I used to love sensory boxes. I’d make them up for Squeak while Quibble was at school and she would happily play with them alone and then share them with Quibble when he came home. I bought cheap shaving foam, small animal figures and all sorts of pulses, I dyed rice and collected little pots or any other junk that could be useful in exploring the different textures and I was generally very enthusiastic about the whole thing.
And then, I stopped.
I don’t remember when, or why. We just didn’t do them for a while and in that time Squeak grew up. Now she’s three (and loves to remind me she will be four on her next birthday), she seems too old to be interested in a toddler activity. And if she isn’t interested, then Squeak (with his constant requests for Pokemon cards or iPad games) certainly isn’t. And now I am left with all the stuff taking up space in our not-big-enough utility cupboard.
A few days ago I came across this idea from Picklebums, and I suddenly realised that I could use all the same things, presented as an Invitation To Play, which would make it TOTALLY different for them. Of course, I only have two ice cream tubs, but I managed to come up with this Halloween play:
I didn’t manage to take a ‘before’ photo, but I snapped these just as they started playing. Each tray has been covered with foil and has on it an ice cream tub with some shaving foam in, pom poms, lolly sticks, popcorn kernels, loom bands, pipe cleaners, paintbrush, plastic spoon, chopstick and a sheet of black paper. (Honestly, this was more than they needed.) It was loosely Halloween themed with the colours I chose – red, black, orange and green – but neither child seemed to do Halloween themed play, so perhaps this was more for my benefit than theirs! They used the shaving foam as glue, paint and ice cream. They made things and decorated things and wrote things on the silver foil.
It kept them entertained for nearly an hour and I can see that the same simple set up (tray, tub with a sensory base and some bits) will work again and again. I’m thinking of using ice and glitter as a ‘Frozen’ theme, lentils and animal figures for a ‘farm’ theme, play dough and cupcake cases for a ‘baking’ theme. In fact, just unrelated stuff put together because Quibble and Squeak will find a way to put them together. These are definitely the new sensory box!
Pinterest is my mother-so-secret obsession. I’ve had to delete the app from my phone to stop myself from scrolling through the endless images created by people with far more skills than I when I actually have a million other things to be doing. I know I’ll never be able to entirely recreate the images on these board, but I still like to think that pinning them makes me a step closer.
I’m aware that other mothers feel guilt, but I like to keep mine secret. I love my kids and I do the best for them and logically that should be enough. I should not feel guilty and so when I do, because of course I do, I don’t tell anyone. When my friends admit that guilt has stopped them from leaving before bedtime or going on a spa weekend or taking on an extra day at work, I feel slightly smug that I don’t have such problems.
These two things may seem unrelated, but when I came across a this image of a dolls house, I was surprised by the ferocity with which they collided.
I should probably explain that on the rare occasion I take Squeak to playgroup, she makes a beeline for the large plastic dolls house. She doesn’t seem to mind that there are only two dolls, a bed a cot and two chairs, but she minds a lot when another two-year old toddles over to share it. I decide that a dolls house would be a perfect birthday present and find only two problems with this. Firstly, they seem to cost a ridiculous amount of money. And then require you to spend more money on dolls and furniture. Secondly, they are all hideous. Huge, plastic and in three luminous shades of pink. And I look at the tasteful picture and utter the stupidest words possible: How hard could it be?
After a quick discussion with Stanchion (in which it was made clear that any attempt to build my own dolls house would not be salvaged by him), I decided not to build my own, but to buy, paint and decorate a second-hand house. And this is what I found:
It arrived covered in the dirt and grime of years in the attic and I seriously worried about what I had let myself in for. But by this point I was in too deep. Areed with a mixed bag of wooden furniture and an unwise amount of determination I poured a bowl of soapy water and got to work.
It turns out that washing something and painting it white makes a huge difference. Adding in the printed wallpaper to the back wall and the painted furniture makes it bright and colourful. I’m feeling pretty proud of my homemade dolls house. (I mean, don’t look too closely at the edges and corners and really don’t mention how the floor fell off and Stanchion had to screw it back on again meaning that he can forever remind me how I managed to bite off more than I could chew.)
