Should Food be used in Preschool Sensory Activities?

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Every since I dipped my toes into the world of Early Childhood Education, the hotly debated issue of whether or not food should be used in preschool sensory activities has come up multiple times. My background in the arts, where all supplies were fair game for art-making, didn’t prepare me for the variety of opinions that circle this topic.

TinkerLab reader, Pam, presented this question on Facebook after I shared a post for making colored rice:

Should food be used in toddler sensory activities?  |  TinkerLab.com

And Pam’s question reminded me of a question from our friend, Lori, just two weeks earlier:

Should food be used in toddler sensory activities?  |  TinkerLab.com

Since this question comes up a lot, I wanted to take a moment to unpack it here and share some of the pros and cons for using food in toddler and preschool sensory activities. Please keep in mind that the word “preschool” can relate to a preschool classroom setting or to the age of a preschool child who is at home. My own answer to this question (shared below) differs according to the context.

I’d love to invite you to share your thoughts on the topic, as it’s quite possible that something will be left out. My goal isn’t to convince you to take a stand in one camp or the other, but to provide you with the tools you might need to make a decision that’s right for your situation.

I pulled together some reader quotes from the aforementioned conversations and invited some blogging friends to chime in on the topic as well.

Let’s go…

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Con: Using food for Play is Insensitive and/or Wasteful

With millions of children in the world living in poverty I think it is ignorant to use food for play. Sticks, crunchy leaves, seed pod, tree slices, bark, dirt, organic sawdust, shells, small stones, sand, ice….. The list of non food, non toxic FREE play alternatives are endless. Mother Nature has provided us with all we need for sensory play. - Lee-Anne

When you fill your sensory table with rice or millet you are being playful with an amount of food that could feed a family for weeks. It teaches children that materials are abundant, and not of any great value, things that aren’t true in most of the world. In my center we use edible materials for babies but we try hard to find ways to value and honor the food that we use.  – Kendra

It is not about confusing play with food you would eat, it is more like using food in play as though it were nothing, when in reality in many countries out there, it is very expensive, heck, 1 play bin could feed a family of four for 2 meals in our own country. We do not realize how much other people struggle and it is seen as wasteful. It was mentioned on my blog how many USA bloggers treat rice and beans and lentils and the like as nothing, but in many other areas those things are expensive. Not just underprivledged struggle either, many Americans that are there for the Armed Services find those things pricey in many areas as well…it is about being informed. - Michelle

Just know your audience. If you’re working with families facing food insecurity, seeing bins or beans or rice “wasted” can seem disrespectful. I use a lot of dried beans and dyed rice in my sensory bins, but I make sure it is ok as far as the population I’m serving first. – Sarah

Best practice means being respectful period, not just the make up of your class for one particular year.  – Mary

In New Zealand we don’t use food ie dried pasta etc for play as its not Tikanga. Cultural principles around the subject. There are many many other natural resources we use to provide tactile play.  -Sarah

Play with food at the table, in the context of eating, is ok, but playing with food for enjoyment sake itself is, in my view, a real first world ignorance. It could feed a family, perhaps even one in your centre, for a day and you disregard that issue with this type of play. Also, stuffing bean bags with dried beans, rice or other such food, is not a good idea either, for the same reasons. Many cultures keep food sacred, separate from all other activities, and with good reason. I highly suggest avoiding food-play in this way. The greatest food play is getting even the youngest of children to help you prepare food- my 2 yr old loves to bake, peel carrots and whisk eggs. Making games of the meal is all part of learning to enjoy food. Hope this helps. Non-toxic toy alternatives are wool, cotton, wood, and flax, not food.  - Tota

Oh my….Food needs to be respected- not played with! Let us try as an early childhood community to raise children on the concept of respecting food, where it comes from and how it is vital for nutrition. – Cathie

It is a child care regulation in my state that food cannot be used in sensory tables nor art projects for the cultural and wasteful reasons others have mentioned.  – Genuine

Pro: Using Food for Play is not Insensitive or Wasteful

It’s funny how being respectful of food with children comes up frequently, yet the biggest challenge facing most of the global population is clean drinking water. We frequently use it for “play” and for washing off surfaces. Children in some areas are deprived of a good part of a school day because they walk hours to get fresh water for their families. In schools here we have “water tables” and “splash pools” full of drinkable water before it gets used.  I have no problem with staples being used for food play with children. Food banks and global donations always contain a surplus of those items. Fruits and vegetables, dairy, and proteins are items to be avoided for food play with children. Anyone who is struggling financially has no problem putting macaroni or rice on the table. It is the other 3 food groups that are challenging. A lot of staple foods are thrown out because they have gone stale or not eaten. Using them for educational purposes is better than discarding them.  - Alan

I prefer to use the food scraps. We have a post on vegetable scrap stamping. If the food is going into the disposal, the trash or the compost, and it presents an opportunity to learn (either by dissecting it, planting it, or doing some art with it), then it is great to use. It also affords an opportunity to have the kids in the kitchen with me while I cook, where we can do an activity together even though I’m getting chores done. – Patricia, Critters and Crayons

As a history educator, I keep in mind that food items often were and are still used in play and art all over. Consider, too, that the bag of rice you buy in your developed world grocery store won’t otherwise be going to someone living in hunger l. Global hunger is less due to a food shortage than to war, lack of infrastructure, and a political failure of will. Rather than take stand on a particular type of material, I focus on being mindful of the effects of our choices and the ways in which we can further social justice.  – Candace, Naturally Educational 

