Spaghetti, Playdoh, & Buttons – fine motor engineering

We had a nor’easter in town this Thursday, plus a full moon, and being stuck inside, by late afternoon, we needed a creative activity.

I’d seen a cool activity using Playdoh, spaghetti, and pasta and decided to modify it for my older kids as well.

I started out using Playdoh to stabilize vertical pieces of spaghetti, added a couple buttons and a crossbar, and showed the kids.

2 of them got into it right away, using small bits of Playdoh to suspend objects.

Overall, I was really pleased with the activity. It provided lots of motor planning and fine motor practice, required the use of two hands to stabilize, and because the textures were so different (brittle spaghetti, moldable Playdoh), they had to adjust their pressure and grip.

But it didn’t feel like work – it was fun building together, coming up with ideas, and seeing what was possible.

We’ll definitely try it again sometime!

Stick Forests

We have a new, temporary outdoor installation at our house right now.

It’s called a stick forest, and it’s one of our favorite ways to play in the snow when the snow just isn’t cooperating for snowballs and snowmen.

The concept is simple – collecting debris from the yard and placing it in an intentional way within a designated space. Younger siblings are just as capable of creating, or they can be the designated stick gatherers.

This particular project took close to an hour, and J worked happily and diligently at this task. He employed his sisters as gatherers, and broke and angled branches to create his desired effect.

A was particularly excited with a branch she found – it had some insect egg remnants wrapped around it.

I unfortunately couldn’t give her any more specifics, but she looked carefully and was rewarded.

We also discovered turkey, rabbit, and deer tracks as we were gathering.

I love this kind of activity – the opportunity for open-ended creative process, no examples or predefined expectations. It will all have melted by the weekend, but for today, it was good.

Easy Solar Eclipse T-Shirts

The eclipse is only 2 days away, and we wanted to do something to at the same time

  1. Anticipate what we’re going to experience with the eclipse (though we’re in a 70% zone) and
  2. Create something memorable to commemorate the event.

We’re not highly crafty, and I wanted a project the kids could really own.

So, we went to A C Moore & picked out shirts in whatever dark color they wanted and white fabric paint.

At home, we cut circles of various sizes out of a thick art paper (I used a rotary cutter) and tore up old cereal boxes to use as the inserts to keep the paint from bleeding through the shirts.

I used painter’s tape to hold the circles in place on the shirts, and put a bead of paint around the edge of about 1/4 of a circle at a time, direction towards the kids. They pulled the paint from the circle out onto the shirt for that quadrant, and then we rotated the shirts 1/4 turn & applied paint to the next section. We found that a cheap bristle brush worked best. 

All in all, for less than $5 a shirt, I’d call it a success.

Shaving Cream in the Water Table

Shaving cream. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, reading other people’s blogs about how fun it is and a good resource for sensory play. But I didn’t trust it.

I tried that whole put a bar of Ivory soap in a microwave experiment – let’s just say it was a big mess and involved at least 3x  5x more clean up than actual play. So I was wary.

Since it’s summer and we have a water table, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to buy one of those dollar store cans of shaving cream & see what happens.

Here’s what we did.

We started with paint brushes of various textures and shaving cream mountains. In less than one minute, the table was covered. Uh-oh, I thought. This was going to lose its appeal in no time. 

But then the magic happened. The kids quickly transitioned to spreading the shaving cream along the deck railings. (We had a not on the floor rule — too slippery)

One trick I’ve learned with open-ended play is to only begin with some of the supplies. We began with a dry table, shaving cream, & paint brushes. Once I saw that interest flagging, I brought out the next element: water. 

They started pouring, mixing, experimenting with different consistencies, and even took their brushes and started cleaning off the cream they’d just spread. Lots of good gross and fine motor as well as sensory input was happening here, but we weren’t done.

The paint brush cleanup of the railings allowed for some great crossing the midline activities, and all the mixing and pouring was a rich source for bilateral coordination.

We then added a spray bottle filled with water, good for grip strength, shoulder stability, eye-hand coordination, and look at that bilateral coordination! 

In the end, all 3 returned to the table, playing with the slop they’d created by thinning out the shaving cream with water. E was watching how the force from her spray bottle propelled the other liquid forward – easier to observe in the grainy solution rather than pure water, and J & E were cooking up concoctions and pouring and stirring, using their imaginations.

We were out there for about an hour, and they ended up cleaning up most of the mess themselves in the midst of their play. 

It was fun. We’ll definitely pull this out some other time.

This last year, I’ve been immersing myself in the OT world of sensory input and motor skill development, and the thing that amazed me was that I now had the eyes to look at what my kids were doing and to see the purpose in their play – not because I dictated what they must do but because they sought it out themselves. And it was wonderful. 

