a stitch in lime

stumbling into creativity


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Squishy sensory bags for the mess-phobic

So the entire Pinterest-parenting complex (new name I just made up: “Parenterest”; that’s a winner, people) is awash with ways to get your child into ‘sensory play.’ Working with children with disabilities and sensory needs means I work closely with Occupational Therapists (OTs) and see a lot of sensory play going on with my clients. And at work it’s all good. Things get messy, things get cleaned up, and the circle of life is complete. Om.

At home, it’s different. Because my husband and I are the cleaner uppers (and the everything elsers), and we do a lot of that cleaning up shit already and it’s all a bit much. Especially for him. I think he has a sub-clinical fear of mess. Some neurons in his brain fire in overdrive when he sees a dirty or messy child/situation that was entirely preventible. (Children who willfully throw food on the ground are his kryptonite, except they don’t weaken him so much as exasperate him on a whole new frequency.) So messy sensory play has to be my doing if it gets done at all, and to be honest I would much prefer minimal/no cleanup, myself. Enter sensory materials encased in a bag! Sensory bags!

You fill them with liquid or goop of some sort, you put some dazzling things inside, you seal that business up tight, and you give it to your kid to mush. No mess but most of the squishy experience. While little hands won’t get wet and goopy exploring in this way, they will still feel the weight, some of the texture/viscosity/malleability, and get to delight (yes, DELIGHT, I said it) in the colours, sparkles, lumps, or what-have-you inside.

Here are some I made yesterday.

A sparkly ocean-esque one. This one is filled with blue hair gel (get that at the dollar store so as to not waste any money on quality — it ain’t for your hair), some extra blue food colouring to jazz up the colour, a packet of blue sequins, a small packet of tiny pearl beads, and some blue/silver glitter.

This one is filled with yellowish body wash (again extra yellow food colouring for pizazz factor), some gold glitter, and some foam beads from the dollar store. They’re fairly thick beads which makes for good lumpy bits for little hands to move around.

And this one is red hair gel (amped up the colour here, too), silver glitter, and a packet of assorted googly eyes. All from the dollar store. Easy.

For each of the bags, I followed these steps:

  1. Insert materials (goop + fascinating things) into large freezer Ziplock bag
  2. Press all the air out and seal zipper tight
  3. Fold over zipper and tape down with clear packing tape & tape all four edges as well to reinforce
  4. Remove white Ziplock label with nail polish remover
  5. Insert into 2nd Ziplock bag, and again press out air, seal, and fold/tape down the zipped edge with packing tape
  6. Tape all four edges with duct tape (decorative is nice if you have access to it — I didn’t)
  7. Again remove label with nail polish remover
  8. Give it to your child who will delight in the sensory experience for under 10 minutes and then ignore it forever

Here are some ideas of things to fill your sensory bags with:

  • water
  • hair gel
  • aloe vera gel
  • body wash or shampoo
  • baby oil, food colouring, and water (the oil and coloured water don’t mix)
  • shaving foam
  • paint (for fun with colour mixing)
  • sand and water

More ideas can be found over at Mama OT’s comprehensive list. They’re pretty quick and satisfying little crafty projects, I have to say. Dump things in a bag and seal it up; can’t get much easier than that.


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Quick-and-dirty visual schedule for tiny YouTube addicts

Three videos on the docket. Brief peace and quiet in 3… 2… 1…

A couple of months ago, we made the joyous mistake of showing our two-year-old YouTube videos of… well, pretty much whatever he was interested in that day. Mostly trucks, animals, and a few short clips of kids’ shows that we found at least 50% tolerable. We know screen time should be very limited, but a tiny bit each day buys us a bit of sanity while we prepare meals, make an important phone call, whatever.

I work with kids with special needs and many of the kids at work have visual schedules. They are essentially little icons, usually mounted on a velcro strip, that help them understand the transitions in their day and what to expect next. Now, my son doesn’t need this type of thing to avoid epic meltdowns on a daily basis, but when it came to YouTube videos, he really was having a hard time hearing that they were all done, or that we felt he’d watched enough and it was time to play with toys or read a book or do any other logical toddler activity. (YouTube makes this especially challenging with their menu of related video thumbnails that pops up the moment a video ends. Thanks, YouTube.)

So I went ahead and hacked (and I mean hacked) together a little ‘schedule’ for videos that would help my son see (1) how many videos were okay to watch before being done (we agreed on this ahead of time), (2) how many were already watched vs. still upcoming, and (3) what “all done” looked like. I was hoping this would ease his whining when we attempted to get him moving on to something else, as my verbal heads-ups and explanations about keeping our eyes and brains healthy by taking breaks were just not cutting it in this case.

One down, two to go.

To make this, I hacked up an old cereal box that was in our recycling. I attached an adhesive Velcro strip to the cardboard and a small square of complementary Velcro to each of the video ‘tokens’. I drew crappy pictures on them to represent various videos he likes to watch. Then I taped whatever needed to be taped using clear packing tape, like the done ‘envelope’ and the fronts of the tokens, which I thought might get a bit too well-loved without some extra reinforcement.

