Category Archives: Tot Tray

Kitchen Sensory Bin

Do your kids enjoy helping you in the kitchen?  Mine sure do.  We love to work together making yummy foods for our family.  Check out some of our Kids In The Kitchen stories and you will see some of the kitchen fun we have.  But more than just having fun, we are building relationships and learning practical life skills.

My daughter, age 4, loves to help in the kitchen.  But she would like to do whatever she wants in the kitchen, whether I am available to help her or not.  She likes to be independent.  Some things are ok, but some are not.  Such as when she soaks the kitchen counter with dish water.

If only the counter was kid proof (water proof), it would be great.  But it is not kid proof and is showing signs of water damage, due to her, and her little brother’s, method of getting water everywhere.  I am constantly removing the chair she has pushed up to the counter, and trying to get her to understand she has to wait for help to do certain kitchen things, or wait for me to invite her to do a job in the kitchen along side me.  I wish I didn’t have to do this, but for her safety and for the sake of the kitchen counter, it is necessary.

We have a play kitchen that I got for my first child over 11 years ago.  It has served us well over the years.  All the kids have played with it almost daily, and though there are a few broken items on it, it still functions as a play kitchen.  We keep it in the bedroom with the other toys most of the time.  But sometimes we bring it to the kitchen or living room, and some nice afternoons we take it outside on the porch to play.

We also have a play water sink one of the kids got for a birthday.  This stays outside because of the sink’s water feature. 

But is a lot of fun to make grass foods, mud foods, and sand foods and use water in the yard on nice hot days.

Kitchen Sensory Bin

Wanting something more portable, indoors, and able to use independently, for her to play “kitchen” with, I decided to create a Kitchen Sensory Bin.  I was wanting her to explore, create, practice some skills, and enjoy being in her “kitchen”.  

We do our school work at the kitchen table, so we are all in the kitchen nearly everyday.   It can be a challenge to keep the younger kids busy with learning activities while schooling the bigger kids.  Hoping to reduce the amount of times my daughter pushes the chair up to the kitchen counter to run the sink when I am not right next to her, I created a Kitchen Sensory Bin she can use at the table or on the floor, for her and her little brother to explore and use as part of their school work.

We made this fun Kitchen Sensory Bin full of lots of play food, dishes, silverware, cooking stoves, sponge for cleaning, and more. The small stoves, table ware (plates, silverware, cups), and mini-foods came from a local dollar store toys. This project cost about $6. I added in some colored pompoms and beads for pretend play and practice with practical skills such as picking up with tongs & scoops and stirring with spoons, etc.

I also added a container of playdough, a rolling pin, and cookie cutters to further the sensory experiences. You can use store bought playdough or you can make homemade vanilla playdough, chocolate playdough, cinnamon playdough, pumpkin pie playdough, and more to make this lots of fun.

My daughter added in a few pony tail holders for fun. I plan to also add a table cloth, cloth napkins, and placemats so she can set her table with and she can roll these up and tie with a ribbon when not in use. add in some spices (or spice bottles with cotton soaked in the spice or extract) to enhance the sensory experience.

I already had the plastic bin on hand and just re-used it for this project.  But I soon traded it for a bigger bin (too much stuff in it). 

The bin also serves as a portable sink for her to wash her other kitchen props. If you don’t want to use real water in the sink, use blue felt (or blue construction paper) to make pretend water (grey felt looks like soapy water too).

If you want to make a portable stove, turn the bin upside down, and pretend to cook your food on top of it.  We made our stove by taping construction paper burners and knobs on the bottom, but you can also create this stove on the lid too.

We used the Kitchen Sensory Bin for free play and exploration, counting, making patterns, sorting colors, sorting food groups, sorting hot foods and cold foods, practicing setting the table, sweet foods vs. salty or savory foods, washing dishes (put some soapy water and a sponge or rag in the bin to wash their dishes), play restaurant, play house and feed thei
r baby dolls and teddy bears, etc.

Here my son is transferring and counting popcorn (white pompoms) he made on the stove.

