Zen Garden Sensory Play

Zen Garden Activity for Kids
If you’ve ever trailed your fingers through a miniature Zen Garden, you know just how soothing and relaxing it can be.

Our tiny zen garden sensory bin provides kids with a calming and relaxing way to explore natural materials through play.

Take the following link over to CBC Parents to see the hooligans assembling and enjoying their zen garden activity tray.

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2-Ingredient GOOP Recipe

2-Ingredient Goop Recipe:  Is it a solid?  Is it a liquid?  Yes!  It’s BOTH?  What is this mysterious substance? It’s GOOP – one of the funnest, most amazing science activities ever!  It’s a fabulous sensory experience too, and all you need are two basic ingredients to make it!

We’re no strangers to simple scientific concoctions here in my home daycare.  We love clean mud and cloud dough,but Goop..  Oh, Goop!  It’s the most fascinating sensory substance of all!  If you’ve never made it before, you’ll wonder why you waited so long!


2 ingredient goop recipe


This goop recipe calls for just two simple ingredients: water and cornstarch.  If you’ve ever combined the two while cooking or baking, you have an idea of what happens when you mix them together. Apply pressure to the mixture and it becomes solid and crumbly.  Release the pressure, and it magically transforms to an ooey-gooey liquid.  It’s kind of mesmerizing, isn’t it?

Now, just imagine sinking your hands into this extraordinary substance.  It’s crazy!  You should’ve heard the hooligans shrieking and squealing as they played with it.




It held their attention for about an hour, and they would’ve played longer but we had to clean up for lunch.

2-Ingredient goop recipe:

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  • cornstarch (known as cornflour in the U.K.)
  • cold water
  • shallow pan, bin or baking sheet
  • Liquid Watercolors

Let the kids mix it by hand!

I started by dumping a generous amount of cornstarch onto a baking sheet.  I didn’t measure but it was probably a cup and a half.

I gave the hooligans a minute to explore the starch with their hands.  The fine powder feels so silky and soft.

Then I poured about a cup of water onto the tray, and asked them to mix it and mash it together with their hands.


exploring cornstarch and water goop


I added more cornstarch and water as they were mixing until we got the consistency we were looking for.  You’ll know it when you get there.  Your goop will become solid when you squeeze it or push it around on the tray, and it will transform back into an oozing liquid when you release it.




Add some colour if you like:

We played with the all-white goop for a while, and then I thought it would be fun to add some colour.




I sprinkled about a half-dozen drops each of red and blue Liquid Watercolors on to the surface of the goop, and the hooligans got to work mixing it in to the concoction.  This took a while because of how resistant the cornstarch and water mixture is to pressure.  We really had to work hard to blend the colour with the goop.  It was great exercise for those little fingers and hands.

Of course, we ended up with purple goop, which was a great little lesson in colour-mixing.




Isn’t it amazing?



Squeeze it together, and you get a solid lump.




Let it go and it slithers away between your fingers.  Marvellous!




The girls loved it when I scooped a big handful of goop and held it up high, and let it drizzle down over their hands.  They’d grab for the gooey strands of goop and watch as their own grasp would turn them back into solid form again.


cornstarch and water goop sensory play


What a wonderful, hands-on way to explore the properties of cornstarch and water!



Easy clean up!

Cleaning up our goop experiment was a breeze!  It all washed away in seconds with a spray from the garden hose!

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Frozen Clean Mud

Here’s another cool activity that Elsa and Anna fans will love!  We’ve made an ooey-gooey, beautifully scented batch of Frozen Clean Mud!  The kid will love this Disney inspired activity, and you’ll hard time keeping your hands out of it too!

The hooligans are just crazy about the latest Disney Movie.  They sing the Frozen theme song all day long, and they play “Elsa and Anna” every chance they get.  So I’ve been having fun thinking up lots of “Frozen” activities to make things extra-special around here.  In this latest activity, I took our 3-ingredient Clean Mud recipe, tweaked it and turned it into, what else… FROZEN clean mud!

Frozen Clean Mud


If you’re not familiar with Clean Mud - here’s the scoop.  Clean mud is an amazing sensory substance made with a few very basic supplies: soap, toilet paper and water.  You mix it and mash it into this amazing, mushy, mouldable dough, and it smells absolutely heavenly.  Playing with this wonderful dough is a true sensory experience.