Action shot!

Note: toddlers never let you photograph a damn thing in peace.

The way I use this with my son is like this: We talk about how many videos are okay to watch when we first sit down. Maybe it’s just one, maybe it’s two. No more than three, anyway, as I only made three tokens. But we agree and then load up the schedule with that many tokens. After the first video is done, I remind him he needs to rip off the first token and put it in the ‘done’ spot. Then he gets to start the next one (if there is a next one). After the last video is done, and its token is put in the ‘done’ spot, we talk about how all the videos are done and it’s time to choose something else to do.

Videos are all done. Tantrum hopefully avoided as you transition beautifully to the next activity.

You can see what a hack job this is by looking at the back of it. It seriously took me about 10 minutes, max. It’s really ugly. I measured nothing. I cut crookedly.

And the ugly truth: The LIFE cereal box that gave its life.

But guys? I’ve already used it twice and it worked. Like a hot damn. The second time I set little A up with this, when the last video ended he independently ripped off the token and put it in ‘done’ and said “all videos done”. Then I asked him what else he’d like to do and he said “play with toys” and went on his merry way without a hint of a whine. It was kind of magical. And I didn’t even need a laminator. BOOM.


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Felt play food

If only my real-life fried eggs turned out like that…

It started with eggs. My son is obsessed with scrambling the eggs we have each Sunday for breakfast. He likes to sit up on the counter right beside the stove and use the spatula to mix and scrape. I think he thinks Sunday breakfast is pretty awesome. And tasty. So I found a tutorial from Wee Folk Art for two sweet little felt fried eggs and it seemed like an achievable little project. And I was right! I even won the crafty inspiration lottery in that I already had all the things.

I didn’t print off the pattern, but instead just eyeballed something egg-ish shaped, which ended up fine.

My freehand blob shapes worked out alright. Rather eggy.

Then the eggs looked lonely. And the second half of that egg tutorial? Yup, a felt bacon tutorial. Had to go for it. I love how these ones use hidden pipe cleaners to achieve authentic bacon crinkles. Genius.

These bacon strips and “fat” strips were also more or less eyeballed. How hard can it be to cut bacon-sized rectangles and some squiggly bits? Not hard.

Bacon!

And then? Then I wanted to make a whole box of play/felt food. I am both blessed and cursed to work for a child development centre that is pretty well stocked with an amazing selection of toys, which means I have all this inspiration that turns into big dreams for what I could make or put together for home. Dress up boxes, kitchen/food boxes, music boxes, sensory boxes (okay, I did that one), craft boxes, nature boxes… my imagination has gotten a bit carried away, really. I do not have the space for several huge bins of toys on various themes. My 2-bedroom condo does not need to resemble a well-stocked child development centre to meet my one kid’s needs.

…But I could at least round out the play food collection with some fruit. Make it a proper breakfast and all.

Strawberries!

So I made some strawberries! For these I mooshed together two tutorials I found. One was from While She Naps, which helped me do the main red part, and the other was from While Wearing Heels, which gave me the idea for the subtle ‘seeds’ done with thread. Only difference is I used black thread and didn’t make them as sticky-outy. Then I freestyled the green leafy stems and tacked them on.

I told him to smile; this is what I got.

Anyway, this is as far as I got with my MAKE ALL THE THINGS endeavour. I love the look of hand-sewn felt food. I just need to pin down what else my son would like to play with next. And it has to be doable. Garlic? Delicious breakfast staple that it is…

He actually played with it. Win.

Toddler action shots are always blurry. Because of all the action. Action breakfast!

(Never again to be this lacking in cat hair. Treasure it.)

So there’s the little breakfast plate I’ve made so far. What else would you make next? Bonus points if it’s an easy one. I’m trying to go for foods that my son is familiar with and would eat. Lettuce looks easy but leafy greens aren’t exactly his favourite food (he will very carefully pick them off any other food they might be touching, hand them to me with a disgusted look on his face and simply say “THIS.” as in, get this filth off my food stat!), so I imagine he might not know what to do with lettuce.

What should I make, guys?


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Sensory bin: Why didn’t I do this sooner?

“DUMP DUT!”

I’ve read plenty online lately about creative parents who put stuff in bins for their kids to explore. Usually with themes. Nature, various holidays, you name it. I was intrigued. But I… I don’t do themes. I do whatever’s around. Bonus: my kid will still love whatever I gather up for him to mess with.

But yet, I hesitated. A bunch of tiny things in a bin at the hands of a toddler with various scooping options? That sounds messy. Toddlers don’t keep things in appropriate containers (Cheerios go on the floor!), on appropriate surfaces (Spaghetti on my highchair tray? How about on the wall?), or out of inappropriate places (Look! My train is floating in the toilet!). But I came to my senses when I realized that a bin like this would surely buy me several consecutive minutes of peace, so here I am being one of those creative parents who has resigned herself to repeatedly sweeping up tiny things from her floor. The Occupational Therapists at work would be so proud of me making my son a “sensory bin” to explore.