Playdough Recipes

Basic Homemade Playdough

Chocolate Playdough

Chocolate Playdough Activity

Cinnamon Playdough Activity

Vanilla Playdough

Extension Activities

Dramatic / Role Play using the items in the bin.  Include hot pads, an apron or jacket for a chef’s coat, chef’s hat,  and an egg timer, for lots of role playing fun.  Set up a table / eating area with teddy bears and dolls.  Pretend you are cooking for your family, a party, or at a restaurant.

Here is a printable by PreKinders that you can print off and have the kids
sort healthy and unhealthy foods.

Here is a fun color sorting activity with some dishes and foods.

Here are some fun kitchen theme printables you can use to further your child’s learning and go along with their Kitchen Sensory Bin:

Cooking potatoes on the stove.

Baking Bread in the kitchen.

Cutting Board.

Baking Cupcakes.

Spanish Kitchen Coloring Page.


Here are some fun vocabulary words, some also have pictures.  Use these in pocket charts, or fun memory games, spelling games, etc.

Kitchen Vocabulary Picture Cards.

Kitchen Vocabulary Flash Cards.

Word List.

Spanish Kitchen Vocabulary Words.

French Kitchen Vocabulary Words.

Kitchen Objects.

Kitchen Vocabulary Bingo.

Here are some place setting props.


Table Setting Placemat Craft.

Place Setting Practice Cards.

Felt Foods are a nice addition to this bin, and don’t take up much space.

Felt Food from Counting Coconuts

Here are some tutorials for turning your plastic bin into a stove for play.

Dollar Store Crafts Play Stove

Play Stove Tutorial from Delicious Ambiguity

If you have some Melissa and Doug cutting board and velcro vegetables, cake, cupcakes, etc. would add a nice experience to this bin too, but the more items you add, the bigger the bin you will need to hold it all.

After playing and exploring in your Kitchen Sensory Bin, open the real kitchen cabinets and explore some too. What can your child hold and correlate with items in her sensory bin? What about items she doesn’t have? Let her hold the whisk, or strainer, and talk about how these are helpful in the kitchen. How about opening up the spice cabinet and smelling some of the spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, coffee, etc.

Save some time to explore together, and make something fun to eat or drink to further the learning experience and your relationship.

This post will be linked up with
No Time For Flash Cards
Play Academy
ABC and 123

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Skill Practice With Connect Four

                                                                Toddler Workbox

What’s in the workbox today?  A fun game to play.

Connect Four is a fun game that my whole family loves to play.  It is a game of strategy,  and is recommend for ages 6 and older.

But did you know you can help your toddler, and preschooler too, with many skills by allowing him (or her) to play Connect Four by himself?

Once you get over the fear of him loosing pieces to the game, set out a game in his workbox.  Just kidding, there is no need to be afraid of loosing pieces, as you can find this game at lots of garage sales and thrift stores and its a great idea to pick up a couple so you have spare parts, just in case.   This game comes in different sizes and a smaller size game fits nicely in a workbox.

Also in our family, more than two kids want to play at a time, so having a couple of these games on hand lets us all play, and even have tournaments and switch off players.

Free Play

Free play is my favorite.  Just let your toddler play on his own, placing the disks into the slots.  He will be thrilled at his accomplishment of getting them into the holder and watching them slide down the slots into position.  It helps him with awareness of his environment, as he sees his progress, and how his choices impact the colors, and patterns that appear.

Lots of eye hand coordination and fine motor skill is involved in picking up one disk from the pile, and putting it into the slots.

Recognition and thinking skill are involved in making patterns, designs, counting, and sorting.

You might even see some artistic flare in your tot as they come up with fun designs and great big smiles.

Guided Play
You can also work with guided play ideas.

You can try all of these ideas out on the same day, or use them on different days.  I prefer to use them on different days. 

Make patterns
Make a pattern on the table and have him repeat it on the game.  
Make a pattern on one collum of slots and have him repeat the pattern in the next collum. 
As their skills improve, you could draw out a page of patterns you want them to practice, and eventually they may be able to do it independently.

