Sensory Activity for Kids: Painting With Your Fingers and Hands

Having a son with autism made me acutely aware of the benefits of sensory activities for all children but especially those on the spectrum. My son's preschool teacher always had a sensory table going at his co-op where the kids could squeeze, twist, and roll play-dough, explore in sand or water, make shapes, letters, and numbers in chocolate pudding, and drive Matchbox cars through shaving cream. Like many other kids with autism, my son had a sensory processing disorder and was hypersensitive to touch. He avoided all messy play at preschool even though it would have benefitted him greatly. That's why I kept my eye on the sensory table and would do the activities with him at home, slowly and gently getting him familiar with the new materials and the peculiar way they felt on his skin. 
Painting with his fingers and hands eventually became one of his favorite sensory experiences, and we did it once a week for many years. While first reacting negatively to the feel of the paint on his body, he gradually came to enjoy it. I'd put on some soft, soothing music and let him enjoy the creative process, making pieces of art to give to his grandmother, dad, and teacher and well as some to display on our refrigerator.
Whether your child is on the autistic spectrum or not, all kids need to explore and learn through their senses. It's how they first come to understand the world around them through sights, smells, sounds, touches, and tastes. When they become confident about sensory experiences, they become confident in themselves. They're bolder and more willing to take chances. Plus, sensory activities are just a lot of messy fun and can be followed up with another fabulous sensory activity -- a bubble bath!

Materials: poster paints, several old saucers or small bowls, white paper, paper towels, markers or crayons, newspapers

1. Cover the table with newspapers.
2. Put different colors of paint in the saucers. If you like, mix some to make new colors.
3. Dab your fingers in the paint and then press gently on the white paper. You want to be able to see the swirls and lines of your finger tips.
4. Then experiment with your thumbs, the side of your hand, your fist, and your palm to make a picture.
5. When you're done, let it dry completely.
6. Now you're ready to wash up or, better yet, take a bath!
7. When you're all clean, use markers or crayons to add details. Ta-dah!

Poster paints are a must-have item for your art cabinet. You'll use them for so many cool projects. They're great to have on hand for a rainy day or a play date. This kit is fabulous with its bold, bright colors.

Make a Snake Mobile With Your Preschooler

It's challenging to find simple art projects to do with preschoolers. Too often they're complicated and the parent ends up doing more than the child, defeating the purpose of the project. After all, art should stimulate creativity and promote independence. It should be an expression of the artist, not the artist's parent! 

Making a snake mobile is easy and fun for preschoolers because they can do most of it themselves and the finished project is super cool. They're so excited when they get to hang up the snake in their home and show it off to their family. Here's how to make one:

Materials:  a thin white paper plate, crayons, scissors, yarn or string

1. Have your child use lots of different colors to create a design on the front and back of the paper plate.

2. Help her cut the plate around and around in a spiral, starting thin and getting thicker. Make the last part bigger and rounder for the head.

3. Have your child add an eye and a mouth.

4. Help her tie a piece of yarn or ribbon around the neck and hang it up for everyone to see.

This portable art kit is fantastic for the kid on the go. She can take it on road trips, sleepovers, and family vacations. It will keep her occupied and relaxed in the car, the tent, or the motel. She can even take it along to the dentist or doctor's office to stay relaxed while waiting.

Beyond Coloring Books: 3 Activities With Crayons to Stimulate Your Child's Creativity

The benefits of coloring are numerous. It enhances fine motor skills, strengthens hand muscles, improves the pincer grasp, calms the nerves, and soothes the soul. While coloring books offer all that, they do little to stimulate creativity and promote initiative. Here are 3 easy activities with crayons that let kids explore different materials and use their imaginations to make something truly unique. They're simple to do, engaging and fun.

                                       Rainbow Colors

Materials Needed: crayons, masking tape, and white paper
  1. Get two or more crayons that are about the same length but different colors (brights look best).
  2. Line them up with the points facing the same direction and wrap masking tape around them (or wrap a rubber-band tightly around them).

3. Now let your child color with the wrapped crayons, making whatever she wants, changing color combinations and exploring shapes and design.

Crayon Rubbings

Materials Needed: old crayons with paper removed, lightweight white paper, masking tape, various textured objects (coins, keys, combs, paper clips, rubber-bands, etc.)

  1. Place some masking tape loops on a table, sticky side up.
  2. Put some textured items on the tape.

3. Place a piece of lightweight paper over the items.
4. Have your child color over the paper with the side of a crayon. Use different crayons in various colors. Watch her delighted reaction as the objects gradually reveal themselves!

