Weeknight Sensory Bins

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

I recently took a blogging break, a FB page break, and an arts and crafts break. Birth to 3 started up at our house and I had more on my mind than I could allot time for in the evenings. Plus, the closer it gets to the end of the school year, the more work I have to do. I can’t wait until summer! I do enjoy this hobby, so I’m back for a few posts but at a more leisurely, less urgent pace.

I know I’ve raved about them many a time before, but sensory bins are my go-to activity when the twins are antsy and I think to myself, “What are we going to do now?” Open play can only last for so long, especially for my son who likes to work. I used to do sensory bins periodically and typically on the weekends. However, after purchasing a $5 36-quart bin from Walmart (of which will eventually be part of our DIY water/sand table), I decided – I have the bin. Why not keep the bin OUT in the open all the time? That way the twins can access it whenever they want to. So this is what I’ve done.

The first thing I recommend is that the bin has a cover. When the cover is on, it’s not in use. The bin is OUT all the time, but it’s not available all the time. The kids would have to ask for it if they wanted it, otherwise I’d have beans and rice all over my house constantly. Secondly, I’ve found we need to have a designated area for sensory bins. When we play with water, it’s in the kitchen. For dry ingredients though, I’ve put two blue towels down in the living room and shut the gate to keep the dogs out. My common phrase to the twins is, “Do you want to do something fun?” and I bring out the towels – they know what’s next. Third – sensory bins are the most fun when you change up what’s inside. I decided to start keeping the bin tucked in the corner of our living room with whatever’s inside it for a few days to a week. Then, when they’ve played with it multiple times a day for a few days straight, I switch up what’s inside. It keeps the activity fresh!

I LOVE sensory bins. Sometimes, on Saturday mornings when I’m cleaning the kitchen after breakfast, I leave the toddlers to it in the living room and they’re fine. It’s something they can actually do by themselves without chasing me down. But after work, from when I get home at 4:00 and before my husband gets home at 5:30 – if it’s raining or 90 degrees out – I pull out the bin and get on the floor with them. And I find myself with my hands in that bin just as often as the toddlers’. It’s actually kind of therapeutic and relaxing!

I know a few friends who want to incorporate sensory bins into their households but say it seems daunting to do so. Sensory bins can be complicated – there are beautiful, themed bins on Pinterest that take just as long to set up as it would take to play with it. But sensory bins can also be unbelievably simple, and at this point, I don’t think my toddlers can tell the difference. So simple it is. When doing a simple sensory bin, I only need three major things: the bin, the base, and the toy.

My son doesn’t care for slimy, sticky sensory bins. I need to do more of those. But those are messy – those are weekend bins. My day to day bins after work need to be easy to clean up. I’m still in work clothes, I’ve got to get dinner ready – it can’t be messy. So for a base, I tend to rotate between various dry ingredients: uncooked rice, uncooked beans, seeds, rocks, uncooked pasta, etc. On my base addition list in the near future is epsom salt and oats. All these dry ingredients can be swept or vacuumed if need be. But honestly, it’s not typically a problem. I put the towels down. I ask the twins to stay on the towels. If beans make it across my living room (which just happened this weekend), they help me pick each piece up. If it were rice, I would vacuum. And as for the toy – the toy is optional, first of all. I know that if I add a toy to the bin, my son might not play with the base. He’ll be too enamored by the toy. When I want the twins to work on scooping and pouring, I don’t add any toys at all. Another option for the bin are the tools. We always had tools, until my Birth to 3 people told me if I wanted B to touch the materials in the bin, I needed to keep the tools away. He’ll always choose a spoon if it’s there. Nine times out of ten, I offer the twins bowls or cups at least to pour into, mostly to keep it off the floor.

As I recently organized my basement, I have a container full of gallon-sized ziplocs with various bases in them, and another container with small toys I keep just for this purpose, such as jungle animals, cars, dinosaurs, etc.

Here are four simple sensory bins we have been playing with over the last week or so:

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Rocks from the dollar store. Toy: Snakes and bugs (also dollar store). 