 I used a bunch of old macaroni that was stale for a sensory bin for my toddlers. Seeing as it isn’t cooked, it’s hard to recognize as “food” and I would rather use it in some way than throw it away because it never got eaten. Plus, my 2 year old tends to put everything in his mouth and I would much rather him end up with a stale piece of macaroni than sand or beads. – Christina

I don’t agree that using food in a different way is “wasting”. It’s being used, meaningfully and with great purpose. Are kids wasting finger paint? No they are using it. They are learning with it. It is valuable. I appreciate the need to be sensitive to families both socio economically and culturally but I reject the idea that use is waste.  - Kawai

We enjoy using food for our crafts and sensory play. I do understand that it may be seen as a luxury to be so wasteful with food – but then surely having a huge variety of paper, handfuls of crayons and pens and many many more craft materials could be considered a luxury too? This may be a little black and white for some, but if I can afford to buy a pack of marker pens for $5, then I can also afford $1 for a bag of rice. – George, Craftulate

We use rice in our sensory table because we have yet to find something that feels as wonderful. We’ve been using the same container of rice (we rotate) for two years now. We are not being wasteful with it and have found the benefits to be wonderful. – Melanie

In regards to the food “waste” issue, I would argue that food is not being wasted, just used in an alternative way. Is the food being digested and giving the body nutrients? No. But is playing with food stimulating my child’s nervous system in ways that non-food sensory play can’t? Yes. And in the long run, we’ll be “wasting” much less food because my child will now eat the food we played with, rather than refusing it every time it’s presented on a plate.  – -Jordan, Motherhood and Other Adventures

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Con: Preschool Kids May be Allergic to Sensory Activities

Also a consideration is food allergies or intolerances that may crop up in the classroom. It’s hard to have to make changes to the curriculum year to year to safely accommodate everyone so if you can come up with non food alternatives that may be best.  - Lissa

My daughter had a dairy allergy when she was a preschooler. It was brutal worrying about every potential craft or activity being something that could harm her. I’m grateful she outgrew it, but I remember those anxiety filled days well.   – Melinda

As a parent of children with food intolerances, I dread any food-based activities at school. Especially at preschool with my toddler, who is more likely to jam things into her mouth. In fact, when my oldest was a toddler, she viewed the sensory table as her own personal all-you-can-eat buffet. (This was before I knew how those ingredients affected her.) As a parent, I either have to hope the teacher can exclude my child from any activities involving foods she’s intolerant to if there’s a risk of ingestion, or else I as the parent have to provide enough of a safe alternative for the class to use instead. Which can quickly become an expensive burden! I do see the value of food-play, and it’s a safe way for littler ones to have sensory play without fear of choking. It’s also a great way to raise adventurous eaters, by having them interact with ingredients in multiple ways (taste, touch, smell, etc,) and by using familiar foods in different ways (a lot of kids get stuck in a rut where a food must be served the same way every time!) So as long as the teacher/school is willing to accommodate food allergies and intolerances, then I’m all for food play at school! But if a child is constantly put at risk or must be excluded from an activity, then that class may have to miss out on food activities. -Kendra, Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Pro: It’s fine if Children have no Allergies

As long as there are no food allergy issues, I’d say go for it. Kids will play with food no matter what.  - Teri

I have children that put everything in their mouths. Using food made more sense than anything else because it wasn’t going to be toxic if they ate it. It also wouldn’t leave trace on their hands and was easily replenished. We reuse the food as much as possible. I have a cupboard with jars of various food used in arts and crafts and play that gets brought out again and again. -Cerys, Rainy Day Mum

Pro: It’s Helpful to Children with Sensory Needs

As a mom of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, yes, food should definitely be used in toddler and preschool sensory activities. Presenting a child with food to play with, instead of eat, is a way to introduce new textures and smells without pressure. The child is allowed to explore at their own pace, and in their own way. My son never was willing to taste pasta until after we explored cooked spaghetti in a sensory play activity. -Jordan, Motherhood and Other Adventures

My son had sensory integration issues and was only 14 lbs at 1 year. He was on a feeding tube and went to OT. At OT, do you know what they did? Play with food!. It actually teaches them to get used to different textures and not have an aversion to new foods. I was born during the Vietnam War and there was mass starvation when the war ended due to collectivization of the farms and bombings. I personally had to get over food hoarding and being a member of the clean plate club. Like everything, moderation is the key. Be respectful and don’t throw the rice around, keep it in the container and try to reuse it afterwards (make bean bags, make maracas, stress balls in balloons, heating pads, I Spy bags, rainsticks, etc.).  – Lucy

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Con: Natural Objects should be left in their Environment

Would like to just throw out there that it seems many who have big concerns about food play are suggesting the alternative is to simply gather items from nature instead, and that idea is grand but should be approached with consideration to the natural world versus ”free for the taking”. If everyone heads outdoors to gather up sticks, twigs, pinecones, seeds, flowers, bark, etc. then you’ve now taken food and shelter from animals who depend on us leaving these things be. Absolutely, there are responsible ways to acquire some natural items within reason; e.g, from your own property, but typically most educational sites and resources do not promote this, they simply put in their lesson plans ”gather up some pinecones and make this glittery craft” or ”swoop up flowers from a nearby field to dissect or learn fractions”, etc. Squirrels and Bees would suggest perhaps growing your own flowers and pick one pinecone vs. a plethora, especially if it so happens to be a weak year of natural food. I know where we live is scarce this year due to rain last year and the bears and wildlife are hungry searching for what they can. As well, some natural found items are federally protected resources that can land you in big trouble for taking. So it really seems that providing any materials to children to play has a plus and a negative aspect to it. Perhaps looking at it altogether differently is an alternative. For example, children digging and growing a small garden themselves gives sensory experience whilst building an appreciation for food, as well as not taking food from wildlife to play with. Picking and Washing the veggies also are hands on sensory experiences. Eating and preserving most whilst using a few in crafts and games much like ancient cultures did. For example, making apple heads or bobbing for apples, creating corn dollies or even corn husk dolls. Or maybe gather natural items at a time of year they are not so crucial to wildlife and then returning them when needed (fall/winter). Another alternate idea from food; either human or animal, is building up a recycling/repurposing inventory. Milk jug tops, empty cartons, squeeze bottles, jars, cans, etc. These can be turned in to fantastic toys and play items.  - Missy Louise

