Category Archives: Sensory Play

Beyond the Nature Walk: Extending the Learning

Here in the Nation’s Capital we are all spending a lot more time outside after a particularly cold winter.

At last.

The long awaited sunshine has us all soaking up the sun, eagerly tending to our yards, hitting the parks, going for leisurely walks and bike rides once again.

Nature Blog Post

Winter’s blanket finally melted away to reveal the first glimpses of colour poking from the ground. Children stop to marvel and often return home with pockets overflowing from found items – or what could be considered nature’s little gifts to these natural collectors. As caregivers and parents we can use a child’s natural curiosity to extend their learning even further.

Here are just a few ideas to use up those little treasures collected on your walks:

Assorted items

Sensory: Place your treasure hunt items into a sensory/discovery bin or a bottle with water to create an eye spy bottle. Place items into a heavy-duty Ziploc bag with clear hair gel and strong tape. Then tape to a window to create a sensory sun-catcher.

Crafts: Provide loose parts and craft supplies for children to create open-ended art. Items can include pinecones, acorns, feathers, stones, sticks, glue, paint, googly eyes, small pom-poms, and even dough for endless possibilities.

Salt (or Cornstarch) Dough Pendants and Key Chains: Press items with texture into small round pieces of dough. Press a hole into it and let dry. Tie string to the pendant for hanging.

Collage: Glue items to paper to create a collage. Or stick them to mac tac to create a window sun catcher.


Art: Create pet rocks by painting them and adding googly eyes. Glue pressed flowers to the rocks for a gift for Mom.

Nature Blog Post Pet Rock

Literacy: Create story stones by gluing images to the rocks to guide storytelling. Paint the letters of the alphabet onto each stone. *Optional: Paint one side in uppercase letters and lowercase on the opposite side OR paint one set of rocks in uppercase letters and one set in lowercase for the children to match.

Numeracy: Paint rocks for counting or patterning games.

Leaves and Feathers

Leaf Sun Catcher: Sandwich leaves between two layers of mac tac and place in a window. This can be done with flowers as well.

Leaf stamping: Paint leaves and press onto fabric or paper

Collage: Glue leaves to a page to create a picture or collage.

Leaf Man Book

Pinecones and Acorns

Colour Matching Game: Separate acorn nuts from their cups and paint them in matching colours. Young children can match them by colour.

Classification: Paint acorns in various colours for children to sort by colour or create patterns with. Add tongs for more challenging fine motor practice.


Rhythm Sticks: Paint thick sticks in bright colours to make your own music sticks to tap together.Nature Blog Post

Mobile: Create a nature-themed mobile by hanging found treasures from a branch. Or decorate a branch with coloured feathers, ribbons, and yarn to hang in your playroom.


And because I love picture books so much, I’ve included a list of a few of my favourite ones to add to your nature theme programming:

  • A Tree is Nice, by Janice May UdryNature Blog Post Books
  • Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin
  • Leaf Man, by Lois Elhert
  • Not a Stick, by Antoinette Portis
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
  • The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Shell, by Lucille Colandro
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen
  • Or how about the old classic Fairy Tale: Jack and the Beanstock!

Et en français:

  • Une si petite graine, de Eric Carle
  • De la graine à la plante, de Melvin et Gilda Berger
  • Edgar la patate, de Don Oickle et Sue Skaalen
  • Simon fête le printemps, de Gilles Tibo
  • Après la pluie, le beau temps, de Cécile Gagnon et Joanne Ouellet
  • Mon rayon de soleil, de Mie-Francine Hébert et Steve Adams
  • Le jardin imaginaire de grand-papa, Andrew Larsen et Irene Luxbacher

For more information on bringing nature into your daycare, check out our Getting Back to Nature, post. Thanks for reading!

Signature - Jo

‘Winter Heat’ Children’s Activities

Julie’s been heating up winter with her play-based learning children’s events. Here are just a few of the activities she had waiting for the little ones when they arrived at the CCPRN office earlier this week.

Winter Heat Build a Snowman 2

Children had so much fun building snowmen made from Styrofoam balls. This was a great activity for those gross motor skills, improving hand-eye coordination and sorting large and small.

Next up was a mitten colour match game. Toddlers got to practice their pincer grasp while sorting and matching the coloured clothes pins with the coordinating mittens.

Winter Heat Mitten Colour Match

Those little fine motor skills got even more exercise from hanging mittens on the clothesline. Caregivers discussed the different kinds of patterns found on the mittens such as plaid, diamond shapes and stripes.

Winter Heat Pics Clothesline Mittens

Kids of all ages love to manipulate goo and these extra-large Ziploc bags keep the mess inside for lasting fun! Inside were die cut foam snowflakes, beads, buttons, and the secret ingredient… hair gel!

Winter Heat Sensory Bags

Julie brought the outside in and filled our sensory bin with snow and these beautifully coloured balls of ice. Children delighted in playing with the cold snow as they discussed colours and hot versus cold!

Winter Heat Sensory Bin

To make the ice balls, simply put a good dose of food colouring inside some balloons and then add about 1 or 2 cups of water. Tie them off and place them outside to freeze (or in your freezer). Note that the balloons can take up to 2 days to fully freeze.

At the end of the event, the children enjoyed a snack while Julie told the story “Polar Bear Polar Bear.” They watched in awe as that silly polar bear changed colours throughout the story.

Polar Bear Polar Bear

There are still spaces available for some of Julie’s upcoming Winter Heat events so if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up!

Stay warm!

Eye Spy Games

Eye spy games are a natural fit for young children and there are so many varieties to keep it fresh and exciting. These games foster a child’s curiosity, visual discrimination and language skills. Some promote fine motor manipulation, print motivation and sensory exploration.