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

This one I introduced today, and my toddlers played with it for an hour and a half. It’s been a long time since they spent that much time in one place. C was super into scooping and pouring, and B was loving the bugs, the snakes, and the various colors and shapes of the rocks. They were sad when the bin went away for the night.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Uncooked rice (green from St. Patrick’s Day – still good!) Toy: Wild animals, from Target.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

This was before I had the new bin. Rice can easily spread out across a room, so I tend to only give them a little of it in a smaller bin. That day, C was into the rice, but B was into the animals.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Uncooked black beans Toy: None – but added kitchen equipment for tools.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

This bin was a huge success, and we kept it for three or four days before I switched it out. If you’ve never stuck your arm in a container of black beans, do it. Like smooth, soft little stones! On the first day, they scooped and poured for an hour. The next day, they enjoyed burying their cars and their hands in piles of beans and playing a bit of hide and seek.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Beans and seeds Toy: Dinosaurs

Finally, I didn’t take more pictures of this bin and I should have. I was in desperate need of an immediate sensory bin that didn’t require thought, and I looked in my cupboards and found sunflower seeds no one was eating and uncooked lima beans. I mixed them together and added plastic dinos and the twins loved it. As usual when there’s a new toy, B loved the different colored dinos and played with them both inside and outside of the sensory bin. C, as usual, was into the base, and enjoyed separating the sunflower seeds from the lima beans in little piles on the towel.

Born out of necessity, these daily sensory bins are now the easiest part of my work day. It’s already set up from the day before and easy to clean up. Not to mention cheap – most bases and toys were bought from the dollar store, making the total amount spent on each bin just under $2.

I’m a little obsessed with sensory bins – I love how they can be changed up, like getting a brand new toy from the store a few times a week, but with multiple uses and hours of playtime. I hope we still have years worth of bins ahead of us!

Here are a few other sensory bins we have tried (and loved) over the past few months:

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

Sensory Bath Sunday: Squeeze Colors

The Cheapest, Simplest Sensory Bin Ever

Coloring Rice (Sensory Bin)

Dried Beans Sensory Bin

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

Valentine’s Day Soup Water Sensory Bin

Please visit my Facebook Page for more sensory ideas as well as cheap, simple crafts and activities for toddlers and preschoolers!


Sensory Bath Sunday: Learning About Weather!

Sensory Bath Sunday: Learning About Weather!

Another Sunday morning, another extra-long bath time! It’s the only time all week I am in charge of bathing the two wiggle worms, so I’ve been enjoying finding fun ways to incorporate some sensory play into it. The mess is contained and will wash right down the drain anyway!

Recently, the twins spent their Sunday baths exploring colors; both with squeeze bottles filled with food coloring and then shaving cream paint. Both of these baths were successful! This time, I incorporated an actual topic into the bath conversation – weather!

At 21 months, the twins don’t know much about weather. Thanks to our wonderful nanny who made awesome weather sensory bottles, they do understand “sun”, “rain”, “clouds”, “snow”, and “wind”. They are just beginning to apply this knowledge to the outside, like when there is snow on the ground or the wind blows their hair. That’s about it, though. So I found this amazing website, Bath Activities for Kids, which has some wonderful and creative activities for a bath tub. There I found the weather bath, which I thought would be perfect for the twins! We did make a few adjustments to her original, as we didn’t jump into the world of tornadoes and other experiments. 🙂 Maybe in a few years…

All I did to create our toddler weather bath was cut the sun, a cloud, raindrops, a lightning bolt, and a rainbow out of foam sheets I already had from the dollar store. Foam rocks because it sticks when wet, and then peels right off to be reused again and again. In addition to cutting out these weather patterns, I used food coloring to turn the bath water a bright blue and then used shaving cream to make some 3-D puffy clouds to float on the surface. The twins were very intrigued when they walked in and got right to exploring.

Sensory Bath Sunday: Learning About Weather!

We discussed what they saw on the wall, and I explained that the raindrops came from the clouds, but I suppose that’s a bit abstract at this point. 🙂 They loved identifying the colors, peeling off the foam and re-sticking it.

Sensory Bath Sunday: Learning About Weather!

B just loved taking down the sun! Then I got out the twins’ play strainer and demonstrated a nice, heavy rainfall. C was really into it and played with the strainer for a long time!

Sensory Bath Sunday: Learning About Weather!After we talked all about the weather, the twins enjoyed swirling the shaving cream clouds into the water and then watching it all go down the drain. Stain-free!

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Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

We had ourselves a shaving cream weekend. On Day 1, we played with shaving cream on a cookie sheet as a sort of sensory bin. B wouldn’t touch it, C slathered it all over herself. I considered it a messy success.

