Tag Archives: budget

Ice Sculptures

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!

There are a few more hours left to enter The Snowy Day Giveaway!



Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, sensory activity

Make at Home Montessori


I bet you didn’t know they were giving out free Montessori tools at your local hardware store!  I’ll tell you how, but first I must start with the disclaimer that I am not a Montessori teacher.  I studied child development, and so, I examined a range of developmental theory and teaching philosophy.  I find that as I teach, I don’t strictly espouse any one pedagogy but pick from the variety I studied and implement them as they fit the child and circumstance.  That being said, I would like to share with you a little discovery I made recently.

One element of the Montessori method is an emphasis on sensory development.  For this purpose, several beautiful, and often expensive, tools have been developed for children to use and explore.  One such tool is the series of color boxes.



 The first set contains two tiles of each of the primary colors.  The children become more familiar with the colors and their names and also build visual perception, as they match and name the colors.


This set contains more colors and each in several shades, promoting visual perception once again as the children sort the color families and arrange them in graduating  intensity.

Now here’s something that caught my eye on a trip to Home Depot:


Paint samples!  They have the same graduating shades of color!  So save yourself some money, and snag a few of these on your next trip to the Depot for light bulbs or duct tape.  You can simply cut the samples into individual strips and use them as you would the Montessori color tiles!  (Remember to grab two of each strip for color matching.)  Who would have thought Dr. Montessori and Home Depot would have so much in common?

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Filed under Create, Learning through Play and Experience, sensory activity, supplies

How to Find Sensory Materials on the Cheap

Photo provided by ba1969.

dollar-sign3So you’ve found a way to create a sensory table without a huge hit to your budget.  Now how do you keep it filled with a variety of materials without dipping into your rainy day fund?  There are plenty of fantastic sensory experiences that you can provide with little or no cost, and most of them are reusable!

Capitalize on Catastrophe.  If you’re as lucky as I am, you have a few extra hands in your house that tend to increase the number of spills in your kitchen.  I’d be lying if I said all the spills were at the hands of my children.  Suffice it to say that between the four of us in our home, the floor has seen its fair share of disaster.  When these spills happen in our “dry foods department” and on a large scale, I scoop them up and store them with my sensory supplies rather than throwing them out in the trash can.  This is how my popcorn kernel supply began, and has also contributed to my colored rice collection.  With flour and salt, I often bag them up and save them for making playdough

Don’t worry if you don’t have small hands to help empty the contents of your pantry.  Grocery stores have their fair share of spills and stocking mishaps.  Get on good terms with someone at your local grocery store and offer to take any packages of rice, pasta, cornmeal, popcorn, flour, etc, that happen to end up with a small tear or are spliced open while unpacking boxes.  These items would otherwise be thrown out, but can find a second purpose in  your sensory table.

Think Outside the Box.  Consider how excited you are when you receive that long awaited package in the mail.  Ever notice that children are just as excited about the packaging that remains in the “empty” box?  Save those packing peanuts and poofs and use them in your sensory table.  Bury toys and add cups and you’ll be surprised at how long it will captivate your children.

One Man’s Trash.  My mom once embarked on a carpentry endeavor and proudly build her own bench with the help of her woodworking brother.  As she showed off her final product, she also pointed out a bucketful of sawdust leftover from the undertaking and asked if I could use it for anything.  I was almost embarrassed that I hadn’t come up with it myself!  We packed some into a box, and it has become a quick favorite with the children at the sensory bin!  They dig for plastic bugs and compact it into different sized cups.  What would otherwise end up in a garbage bag has provided the children with whom I work with a fun sensory activity with a unique texture and a connection with natural material.  Think about ways to use other “garbage” like  piles of paper from your paper shredder (add water for a more interesting effect) or leftover stuffing and beads from expired toys and beanbags.

