Sensory Bottles

As a toddler teacher, one of my favorite inexpensive toys to make is the sensory bottle: a plastic bottle (usually from water, Voss is my favorite brand, based on bottle shapes) filled an interesting material.

Here’s all of them! colored with liquid watercolor (other dyes/colorings also work), filled with, variously, corn syrup, glitter, soap, beads, baby oil, and a bouncy ball.

They come in two varieties: shakers, which are full loud materials.   These are great for safely playing with choking hazards like rubber bouncy balls, paper clips, and beads.

The second, my favorite, is the fluid-filled kind, which I’ll discuss here.

Safety note: you will need to seal these carefully.  Some people use hot glue, which is probably best.  I use crazy glue, which also works.   Clear nail polish does NOT work, at least on the fluid-filled ones (over a week later, it never dried).

This one actually has vegetable oil in it–it’s a little murkier, but readily available.

The bottles were made over the course of a week.  I collected a range of different water bottles to see what worked best. We used some materials we had, and some we bought, but the beautiful thing about sensory bottles is you do NOT have to go out and buy new materials. You can always make an  inexpensive substitution.

What we learn from sensory bottles:

  • development of large and small motor skills
  • language (lots of opportunities to talk about colors)
  • Cause and effect (“look! You shook it and now it is full of bubbles!”)
  • Properties of materials (varies by curriculum, but includes stuff like weight, color, bigger/smaller)
  • Measurement and pouring (in the making of the bottles)



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The Peekaboo Curtain

We had an unused, velcro-backed curtain.  I added a strip of velcro to the shelf, and ta-daaaaa!

ImageA peekaboo curtain! this one was right by the changing table, which was very handy when a child who wasn’t getting changed needed attention.  



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On the importance of Thigh Slapping, and other messages from the Ooey Gooey Lady.

Lisa Murphy, aka the Ooey Gooey lady,  Early Childhood teacher trainer with a real gift–comedian-funny, and marries theory and practice in a way that’s on-the-ground useful.

For instance, how to buy yourself 30 seconds to think at circle time:



A routine (Jack in the box song) for ending circle time consistently and clearly.



The banana ritual if (it’s too silly, you’re in the wrong profession)


the shark song/fingerplay (hang around for the punchline)


Here’s her tumblr feed. (Please note that she is msooey on tumblr.)

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Here’s a child making an astute observation:

The childcare center playground has a plastic fort with plastic slides.

With repeated sliding, there will be static electricity.

A child (age three) and I zapped each other.

Her: “Zappies!!” (touching my finger again to make it work.) “Where’s the zappies?”

Me: “Hmm, it worked the first time you went down the slide, but now it’s not working.  Why’s that?”

Her: “You need to put batteries in your toenails.”

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Upcycled Daffodils

I can’t take credit for this particular project, but I do want people to know about it, because I think it’s total genius:




lampshade daffodil

I like how the light bulb bracket (harp?) is left in, evoking the center of the flower, and allowing a handy spot to anchor it.

While I haven’t done this project myself, it *seems* simple, clever, and inexpensive.

Yet another way in which Cleveland Botanical Gardens has really impressed me with their children’s garden.Image

Smaller Daffodils were made with tiny plastic pots, still attached with zip ties.

Basically, they’re taking inexpensive lampshades, probably obtained from a thrift store, and painting them yellow.  Next, they’re using zip ties to attach them to flower shapes (made of corrugated plastic in this case; corrugated cardboard would work for an indoor display), finishing the paint job, and displaying.













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Writing Development Samples

Writing Development Samples

These kids are two, but one recently made the jump from scribble to making shapes. How exciting!

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Rainbow Collage

First, a word on STUFF.

If you work in early childhood education, especially if you love art like I do, you start to see everything as a great potential project.  Nothing needs to be wasted, those scraps of yarn or construction paper or three blue sequins would be great in a collage.    As a result, you keep EVERYTHING.

So we have a lot of STUFF.
It’s all useable, but if there’s too much of it, or it’s hard to find, it doesn’t get used.

How do you make it interesting?
By sorting by color!

Kids three and up could help get the sorting started.
In a roomful of two-year-olds only too eager to help, I chose to simplify things by doing this step myself.

Now that the bags are started, we can just add bits as time goes on–I’m thinking eventually something bigger will be useful.

This lends itself to doing one of the many awesome rainbow collages on Pinterest right now.

My favorite variation was at A Happy Wanderer, because she demonstrated the really great idea of cutting the rainbow into sections so a large group of kids can work on it.

So here’s how I did it:
We had a great big white circle of corrugated cardboard on hand.

I cut it in half, then arc shapes, freehand.
(This is what I wish I’d done differently – it wasn’t really, really rainbow-shaped and didn’t have room for indigo or violet.)

I covered the first piece of cardboard in glue stick, then invited the kids over.

“Feel it? It’s sticky!”

I gave them the materials (one color at a time) and invited them to stick stuff on.  I covered each piece in glue as it went on so they could glue more on.  The pompoms invited a discussion of pressing hard, as they’re kind of hard to glue on.  Holding it in place with my hand kept the peace–they all kind of wanted it for themselves.

I glued the completed pieces on the remaining half-circle of cardboard.
The collaging was all done in two fifteen-minute sessions.

I love how it turned out!

It’s funny, you can kind of see the progression of their interest on the colors.  Red they were still figuring it out, orange they were really into it, by yellow they were kind of wandering away, and green and blue were a very small interested group the next day.

This project develops:

  • color knowledge (recognition and labeling)
  • social/emotional skills (turn-taking, letting your friend have a spot, what happens when your pom-pom falls off.)
  • Language (labeling colors, each kind of material)
  • Cognitive development (learning how to use unfamiliar materials, or using familiar materials in a new way)
  • Fine motor (pre-writing) skills

If I had it to do over again, I’d

  • Make room for purple
  • Make it bigger
  • use colored glue (like elmer’s with liquid watercolor added) or have the kids paint it first.
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