On Day 2, I tried shaving cream again, but this time in the bath tub. Best. Decision. Ever. I did it as part of our weekly “Sensory Bath Sundays”. Basically, I’m in charge of Sunday morning baths and because we aren’t typically rushing, I like to do something fun in the tub. Last week, the twins thoroughly enjoyed using squeeze bottles to squirt different colors into their bubble bath. This week, I needed to use up that shaving cream can.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

The ingredients to this DIY Bath Paint are unbelievably simple and cheap, which is how I like it: shaving cream and food coloring – the same as for our sensory bin. I’m loving the neon food coloring I found, and mixed up 3-5 drops of each color into about a cup of shaving cream. I spooned the mixtures into an old muffin tin. This prep took me about five minutes, because I made four colors.

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

You know you’ve got a successful activity when both toddlers are happily occupied for a good half hour, and it would’ve been longer if I had made more colors. With their wide paintbrushes (similar to THESE), they scooped up the shaving cream and painted the shower walls with it. Again and again and again.

Eventually, C started putting her hands in it and (just like the previous day) started lathering it all over her arms.

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

B still wouldn’t put his hands in the shaving cream but he was so content with this activity that he wasn’t paying enough attention to notice if he got it on him accidentally. He was on a mission to paint every inch of the shower wall.

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

This simple recipe for bath paint may have just become my new favorite thing. Next time, I could mix up different colors and maybe even different sized brushes. Sure, the water turned a pretty dark and yucky color after a while, but I had to remind myself that it was soap. FYI – I know many children would happily paint the shower walls in an empty tub which might make for an even easier cleanup, but I knew my toddlers wouldn’t climb in unless there was water in there!

Sensory Bath Sunday: DIY Bath Paint

When they had scooped out every inch of paint from the muffin tin, I drained the tub and threw a few cups of water on the wall and we finished our bath. Not a single stain on skin or walls and C was upset it was over! We will absolutely be doing this one again – a huge success!


Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

Even though we enjoy sensory play all the time, I rarely give the twins squishy, slimy, or gooey materials. Mostly because I know they don’t care for them – which is exactly why I need to use them more. In fact, just introducing a bubble bath a few weeks ago was an adventure, even for C who typically doesn’t mind textures. At first, she wouldn’t even put her hands in the water. Now that I add bubbles all the time, they both love them. I know that sensory play is good for my kids, especially as B is turning out to be very cautious and skeptical of certain types of materials. Prior to this weekend, I had gotten away from sensory bins and so I decided to bring them back.

As usual, I wanted this sensory bin to be as cheap as possible and easy to set up and take down. And this time, I wanted it to be messy. Messy play is good play – and if I’m constantly wiping my hands or refusing to touch things or get dirty, I can expect my children to do the same.

One can of shaving cream is enough for multiple activities, and this weekend, we did two (second post coming soon!). This was the first one, and the first time the twins had been exposed to this sort of a texture.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

I suppose it wasn’t really a sensory bin; more of a sensory pan (I used a cookie sheet). After spraying the shaving cream all over, I added drops of pink and purple food coloring. I set up some towels on the kitchen floor and added tools, and encouraged the twins to play. I knew they wouldn’t stick their hands in it right away (which was my ultimate goal, for them to touch it), so I invited them to stir it up with spoons first. Both toddlers happily jumped at the chance to stir.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

As an added visual, the colors I chose were very soothing as they were swirled around the cookie sheet. It looked very cool!

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

After a while, I wanted to see if I could get the twins to touch the shaving cream. I drew letters on the cookie sheet with my finger, not jumping up to wash and wipe my hands (thought I wanted to!), letting them see me with the shaving cream just sitting on my fingers. C copied me.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

At that point, even she wanted to wipe her hands clean (B wouldn’t even touch it). I told her she could wipe her hands on the towel, and that’s how she started her game of “paint the towel”.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

It was around this time that I realized my desire to have them touch shaving cream was going to equal a big mess, but wasn’t that the point? They NEVER touch this sort of thing and I want them to be able to do that without worry or anxiety. So I just let her keep going. B stuck to the spoon and stir method and kept himself mess-free (darn).

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory BinI have always had more success with B using sensory bins than C, but that’s because I typically use dry ingredients or water. This being the first messy, slimy activity, I was surprised to find that C actually LOVES this sort of thing. She just didn’t even know it. The more she got on her hands and clothes, the more she wanted to cover herself in shaving cream.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

I really just had to laugh. This was my purpose for doing this activity, so I sometimes had to bite my lip to keep from jumping up and washing her face, her hands, her legs, etc. It all stayed on the towel, for the most part. I do wish B had been able to touch the shaving cream, but unfortunately on this first day, he did not. He did enjoy playing with it, as long as it wasn’t on him. C on the other hand, was covered. Thankfully I had thought to take off her white pants before this started.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

When she was all done playing she stood up and then I realized I was going to have a huge mess on my hands if I didn’t act quickly. This clearly couldn’t be cleaned up with a paper towel, so off to the bath she went.

