Category Archives: sensory activity

Growing an In-Sync Child (Giveaway!)

Growing an In-Sync Child

 Carol Kranowitz and Joye Newman had me interested before I even opened their new book, Growing an In-Sync Child.  I was already familiar with the Out-of-Sync Child books, written by Kranowitz as a toolbox for helping kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.  I had actually just picked up one of the resources to use with some of the consulting work I do when I was given a copy of this newer book.

The premise of the new book really struck me, and yet seemed so obvious.  The work that Carol and Joye had devoted more than 70 combined years to, has been life-changing  for children with SPD.  But children with SPD are not the only ones who become out-of-sync.  We all have our out-of-sync moments.  In fact, today’s pace and culture seems often to perpetuate this out-of-sync state.  As Joye and Carol question in their book, “Is it the child that is out of sync – or is it the world?”

The rough-and-tumble childhood that many of us enjoyed has been displaced in many corners by technology or litigated beyond recognition.  opportunities for movement and real life experience are often being traded for computer games and seat work in the name of academic progress.  But are we ignoring how children are naturally wired to develop, grow, and learn?

“Instant gratification may be possible when booting up a computer, but it is impossible when raising a child.  Times may change, but the time required for a child to grow and develop never will.  Human development permits no shortcuts.” (pg 5)

So Carol Kranowitz and Joye Newman applied their vast experience in the areas of education, human development, occupational therapy, and motor therapy to supply parents and caregivers with a very reader-friendly guide for giving ALL children playful opportunities to develop their bodies and minds. 

Their book explains the theory within the first fifty short but compelling pages.  It outlines the necessary components of development contributing to a state of being in-sync, falling into the three categories: sensory processing skills, perceptual motor skills, and visual processing skills.  They discuss, with great examples, how these skills that we often take for granted are developed through experience and why they are critical for any one of us just to get through the day.

Even seat work, they point out, relies upon skills gained through these playful experiences.  As they so poignantly write, it takes “years of moving to prepare the child to sit quietly at a desk.”

The bulk of the 200+ page book is devoted to playful application.  It’s an organized, user-friendly resource full of in-sync activities you can do with your child with just a few minutes and some everyday objects.  You’ll recognize some of the activities as fun games from your own childhood, but after reading the background, you’ll see them (and many other everyday activities) from a whole new perspective.

This book is a fantastic resource for parents, teachers, and caregivers and one of you will win a free copy this week!  Just hop onto Twitter and follow Carol and Joye (@InSyncChild) and me (@NotJustCute) and then leave a comment here letting us know you’re in!  I’ll select someone at random and let you know right here along with the Weekend Reads on Saturday morning.

So Get Moving!

Learn more at www.in-sync-child.com, www.joye&carol.com, Carol’s website www.out-of-sync-child.com, or Joye’s website www.kidsmovingco.com.

Both Joye and Carol will be appearing on The Coffee Klatch on Blog Talk Radio on Wednesday, April 20th!
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Have a Snack: Caramel Popcorn in a Bag!

My sons and I were making this delicious recipe for caramel popcorn yesterday and I thought you might enjoy a fun snack on your holiday!  (Originally published 3/30/2009.)  Making popcorn is a great way to involve and discuss the five senses.  You can read more about the developmental benefits of cooking here, and check out this great post on cooking with kids from Simple Bites.

caramel-popcorn

Cooking is a great activity to do with kids!  There are plenty of ways children can help with almost any recipe, but some recipes just lend themselves to increased interest and participation from your little culinary artists.  This is one of them!  Caramel popcorn… in a bag… in the microwave!  It’s almost magical! 

(*As with any recipe be sure to know the limits of your children and your facility’s policies for safety if applicable.  Popcorn in particular may not be suitable for certain children or allowed in specific programs.)

Start with 8 cups of popped popcorn in a large paper sack (grocery store size).  I’ve found that 1/2 cup of kernels popped in my air popper equals about 8 cups, or a little more.  (Typically I’ll sneak in some extra popcorn just to “stretch” the recipe.  That’s what growing up in a big family will do for you!)
 
In a microwavable bowl, combine:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Karo syrup
1/2 tsp salt
Microwave for 3-4 minutes, until frothy.
 
Add:
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp soda
Stir to combine well, and then pour over the popcorn in the bag.  Roll down the top to seal and shake to coat.  (When microwaving and shaking the bag, some of the melted butter will seep through.  Just be sure to avoid touching those parts, and particularly point them out to your little ones that might be shaking the bag.)
 
Microwave, the bag and all, for 30 seconds and shake again.
Repeat until you have done a total of 2 minutes in the microwave.  (The original recipe says 3-4 minutes, but that was always too much in my micro.  If you do 2 minutes and the caramel corn still looks too sticky and thick, repeat the 30 second micro and shake sessions until it looks well coated.)
 