It’s a basic recipe that you can tweak to suit whatever theme you’re focusing on.  Have a look at how we made our Fairy Mud last spring.


Now, let me show you how we made this latest batch of clean mud.


To make your Frozen Clean Mud, you’ll need:

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  • roll of toilet paper
  • bar of  Ivory soap (any mild white soap will do, but Ivory smells amazing)
  • blue food colouring
  • warm water
  • glitter
  • shallow storage container
  • grater


girls playing with blue clean mud


How to make your Frozen Clean Mud:

1. Start by having your hooligans take all the toilet paper off the roll.  

This is FUN!

I always start by tossing the roll high into the air and letting it fall to the ground.  Then the hooligans throw, pull and kick it around the yard until the roll is empty.  Set your t.p. aside for a few minutes.


throwing toilet paper around the yard


2.  Grate your soap.

If your child is very young, and you don’t think they can handle a cheese grater, you might do this step yourself.

My preschoolers are pretty handy with the grater, and they know to use it carefully to avoid grating their fingertips or knuckles.


grating soap to make frozen clean mud


3. Combine the soap and toilet paper in your container.

4. Add several drops of blue food colouring to 1 cup of very warm water, and pour it over the soap and toilet paper.


girls mixing frozen clean mud with hands


Now, mash, mix and mush the water, soap and toilet paper all together.

You’ll have to work it for several minutes until it becomes a mouldable dough.  Because every brand of toilet paper is different when it comes to roll-size and paper thickness, you may have to add more water or toilet paper.




There’s really no right or wrong way to make clean mud.  You just want to work it until you get a mucky, mushy dough that you can mould in your hands.


playing with clean mud


Finish by adding a generous amount of blue and silver glitter to your clean mud!


coloured, glittery "frozen" clean mud


Isn’t it gorgeous?  Now, tell me…  how will you play with your Frozen Clean mud?

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How To Dye Rice for Sensory Play

How to dye rice for sensory play in 3 easy steps!  No rubbing alcohol, no messy baggies, no waste!

Have you ever seen the Rainbow Rice that we use in our sensory bins?  It’s vibrant and gorgeous!  You can use it for all kinds of sensory activities, and it’s SO easy to make!

There are lots of tutorials on the net that will show you how to dye rice for play.  Many of the recipes out there call for rubbing alcohol to “set” the colour, and most require ziplock bags. Our recipe uses neither, so it’s a little more kid-friendly, and it’s easier on the environment too.

jar of dyed rice


We use vinegar as an alternative to rubbing alcohol, and we use just ONE container when we dye rice in batches.  This method is quick and easy, and it’s fun, so grab the kids!  They’re going to want to help!

What you’ll need to make your coloured rice:

  • inexpensive white rice (1 cup for each colour)
  • white vinegar (1/2 tsp for each colour)
  • food colouring or icing gels (I use Wilton Icing Gels)
  • plastic container with lid (margarine container, ziplock food storage container etc)
  • something to dry your rice on i.e. *styrofoam meat trays, baking sheet, pie plate

*when using styrofoam meat trays, sterilize them first by running them through your dishwasher

Easy so far, right?  Ready to colour your rice?

how to dye rice - Happy Hooligans

How to dye rice in 3 easy steps:

1. Pour one cup of rice into a container.

2. Add some food colouring and the 1/2 tsp of vinegar, and snap the lid on your container.

3. Now for the fun part!  SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE! 

Once your rice is evenly coloured, dump it out on your meat tray or baking sheet to dry for a day or two.

Give the container a wipe and a rinse, and proceed with your next colour!

When it’s dry, your dyed rice is ready to use in sensory bins, or for crafts and sensory activities!

I spy bin with dyed rice

How easy was that!  Aren’t you just “dyeing” to dig in and play?

Storing your coloured rice:

Coloured rice will keep indefinitely when stored in an air-tight container.  We’ve been using ours for a couple of years now, and it’s still going strong!

Now that you know how to dye rice for sensory activities,  you might want to see how we dye pasta too!