Scooping and dumping. A toddler’s dream.

Now, apparently you can put any old anything into a sensory bin (judging from Pinterest search results). Because of the nearness of our grocery store (across the street = win), I filled ours with dry, shelf-stable, cheap food: dry macaroni, popcorn kernels, and a few black beans. I threw in a few of A’s small trucks and cars and other tiny toys, gave him a cup and a scoop and a dump truck, and he was set.

Loving it.

He played with it for about 20 minutes. There were at least 5 dumps onto the floor in that time. It went something like this:

I sit down to relax.
Clattering spill noise “Mess!”
“Oh baby, this stuff stays in the bin.”
“Mama help.”
“Okay, I’ll help.”
We clean up together.
I sit down to relax.
Clattering spill noise…

It was still worth it. If nothing else, having this around will give us many, many opportunities to practice team work while cleaning up together.


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The come-back post, featuring play-dough

Play-dough

Aaaayynd we’re baaaaaayck!

I never left, really. Just the posts did. I got a grown-up career job, and while it’s part-time, it is somehow consuming all my time and energy. So! That all makes for lousy bloggerly dedication in a hurry. Because my only moments of free time now are spent with a bag of kettle corn in my lap watching old episodes of The Simpsons. That’s the amount mental energy I’ve got left, chicken.

But the good news is, it’s almost Christmas which means that cultural and social forces are motivating me to get a bloody crafty move-on! At last! Despite my lack of time, I am forcing myself to put my report-writing work away in the evenings and make some shit. Last night I made play-dough for Baby A, who really should now be more appropriately named Toddler A. Here’s how it turned out:

Play-dough

I made it using this no-cook recipe (there are many out there on the webs) after we saw it made that way at a local baby group and it turned out perfectly playdoughy before my very own eyes. Plus it looked easy and I basically had all the stuff anyway. (‘Cept that dang white flour, which I had to pick up from the store last night and ended up covering myself in said dang white flour, as is inevitable when handling a bag of flour. What’s with that, anyway? Surely we as a civilization possess the technology necessary to produce a sealed flour bag.)

Play-dough

I split the batch into four equal sized heaps and then coloured each bit separately so my son would have a few colours to play with. I used 15 drops of food colouring (red, blue, yellow, and green) for each ball, and the colours are pretty vibrant. I made sure to wear rubber gloves when working the first bit of the food colouring in. Once it was more well-dispersed I ditched the gloves because they were annoying and sweaty.

This was really easy to make. The hardest part was kneading the colour in, but once I gave my hands a break and just smashed it and smooshed it into the counter over and over again, even that part was easy.

So! You should make this, too! Or whatever else you want to make. What are  you making for Christmas gifts this year, anyway?


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The least appreciated toy in the world

My son is getting to that age where toys that are just for grabbing (no matter how many cool textures or grabbable bits they’ve got on them) are just not interesting anymore. I figured he might like a toy that did something. Nothing fancy, of course, as he’s only 10 months old, but he was definitely getting bored of the same old same old in our toy bins, and he was happily attempting to make toys out of all sorts of other things that shouldn’t be toys — The garbage can! The toilet! The houseplants! Oh, the grubby grossness of it all. A busy little explorer needs things to do, you know. And the grosser, the better.

So I went about making him something un-gross to play with. I sewed up some stuffed fabric ‘beads’ (uh, they’re square? yes.) that attached to each other with velcro. Something to stick together and pull apart. I got the idea from Green Valley Crafts. It was so simple! I had the stuff! I even hand-stitched them all closed after I stuffed them, like a boss.

I was able to use some of my favourite fabric scraps in the process (some of which I received as part of my Ravelry group’s swap earlier this year), which made for a bright and sunny set of colours. I noticed after I made them that there are three yellowish/orange-ish ones and three blue ones. That was completely by accident but I love the end result!

Here they are all un-stuck. Please ignore my lopsided velcro placement. Mamas who sew are also mamas who are in a hurry to finish up sewing because they have CrazyBaby trying to chew the power cord off the sewing machine. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But only a little.

And so what did my son think? Unfortunately, his verdict was decidedly “BOOOORING!” I think the sound of the ripping velcro (when I showed him how they worked) actually gave him a small fright. So he was less-than-impressed. How sad!

I had to bribe him to pose with the reject toy by giving him his “chewy.” So he’ll play near the thing but not with the thing. Sigh.

But it’s still a sweet-looking little toy. And fits perfectly in our mini Radio Flyer.

Maybe he’ll warm up to it.


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Things I covet: Alphabet game

My friend Shauna just emailed a bunch of us today with a link to this amazing blog written by Joel Henriques: Made by Joel. He’s a an artist and papa to twins, for whom he makes the most incredible (and beautifully simple) toys!

This alphabet game of his gave me a serious case of the covets.  It really hit my soft spot for fun ways to help children learn preliteracy skills, too!  (Being a speech language pathologist by trade, this gives me some happy feelings.)

Get Joel’s explanation of the rules and how he made this awesome game!  His kids loved it — maybe yours will, too!