Baby Play

Baby Play: Pipe Cleaner Colander Hats

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Babies are naturally curious about the world around them. Pipe cleaners are a fascinating tool that has an interesting texture and can be bent into a variety of shapes. The holes in a standard kitchen colander are large enough for a pipe cleaner to be woven through with nimble finger muscles.

These colander sculptures very quickly turn into awesome pipe cleaner colander hats. The littlest babies enjoy putting the plain colander on their (and their adult’s) head; the older ones like making all kinds of fascinating creations by weaving the pipe cleaners into the tiny holes.

How to Make Pipe Cleaner Colander Hats

Materials: colanders, pipe cleaners

Steps:

  • Make one sample.
  • Put out collection of pipe cleaners and colanders.

Cost: $10+ (cost depends on audience size)

  • Colanders (Dollar Tree)
  • Pipe Cleaners (packs at Dollar Tree or Walmart)

Time to Make: < 5 minutes

Pro-Tip: I typically make a sample of this particular activity to help parents understand the goal, especially is this is one of a collection of activities. Otherwise I end up with a lot of confused faces (and colander hats–there are always colander hats).

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What do the pipe cleaners feel like?
  • What direction are you pulling that pipe cleaner?
  • What color should we add next?
  • What did you make? Is that a hat? A porcupine?
  • Can you find a purple pipe cleaner?
  • Can you twist two pipe cleaners together?
  • Can you make the pipe cleaner into a happy face?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Around
Behind
Bend
Between
Colander
Curl

Knot
Over
Poke
Prickly
Sharp
Straight

Strainer
Thread
Through
Tug
Under
Wrap

Baby Play: Texture Tiles

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Texture tiles have been a big hit at my storytimes (though not quite as successful as my coworker’s liquid sensory tiles–more on those in another few weeks). Various textured items are hot glued, zip tied, or otherwise secured to foam puzzle tiles.

I put these out in a big stack, and the kids decide whether they want to interact with individual tiles or if they want to connect different tiles together.

Textures can include:

  • Sandpaper
  • Cardboard
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Felt
  • Foam
  • Carpet Square
  • Craft Sticks
  • Thin Wood
  • Pom Poms
  • Googly Eyes
  • Fur
  • Memory Foam
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Rocks/Moss
    • I found circular, pre-made thin “stepping stones” at Michaels a few years ago. The rocks seem to be permanently fixed to the thin sheet, as I’ve never had one break off. I can’t find a similar item online at the moment–if you know of something like this, please share in the comments below.

How to Make Texture Tiles

Materials: 12″ x 12″ foam puzzle tiles, various sensory surfaces (I used what was on hand), hot glue

Steps:

  • Decide how many tiles you are going to make.
  • Cut textures to smaller than the size of the tiles (about 10″ x 10″)
  • Hot glue to attach textures to tiles (or use other adhesives as necessary).
  • After glue has dried, thoroughly test all surfaces to make sure items are stuck to the tiles.

Cost: $25+

Time to Make: 30 minutes

Pro-Tip: Make sure to check these tiles after each use, especially if you plan to attach smaller items (pom poms, googly eyes, rocks, etc.). After many weeks of using these, I have a fairly good idea which tiles will need reinforced.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • How does that surface feel?
  • Which texture do you like best—the bumpy one or the squishy one?
  • Can you hop on the soft part?
  • Can you walk very slowly?
  • What happens when you step on that surface?
  • What color is that texture?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bumpy
Comfortable
Fast
Fluffy
Hard
Hop

Jump
Lumpy
Mushy
Prickly
Rough
Slow

Soft
Spongy
Squishy
Surface
Texture
Uneven

Baby Play: Pom Pom Drop

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

I’ve been interested in creating a large pom pom drop for a while, and I finally had the opportunity when a coworker donated over 20 empty Pringles cans to the youth department. Walking babies and toddlers particularly enjoyed grasping the 2″ pom poms and watching them fall through the colorful tubes.

In addition to developing those ever-important fine motor skills, little ones learned about cause and effect as they dropped pom poms through different tubes at different heights.

