Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Gift of Fun Dough!

Are you stumped for a quick and easy gift for preschoolers that they will actually enjoy? Homemade playdough is such a great gift and totally customizable. I recently found this recipe for playdough on To the Moon and Back that I absolutely LOVE! One nice thing about it is that it requires no cream of tartar, as most homemade playdough recipes do, just plain old vinegar. It also has great texture and is long-lasting, even when left out by distracted little ones. My preschooler would give it two thumbs up if he knew what that meant! It's also quick to make; one color batch takes me around 10 minutes to complete.

For my gift giving purposes today, I cut the recipe in half. This amount yields about 8 ounces of dough. I made three different colors, pink, violet, and teal, and split each color in half for two gift bags.

The ingredients are simple: flour, salt, vinegar, oil, water, food coloring, and glitter (optional). If you eat whole foods and only have high dollar or fresh ground flour, buy a bag a cheap white flour and salt for this recipe. I don't usually have vegetable oil on hand, but olive oil works just as well.

Knife tip of gel coloring.
I start by measuring the liquid ingredients into the pan. Then I dip my knife tip into the gel food coloring and scoop out a pea-sized blob (or so). Then I swirl that into the liquid ingredients. Don't worry if the final color is too light because you can always knead in some more color at the end. I like my colors to be vibrant, so I put in a good bit of coloring to start.

Next I sift in my flour (if the flour is lumpy it can leave white bits in the final dough--but sifting is a preference) and add the salt. Then I add in some glitter. For these I used several different glitters I had on hand, some regular and some superfine. This would also be the time to add any spices you might want to make a scented dough. I have made both apple pie and pumpkin pie scented dough and it is heavenly! I tried adding peppermint essential oil to the dough, but the scent did not last. If I ever figure out how to make a peppermint scented dough, I will be in playdough heaven. I have also replaced a small amount of the flour with cocoa powder to make chocolate scented dough--yum! And I have replaced the water with chai tea to make chai scented dough (with the addition of ground spices as well). It's totally customizable!

Put the pan on the stove on medium heat and stir continuously until it forms a sticky ball. See original recipe for details. Scrape the sticky ball onto a clean countertop and run water into your pan to get it clean for the next batch. Let the pan sit in the sink while you knead the ball into a lovely smooth, playable consistency. If the dough color isn't dark enough, just place a bit of gel coloring onto the dough. Fold it to the inside and knead the dough until the color in incorporated. This may stain your hands, but it will come off. Shape your dough into a pleasant shape (maybe a cube) for gift-giving, or dump it into a lidded container, or play immediately! Allow the dough to air out until completely cooled or the container will steam up and leave moisture on the dough.

Ways to play: Make pretend cookies, make balls and snakes, or just let them have at it with whatever toys are lying around. My little one loves to stick animals and pipe cleaners in the dough. He's also into making snowmen with unused birthday candle for arms. Whatever, they do with it will be fun.

This playdough would be great as a stocking stuffers or neighborhood, friends or family gifts. I am so thankful to the folks at To The Moon and Back for posting this treasure of a recipe.

Give the gift of FUN this year!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Sensory Box-- Cheap and Quick!

I am writing this now to the sweet sound of sifting rice. I have discovered during my teaching of a weekly home school preschool class that little ones LOVE sensory boxes! I never did these with my older two boys because they were preschoolers so long ago that it probably wasn't all over the Internet like it is now. Because we are on a break from co-op for the holidays, I almost didn't do a sensory box for Lil' D. Then today it occurred to me that a Christmas box would be fun. I really love the sensory boxes filled with natural objects, but today I wanted quick and easy, no foraging required!

Hand-in-hand we walked into the Dollar Tree. The last time we had been there was to find items for our Halloween Sensory Box. He was baffled that there were no skeletons to be found anywhere in the store! Once he had gotten past that issue he became enamored with the decorative Christmas gift boxes with lids. I was tempted to buy him some, but we pressed on to the goal.

Let me just say, my sensory boxes are usually the clear shoebox size. I am very frugal when it comes to fillers and I find the shoebox size to be plenty room for fun, and easy to store away. Because the box is smaller, I can buy fewer items. The first thing I chose was a box of battery operated LED globe lights. I knew this would be festive and unusual in a sensory box. I also found a package of wrapped gift ornaments, some educational linking shapes, and a Christmas Tree peg game. At the last second I grabbed a set of red plastic measuring cups from the kitchen aisle (because you can never have too many measuring cup, right?).

Once at home I decided to use white rice as my filler. I get a really big bag of rice from Aldi for under $2, so this is an economical box filler. Navy beans would also be nice here. I also gathered a few red pipe cleaners I had on hand and a clear plastic drinking straw from the cabinet.

I was going to bury the LED light box in the rice, but I was afraid that rice grains might get into the switch slot, so I taped the battery compartment to the back of the box. Then I just dumped the rest of my Dollar Tree treasures in.

So what do you do with it? Well, there's obviously free play. Little ones just love digging through the rice and examining the various objects. Some other ideas: Color sorting the gifts. Object sorting the peg game figures (D figured this one out on his own), counting different color groups, threading the linking shapes onto pipe cleaners or straw, or you can create a printed scavenger hunt card of the objects and numbers or colors that they can look for in the box. You could take photos of the objects for this card, or maybe clip-art, or simple drawings. Laminate it if possible and you can store it in the box.

All-in-all, this box cost me $5 (along with objects I had at home) and D will get several weeks use from it. The little gift ornaments will probably be ruined by the end, but everything else (including the rice) can be stored away in zip-lock bags and brought out for another time.

Where should you set it out? The best place is somewhere at your child's level, like a play table. If you already have an "invitation to play" station, then that's great. If you are like me, and do not, then you might have to hunt down a suitable spot. We usually have ours on the kitchen peninsula (where he stands on a long bench) so that we can converse while he plays and I work. Today I purchased lumber to build him his own table. I hope I can finish it before Christmas!

Glowing Lights

There are only about a million other ideas and objects that could be used for a Christmas box, but I thought I'd share this easy one in case you are making a trip to the Dollar Tree and are looking for some easy, low-cost preschool entertainment for the busy holiday season. Happy box making!

Word of Caution: As always, sensory boxes should be used with your discretion and supervision. You know what types of things your child will be able to play with without difficulty. Always be aware of choking hazards, etc. Spend some time exploring the box with your young child and then put it away where they cannot reach it. If your child puts everything in his mouth, I wouldn't recommend this type of sensory box.  If your child has never played with a sensory box, time spent together in it will be very beneficial. This type of sensory box is perfect for my 3 1/2 year old, but may not be for yours.