Category Archives: Hands on Play

Debt Free Holiday: DIY Felt Boards

Make your own felt boardThat’s right, it’s that time of year again, when we are thinking of how to have a lovely, thoughtful holiday without breaking the bank (or the planet!). Every year I look for “green” gift ideas that save cash and reduce, reuse, recycle while still being special and encouraging creativity. (I recently saw Polar Express for the first time, and I LOVE the scene where they explain that Santa is now in the refurbishing business, giving unloved toys new life. I’ve been saying that for years!)

Have you seen those felt boards you can use to tell a story? There are store bought ones with really elaborate, printed pieces you can use, or you can make them yourself for pennies. They are also sometimes called Flannel Boards

  • Try this Felt Cookie play set from Sugar Aunts. I would add a small tray from the thrift store, lined with self adhesive felt for the cookie tray. You could do this up very adorably with a couple small mixing bowls and a little oven mitt.
  • Here is a how-to for a lap-sized story board from Munchkin and Bean. I love how she was able to make a whole set of them! Watch for coupons for the canvases, or re-use some of the ones you find at the thrift store with scary-ugly paintings on them. (I’m sure you’ve seen them.)
  • Would your kid swoon for something that is beyond your art skills, like my little Star Wars fan? No problem, just use stickers.
  • Here are printable felt board templates from DLTK. Their suggestion to glue the paper printouts onto sandpaper is an excellent idea. You could laminate them first or use something like modpodge for extra durability.
  • How about embroidering or painting a simple felt “block” set, like the one in our cover image by Wendi Gratz? You could create any design- architectural, abstract, or household items- and just have fun with it.
  • Here is a Thanksgiving felt board from Where Imagination Grows that you could easily adapt to be about your own family. Make a felt “doll” for each person in your household, etc. How fun!
  • This Mr. Potato Head quiet book from Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows could easily be adapted to a felt board. Perfect for toddlers who are learning their body parts or just for silly play (that doesn’t clatter when you drop it on the floor!)

Are you feeling inspired now? I am! I have a hinged chalk/art board that I got at our most recent swap meet that has hooks so it can hang on the wall, and one side is basically blank. I’m going to cover the “empty” side with felt and fill it with felt pieces for my little man! I’d love to hear your ideas! Put them down there in the comments.


Autumn Leaves Playdate

Autumn Leaves Playdate

Many thanks to JMM Danette Z. for her help with this one!

That nip in the air is here, and the leaves are falling down. What better way to make learning about Autumn fun than with an Autumn Leaves Playdate? Autumn leaves and seed pods offer lots of possible art, science, discovery and tactile activity options, so if you live in an area with an autumn season change, you can parlay that into one playdate or many playdates!




Hands On Play

  • Set up an exploration table with leaves, seed pods and twigs and let the children do self-directed play.
  • Got on a leaf walk
  • Leaf Identification
  • Jump in leaf piles
  • Press leaves in a book

Around the Web

Do you have an awesome playdate idea to share? Submit it! We love hearing from you!

Jack and the Beanstalk (plus lesson resources)

jack and the beanstalk lesson resources Jack and the Beanstalk simply couldn’t be a more perfect foil for hands on storytelling. First of all, Good Ol’ Jack doesn’t listen to his mother and mass chaos ensues. If you can’t make that work for you, then you just aren’t trying very hard.

Secondly, he grows a giant beanstalk that turns out to give him access to another world! If you’re gardening inclined, you can turn this into an entire season of good times by growing a bean patch in your garden. (Need a little math? Track the beanstalks’ rate of growth and have your kid calculate how long it would take to reach “the sky.” The earth’s atmosphere extends approximately 36,000 feet from the earth’s surface.) Plus they are delicious.

For an adventurous, hands on telling of the story, try finding a local sport place with a climbing rope, or putting one up using a sturdy rafter or tree limb at home. Talk about reinforcing the lesson- who’s going to forget actually learning how to climb a beanstalk?

Jack and the Beanstalk Lesson Resources

I bet you have a dozen good ideas I didn’t think of. Why not put a few down there in the comment box?

Mommy, how do you play leapfrog?

You know, leapfrog is a classic children’s game that has come up in some of the kids’ books I read my boys, but it was out of fashion when I was a kid. So I never actually learned. No worries, the internet has an answer for everything. I’ve been teaching him some of the clapping games and jump rope rhymes I played as a kid, and there has been some discussion of hopscotch… what other classic children’s games should I be researching? (I realize that I appear to be attempting to use the internet in order to give my children the childhood of someone born 100 years ago. Yes. That is true. They will soon be equipped for EITHER a post apocalyptic childhood OR time travel. Perfect!)

