Calming Activities for a New School Year: Sensory Play

Sensory and pretend play combine for after school fun for kids

Sensory play is one of my favorite after school activities for kids, and it ranks high on my list of calming activities for a new school year! I have learned that our afternoons go much more smoothly if I have something planned for the kids when school gets out that helps them decompress. Sensory play instantly helps my kids relax, and we add small toys to inspire pretend play as well as to provide props if they want to work through confusing or intense scenarios from their school day.

pretend play as a great after school activity for kids

I will often set activities like this up before Lily, Anna, and I head out to pick up the two oldest kids (Lily gets home a few hours before them, as a kindergartner). The kids love coming home to a ready-made activity like this, even if we decide to stay at the playground for a few minutes (or an hour) before continuing on home. I will start off with a few basics, and they add whatever else they like.

storytelling with sensory play as an after school activity for kids

On this particular day, I had set out colored sand and florist gems (affiliate links); they added the small plastic toys.

sensory play is a wonderful contemplative activity for kids

Anna doesn’t do a lot of plot work so far (her guys will say hi to each other), but she really enjoys this as a sensory experience as well as an opportunity to be one of the kids.

sensory play for all ages

They are all sitting around the same table, with the same materials, but they each play so differently! I love seeing both how their own personalities come out in their play, as well as how they influence each other’s play.

The kids play together while I watch and get things of my own done that have been waiting for doing. When it is time to clean up the kids are refreshed and ready to face homework and chores.

How do you help your kids ease back into home life at the end of the school day?

Beados Review: Fuse Beads with Water, not Heat

Developing fine motor and planning skills with Beados

My kids love creating things out of fusible beads, but we don’t do it nearly as often as they would like because it means getting the iron out and the iron is hardly my favorite household appliance (that title goes to our washing machine, followed closely by the dishwasher). When we were offered the opportunity to try out Beados, which work like fusible beads, but are bonded using water instead of heat, I knew the kids would love it – and I was right! They spent at least six hours with these, the first time I pulled them out – building projects, and planning how to use the beads we were sent. It was a beautiful six hours, because they were happily productive, and I was able to get other things done (I did have to keep an eye on Anna while she was awake, because these beads are tiny and not for young children who might put things in their mouths.

Beados designs from a 5yo, 6yo, and 8yo

We were sent a Beados Quick Dry Station (this and following links are affiliate links – thanks for supporting my blog!) as well as this theme pack. The kids put in a lot of time creating projects, both using the design cards that came with the sets and making up their own creations. We had to get creative, because these designs take a LONG time to dry (think overnight, and the quick dry station, while cute and fun to watch, doesn’t accelerate the process much) and we only had two design trays. Beados recommends not spraying more than five or six times to prevent excessively long drying times, but even this many sprays took a long time to dry (and sometimes left us with beads not sticking together). Beados does recommend flipping the bead creations and spraying the other side and then letting that dry as well to create very durable creations.

Since we only had two trays, We were able to use some of our fusible bead trays, and those worked okay, although it was harder to get the beads out once dry and those trays created water pooling issues. I wish that kits came with more design trays (the theme pack did not have any trays), or that the trays could be bought separately, and possibly in different shapes (like you find for fusible beads).

3D sculpting with Beados

One really cool thing about Beados is that, if you are careful, you can use them to create three-dimensional sculptures like the one above! They aren’t intended to be used this way, but the kids had a lot of fun with this, although there was some frustration because the beads can be sticky when wet and sometimes they stick to your fingers rather than the sculpture. Once Beados creations dry, they have a nice rubbery texture and stay together really well!

Do you have kids who would enjoy this craft? Beados is offering Beados Starter Packs to two of my US readers! I actually think this pack is the best You can enter via the Rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Have you seen Beados before, or played with them? Do you have another craft that you think my kids would enjoy?

