Pumpkin/Halloween Center

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A few weeks ago, I posted about play with orange colored rice.  (Here’s that post)  And then a few days after that, I took the purple rice I had, and added lavender essential oil.  I’ve heard that it has calming properties, and thought – what better thing to add to Becca’s rice?  Well, so I added a couple drops too many and the whole house smelled like lavender for two days.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.. just unexpected.  To try and combat the strong lavender scent, I mixed the purple rice with the orange, and then let it sit for about a week or maybe even two before we used it.  Now, it has a nice lavender scent, but isn’t overwhelming.

I love our water table – such versatility.  You can get yours here (aff link).  It works great for centers like this because I can fit several activities on the different layers.

I will give a qualifying statement to this post – like I did on my Apple Theme Center – if you are just starting to do sensory activities with your kids, you might not want to take the time or have the energy to put together an entire theme center.  THAT IS OK!!!  Just pick one or two of these and start there! 🙂

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So here’s the big picture – the overview of everything.  This center has a high emphasis on math and art, where my Apple center was a combination of Language Arts and Math concepts.

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First we’ll look at that sensory rice.  Isn’t it pretty?  And it fit so well in the top of the water table.  I added some fall cookie cutters – they are super fun to sink down and bury in the rice – as well as a variety of sizes of pumpkins that I had collected the past couple of years at Dollar Tree.  She definitely likes the cookie cutters the best.  She likes to hide them and then dig around to try and find them.

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Another fun activity is the pumpkin coloring activity.  We went to Michaels and picked up a white craft pumpkin, and I actually introduced this activity with her BEFORE putting it in the center.  We talked about how this pumpkin is MADE for coloring, and remembered that other pumpkins we have around the house that are decorations were NOT made for coloring.  We also remembered that crayons are only for coloring on paper (and this pumpkin) – not on the table, the couch, the hearth, or any other surface.  So I felt confident that I could put this activity in the pumpkin center and allow her to pull it out and take it anywhere to color, without getting crayon everywhere.  So far, she has done great with it, and will occasionally just go grab it and go to town coloring!  It’s really starting to look cool, and she can definitely take ownership of this and next week, I’ll let her select where she wants to put it to decorate our home!

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I also gave her a little pumpkin ice cube tray that I had bought at Dollar Tree – and I added the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 to reinforce counting by twos.  My thought was that she could put one little pumpkin in each space, and count them by twos.  She had another idea all together – which reinforces the differences in the way she thinks vs the way I think… and makes me glad I didn’t limit her thinking by telling her what to do with it.  She put two grains of rice in each pumpkin on either side of the two, four by the four, six by the six, and up.  She actually sat there and counted out ten grains of rice two different times to fill up the “10” pumpkins.  Not quite the skill I was hoping to cover, but she kept saying 2,4,6,8,10, so it did end up reinforcing the skill after all.

In addition, I gave her a mesh bag that she could practice putting her pumpkins into (for a gross motor skill of holding a bag open and coordinating the drop to put them in), along with these little black bags for sorting (definitely a much more fine motor skill – these bags are LITTLE).  I got this “fall scatter” (shown below) at Michaels for super cheap.  She had fun sorting them by color and shape, holding them up to the lights to look through them, and of course, making patterns.  (Note: we ended up having to put the acorns away because she kept wanting to pretend she was a squirrel and put the acorns in her mouth, which is of course not safe.  She hasn’t done that with the pumpkins.  Not sure what it was about the acorns – other than her desire to be a squirrel…)

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We also used the cookie cutters, plastic pumpkins, and pumpkin scatter to sort small, medium, and large, and talk about “big, bigger, biggest” and “small, smaller, smallest.”  She informed me that NONE of the pumpkins were big, so it wasn’t correct to use those words about these teeny pumpkins, so then we said they were “teeny, teenier, and teeniest.”  That was super funny, and giggles ensued.

Food Pouch Lid Activities

I’m sure I’m not the first to create a post about what you can do with all those little food pouch lids… because I’m sure there are a LOT of parents out there who have them coming out of their ears!!!  (I know I shudder to think how many we just threw away before we were saving them… sigh.)  So… if your kids eat anything from a pouch, SAVE THE LIDS!  These are just THREE of the activities you can do with these – not to mention color sorting, using them for counters for addition/subtraction, etc.