Looking for more inexpensive sensory play ideas?  Try our:

Fairy Mud

Sensory Art

Garden Soup

2-Ingredient Cloud Dough

Easy, Homemade Play Dough

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Fall Sensory Table

Fall Sensory Table Ideas – set up an autumn tablescape for toddlers and preschoolers to explore the textures, colours and wonders of fall.

With October on the horizon, I’ll be sharing all the Fall activities we’ve been doing. To start, we’ve had this Fall Sensory Table set up for week, and the hooligans have been exploring the colours, and textures of various fall items.

Fall Sensory Table for toddlers and preschoolers


What is a Sensory Table?

If you’re not familiar with benefits of sensory play, please read Teach Preschool’s “Every Day Sensory Play in Preschool“.

Wooden bowl filled with artificial sunflowers, pumpkins and apples on a mirrored fall sensory table


Adding a mirror for play:

Earlier in the Fall, I kept our table outside with the items displayed on a mirror.  Mirror play adds an interesting dimension to an activity like this.  See other ways we’ve used our mirror for play: sensory play on our mirror and painting clouds on a mirror .

toddler exploring Fall Sensory Table

Suggested Materials for a Fall Sensory Table:

All of these items were thrift-shop finds or found around my home and yard; a sensory activity doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

We’ve used:

  • leaf-shaped candles
  • artificial leaves and flowers
  • small gourds and decorative balls
  • Indian corn
  • large plastic gems
  • small plastic apples.

You could also add real leaves, seed pods, chestnuts, acorns, mini pumpkins and corn kernels.  Choose items with interesting colours, shapes, patterns and textures.

gourds, flowers and decorative balls and bowls on a Fall sensory table


Tools for exploring at a sensory table:

Offer a variety of tools to promote fine motor development, and containers for sorting and transferring your treasures into.

sorting fall items into bowls and a muffin tin at the Fall Sensory Table

We have wooden bowls, containers and trays, and of course, a muffin tin is always fun.

Indian corn on the Fall Sensory Table

Tongs, tweezers and scoops help to prepare a child for using pencils and scissors, and using them requires co-ordination and concentration.

Stacking items on a Fall Sensory Table

Now that the weather is cooler, I’ve moved our Fall Sensory Table items indoors on a table in my living room. Over the past several weeks the hooligans have spent hours at the table, chatting and playing and exploring the beauty of Fall.

toddlers and preschoolers around a Fall  Sensory Table

At the end of the day, I simply re-arrange and tidy it up a little and leave it set out as a Fall display in our home.

wooden bowls for sorting into on a fall sensory table

How are you exploring Autumn in your home?  Do you have a Fall Sensory Table?  I’d love to hear about it if you do!


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Shaving Cream Art on a Mirror: Painting Clouds

Amazing Shaving Cream Art on a mirror – painting clouds beneath a blue sky.  Such a beautiful way for kids to enjoy some sensory art and shaving cream play!

Mirror Play - Cloud Painting - happy hooligans

Okay!  I have another really cool shaving cream art activity for you, and it involves one of my new favourite items for play!  A mirror!    I’ve been dreaming of this one ever since I set up some Sensory Play on a Mirror a couple of weeks ago.  Did you see it?   Quick!  Pop over and check it out, but come right back because you won’t want to miss this one:  today we were painting clouds on a mirror!

Painting clouds on a mirror with shaving cream

Gather your supplies:

shaving foam and paint brushes on a mirror

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This activity is very simple to set up.  You just need a mirror, a paint brush and a can of shaving cream.  We used the “foam” kind of shaving cream as opposed to the “gel”.  As the morning progressed, we also added some food colouring, but that step is optional.

Setting up:

You definitely want to do this on a day that the sky is sunny and blue.  If there are a few fluffy clouds up above that’s even better.

I set our mirror on a table (I use a second-hand coffee-table when we’re crafting outdoors) in the middle of the yard where there wouldn’t be any reflections of trees or houses or anything in the mirror.  I wanted the mirror to simply reflect the blue sky.

Have your child look into the mirror, and ask them what they see.  It takes a second or two for them to process the fact that they’re looking DOWN, and yet they’re seeing the sky and clouds.  There’s a real moment of surprise when realize what they’re looking at.