Pro: Food is Natural and Healthy

I used to have a problem with it, but now I think it´s better than buying other toys/playdough etc. We reuse the dried food/homemade playdough over and over. From an environmental view I actually think it´s better than a lot of plastic, battery operated and general toys as they are often made with nasty chemicals, break and may end up in landfill. So I would much prefer to be letting them play with dried foods that will decompose! Kids naturally play with food at the table when they eat and I actually think it´s important to do this so that they can experience the food you are expecting them to put in their mouths. In saying all of this rice, flour and beans are about all we use (easy to store and re-use). At Christmas/easter time the odd potato for stamping. - Felicity

I have to say I lie in the pro-food camp. For me the benefits of using food in preschool activities outweigh the cons. I personally like using food because it is a less expensive alternative to many costly art supplies, because it encourages children to see unique ways to use everyday items, and because it makes for safe, non-toxic play materials. - Ana, Babble Dabble Do

I understand the concern but do you want your children to play or accidentally ingest toxins??? I would much rather use rice or flour than something that would harm their growth, remember this is used as a learning tool and something to keep in mind using toxins what message is that sending? I am all for organic but we must understand there is a down side to this usage also.  – Robin

My girls are 3 and they know not to play with food at meal time. They constantly do food play at school and home…..I would rather them eat a Cheerios than a plastic bead. If they are taught to understand (which they can do at preschool age) it shouldn’t be an issue. - Jessica

You could have food on plates that could be played with then eaten. You could use beans for play then plant them. I’d much prefer kids playing with biodegradable products than something that’s going to end up in the bin like the loom bands everyone has gone mad for. I think in the scheme, of things a bag of rice is fine for play, perhaps playing with food might bring children closer to understanding and appreciating it. I’ve made veggie critters with kids and it’s a wonderful activity.  – Kristy

 If we are not “pro-food” in sensory play, then what are we? Unless you’re only then reaching for natural materials, the alternative is synthetic, manufactured items that cause their own environmental footprint and sense of “disposable” waste. If properly cared for, food sensory items can be reused again and again — the same bag of quick oats, the same batch of homemade playdough.
Food provides unparalleled, multi-sensory engagement and is something that most people reading will have ready access to.
Also, if the concern is having children “play with their food,” I would suggest that allowing this might encourage children to be more adventurous with their food choices. Even painting with spices might encourage a plain-eater to try something a bit spiced up! – Jennifer, Study at Home Mama

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Take the Middle Ground

Gather materials from nature for your sensory bins. Rocks, pebbles, sticks, fresh cut herbs, dried plants, mud, etc! It’s free, teaches about our local environment, and can be returned outdoors or composted. Personally, I use limited amounts of food materials. Winter wheat berries that we then give to a farmer is great in the fall. Talk about wheats life cycle, read “little red hen”, sprout wheat, talk about wheat to flour, bake some bread. All in balance friends. No sense judging one another’s practices!   - April

Really, it’s about the balance and respect for other cultures. I do use food, even as a sensory but in the context of teaching my preschoolers about cooking and nutrition. Giving them the independence to learn how to make something and then do it at home is the best lesson I can teach them. They still get to “play” / “create” with food but in a more appropriate context that they will remember and use.  - Cathryn

I personally aim to think carefully about any materials we use in play. I want my children to have access to a wide range of materials for sensory experiences and creative prompts, and prefer open-ended, natural materials. We try not to use anything which is disposable after only one brief use, we use as many recycled materials as possible, and we try to recycle or compost what we’ve used after we have played. Using this criteria sometimes food is a better choice for us – for example some uncooked pasta which we might use as maths manipulatives, put in a sensory tub, and then paint and use for art, or threading necklaces. We use it many times before composting it to benefit our garden classroom.  – Cathy, NurtureStore

I probably think way too much about this topic. I do agree that for some young children using food is a safe alternative – if they tend to put things in their mouths (my son says I’m the most over-protective mother). Several years ago when teaching art at a preschool in a poor neighborhood it struck me as very sad that many o the children only ate when they got their free breakfasts and lunches at school. I imagined how one of those children would feel seeing pudding used to paint or an apple used to print. I stopped using food in my projects. I’ve since started again, but not in the same ways. I’ll use items I would normally toss (like strawberry tops) or I do a swap- I’ll have my son choose an items to donate to the food pantry box at our grocery store if we are going to use food in an activity. I know that the five blueberries I’m going to use or a printing project won’t cause a world hunger crisis, but it makes me feel better and teaches a good lesson on helping others to do so. I explain it a little better in this post on berry art. – Rikki, Mini Monets and Mommies

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Where does TinkerLab stand?