When it’s done, pour the popcorn into a large bowl, and let it cool.  Enjoy!  (When we had it along with apple slices recently, the combination was a tasty caramel apple sensation….and it got some fruit in!)

Involving children in making this recipe, exposes them to math concepts as you measure together, motor skills as you both stir and shake, science concepts as heat changes the properties of matter, and certainly sensory experiences as they hear, smell, see, and taste their creation!  Cooking is a great cognitive activity in general as it demonstrates cause-effect and ordered procedures.  Most of all, it’s a great activity for bringing everyone together in a positive social interaction!

Enjoy!

Photo by bgraphic.
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Repost: A Handful of Fun

(After a very LONG day, I decided to reach back into the archives to provide this post on sensory play that originally came through during March of last year!)

 Think of your average preschooler.  How long has this child been proficient with language?  Depending on the age, the child may not really be too proficient yet!  Others seem to have been talking non-stop since 2 1/2, but that means they’ve been talking now for all of…..about a year!  Now think of how long these children have been seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting.  Their whole lives!  Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one.  This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance.  The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.

This is why we must allow young children to learn through experience, not just lecture.  These children need to use their senses and be engaged in meaningful experiences.  As we talk with them about what they are observing and sensing, we give them new language tools to connect with these more familiar sensory tools, building language as well as supporting cognitive concepts specific to the experience. 

Now, the flip side to this equation is important to remember as well.  Just as children learn through their senses, they also are developing the ability to use those senses and are building the neurological pathways associated with each one.  With added sensory experiences, combined with the scaffolding of adults and peers, children become more perceptive.  Their sensory intake and processing becomes more acute.  As they are better able to use their senses, they are then better able to learn through their senses.

Sensory play is really part of the scientific process.  Whether out loud or within the internal dialogue of the mind, children have developed a question, leading them to investigate– by grabbing, smelling, listening, rubbing, staring, licking , what have you!  They are using their senses to collect data and from that, attempt to answer their own questions.  Whether or not young children are always able to verbally communicate this process, it is still a valid exercise in scientific inquiry.

The sensory table is the usually the first place people think of for sensory play.  That’s logical, as the term “sensory” is shared by both.  The sensory table certainly stands as an open invitation for hands-on exploration, but it is not the only place where the senses come into play.  Throughout the preschool room and throughout the preschooler’s day, there are appeals being made to the five senses.  The sound of toppling towers in the block area, the feel of finger-paint sliding under their fingertips, the glow of the Light Brite at the small manip table, the smell of cinnamon playdough.  As teachers, the more we can attend to the sensory involvement of our planned activities, the more our children will be engaged and the more they will learn. 

For example, when discussing the need for warm clothes in the winter time, we can simply tell children about it, or we can have them hold ice cubes, one in a bare hand, and one in a gloved hand, let them really feel the difference and then meaningfully attach a verbal discussion to the sensory experience.

Back at the sensory table, we can find many more benefits to sensory play.  That bin of sand, or foam, or colorful rice is more than just another way to keep kids busy, it is a bustling factory of developmental growth.  In addition to honing sensory and science skills, sensory play builds language, social, and dramatic play skills as the children negotiate with one another to share tools, create stories, and build dialogues.  Both small and large motor skills get a boost as well, as the children manipulate the medium and tools of the day.  Creative, divergent thinking is displayed as the children are essentially invited to explore and come up with new ways to use the materials.  Cognitive skills are fostered as well as the children learn about specific concepts pertinent to the bin’s contents.  Things like gravity, parts of plants, states of matter, and color mixing are easily explored and understood through sensory play.  As you teach appropriate boundaries with sensory play, children develop more self-control and body awareness.

As one of the truest open-ended activities, sensory play provides an opportunity for every child to succeed.  No matter whether you are gifted or delayed, learning a new language or mastering your first, you can’t really fail with a bin full of beans or a ball of playdough.  Children who struggle to succeed or who are apprehensive about failure often find solace in sensory play.  The simple act of pouring water or running fingers through rice is often cathartic and calming to many children who may be struggling emotionally.  It can soothe the nervous child, distract the homesick child, and serve as an outlet for the angry child.  For children with special needs and sensory integration disorders, sensory play may be particularly therapeutic.  (Please note that we must also avoid over-stimulation in many sensitive children.  Special attention must also be paid to children with sensory integration disorder and properly recognizing their thresholds.)