Now it’s time to invite them to paint their own clouds in the sky’s reflection.

Get painting:

I sprayed a puddle of shaving cream in front of each of the girls.  I learned later that pressing gently on the button would prevent the splattering that you see here (not that anyone really minded).

painting clouds on a mirror

Then the girls got to work swirling and painting their clouds.

Painting clouds on a mirror

It wasn’t long before they abandoned their paint brushes, and were exploring the shaving cream with their hands, finger-painting and sliding and gliding their hands all over the mirror until it  was completely covered.

getting their hands covered in shaving cream while painting on the mirror

A couple of times, I hosed the mirror down and quickly dried it off so they could start again.

poking their fingers into a pile of shaving cream

After they’d been mucking around for quite a while, I asked them if they’d like me to add some food colouring, and of course they said “yes”.  So I brought out some red and blue food colouring, and dotted their shaving cream with it, and they had a great, old time mixing and blending the colours on the mirror.

rubbing their hands through blue and red food colouring in the shaving cream

All said and done, they were probably at this activity for close to an hour.  It’s a wonderful sensory activity.  The scent of the shaving cream is amazing, and not over-powering when you’re playing with it outside, and the foam..  Oh that fluffy, slippery, lovely, luxurious foam!  Who wouldn’t enjoy playing in it?

Covering a mirror with shaving cream and food colouring

Easy clean up:

I keep a large bowl of water and a towel nearby when we’re getting messy in the yard like this.  It makes clean up a snap.  The mirror and the table got a spray from the garden hose and sat in the sun to dry.cleaning up in a large bowl of water

Shaving cream is one of our favourite sensory materials.  We’ve enjoyed it many times for both art and play.  You can check some of the ways we’ve used it in the following posts:

Marbleized painting

Shaving Cream and Food Colouring

Giant Shaving Cream Magna Doodle

Painting with Shaving Cream

Shaving Cream and Glitter Bin

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Sensory Play on a Mirror

sensory play on a mirror - happy hooligans

Sensory play on a mirror takes your activities to a whole new level…

Earlier this week, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.  I set up a sensory activity on a mirror, and it was very, VERY cool.  If you’ve never used a mirror as a play surface, you need to do something about that! :)

rocks, shells, corn kernels, coffee beans and dried pasta on a mirrored surface

On this day, the hooligans were merely investigating a variety of natural items with tongs and tweezers, but placing the materials on top of a mirror added an entirely new perspective to a rather ordinary type of activity.

The Mirror:

The mirror that we used is one that normally hangs in the dress up area of our craft-room.  It”s slightly smaller than the average  full-length mirror, and it has a wooden frame around it.  I simply set the mirror on the second-hand coffee-table that we use as a craft and activity table.  It probably goes without saying, but just to be safe, I feel the need to say:  be sure to place your mirror on a table or flat surface that completely supports it.  You don’t want your child leaning or stepping on it and shattering the glass.

The Activity:

Present sensory materials in a wooden "lazy susan".

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I provided the hooligans with a tray full of natural items:

I had all of the items arranged in a wooden “Lazy Susan” and I provided an assortment of tools for the hooligans to examine them with: tweezers, tongs, scoops, wooden bowls and a magnifying glass.

scattering sensory materials over a mirror

The hooligans began by sprinkling and scattering handfuls of the goodies across the mirror just as I expected them to do.

But what happened next was not so ordinary.  They noticed something; they noticed that the sky was underneath them!

blue sky and clouds reflecting in the sensory table

And then they noticed the clouds, and that the reflection changed as the clouds moved across the sky.

And later when I moved the table underneath the tree, the littlest one said “ohhh, leaves!” when she looked down into the mirror.

I can’t describe how strange it was to look down only to find yourself looking up into the branches and leaves of our massive maple tree.  I’ve definitely never looked at the tree in quite the same way before.  It literally gave us a new perspective.

green leaves and branches reflected in the sensory table

And of course, they noticed themselves. They got a real charge out of seeing themselves and each other looking back at them from their play surface.  children discovering themselves in the mirrored sensory table

The frame around the mirror contained all of the objects on the mirror, and they seemed to know this, and they pushed and plowed all of the goodies around the table, knowing that they wouldn’t spill off the edges.small hands experience sensory play on a mirror

And the sound of the pasta, stones, buttons and kernels clattering around on the glass was wonderful.