As I mentioned earlier, my background in the arts prepared me to think abstractly and broadly about what can be used as an art material. When I set up my first art studio, Chris Ofili’s paintings with elephant dung and Damien Hirst’s real shark floating in formaldehyde took the art world by storm, demonstrating just how far artists can push past the use of traditional art supplies. I happily made things with non-art materials like Valentine conversation hearts, resin (which comes from trees), and flowers collected from my garden. Wasn’t this better, and maybe more interesting, I thought, than spending tons of money on store-bought supplies?

Now here’s an interesting fact about store-bought art supplies: Food and natural materials are often in the ingredients. This is something to think about if you have a child with food allergies. For example: Play-doh (flour, salt), Crayola Colored Pencils (soy), Air-dry Clay (corn starch), and Crayola Washable Markers (corn syrup). If we’re to avoid food products in art then we need to consider these less obvious culprits. These ingredients aren’t included in package labels and are essentially hidden from consumers. Since food products are found in store-bought art supplies, I see very little difference in adding food to my own supplies.

Introducing my kids to natural materials is also far more interesting to me that exposing them to toxic materials. As such, we will occasionally use food for play or projects, and I’m more inclined to do so if it’s scraps, expired, or if the play/art supply will last for a long time. We do our best to recycle and return things to the earth. Some of the things we have used and made: flour and oil in cloud dough, rice flour in gluten-free cloud dough, rice in colored rice, flour in the best play dough recipe, wheat berries in our wheat berry sensory table, and sweetened condensed milk in milk paint.

Food for Play in schools: I don’t run a school, but in that context there’s a good chance that I would avoid using food for play due to allergies and a desire to respect the religious and personal perspectives of a diverse audience. When it comes to the school environment, I often look to my colleague, Deborah, at Teach Preschool. See the first article, below.

More thoughts on Food in Play

A Discussion on Food Use in the Early Education Classroom, Teach Preschool

Parents and Teachers Working Together: Should Food Be Used as Learning Materials, Early Childhood News (the discussion in the this article is so rich and will give you a lot of food for thought — no pun intended!)

Play with your food? Or not? My thoughts on Food in Play, Picklebums

Being Thankful for Food, Planet Smarty Pants

Using Food in Preschool, Interaction Imagination

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Preschool Art | Make Colored Rice

spreading out rice

After seeing so much lovely colored rice all over my Pinterest feed for ages, it was high time that we created our own colorful rice. And you, too, can make your own colored rice for an afternoon of sensory play or for filling clear jars with layers of rainbow rice like you see here.

Preschool Art: How to make Colored Rice

Why Colored Rice is Worth Making

  • It’s a natural play material
  • Kids love the sensory experience of sifting it through their hands
  • It’s economical
  • The supplies probably already live in your pantry
  • Kids can help make it
  • It can last a looooong time

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

Supplies for Colored Rice

  • White or Brown Rice
  • Vinegar
  • Food Coloring
  • Zip-up plastic bags or bowls and spoon for mixing the colors

TinkerLab tips

Can we use brown rice?

We used brown rice for this activity, and the colors are still vibrant.

What’s the rice : vinegar ratio? 

For each color that we made, we used 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. That’s the ratio that you’ll want to work with (or experiment — we encourage that too!).

But rice is Food!! 

If you’re concerned about wasting food, check your pantry for old rice. That’s what we did, and low-and-behold, we had a bag that expired last year. Eeep. I wish we hadn’t missed the expiration date, but at least we could put that rice to good use!

Will my kids actually enjoy this?

Yes, I bet they will! I try to get my own kids involved in all the steps of our projects, and they enjoyed everything from this ro-sham-bo face-off to decide who would make which color of rice to finally playing with their colorful creation.

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

If you’d like to make this recipe, simply click ‘Print” and you can save this in your recipe file.

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Preschool Art | Make Colored Rice
 
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Make your own colored rice for sensory play or art-making. This recipe makes one cup of colorful rice. Add more rice for more colors.
Supplies
  • 1 cup White or Brown Rice
  • 1 teaspoon Vinegar
  • ⅛ + teaspoon Food Coloring
  • Zip-up plastic bags or bowls and spoon for mixing the colors
Steps
  1. Fill a zip-up bag with 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar.
  2. Scoop or pour about ⅛ teaspoon food coloring into the bag.
  3. Zip the bag shut
  4. Squeeze the bag and mix the rice all around until the food coloring is well distributed
  5. Add more food coloring to reach the desired color.
  6. Pour the colored rice onto a cookie sheet. Spread it out to expedite drying time. To absorb the moisture and help the rice dry more quickly, line the tray with a paper towel or towel.
  7. The rice take between 2 hours and a full day to dry, depending on your climate and humidity.

How to Make Colored Rice

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

  • Fill each zip-up bag with 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar.
  • Scoop or pour about 1/8 teaspoon food coloring into the bag.
  • Zip the bag shut

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

  • Squeeze the bag and mix the rice all around until the food coloring is well distributed
  • Pour the colored rice onto a cookie sheet. To absorb the moisture and help the rice dry more quickly, line the tray with a paper towel or towel.

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

We ran out of cookie sheets, so we divided one in half by pulling a paper towel wall up between two colors. Our rice dried in about 5 hours. The rice will dry take up to 24 hours to dry, depending on your climate and humidity.

More Colored Rice

Check back tomorrow and we’ll share a Creative Table set-up using colored rice!

This recipe was inspired by Rainbow Rice via Happy Hooligans

Make a Fall-themed rice sensory bin, via Kids Activities Blog

Side-by-side comparison of dying rice with food coloring and liquid watercolors, via Fun at Home with Kids

 

 

 

50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids

pumpkin pie playdough, tinkerlab

If you’re scrambling to pull off some Halloween magic, these simple Halloween ideas will help you move gracefully through this spooky season.

