Sensory Play: Exploring Things From Nature

Children learn through their sense and by playing, exploring, and discussing what they discover. Nature is a big part of our world and nature is all around us. Children are curious about things they see when they take a walk through a park or even on your backyard.

I collected various items from nature and put them in a basket for the children in my classroom to explore. I collected rocks, seashells, sticks, wood pieces, and different types of seeds. The basket was placed on the table for them to explore everything in it and to play with them.

Basket full of things from nature.

I was very curious to see what these two and three year old children would do with everything in that basket.

Seeds, dry flowers, rocks, seashellThe children immediately started touching and observing each item. This gave me a great opportunity to ask them some open ended questions to help them work on their language and vocabulary development.

My questions were: Where do you think this one came from? What could you do with it now that we have it in our classroom? How does it feel? (the texture) What does it smell like? The children gave me good answers and some of them said full sentences. A two year old boy said, "This seed smells like perfume."

One of the girls started to make a face using seeds. She explored the things in the basket some more and then added a V shape stick for the mouth. She added, "Now she is smiling like me!" Love it! They can get so creative.

Face made using a stick and three seeds.

Some of the bigger seeds had little seeds inside of them so the children started shaking them and listening to their different sounds.

I noticed one of the boys started sorting them out by putting rocks, together, sticks, seeds, etc. Great pre-math skill.

Sorting items from the nature's basket.

We discussed and looked at all kinds of rocks. Some were smooth other bumpy and rough. One of the girls pointed out that she liked the shiny one.

This nature basket has become a real success. Anyone can do this at home too, and it's free!

Go ahead and go with your toddler on a nature walk and collect some things. Observe, explore, and discuss what you found. Your toddler will have a great learning and play time experience with this simple sensory adventure.

Easy Homemade Costumes for Pretend Play Using Pillowcases

Toddlers love to dress up and role play. The more items they have the more their imagination expands.

It is good to have some store bought costumes of princesses, policeman, nurses, and others. But children's imagination goes even further. They will use blankets and pretend it is a super hero cape or they wrap it around their body and imagine they are wearing a ball gown.

There is a very simple way to add to their dress up collection. It is easy, inexpensive or even free, and there is no sewing required!

Collect some pillowcases you do not use anymore and you can easily turn them into costumes. You can add your own creative touches to it, but here are the basic steps.

Take a standard size pillowcase, any color or print, and cut the border on the opening of it. Put this aside for now.

Make a decorative border by cutting strips in the opening creating a fun fringe finish. This will be the bottom part of their costume.

Open the pillowcase and cut along both side seams.

On the remaining side that is closed, cut a semi circle. Make sure it is  large enough for your child's head to fit through it. The child can now slip the costume over their head.

Take the pillowcase border you cut off during the first step and cut it open creating a long strip instead of leaving it as a close circle. This strip can now be used around the waist as a belt or tie.

You can combine different colors and prints to create different looks. All from a few pillowcases!

Arts and Crafts Time: Toilet Paper Roll Octopus

During circle time we have been talking about animals that live in the ocean and reading books about many sea creatures. We decided to collect some toilet paper rolls and have the children have fun by making them into octopuses.

Toilet paper roll octopus is a fun art project that is part art and part project. In other words, the toddler gets to express their creativity and also learn about following simple directions and doing things step by step to achieve a finished art creation.

 Materials you will need:
Toilet paper roll
Tissue paper (different colors)
Paper towel

  • Have pieces of tissue paper already cut in little pieces for them for their first step.
  • Put glue on the toilet paper roll and have the child glue the pieces on it any way they want and any colors they want. Let them be creative and use their imagination.

Let the child know that it needs to dry until the next day and then they can turn it into an octopus. 

  •  Your next job as a parent or teacher is to apply Mod Podge over the whole roll. You can buy Mod Podge at arts and crafts stores or, my favorite, you can make your own. Let it dry over night. This will flatten and seal all the tissue paper they have glued on the roll.
For the easiest Mod Podge recipe visit:

After it has dried you need to cut strips half way through the toilet paper roll into 8 tentacles.

  • The toddler is now ready to glue Cheerios on all tentacles.

  • Put a paper towel inside a small piece of tissue paper and slide it from the bottom of the octopus to the top until it looks like its head. You can put a little piece of tape inside to hold it still.
  • They can put eye stickers, googlie eyes, or draw their own.
  • Draw a smile on it, let the glue dry completely and it's done. Your toddler made a colorful and cool looking octopus!
octopus art

Toddlers Playing with Play Dough: Stressful or Stress Relieve Activity?

I am a preschool teacher and I tell parents all the time about how much fun their child has playing with play dough (modeling clay) at school. 

Parents, in general, are grateful that we have this kind of simple activity, but they have questions about how to do it at home, too. The most common inconvenience is how to deal with the mess of little pieces of play dough all over the place.

It may even become a little stressful for the parent, while for the toddler, it is a stress relieve activity!

Here are some of the benefits for your child to have fun with play dough and some guidelines for you, the parent.  

Playing with play dough is a wonderful sensory activity for your growing toddler.

  • First of all, it promotes creativity. Even if they do not realize it, their brains are wandering, looking for ideas. And later, wondering, admiring their achievements.
  • It is a calming activity. The softness or hardness of the play dough in their hands and fingers is a soothing and curious experience. Exploring how it feels and changes as they handle the play dough is fascinating to a toddler.
  • It helps strengthen their fingers, hands, and wrist muscles. They can pat it, squish it, roll it, pull it, mold it, cut it, and more! 
  • It helps in the development of hand eye coordination which is the ability of the eyes to direct attention and the hands to execute a function or a movement.  
  • Confidence builder. There is no right or wrong thing to make with play dough. It opens a whole world of imagination; it can be anything they want.
  • It's a learning activity. Break it in to pieces and work on counting. Have different colors and learn colors. Use play scissors and work on cutting safely.
Playing with play dough just requires some preparation so that it will not end up being a stressful activity for parents at home or teachers at preschool.

  •  Have a small designated table for play dough. A child size table is best so they can sit upright and not on their knees to reach the top of the table. You can buy a plastic placemat just for play dough playing and teach your child that is where the play dough needs to stay.
  •  Give them plenty of play tools and gadgets to explore play dough with.
  • Play with your toddler or sit with them and ask them what they are making. Listen to how their imagination expands.
And most important, give them praise, make positive remarks. It will bring a smile to their face as their self esteem grows! 
You can go buy play dough together at the store or you can make your own play dough at home. There are a lot of easy recipes for making play dough on the internet ( has some great recipes). Either way it will be fun for your toddler!