Posts Tagged 'sensory play'

DIY Sensory Bottles

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What do you get when you pair an ordinary plastic bottle with water, glitter, paint, sand, beans, or even toothpicks? An easy DIY toy, a great way to recycle, a crafty project, something to entertain the kids–How about all of the above! Sensory bottles are a great quiet toy for little ones to explore during those in-between moments—in the car on the way to the grocery store, at home when you need something to occupy their hands, or in the stroller when you’re on the go. At its most basic level, a sensory bottle is a container with cool stuff inside. Sounds easy, right?

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Here at the DMA, we have quite a collection of sensory bottles that we use for the Art Babies and Toddler Art classes and the monthly First Tuesday event for preschoolers. Some bottles are great noise-makers; others are simply mesmerizing to stare at. For today’s DIY, we’ll get the low-down on how to make a sensory bottle and then take on the challenge of making bottles inspired by art in the museum.

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It might seem like it shouldn’t really require a complicated set of instructions to make a sensory bottle.

  1. Find a bottle.
  2. Put cool things inside.
  3. Close it up.

Easy, right? However, there are a few things to take into consideration that might not seem so obvious.

Containers. Any sort of bottle will probably do, but I’ve learned to take a minute to think about who will be using the sensory bottle and what will be inside. I strictly use plastic bottles and jars, so that there is no safety concern when the bottle inevitably gets dropped. I also vary the sizes I use. Babies need smaller, lighter bottles that are easier for them to pick up and hold (think of the mini water bottles you see in kids’ lunchboxes). Older children can handle slightly larger bottles. If a bottle will be holding liquid ingredients, make sure that the plastic is durable and strong. I prefer using bottles with wide openings so that small toys and objects can fit through the bottle neck. Make sure your bottle has been thoroughly cleaned and is completely dry before filling it up. (If the label gives you any trouble, use an adhesive remover like Goo Gone to remove it and get rid of the sticky stuff).

Contents. Basically, anything goes when it comes to contents. Consider how your child will play with it—do you want a noisemaker or do you want to explore how colors mix? Do you want something that has a hide and seek element to it? Here are some of my favorite combinations.

  • For musical shakers: beans, rice, sand, toothpicks, plastic beads, jingle bells, or nuts and bolts
  • For color-mixing: vegetable oil or baby oil + water + liquid watercolor
  • For “I Spy” play: colored rice and small toys
  • For mesmerizing gazes: clear dish soap and/or hair gel + colorful mini rubber bands
  • For glowing play: glow in the dark stars + glow in the dark paint + seltzer water (which glows under black light!)

Closure. Sensory bottles are not meant to be open, so run a line of strong adhesive around the mouth of the bottle before permanently screwing on the plastic cap. My favorite glue to use is E6000.

Now for the DMA Sensory Bottle Challenge—extend your Museum visit to at-home play by creating a sensory bottle inspired by a favorite work of art. Use a work of art your child has expressed an interest in as a starting point. Pay attention to the colors, shapes, lines, and objects you see in the work of art and then make a list of things you could fit into a bottle. Here’s what I came up with!

The Lily Pond Sensory Bottle—inspired by Claude Monet’s Water Lilies
Contents: Water, blue & silver liquid watercolor, toy frogs and turtles, silk flower petals

The Purrrfectly Egyptian Sensory Bottle—inspired by works of art in Divine Felines
Contents: Water + sand + gold glitter + Egyptian-themed toys

By playing with a sensory bottle, your child is gaining experience with all kinds of “big kid” concepts—gravity, density, color mixing, viscosity, cause and effect, and so much more! But more importantly in my book, they are having fun. Play on!

Leah Hanson
Manager of Family and Early Learning Programs

Glow Babies

Pop! goes the art in our Art Babies classes. Take a peek at what we’ve been up to as we’ve explored the International Pop exhibition over the past few months. With its bright colors, oversized pieces, and recognizable objects, this exhibit is perfect for our littlest visitors. We’ve been counting pies and cakes, searching for hidden turkeys, and ooh-ing and ah-ing over giant French fries in our investigation of the paintings and sculptures featured in the show.

Inspired by the fun factor in Pop art, I tried something new for our sensory play session in the studio—glow in the dark play! We strung up twinkle lights, plugged in black lights, and used glow sticks throughout the room. With the overhead lights off, the studio turns into a magical place and creates a new environment for the babies to explore. At first the children are quiet, taking it all in. But as soon as they realize that they don’t have to take a nap, there are shrieks of laughter and lots of giggles as they shake bottles filled with water and immersible LED lights, crawl around on a shiny emergency reflective blanket, and try to catch bubbles. It’s a glowing good time!

If you’d like to join us next time, tickets for the January-March classes will go on sale December 3 at 10:00 am on our ticketing site.

Leah Hanson
Manager of Early Learning Programs

Friday Photos: Art Babies

This Monday, with a little help from some shiny blue fabric and a DIY dragon puppet, our monthly Art Babies class dove deep into the galleries for a little fun under the sea with Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King of the Sea. Babies and grown-ups alike enjoyed exploring our Japanese collection before heading down to our studio for all kinds of sensory play. When it was time to say goodbye, we wrapped up with singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star under our magical starry fabric.