How to Make a Pom Pom Drop

Materials: hard backing material (we used leftover insulation board from a previous project), empty Pringles cans, construction paper, hot glue, packing tape, sharp kitchen knife, 2″ pom poms

Steps:

  • Enforce edges of backing material as needed to make sure nothing is sharp or peeling.
  • Use sharp, large kitchen knife to cut empty Pringles cans to a variety of lengths. At a minimum, the knife works great to cut an inch or so above the metal bottom of the can, removing all of the sharp bits in one cut. (There are tutorials online about using a can opener for this process, but I could never get it to work cleanly without something sharp being left behind.)
  • Measure your cut can’s length. Cut a piece of construction paper to the same length.
  • Optional: Laminate the construction paper for extra durability.
  • Wrap the construction paper around the can and tape it on securely.
  • Hot glue construction-paper-wrapped cans to the backing materials.
  • As needed, further secure each can by wrapping packing tape around the front to secure it to the board.

Cost: $20+ (cost depends on backing material and number of pom poms)

Time to Make: 30 minutes

Pro-Tip: Ball pit balls also fit through Pringles cans! If you have limited resources, ball pit balls have many uses and are easier to clean than pom poms.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Can you drop the pom pom in a tube?
  • What happens when the pom pom goes into a tube?
  • What color is the pom pom?
  • How does the pom pom feel?
  • What happens if the tube is at an angle?
  • How many pom poms can you drop through the tubes?
  • Can you catch a falling pom pom?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bright
Cloud
Colorful
Down
Downy
Drop

Fall
Fluffy
Fuzzy
Plunge
Roll
Round

Slide
Soft
Spherical
Squishy
Texture
Through

Baby Play: Baby Pool Play

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Baby pool play is a staple of my weekly after-storytime play. Baby pools are incredibly versatile, acting as a ball pit, a storage bin for puppets, or a container for some extra messy sensory play.

There is no end to the types of items you can put in a baby pool. My favorites include:

  • Ball Pit Balls
  • Pool Noodle Pieces (supervise–watch for chewing)
  • Easter Grass
  • Shredded Paper
  • Unrolled receipt paper
  • Puppets
  • Balloons
  • 2″+ Pom Poms

Messy items can be put in a smaller bin that is placed inside the larger baby pool. This helps contain the mess (at least a little). Messy play items can include:

  • Rice
  • Sand
  • Beans
  • Water

Baby Pool Play Ideas

Materials: hard-plastic baby pool, choice of filling

Steps:

  • Fill pool with chosen materials

Cost: $10+ (cost depends on audience size and choice of filling)

Time to Make: < 5 minutes

Pro-Tip: Hard plastic pools are more durable than inflatable pools and are a little harder for babies to flip over, dumping out the contents (sometimes including other babies). However, inflatable pools are easier to store and accomplish the same goal.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What does the ball feel like?
  • How many balls can you pick up at once?
  • Can you hide your arms under the balls?
  • How much grass/paper can you pick up?
  • Can you put the grass on your head?
  • Can you find a yellow pool noodle?
  • What color is the pool noodle?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Accumulate
Beneath
Bury
Cover
Crinkle
Deep

Drift
Float
Hidden
Itchy
Light
Mound

Mountain
Pile
Smooth
Swim
Tear
Underneath

Baby Play: Water Painting

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Babies LOVE playing in water, and I love to provide opportunities for them to do so! However, it gets cold in Ohio and not every parent is thrilled about their little one potentially getting soaked after storytime.

Water painting creates the best of both worlds: babies get to play with water while staying dry (and practicing fine motor skills).

Each little one gets a hard surface (trays work well), a piece of construction paper, and a paint brush. Adults get a cup filled about one-third with water. Kids can dip the paintbrush in the water and paint squiggles on the paper (or whatever other surface is nearby).

Setting Up Water Painting Play

Materials: hard surface, construction paper, paintbrushes (that are only used for water play–babies will put these in their mouths), reusable cups, bucket for clean water, bucket for dirty water, paper towels

Steps:

  • Setup station with materials listed above.
  • Put construction paper on a tray.
  • Adult fills reusable cup with clean water.
  • Child “paints” as long as they like.

Cost: < $10

  • Paintbrushes (Dollar Tree)
  • Construction Paper Pack

Time to Setup: < 5 minutes

Pro-Tip: The water shows up better on lighter colored construction paper.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What does the water feel like?
  • What can you draw?
  • What happens to the paper when you put water on it?
  • Can you draw a circle?
  • What happens if you use less water?
  • How does the paper feel before and after you paint with water?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Damp
Dip
Draw
Drenched
Dripping
Dry

Little
Miniscule
Plain
Pour
Saturated
Soaked

Sodden
Soggy
Sopping
Textured
Torn
Wet

Play & Learn

This summer, I worked with a fellow librarian to start a nine-week play series for ages 0-3 and their families. Play & Learn quickly turned into one of my (and our patrons) favorite programs of the summer.