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

After a quick rinse, she was all clean! I rinsed off the sensory bin tools and threw the towels in the washing machine. That was it! It looked super messy but the clean up was nothing! From this, I learned that we need to get messy more often with these types of textures, and that C actually loves it. Who knew? I’m hoping in time I can get B to at least tolerate it as well.

Here are a few other sensory bins we have tried (and loved) over the past few months:

Sensory Bath Sunday: Squeeze Colors

The Cheapest, Simplest Sensory Bin Ever

Coloring Rice (Sensory Bin)

Dried Beans Sensory Bin

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

Valentine’s Day Soup Water Sensory Bin

Look for my post on the how-to’s of sensory bins for beginners coming soon!

Please visit my Facebook Page for more sensory ideas as well as cheap, simple crafts and activities for toddlers and preschoolers!

Sensory Bath Sunday: Squeeze Colors

Sensory Bath: Squeeze Colors

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Every Sunday morning, I bathe the twins. Typically that’s my husband’s job, as I run around on weeknights and get jammies out and diapers ready. But on Sundays, we take our time for baths and make it fun. Being who I am, I decided it would be even more fun to introduce different sensory activities that the toddlers could do in the tub. It would change every week, but still be simple and cheap, as is my preference. 🙂 So, a few weeks ago we started “Sensory Bath Sundays”. Not every one requires a blog post, as our first bubble bath experience last week was a sensory activity in itself. This week’s, however, was super fun and easy. The twins really enjoyed it so we’ll be sure to do it again soon. We created water colors by squeezing!

Sensory Bath: Squeeze Colors

Long ago, I bought two restaurant-style squeeze bottles at Walmart for a dollar or two. I was glad they were clear (as some aren’t), so the twins could see what colors were inside. For this bath, I used blue and yellow food coloring mixed with water. As I’ve learned, don’t be afraid to use food coloring in the tub. It doesn’t stain in the slightest, even with the blue looking that vibrant. The twins got it all over themselves and again, no stains whatsoever.

Sensory Bath: Squeeze Colors

It took a while for the twins to understand what to do, even after I modeled it many times. The strength they needed in their hands to turn the bottle upside down and then squeeze it took some practice. Both toddlers were extremely engrossed in this activity, though only C really tried to copy me exactly, lifting the bottle up in the air, turning it over, and squeezing. She was more into this sensory activity than probably any other activity we’ve done.

Sensory Bath: Squeeze Colors

She did finally get the hang of it! B also loved this activity, though he mostly let the bottle fall to the side and watched as the drips crept out. They switched between yellow and blue multiple times, and soon enough, we had green water!

Sensory Bath: Squeeze Colors

It was neat to see how one side of the tub’s water with more blue would be a deeper shade of green, while the other side was a lighter hue with all the yellow pouring in. Next time, I’ll switch up the colors!

Sensory Bath: Squeeze Colors

Even as the water drained, the twins loved watching the colors run! I’m very glad we did this one – it couldn’t have been easier and touched upon a multitude of skills!

In this house, we are huge fans of cheap sensory activities. Here are just a few of the others we have done: The cheapest, simplest sensory bin ever, our first colored, scented rice bin, and simple snow ice cream!

As an FYI – I got this idea originally from an amazing sensory website, Growing a Jeweled Rose. She actually had her daughter spray the colored water with a spray bottle, which really soaked into the bubbles right away. Unfortunately, we didn’t have spray bottles, and with the squeeze bottles we used, the bubbles didn’t soak up much color. The water did though, so perhaps next time I’ll just skip the bubbles!

Simple Easter Egg Activities for Toddlers, Part 2


In the last week or so, we’ve been in full Easter egg mode. These eggs are such versatile toys – you can use them for so many activities and games for babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. We use them year round, though I’ve put together six activities in particular that are free (assuming you have the eggs already), simple in concept, and easy to set up. The twins did the six over the course of a weekend and loved them all.

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using these links, I will receive a percentage of the profits. 

PicMonkey Collage

Part 1 of our six Easter egg activities can be found here, where we played an alphabet identification game, had an egg race, and practiced sorting by color. This time, the twins enjoyed some scooping practice, a water sensory bin, and sorted with the help of an old egg carton.


