2-in-1: A recipe for home-made clay, and a simple learning aid!

As a parent of a toddler, one must always have their repertoire stocked with several activities of every category: indoor, outdoor, toys, books, crafts, active day, sick day, you name it. Toddlers are a sponge when it comes to learning, and it’s great if you can incorporate learning activities in their daily play. I’m a big believer in learning through play, and find that with how eager children are to learn, it isn’t hard to incorporate learning through play in our everyday life.

As eager as we may be to pick the most fun activities for our kids, one must understand that kids operate on agendas of their own! I have had several days where I propose a really fun day, or some yummy food, only to have A dispose all my ideas! Just like anyone else, children have preferences when it comes to different kinds of activities, and go through phases. I’ve seen A go through phases of playing with different things – both outdoors (at the playground, with her ball), and indoors (specific toys, games, and her lifelong favorite – books). Recently, she has been very into drawing and coloring, as well as reading the alphabet and numbers. I figured it was a good time as ever to enter the world of arts and crafts!

I wanted to introduce her to clay, a great sensory play and a way  Like any toddler, tasting is a way in which she explores. Therefore, I wasn’t comfortable offering store-bought clay just yet. I chose to make salt dough because I figured that even though it contained only edible ingredients, it would taste so terrible that A would learn not to eat it! Making the clay is easy. There are several recipes online, be it the no-cook kind like this one, or the cooked clay like this. The first link also offers a comparison between the two. I chose to go with the no-cook kind, since I had plans to use up the clay quickly enough anyway. All you have to do is mix 2 cups of all purpose flour, 1 cup of  water with 1 tsp turmeric mixed in, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp cream of tartar and 1/2 cup of salt and knead until smooth and pliable.

Score! I now had home-made, non-toxic, toddler-safe clay. But wait! The story doesn’t end here. Before we move on, let’s talk about learning aids. Simply put, a learning aid is anything that enhances learning. I believe that several unexpected items can be turned into learning aids. So here’s how the home-made clay can be turned into a learning aid of a different kind. For the last several weeks, A has been fascinated with the alphabet. So I decided to make her the alphabet! Just roll out the clay, cut out the shapes of the alphabet and bake it at 200F for about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could also let it air-dry but I am too impatient for that. This method can be used to make shapes, numbers and pretty much anything else your toddler is currently fascinated with!

So that’s how we spent our Sunday. I am eagerly waiting to try out a bunch of projects with the clay: rolling, kneading, more shapes with cookie cutters, numbers, and a few more surprises. Do try this out, and let me know what you come up with!

Sensory Play & Development, Part 3: Hidden treasures 

Here’s a simple indoor activity that’ll take you 5 minutes to setup and will keep an 8-10 month old occupied for awhile! You’ll need a laundry basket (or any kind of basket with a mesh-like structure), a bunch of ribbons / sashes / cords / etc, and some fun sensory toys for your baby to search for. Things with bright colors, some sound, anything grab-able would be idea for a kid of this age. As you can see, I added a round ball with low grip in there and it was really hard for my baby to take it out.

All you have to do is place the toys inside and tie all your ribbons etc in a hap-hazard manner. You can go crazy and decorate it as well as you can – make it attractive! Then, allow your child to dig and search for the toys. Once she’s done searching, she’ll have more fun playing with them knowing that she did the task of finding them! I remember the look of pride on A’s face every time she found a toy.

Try this out, and let me know what variations you did!

Sensory Play & Development, Part 2: Sensory Play at the Park!

If there was one place in the world that my daughter would name as her favorite, it would probably be… no, not home… not the library… the park! We have been taking her to the park since she was a month old. We are lucky to live in a place with gorgeous weather year-long, and we take full advantage of that by spending a lot of time outdoors. Over the summer, we decided to visit a new park every week! Some of our favorite parks are Coyote Point Park, San Mateo; Magical Bridges Park, Palo Alto; Washington Park, Sunnyvale; and gosh, the list is endless! But on most days, you’ll find us at our neighborhood playground, Sylvan Park, Mountain View.