We often think of the sensory table as being a tactile activity, which it largely is, but the other senses come into play as well!  The tapping sounds of popcorn kernels hitting the bin, the pungent smell of baking soda and vinegar at work, the sight of separating colors as tinted water, oil, and syrup are mixed together are all sensory experiences that can be tapped at the sensory table.  Taste sometimes finds less desirable ways to sneak in at the table as well, though taste-tests can also be properly planned as fantastic sensory experiences!

Find ways to optimize sensory play for your children.  Whether that’s providing a bin of sand to explore, giving your child a dish wand and plastic dishes to “wash” at the sink, or finding ways to integrate the senses into your other activities, provide space and time for sensory play!  It’s a natural and satisfying way to explore and learn!

Links you might love:

Creating a Sensory Table on a Budget

Setting Boundaries with Sensory Play

How to Find Sensory Materials on the Cheap

Messy Play: Bubbles, Sand, Dough, and Water  (Great Sensory Play Ideas from lekotek) 

Top photo by osmar01.
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Colorful Ice Sculptures

This is one of my favorite winter-time sensory activities!  Though it’s great any time of year, colder temps outside make it easier to freeze all those ice blocks!  Get your kiddos in on all the action by letting them mix the colors (I like to use washable liquid or powder watercolors), and letting them observe the change from liquid to solid…..and then back again!  Pop the colored ice into your sensory table, kitchen sink, or even the bathtub, and get building!  (Originally posted 12/18/09.)

Ice is a fun, inexpensive, and fascinating material to explore in your sensory table!  I like to add color to the water before filling my ice molds, to add interest, and so that the colors begin to mix as the ice melts.  Then I fill a variety of containers – ice-cube trays, of course, but also empty plastic food containers (Cool Whip, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), plastic cups, popsicle molds, muffin tins – anything to create an interesting shape.  You can place these in your freezer, if you have the room, or if you’re lucky enough to have absolutely frigid temperatures as we did here, just place them outside overnight.

Place the ice in your sensory bin with paintbrushes and water, and show the children that if they brush the ice with water and then press two together, the water freezes and holds the ice pieces together like glue!  They can build castles and forts to their hearts’ content!  I also add a salt shaker so that they can observe what happens as salt is added to ice.  Inevitably, they’ll eventually want to chop at the ice (particularly if they’re only partially frozen, with water in the middle, a fortuitous and fascinating accident), so if you want to protect your paintbrushes, provide something else, like craft sticks to use for chopping.

This activity provides experience with science concepts like freezing and melting.  Talk about why the ice is slowly melting and discuss whether the ice would stay frozen or melt outside right now!  It also provides a frigid sensory experience that paves the way for language development as you use synonyms for the word “cold”, like “freezing”, “frigid”, “chilly”, and “icy”.  Other words to describe the experience, such as “slippery”, “smooth”, “melting”, “freezing”, and “dissolve,” easily come into play.  (And, if your children are anything like my own boys, words like “destroy”, “blast”, and “invincible” will also likely come into play.)

See how much learning fun you can have with a little water and coloring?  For a fun spin, you could also try the same activity outside on a snowy day!

For more wintry activities, click here!

 
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Repost: The Winter Games…..Outdoor Ideas for Preschoolers on a Snowy Day!

It has been plenty cold around here, so I thought I’d go back to last year  for a re-post of outdoor winter activities!  Enjoy the holiday weekend!

The best way to learn about winter is to get out and explore it!  Here are some ideas for some fun in the snow!

  •  Fill spray bottles or squeeze top bottles (dish soap, Gatorade) with colored water and create designs in the snow.
  • Make tracks in the snow using a variety of objects (cars, spoons, shoes).  Play a guessing game to match the tracks to the objects.
  • Look for animal tracks.
  • Experiment with freezing different sized containers of water outside.  Which freeze fastest?
  • Place a small plastic toy in water and let it freeze outside.  Bring it inside and experiment with ways to thaw it out.
  • Go Sledding!
  • Bring a container of snow inside and let it melt.  Look with a magnifier at the impurities in the resulting water.
  • Bring in snow and put it in a pot or electric skillet.  Pour salt on it and watch it melt.  Apply heat and melt completely to water, then boil it.  Collect some of the steam on a lid or dish.  You can talk about the water cycle, phases of matter, as well as the fact that when the water evaporates, the salt is left behind.  (This is a complex concept to really grasp, but children enjoy the activity.  I used it to answer a child’s question as to why the snow leaves “white stuff” on our cars.)
  • Build a snowman or snow fort!
  • Use the same tools you would use for sand castles to build snow castles.
  • Press cookie cutters into the snow to make shapes, or use letter cookie cutters to write a message.  This works best in packed snow.  If you’re worried about cutters disappearing, put the snow in a baby pool or in your sensory table.
  • Catch snowflakes on black paper or black felt and examine them with a magnifying glass.