Fall Tree Activity – See my blog post yesterday for this fabulous activity – where your child matches numbers to encourage recognition out of order.  And just a side note – you realize you could do any numbers you wanted – it could be 50-70 or 80-100 (although you’d have to write really tiny to fit three digits on the center of one of those lids, you could easily write the number on the side – and go as big as you want!)  OR – what about this extension for your older kids?  Write an addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division problem on the side of the lid, and they have to match it to the answer on the tree!  Again, color coding helps make it a little easier, so if you have two or even three colors of lids that are fall leaf colors, that would be awesome.  Or, make it more challenging by making all your leaves/pouch tops the same color!

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Imaginative Play Activity – Build your family!  Did you ever think that you could make people with these little pouch tops?  And houses?  Becca loves to build with her pouch tops, so one fun activity was to make our family.  I drew faces on four lids, and then we stacked them up by height to create our family!  Now, you could take it a step further and hot glue them together so they could walk around and go into their house, etc.  But Becca enjoys building the people over and over.  She searches through and finds the faces, and then builds them over and over again.  She knows Mommy and Daddy are four pouch tops, she’s three, and Baby Grayson is two.  So it makes a great counting activity, but stacking them is also great for her fine motor development – because by the time she has three stacked up, she has to be very careful to not knock them over!  She loves building castles and houses for her people, as well!  Super fun.

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Patterning – I think another fabulous thing we have done with these is using them to create patterns.  Patterns are all around us in our world, but to recognize and create patterns is an important skill we must first be taught.  Becca is a huge fan of patterns – she’s always wanting me to make harder patterns for her to complete.  Sadly, she’s only a fan of three or four different kinds of pouches… so we can’t make patterns with very many colors of pouch lids, but that’s ok!  We use what we have!  If you aren’t familiar with teaching patterns to children, you might be interested to know that once in school, your child will learn to “name” their patterns with letters.  You can start coordinating this and teaching your child early to name their pattern.  For example, the patterns in this picture are named (L to R, bottom to top) an AB pattern, an ABB pattern, an AB pattern.

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Counting/Ordinal Position/One-to-one Correspondence – I’m always a fan of using REAL LIFE objects to help teach little ones to count.  So, it’s as simple as what I did for the fall tree – put the numbers that you want to work on on top of each lid.  Then your child can use them to make a number line, putting each number in it’s correct spot; they can use the numbers to count the lids and see how many they have; and it’s also helpful for those who like to just keep counting, and struggle with One-to-one Correspondence.  Becca used to really struggle with that.  There could be four of an item, and she’d put her finger on each of the four and count to four, but then keep touching the items and count however high she wanted to count.  She still does that occasionally – with a grin on her face because she knows she’s doing it wrong.  What really helped her to understand this concept was to count items that had a number on them.  She would touch the number, and say it.  When she ran out of numbers, she was done counting.  This activity might help your child if he/she struggles with this concept as well.

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Alphabet Matching/ Ordering / Word Building – Another activity that I want to do with her soon (as soon as we have enough more pouch lids) is taking these over to the Language Arts side of things, and putting the letters of the alphabet on them.  You could put an upper case letter on one, and lower case on another and match the upper and lower case together.  You could simply practice putting them in order.  Or, what I’d really like to do, is to start word building.  Pre-program lids to have the letters you need to build basic sight words, or high interest words – for any age child.  If your older child is super into dinosaurs, save up a bunch of pouch lids and make enough to spell out types of dinosaurs!  The possibilities are endless.  If you are doing word building, I recommend having a pre-printed sheet of words that your child can use to spell from the pouch lids you’ve made available.  Have him/her build the word on the mat right next to the pre-printed word, or if you have space, ideally, they would build the word right on top of the word you’ve pre-printed.  So you’ll have to check your spacing.  I’ll be working on creating some of these for basic sight words SOON, and will share the printable when I have them created. 🙂

Do you have more food pouch lid activities that you’d like to share?  Post them over on my Facebook page!  I’d love to see what you are doing, and would love to have you be a part of the Facebook community I’m attempting to build! 🙂  (Be sure to click “like” over on the right-hand side of my blog! 🙂 )

Fall Tree Activities

There are a ton of fabulous fall tree activities out there, but I’ve really been striving to be somewhat original in my activities.  All of my ideas are of course spurred from something I’ve seen online, and in no way am I saying I’m the first to ever do these this exact way… because I’m sure I’m not.  But here are three activities we’ve done in the past couple weeks to create fall trees different ways, modifying someone else’s ideas.