Bubble Fun

The weather’s been gorgeous recently, and the gypsy moth caterpillars have finally metamorphosed (and are being lured in by our pheromone traps), so we’ve taken the opportunity to spend some time outside, enjoying the relative calm that is our backyard.

We’ve done a few related bubble activities that have been big wins with the whole family.

1: Catching Bubbles

The kids had a BLAST with this, were creative in exploring what they could do, and it was also great for practicing some important skills like light touch and hand-eye coordination.

We started with a homemade bubble solution similar to this one – the glycerin makes the bubble nice & strong, and used a bubble wand from the dollar store. We also filled our water table so we had a good reservoir of easily accessible water to keep the hands wet.

I coached the kids on how to cup their hands, and reminded them to keep them wet. This went on for a good 1/2 hour. They were testing bubbles against one another, catching on arms and backs of hands, stomping those that made it on to the wet part of the deck. 

2. Bubble Clusters

These bubble clusters are so fun!

We take a plastic water bottle, cut off the bottom, and cover it with a cheesecloth (mesh or even threadbare socks work too!)

Dip the cheesecloth/ mesh end in a shallow dish of bubble solution, and blow.

The results are dramatic and easy even for kids. We were catching these clusters in cups & bowls. We’ve also “painted” with them. 

3. Medicine syringe blowing/bubble play

Today, my kids needed a bit of variety in their play. I pulled out 3 of these outer parts of medicine syringes, and we used them instead of bubble wands. They’re really good for practicing blowing, because it’s much less likely a child will inhale with one of these as compared to a regular straw or the water bottle in part 2. 

I was blown away (pun intended) by how creative the kids got. They each discovered something new. 

E discovered that she could put diluted bubble solution in a small medicine cup and could blow a cascade of bubbles out of it.

A discovered that she could blow bubbles onto the water table and they would float. (That’s E in the picture)

J discovered that he could pass the syringe through the floating bubble (on the water table) without breaking it. 

For an amazing 20 minutes or so, the kids were all discovering, sharing their delight, and building on each others’ discoveries. 

I sat back and thought, “They’re getting it!” They’re asking questions, trying new things, talking about it, and sharing the experience with each other. I wish you could have heard the giggles. It was priceless. 

Math in the Bath!

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We’ve recently been having a lot of fun with a bag of 50 ping-pong balls (aff link) I got on Amazon. I love open-ended materials that can be re-purposed over and over again.

Tonight, in the bath, I gave my kids about 10 ping-pong balls and 3 small takeout-style containers.

My 3yo girls made me birthday cakes and sang for me. I got to blow out my ping-pong candles and choose which color piece of cake I wanted.

For 6yo J, we turned it into a math game. I love how infinitely adaptable games like this can be.

He chose a different point value for each color ball and turned it into a game where he was collecting points by tossing the balls into the (moving) containers.

This could be used to practice skip counting, multiplication (assigning different values to each bowl – x2, x3, etc), or other skills. (Window crayons work great for labeling any containers.)

The important thing is that the child needs to be part of developing the parameters rather than just being given a prepared task. And if he wants to do something different with the balls & bowls, don’t sweat it!

Just play together, or let him experiment independently, and see where it leads.


A couple years ago, my then 4yo and I embarked on a playsilks experiment.

I tend to get a crafty idea, make a bunch of them, get tired of it, and move on. (Afghans, mei tai baby carriers, felt Christmas trees, car seat canopies, I’m looking at you!)

The playsilks were a similar project. We ordered about 30 of various sizes from Dharma Trading, used all of them as gifts as well as keeping for ourselves, and then we ordered another 20 or so scarves to do more, since it was such a fun and easy project.

We’ll probably repeat within the next year or two, as my girls are almost old enough to handle it.

The Artful Parent has a great tutorial, so I’m not going to try to reinvent the wheel.

What I did want to mention is how fun it can be to play with the color combinations. We have some monochrome scarves and some others that use 2, 3, or even more color combinations.

We use these scarves All. The. Time. Even my 6yo. We dance with them, use them as blindfolds, pretend to be superheroes, wrap our dolls in them, use them as tablecloths for pretend picnics.

They’re machine washable. (I know – the word silk scared me too) and have enriched our play tremendously.

Oh, and there’s also the sensory bonus of rolling in a pile of silk too. Pretty sure that happens on a not-too-infrequent basis.

I love open-ended play objects and that we’re using our own artwork.

And no, my kids still don’t know that Kool-Aid is actually a beverage. 🙂

Fabric Painting Supplies (Amazon link)

(This post contains affiliate links.  Any links to resources on the Amazon website are part of the affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.)