A Mid-Winter Snow Dough recipe for DIY sensory play
Use this simple DIY recipe to make snow dough, a type of play dough perfect for fun sensory play for your child as they make snowballs, snowmen, and much more!
Sensory play is a helpful tool for building children’s cognitive and scientific thinking, literacy, motor skills, and creativity. Doing fun sensory play activities together can take a snow day from a boring time stuck inside to a day full of creative inspirations, exciting opportunities for cognitive growth, and special time together.
I like to keep a few winter-y project stations and sensory play activities around our home, both inside and out. Having different stations for my children to work on as they please can make real snow days much more exciting.
Today’s project: snow dough.
It's a gluten-free play dough with peppermint essential oil added in. The play dough recipe is simple, as with all homemade play dough, but this one uses rice flour which makes the dough extra white and snow-like —
5 Ingredient Snow Dough Recipe
1 cup white rice flour
Heaping 1/2 cup tapioca or arrowroot starch
Shy 1/2 cup fine sea salt
Small splash of vegetable oil or other oil
15+ drops of peppermint essential oil
Mix ingredients together in a large bowl with 1 cup near-boiling water.
Tips for Using Homemade Snow Dough
After years of experience making snow dough with my little ones, I’ve picked up a few tips:
Making Snow Dough
It might take some time to get the recipe just right for your kiddo’s little hands. In my experience, if it's sticky, I add a bit more starch. Likewise, if the dough is too crumbly or dry, add more water or oil.
Storing Your Homemade Playdough
While the process of making snow dough can be an exciting winter activity on its own, you can also store the snow dough so it’s ready to use. Next time you have a snow day or your kiddo needs another activity, you can avoid the extra prep time and just pop out the dough for independent play. To make sure your sensory dough lasts until then, store it in an airtight container.
I also like to keep any additional toys and instruments, like cookie cutters & a small rolling pin, nearby in a basket for easy access. Similarly, if you use little toy animals or sensory items like those listed below, store them near your dough.
Choosing Sensory Activities with Snow Dough
One of the great parts about sensory dough is that there are so many kids activities you can choose from, all open-ended and supportive to your child’s emotional, communicative, and social development (read more about that here).
Depending on your child’s age, interests, and the materials you have to work with, there are tons of activities to choose from. Here are some of my favorites:
Making the play dough is a scientific activity all on its own! Depending on the sensory dough recipe, your child can experiment with ingredients like baking soda, flour, oil, and cornstarch. Working to find the perfect mix of ingredients and using measuring utensils and kitchenware lets your child build their scientific thinking and problem-solving skills.
You can also explore other science-based activities, like hiding mini animals in the dough for kiddos to find, or building structures with the dough and other materials.
Support your child’s creative thinking by suggesting they build with their sensory dough. You’ll be surprised to see what they come up with in their small world of snow, whether it’s snowballs, snowmen, snowflakes, a tiger, or an alien!
Building a sensory bin is another great way to inspire creativity in younger children. The tactile play that a sensory bin offers supports that creative spark, letting young children explore different materials with all their senses. Along with the snow dough, you can add objects like mini plastic creatures, dry rice or beans, feathers, multi-color beads, or even some silver glitter if you can manage the mess!
Literacy & Math Activities:
Plastic animals aren’t the only objects you can add: incorporating mini letters and numbers into your DIY snow dough is the perfect way to practice early literacy skills. If you have a preschooler or even a 2-year-old with beginning literacy skills, adding some letters for them to explore is a fun way to engage those skills early on.
Exposing little ones to numbers and letters is so important for their future appreciation of and growth in literacy and mathematics. By adding a few plastic numbers and letters to your ingredient list, your child can see, touch, and explore the parts of the alphabet they’ll soon start to know by name.
One final tip: roll any extra dough into an oval and smush your child's handprint into it. I seem to do this every year, and as imperfect as they are, I'm so thankful to have these little moments captured all these years later!
We also love to keep snow dough around for little ones to use with pretend play items like play kitchens, art projects, and other creative activities. Tour our collection of hand-selected children’s toys, all chosen to support your child’s imagination and cognitive growth.
Play dough can indeed be messy at times but worth the joy. Supporting healthy development, making memories together, and allowing children to explore their creative side is why homemade snow dough is one of our favorite family activities.