The game has wonderful bright colors to sort.  I love working with two colors at a time with my toddler.  Comparing the colors helps him remember them better.
Color sort into piles. 
Discuss the two colors. 
Try using only one color at a time to fill the slots.  
Call out the name of the color you want him to use. 
Alternate every other color, etc.

Practice counting to four or more. 
You could have the child place four of a color, then change and place four of the other color.  
This skill will help him get ready to play the real game of connect four. 
But they can also have fun counting to ten or twenty, whatever their skill level may be.

Two by two:
Have the child practice placing two disks, one in each hand, at the same time in the slots.   This helps them learn to coordinate their left and right sides.  This can be lots of fun.

Set out an hour glass timer like for one minute or three minute and have the child race the timer to see how many disks they can place into the slots before time runs out.

Heads or Tales:
Flip a coin.  If it lands on heads, you put in one color.  If it lands on tales, then you put in the other color.  In the end, did you have more head or tale tosses?  As your child gets older, they can learn to graph the results of their tosses.

Art Practice:
Besides practicing patterns and designs, draw a circle on a piece of paper and have the child lay the disks onto the circle.  They could just cover the line, or fill in the circle.  Try other shapes too.
Place the disks on a picture to make certain objects such as flowers, trees, animals, or spell their name.

The more ways you incorporate using the disks in your child’s hands, the more ways your child’s brain will process the skills. 

Eventually you can teach them the rules of the game, but until then, just have fun playing in various ways with the pieces.

Soon your child will be “connecting” all the fun learning you have been doing together, and they might even beat you at a real game of Connect Four!

This post will be linked up with
No Time For Flash Cards
We Play
The Play Academy
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High Paw

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P Is For Pasta

                                    P Is For Pasta

We have been learning about the letter “P” for our Letter Of The Week.  You can read a summary of our Letter Of The Week “P” here and I will add more links as I get them published.  Be sure to check the side bar for more stories and helpful how to’s for the Letter Of The Week.

Making colored pasta is very easy and a frugal craft to do with your kids.  Pictured below is about $0.20 worth of pasta in the containers, and we will have left overs to use again.  It can be used later in lots of different ways besides this letter art project today.  It can also be used in a bin to hide learning objects in, to fill containers to make musical instruments, to use it as a medium to make collages or other art projects, to string and make jewelry or sew it onto a card or use a funny button on a felt outfit or puppet.  You can also make it a fun science project when you include the children and let them experiment with various colors and learn about staining objects.  See our colored rice project here for ideas on using pasta in place of rice for a science project and lots of other ideas.

To see the directions for making colored pasta, read here.   We made ours pink for the letter “P”.

Activity Tray:

On a tray, I placed a piece of white paper with the letter “P”.    I traced a lid for the circle and a book edge for the line of the letter P.  Then I free handed the inner circle.  I traced it in pencil first and then with a pink crayon over the pencil line (if you are setting out this activity for older children, you can let them make the letter ‘P” themselves too).   I also set out some glue, a Q tip, and pink pasta on the tray.

Playing with colored pasta is a really fun sensory experience.  My 3 year old loves to feel it flow and move between her fingers as she scoops up a handful and then lets it slowly fall back into the pile.  She can hear it go “tap tap” as it falls.  It makes a “whoosh” sound as she scoops it up again.  Visually she sees a single piece of pasta as well as a mass of pieces together.  She can mound them up or press them down.  She can remove one, or some, to see how they look individually too.    

After my daughter had her fill of playing in the pasta, it was time to make the letter “P”.

I squirted dots of glue inside the “P” .

She used a Q tip to spread the glue.  I asked her if she thought she could paint the glue inside the lines and she said “sure I can” and I was impressed that she kept it all in. 

Sometimes how you present the idea makes all the difference in a child understanding the concept.  On the other hand, if they are not ready, they may not understand, no matter how many ways you present the idea.