We love seeing our littlest visitors feel right at home in the Museum, and we’ve even bumped up our number of classes each month to squeeze in a few more friends! Tickets for July through September (we’ll be focusing on our senses) are now on sale. To register, visit our Art Babies page.

We can’t wait to see our friends again next month for more family fun!

Jennifer Sheppard
McDermott Intern for Family and Access Teaching

London Calling!

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Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Some people go to London for Big Ben, or to see the Queen, or to attend a Shakespearean play. I went to London for the babies! Thanks to a generous grant from the Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation, I was able to take a research trip to the United Kingdom a few weeks ago to investigate what museums there are doing for children ages 0-2.

More than a year ago, I stumbled across the CultureBabies blog, which highlighted the great work focused on babies happening in museums in Manchester and London. While many museums in the US offer a variety of programs and classes for toddlers and preschoolers, classes actually focused on babies seem to be harder to come by. I knew I had to see what was happening in the UK in person. (And let’s face it, I’d never refuse a trip across the pond!)

I started off in Manchester, where I visited both the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery. These two institutions, along with the Whitworth Art Gallery (which is temporarily closed for renovation), have created a suite of programs that focus solely on babies who haven’t started walking. So we’re talking about really young children—the children that most people probably think don’t get much out of a visit to the museum. But what a mistake to think that!

Both the Manchester Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery focus on sensory play as a way for caregivers to interact with their babies, and for babies to explore their world. Educators at each institution were inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, an educational approach which champions the value of allowing children to direct their own learning, to learn through their senses, and to learn with one another. The Reggio Emilia approach also puts an emphasis on the importance of environment, and calls for early childhood classrooms to be filled with natural light, beautiful real-world materials, and to have open community spaces where children interact with one another.

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

The Manchester museums have translated Reggio Emilia principles into a museum setting by transforming exhibit and studio spaces into beautiful, engaging environments filled with things babies can touch, smell, taste, see, and hear. At the art gallery, an artist takes inspiration from an exhibition on display, and then creates a temporary installation for the babies in the studio. The sessions I observed focused on the work of artist Ryan Gander, and the Baby Art Club session was an exploration of traditional childhood play like making forts, playing peek-a-boo, building with blocks, and playing in the kitchen. Babies were knocking over cardboard boxes, burrowing into mounds of fabric, playing in a bowl of flour, and clanging metal spoons together. There were shrieks of delight, lots of happy babbling, and adults and children giving themselves completely over to enjoying play.

At the Manchester Museum, the Baby Explorers session begins with an interactive story-song time in which caregivers cuddle, sing to and bounce their babies as a teaching artist introduces the theme of the class and the gallery connection. I observed a class focused on ancient cultures, so the singing time included songs about a mummy and a camel. Babies and adults then had time to explore sensory “islands” that educators had set up in the children’s exhibit area—a sound station with musical instruments, a texture area with lots of natural materials, a metal area with shiny objects, and a light box with sparkly, translucent materials. Images of objects in the Museum’s collection or actual objects in protective boxes were scattered throughout the entire area, allowing babies to investigate ancient cultures in an age-appropriate way.

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

I was struck in both sessions by how ordinary objects became things of beauty. In the metal sensory play area at the Manchester Museum, metal bowls, spoons, whisks, and kitchen containers were transformed from utilitarian utensils into light, reflection, and shine. I observed one mother shining a flashlight through a metal object, and watched as her baby focused on the light and reached for the object as the light reflected around her. The next minute, the baby was waving a whisk through the air, experimenting with its weight and feel.

I saw tremendous value in both programs for adults and babies. For the adults, these classes seem to give them permission to leave behind all the usual tasks that build up in a day, and allow them to simply enjoy being with their babies. The adult-child interactions I observed as an on-looker were definitely sweet, but even more importantly, were contributing to positive social-emotional growth and language development for the children. Caregivers also leave these sessions with ideas for how to use everyday materials at home as playthings, learning that items as simple as a wooden spoon and a bowl of flour can provide endless entertainment and valuable open-ended learning opportunities for babies.

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

Baby Explorers at the Manchester Museum, used with permission

But perhaps the greatest outcome of these baby classes from a museum educator point of view, is that the families create strong relationships with the museums and see them as valuable partners in the journey of raising a child. At the Manchester Museum, one little girl has been attending the Baby Explorers class for the past few months with her foster mother. This month, she attended for the first time with her new adoptive parents. It was truly beautiful to see this little girl so confident in her surroundings, sure of herself as she crawled from one space to another, even as she adjusts to a new family and home life. The adoptive parents too were warmly welcomed into the museum family and appreciated the observations museum educators were able to share about their new daughter.

Art Babies at the DMA

Art Babies at the DMA

I came back to the DMA inspired and ready to try new ways of playing and learning with babies in our own galleries. We launched the Art Babies class for children under 2 years old here at the Museum in January, and the class has been a fun educational journey for me personally as we experiment with how to best serve our very youngest visitors. Over the coming months, I hope to incorporate some of the ideas and strategies I gathered from our colleagues across the way. Stay tuned for our own version of the British (baby) invasion!

Leah Hanson
Manager of Early Learning Programs


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