Today’s invitation to play: Little Pea’s sensory bin filled with an Autumnal playdough tree and leaves scented with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and complete with cinnamon sticks, leaf-shaped biscuit cutters, oak leaves, acorns, sycamore seeds and conkers.
Little Pea has started walking and it is exhausting. For me, not so much for her. She only stops running when she’s asleep, so is probably the fittest person I know.
I decided to
earn myself some respite channel Little Pea’s new-found love of walking by helping her make tracks like the animals in one of her favourite stories, The Gruffalo’s Child. We have the sound book, and I always seem to accidentally lean on one of the buttons when I’m trying to sneak her into bed. But she loves it, does a wonderful snake impression and is fully on board with the lines, “Aha! Oho! A trail in the snow!” so was quite excited to be making her own footprints.
I started by sticking a large sheet of paper to the floor with masking tape so that it was secure enough for Little Pea to walk on without it slipping. In a plastic tray, I put a selection of paints, brushes and things that she could make prints with: a plastic snake, some sponges and some good old potatoes that I had carved mouse and owl footprints into.
We started after nap time by re-reading The Gruffalo’s Child while she had her snack, then hopped into some old clothes to get down to making art. At first, we walked back and forth across the paper without any paint on her feet so that she could see that there were no prints left. I then asked her to pick a colour and she chose the orange paint, which we put onto her feet with a tickly sponge. She loved looking down at her feet leaving prints on the white paper until the paint had worn off.
After that we chose an object at a time, with Little Pea selecting a colour and me saying the name and asking her about her choices until we had some red mouse paw prints, yellow owl claw prints and a green snake’s trail. As you can see, she thought it was great fun and has maybe gained a better understanding of what the Gruffalo’s child is following in her hunt for the Big Bad Mouse 🙂
Little Pea and I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar, though reading it has not been without risk. At ten months old her chubby little fingers were exactly the right size to get their little tips caught in the holes the caterpillar has nibbled through his five-a-day when she flicked through the book by herself.
Back in May, Little Pea was watching with fascination as I sowed seeds for our raised beds in seed trays and directly into the soil, and I thought it would be lovely for us to make her a little garden of her very own that would show fairly instant results. She probably won’t remember any of it when she’s older, but it was a lovely thing for us to do in the here and now and we can revisit it next year, and the year after, and the year after that… after all, who’s ever grown tired of the greedy little fiend?
To make our planter we used an old egg box cut in half and some cornflour paint coloured with green Wilton food colouring. I usually use yogurt with food colouring mixed in, but wanted something with a bit more staying power since it would be getting watered regularly. The cornflour paint did the job, giving great coverage and drying to almost a plastic finish. As you can see, she loved smearing the paint everywhere with a variety of brushes and sponges. She seemed to love the slimy texture, and by the time she had finished she’d painted the egg box, the blanket, the grass, her baby grow, her hat and her Mammy. Amazingly none of this stained.
When the caterpillar’s body had dried, I cut a head out of red cardboard and drew a face on it. Little Pea was very excited to see the caterpillar had escaped from her book and watched in fascination as I filled him with cotton wool balls soaked in water (tip: I added green food colouring and this allows you to see if the cotton wool is drying out very easily) then sprinkled some cress seeds on each ball.
We inspected the caterpillar every morning watching the seeds germinate and grow into tiny cress plants. I’m not sure how much she understood what was going on but she seemed very enthusiastic about the ritual and she was delighted when the cress had grown enough for her to help (well, she was trying to be helpful) picking it.
She then enjoyed the cress snipped up on her scrambled eggs. Great encouragement to try some new food.
At the moment, Little Pea is fascinated by flowers. Her favourites are dandelion clocks, which she loves to try to blow, closely followed by dandelions which make her giggle loads when she feeds them to our twitchy nosed guinea pigs.
Roses are great in her book, because they smell nice and the petals are silky when you pull them off. They are also a win in my book because they are edible and we have a rampant dog rose that flowers wildly with pretty tatty looking petals, so I don’t mind picking them and letting Little Pea do her worst.
This rose playdough contains rose water to echo the smell of the flowers themselves.
- Two cups of white flour
- Half a cup of vegetable oil
- Half a cup of hot water
- 1 tablespoon of rose water
- Gel food colouring
- Optional organic rose petals to decorate
- Optional edible glitter
I began by mixing the flour, vegetable oil and rosewater in a mixing bowl but found that the oil and rosewater combination meant that the dough was very crumbly and didn’t combine properly, so I stirred in hot water (about half a cup) until it achieved a consistency that I was happy with. I then worked some Wilton’s food colouring gel through the dough.