This was a “throw together last minute” activity that actually worked out well. The twins were antsy, and I quickly loaded up two trays (similar to THESE) with some eggs, a plastic ice cream dish (like THESE), and a tablespoon. The original goal was for them to practice scooping up the eggs with the spoon and dropping them in the cup. C had other plans, and enjoyed opening and shutting the eggs multiple times. B did try scooping though.


The lip of the tray helped him in scooping up an egg with the spoon, though in retrospect this activity would have been easier if the eggs were in a bowl of some kind, not a flat surface. Oh well – they got the challenging version. B is persistent when he wants to do something, and was successful in scooping and bringing them to the cup a few times.


He had a good time, even though it was more challenging than I meant it to be.


Our Easter egg water sensory bin, as with all water bins, was a hit for the toddlers. I added a few drops of purple food coloring, some eggs, and some other tools. After they got started, I also added a little soap for a few bubbles. Not a complicated concept by any means, but the eggs had these little holes in the bottom that made it fun to scoop water and pour from.

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Pouring practice is all the rage in our house right now. They can’t get enough of it.


They enjoyed this water bin for a long time!


This last Easter egg activity was unbelievably simple, like so simple I can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner. I’ve had these eggs for a long time now, sitting in an egg carton. One night I grabbed some markers and simply colored the bottoms of the carton and let it dry overnight. The next day, the twins got their eggs and put the eggs in the corresponding spots that matched the color.


DSC_0318I couldn’t get too many pictures because this one was a little too easy for them – they had the eggs in correct locations in about 30 seconds, and they weren’t too keen on repeating the game more than once or twice. However, it would make a great travel activity as it’s portable and easy! The only thing I would recommend is to use a cardboard carton, not plastic, as the marker didn’t stick too well.

My goal was to find Easter egg activities and games that were simple and cheap – and all six of them fit the bill!

I’m on to something slightly more complicated (though still cheap) next. It might involve my sewing machine – we’ll see if I don’t change my mind!

Quick and Easy Snow Ice Cream – 4 ingredients!


My twins are just old enough to finally realize how awesome being outside is, and whenever we do go out and play, they’re always devastated to have to come back in the house. I knew this activity would certainly make the twins’ day. We made snow ice cream! For those who know me – yes, I don’t hesitate at the chance to make and eat something sweet. My husband and my two dogs also really enjoyed this activity. Even though snow ice cream took only five minutes to make, It got the whole family outside for almost two hours!


Recently, we had the perfect day – a fresh snow had fallen the night before, but the temperatures were nice and cozy – mid to upper 40’s. It was the perfect day to make snow ice cream without having to come back in the house. We had a lovely Sunday afternoon! Here’s what we did:


While the twins napped, I gathered their snow gear. Then, I mixed all the ingredients together in a bowl, except for the snow. Ready for this recipe? It only has four ingredients. SO SIMPLE!


Mix 1 c. milk,

1/4 c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla in a bowl, and chill until ready to use.

When ready, add 4 cups of fresh snow, stir and enjoy!

DSC_0010When the twins woke up and got dressed, we headed outside to their water table. Using measuring cups and spoons, we helped the twins each scoop two cups of fresh snow.

DSC_0021 DSC_0035After the snow was added, all it took was some good stirring for a minute or two until the consistency was what we wanted. I noticed that it got to a point that if we continued to stir, it would melt and we’d have mush. In the end, the snow ice cream was soft, but also icy – kind of like what would happen if you froze a milkshake. It had that slight icy texture. Now, our 19 month olds needed some assistance in the stirring process, but for slightly older children, they could do this entire activity by themselves – gathering their ingredients, scooping snow, and stirring it all together. It would be a great way to introduce simple and easy cooking to children.

The twins thoroughly enjoyed this delicious treat.

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I mean, they practically licked the bowls clean. My dogs DID lick the bowls clean. We just used vanilla and added sprinkles for color – and the flavor reminded me of a Dunkin Donuts Vanilla Bean Coolatta. It was quite tasty. There are other recipes out there that add other flavors, like chocolate or coffee. This was such a success that I think it will be a yearly tradition. In fact, I can’t believe I had never made snow ice cream before. I was missing out!


C, with her mother’s sweet tooth, would have eaten the entire big bowl if we let her. She was covered in ice cream, but it was a great snow experience for both the toddlers!  I’m so glad we did this – it was a ton of fun for the whole family!


