Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Product Review: Prism Bricks vs. Crystal Bricks

I've been meaning to write this review for 6 months now. Oh well, at least I'm finally getting around to it. Back in February I posted about my son playing with transparent blocks on our light table. The first set I purchased was the 84 piece Alex Prism Bricks from Amazon. I was so excited when I ordered them because I thought they would be a great addition to our light table materials. 

They looked great on the light table. The set comes with one clear base to use as well. As we started to play with the blocks, my oldest daughter became increasingly frustrated because the blocks do not stay snapped together when stacked. They merely sit on top of one another. They fall over easily so you have to rebuild your structure over and over again. We were sooo disappointed. I decided to order the Constructive Playthings Crystal Bricks to see if they worked any better. 
When we received them we discovered they snapped together VERY WELL! They actually worked! Even my 2 year old can play with them without being frustrated. I returned the Alex brand crystal bricks. For just a few dollars more you get 50 more bricks with the Constructive Playthings set. You do not receive a base to build on though. The Constructive Playthings bricks do fit on the Alex base so I purchased a set of the the translucent Alex bases(I was able to buy these for quite a bit cheaper than $19) for us to use with the Constructive Playthings bricks

That was back in February/March and we are STILL playing with our Constructive Playthings crystal bricks! These are a part of our daily light table play. They get used at least a couple times a week if not daily.

Toddler Sensory Activity: Instant Snow!

My husband and I were up north for a weekend getaway in May and we always have to come back with something for the kids. This year, we really tried to get them we didn't have already or something just different and fun. I've seen Instant Snow on different websites like Discount School Supply and I've always thought it would be a fun sensory experience for the kids. We found a small tube of it in a toy store while we were up there and I thought it would be fun to try it. I ended up putting it away until the end of the summer when we were really looking for something new to do. I mixed the little beads with water and put it in the freezer for a bit, but we just couldn't wait to play with it. It wasn't as cold as it probably could have been, but they got the idea of it.
I added various size scoops and cups to play with the snow. I decided it would be best to start off with the big girls playing with it before I let my 2 year old experience it.
They thought it was pretty cool. Since we just bought a small tube, it only made about 6 cups. I think the girls would have loved for there to be more of it.
They were able to "pack" it. I think you could probably use a mold and make little "ice" blocks with it to build an igloo or other structure. The kids pretty much just played around with it, feeling it. Kellan thought it was pretty fun too!
It was pretty darn messy and sort of difficult to wipe up. It says on the label that you can dry it out and reuse it. But it stayed pretty wet for a day or so. I was worried it would get moldy. I had the not so bright idea to just set the bin outside in the summer heat thinking that would dry it out faster. It ended up MELTING and it was a sticky mess. I'm not sure what the heck that stuff is made out of but I didn't really like the residue that was left. The bin cleaned up just fine with some warm water and dish soap. 

I'm sort of ambivalent about Instant Snow. On the one hand, the kids really seemed to enjoy the experience of playing with it. But I don't like the clean up. And I'm not sure if you could really ever reuse it. Maybe the kind from Discount School Supply is a bit different. I think this is fun for a once a year sensory bin, but I'm not sure we'll be experiencing it more often than that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Toddler Sensory Activity: Apple Sensory Bin

I realize this is an art blog, but my two and a half year old is not really interested in art projects quite yet. So I try to do activities with him that appeal to his senses. And well, isn't art about your senses? The way you view something, the way something makes you feel. So, hopefully, he can still learn about elementary art ideas such as shape and color through sensory play. I'm hoping he becomes more interested in actually CREATING art projects when he gets a bit older. Below, is the apple sensory bin I put together for him.

First, we have a new sensory table in our kitchen! I know my son will NOT be neat and tidy with any sort of sensory activity and I didn't want to always be getting something out and putting it away. I wanted a dedicated spot to store a sensory bin and our light table. An area that he could go to let me know he wanted to do these sorts of activities. My son has a speech delay so he cannot verbally communicate what he wants yet. This works out well, because he can pull me over and point to what he wants to do.  The sensory "corner" simply consists of an old end table that has lived in almost every place I've lived in my life (it was in my mom's house when I was growing up and I took it with me when I moved out). A rubbermaid container holds the sensory bin materials and can be stored underneath the table. Our light table can fit on the shelf below the tabletop and the bin on top of the light table contains the messy play. The materials we use on the light table are stored in a separate cupboard.
Okay, onto our APPLE SENSORY BIN!
Above, the materials I gathered for the bin. The apples are fake. I got them from Dollar Tree. Other dollar store items include: puff balls, pipe cleaners (that I twisted to give them a fun shape), plastic shot glasses, measuring cups and spoons and trays for sorting.
I also bought the large white plastic bowl from Dollar Tree. I put oats in the bowl and mixed the red, green, and yellow materials. Gave him an ice cube tray for sorting or pouring or whatever he wanted. You could also add cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to the oats to give an added sensory experience.
 Here it is in the sensory corner!
 Isn't it fun that Big Sister is into it too! ;-)d
 Pouring and dumping the oats!
It's really nice that Kellan's big sisters like to play in the sensory bins too because they use the tweezers and they sort. Things he doesn't quite do yet, but it is great they model this for him to see. He doesn't say the word apple yet. But when we first opened the bin, I said, "Kellan, where are the apples?". He picked them right up and showed them to me!
He even made a two syllable vocalization where I knew he was trying to say apple. This was a huge accomplishment for us!! :-)

Just as a quick sidenote....I also cut up pipe cleaners and emptied an old parmesan cheese container so he could work on fine motor skills by putting the pipe cleaners in the container.
Unfortunately, he was not into this activity at all. So no pictures of him playing with it. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. ;-)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Toddler Sensory Activity: DIY Slime!

