Category Archives: Hands on Play

Write with Invisible Ink

Do you remember writing with lemon juice as a kid? Yeah, me too. Do you remember why it works? Nope, me either. Mostly what I remember was that it didn’t work very WELL, and my brother trying different lamps hoping for a better result.

This little chemistry lesson has way more for your kid to take away than which is the hottest lamp in your house. There are several ways to create and reveal invisible messages with household items.

You will find it easy to scale this lesson to your child’s interest and ability level. If you’re feeling unsure, test it yourself first and skip any method you think won’t go over well.


Instructions for:

If your child is very dexterous, a toothpick will work fine. Kids who have not yet or who’ve just begun to learn to write will probably prefer a paintbrush or a q-tip. This is a low mess, high- learning afternoon project!

Indoor sand/rice play

Everyone who knows me has remarked on my indoor sandbox at least once.


If you don’t have the stomach for sand in the house, get a 20 lb bag of rice and use it to fill a sand table or under-bed storage box. Vacuum after playtime is over, or get a small brush and dustpan the kids can use, Montessori style, to return spilled rice to the box.

If you’re lucky enough to have snow but not lucky enough to have weather nice enough for outdoor play, put a tarp under the box and fill it with snow. Let the kids wear mittens and gloves, make hot cocoa, and enjoy your indoor “snow day!”

Children’s Percussion (More Make Your Own)

Kid drummingA while back, the Joy Troupe NOVA Playgroup did an event we called “Percussion Factory,” where we got together and made percussion instruments out of recyclables and found objects. It turned out to be our loudest playdate ever and was a blast- just be sure you can keep the super glue away from the little ones. The event description and some photos follow:

(You are welcome to use this event/description for your own group with credit given; links back to our blog are appreciated!)

Percussion Factory

In preparation for Boogie Woogie Babies (TBA) let’s get together and make some kid-freindly instruments! **This is the easiest, no skill required craft project you have ever seen! The kids can have a fun playdate while we “work.”

We’ll make kid friendly percussion items from things you’d find in a recycling bin. Please collect and bring with you any of the items on the list below. (Please wash them and let them dry first.) If you can’t make it this day, feel free to drop a few things (except water bottles) off in advance of the event.

small water bottles with lids
wide-mouth plastic beverage bottles (eg, vitamin water)
plastic eggs
empty bubble bottles
plastic coffee cannisters
plastic pill bottles
vitamin jars
plastic spice containers
empty trial size cosmetic containers
formula cans
wipes tubs

We will remove all labels to make sure there is no confusion with real pill bottles, etc, so if you want to work ahead, that’s great!

dried beans

cous cous or other small pasta

bottle caps
jingle bells
plastic bread tabs
cable ties
metal pop tabs from soda cans
marbles or ball bearings
short cut offs of PVC pipe- any size

Us moms can take turns on the project while the kids play. These items can cost hundreds of dollars to buy- our guys will have hundreds of dollars of fun for pennies!

This week, we had Boogie Woogie Babies, and subjected these instruments to rigorous testing by our independent review panel, and we have some clear winners from the above bunch. (That’d be ten toddlers, a very rigorous bunch indeed!)

Clearly favored by these children when they played with these items as a group were the eggs, the baby ibuprofen bottles, prescription bottles, and the drink or vitamin bottles in 1 cup size or smaller. We had some coffee canisters (plastic) for drumming on, but even the kids who normally like to bang preferred to shake it with their friends.

The eggs, however, couldn’t quite stand up to the normal wear and tear a group of small children inflicted on the instruments, and a few popped when they got stepped on, spilling the contents. It also turns out that some items (like marbles) make very loud instruments that are maybe okay for one kid, but overwhelming in a group.

The favorites among the “fillers” were cable ties, pop tabs, bread tabs, cous cous, rice, elbow mac, and black turtle beans. Close runners up were things that had one or two pennies or small pebbles.

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