The Cheapest, Simplest Sensory Bin Ever


This St. Patrick’s Day-themed bin was a result of what happens when you need an activity pronto that takes less than a minute or two to set up and will keep toddlers occupied for at least a half hour. I find myself scouring Pinterest and other blogs often for ideas on what we could do with the twins. But sometimes, it’s the simple things then lend themselves to the perfect activity – no trips to the store needed!


With all the sensory bins we’ve done lately, I never even considered the obvious soap and water. In fact, I didn’t think of it this time either. My husband did – and it was his first sensory bin! Go Daddy!

I wasn’t home, and I guess Lil’ C wanted to do some pouring. My husband has watched me plenty of times in the process of setting up a bin, starting with dumping out my shoes on the bed and stealing the container. He threw in some tools, a few old washcloths, soap, and green food coloring. Then, thankfully, he grabbed my camera. Another successful sensory bin!


As usual, the twins got right to work. Out of all the bases we’ve used in our sensory bins so far (water, potato flakes, beans, and rice), water is definitely their favorite. It’s also one of my least favorites, as it’s guaranteed to soak the children and then you have to deal with mopping the water up and getting new clothes. But still, it’s worth it once in a while.

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B just loves scooping and pouring. He’s been doing a few different pouring activities lately (more on that soon!), and really – he could just transfer water/rice/beans all. day. long. He is so serious about his sensory bins – he concentrates super hard and is quiet and focused. I’d say sensory bins are one of his very favorite things to do.


This was the first time washcloths were incorporated into a bin, and I’m glad my husband thought of it – it looks like the twins enjoyed playing with them. And really, it makes perfect sense: you can fill them with water, squeeze them out, watch water drip, scoop them up, and practice washing the tools. Great for fine motor development and strengthening hand muscles.

My husband gets home before me every Wednesday afternoon, so I’ll be curious to see if he found this fun and successful enough to start doing weekly sensory activities!

What are tot trays?


Lately, I’ve been on a wild ride. One that I’ve created. See, when I get excited about something new – I focus on that one thing exclusively for weeks with giddy anticipation for the creation of whatever I’m doing. It started last summer, with DIY sensory boards and a spaghetti sensory bin because – I was on maternity leave, and why not, it would be cute to watch. Then it took off from there. I found myself reading about sensory bins, learning towers, and skills that teach toddlers independence. B, throughout his tantrums, took a liking to all of those things and I realized, we have the need in my house. The same old toys and free play all day won’t work for them, especially B. He needs stimulation, he needs a variety of experiences, and he needs to do things on his own. I found myself drawn to toys that let the twins explore on their own and figure out concepts independently, like our treasure baskets and sensory bottles, rather than those toys that did all that for them.

Then my blog took a turn, focusing on activities and crafts, because that’s my life at home right now – that’s what the twins do. I don’t know what direction this blog will go in the future but it’s my hobby and I enjoy it. And whatever the twins are interested in, I’m interested in. I made buckle pillows and zipper boards (posts coming soon!). I got a sewing machine for Christmas. I got so pumped about all these little things I couldn’t sleep at night. I even got my husband into it, as he’s still making those learning towers (they won’t be done until spring, unfortunately!). And then, I stumbled upon the Montessori Method. I’m not the kind of person who throws all the eggs into one basket – there are many correct ways to do things. HOWEVER. I knew nothing about Montessori, except that it was an expensive preschool. I still don’t know much about it, so this post isn’t about that. But what I have found is that everything B needs, everything that my husband and I believe in (independence at a young age, discovery, problem-solving, etc)….matches the Montessori method, almost to a T. We had no idea. As I read more about it, I’m really in agreement with so many of the Montessori concepts. My twins are only 19 months; they aren’t going to preschool for quite a while. So I wanted to implement something at home that resembled “preschool learning” because the twins love to learn new things.

Since I’m focusing mainly on cheap, simple toys (which typically do fit within a Montessori-type activity), I hosted a Busy Bag Exchange back in December (another future post). The bags were great but I wanted more.