 Crayon Melts

Materials Needed: old crayons, 2 sheets of waxed paper, scissors, kitchen grater, colored paper, aluminum foil 

1. Tear off two pieces of waxed paper.
2. Help your child grate shavings from old crayons onto one piece of waxed paper. Use 3-4 different colors (brights look best).
3. Have her add tiny bits of colored paper and aluminum foil over the shavings.

4. Place the second piece of waxed paper over the first.
5. Cover both pieces of waxed paper with a dishtowel.
6. Let your child watch as you press a warm iron over the towel, making the waxed paper and crayon shavings melt together into a beautiful creation.
7. Help you child cut her creation into a shape of her choice: a flower, a star, a heart, a balloon.

8. Tape on a sunny window for all to admire!

Kids get so many wonderful benefits from coloring. It stimulates their imaginations, eases their stress, and promotes their fine motor skills. This kit of crayons makes a wonderful birthday gift for children of all ages. 

                 The Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Your                      Child's Teacher
    Teachers get enough mugs and would prefer something else.
As a long-time teacher, I have a good sense of what my fellow educators would like to be given this holiday season. While any gift is greatly appreciated as a token of your gratitude, some receive less favor: a mug (we get too many), a plate of cookies (we already battle enough high-calorie treats in the faculty room), an ornament made by your youngster (we love children's art but are surrounded by it at school), jewelry and clothes (it's unlikely to be our taste). The best presents are those that simply say to the teacher: “I see how hard you work. I see how you go the extra mile to make my child's experience at school a positive one. I know how much of your own money you spend on supplies. I see all that and I want to say thank you.” Here are 12 items that are greatly appreciated:
  • a gift card to a book store or school supply store
  • a gift certificate to a restaurant
  • a basket of healthy treats such as fruit, nuts, and protein bars
  • a gift certificate for a massage
  • a bouquet of fresh flowers or a live plant
  • a basket of teacher supplies: colored pencils, Sharpies, pens, markers, chalk, and stickers
  • movie tickets
  • a basket full of items for a luxurious bath: soaps, lotions, and candles
  • slippers or socks
  • books for the classroom
  • something the classroom needs (ask the teacher): pencil sharpener, boom box, CD's, paintbrushes, art supplies, a globe
  • something unique and personal that reflects the teacher's interests: a basket of dogs toys and treats, a cook book and cooking tools, a board game to play with her kids, a beach tote with a towel and sunscreen for her upcoming trip to Hawaii
Speaking from personal experience, I'd say the most cherished gift is a note explaining why you value the teacher. I suggest you and your youngster sit down and brainstorm all the amazing things—both big and small—that you appreciate about her, being as specific as possible. Include things that you like as a parent and your child likes as a student. Jot down 10 of them in a card. They might include:
  • I'm grateful that you let us have “Fun Fridays” when we can paint, color, and draw.
  • I'm grateful that you explain the math assignment slowly and clearly and help me with problems I don't understand.
  • I'm grateful that you're always available after school so parents can talk with you.
  • I'm grateful that you always make creative bulletin boards to display our work.
  • I'm grateful for your big welcoming smile on Monday mornings.
  • I'm grateful that you give rewards stickers.
  • I'm grateful that you read books with such passion.
  • I'm grateful you let me feed the class fish.
  • I'm grateful you let me read my stories out loud to the class.
  • I'm grateful that your parent-teacher conferences are organized and informative.
This means so very much to a teacher because, unfortunately, we hear more complaints from parents than compliments. Moms and Dads take too much for granted and don't make the effort to acknowledge all we do. I once taught kindergarten with an amazing young teacher named Maddie, who always went above and beyond for her students. She was the most energetic and creative educator I ever knew and a natural at it. She was born to teach.

Each year in March Maddie would celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday with her class by making green eggs and ham. One year a boy who was Jewish ate the ham. When his dad found out about this, he came storming into the classroom (I was next door) and started to rage at Maddie like nothing I had ever witnessed in my life. Maddie was worried for her physical safety as he swore, cursed, and accused her of “soiling” his son. No matter how many times she said “I'm sorry,” he kept berating her with his uncontrolled fury as I listened, ready to call the police.

I tell this story because I don't think most people today understand how badly teachers get treated. There was a time when education was a lofty profession, and those in it were admired and respected. But those days, unfortunately, have long since passed. More and more is expected of teachers now—preparing students for high-stakes testing, keeping them safe from school shootings, protecting them from online bullying, and being super vigilant about the warning signs of suicide.