Easy Summer Fun for Kids: Water Paint and More

Painting with water - a fun summer activity for kids

Now that we are well into summer, I am always looking for easy summer fun for kids! Water painting is one of the simplest activities, and my kids love it! This fun classic children’s activity is low prep and low mess. You don’t even have to provide proper paint brushes – if you look closely you will see that my girls are painting with dried out bamboo from our little garden! I love this activity because it gets kids outside, helps them think creatively, but is also a very forgiving art form. Painting on a vertical surface (like our sliding door) is also a great way to start a conversation about gravity! Painting on concrete shows up really well, and kids can work together to create big art. The hotter the day, the more quickly their art vanishes! Give your kids large paintbrushes and encourage them to “paint” the house with water – it’s a great gross motor exercise!

Getting creative - paint with water

Here are a few more low-key activities we are enjoying:

We spend as much time as possible outdoors in the summer, but sometimes it is too hot, too rainy, or a sibling is napping so we are stuck indoors. Here are our favorite indoor summer activities:

What are your favorite low-key summer activities for kids?

Creative DohVinci Fun!

Making DohVinci art
Have you heard of DohVinci? We were sent some free to try out, and while I wasn’t required to write a blog post about it, I’m sure Hasbro won’t mind that I have. DohVinci comes from the same people who brought us Play-Doh, and it’s a great new 3D art product for older kids! It feels a lot like Play-Doh, but it can be used as a glue, and dries without leaving cracks.
We were sent both the (affiliate links) DohVinci Deluxe Styler set and the DohVinci Memory Masterpiece Complete Ribbon Board Kit. Emma was very happy with all of the products, but the board kit isn’t something you will want to save for long, so my recommendation is to get the styler and make up your own projects! Emma has plans to make cards next.
Getting creative with DohVinci
Eight-year-old Emma loved playing with DohVinci so much that she made this little video clip! she has watched me review products for years now, and wanted to give it a go.

This is one of those kid craft materials that are super fun for moms to play with, too!

What activities are your school-aged kids enjoying this summer?

afterschool linky

2014 After School Party HOSTS

The Educators’ Spin On It
Planet Smarty Pants
Boy Mama Teacher Mama
Mama Smiles
Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational
The Measured Mom
This Reading Mama

It’s time to link up your elementary school aged activities! By doing so you are giving the linky hosts permission to feature your post and to pin it to our After School Activities board on Pinterest. Here are my favorites from last week!

Nurturing Creativity: Time, Space, and Respect

Let kids lead the way with creative projects

I have discovered three key ingredients for nurturing creativity – in children and adults. To be creative, we all need time, space, and respect.

Last year I bought these wooden bird houses for my kids to turn into doll houses. My kids enjoyed the activity, but they kept their houses very simple. Lily actually refused to paint hers! This year they pulled them out and added all sorts of details. Lily color blocked her roof and the edges (Lily has always loved color blocking).

Children need time and space to be creative

Emma and Johnny added all sorts of details to their already-painted houses – stripes, flowers, and other decorations. Emma wound up completely changing the color of her roof.

Time space and respect - key ingredients for creativity

I had given each of the kids blank wooden peg dolls representing the different members of our family for Christmas. They played with them blank for months, and then, this week, they pulled them out and decorated them with Sharpie pens.

Child-decorated wooden toys

Lily colored each person a different color, and gave them adorable smiles that remind me of those that are embroidered on the kids’ owie dolls.

Sharpie pen decorated peg dolls

Johnny stuck with his favorite colors – green and black. I’m pretty sure that baby is actually from Emma’s set, but it snuck into this photo somehow.

Sharpie pens make it easy to decorate peg dolls

Emma asked each family member color their particular doll. I think it is a neat idea – each family member, as we see ourselves, in this moment in time.

Give children time and space for creative expression

Then they pulled out our blocks and train set and set up a delightful play scene – which they played with all afternoon!

Children love to play with toys they made

This project never would have happened if I had ignore my children’s need for time, space, and respect. Time to get creative and find ways to entertain themselves. Time to explore different ways of decorating their people and houses. Space to decorate their houses and people however they like – including leaving them undecorated, sometimes. And respect for their ideas, their desire to change a “finished” project, and the different ways they each approached this project.

They each have a couple people who are still waiting for finishing touches, and I know that Lily at least is not done decorating her house. I am excited to see how they continue this creative journey!