Simple Halloween Ideas

Halloween Ideas: Science Experiments

Let’s start off with some gooey, oozy Halloween ideas that are fun to make and play with.

Dry Ice Experiment, Tinkerlab

5 Fun Science Experiements, Science Sparks

Elephant Toothpaste, Preschool Powel Packets

Erupting Pumpkin Experiment, Growing a Jeweled Rose

20 Best Halloween Science Ideas from Kid Bloggers, Steve Spangler Science

Glowing Mad Science Jars, Growing a Jeweled Rose

How to Make Slime, Tinkerlab, and watch our video tutorial…

Halloween Ideas: Sensory Activities for Toddlers

Little kids can enjoy this goulash season too with these fun sensory Halloween ideas that are perfect for little hands.

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough, Tinkerlab

Pumpkin Scented Cloud Dough, Growing a Jeweled Rose

Halloween Sensory Bin, Here Come the Girls

Pumpkin Oobleck, Train Up A Child

13 Halloween Sensory Ideas, Creative Playhouse

Pumpkin Guts (one of my favorite simple Halloween ideas, since you know you have to cut the pumpkin up anyway), Creative Connections for Kids

Touch and Feel Scarecrows, Teach Preschool

Halloween Ideas: Arts and Crafts

Bring out the paint and paper for these festive arts and crafts Halloween ideas…

Simple Halloween Ideas

Organic Shape Monsters (this simple Halloween idea is a year-round hit in my house), Tinkerlab

Spiderweb Printmaking, Tinkerlab

Printing with Pumpkins, Putti’s World

Coffee Filter Spiderwebs, The Artful Parent

Handprint Pumpkins, Putti’s World

Halloween Tree, Tinkerlab

Tie Dye Pumpkins, Mamas Like Me

Marble and Paint Spider Webs, Tinkerlab

Spin Art Pumpkins, Rainy Day Mum

Pumpkin Scented Painting, Growing a Jeweled Rose

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain, Tinkerlab

Rolling Pumpkin Painting, Putti’s World

Simple Halloween Ideas: Games and Activities

What’s Halloween without fun and somewhat creepy games?

Simple Halloween Ideas

Halloween Felt Board Game, Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Halloween Crafts and Ideas for Toddlers, Rainy Day Mum

31 Ideas for an Active October, Toddler Approved

Dress in Costume and Write a Story, Here Come the Girls

Witch Pitch (toss candy corn into cauldron game), Chica and Jo

Halloween Word Search, No Time for Flash Cards

Simple Halloween Ideas: Food

These tasty snacks will get you in the autumn mood.

Baked Pumpkin Seeds, Tinkerlab

 21 Recipes Inspired by Scary Movies, Babble

4 (not so scary) Food and Snack Ideas, Kids Activities Blog

Pumpkin Jack-o-lantern Pancakes, The Artful Parent

Easy Frankenstein Cookie Pops, Life at the Zoo

Simple Halloween Ideas: Jack-O-Lanterns

These easy jack-o-lanterns are great for toddlers and preschoolers, as well as time-constrained adults.

No-carve Halloween Pumpkins, Tinkerlab

Decorate Monster Pumpkins, Hands on as we Grow

Last-minute Pumpkin Carving and Decorating, The Artful Parent

Toddler-friendly Jack-O-Lanterns, Modern Parent Messy Kids

Puffy Paint Jack-o-lanterns, Train Up a Child

Button and Ribbon Pumpkins, Toddler Approved

Chalkboard Pumpkins, Small & Friendly

Simple Halloween Ideas: Decorations

Bring on the simple Halloween decor ideas with these outdoor decorations that take minutes to make.

Felt Bat Garland, The Artful Parent

Little Fabric Ghosts, Tinkerlab

10 Simple Halloween Decorations, Babble

How to Make a Halloween Bunting (Quick and Cheap), The Artful Parent

Make the Spookiest Scarecrow Ever + 10 more Outdoor Decorating Ideas, Babble

Simple Halloween Ideas: Costumes

If you’re short on time, these Halloween costumes can come together in minutes.

39 Last minute Costume Ideas for Kids, Family Fun

Last minute Halloween Costumes, Babble

Last-minute Pirate Costume, Red Ted Art (I also love the last-minute skeleton costume)

50 No-sew Costumes for Halloween, No Twiddle Twaddle

 

Is this your first time here?

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TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Making Paper with Kids

how to make paper with kids


Easy step for making paper with kidsHave you ever made your own paper?
  It requires some patience and preparation, but it’s not tricky and the process is worth exploring with children or anyone who’s curious about how to make paper.

After my toddler, Baby Rainbow, created a sensory bin full of paper and water, I saw an opportunity to upcycle that mushy paper pulp into some new-to-us paper. We had most of the materials handy, but had to make a trip to the hardware store to buy a small screen.

The hardware store happens to be across the street from an ice cream parlor, so my kids were okay with that.

