Mixing potions tray activity – and discovering schemas in play

This was an interesting play set up, I’m so used to having to pretend that shaving foam ice creams are delicious – I wanted to put Arlo’s mixology skills to the test for real. I’ve been reading about schemas recently and figuring out that Arlo seems to have a penchant for transforming things and so I wanted to build on this through our play. It’s not often I can even set up a tray to surprise him because he always wants to get involved with mixing doughs and slimes to set up. In fact I decided to give this activity a go after I found him putting random bits of food in to our drinks at the dining table.

Messy play isn’t just about creating a distraction to do the laundry or filling in the time between meals and then clearing it all up before bedtime – providing children who have a natural interest in mixing things with an open ended activity gives them the opportunity to explore and interact using their imagination. When you take a step back and observe how they play you can learn a lot and then create activities to introduce new concepts and ideas which they will want to engage with. There’s method behind the madness.

You will need:

  • A selection of fruit juices
  • Soda water
  • Fruit garnishes
  • Food colouring
  • Ice
  • A range of cups and glasses
  • Pipettes
  • Squeezey bottles
  • A big tray with high sides

Mum hack: I didn’t want to overload with sugar and so I watered down our fruit juices

I set up the tray with everything ready for Arlo to explore – bowls of fruit, various juices spread out and a little cup of paper straws too – plus his pippettes and squeezy bottles which he is familiar with. I didn’t tell him the drinks were “real” at first and so as expected he dived right in and started mixing me up a drink. He was happy to role play and gave me a delightful blue concoction to sample… I usually pretend to take a sip or taste of his mud pies and shaving foam ice creams and so he found it hilarious when I gulped a blue potion straight down.

This was a complete game changer – as soon as he realised that the drinks were real a totally new approach was decided upon. He slowly went round the tray sampling the different flavours, describing and comparing flavours as if he was a critic for the Times. I found this fascinating to watch and really enjoyed interacting with him as he found words to describe and explain the flavours to me…. “spicy” is the word he used to describe soda water.

Of course there was still mess involved which is why I use a tray with such high sides for indoor play – but this activity really highlighted to me just how Arlo’s thought and decision making processes work. He was a lot more careful and deliberate with his mixing from this point. Arlo’s natural urge to “transform” things means he’s like a little scientist always wanting to learn as much as he can about a new things – he is not afraid to test things out to see how they work and then find new tools and resources to experiment. I think we have come to the conclusion that peas and carrots don’t belong in our drinks which means that this is a success.

We really enjoyed this doing this together and there was nothing left to drink at the end of it. Now I know about schemas I can look back and understand why some of our play activities haven’t kept him occupied for as long. I’m going to adapt some of our existing resources and come back to previous projects with a new approach to see how we can plan to learn some new concepts, and also keep an eye out on his little experiments and let these inspire it activities….. I’m going to have to do something with bubbles soon because he poured an entire bottle in the sink earlier today.

Arctic indoor sensory bin activity

Continuing on with our Antarctic and winter themed play activities today I decided to make Arlo up a messy sensory bin of icebergs…. but instead of using a tuff tray outdoors I used a storage container which has a depth of about 20cm which is enough to contain the mess for indoor play.

You will need:

  • A storage box
  • Slime
  • Orbeez
  • Various plastic containers
  • Plastic Animals
  • Water

This was an activity which required a little bit of forward planning but because Arlo loves ice I’m in the habit of freezing things most evenings anyway. My initial idea was to just make huge ice blocks but I fancied a little bit of colour and so I threw some left over orbeez from a previous activity in to some plastic cups, cups, ice cube trays and as many containers as I had space for in the freezer.

They freeze quite nicely in to blocks and then it was simply a case of mixing up our slime stuff and popping our icebergs in to the container before placing the animals in and around, and the letting Arlo loose to play.

I know that Arlo loves this slime stuff and playing with water and cups etc as we usually use it in the bath – so I made this mixture up with half the water required and also provided cups and a jug of warm water – this meant that as water was added the ice bergs melted – the orbeez were released in to the mix and we ended up with a colourful sensory experience.

The best thing about using these under bed storage boxes is that they come with lids so after the play this morning we covered it all up, and then came back to it again this afternoon. I like to try and make the most of these big sensory bins when we use lots of materials so I’ll pop this stuff in to his mud kitchen or on his tuff spot outdoors tomorrow for some more messy play fun.

A snow dough tinker tray

Continuing on with our winter themed activities I have made a batch of snow dough, Thai is slightly different to our usual play dough recipe and has a texture which is a bit like kinetic sand. I added glitter and provided Arlo with a tinker tray and invited him to build snowmen with me.