I hope you’ll try this one.  It’s one of those things that you have to experience first-hand to really appreciate.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a full-length mirror.  Any picture frame type mirror will do.  Even a hand mirror would provide your child with an interesting surface to play on!  tweezers and an assortment of materials to be explored on a mirror

We’re definitely going to use our mirror as a play surface again.  I have a few activities in mind, and you can bet I’ll be sharing them with you just as soon as I can.

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Sensory Art with Shaving Cream and Food Colouring

Sensory Art: exploring shaving cream and food colouring with our hands.

We had another wonderfully messy experience the other day, creating sensory art with shaving cream and food colouring. You may have seen our Giant Shaving Cream Magna-Doodle a couple of weeks ago when we covered our 6 dollar, thrift-shop table in shaving cream and doodled the morning away.sensory art - with shaving cream and food colouring (happyhooligans)


This time, at the suggestion of two of my lovely facebook followers, we added a couple of things that took the activity to a whole new level:  food colouring and craft sticks.

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Our sensory art “ingredients”:

Added suggestion: bucket of water and a towel

I started by covering our table-top with shaving cream.  Don’t worry about buying expensive shaving cream.  This stuff was not.  It dribbled and dripped out of the container, but hey, we weren’t looking for a close shave here, we were just looking to get messy.

I sprinkled a few drops of food colouring on top of the shaving cream and we were good to go!


Then I passed around some large craft sticks.  Using craft sticks until the food colouring is mixed in is a good idea.  It prevents having to put your hands directly into the food colouring.

shaving cream, food colouring and craft sticks on a table top

The hooligans scraped and doodled and spread the food colouring around in the foam, and it quickly began to look verrrry cool!

sensory art: painting with craft sticks in shaving cream and food colouring



And very inviting!  It wasn’t long before they ditched the craft sticks and got their hands into it.  IMG_1096

And they had a great old time, smooshing and smearing the colours all together. IMG_1109

When the shaving became all one colour, I would simply dribble some more on top, and add a few new drops of food colouring, and they’d start all over again.IMG_1113

We continued adding layer upon layer o food colour and shaving cream until the can was empty.

A bucket full of water and towel made clean up easy, and was handy for those who wanted to rinse while they were painting.easy way to clean up when playing outside

sensory art - gorgeous, open-ended, sensory art experience by happy hooligans

Similar activities that may interest you:

Life-size Shaving Cream Magna-Doodle

Shaving Cream Car Wash 

Marbleized Painting with Shaving Cream

Shaving Cream Paints


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Shaving Cream “Magna Doodle” Activity

Create a giant “Magna Doodle” with 2 simple items: a table-top and a can of shaving cream.

We love playing with shaving cream!  It’s such a great sensory material, and kids just love rolling up their sleeves, getting right into it with their hands and creating art on a table covered in shaving cream! This morning, I created a shaving cream magna doodle using 2 simple items:  a table-top and a can of shaving cream.

life size magna doodle - shaving cream on a table top

If you’ve been following along with us, you’ve likely heard me mention the 6 dollar, second-hand coffee table.  It serves as an indoor craft table during the winter months, and an outdoor activity table during the warmer months.  I love it because it’s large enough for the children to gather around comfortably, and its laminate top makes it stain and water-proof.

Creating your shaving cream magna doodle:

This morning, I took a can of shaving cream to the table, and presented the hooligans with this:shaving cream invitation to play

At the sound of the spray-can, they came running, and gathered around, curious about what I was up to. “Is it for us?” they asked.  “Yep”, I said.  “What do we do with it?” one of them asked.  I replied very simply:  “Whatever you’d like”.