Fairy Tale Playdate: Briar Rose aka Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty aka Briar RoseHave I mentioned how much I love fairy tales? Well, yes, I probably have. I am a subscriber to the idea that fairy tales promote imagination and creativity, and I love to expose my kids to them. Sleeping Beauty (or Briar Rose, as it was historically called) opens the floor for you to discuss not trusting strangers, the problems that can arise from keeping secrets, and how people get their feelings hurt when they are left out. The nice thing about fairy tales is that they are available in multiple versions, so you can pick the version that presents the story in an age appropriate way for your individual child.

Another benefit is that, unlike local and national news, fairy tales allow you to present scary and dangerous concepts in a context that isn’t as threatening to children as reality. Telling them that a bad person took a local child from her family is WAY scarier than a wicked fairy who puts a long-ago princess to sleep for 100 years. So using the story as a basis for your conversation allows you to introduce the concept without scaring your kid half to death. (See also these talking points for discussing Sleeping Beauty.)

In case you aren’t totally familiar with the story of Sleeping Beauty, let me bring you up to speed:

The Sleeping Beauty: A Super Short and Slightly Cynical Version

The beautiful and special Princess Aurora was born to a King and Queen who were so excited that they invited everyone in the kingdom to her baby party, EXCEPT for one vengeful and powerful fairy. The fairy was so angry at the slight that she cast a powerful curse- not on her parents, who were actually the authors of the social gaffe, but on the innocent baby. Someday, the beautiful little girl will prick her finger on a spindle and she will die. Other powerful fairies (with kinder intentions) were able to modify the curse to mean a 100 year sleep for the poor girl.

The King and Queen, no doubt thinking that the presence of spindles and knowledge of the risks will prompt a dare-devil finger pricking spree in their teenager, keep the curse a secret. Rather than tell her she’s cursed and to stay away from spinning wheels, they eradicate the technology from their kingdom.

When the lovely Aurora does encounter a spinning wheel at the age of 16, she has no idea that it’s a trap set for her by the evil fairy, and promptly pricks her finger and slips into a coma. The kindly fairy swoops in and puts the rest of the distraught royal family under a sleeping spell so they will awaken together with the princess, and they all sleep for 100 years before the inevitable happens- a handsome, brave, and dashing prince comes to the rescue and wakens the princess with a kiss.

The End

The littler the children at your play date, the simpler you will want to keep your activities. For the littlest ones, just introducing the story in a short, simplified form might be all the attention you can get from them. You can revisit at a later date and act the story out with dolls and toys. (Kids love repetition!) For older kids who are already familiar with the story, telling or reading a version can make a great intro to other activities. They might THINK they know all about this story, until you start explaining how castles were built. You can build on this almost infinitely and there are plenty of science and history applications as well as the literary ones.

Resources for your playdate:

Mish Mash Roll Pound Smash! A Playdough Playdate

There seems to be something universally soothing about play dough. Or, perhaps I should say NEARLY universal. My littlest has yet to get over his bitter disappointment that play dough isn’t something to eat, and I’m told there are children with sensory issues who do not enjoy it at all. For most, though, it seems that somewhere in the molding and shaping there must be some magic. If you want to see a group of small children stay calm and content for a remarkably long time, just set up a low table with some small rolling pins, plastic cookie cutters, a few textured toys, and a lump of play dough for each kid.

Your local thrift store probably has plenty of cookie cutters and rollers- I like to check the housewares section for pastry rollers, which are smaller than regular rolling pins and have handles that fit nicely into little hands. They are perfect for preschoolers. Toddlers seem to do better with mini-rollers meant for play kitchens or designed for play dough play.

Mish Mash Playdough
Recipe type: Non-food
Prep time: 
Total time: 
A quick and easy, no cook, home made play dough with no weird ingredients or artificial dyes.
  • 3 cups flour (your choice, I use all purpose)
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup water
  • ⅓ cup oil
  1. Combine all ingredients and knead thoroughly. (I use the dough paddle on my stand mixer.) If is is too wet, add flour a tablespoon at a time until the dough is right.
This makes 12-15 balls of dough that are about the same size as commercially packaged individual size play dough.

Toy cars with patterned wheels are AWESOME to roll over the dough and make tracks, and if your little one is hot for trucks, try using some toy digger machines with the dough!

My guys also like the Melissa and Doug play tools set- they enjoy stamping different designs into the dough, and it comes with some of the small rollers that are so great for toddlers.