You will need:

  • One cup of oil
  • Two cups of cornflour
  • Glitter

The secret here is to add the cornflour to the oil and not the other way round because it’s easier to mix it all up. Cornflour is the stuff we use to make oobleck and it’s non Newtonian texture means that it creates an unusual dough texture – its crumbly and flaky but makes fab snow balls. I use baby oil but if you have little ones who still mouth things then you can use vegetable oil just as well. Mixing the ingredients together is a part of the fun for little ones so roll your sleeves up together and get stuck in.

For alternative themes you can add food colouring and scents/flavours to your dough to create a more sensory experience.

I like to use “tinker trays” when we play with dough, they are party platters from Asda. I fill the compartments with random bits and bobs to suit the theme – so with the idea of building a snowman in mind I rummaged around and I found matchsticks for arms, pipe cleaners for a scarf and then various buttons, plus beads and sequins for facial features – and some cotton wool and buds just because they were to hand.

When we do things like this it’s always interesting to see how Arlo interacts with the pieces. I like to make an “example” ready for him to copy and give him an idea of where to start. Sometimes he pushes me aside and wants to completely get involved. Other times like today he sat beside me and gave me orders…. but didn’t want to actually touch anything at first.

He asked for a dog and so I moulded a shape and then he took over and added the button nose, Google eyes and pom-poms himself. He’s come back to the table two or three times to have a play and quite likes the matchsticks but insists that he doesn’t like snowmen so we’ll have to see where we end up. I’m going to try a different type of dough with cornflour later this week so we’ll see how we get on with this.

Magic mess free painting

I can’t remember where I first saw this idea – probably a Pinterest board or another mum blog but it’s certainly one worth sharing!

We love mark making – I used to be happy with paint when we had laminate flooring and Arlo didn’t move quite so fast but with cream carpets and my little Usain Bolt on the loose this is the next best thing!

It’s a sheet of magic paper used to practice Chinese calligraphy. You use water instead of paint and it turns black on contact.

I gave Arlo and cousin Paloma sponge brushes and little pots of water and let them play – and it occupied them both for about 20 mins.

The paper clears once dry and you can re use it over and over again. It probably takes about 15 mins to dry completely so it’s something you can keep coming back to.

Paloma was quite delicate and happy making more intricate lines immediately whereas Arlo too a while but as soon as he figured out the water made the marks he started pouring it and splashing and patting with his hands

This magic paper is from eBay and cost me £5.50.

We have also tried the aqua doodle which is £15-20 from most high street retailers and creates colourful patterns but is often out of stock and also the Melissa and Doug “wow” books which are about £5 on Amazon which are great options for “on the go” (we’ve used them for travel and also at restaurants). They all share the same principle and I’ve noticed a definite improvement in the way Arlo does make marks and handle brushes and his utensils.

Ice Excavation

This is such an easy prep activity it’s worth storing in the memory bank for summer. All you need to do is add some small colourful items to a container, fill it with water and freeze it.

Add the frozen block to a washing up bowl or a Tuff Tray and provide some tools to experiment with.

In this block we added brightly coloured ribbons and pom poms, along with a hammer and a couple of cups of warm water to melt the ice. We have repeated this activity with various themes. I’ll share my favourite dinosaur themed excavation on another post as it requires a little more preperation.

Feeling Natural

  • Sensory baskets are such a good way to start encouraging independent play. Arlo was seven months when he got his first basket. I decided to create a natural themed basket as up until this stage he had mainly experienced plastic and brightly coloured toys.In this basket I chose to include:
    • Wooden spoons
      Cotton flannel
      Sponge
      Leather chamois
      Wooden curtain rings
      A pine cone
      A dolly peg
      A plait of wool
      A bath mit
      A couple of hair scrunchies.
  • I set the basket up in the middle of his play mat during a nap time and then let him loose when he was awake. He made a beeline for the basket immediately and reached over to spill the contents.
  • These were all things he’d never really played with before so he pulled things out one at a time, banging and waving around the spoons and putting the sponges to his mouth to explore the textures – this occupied him for at least half an hour.

    I made several different themed baskets and used to stash them away and bring them out in rotation so he retained a level of excitement. Sometimes I would add/remove things to see if he would notice. I’ll share more of our sensory activities on other blog posts.

    Rainbow ribbons

    Arlo is about three months old here and was such a smiley baby. I’m a strong advocate for sensory play and this project is such a nifty little idea.

    You will need:

    • A curtain ring (Wilko’s do a set of 5)
    • Ribbon

    Make sure you remove any hooks from the rings and check them for splinters. Then start to tie your ribbons – I used a simple pull through the loop.Then all you need to do is repeat this with a few more colours. It goes without saying to make sure that this is a supervised activity – waving the colours in front of Arlo caught his attention and then he liked being tickled too.

    I used to switch the colours and textures of the ribbons every so often to switch up the sensory experience