So just recently, through a Montessori lens, I discovered tot trays. And fell madly in love with them. As far as I can tell, “Tot Trays” were coined by Carisa at 1+1+1=1. Her website is loaded with ideas – more than I could ever search through in one night. But the idea is quite simple, and very much like a busy bag. Basically, the child does an activity; a simple, cheap, educational activity on a tray. I just bought trays but when I tried tot trays for the first time, I didn’t have them and used a cookie sheet instead. The activities are not meant to last hours and hours (though bonus points if they do!) – they are short activities that reinforce skills – everything from math or language arts skills to practical life skills (like practicing pouring water into a cup, or picking up things with tongs, or scooping with spoons). It can be anything really, so long as it fits on a tray. It’s not complicated and it doesn’t need to be over-thought. Many people do tot tray activities without knowing they have a name. The idea with the tray is that the child will be responsible for it. As soon as they are able, they will carry the tray with the activity on it over to the floor or a table and return it when the activity is over. From a practical standpoint, trays have raised edges, and raised edges keep messes from going everywhere! I just adore them.

A few weeks ago when it was (shocker) snowing again, we needed something different and quick after nap. I decided to implement our first two tot trays, back to back. First, we started with a color matching tot tray. I printed out the color sorting mat from here, grabbed an old cookie sheet and the large sized pompoms I already had. After realizing I only had one cookie sheet, I ended up giving the babies their coloring mats on the table with a container of pompoms for each of them. Their only job was to take the pompoms and match them to the corresponding colors on the mat.


They did it in about two seconds. I don’t know if that’s good or bad! That’s the thing with tot trays – I mean, I obviously started them with one that was not a challenge for them, which made the activity short. I would imagine the goal is to challenge them at least a little bit. I love the many skills being applied here – knowing the colors, but also identifying letters, feeling textures, and the fine motor skills necessary to place pompoms on a small circle. B was especially into this tot tray, and kept trying to get the pompoms to stick to the paper. (I added pink, white and black pompoms at first because I knew they knew those colors – but when your mat doesn’t have those colors on it? Yeah – don’t do that. Lesson learned!) B practiced saying the colors a few times.


And that was it for our first tot tray! Luckily, I had one more planned. I grabbed two sheets of plain paper and as this was around Valentine’s Day, I drew a big heart on each paper. Then, on the “tray”, I gave the babies a sheet of heart stickers and two Dollar Tree crayons. So simple and so cheap! My kind of activity!


I tried to get the twins to put the stickers “inside the heart”. That didn’t work out exactly, but that’s okay. C was especially into this tray. She is madly in love with stickers right now – they both are. I had to peel them off for her but she stuck every one down and then went to town with the coloring.


She couldn’t stop smiling through the multiple sheets of stickers she went through! She really had to work her fine motor skills around pulling stickers off my fingers and then sticking them onto paper.


This tot tray lasted much longer than the first one, which was nice. When they were done, we hung them up on the slider with our other heart crafts. My first introduction to tot trays was a success. I’m not sure how I’m going to post about them and organize them here on this blog, but I plan to do many more tot trays with them in the future. Next up – learning to carry a tray!

On a side note, I won’t have a blog post about this one but my nanny made amazingly adorable weather sensory bottles.


This picture is not my best work, but the bottles demonstrate “snowy”, “windy”, “rainy”, “sunny”, and “cloudy”. I’ve just set up a Facebook page and there you can find the link where my nanny found the idea!

Coloring Rice for Sensory Play (Valentine’s Day)

coloring rice for sensory play title pic

With today’s snow day (our 4th snow day in the past few weeks!), I gave the twins yet one more sensory play opportunity. I’ve been dying to see how the 18 month olds would do with rice, and since we’ve recently played in sensory bins filled with water, potato flakes, snow, and dried beans, this seemed like the next logical step. As I’ve mentioned many times before (and hope to have a post coming soon), my son B is extremely curious/opinionated/strong willed and most of all, sensory stimulated. He loves textures and music, sounds and sensations. Sensory bins were made for him.

If you’ve never shoved your hands in a bucket of uncooked rice, you really should. It’s actually very relaxing and therapeutic. I’ve got many different rice bin ideas floating around in my head for the future, but I decided to start with a Valentine’s Day themed rice bin. This meant I needed to color rice. It’s SO EASY. Here’s what you do:

Gather your supplies – white long-grain rice, food coloring, and distilled white vinegar. You can also add extracts (as I did), but that’s totally optional. There are many recipes out there, but in keeping with my DIY activities’ theme, I wanted coloring rice to be easy, quick, cheap, and also safe for mouths. I used Learn, Play, Imagine’s recipe.  Because my sensory bin is large, I decided to make a double batch.