One thing I absolutely love about keeping shop is connecting with inspiring makers & business owners. It has been a delight to work with Sarah & JP Box of Chasing Windmills this past year and I am honored to kick off our Makers Series with such a thoughtful company.
A heartfelt thank you to Sarah for taking the time to share with us the soul of her family & giving us a peek into her day.
What are 3 of your simple joys?
We always try to make a point to verbally express our gratitude for the simple joys in our lives. So, thinking about the simple things we most often we give thanks for, these kind of words can often be heard from our children-
“Mmmm, mommy this is SO yummy” - I cook A LOT. My sister writes a food blog over at Gather&Dine, so I’m often inspired to cook wholesome and fresh meals we can all gather around and enjoy together. Thankfully, both of our kids enjoy a variety of food, and sharing a meal has become one of our cherished parts of our every day.
“Can you believe nature is so beautiful?” - On Saturday mornings, we try and get out together and explore the beauty of the outdoors. Whether it’s a nature walk, bike ride, or picnic, it is always awe inspiring to soak in the beauty of Colorado. Our kids often personify what they see on our Saturday morning explorations — a large, relatively flat boulder perfect for climbing is their “Mother Rock,” a shallow cave at Red Rocks is “Mother Cave,” and so on. In only the way a child can, they’re forming nurturing connections to their environments :)
“Ohhh I feel so cozy” - Whether it’s sipping some hot cocoa or tea, snuggling under a blanket to read, or taking a warm bath, we all love to feel cozy. I guess that’s why we love merino so much!
Walk us through an average day in the life of you family.
My day starts sandwiched between our two children :). While we never planned on having a family bed, here we are! Our children fall asleep in their own beds, but 95% of the time will wake some time in the middle of the night and kick Daddy to the basement and have sleep time with Mama. I have a “remain in bed until 7 am” rule, so we usually start our day then with free play for the kids while I make breakfast and then off to getting ready for school.
Four mornings a week, our children attend the local Waldorf school. We love the Waldorf philosophy, especially its reverence for the magic of childhood and also its fostering of an appreciation of nature. The first time JP and I walked into a Waldorf classroom, it just felt right for us, and we’re grateful for the community. It is also the only time during the week that JP and I can really work together on things for Chasing Windmills. After school, we enjoy lunch together as a family. It is definitely one of the biggest perks of being work-at- home parents!
In the afternoon, JP returns to work, while I spend time with the kids. I will have them do 30 minutes of quiet time or so while I clean up from lunch. Then, we will spend some time reading together or doing a simple craft activity. Afterwards, they often will get lost in their own play between the two of them, which allows me a short bit to do some of my own reading or preparing for dinner. An hour or so before dinner, JP usually wraps up work and often takes the kids outside to play while I have the quiet kitchen to myself to cook. Some times the kids will also help me cook depending on the meal. I always have little hands ready to help chop, stir, and of course, taste test!
By 7 pm, we are starting our bed time routine, which consists of bath time every other night, and reading 3 stories. On week nights, JP reads to them while I head to work for the night, and on weekends, I enjoy the reading. They equate school days with “Daddy reading nights” :).
I will usually work until about 11 pm. The challenge of two work-at- home parents is that there isn’t a lot of mommy and daddy hang out time in the evenings! I suppose this is the trade-off for having some flexibility in our day time schedules and shared meals every day. But now that school is in session, we do get to enjoy some time to ourselves while working together, and will indulge ourselves in a date walk around the block or to the neighborhood croissant shop :). Then I’m in bed and asleep by 11:15, until the kids wake me for snuggle time ;)!
What 3 resource would you recommend for living an intentional life?
To be honest, we did not even really think about this concept until we had children. We were definitely flowing through life before then, enjoying many things, but never took the time to really think about the kind of life we wanted to lead. That all changed the day our twins were born! Having children definitely awoke something within us. We started asking ourselves what values we wanted to share with our little ones, what kind of example we wanted to be in the life that we lived, and how to empower ourselves and each other to be the creators of our lives together. But besides our children being natural inspirations for living deliberately, our three resources would be:
Being part of a supportive community. Many of my friends locally are creatives, and there is nothing better than being able to share the journey with like-minded mamas. Our Waldorf school community is also an invaluable resource for us with parents and teachers that are all striving to live intentionally.
