I realized that I was happier, more rewarded, and way less stressed out about my job as a babysitter, but I still wanted to feel like it was my full time job. I began this site, along with my etsy shop, in order to help keep the knowledge, ideas, and advice flowing even to the kids that I don’t see. I want other babysitters, parents, aunts, and siblings to be able to utilize these techniques, laugh with these stories, and help grow every child’s dream.

I focus on play based learning, incorporating many Montessori ideals, so that children are gaining knowledge and life skills, even when they don’t know it. A set of colored, wooden blocks, is never simply for stacking. You can discuss colors, and relate those colors to feelings, climates, cultures or holidays. You can count, you can make patterns, you can discuss the fact that the blocks fall down when they aren’t stacked well because of the principals of gravity and architecture.

I will utilize your child’s existing environment, and bring them new learning materials every week, based on a thematic schedule. Your child will be exposed to books, art projects, toys with many uses, and a new voice telling them exactly the same rules as you always do. We can even work with your students teacher or therapist to help incorporate those themes. Want to track your child’s progress? Schedule a meeting session with me so that we can build those goals, the steps along the way, and the best way for us to share information back and forth.

The shortest way to put it is that I want to teach your child everything they need to know, while still letting them think they are having the time of their lives. For more information, send us an email and we’ll answer any and all questions you may have, or schedule a free trial with us via any of our social media links.