Act Naturally.  Consider all of the natural textures around you that you can bring indoors for closer examination.  Dig a few shovelfuls of dirt from your garden, complete with worms, and let the children add water, dig holes, and explore with magnifiers.  In the winter, fill your bin with snow!  Add some cookie cutters to make designs, paint the snow with colored water, or simply dig and play until it melts and then examine the impurities in the resulting water.  Fill the bin with leaves and twigs in fall, adding a few plastic animals for dramatic play.  If you have sod to spare, cut out a patch of grass with plenty of dirt so the children can explore the grass, root systems, and soil with magnifiers and tweezers.  And then there’s water!  The ways you can use that in your sensory table should be a post of its own!  The list of natural sensory media could go on and on!  The next time you’re out on your own nature walk, take note of the fascinating features that could be further explored in your sensory bin!

You don’t have to break the bank buying prepackaged sensory materials from high-priced catalogs.  Just open your mind to the variety of textures and sensory experiences that present themselves each day and find a way to let children explore them within the boundaries and budget of your situation.

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The Sensory Table On a Budget


A water filled bin as a sensory table.

In many preschool rooms, the sensory table is often surrounded by children.  It is an inviting area of the room where children are encouraged to stick their hands into the medium of the day, be it water, colored rice, or even slime!  Children gleefully run their fingers through a new texture, scooping and dumping to their hearts’ delight, all the while using vocabulary words like, mushy, gritty, or  runny.  They naturally compare volumes and textures, diameters and temperatures as they engage in their play.  Flow patterns are observed, compared, and manipulated as children pour water down tubes and rain gutters, and cause and effect is constantly tested.  The sensory table is a melting pot of a variety of developmental objectives while also being so completely fun and engaging!  Sensory tables designed for and sold to schools easily run into the hundreds of dollars.  Parents and teachers in smaller preschools are often left feeling like the sensory table is an experience reserved only for large institutions.  That does not have to be the case!  Here are a few ways to put the sensory table in reach of every child’s hands.

It’s Bin Fun.

If you look purely at function, a sensory table serves one main purposes:   It contains the sensory medium and provides a boundary for play so that you don’t end up with sand castles built in your book area or sawdust all over your snack table.  Any container that gives a child room to manipulate and play with the sensory material while also containing it will do the trick.  Some teachers I know use separate plastic storage bins to store each of their sensory materials.  When they want to use it, they simply place the bin on a table, and the kids go at it!  If using a storage bin, make sure it is big enough around to allow children to share the space, and shallow enough for children to be able to reach in easily.  Bins for under the bed storage or wrapping paper often work well.  I have used one small bin on a table and simply change the material inside.  Because my table is dedicated to sensory play, I simply attached adhesive velcro to the table top and to the bottom of the bin to make the bin a bit more sturdy during play. 

 Scale Down

Many sensory activities can be carried out on a smaller scale – literally.  Put small amounts of your materials like sand, salt, or colored rice in a shallow cookie sheet or casserole pan.  Place the pan on a towel to catch the overflow.  Allow individual children to write with their fingers, drive cars, or scoop and pour to their hearts’ content. 

The Real Deal

There are also many natural and authentic opportunities for children to engage in sensory play.  At home, think of your bathtub as one big water table.  Add materials that you would add to a water table – basters, foamies and fish nets, ping pong balls, or water wheels as your children play their way through bath time.  Outdoor play in the sandbox is also a common way to find a place for sensory play.  Engage them in expressive language as you describe the textures they’re feeling or the dramatic scenarios they’re creating.  Cooking is also a fantastic, authentic sensory experience as children engage all five senses while creating a culinary masterpiece.  When they’re done, pull up a chair to the kitchen sink (just another version of a water table) as you wash dishes together.  You’d be surprised how much time a child can spend at the sink with one dish washing wand and a cookie sheet!  The key is to find sensory experiences on a level that works for you, set appropriate boundaries, and open up a world of new experiences for your own children or the children you teach.  You don’t need to spend $300 on an official “sensory table” to do that!


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