Books! JP is the avid reader in our family and loves reading excerpts to me, but every now and then we’ll read a book together too. Some of our favorites include Simplicity Parenting and Free to Learn — books that inspired us to make conscious choices as parents and embrace the beauty of childhood.
Instagram has also proven to connect me to so many mamas that are huge inspirations. Summer, you are one of them! Your words and way of living always give me something to think about in my own life. Some other favorites that often blog about having a purposeful approach to achieving a simple life are @readtealeaves, @mama_2thelittleones, @mamawatters, @twentyventi, @magnesium_blue, @hippieindisguise, and I’m sure I’m forgetting many other favorite bloggers!
How do your beautiful twins influence Chasing Windmills?
Chasing Windmills came about as part of our journey to live deliberately once we had our twins. So, they have influenced us in every step of the way! As we thought about what we needed in our lives to be happy, what inspires our hearts, minds, and souls, we were ultimately led to this vision for Chasing Windmills: We wanted to share our respect and appreciation of what Mother Nature provides with our children. One way that we do this is by the clothes we wear and the goods we consume. We love the adventurous spirit that embodies merino, and as a natural fiber, clothing our children in merino is consistent with many of the values we have in regards to caring for the world around us.
Our children also love the outdoors, and at school they play outside every day throughout the winter too. So, practically, we sought to make clothing that would be comfortable yet technical, beautiful yet simple, and just as ready for a good snuggle as play in the outdoors. In the winter they absolutely love rolling out of bed in their long johns, all ready to put on their snow pants and off to school!
What is your connection to Merino Wool? Did the material itself inspire you to start
Chasing Windmills or do you have a background in textiles/apparel?
We do not have any background in textiles, apparel, or retail for that matter! We stumbled upon merino wool almost by accident. At a time when we both held corporate gigs, I brushed my hand across an orange merino wool t-shirt at a store and loved how it felt, so I gave it to JP as a gift.
On weekdays, JP wore a suit and tie to work. On weekends, he wore his orange t-shirt. He felt at home, at ease, and at peace in merino. Whether hiking in the mountains or running errands around town, JP just felt better wearing the natural merino fiber. Merino soon became a representation for the kind of life that he wanted to lead- one filled with adventure, simplicity, and a connection to the natural world.
And so, when our children were born, we sought to clothe our own children in this wondrous natural material — not just for its many amazing properties, but for the journey and lifestyle that it embodies.
What challenges you, personally? In business?
My answer is…a lot!
We’ll start with challenges on the business side. In general…I tend to lack patience. It’s something I’m practicing, but it can be challenging with our business because everything we do takes a significant amount of time. With merino wool, all of our fabric is custom printed and dyed, with large minimum ordering requirements which is a challenge for a small growing business! My wish list is long for things we could make. But with merino children’s clothes being a fairly young industry, we have to take each style slowly to see how the market will react before we can work on develop something else. In a way though, it is consistent with our values to take things slowly. We never want to be in fast fashion; instead, we want to honor timeless goods that will be treasured.
For challenges personally, they are all kind of wrapped up with our business too. It’s what happens when you run a business from home! It can be difficult for me to keep my business life and home life separate, so I tend to always have some business thought in the back of my mind. I need to remind myself often to be present, pause and enjoy this beautiful life. It can be hard for me and JP to not always focus on work when we are together without the children- we need to force ourselves some times to talk about something else besides Chasing Windmills!
You are a husband & wife team -- tell us more about that! Do you both work fulltime for Chasing Windmills or do you have other adventures as well? [My husband and I work together as well, I am always so intrigued!]
We like to think we’re a pretty good team ;). As a two person company, we literally do a bit of everything! Over time though, we’ve fallen into our distinct roles with Chasing Windmills. JP handles all the order fulfilling, accounting, inventory- management, responding to emails, customer service, and other “boring” jobs that I know are important but I’m glad I don’t have to do them ;). JP is also a natural writer, and so he usually writes the first drafts of our blogs and a lot of our website copy.
I’ve become the voice and face of Chasing Windmills, however, because JP never quite figured out how to log onto our Instagram account…ha! So, I manage our social media and maintain relationships with our customers. In a lot of ways, I am building our brand on a day-to- day basis. I’m also the primary driver for our creative direction, including obsessing about colors and prints from year to year (JP is colorblind, so I’m on my own there!). We have a lot of great people helping us too, from our fabric supplier in New Zealand, to our pattern maker and factory in North Carolina, and I work with all of them to make our vision come to life. In addition to Chasing Windmills, I’m also a photographer (oh, and that’s another one of my Chasing Windmills’ jobs too!). I used to shoot weddings, but these days I’ve been focusing more on family sessions.