The park has proven to be a wonderful place of learning and fun for us. We can spend hours there, playing in the play area, practicing crawling and then walking, or just chilling out on the grass with books and toys. Through the summer, we had countless picnics at the park. She would get excited by the dogs and squirrels and birds and more. The number of things to do was seemingly endless!

Here’s a list of activities we have done at the park, along with the age at which we did them. All these activities promote sensory development and should be a part of a healthy sensory diet.

  1. Walks: This may seem elementary, but seriously… walks. And I don’t mean making the kid walk, necessarily. We started taking walks to the park with her when she was about a month old and I was ready to go out again. The park was a wonderful source of fresh air, especially since we were having a very hot summer last year when she was born. We would take her in the stroller, and she would sometimes sleep, occasionally gaze out. Sometimes, when she was awake, we would sit at the playground watching the bigger kids play, showing her all that she would play with one day.
  2. The infant swing: The infant swing, with the inserts for tiny infant legs and a bar to prevent the tender child from falling, is one of the safest first plays for a baby. A rode the swing at just under 4 months, when we were confident her neck had gained strength and was stable (Please ensure of this!). The swing helps them gain a sense of movement, and best of all, helped her sleep!
  3. The sights: Another seemingly trivial activity, but one that I can see she has learnt a lot from. When she was really little, my mom would walk her around showing her all the things to play with as she would grow up. Later, she watched animals. Her latest favorite is watching planes flying over the park!
  4. The slide: This certainly came later, at about 6 months. Of course, this was more of us holding her and moving her down the slide ourselves and her actually sliding down at that age. While she was a little apprehensive at first, she slowly started loving it and it helped develop her vestibular system / her sense of movement. By her first birthday, she had learnt to come down the slide herself!
  5. Climbing up steps and ladders: The steps at the park were a little lower than the ones at our home. The crawlers and walkers both develop a good sense of height and distance as they navigate the steps at various levels.
  6. Crawling all over: Out playground has an area with a relatively soft floor where kids can comfortably crawl. That apart, our slide structure had a fairly secure area where she could crawl back and forth. This fostered a sense of independence in her, and she would proudly traverse the slide structure herself.
  7. Climbing up slide: And by climbing up the slide I mean going from down to up on the slide, not the steps. This is great exercise for the knees and hands, and again develops their sense of height.
  8. Walking: Children learn a lot by imitating, especially each other. The park is a great place to practice walking, especially on different surfaces. The softer child-safe ground with slightly higher friction, the grass, the regular sidewalks… the possibilities are endless!
  9. Playing on lawn: This was a summertime favorite of ours, to spread a blanket on the grass, have a picnic and just lay and play. The grass is a wonderful exploratorium for kids, as they dig through the grass discovering plants and leaves and flowers. Of course, it is messy and make sure they don’t eat what they find! You could give your kid a basket and have them collect leaves, twigs and pebbles as an activity.
  10. Playing in sand: This is her latest, and the one about which I was most apprehensive since she still prefers to explore with her mouth. Playing in the sand is wonderful sensory play, but I wasn’t comfortable adding sand in her diet 😉 While playing in the sand, she learns to scoop up small amounts of sand in her shovel and dump it in her bucket, fill up her bucket and dump it out, among other things.

These are just some of the things we’ve done at the park, but the rest is for another post. As the colder months approach, the time we spend at the park is reducing but we aren’t giving up yet! Instead of going in the evenings, we spend our mornings there now. We love the park too much to let go just because it’s winter!

Does your child like the park? What is his/her favorite activity at the park? Do you have a favorite neighborhood park? It’s your turn to share!

Sensory Play & Development, Part 1

Sensory development is a term parents come across fairly early in their kids’ life. Sensory play refers to any activity that helps in developing the child’s senses, any one or all 7 of them. Nope, that wasn’t a typo – while looking for new sensory play activities to try out on A, I learnt that in addition to the well-known 5 senses, there are 2 more less-known ones bringing the total number of senses to 7! [1]

So we all know of the 5 senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. In addition to these, there is also movement (carried out by the vestibular system) and body awareness (carried out by the proprioception system). In my next couple of posts, I’ll be diving in and exploring more about what these two senses are about and what kind of activities help develop these senses.

Stay tuned!

[1] https://www.acandakids.com/what-are-the-seven-senses/