Eye Spy Bottles

The beauty of creating eye spy bottles  is that you can choose smaller items that you wouldn’t normally give very young children to play with.

Recycle your plastic bottles or containers and fill them with all kinds of fun things. Pictured above (from left to right): oil and water with small plastic beads and food colouring – hair gel and googly eyes – oil and water with food colouring – tiny pasta (or beads with miscellaneous items hidden inside). Seal the lid with a glue gun (and consider taping  it closed with electrical or duct tape for extra security).

Eye Spy Boxes

These rugged little eye spy boxes were made from old cassette cases and are an ideal size for small hands to manipulate. Simply fill with small items (themed or by colour) and seal with packing tape! Consider making alphabet themed boxes for your preschool and kindergarten aged children.

Eye Spy Sensory Bin

You can even make an eye spy game by hiding related items inside your sensory bin. The possibilities are endless.

A very special thank you to CCPRN Board Member Laurie Boucaud for this picture of her bug themed sensory bin.

Eye Spy Pictures

Consider taking pictures of assorted items or of your sensory bin to create custom eye spy pictures to use at a later date. Simply print and laminate for a fun game that can be used again and again. This tool can be enhanced for older children by including a checklist of items to find.

Eye Spy Book

Eye spy books are a great option for incorporating literacy into fun! This is an ideal activity for quiet time as well.

I spy bags 2

Eye spy bags require some sewing skills, but if you have a sewing machine equipped with a walking foot, all you need is a small piece of clear plastic vinyl, fabric, and items to hide inside. These themed bags were filled out with flower arranging beads from the dollar store.

Your children can have so much fun with these homemade toys they won’t even know they’re learning!

Happy spying!

Signature - Jo

Pete the Cat is in the House

Do you know Pete the Cat?

He recently joined us for some of our children’s events and he was a big hit with the kids.

Each event started off with reading ‘Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes’ ~ with everyone’s favourite part: Julie acting out the role of Pete!!

 She placed different coloured slippers into 4 different coloured buckets, each with a different picture on it – one of strawberries, one with blueberries, another with mud and of water.

When the story began, Julie was wearing a white pair of shoes (slippers from the dollar store). As the story progressed, she would step into the buckets and slip off one pair of slippers and replace it with another. So to the children, it appeared that her slippers changed colours!

Later, the buckets were used again for another activity. The slippers were replaced with grippy footprints on the floor and the children practiced their gross motor skills by following them along and carefully stepping in and out of the buckets.

After reading the first book, we read “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.”

Julie made this large Pete the Cat as a prop, and held up number cards as Pete’s buttons popped off.

Then, of course, when Pete lost all of his buttons….

…he flaunted his belly button.

Some of the activities that followed story time with Pete, included:

A colour and left/right orientation shoe matching game:

Play dough mats for fine motor manipulation, pre-writing and reading skill development:

A colour-match wheel where the children matched the coloured shoes to the colours on the wheel. We added a gross motor component by placing the shoes and the wheel at opposite ends of the room so that the children would have to bend down to pick up a shoe and walk over to the wheel to place it on.

There was also a sensory bin, shoe lacing activities, and a picture match game… and the kids just thought it was  “aaalll good.”

All of these activities were created as extensions to a favourite book. The learning comes naturally when you’ve got a child’s interest already! You end up with ‘planned’ curriculum instead of ‘canned’ curriculum (as described by Monique at the E.L.E.C.T. training earlier this month).

We’d love to hear about any activities you’ve developed around a treasured story.

Thanks for reading,

Halloween: more tricks, less treats

Halloween doesn’t have to just revolve around candy and scary things ~ it can be fun too! There are so many things you can do in your home to get the little ones ready and excited for the big day. 

– If you’ve got your pumpkins picked out already, it’s time decorate them! Young ones may not be able to carve them, but they can certainly turn them into eye-catching works of art! They can have just as much fun pasting and painting them too!

… if you still prefer the glow of candles in your carved pumpkins, why not use battery operated tealights inside to set the mood.

– Dig out and dust off a few extra items from the back of your closet to add to your dress-up bin. I just know you’ve got some things in there from past decades… give them new life!

– Involve the senses: Make some goop or slime for the children to play with. Or theme your sensory bin to Halloween. Include plastic bugs, worms and skeletons, or cotton balls and ghost felts just to name a few ideas.

– Play Halloween music and maybe even have a dance party with your group! If you have a laptop or computer in your playroom, it’s easy to create a *free* playlist of Halloween songs on (and yes they have the Original Monster Mash album in their extensive online library)!

– There is no shortage of Halloween craft ideas. Here are just a few of our own:

Children can decorate their own masks;

paper treat bags with paper, foam or felt shapes for toddlers and preschoolers;

or go one step further with fabric bags with fabric markers or paints for schoolagers.

For even more Halloween craft ideas, check out our pinterest page here.

And if you have a real sweet tooth and insist on having treats for your little ones this Halloween – have them decorate some cookies or cupcakes as an alternative that is fun to make!

Licorice, marshmallows, sprinkles and chocolate chips can jazz up any cupcake to make them festive!

Of course we all love to see our little ones dressed up in their costumes on the big day but they are often purchased with the cold weather in mind. They might be too warm to be worn indoors for long periods or they may be a couple of sizes too large to accommodate a bulky coat underneath. Consider having the kids dress in orange and black on Halloween so that they can still feel festive, even when they’re not wearing their costume.

For more info on Halloween safety check out Health Canada’s website.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Halloween!

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