Meanwhile, JP will soon be a published author! His book, “The Millennial Lawyer,” will be out this December. Before starting Chasing Windmills, JP practiced law. This past year, he’s launched a consulting practice advising law firms how to connect with and motivate Millennial attorneys. In his book, he weaves his personal experiences as a talented but unfulfilled young attorney with social sciences and research into the Millennial generation. It’s pretty much the only non-parenting or non-business book I’ve read in the last few years! And I’ve gotta say it’s really good :)
Name your family's favorite children's book.
It seems to change from season to season or month to month. They tend to get fixated on one book and want to read it repeatedly for a good stretch of time. Some long time favorites are “One Morning in Maine” (JP and I both graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, so it’s a special place to us), many Elsa Beskow and Jan Brett books, and currently my childhood Berenstain Bear books!
My favorite cups for small children — essentials for a clutter free cupboard!
I prefer open cups and not a single sippy cup unless we're out & about. Given the chance, small children (as young as 9 months) are quite capable of drinking out of a cup without spilling, given a bit of practice & starting with a small amount of water. There's a lot of Montessori thought behind this that I appreciate but even more, not being afraid as a mother to allow my children the space to learn something for themselves — it opens up a lot of respect & trust between mother & child.
Small glasses & even shot glasses work well for small children (which ensued much laughter with my first son 11 years ago!) but I've found having a "cup of one's own" reiterates that respect.
Heirloom Pewter Cup
Currently my daughter Lucy, age 2 uses the small pewter cup — it's a bit pricy but if you add up the cost on all the plastic sippys one would use over the course of time, it ends up being a good chunk of change and a lot of ugly clutter. The Pewter Duck Cup is Lucy's only everyday cup & worth the heirloom price point.
For outside & away from home, Klean Kanteen is my favorite, it's a workhorse & made of stainless steel with replaceable tops (no yucky straws). We will be adding Klean Kanteen to the shop soon along with french Duralex, a shatter resistant favorite!
These essentials are available in the shop, HERE!
I think one of the most challenging aspects of having a thoughtfully simple (limited) wardrobe for our family is caring for stains — right? After investing into (or making) such essentials the most dreadful thing to happen is a messy stain to ruin it all.
After much failure, I've landed on a homemade solution that has worked well for us — hydrogen peroxide mixed with a big squeeze of natural dish soap stored in a amber bottle (as hydrogen peroxide loses its properties when exposed.) A quick spray on any stains & muck marks right as it goes into the laundry basket quickly addresses any issues while still being gentle enough on fabric such as merino wool. I am still stumped by set in banana stains and chocolate on wool but this simple, inexpensive solution has worked well to keep most every other stain from setting in.
It's sort of old fashion to put value in taking care of my family's wardrobe, but it's a skill I have enjoyed learning. #fewerbetterthings
For variations on this simple homemade stain remover, be sure to read all the comments on my instagram post.
Switchel is fun to say & fun to drink and has been one of our unexpected hits this summer that I am excited to share with you!
It's an old-timey drink to stay hydrated in the summer heat that's super nourishing, inexpensive & simple to make — and my children love it!
Shake together —
2 cups. water
2 tablespoons organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon raw honey*
A heaping 1/4 tps. cinnamon
This makes roughly 1 serving that i make in the glass milk bottles shown above. However, take the simple ratio of water / acv / honey and adjust as needed.
* Heating Raw honey kills all the nutritional elements. The honey will eventually dissolve in the switchel. However, to speed this up, simply add a bit of room temp water to the honey and stir with a fork to make it more fluid before adding it to the switchel.
Switchel is best ice cold but my children love it room temp as well. It is somewhat tart, slightly sweet and not at all overpowering. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar is incredibly nourishing to our bodies — balances PH levels in the body, is great for digestion and aids in detoxifying the body.
You can add smashed berries, ginger, turmeric etc., but really the honey/cinnamon combo is so refreshing & simple.
Click HERE to see a few of my favorite cups & such for children.
