Repurposing Containers: A Fine Motor Activity

I am so over this cold weather. We are desperate to get out of the house, but the temperature has been below zero for days, if not weeks. Yesterday I bit the bullet and took the two 19 month-old toddlers to the library for the first time. By myself. I knew what I was getting into. It was every bit as exhausting as I knew it would be, but the twins played with some new toys and took out a few board books. We just needed a change of scenery, and on a Friday afternoon after a long work week, I didn’t have it in me to think of something new and fun for them to do at home.

Today, however, we had a nice, relaxing morning together. We started off with dried beans in the water table, which I’ll post more about in the future. After that, we moved on to a basket I had been working on for quite a while – repurposed, recycled containers. DSC_0519

Most toddlers seem to get a kick out of household items that aren’t toys (or is that just my twins?). They constantly want what they can’t have and it’s frustrating for them and myself when I have to repeatedly tell them “no”. At this age, they are also going through a phase of wanting to open everything themselves. So a few weeks ago I began collecting containers. I tried to choose those that varied in size and difficulty in opening. As you can see, some containers only need a quick twist to open, while others are much more challenging.

I washed all the containers thoroughly with soap and water, let them dry, put them all in a basket and let the twins go to it. Judging by their silence and focus – I’d say it was a hit. Of course they chose to sit with the light from outside at their backs, not helping my photography efforts, but I still managed. 🙂

DSC_0507 DSC_0473

Both toddlers focused on this repurposed ice cream container as it had an easy to twist lid.

DSC_0491 2

It was really fascinating to watch them work their fingers around the small lids and their entire hands around the large ones – it was really a wonderful fine motor exercise for little hands. Not only did they seek to put the lids back on the containers, but they practiced matching which lid went to which container, and C even stacked smaller sized items into the bigger containers. It kept their attention for a good 30 minutes.

DSC_0499

Fitting with my theme, this activity was FREE (not counting the money spent on the containers from their original purpose). It was easy to set up, easy to clean up, and a simple concept – my kind of activity! When the twins got bored, I packed all the containers up and stored them away, to be used again when we need an instant filler activity!

“Faux Snow” Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

Wintertime in New England means it’s too cold to go out. And staying indoors all day, every day means cabin fever. So I’ve been on a bit of a personal mission to find different, DIY-type cheap and easy things for my twins to do and play with. On our first snow day, we did our pom-pom contact paper activity and then we journeyed out into the snow. It was very cold and underneath the snow was a sheet of ice in the backyard, so the twins mostly stood there. They enjoyed the different environment and the change of pace but we didn’t last too long. I took a few pictures and we went back inside.

 

That afternoon, I knew they needed another activity. These naps, as I’ve mentioned before, are so damn short – an hour and a half max (but they sleep 12.5 hours at night..). It’s a long afternoon from 2:00-7:00! B thrives on stimulation, so sensory bins are his new favorite thing to do.

I decided to try making a “faux snow” potato flake sensory bin, since it was a snow day after all. During the nap, I quickly gathered up my materials and set up the bin:

DSC_0479Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

The large storage container I’m using for my sensory bin is actually for shoe storage. In typical fashion in our house, I dump my shoes on my bed while we’re doing the activity and put them back in later! I probably should buy another bin, but for now, this works. I bought a box of instant mashed potatoes and dug out my small storage container of sensory bin tools – cooking spoons, measuring cups and spoons from the dollar store and a few toys. I first saw this idea for a potato flake sensory bin at The Train Driver’s Wife, but apparently it’s a common bin to do. I put down a vinyl tablecloth I bought at the grocery store for $4 and taped it to the ground, assuming this bin might be a little messy (foreshadowing alert!). As usual, the twins dug right in.

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory BinDSC_0605

The texture of the potato flakes is very dry, almost like sand. It’s easy to scoop and drive trucks through. The twins did some stirring and transferring for a little while. They also found the fun in grabbing handfuls and releasing it, though it wasn’t always over the bin.

DSC_0560

They started to get a little antsy though, sooner than I expected they would, so I added water and asked them to help me stir the bin. I continued to add water to the consistency I wanted – more “snow” like and easy to mold and squish. After that, they were able to make little balls and pick them up, pat the chunks down and really explore the texture.

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

My goal with each sensory bin is to keep them occupied for at least 45 minutes. As they started to get bored of the activity, they went into their storage drawer in the kitchen full of their cups and lids and started taking them out and bringing them to the bin. I was a little conflicted for a second because on the one hand, I wanted to keep this bin going. At the same time, each container joining the game would be more clean up for me! Obviously, for all of our sanity, I let them take out some containers. Then they practiced stuffing the containers with the potato flakes and pushing the lids on. I made my goal of an hour. We finished with C learning how to drink from a little tiny cup.

DSC_0691

The twins had fun. I added it to my growing list of sensory bins we’ve tried. It was super easy to set up and extremely cheap. HOWEVER. The mess factor, from a 1-10, was an 8.

First of all, it smells like potatoes and spices. Because that’s exactly what it is. I didn’t mind it, but there was an ever-present odor of food in our kitchen. Second, after adding water and stirring, we essentially made potatoes. If I slapped them on a plate and heated them up, they’d be ready to eat. I expected the twins to taste it at some point but they never did. This is probably for the best though because they both hate white potatoes! More than the fact that they smelled like and WERE potatoes – it was messy. Even with a large tablecloth, inevitably dry potato flakes and wet potato chunks made their way off the mat. Little feet in socks stepped in them and then trailed them around the house. It was sticky. The dogs had a field day with their tongues doing the job of a mop all over the halls. Luckily we didn’t have any houseguests who would have been in some shock 🙂 And because it was food, each and every storage container, spoon and toy had to be washed. Next time, I wouldn’t add toys because it was hard to clean wet potatoes from them! After I cleaned it all up, I swiffered the floors in multiple rooms.

With all of that said, it wasn’t a failure at all. It was fun and the toddlers enjoyed it. I’m glad we tried it. We may even do it again – but not for a while. 🙂