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I’ve made sensory bags before and my children both really loved them. It is so easy to do, you just need a Ziploc baggie, some duct tape to reinforce the sides and seal it shut, dish soap or hair gel or similar to fill it, and sometimes some trinkets to toss inside. It is a fun, affordable, mess-free way of getting some sensory play in. Especially great for babies who have limitations on the types of sensory play they can engage in.
I saw this really cool idea to make a sight word sensory bag on Childhood 101. Perfect for LittleMan to practice his reading and still a fun sensory toy that SunnyGirl would enjoy. Unfortunately, mine did *NOT* turn out as well as the one I was inspired by. You should click on the above link and check out the original idea. Beautiful, right? And then there is mine…
Not so pretty.
I decided to make mine with a The Foot Book theme. There are exactly 50 different words in Dr Seuss’s The Foot Book so I wrote each of those 50 words out in Sharpie marker on lamination paper and cut them out with rounded corners just like Childhood 101’s tutorial instructed me to do. I included each of them in the sight word bag. I also happened to have some foam feet on hand so I threw in a handful of those as well. So far, so good. But then I made my mistake.
The bag on Childhood 101 was sparkly and fun, it had sequins. I didn’t have any sequins on hand so I tossed in a bit of glitter instead. A bit too much glitter. So much glitter that it is very difficult to see the words beneath the glitter. Yikes.
The lucky thing is, the kids both still love it. They like to put it on the floor and step on it to feel the cool gooey-ness through the bag on their toes. But for sight word practice, it is not so useful. Next time I make one of these I will refrain from the glitter bath.
Occasionally I like to lay out a variety of materials and let LittleMan pick what we do. When I do this the activities usually either fall into the math or the literacy category, I don’t like to mix numbers and letters at this stage.
Today I put together our set up outside so we could have room to run.
I didn’t bring out all of our literacy manipulative and activities, just about 1/3 of them. I thought too much would be overwhelming and would detract from experience.
Our alphabet mat hasn’t been used in a while so I thought I’d pull that out.
I also brought out the LEGO brick letters.
Our sight word ball made the cut as did a cookie sheet, dry erase marker, and some magnetic letters.
Our salt tray, bee sight words, a swatter, and some seasonal read/build/write cards were made available.
I also pulled our Boggle cubes, foam letters (above), and movable alphabet (below) though these were the only three things not used at all by LittleMan.
He started off by asking me to spell out words for him while he jumped from letter to letter on his alphabet mat.
When he tired of that, he used the LEGO bricks and magnetic alphabet to spell out some words he knew.
Soon he asked me to take him across the street to play sight word catch, this activity was played with the longest.
He ended our play with a single round of sight word smack, which is usually his favorite but today he seemed more interested in going inside for a snack (hence why we only played one round).
Letting LittleMan take the lead this way often results in his best work. In an ideal world I’d have the time and space to do something similar everyday. For now, given certain limitations, I aim for once a week.
Earlier this year LittleMan and I were fortunate enough to come across a fallen log on one of our nature walks. Our experiences exploring that log reminded me of a lovely post I had read weeks before about a group of children exploring a fallen log (Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes). Sandi, the author of Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes, and I have similar beliefs about risky play for children. We both encouraged the children in our care to do only what they personally felt safe doing.
LittleMan at first was tentative, though he became more confident with time. I said nothing and merely stood by observing as he worked.
At one point LittleMan noticed a small bump in his path on the log so he dropped to his hands and knees to crawl across this part, only returning to a stand when he had reached the other side and his path was once again clear.
Just see the look of triumph on his face when he had conquered this obstacle.
LittleMan didn’t personally feel comfortable jumping off the log and that is ok, but if he had felt comfortable jumping then that would have been ok too. I trust him to assess his own abilities and limitations.
Let the Children Play wrote an excellent post about the benefits of risky play which included this simple step-by-step of what we should be doing as we are approaching situations similar to this:
- assessing the hazards involved
- considering what we know about these children and their capabilities
- trusting the children’s ability to make their own decisions about a particular risk
- relinquishing control
I was hesitant to write about this subject and to share these images of my son engaged in risky play because the world we live generally does believe that children can never be too safe. People who speak out about the benefits of risky play for children are often regarded as “free range parenting extremists.”