I've gotten back into the habit of making yogurt for the family. We end up eating a lot of it and instead of making 1 big batch (which doesn't go very far in a big family like ours) I started making 1 glass bottle for each of us at a time.
Homemade yogurt is incredibly nourishing and I am loving the heirloom variety starter that I use which doesn't require heat for it to do its thing — I simply add a bit of yogurt starter to the milk (I use non-homogenized whole milk from a local dairy) and shake, then leave the yogurt to culture on the counter for up to 24 hours, refrigerate & then sweeten with raw honey. It ends up a bit thinner like kefir and is drinkable which we all love.
It's as simple as that!
You can make yogurt in any glass jar, but we love these glass milk bottles (available in the shop soooon!) and this yogurt starter by Cultures For Health.
Cultures for Health is an amazing resource for homemade yogurt making and sell fantastic yogurt starters as well.
I connected with Robin some time ago on Instagram, our daughters are but a few months apart and it's a simple joy to connect with another like-minded mama. I have since treasured Robin's sentiments on slow living and her honest notes on motherhood.
Robin's background in early education weaves a lovely story in her daughter Ramona's room .. uncluttered & thoughtful, inviting and cozy and perfectly tender-hearted like her mother's love.
Thank you Robin!
The room I chose to share is Ramona's nursery. This is my favourite space in our home, because we've put the most intention, thought and care into creating a place to meet our daughter's needs. We've also taken great care in keeping it simple and uncluttered, while also being a cozy and fun place that she enjoys spending time in. It's a constant work in progress as she changes and grows (and as I slowly, slowly make decisions - I'm notoriously indecisive).
The central point of the nursery tends to be Ramona's shelves. We rotate its contents often, trying to offer a variety of experiences - sensory materials, puzzles, objects from nature, literature, music, and fine motor activities - but without having too much out all at once, so she can focus on what's available and play more purposefully. We want Ramona to learn responsibility over her belongings, so by having a specific place (basket, box, tray) for each item, it's easy for her to put everything back in its rightful place independently.
We chose a tall shelf for the nursery because it can "grow" along with Ramona. For now we use the upper shelves for decoration, mostly featuring sentimental items, such as her five-day-old foot print, her six month profile, her first piggy bank, and a small antique clock from my grandmere which has its hands standing still at the time Ramona born. As she gets older the contents of the upper shelves will reflect more of her growing interests - perhaps art, or natural items she's collected, or a few favoured toys.
I draw a lot of inspiration in our home from Waldorf and Montessori education. The two philosophies have many differences, but both put a strong emphasis on surrounding a child in a natural environment - keeping in touch with nature and using natural materials. Her toys are mainly made of wood, wool or bamboo (we do have a few plastic toys too!), storage baskets made from grass or sticks, and the room is scattered with various treasures we've found on walks (pebbles, flowers, acorns, pine cones). Next I'd like to add some living plants that she can help care for.
The most recent, and possibly my favourite, addition to the nursery is this wall-to-wall book ledge. We try to combine visual appeal and practicality as much as often, and this was a beautiful way to store books and encourage early literacy. We placed it at her height so she can help herself throughout the day. I love the little surprises she leaves on the shelves sometimes - a stray toy or block carefully placed between books.
A few things to note...
The Silhouette is by A Family Print Shop.
Martriarch Handmade made the "Courage Dear Heart" and Mini Swiss Cross Banner.
Baskets .. Larger ones & the Mini.
You can follow Robin on Instagram @twentyventi & her blog.
Creating a Dress-Up Clothes Trunk for Your Toddler
Every child can benefit from dress-up and role-play. Read on for tips and suggestions for setting up a dress-up clothes storage trunk for your little one.
Whoever saw a child tired of seeing, of examining in his own way, unfamiliar things? This is the sort of mental nourishment for which he has an unbounded appetite, because it is that food of the mind on which, for the present, he is meant to grow — Charlotte Mason
There’s something so magical about watching a child develop, seeing them try things on their own for the first time. That sort of imagination and independence is worth encouraging. Before she was even two years old, my daughter loved to play dress up. Anything that was remotely wearable became a costume for her. As she grew, the costumes and worlds she built around them became more elaborate.
We’ve talked a great deal about the importance of pretend play and the benefits of many other kinds of open-ended activities. But, for this post, I wanted to focus on the significance of dress-up and how you don’t always need pre-packaged trunk sets to set your child’s imagination soaring!