Two ice cream cones later, we returned home, put my youngest down for a nap, and got busy with some paper-making…

Let’s start with the materials (full printable recipe at the end of this post):

 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Screen (we bought a $10 sliding window screen)
  • Large Tub
  • Washcloth/rag/burp cloth/large piece of felt
  • Water
  • Torn paper from newspaper, tissue paper, magazines, etc. Be sure that it’s staple and tape-free
  • Blender
  • Small seeds (optional)

how to make paper with kidsWhile Little R napped, big sister N and I talked about how paper is made while we shredded the paper up into little pieces (roughly 2″ square). She was non-plussed by the texture and asked me to finish the job.

how to make paper with kids

To get into the spirit and expand our knowledge of paper making, we watched a Mr. Roger’s episode about paper making. If you like this video you’ll also love learning about how crayons are made. Alternatively, here’s the video-free step-by-step (all from PBS Kids).

how to make paper with kids

After watching the film, N messed around with the supplies, inventing her own way to use them. We also picked up the gloves for gardening, and I suppose they were part of the paper-making costume.

I enjoyed watching her imaginative game, but back to paper making…

how to make paper

We added paper to the blender, covered it with water, and ran the blender on a low speed. Since we’re about to squeeze all the water out of the paper pulp, you can’t really have too much water, so if the blender doesn’t move easily, add more water.

how to make paper

Run the blender a little bit faster until you get the paper mixture into a nice, smooth pulp. Ours is kind of chunky, mostly because Baby R was sleeping and I didn’t want to push my luck!

She woke up anyway.

how to make paper with kids

When Little R woke up, she wanted to play with the pulp right away. She squeezed it, scooped it, and carried bowls full of pulp into the living room.

how to make paper

Once she was done playing with the pulp, we spread it thinly and uniformly across the screen and then layered a cloth diaper on top to absorb the extra water, while also pushing the water through the screen into the tub.

how to make paper

I placed one hand firmly on top of the cloth diaper while I flipped the screen over onto a work surface. 

how to make paper

I removed the screen and put the cloth with paper pulp in a spot where it could dry, undisturbed, for about a day. The thicker the paper, the longer it will take to dry.

how to make paper

Later the next day, this is what it looked like. Not your typical paper, but beautiful nonetheless. We haven’t done much with it yet, but I’m thinking some Sharpies or watercolor paint might be a good fit. And with the seeds embedded in the pulp, we could cut these up and give them away to friends, with the invitation to plant them in their gardens.

How to Make Paper with Kids
 
Author:
Recipe type: Sensory, DIY
 
Making paper teaches children how one of our most ubiquitous materials -- PAPER -- is made, and it's also a fun sensory project for kids of all ages.
Supplies
  • Screen (we bought a $10 sliding window screen)
  • Large Tub
  • Washcloth/rag/burp cloth/large piece of felt
  • Water
  • Torn paper from newspaper, tissue paper, magazines, etc. Be sure that it's staple and tape-free
  • Blender
  • Small seeds (optional)
Steps
  1. Shred the paper up into little pieces (roughly 2" square)
  2. Add paper to the blender, cover it with water, and run the blender on a low speed. Since you'll squeeze all the water out of the paper pulp, you can't really have too much water, so if the blender doesn't move easily, add more water.
  3. Run the blender a little bit faster until you get the paper mixture into a nice, smooth pulp. Add more water if your pulp is still chunky.
  4. Spread the pulp in a thin and uniform layer across the screen
  5. Cover this with a rag or cloth diape to absorb the extra water, while also pushing the water through the screen into the tub.
  6. Place one hand firmly on top of the cloth and then flip the screen over onto a work surface.
  7. Removed the screen and put the cloth plus paper pulp in a spot where it could dry, undisturbed, for about a day. The thicker the paper, the longer it will take to dry.

 

Any other ideas for us?

More Handmade Paper Inspiration

Allison of No Time for Flashcards used and Immersion Blender to make Recycled Paper Hearts.

Jen of PaintCutPaste made Handmade Blooming Paper.

Rebekah of The Golden Gleam made Recycled Paper Ornaments for Christmas, but you could easily make these with ornaments of just about any shape.

Kristi of Creative Connections for Kids made Wildflower Paper Ornaments (using the same screen as us!).

Melitza of Play Activities made Earth Day Seeded Paper.

Sensory Play with Tapioca Pearls

boba in milk

Have you ever had Boba Tea or Pearl Tea? You know those chewy, soft balls that sink to the bottom of milky tea that you suck up through a fat milkshake straw? The drink originated in Taiwan as a novelty for children, and has since taken the world by storm with bubble tea houses popping up everywhere. I have yet to be converted to boba, but I when I spotted a bag of multi-colored dried boba in one of our Asian markets, I saw the opportunity for play and exploration.

To read more, I’m writing over on the Kiwi Crate Blog today about our sensory boba adventure.

What do you think about tapioca pearls as a food or art material?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime.

 

Sensory Experience | Water Beads and Kids

water beads

Have you ever played with water beads? They’re slippery, squishy, and a surprisingly fun and addictive sensory experience for kids of all ages.


Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

If you’re even remotely connected to Pinterest or a fan of any of my fave blogs, there’s a really good chance you already know about these spectacular little sensory Water Beads by Aqua Gems. If it hadn’t been for the magic of the internet I never would have known these even existed, let alone tried them as a tool for exploration and discovery.

Supplies for Water Bead Sensory Experience

  • Water Beads: I found ours in the floral section at JoAnn Fabrics, but if you can’t find them near you, you can easily find them on Amazon.
  • Tray with edges
  • Water

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Step 1

I set up our DIY light table and then N filled the top with about 1/2″ of water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Step 2

Pour the tiny aqua gems into a small container for for your child to add to the water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Step 3

Scoop the beads and drop them in. Watch them grow. This is great for teaching patience, and it’s fascinating to watch the beads absorb water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Our Experience with Water Beads

As my child mixed them up, we marveled at how they grew….slowly….growing….slowly…(good lesson in patience!). N played with them while her sister napped and we set them aside for a couple hours. After snacks and a romp outside, this is what they looked like.