I laid it out on a plate with rose petals and edible glitter for Little Pea to play with which she seemed to find very exciting, she approached it very cautiously, checking that it was okay to touch and play with the petals before getting stuck in with wild abandon. Without the rose petals, I think that this would keep very well for a few days in the fridge. But a word of warning, with the rose petals, the dough became a bit of a sticky sappy mess by the next day so I decided to dispose of it. On the whole though, it was definitely worth it because Little Pea loved poking the petals into the dough and pulling them back out.
A little while ago, it seemed like it was raining all the time so I decided that Little Pea and I needed a beach holiday. Lacking any money because, maternity leave, and being more than a little pale of skin anyway, a winter sun break was out and we had to improvise.
I knew that Little Pea loved a sand pit because there was a great one at a community farm we visited with her older cousin a few months ago. However, since then Little Pea has been actively teething and everything goes in her mouth so I needed to make sure the sand was edible. I came across a great recipe for edible play sand at Clare’s Little Tots and it couldn’t be easier to make. All you need is five parts wholemeal flour (I used some bread flour) to one part vegetable oil, mix them up until you have a crumbly texture and, hey presto! You have edible sand which is safe for babies to play with.
I popped on a seaside playlist that I’d made on Spotify to create the mood, and Little Pea loved pushing the edible sand around with her fingers and feet, as well as burying her toys and digging them back out. She tasted a little bit of the sand, but on the whole was more interested in scooping, spooning and throwing it, so I was happy to keep it in a bowl in the fridge for a week and to keep adding it back into the sensory bin when we were ready to play with it again.
This did leave a slightly oily residue in the base of the sensory bin when it was cleaned out, but a little duck water play with lavender bubble bath cleaned it out with lots of fun and no effort at all.
Little Pea’s favourite thing in the whole world is splashing in water. Whether it’s in the bath or in a pool of water she’s tipped from her sippy cup, if there’s water she loves it. She also loves ducks. It didn’t take a huge mental leap to know that she would love a chance to play Five Little Ducks in her sensory bin.
I put warm water, lavender baby bubble bath and a tiny drop of dark blue food gel into the sensory bin (a 32 litre storage box that I repurposed for such things) and set this up on her oil cloth with a towel to catch any drips. As well as the five rubber ducks and their mother, I added paper straws for interest.
We had a great time singing Five Little Ducks and I think having the ducks in the sensory bin helped Little Pea make the link between the abstract words of the rhyme and the concept behind it, as we removed a duck for each verse and then I counted them while handing them to her to start the new verse. I think Little Pea was even more relieved than Mother Duck when all of the little ducks came back!
She also loved watching me blow bubbles into the water using a paper straw and got bold enough to touch them with her toes and then her fingers.
When I was looking for recipes for a baby-safe play dough for Little Pea, I found a lot of recipes that were technically edible but had a crazy high salt content- not great for babies and their little kidneys, so I decided to try making a baby safe version based on my favourite oil based cookie dough.
By swapping the dry ingredients for flour and leaving out the eggs and almond extract, I ended up with a two ingredient play dough which can easily be mixed up in ten minutes, less if you’re not adding colour.
I used four cups of white flour (this was a mixture of strong white flour and self-raising because I had bits to use up in the cupboard) and one cup of organic rapeseed oil but any vegetable oil would do. Once you’re happy with the consistency of the dough- adding more flour if you want it to be a bit firmer- you can divide it into balls ready to add the colour. I flattened mine into sheets before adding Wilton’s gel food colouring, just a splodge in the middle before folding it in. Once it’s incorporated into the dough I don’t find that it stains, but it can mark your skin if you get it onto your hands before then.
I was pretty pleased with this as an emergency, wet afternoon plaything. Little Pea loved watching me measure out and mix up the ingredients for an easy two ingredient, ten minute edible baby play dough. By the time I put her down on her oil cloth to play with it she was bouncing around with excitement and coupled with some “baking tools” it easily held her attention for fifteen minutes of baby-led play with lots of poking, pulling, tearing and mashing- really working those little fingers! After that I couldn’t resist any longer and had to join in.
While this was a fantastic dough for Little Pea’s needs at the moment, for an older toddler who has advanced their fine motor skills to moulding and shaping I would probably experiment with a stronger mixture which holds its shape better.