Playroom Dress Up Storage
There’s a lot to consider when setting up a playroom for your toddler. First, of course, you want to ensure you have plenty of toy storage and that your growing tot will have the accessibility they need to get things for themselves. However, you also want to give yourself the peace of mind that the playroom is safe enough that you don’t need to monitor every second.
The days after a well-attended birthday party aside, everything should have its place—toys in the toy box and dress-up items in their storage trunk. Depending on the extent of your young one’s collection, this could be quite a task! We recommend setting up general areas for each item: jewelry goes in the jewelry box, hats and headbands go in the big wicker basket, props go in the plastic tub, complete outfits go on the hangers, etc. Children tend to be more general organizers, especially tiny ones, and giving them a few clearly defined places they can sort into may save you a few headaches. It will also make it easier for you to clean an area quickly in the event of unexpected company!
Beyond the Princess Dress-Up Trunk
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with an expensive, brand-new Disney Princess costume set or a deluxe Melissa & Doug Princess Costume, your little princess can often get as much out of a sibling’s hand-me-downs as they can from an Amazon Best Selling play set.
A child’s imagination is truly a wonderful thing. I’ve seen children turn a necklace and t-shirt into a Cinderella costume. Anything that is vaguely hoop-shaped can become a tiara for Tiana. If they haven’t been outgrown, little girl dresses can become a ballgown for Belle. If they HAVE been outgrown, they now become Aurora’s peasant dress. Headbands, purses, tutus, dress-up shoes, or even make-up with adult supervision, can turn your child into their version of Elsa, Ariel, Rapunzel, Moana, or even a princess of their own creation. However, it shouldn’t stop there.
Dress Up Isn’t Just for Little Girls
Playing dress-up is a form of imaginative role-play for all children that can help them work on their language skills, boost their problem-solving, and help develop fine motor skills as they figure out all the buttons, belts, and ties to wear their favorite Halloween costume from last year or create something new.
During dress-up play, children often imitate the world around them, trying to replicate it. Whether that’s something out of a fairy tale they’ve been listening to or an adult in their life they’ve been watching, it can be helpful to have a wide variety of items for them to work with.
Storage Options from fawn & forest
Organizing a nursery can be daunting, but fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep your things organized without sacrificing style. Do not settle for a plain cardboard box or plastic storage bin when you need a storage solution for your little one’s collection of dress-up items. Instead, impart personality into your toddler’s room with modern nursery storage and organization baskets.
fawn&forest has a beautiful collection of nursery storage and organization baskets. We offer cute bins that match your nursery’s theme and neutral color options that can grow with your child.
The fawn&forest Room Stories series is an inspirational collection of children's rooms rich in heritage & sentiment. I could not think of a more perfect illustration of my vision for the series than to start with today's Room Story that Rosina Lapp is sharing with us -- the nursery space for her second baby, a son due in December. You know Rosina best from her beautiful clothing company, Tortoise & the Hare.
I am not alone in the feeling that Rosina's simplicity is absolutely refreshing, her sentiment is rich and the depth of her vision inspirational. Thank you, Rosina for sharing with us. - Summer
I always strive to have our tiny apartment reflect what we truly care about- our neighbors, the earth, and each other. I believe God called us to tend the earth and do what I can to make the world a beautiful place by being responsible and creative. I like this poetry from Robert Frost:
“But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.”
All a baby really needs is a few blankets, some warm socks, and warm outfits, diapers, and a mama’s love. Here’s a little peek at what I think is essential to the comfort of mama and baby...
The bassinet is one of the most special pieces I own and I was so happy to be able to pull it out of storage for our December baby. My babies are the fourth generation to sleep in it- that’s a lot of sweet baby dreams held in one bassinet. The locker and changing table were thrifted and refinished.
Only a few feet from our bedside, the nursery is a collection of handmade, heirloom & thrifted pieces with a few new handmade items created by other mamas who have . If I can’t make what I need, I keep watching at nearby country thrift stores first where I can often find hand knitted sweaters, booties, and caps as well as vintage clothes. Of course, I like to support my mama friends who are makers as well.