I do not personally subscribe to any one parenting method. I’m not free-range parent because I support my son taking risks anymore than I am a helicopter parent because I choose homeschool. I don’t like labels and I don’t make parenting choices based on any particular method.
I read. I think. In the end I make evidenced based choices while also considering my family’s personal dynamic.
Of course we all want our children to be safe, but it is unfortunate that we are learning the hard way, there is such a thing as being too safe. Author Michael Ungar, Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today about how risk taking is necessary to build resilience. He even suggests that lack opportunity to take appropriate risks has caused children to take inappropriate, even more dangerous risks. In other words, the child who does not get to strap on a helmet and ride their bike down that steep hill may later be the child who says yes to underage drinking (for example).
Sure, I could link a bunch of articles and such which describe healthy risk-taking, like this one, but instead I’ll leave it at this:
I let my children take age-appropriate risks because I believe it is crucial in the long term that they develop the type of confidence that only comes from successfully overcoming obstacles as well as the type of confidence that only comes from getting back up after they have fallen down, both figuratively and literally.
We’ve had several fairy gardens this past summer. All of them in containers on our patio. All of them drown as soon as there was a decent rain. Seems to me that if you want a fairy garden to be able to survive a bit of wet weather then you need to supply it with either some coverage or to make your garden in the ground where the rain water will naturally seep away. I didn’t think it would be possible for us to have such a fairy garden in our current living situation.
Then I noticed our bushes looked like a tiny forest near to the ground. Unfortunately they were a bit messy. I always knew there were lots of dead leaves and a couple plastic baggies tangled in the branches but we generally just avoided the bush because we didn’t know what sort of wildlife might be under those piles of dead leaves. I decided that it was worth the risk to investigate further, perhaps if I found no snakes then this could be the perfect site for our fairy garden.
I didn’t find any snakes but I did find out that people are disgusting. Under those piles of dead leaves I found broken glass, cans, bottle caps, nails, screws, a rusty metal pipe, scrap wood, insulation, fast food containers- the list goes on. How have we been living with this 2 feet from our front door?! Our neighbors bushes look similar to ours, with what seems to be piles of dead leaves and a couple plastic baggies, but I doubt that there isn’t just as much disgusting stuff underneath theirs as well.
Once I had cleared out all the rubbish, things were looking much more promising. There is even a bit of a hill so when it rains, the water will flow downward, away from the fairy garden area.
After reading some recent news about the nasty effects human waste is having on wildlife, and after finding so much trash hidden under dead leaves on my own front stoop, I felt like doing a bit of repurposing.
I challenged myself to make the entire fairy garden using nothing from my craft closet. No craft sticks, no beads, no glitter, no pipe cleaners, no paint- only things that I would have around the house even if I wasn’t a crafter. Things from my kitchen, my closet, my holiday storage, and my tool box. This forced me to think outside the box and also to upcycle some things that I otherwise might not have thought to use.
Total project cost: $0.
For the houses I used empty plastic spice jars. I cut doorways using a utility knife. The containers were translucent so I painted the interiors with nail polish to give them some color. The roofs were made by folding tiny pieces of tan duct tape into triangle-shaped shingles and applying one at a time then topped with a long thin strip of tan duct tape. Details such as door trim and windows were drawn on with Sharpie marker.
The stepping stones were simply pennies painted with nail polish.
The button trees were made from wire Christmas ornament hooks left over from last year and random buttons from old clothes.
The storybook sign was made by writing in Sharpie on a set of bin-bound plastic file dividers then cutting them into arrow shapes and pinning them to straight stick with some push pins.
The swing was made by cutting a straw into three pieces and weaving them together with dental floss, then hung from a branch.
The gazing ball is a marble super glued onto an old marker cap.
The greenhouse was made of an old condiment container turned upside down with a doorway cut into the side.
If you remove the “glass” top then you’ll see a bountiful harvest within. The lid of the container has been lined with tan duct tape, there are 12 toothpicks with decorative green tops poked through the lid into the ground, and a drop of super glue on each one to help the green foil decor to stay put.