And it turned out that 14 month old Baby Rainbow enjoyed them even more than big sister. I was super cautious at first because little things that look like food go in the mouth, but after a few watchful “not for eating”comments, she was good to go.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

I tucked the light table under a kitchen cabinet and Baby R has gone back to dig it out at least five times since. I think she’s fascinated by the texture of the beads and can’t seem to get enough of them. I still keep a close eye on her when she uses them, but it’s helpful to know that the gems are non-toxic. In fact, she’s intently playing with them as I type. So maybe this post is really about “how to entertain your little one while you get things done.”

One last thing, the beads look really cool with light shining through them, but it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have a light table. A clear bowl on a sunny day or in a well-lit room will work well too!

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

More Water Beads

For more Water Bead fun, check out Messy Kids’ Creepy Crawly water beads  and The Chocolate Muffin Tree’s Water Bead fun. And related to this, you might also be interested in the FAKE SNOW that we recently made.

Water bead and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Have you introduced your kids to Water Beads?

What are your favorite materials for sensory play?

My 14-month old is well-supervised when playing with Aqua Gems. Please use your best judgment when introducing young children to small objects.

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In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Squishy and Moldable Cloud Dough

DSC_0614

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play dough play

Cloud Dough! 

Have you heard of it?

play dough play

Me either, and I thought I’ve heard of most everything arts+little kids related. Karen at Flight of Whimsy introduced me to the recipe, and as soon as I learned about it I knew my  3 year old would love it. The consistency of the dough is lovely to feel and hold. It can be powdery like flour one moment, and then moldable like damp sand the next. This brought HOURS of fun to my home, and maybe it’ll do the same for yours…

play dough playWe started off with 4 cups of Flour and 1/2 cup of Oil. The original recipe is an 8:1 ratio. I would have enjoyed having the full 8 cups worth, but I didn’t want to deplete my flour reserves, just in case.

Don’t worry about writing all this down. There’s a printable recipe at the end of this post!

play dough playN took the mountain-making and oil mixing job very seriously. We mixed it with our hands for about 5 minutes until the dough held together when we squeezed it. We could still see some oil lumps in the dough, but it didn’t have an adverse effect on the material. The original recipe called for baby oil, but canola worked beautifully for us. However, Karen did mention the lovely smell of the baby oil, so we added a healthy dose of lavender oil drops (found at our health food store) to scent the dough. Heavenly!

play dough playI find it fascinating to sit back and observe how my kids explore new-to-them materials. The first thing N made was a wall. A really strong wall.

play dough playThen she crafted the dough into a bakery and soup cafe. These silicone molds are wondrous for activities like this.

play dough playShe enjoyed picking up and squeezing small handfuls of dough. The texture was phenomenal.

Play Dough Play

play dough playThe next day we brought it back out and shared the dough with some friends. And this is where I wished I had made the full 8-cup recipe. Hoarders!! There was so much scrambling for all the dough scraps, and I found myself patrolling more than I like to. So, if you’re making a batch for more than one child, 8 cups of flour + 1 cup of oil may be the way to go.

5.0 from 4 reviews
Cloud Dough
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dough + Sensory
 
The consistency of this dough is lovely to feel and hold. It can be powdery like flour one moment, and then moldable like damp sand the next. This brought HOURS of fun to my home, and maybe it'll do the same for yours...
Supplies
  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Essential oil such as lavender or grapefruit (optional)
Steps
  1. Scoop and pour the flour into the center of a large tub.
  2. Create a crater in the middle of the flour.
  3. Pour the oil into the crater.
  4. Gently mix it all together.
  5. Enjoy mixing and learning about the properties of the dough as it is, or add small silicone bowls, spoons, or measuring cups to make small structures, hills, or pretend cupcakes.
Notes
The original recipe is an 8:1 ratio and we started off with half the recipe (4 cups of Flour and ½ cup of oil) because I didn't want to deplete my flour reserves, just in case. Turns out that this was such a hit and a full batch would have been equally wonderful, especially after our neighborhood friends wanted to come over and play with us.

 

If you’re looking for more sensory-dough ideas, here’s a few more to keep you busy:

Rainbow Play Dough

Flubber Gak Slime Exploration

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Flour and Water

Flour and Chalk

Is this your first time here?

  • Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

    TinkerLab Newsletter

    In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

    Join our community and you’ll learn:

    • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
    • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
    • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

 

How to Build an Easy DIY Light Table

easy DIY light table

Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comAfter seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.

I had a few rules:  No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this. 

Supplies

  • Acrylic box frame or storage container– Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
  • Large Plastic Storage Container like this one or this one. 
  • String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Wax paper
  • Two 26 oz. containers of salt
  • Toys and gadgets to create textures

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

How to build your DIY light table

1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container

My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that  you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this. 

Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.

Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?

2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container

When not in use as a light table, we use our containers all the time  for messy sensory projects like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda.

 

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.

3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.

4. Pour salt into the top container.

Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.

My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.

If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Play with your DIY Light Table!

We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comPressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Kid-tested DIY Light Table

As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.

So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.

And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.

Light Table Success

Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:

What do you think? Are you ready to make a light table too?

This post is shared with It’s Playtime, Teach Preschool

Baby Bean Bowl Exploration

baby bean bowl exploration

Baby Sensory Play: Bean Bowl.