You know what they say, “it takes a village…” and it truly does. Early this fall, my mom came over and spent a day helping me get ready for our baby’s arrival. We made cloth wipes, burp cloths, fitted sheets, swaddles, and changing table cover. It only takes a few hours of time, a few scraps of fabric. I don’t enjoy shopping all that much so when I can stay home and create what I need with things I already have with people I love, I’m one happy mama.
Shop Rosina's collection of beautiful linen & organic cotton/hemp children's clothing, Tortoise & the Hare and follow along on Instagram @tortoiseandthehareclothing
Setting Up a Hands-On Nature Tray for Young Children
On your next nature walk, learn how to set up a nature tray. Learn the benefits of outdoor learning and hands-on sensory activities with natural objects.
"In the meantime, relax. Take a break. Look at the clouds. Listen to the wind. Let the birds do the heavy lifting." ― Richard Louv
Most parents would agree that their children being able to explore the natural world around them is generally good. When they are outdoors, they are feeling the wind blowing, the grass beneath their feet, the earthy smells of fallen leaves, and the sounds of the critters going about their business. As a little one's caretaker, sharing these kinds of experiences is the stuff that makes lasting memories.
With that in mind, let's take a look and see how putting together a nature tray is a great way to bond with your child and nurture within them a love for the great outdoors.
What is a Nature Tray?
A nature tray is a hands-on sensory activity that gives young children a chance to explore the world around them with all of their senses. The basic idea of this DIY nature study is to take your child on a nature walk, gather a variety of natural objects, and then arrange them in a compartmentalized container, like a wood tray. At this point, you encourage them to experience the items' shapes, smells, colors, and textures. You may want a pair of safety scissors or an adult-run cutting tool if they have collected any plant materials that can be cut open for further examination and exploration.
Nature Walks and Outdoor Learning
We love leaving the classroom to go tromping around the woods with our children, exploring fields, and climbing trees. Along the way, children naturally gather things. Leaves are picked up, rocks and acorns find their way into pockets, and pinecones are carried in tiny hands. I can't recall a single nature walk I've ever taken with my kids where we didn't find at least one thing that must be taken home.
The advantage of having a classroom can come in eliminating distractions so that a student can focus on learning complicated arithmetic or memorizing the baffling spellings that have made their way into modern English. However, it's just as valuable to balance structured learning with a less-guided version of outdoor learning, where distraction is the main attraction!
Under normal circumstances, running ahead to pick a flower that caught their attention or collecting dead insects or animal casings might be discouraged. However, when a child has the freedom to truly explore, you never know what they can find. Oftentimes, they’ll even find something you never would have on your own. For example, I now know that it’s possible to find salamanders in my backyard!
It should be pointed out that materials for a DIY nature tray can be found in your yard, the park, the beach, the woods, or almost anywhere. However, if you truly don’t have easy access to somewhere natural (too cold and snowy to go outside, for example) there are plenty of ways to supplement your tray online through various teaching resources. While this can be a great way for anyone to get harder-to-find natural materials (not every yard will yield a snake’s shed skin), being outdoors and searching is still an important part of the experience for both you and your child.
A Scavenger Hunt and a Magnifying Glass
While collecting for a nature tray can be largely unstructured, your child may also benefit from guidance or a challenge. Arranging a nature activity like a scavenger hunt can be an excellent tool, especially if your tray is being prepared in a group setting. Specific goals can help guide the activity into nature and back to the home base, where all the gathered items can be sorted, compared, and examined.
When you reach this stage in the activity, it's often wise to have some form of magnification on hand. If your child or group is old enough (and the environment allows), a Jr. Microscope or even a hand-held microscope/light combination can show incredible details. However, if those items are unavailable or impractical given the age of the children, a simple magnifying glass can still offer a window into a different world.
Benefits of Sensory Trays
Whether you homeschool your kids, are looking for a new educational way to play with them on the weekends, or are looking for a gift idea for a grandchild, items to help them set up a nature table, sensory tray, or nature cutting tray can be a great option. Beyond the mindfulness of exploring their environment, the health benefits of running, walking, climbing, digging, fording streams, chasing dragonflies, and a million other discoveries are incalculable.
Outdoor learning, in general, has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, boost concentration and increase a child's engagement. In addition, having the opportunity to interact in a hands-on way with their environment gives children the chance to work on many practical life skills, such as developing a sense of direction, being present, categorizing--the list goes on.
So get out there, bring your kids, and see what you can discover together!