I’m loving contact paper activities.  I saw this post from Allison over at No Time for Flashcards, and it really got me thinking.  One of the fine motor activities I haven’t really done with Becca is paper tearing.  So, I gathered three sheets of construction paper – one each of red, yellow, and orange, and I did something I’m horrible at… I drew a tree on contact paper.  (Draw it on the non-sticky side.)  Then, I got out my painter’s tape and taped it – sticky side out – to one of our back door windows.  And I taught Becca how to tear paper!  We had a blast tearing our paper leaves, and sticking them on the tree.  And, I left the paper where she could access it throughout the past couple weeks, and she has added more leaves as time has gone by.  Despite my disdain for my drawing abilities, she immediately knew it was a tree, and has been very proud of her fall tree!  So, I count this one as a success!

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I love buttons.  Like seriously LOVE buttons.  As a kid, I loved going over to my Grandma’s house, pulling out her button drawer, and playing with all the buttons – sorting them, stacking them, whatever.  Just digging my hands into them.  I guess it was my very own “sensory bin” back before that was even a term.  HA!  The cool thing is that I now have a button box – that includes all of Grandma’s buttons, all of Cody’s Mima’s buttons from her sewing table, and quite a few new buttons that I’ve added myself.  It’s an awesome resource, and a ton of fun!  So I saw this post from Maggy at Red Ted Art, and it got me thinking – I could create a button tree with Becca that was specifically fall!  So, I found a tree clipart online (after having learned my lesson on the contact paper tree… Mommy can do lots of things, but drawing just ain’t one of them!), and printed it on some beautiful textured blue card stock.  (Want your own tree?  Get the free printable here!  I simply typed “winter tree clipart” in Google and found this tree from ClipartBest.com and made it fit like I wanted on my document… I’m saving you the work!)  And after the tree was printed, we sifted through the button box, found some fabulous buttons, and then set to work.  Becca placed each button where she wanted it, and I used the hot glue gun to stick them down.  We had some serious fun making this tree, and I think it turned out simply beautiful.  She is so proud of her button tree!

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I knew I was going to do this post, so I stretched myself, and said, ok what’s at least one more way I can do a fall tree?  I had to dig deep for this one.  But, I used what we had laying around – tops to Becca’s favorite applesauce pouches (thank you, HEB!) and decided to work on her random number matching skills.  The girl can count – like mad.  But sometimes just seeing a number (beyond ten), recognizing it, and then being able to match it to itself out of order… well, that’s still a little rusty.  So here’s what I did.  I drew on a large sheet of construction paper (again, apology for my lack of drawing skills, but she knew it was a tree, so who cares?) a tree, and then traced around a pouch cap to be sure my circles were the right size.  I covered the whole sheet in contact paper since laminating and using twenty mins later wasn’t an option… Then I labeled each pouch cap with a number, and colored the circles on the tree random colors… and labeled them with numbers as well.  It helps a little because they aren’t all one color, so she knows that the orange ones on the paper will be from the peach applesauce pouches, and the red ones on the paper will be from the plain applesauce pouches – so it helps her check the numbers and make sure she’s on the right track.  She keeps going back to this activity and pulling out new numbers.  I’ve found that she likes to start the activity in the morning before we go anywhere – she’ll place one or two pouch caps – and then later in the day she’ll place three or four more, come back later and place a couple more… she just doesn’t have the energy or patience to do all twenty of them at one time.  Which is fine with me.  I plan to stick these pouch caps in a bag, and pull this back out next fall – when she should be able to do all of them in one setting.

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Apple Theme Center

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This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for your participation!