About this time, younger brother age 2 decided he wanted to make one too.  I had anticipated this and had a tray ready for him, minus the plate of pasta.  I wrongly assumed they could share the same container of pasta.  Oh boy, an argument ensued!  This is what I mean that even if you try to explain a concept, (such as today we are sharing one plate of pasta to make our letter p) they may not quite understand or agree.  In this case, neither child wanted the other child to have the container with the special valuable sensory exploding pasta, so I ended up dividing it into two plates of pasta, one for each.

I was quite pleased that they went right back to the activity as soon as a second container of treasured pasta came to the rescue.

The two year old would add some pasta and then go back and paint a little bit with his Q tip in the next spaces.  I think he had more fun with the Q tip as he was exploring how it smeared the glue and then how the glue made the pasta stick to the page.

They both had a lot of fun with this activity, and next time I will use the leftover pasta to practice learning to spell their names.  Maybe we will use a rainbow of colored pasta next time.

I thought it was interesting how both the 3 year old and the 2 year old followed directions, but ended up with a slightly different looking “P”.


How do you play and learn with pasta?  Leave us a comment.  Thanks!

This post will be linked up with

Tot Tuesdays
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We Play
ABC and 123
No Time For Flash Cards

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Button Free Play

What is in the workbox and on the shelves today?  A whole lot of buttons.

I set out various objects on the table and called the children over to see what was there.  I gave the TOTS (my three year old and two year old) some buttons, bobbins, a thimble, and different sized spools and I waited to see what they did with them.  We will be doing more with buttons as part of our Letter Of The Week B theme.

The three year old began sorting her buttons. I watched to try to understand by what category she was sorting.  She was singling out the prettiest and smallest buttons first.

Right away the two year old lined up the spools from biggest to smallest in a straight line and sang “Happy Birthday”. 

He also put a button in each hole of the muffin tin.

The three year old did a wonderful job of sorting the objects into different areas of her divided box.  She put bobbins in one spot.  Pretty colored buttons in one spot.  Darker buttons in another spot.  And she sorted out two buttons that had a different back on them, they were not flat, but instead had a knob at the back.  This was really great for her first time ever playing with little buttons.

Next, she began picking up the smallest buttons and putting them into a thimble turned upside down like a cup. 

She was proud of her accomplishment.  She continued to try to stack more on top, but they kept falling off once the thimble was full.

The two year old decided to put all of his objects into the muffin tin.  He counted the bigger spindle and told me it was a big one.

Sister had left the room for a minute to go potty, and brother confiscated her objects to add to his creation.  I could hardly keep from laughing in front of him, because he knew he did a no, no, but he liked the way it looked.

Once sister came back and we divided up the loot again, she came up with a new game. 

She decided to see what buttons could hold the bobbins.  “Look Mom!  See what I did?”

A little while latter, I came into the room to find them lining up their objects. 

The two year old was very serious about making sure everything was in a straight line.  If one of sister’s objects wasn’t exact, he fixed it.  He is a very particular line maker!

And again a few more renditions of his favorite song  “Happy Birthday”.

It must be somebody’s birthday somewhere.  So whoever you are, hope it’s a great one!

Today was totally free play with their objects.  Since buttons and these other objects were new to them, this kept them busy for almost an hour.   Usually after they become familiar with objects I set out, they may keep their interest for 15 minutes to half an hour.

Next time, I will use some guided activities along with the buttons and objects to help them practice following directions, counting, sorting, reasoning, begining reading letter “B“, and problem solving skills.  I will also plan an art activity using buttons as our medium to explore, perhaps we will make a letter “B”  or a butterfly collage with buttons, I am not sure yet.  Stay tuned to see how it turns out!

Plan to link this post up at:

We Play
Play Academy
ABC and 123
No Time For Flash Cards
Preschool Corner
Tot Tuesdays

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Valentine Discovery Bin

Call them whatever you like, we love discovery, activity, and sensory bins!!!

We are making a discovery bin each month based on a theme.  So of course, February’s bin is all about Valentines activities.


I found all the items for our bin from items around the house, a few items at Target, and at the Dollar store.