I will admit it, during the summer, my son was in front of the television quite a bit. I have 9 and 7 year old girls and a 2 1/2 year old boy. It's tough to find art activities that will work for all three of them. We did do a few projects all together this summer, but quite a bit of the time, if I was doing something with the girls and it wasn't nap time, poor Kellan was watching a movie. Now, this wasn't all day or anything like that. But definitely more TV watching than I would like. So, now that school is back in session for my girls, I've tried to make a concerted effort to do activities that are on Kellan's level and get him away from the TV. I actually have quite a few to post about, but today's was so fun I had to jump on here and post right away!

We made SLIME! And he LOVED it!

We were inspired once again by The Chocolate Muffin Tree, and her slime exploration post. All you need is the following:
--Glue (either Elmer's white glue or Clear Glue--we used Colorations Clear glue from Discount School Supply)
--food coloring or liquid watercolor
You mix 3/4 cup warm water and 1 cup clear glue (or elmer's glue) and coloring (we used Liquid watercolor--a few drops was all we needed). We mixed the water and glue in the green measuring cup and then poured it in the bowl mixing the color in there.
How fun is it that there are actually photos of ME doing the project with Kellan! My husband works from a home office and he happened to come up for his lunch today at the same time we were making the slime. He grabbed the camera and took a few photos of me with Kellan. :-)
Then we mixed 1 1/3 cups warm water and 4 teaspoons of Borax in a measuring cup (make sure none of the Borax is inhaled and none of the slime ingested). Then added that to the bowl with the colored glue mixture.
Once you add the Borax mixture, you see results IMMEDIATELY! The slime starts to form right away.
As soon as we had it mixed up pretty well, we took it out of the bowl and played with it on the counter. There was still quite a bit of liquid left in the bowl. I just set that aside. After playing with it for a bit on the counter, I moved him to the light table to play with it! Because we used clear glue, the slime was fabulously transparent and looked AMAZING on the light table!
After playing with it with just his hands for a bit, I got a pumpkin cookie cutter and that worked really well too! The slime is thick enough to "cut".
If I had thought of it while we were playing, I would have grabbed a few black beans for him to make a pumpkin face in the slime. The opaqueness of the beans would have looked really cool on the light table against the transparent nature of the slime! We'll definitely do that next time.
After he was done with the cookie cutter, I gave him a ziploc bowl. He squished the slime in and dumped it out. It held the shape of the bowl! You could make "sand" castles with different size and shaped molds!

After you play with the slime for a bit, it gets sort of crumbly. So we added it back to our liquid in the bowl and kneaded it a bit and it became more liquified again.
All in all this was an incredibly successful activity for my sensory seeking boy! We just put it all back in the bowl and I covered the top with saran wrap. It's sitting waiting for the girls to get home from school. I'm pretty sure my nine year old sensory seeking girl will LOVE this as well!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Craft Project: Gifts for Summer Sitter

I had a WONDERFUL high school senior who helped me out over the summer. She nannied for us once or twice a week and it made my summer so much easier! We all LOVED her! Even though we have one more year to have her sit for us before she heads off to college, I wanted the girls to make her something to say thank you for all the hard work she did over the summer.

Ella wanted to make her a foil embossed canvas like the ones we made for our kitchen wall. We kept it smaller and bought 5 x 7 canvas boards. Lily wanted to make her a button mosaic but I asked her if she'd like to use pony beads instead (we have TONS of pony beads and not so many buttons left). ;-) She said beads worked for her!

I started off by having the girls draw their designs with pencil. Then, Lily glued her beads on the paper and painted her canvas board. When they were both dry, we glued them together and here's her super cute ladybug bead mosaic:
While using glue and yarn for the foil-embossed canvas worked all right, I recently saw a blog post that suggested using glue for the embossed design. I had my 9 year old draw her picture and then I used Discount School Supply tacky glue to go over her pencil design. I thought this would raise up better than using Elmer's school glue or Glue-all. I went over my lines twice. We let it dry and then instead of using spray adhesive to adhere the foil, I used a simple glue stick. It worked FABULOUS!!! And much less messy than spray adhesive. I then used a q-tip to push the foil down around the dried glue. WORKED AMAZING! We will be doing all our foil-embossed projects with this technique from now on!

Here's the foil before she colored it:
And after being colored with Sharpie markers:
LOVE how both of these turned out and our sitter was overjoyed to receive them!