My little one is almost 9 months old and her curiosity has pushed her to see past the same ol’ toy basket (do you see it there, hidden under the cabinet?), in search of new stimulation.

“Enter stage left: Bean Bowl!”

I created the bean bowl for my older daughter to sort and sift through while I’m busy in the kitchen, and I was only sort of surprised when little baby Rainbow (my older daughter’s nickname for her) scooted over to see what it was all about. She adores the sandbox, isn’t big on on eating sand (do you hear me knocking on wood?), so I thought that with supervision this would be a fun experience for her curious little mind and body.

The level of focus was palpable.

And refining fine motor skills was in full force! In addition to beans, I threw in some beads, sequins, and mini toys to keep the interest high.

Once she got comfortable with this new medium, she tried several things including pulling the bowl toward her, sifting beans through both hands, pushing her fingers deep into the bowl, and eventually tipping part of the bowl over into her lap. This was all so much fun that we decided to try it again the next morning…

The same experience lasted for about three minutes before all the pieces were dumped on the floor! Sigh. As you can imagine, we haven’t done much with the bean bowl since! Now that I see how much she enjoyed this experience, my next plan is to move the beans into our non-tipping sensory tub.

If you try this with your little ones, use common sense, especially if they’re prone to putting small objects in their mouths.

Flour Sifter

DSC_0138

We have a make-shift sensory tub that often makes its way into the middle of our kitchen where we conduct experiments, make “cakes and pies,” and mess around with the feel of stuff. Some of the things we’ve filled it with are dry beans, oobleck, jello, vinegar and baking soda, and rice.

I’m always on the lookout for neat-o objects that might challenge and delight my child, and when I saw this flour sifter in the market I had a feeling she’d love it. And she does. Loves it. I’ve used it maybe once (I guess I’m not picky about eating lumpy cake), so if we were to mark ownership based on usage, it’s definitely hers!

I set her up with a couple plastic containers full of flour, a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a soup spoon, and a crank-style sifter. Once she got to work, she poured a few cups of flour into the sifter and started cranking away, making some great crusty ol’ noises.

She dumped out the flour dregs that didn’t spin through.

And then she had a pile of flour ready to mold into a tiny mountain. This process repeated a handful of times, just long enough for me to do some dishes and start dinner.

What other kitchen tools do you play with?

This post was shared with Art for Little Hands

Jell-O Excavation | Sensory Play for Kids

DSC_0629

We had fun excavating Jello today…

I placed little toy animals in a bundt pan full of Jello, and then refrigerated it overnight. This afternoon, it was open for investigation.

Hmmmm, feels kind of funny.

“How can I get the animals out?”

“With a knife!” A butter knife, of course.

Because the allure of plain ol’ Jello would only go so far, we added the bottles of colored water for fun.

Pouring water all over the excavation site.

Little fox, trapped in colorful Jello.

Scooping and mixing the slimy concoction. Despite my art school background, I had no idea that lime green and magenta watercolors would mix together to make blood red (!!), and I’ll spare you from some of the more gory-looking snaps. After I guffawed at the mess, my daughter asked me what “gross” means. This was clearly a rich vocabulary lesson as well.

After freeing the animals, filling the water bottles with Jello was a whole other adventure. Thanks to Time for Play for the inspiration!

Supplies: Jello Excavation

I used one box of Knox Gelatine (there are four bags in one box), and followed the directions on the back of the box. If you’d rather use vegan (gelatins-free Jello), this product from Jeannie Prebiotics looks great.

How to set this up

I poured a cup of cold water directly into the mold, sprinkled all four bags over the water and let it rest for one minute. Next, I added three cups of hot water and stirred it up. Then the animals were added. I placed it in the fridge to set, which takes three hours. To free it from the mold, I ran hot water over the back of the bundt pan for half a minute and the whole thing slid out. You could also spray the mold with cooking spray.

Have you played with Jello? Share a story or add your photo into the comments!

 

Defrosting Animals

IMG_4545

Although we live in mostly Sunny California, I’ve been inspired by all of the snow and ice activities I’ve been reading about in the blog world lately. Sensory activities always go over well in our house, and I had a feeling this would work out in my favor.

Right after my daughter turned two, she was fascinated by all-things-ice. Here she on a plane, happily pouring ice from one cup to another. We were traveling to Mexico with very few toys, and were delighted to discover that she was highly engaged with ice-based activities like filling water glasses with ice cubes, playing with ice in the bathtub, and picking up ice from an ice bucket with tongs. If you have a little one and haven’t yet played with ice, this is the time!

I froze a number of animals in various plastic bowls and silicone bento containers, and put them in the freezer before going to bed. I especially like these mini bread loaves because they can fit into the nooks and crannies of my freezer and they didn’t take forever to thaw out. If you live somewhere chilly, you can probably set the ice up right in your backyard, but I had to make a little room in my freezer, which is no small feet when said freezer is 1 cubic foot and full of pureed baby food.

In the morning, we were greeted with a fun defrosting activity. The bowls of icy animals were placed in a large tub alongside odds and ends worthy of picking, banging, and melting away ice. My daughter had trouble with the hammers, as the slippery icy animals kept squirming away, and the golf tees ended up adding more danger to the activity than I’d imagined. My husband enjoyed these tools, however, which turned this into a nice collaborative project, while my daughter was invested in squirting an endless supply of warm water (courtesy of moi) all over the ice.

And between the two of them, all of the animals were freed!

Happily shared with Tot Tuesdays, Monkeying AroundHomeschool Creations, Science Sunday, High Paw: Best Toys for Toddlers, World Animal Day Bloghop