I’m all about quick, easy ideas that I can throw together in just a few minutes.  This center was not one of those ideas.  So if you are just starting with sensory activities for your kiddos, this is not the place to start.  BUT – any one of these ideas on their own IS a fabulous start.  You just might not be ready to put them all together on one day to create a center.

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that Becca is typically satisfied for quite a little bit the first time I intro an activity, and then beyond that, it usually only gets about 5-10 mins of play in a day, every now and again.  The great thing about this center is that she has really been glued to it for quite a while, and will go and select a different activity different times… which makes me happy since I did take about an hour to put it all together.  (As an aside – I’ve started this week going around and putting away old activities – storing them in labeled Ziploc bags – so that in a couple months I can pull them back out and they will be new again.  Sneaky Mommy! 😉 )

The first thing you’ll need for your center is a place to put everything.  Maybe you have an adorable little bookshelf that everything goes on fabulously.  Or maybe you have a water table like ours (aff link) that is just waiting to be filled…

Here are the activities in my Apple Theme Center:

Word Building/Reading
Apple Sorting/Tossing
Rock Dumping/Shaking
Ten Apples Up On Top Reading/Building

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Word Building/Reading
This activity has been in my brain for  a while, but I hesitated to do it with her because I actually don’t have a set of magnetic letters.  And then it hit me – I DO have magnet tape!  So, I wrote the words I wanted on index cards, and cut out the letters.  Then I stuck tiny pieces of magnet tape on the back!  This little sheet tray I got at Dollar Tree in the cooking section.  It’s also the perfect size for her little hands to haul out of the center and over the automan or couch for more intense play just focused on this activity.  She has begun to try to read the words as sight words, and is doing really well.

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Apple Sorting/Tossing
Again with Dollar Tree – I found these little green and red apples in the home decor section, and then I pulled the red and green buckets from her Farmer’s Market Set (Get Yours Here – Aff Link) and she can sort them.  She has also enjoyed setting the bucket on the ground and stepping back to toss the apples into the correct bucket – making it a great gross motor activity, as well.

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Rock Dumping/Shaking
I read somewhere that you could make rocks or other hard materials scented by adding tea leaves to them (I honestly don’t remember where), so I got these green rocks, again, at Dollar Tree in the home decor section – literally right next to the apples – and I added Apple Crumble Black Tea to it – so they smell like apples!  I had thoroughly cleaned and dried out a coffee creamer bottle, which is absolutely perfect for this activity.  She loves to use the funnel and scoop to put the rocks into the bottle, then close the lid, shake it, and then open the lid and shake the rocks back into the bowl.  It’s turned into a super fun activity that covers several of the senses.  (SO IF YOU’RE JUST SELECTING ONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES TO START WITH, THIS IS A GREAT ONE!)

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Ten Apples Up On Top Reading/Building
We LOVE the book Ten Apples Up On Top.  So when I saw this idea from Ellen over at Cutting Tiny Bites, I just new we HAD to do it.  Here’s how we extended her activity a tad.  I printed up this sheet (FREE PRINTABLE HERE!) of ten apples, and let Becca paint them.  (I had planned to do red, green, and yellow, and then discovered we were out of paint.  So that might be an extension you’d want to add.. so that as you build, you can build a pattern!)  After they had dried, I cut them out and taped them onto ten blocks.  We only had nine that matched, so the tenth one is the “roof,” as Becca calls it.  So here’s how you do it – as you read the book, you stack an apple block on top each time that the animals in the book add an apple.  It’s super fun.  Although if you pick a heavy top block like we did, you’ll end up with all ten apples up… and then dropping.  But, that just adds to the fun!
Looking for the Ten Apples Up On Top Board Book? Here you go! (aff link)
Looking for wooden blocks? Try this set! (aff link)

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Fyi – your Apple Theme Center will not stay looking like my top picture for very long.  After lots of love, it might look something like this… IMG_9061but just know that this means its being well loved, and your child is getting lots of benefit from it… and if your magnet board looks like ours, you’ll know your hubby has been playing as well. 😉

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Total Mommy Prep Time: All told, it probably took about an hour to put it all together – maybe a little longer?
 Total Becca Play Time: She spent about 45 minutes here the first day, and has easily spent 15 minutes every day since then on these activities.  VERY beneficial and well worth my time to put it together!