Near the green house is the water well. This was my greatest challenge. I wanted to make my well using clay as the base but because my clay was in the crafting closet, it was off-limits. I experimented with some styrofoam which had been used to line a box we recently received in the mail but it didn’t hold up very well. In the end I used a single piece of Starburst candy as the base. I simply stuck cut the toothpicks in half, stuck them into the Starburst, put a small rubber band around them, then coated the whole thing with clear nail polish. When that had dried I added two taller toothpicks to either side, balanced 1/3 of a toothpick on those, and tied a small acorn cap to it with some dental floss. A drop of super glue at various places for security and viola, done. I obviously buried the Starburst base in the dirt for aesthetic reasons.
I was nervous that the well would break the moment the children looked at it but was pleasantly surprised to see it looking just as good as ever after LittleMan had moved it around the garden a few times.
The tree house was made similar to how the other two houses were made, only I designed the tree house simpler in appearance. Generally speaking most tree houses aren’t as detailed as real houses. I followed all the same steps except that I didn’t paint the interior of the tree house, and I didn’t add the small decorative shingles to the roof. To mount the tree house to the branch, I made small holes in the floor and threaded a couple wire bread ties through then twisted them around the branches.
The ladder leading up to tree house is made of straws and dental floss weaved together. At the base of the ladder there are several tiny pinwheels. The pinwheels were made out of squares I cut from the same file dividers as the storybook sign was made from. I used more wire Christmas ornament hooks to hold the pin wheels and mount them into the ground. The pin wheels wouldn’t stay on the wire without some sort of stopper, luckily I found a pack of un-opened earrings in the back of my jewelry box. The earrings each had a tiny rubber stopper on the back. (I’m not big on jewelry, those earrings have probably been there since highschool a decade ago.) I used two of these rubber stoppers per pin wheel, one in back of the pin wheel and one in front.
I also made sun catchers out of the same set of file dividers as the storybook sign and pin wheels, then hung those sun catchers in various places around the fairy garden.
There is also a bunting, made from blue duct tape and dental floss, which hangs across the back of the entirety of the fairy garden area.
Lastly there is a small wind chime made from the plastic ring around the top of a milk jug and various metal objects (about half of which I actually found while cleaning out the bush), an old key, nuts, washers, bolts, a button, etc.. I don’t have a very good picture of the wind chime, every time I tried to take one SunnyGirl would jump in front of the camera. You can see it on the left side of some of these pictures but none of them are close-up.
Both of the children seem fairly pleased with their new fairy garden.
I’m pleased that there is much room for growth since there are so many things LittleMan and I have talked about making together: a zen garden, a soccer field, a pool, etc..
LittleMan did help with the tree house and the button trees but for the most part so far everything has been made by me. I’ll be excited to see him taking a more active role in his fairy garden space.
It wasn’t very long after I declared the fairy garden inhabitable that the LEGO figures moved in.
At one point LittleMan moved all the stepping stones into a large circle and declared that the lake.
At another point he made a pile of dirt and called it Sandman. Kids can imagine all sorts of fun things from the most basic of mediums- a super villain from dirt, does it get any more creative than that?
Art is crucial to early childhood development. Art outside, in my opinion, is all the better. I had really hoped to create a large window easel but we just don’t have the space so re-thought my plans and realized that, besides being able to fit into our small space easier, a smaller easel would also require less work and less money. All I needed was a clear plastic sign holder similar to this (click).
I purchased mine for $4 from Walmart however I’ve since seen them for $1 at Dollar Tree.
The first time it was offered to him, LittleMan was intrigued by the prospect of being able to see through his art.
But after only 6 minutes he ran off to play soccer leaving the easel barely touched.
I thought we were done for the day and was about to clean it up but then SunnyGirl came up.
She proceeded to paint on this tiny easel for over 25 minutes!
Towards the end of her session she moved the easel onto the grass and abandoned the paint brush to use her fingers.
We have used the easel twice since this first session and each time both children seem quite pleased with it.
If you happen to have the time, money, and space available for a larger easel then I recommend these for inspiration:
Outdoor Easel from Fantastic Fun and Learning
DIY Window Easel from Teach Preschool
Easel (and other DIY sensory furniture) from Play at Home Mom
I am planning on up-grading to something slightly larger in the spring but for now this is working brilliantly and the children are both loving it.