A few weekends ago, we went to Atlanta for my nephew, Tillman’s, second birthday. I had been thinking about what to get Tillman for a few months. I knew he was at that funny age where sometimes store-bought toys are the LAST thing they want to play with, so I knew I wanted to get him something that wasn’t fairly traditional. Finally, one night I was pinning kids ideas on pinterest (my kids board is here), and I came across a bunch of sensory boxes and activities that my kids were slightly too old for, but were too good to pass up.
“Perfect!” I thought. “I’ll make them for Tillman instead!”
In my house, my kids have little boxes of activities that they can only take out if an adult is with them. Mostly, this is because there are so many little parts. But another reason is because, though these are fun activities, they are actually learning tools and kids get the best benefit from them with someone guiding them. Because these require a little more attention than normal gifts, I called my sister first to make sure she was okay with the idea. I didn’t want to dump these things on her only to swamp her with even more responsibility (did I mention my sister has a high-profile, corporate job, is very active in her church and community, takes care of her sweet little family of three, and is currently growing my niece? Yeah, she’s a busy girl…). But she was so happy with the idea.
One advantage to being a teacher is that I get summers off to create things like this for my kids. If I didn’t have that time away from work, though, I don’t know that I would have time to keep up with these kinds of engaging activities that aren’t store-bought. Which was why I thought this might be a good gift idea for working moms, especially my sister. She wants Tillman to be stimulated and learn just as much as I want my kids to be stimulated and learn, and if I can help her by doing the front-end work while I am off work during the summer, then everybody wins!
If you are a crafty person or have some time on your hands, I highly recommend these as gift ideas. These sensory boxes are really wonderful for kids and moms love them for being so entertaining for their little ones. Plus, it’s just a nice, thoughtful, inexpensive way to help a motha’ out, you know?
So, here are the boxes that I made for Tillman:
1. Corn Kernel Construction Site (total cost: $5.00) – For this one, I bought two big bottles of popcorn kernels from the Dollar Store ($2). I also bought two packs of construction trucks at the Dollar Store, too ($2). I poured them all into a bin ($1) and – voila! – hours of entertainment! Kids love to shovel the corn, drive through with the trucks, or even just run their hands through the corn kernels. Alternatively, I have seen this done with dry beans, too, but I wanted the bright orange/yellow color to match the trucks.
This box really works the fine motor skills by teaching kids to play with small pieces inside a larger piece. They will definitely spill and make messes at first, but parents should focus on teaching the children how to play gently so that the corn stays inside the box. That’s the whole point of this game – to teach kids how to keep small items inside perimeters.
HINT: Until your child is coordinated enough to keep the kernels inside the box, try letting them play with the box over a baking pan to catch the extra pieces that fall out. We’ve also taken our box like this outside and played with it on a plastic tablecloth on the ground before Gracie could really be gentle enough to keep the corn inside a smaller area.
2. Golf Tee Foam (total cost: $2; or $3 with the purchase of golf tees) – For this box, I bought a block of floral foam at the Dollar Store ($1) and placed it inside the box ($1). Then, I grabbed a handful of tees from my golf bag and threw those in there. You could really use anything that could safely pierce the foam. I think the original idea I saw for this somewhere had them using straws, but I know Tillman loves golf, so I thought the golf tees were better for him.
I wasn’t sure about this one, but it has turned out to be one of his favorites! This box works again with fine motor skills, but I like it because it isn’t as tedious as putting a shape in a hole or anything like that. These boxes should be easy to use so that kids feel confident. You also want them to be able to use their imagination and free-play with some of these boxes, and this was a good example. He would stick the tees ANYWHERE and he won! Yay!
3. Colored pasta – (total cost: $8) I got this idea from the colored rice box I made my kids a few years ago. Tillman was only turning two, so I knew rice would be a little tricky for him (and for Ginny!). But I thought pasta might be a little easier for him to manipulate and play with.
I bought two boxes of elbow pasta from the Dollar Store ($2), but you could really use any shape pasta, or maybe even mix and match! Next, I divided the pasta into four different gallon Ziplock bags. Then, I poured rubbing alcohol from the Dollar Store (2 bottles = $2) in each bag until it covered all the pasta inside. I added food coloring from the Dollar Store ($1) after that. Use as much to make the pasta your desired color. I let the pasta sit in the alcohol and food coloring mix for about 20 minutes to get it nice and rich color. Then, I poured each bag of pasta out onto a baking sheet that I lined with aluminum foil. You want to make sure the pasta has room to spread out so that it dries quickly and evenly. If it gets clumpy, it gets messy. Be warned!
I splurged a little on this box and bought some measuring cups ($1) and sorting cups ($1) at the Dollar Store so that Tillman didn’t have to use his mom’s kitchen supplies to play. Once the pasta dried completely (which took overnight), I poured it all into the box ($1) and added the kitchen tools and he was good to go!
4. Pom Pom Sorting – This box was a huge hit with my own kids, actually! I made this box a few weeks before we left for Atlanta, and this one was Bean and Gracie’s favorite! I ended up making them one, too, because they loved it so much. For this box, I bought two packs of brightly colored pom poms at the Dollar Store ($2) and I threw them into the box ($1). Next, I bought little tongs ($1) and an ice cube tray ($1) at the Dollar Store and threw those in the box, too.
This box is really versatile. Little kids, like Tillman, like it because the pom poms are soft. They also work their fine motor skills by learning to use the tongs (or even their hands) and placing pom poms into the ice cube tray. But as they get older they can begin to work on color recognition, too. And my own kids at ages 3 and 5 were using it to count, add, and subtract. Such a simple, educational tool!
5. Playdoh Box – This last box was not homemade, although you can certainly make your own Playdoh. I don’t really see the point, though, because the original Playdoh is not that expensive and it’s just AWESOME. I filled this box with everything Ginny would need for Tillman to begin exploring with Playdoh – and that isn’t much. I bought one four-pack of Playdoh ($3), and put them in the box ($1) with a cheap, plastic tablecloth ($1) that I got at the Dollar Store. I still use a plastic tablecloth when my own kids play with Playdoh. I keep mine stored just like this box. Then, whenever the kids want to play, we can just take the one box out, and they have everything they need. I am much more likely to let them play with Playdoh when it is easier for set up and clean up.
For my older kids, I have cookie cutters, rolling pins, and some other little toys for them to play with inside their Playdoh box. But for Tillman, I figured we should start small. So, he just has the Playdoh itself, and so far that has been enough to keep him content!
If you are interested in making some sensory boxes for your kids, you might want to check out the board I created on Pinterest for Tillman’s boxes. I pinned a bunch of different box ideas here, so you’ll find some other options for box play.
I can’t recommend these enough – either as gifts for friends and family or for your own children. My kids love playing in their “game boxes,” and I love that we were able to gift that idea on to Tillman as he grows up!