a stitch in lime

stumbling into creativity


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


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.