 Outdoor activities promote motor development as well as provide natural earth science experiences.  Bundle up and let the games begin!

For more wintry activities, click here!

Photo by toomas.
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A Few New Takes on an Old Favorite: Shaving Cream Painting

Whoever coined the phrase “less is more” certainly wasn’t under the age of six.  Young children love piling it all on, especially when doing art.  It’s more about the experience than the exhibit, and that’s the way it should be. 

But if you’ve ever done shaving cream painting with young children, you’ve seen them sculpt huge mounds onto paper, and then watched it all flutter away as soon as you take the paper from the drying rack. 

Here are a few ways to prevent this problem:

1 – Try Bev Bos’s glue/shaving cream combo.  It’s sturdier and can even hold lightweight collage items.

2 – Ditch the art table and take that cream straight to the sensory bin!  Toss in some colored ice cubes and get ready for some gooey fun with Iced Shaving Cream!

3 – Use plain old shaving cream, but forget the whole “product” idea and just paint onto a tray or table top.  Children can mound it, swirl it, or spread it flat and write with a finger.  

4– Follow idea #3, but then make reverse prints with paper!  Plop just a little dollop or two and let the children work it to their hearts’ content.  When they’re ready, press a paper onto their tray and peel it back for a print.  Making the reverse spreads the cream a bit more thinly on the paper, allowing it to dry more thoroughly without the fluffy residue that flies away afterward.  Plus, it’s fun to draw pictures into the cream and then see them reproduced onto the paper!

Shaving cream is a wonderful (and cheap) resource for a fun sensory, creative, and fine motor experience.  And now, you can try an old favorite with a new spin!

Do you have another fun way to use shaving cream with preschoolers?
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Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, sensory activity

Five Fun Ways to Serve Up Some Pumpkin!

If you’re looking for some ways to make this week memorable for your little ones, try serving up some pumpkin!  You may want to use pumpkin as an ingredient (as in Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread) or use the pumpkin as the dish!  Here are five ways to serve up some fun, originally published on Halloween of last year!

DSCN2666

I mentioned before that a pumpkin’s greatness is in part due to its hollowness. We’ve talked about floating pumpkins, pumpkin drums, and of course, Jack-o-lanterns, but perhaps best of all, a pumpkin can be hollowed out to create a bowl! You can use a cleaned out pumpkin to hold pre-made food, such as soups or a casserole, or you can actually cook in the pumpkin shell as well!  Here are five festive ways to turn your gourd into a gourmet dish!

DSCN2647

1.  Apple Crisp!  I love making this Pumpkin Apple Bake recipe in the fall, cooking it up inside the pumpkin.  The children love using the apple peeler/slicer to help out.  I give the apples a head start by cooking them on the stove before putting them in the pumpkin and cooking it all together.  The pumpkin does soften a bit, but holds its shape as long as you don’t cook longer than 1 1/2 hours or so.  Take the opportunity to talk science and compare the cooked pumpkin to the uncooked pumpkin lid!

2.  Soups, Stews, and Chiles!  Cook up your favorite fall time soup.  Place it in a hollowed out pumpkin and serve it up from there!  Try out this delicious Potato Soup recipe or this tasty one for Chicken and Rice.  You could also use smaller hollowed out pumpkins as individual soup bowls!

3.  Shepherd’s Pie!  Because Shepherd’s Pie is basically cooked already, it doesn’t take long just to melt the cheese on top.  This helps keep your pumpkin from getting too soft.  Try this tasty recipe here.  (I omit chipotle chiles when cooking for the little ones.) 

4. Dips!  Whether you’re having something sinfully savory like this one, or going the healthy route with something like this, you can easily put your favorite dip inside a pumpkin, place it on a platter, and serve chips, veggies, or bread all around the pumpkin.

5.  I Scream!  OK, a little Halloween play on words.  Use small pumpkins to hold ice cream!  Serve up your favorite flavor with cookies on the side!

DSCN2646

Whichever route tempts you most, start by cutting the top of your pumpkin off.  Jack-o-lantern style is usually a little too small. Don’t be afraid to cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of the pumpkin.  This gives a wider opening which makes it easier to serve food.  Hollow it out well, and then rinse.

Don’t forget to involve your children in this fun project!  Have your little ones help you hollow out your pumpkin and rinse it.  Let them help make the food to go inside as well.  (Read more about how cooking benefits the child’s development here.)  Serve it up for something truly memorable!  Don’t worry if you’ve missed Halloween.  Pumpkins are a symbol of harvest and a fun fall fixture! (Say that ten times fast!)

Enjoy a special pumpkin surprise with your little ones!

For more favorite fall activities, click here!
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