After that horrific experience, Maddie was never the joyous teacher she once was and, at the end of the year, she left the profession for good. She had no problem securing a higher paying position in a tech company. She was replaced by a teacher who never did cooking projects, who never celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday, and who just stuck to the basics. We need parents to stand up for teachers and show their appreciation—during the holidays and throughout the year—or more Maddies will be gone.

Teachers are constantly battling sugary high caloric treats in the faculty room. They'd prefer something healthy like this fruit and nut tray over cookies or cake.

Magical Mystery Pictures: Coloring With Your Preschooler

After years of getting relegated to the sidelines, coloring has gained huge popularity in the last few years and rightfully so. Today, adult coloring books get sold at supermarket checkouts, middle schools have coloring clubs, and occupational therapists encourage all kids to color, not just those with special needs. We now see experimenting with crayons as a wholly positive experience – helping us relax, enhancing our fine motor skills, and stimulating our creativity.

As a preschool and kindergarten teacher, I've always known the benefits of coloring and got concerned when it became marginalized. With our country's push for academic rigor, higher test scores, and technological prowess, coloring got seen as old-fashioned and a waste of time. Fortunately, parents and teachers are now recognizing its value once again. They realize coloring is crucial for developing other fine motor skills such as writing, cutting with scissors, stringing beads, and tying shoelaces.

While coloring books are good, there are many more creative ways to use crayons. Making Magical Mystery Pictures was one of my favorite activities to do with my sons when they were preschoolers. It was so easy but brought them so much joy. We'd often do it in the afternoons as a relaxing prelude to nap time or in the evenings before taking a bath. Enjoy!

1. Get a white piece of construction paper and a white crayon. Without your child watching, draw a picture on the paper with the white crayon. Press hard. For my sample, I drew a crescent moon and some stars.

2.Grab some paint, water, and a brush. I chose black paint for my picture. Mix the water and paint. Cover the surface with newspaper. Then have your child paint over your crayon drawing.

3. Your child will get so excited when the picture magically appears!

Every youngster needs a high-quality art kit and this one fits the bill. It includes 140 pieces: crayons, pencils, markers, and paper. With its sturdy handle, your child can take it anywhere: outside to get inspired by nature, in the car during a long drive, to Grandma's house for an overnight. Give your youngster a gift that will inspire her for years to come!

Easter Coloring With Your Preschooler: Making an Egg Basket

When it comes to art projects with your preschooler, the mantra is less is more. After all, your child is just beginning to explore materials and get creative. Projects that are too complicated will only lead to feelings of frustration and boredom. Too much adult interference will make her feel controlled and incompetent.

Your child most likely will not grow up to become a professional artist. But she will grow up to lead a life that's often hectic and harried. Having art as an outlet – whether it's coloring, painting, or sculpting – will serve her well, relieving stress and bringing joy.

Coloring is one of the best and simplest ways for a youngster to use her imagination, develop independence, and enhance fine motor skills. Here's an easy and cute project for you and your child to make together. It will brighten up your home for Easter, making your child feel proud.

1. Cut out a large basket shape, using scrapbook or construction paper.

2. Cut out eggs from white paper.

3. Let your child color the eggs as she pleases, experimenting with different colors, shapes, and lines.

4. Help her glue the eggs to her basket. 

Find a place to display the basket for all to see. Happy Easter!

Your kids will love this LEGO kit, created especially for Easter. LEGOS are ideal for enhancing fine motor skills, imagination, and independence. This makes a wonderful gift for a child or grandchild.

How to Make Shamrock Pudding With Your Kids to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

When my boys were little, celebrating St. Patrick's Day created a challenge. Going to an Irish pub and drinking green beer was out of the question. I wasn't a fan of corned beef and cabbage so making that for dinner got ruled out. There weren't St. Patrick's Day books to read, songs to learn, or animated specials to watch.

When I was a kid, we'd pinch anyone at school who wasn't wear green. But even that tradition has long faded away, which is probably a good thing. After all, who wants to get pinched to celebrate a holiday?

The only thing I could think of doing was taking my boys to McDonald's for shamrock shakes but that was nothing too special. Then I found this incredibly simple recipe for Shamrock Pudding – the perfect thing to make with my then preschoolers. Here's how to do it:

1. Gather the ingredients: pistachio instant pudding, milk, green sprinkles.

2. Spoon a small amount of pistachio instant pudding into each cup. 

3. Add milk. Stir the mixture until the desired consistency is achieved.

4. Add green sprinkles. Place in the refrigerator to get firm. 

Eat and enjoy! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

After years of searching, I finally found a St. Patrick's Day book that my sons loved. It's all about catching that elusive leprechaun. My boys asked me to read it many times each March and it quickly became a family tradition.