But it’s really not about me, is it? That’s where the guilt comes in. Or rather, not guilt, so much as a worry that my best might not be good enough. And then Squeak ripped the paper off with the biggest grin ever, and I decided that this time, my best was good enough.
Thirteen hours in a car with two small children does not sound like fun. Unfortunately, (or possibly very fortunately) I didn’t think about this before I booked our holiday in the Vendee… a thirteen hour drive away. I spent a long time researching ways to entertain a two year old and a five year old (and had two willing volunteers to test them) and here’s five things I learnt:
1. It is important to know where you’re going – printing off a map of the journey with the route on seemed to give Quibble a sense of ownership because he could see where we were. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ was replaced with the slightly less annoying ‘where are we on the map?’
2. Busy hands make for quiet mouths – Both kids love play-doh, so to make it child friendly I put it in balloons making a stress-ball that could be squashed into simple shapes (although Squeak’s bananas bore little resemblance to the actual fruit). Another favourite was fiddling with pipe cleaners – Quibble made me a crown, a bracelet and a snowman and Squeak, well, she mostly just squashed them.
3. I Spy gets old very quickly – we were bored of it before we left Derbyshire, but we got a lot of mileage from a ‘Who can see..?’ variation and the kids excelled at ‘What am I?’ where we tried to guess the object, person or animal from a noise (Squeak always roared, even after Quibble tried to explain the rules to her). As Quibble loves counting, we tried counting how many of a certain thing (e.g. cow or tractor) we saw in a given time, sometimes trying to predict the answer first. I brought a couple of EyeSpy books with us, and although the kids are too young to start ticking them off and working out their point score, they quite liked going through them and announcing what they had seen.
4. Bags of toys rock – I gathered up all of their smallest toys (many were freebies from magazines) and found two little homemade cloth bags (previously given to them as party bags) to give out special treats whenever they really were bored. Lots of parents recommended wrapping toys, but putting them just a couple at a time in the little bags to pass back required less forward planning, created less mess and meant the same toys could be re-‘presented’. Their favourites were finger puppets, toy phones (they liked to phone each other) and old wallets filled with pretend money and out of date business cards.
5. If all else fails, snacks can save you – We had bottles of water, breadsticks, snack bars, boxes of raisins, biscuits and kinder treats, but the most popular snack by a long way was the fresh baguette we’d bought for lunch eaten Lady and the Tramp-style.
Last week had several sunny and warm(ish) days in a row and I was hit with a sudden need to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Unfortunately, my children don’t seem to share my enthusiasm. To be fair to them, the toys and TV are inside, whereas the garden is a relatively dull square of grass and a small plastic slide, so their reticence isn’t entirely unreasonable. I’ve tried quite a few ways to persuade them outside and these are the top five I’ve found:
1. A picnic – for some reason Quibble and Squeak think this is against the rules, so lunch, or even just a drink and snack, on a rug becomes an illicit treat.
2. Tunnels – we have a few pop-up tunnels in the shed and they are great for hide-and-seek, crawling (and chasing) through, rolling round in, squashing down and popping up… and anything else they can think of.
3. Water play – I’m not great with messy play in the house (luckily they get lots of it at nursery), but water outside doesn’t require cleaning. In full summer heat, we have the paddling pool and sprinklers, but in the spring-time warmth, I gather all sorts of jugs, bottles and bowls, paint brushes and spoons onto a towel on the patio or straight onto the grass.
4. Bubbles – ever since they were babies they’ve both loved watching bubbles. We now have a little bubble machine that I can set up for them to chase, but they are very keen to produce the bubbles themselves, so I also have some big sword wands and handheld bubble-makers for them to use. This summer I have big plans to use string and straws to create a giant bubble wand like this one for Quibble.
5. Box of toys – a little bit like a cheat sensory box, I like to grab a plastic box and throw in some toys and books at random, then take them into the garden with a blanket and some pillows. The kids are always a bit intrigued by what might be in the box and end up playing with the toys in a different way just because they are outside. This week we’ve had cars racing down the slide and Tre-Fu Tom fighting dinosaurs in the jungle (or lawn as it is usually known).
Of course, today it is back to rain and I should probably admit that I have bought them matching all-in-one waterproofs, for those rainy days of summer!