There was a moment of hesitation, and then a few cautious fingers poked at the cream.exploring shaving cream sensory play

And it wasn’t long before they were burying their hands in the foam, and spreading it around the table, making swirls and pattern.  Then they would wipe it all out and start fresh.  That’s when I realized that what we had in front of us was just like a giant Magna Doodle!shaving cream magna doodle - incredible sensory experience

Who doesn’t love a Magna Doodle?  Make it life-size, and add a sensory twist and it’s better than ever!  We made hand prints,handprints in shaving cream

drew pictures, and created oodles of doodles, writing our names and swirling our hands and fingers around in the foam.doodling in shaving creamIt was such a wonderful sensory experience.  The soft, fluffy shaving cream, little hands gliding around on the slippery table-top and it smelled amazing!swirling shaving cream on a table

When the table became covered with patterns and drawings, they would slide their hands down the length of the table, swiping the surface “clean” to start again.swirls in shaving cream

Cleaning hands:

We had a large bowl and a towel sitting beside the table, so the kids could rinse their hands whenever they wanted to.

hands covered in shaving cream

For those who don’ t enjoy messy play:

One little guy wasn’t big on getting his hands as messy as this activity required, so after a while, I handed out some paint-brushes and they had a go with those.IMG_0905

Shaving cream is an absolutely delightful substance to in your sensory activities, but as always, you know your child best.  If there are skin sensitivities or a risk of your child eating it, please hold off until your child is a bit older.

For more ways to play with shaving cream, please check our other posts:

Playing with Shaving Cream

Shaving Cream Car Wash

Marbleizing with Shaving Cream and Food Colouring

Window Painting with Shaving Cream

You may also appreciate:

5 Learning Activities for the Magna Doodle

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Outdoor Sensory Play – Exploring Fresh Herbs

Outdoor sensory play idea:  Toddlers and preschoolers will love exploring fresh herbs and plants with this fun backyard sensory activity!

This is such a fun way for kids to work on their cutting skills.  It’s also an awesome water activity that will engage all the senses.  The smell of fresh cut herbs, the beautiful colours of the garden, splashing in the cool water – what more could you ask for in an outdoor toddler activity?

Sensory Soup - fine motor, sensory fun and water play
Every year at about this time, when the garden is in full tilt, we break out the bowls, buckets and the scissors and we spend the morning making “Garden Soup”.  It’s one of our favourite Springtime activities.

Sensory Soup - exploring fresh herbs and flowers

This year, I decided to change things up a bit, and instead of having flowers as the main ingredient in our activity, I gathered fresh herbs from around the yard and garden, thinking it would be heavenly to enjoy the pungent aromas as the kids snipped and chopped the sprigs into their “soup”.

To make our herb kitchen, I used:

Herbs for the herb soup sensory activity

  • Herbs:  we used cilantro, basil, oregano, dill, chives, tarragon, thyme and mint
  • scissors
  • ladles and spoons
  • bowls
  • cups or scoops
  •  large stock pot filled with water
  • flowers, shells and stones (added as an afterthought)

We started off by exploring the different herbs, crushing and smelling a few of the leaves, and I explained how they’re used to add flavour to our food: oregano and basil in spaghetti and pizza sauce, mint in gum etc.

Then the hooligans gathered around our 6 dollar thrift shop coffee table , which is perfect for crafting and play at, and they chopped, plucked and snipped their leaves and stems into their bowls; perfect for fine motor and scissor skill development.

chopping and plucking fresh herbs for sensory play

They scooped water from the big stock pot and added it to their bowls,

making Sensory Soup with fresh herbs and flowers

pouring water into fresh herbs sensory activity

and they spent the better part of an hour mixing up their concoctions.

stirring fresh herbs into water activity

sensory soup

When most of the herbs had been used up, someone ran to the deck and fetched a bowl of stones and shells to add to their soup,

Adding stones and shells to herbs and flowers for Sensory Soup

 and I clipped some incredibly fragrant peony blooms garden, and they used the petals to garnish their bowls.

chopping up peonies for Sensory Soup

What a wonderful way to spend the morning!  Water play, sensory play and fine motor development all rolled into one  super Springtime activity.

And when we were finished, we scooped out the shells and stones, and dumped our “soup” into the compost bin. :)

!sensory soup table

If you’re looking for more ways to make learning fun with water, click through to check out our water-works, dino-dig and baby bath station.  They’ve all been super-popular here.

If you’re curious about the denim aprons the hooligans are wearing, I make them from the legs of our old jeans.  You can find my apron tutorial here: 



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