Directions for coloring rice (Valentine’s Day themed): (DOUBLE BATCH)

– RED: Two cups rice, 10 drops red food coloring, 1.5 tbsp. white vinegar

-PINK: Two cups rice, 5 drops food coloring, 1.5 tbsp. white vinegar.

Now because I was feeling extra crafty, I decided to add a few drops of peppermint extract to the rice. Extracts go a long way; not much is needed. Without it, the rice only smelled like vinegar if you deeply inhaled the rice (which isn’t probably what you would be doing anyway). With the extract, while we all played in it today there was a nice, faint smell of peppermint. It wasn’t overbearing. I’ll definitely use other scents with my rice in the future. I’ve now decided that this pink mixture I’ve made can be Valentine’s Day themed or “Candy Cane” for Christmas.

-Mix together. I started in ziplock bags, but found the color wasn’t distributing well.


So after a few minutes I dumped it into a bowl and found it much easier and quicker to mix. I would definitely recommend using a bowl.


You do not need a lot of vinegar – play around with the amount, especially if you don’t make a double batch like I did. You only need enough to lightly coat the rice, as it helps move the color around. If you find the color not spreading evenly, add a bit more. If you do use too much though, it’s fine; it’ll just take longer to dry. After mixing thoroughly, dry out the rice on a foil-lined cookie sheet.


With the amount of vinegar I used, it took maybe a half hour to an hour to dry. It wasn’t bad at all. I imagine in the summertime and with more vinegar it would take longer, so making it the night before you plan to use it would be a good idea. Because I let the rice dry completely, there was absolutely no staining on the twins’ clothes or hands. And I would know, because C was wearing white pants today!

Once it’s dry, store it in an air-tight container or like I did, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  As you can see, I added the rest of the rice bag to the mix for some plain white. It’ll keep for months!


Play around with this – add your own colors and scents. The process of coloring rice took me a total of 10 minutes and cost me nothing as I had all the ingredients in my house already. A free, fun activity that would kill lots of time in an otherwise cabin-fevered day.

So today was another day in what I am now believing is the “18 month sleep regression”. The one nap the twins took was early and short. They barely ate lunch. They were just blah. And for B, who thrives on these sensory activities, he didn’t give his usual focus and concentration on this bin. I don’t think it was the rice though, I think it was his mood. They did get right down into the bin and immediately shoved their hands in it, grabbing the rice and letting it drop all over their clothes. As usual, I first taped down a cheap vinyl tablecloth to the floor for easier clean up.



Originally, I let the dogs hang out with us. I typically do. But with the peppermint scent and the fact that it was rice, the dogs started licking their way around the mat, so I banished them to the living room where they could watch us without eating our bin. Puppy dog eyes were tried. It didn’t work.


Surprisingly, (or not, with these lack of naps), the twins started to seem a little bored after only 15 minutes or so. These bins usually give us a good hour of solid concentration before anyone gets antsy. I decided to bring out my next trick, the same hearts we used in our Valentine’s Day Soup water bin.


And then I made a crucial parenting error. I got all excited about the hearts and had this idea that I would bury them and the twins would dig them up. Except I jumped right in to bury them before the twins even had a chance to play with them at all, and being overtired, B was very upset. He started in on full meltdown mode and I thought for sure the activity was over.


After a few minutes though, he did calm down and came back to play. I’d even say he enjoyed himself, as he typically does.


And he proved his love for the hearts after all, even after I tried to hide them. We still managed to pass about 45 minutes of our day!


Now, for the ratings:

The set-up rating: A 1, unless you are coloring rice, in which case maybe a 4.Once it’s colored, dump it in the bin, add tools and it’s ready to go!

The cost rating: A 1. You would probably have these things in your house already but if not, they could be purchased at the dollar store.

The mess factor: A 5. Rice is messy in that it’s small and light, so it’s easy to throw and spread everywhere. Kids like to grab handfuls of it and see how it feels when it hits their clothes and the ground. If you were doing this outdoors and didn’t try to save it for future use, the mess factor would be lower. But in between bouts of stirring and scooping, I went around with my hand on the vinyl mat and scooped up runaway rice back into the bin. In doing that, I kept the mess to a minimum. For clean up, I dumped what I couldn’t pick up back into the bag and then my dogs took care of the little rice stragglers. If I didn’t have dogs, a quick vacuum would’ve done the job just fine. It really wasn’t bad at all, but I gave the rating a 5 because it COULD get out of hand. Here was part of our mess:


I will absolutely do a rice sensory bin again, though. It was fun – I enjoyed it as much as the twins did. On to the next one!