Each Wednesday, from 9:30-10:30 am, parents and their little ones interacted with 10-12 activities we placed around our large meeting room. On average, we had 80-120 visitors each week. People came and went on their own schedule–for some babies, 10 minutes was more than enough time in the crowded room; others enjoyed a full hour of play and even stayed to help with clean-up.

Some activities repeated each week (bubbles!), while others rotated in and out throughout the summer. We grouped our activities into four categories and made sure to have a mix of these each week:

  • Fine Motor
  • Gross Motor
  • Sensory
  • Belly Babies (for our littlest prewalkers)

We picked activities that kids of all developmental abilities could enjoy, such as ball pit balls in muffin tins.

Some of our most popular activities included:

  • Cereal Boxes and Straws
  • Baby Pool Play
  • Pom Pom Drop
  • Sensory Tiles
  • Tumbling Mats
  • Sensory Bags & Bottles
  • “Messy” Sensory Play (rice, beans, sand, easter grass, water)
  • Instrument/Sound Play

This program is particularly great because you can adapt it to whatever budget and space you have available. We have very large crowds in the summer, and this program was able to meet the needs of parents and little ones while appealing to a large range of ages. We included a mix of purchased play items and items that parents could re-create at home cheaply–another library could do a similar program just focusing on one of these categories, to save staff time (pre-purchased items) or money (cheap, home-made items).

Play & Learn also encouraged parent-child interaction. Each activity included laminated sheets on the floor nearby, explaining the value of the activity along with questions and vocabulary words to encourage parent engagement.

Play & Learn has already been requested multiple times by our community to be continued this fall. While that cannot happen, unfortunately, due to our busy school-year programming schedule, I am looking forward to this program’s return next summer.

Baby Play: Muffin Tin Play

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Using muffin tins as sorting trays can be adapted for a variety of ages. The youngest children just like placing ball pit balls (or other items) in the tin’s perfectly shaped cups. Toddlers start to recognize colors and will match balls to colors in the tin’s cups. Preschoolers quickly turn muffin tin play into a pretend play activity, imagining the balls are cupcakes, muffins, or other treats.

Setting Up Muffin Tin Play

Materials: Muffin Tins, Ball Pit Balls, Construction Paper (optional)

Steps:

  • Give child ball pit balls and muffin tins
  • Optional: Cut colored circles and tape or hot glue into the cups of a muffin tin. Make sure these match the colors of the ball pit balls you have.

Cost: $38 (cost depends on audience size)

Time to Make: 20 minutes (if adding colored circles)

Pro-Tip: If you plan to use these regularly, laminate and hot glue the circles you place in the muffin tins for durability.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Can you put a ball in each empty space?
  • Can you match the colors in the muffin tin?
  • Where is a yellow ball?
  • What color is this?
  • How many balls fit in the tin?
  • Can you fit two balls in one spot?
  • Can you pretend the balls are food?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Arrange
Bounce
Categorize
Colors
Cupcakes
Dump

Empty
Fill
Fit
Grab
Grasp
Match

Organize
Pattern
Roll
Shiny
Smooth
Sort

Sometimes, little ones make their own play:

Baby Play: Cereal Boxes and Straws

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

A simple fine motor activity, cereal boxes and straws, is always a success. Babies build their finger muscles while placing smoothie straws in pre-cut holes in cereal boxes. This is especially great because it can be easily replicated at home and appeals to a wide range of ages.

How to Make Cereal Boxes and Straws

Materials: Empty Cereal Boxes, Smoothie Straws, Pencil or other poking tool, Packing Tape

Steps:

  • Collect empty cereal boxes.
  • Tape all sides of the box to make the seams sturdier.
  • Punch holes in the front of the box using a pencil or similar tool.
  • Test a straw to make sure your holes are large enough for a straw to fit but not so large that it flops over and falls into the box.
  • Optional: Make a pattern with your straw holes, such as a letter of the alphabet.

Cost: $0-10

Time to Make: < 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: If you are going to use this activity a lot, consider purchasing reusable straws that can be washed. Smoothie straws can be washed, but tend to get bitten, and the teeth marks show.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • How many straws fit in the box?
  • Can you take a straw out of the box?
  • Can you make a straw fit in the box?
  • What color is the straw?
  • How does the straw feel?
  • What happens if you hit the box with the straw?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Fit
Inside
Into
Lay
Length
Lift

Nudge
Outside
Pluck
Press
Pull
Push

Smooth
Stand
Tall
Tight
Tug
Yank