These five pink items came in one package for $1  These are great for taking lids on and off, and open and close.  Filling containers.  Squishing the body scrubber.  Tossing the body scrubber into a bucket. 

We filled the tall containers with pony beads, and the small round containers with pink and blue heart beads for threading onto string and counting activities.

Here my daughter is adding pony beads to the tall containers.

Pink and blue heart beads for threading.  Good for fine motor skills, grasping, eye hand coordination, making patterns, sizing, counting, identifying colors and shapes, and more.  These kits came with the thread and a variety of six beads per packet including a heart shape.  These are available at the dollar store.

These are wonderful little kaleidoscopes.  They are so fun to see through.  The images you see through them become multiples and if you turn them, you see the images change.  We discussed how these were similar to looking through some insect eyes such as flies. 

Here is a really fun optical sensory experience.  Look at hearts, and other objects with the kaleidoscope.  Place several objects in a pattern to view them, etc.  They can also be stacked or lined up in patterns, and counted.  The pack came with eight kaleidoscopes in two different colors for $1.  This item is available at the dollar store.

Erasers are great to use as math manipulatives.  Great for counting, matching, stacking, using as markers or game pieces, patterns, and more.  These valentine erasers also have the words “kiss” and ‘I love you” on two pairs, so they can be great to use in learning words too.  The package contains 6 matching pairs, or twelve erasers for $1 at the dollar store.

Foam hearts to use as manipulatives for counting, matching, making patterns, sizing, decorating, and more.

Heart boxes for various activities, open and close, matching, counting, patterns, hiding objects, transferring objects from one box to the other, games, colors red-light pink-hot pink, and again these have words and are great for teaching language in a hands on way.  These come in a pack of 10 for $1.

Silver heart boxes.  Come in a pack of 3 for $1.

White heart boxes.  These have a really neat texture of ridges and ruffles and are different than all the other hearts.  These also are a double heart, a fun twist.   These come in a pack of four for $1.

This is a recycled spice bottle I saved and my 8 year old son covered in red and pink construction paper.  The holes in the top are great for poking things into, and also holding pipe cleaners while little hands thread on beads.  The other side of the lid has a larger hole and is great for dropping beads into the jar.  We love to shake different objects inside and hear what sounds they make too.

I pulled out some of the larger things from the bin for you to see.  I included a small dust pan and broom for sweeping up small beads, pom poms, and pokadots.  There are pink pipe cleaners for lacing beads, making patterns, and twisting into fun shapes.  Pink embroidry string for measuring, wrapping, and lacing.  Fluffy pink body scrubbers for feeling textures and tossing.  A bright white bow for visual stimulation and feeling texture differences.  This is also good for role play as they pretend to give valentines gifts.  Pink cubex cubes for counting and stacking.  A pink bean bag for tossing in our game of tic tac toe.  Foam cupcake puzzle pieces to assemble.  Foam hearts in different sizes to match up smallest to largest and count to three.  Pretty pink and purple ribbon for measuring and lacing.  There was also two sets of tongs for grasping items that are not pictured. 

Glass gems for sorting and counting.

Fun emery board with glass pokadot beads on one side and a sandpaper texture on the other.   

A real finger massage, and very neat to run your fingers across for a fun sensory experience.  My daughter plays with this a lot.   

My daughter (age 3) is examining her glass “gems” with her pink magnifying glass.   My son (age 2) is shaking pony beads he placed inside a heart container.  He is also dancing and thrilled to hear the sounds the beads make.

Erasers to sort, count, stack, and make patterns.

Sorting pony beads into the matching colored heart container. 

They sorted pink, red, and white pony beads.

Threading pony beads onto pink pipe cleaners.  This activity requires the children to slow down and concentrate to get their bead to line up with the pipe cleaner.  I loved watching them concentrate on this.

We had five different heart containers in the discovery bin.  Here you see four different heart containers.  In this activity, my son age 2, is learning to match lids to the correct heart container.  This was very good practice for him and reinforced a lot of different skills.

The bin was used through out the month of February for free play.  Usually for one hour in the morning and sometimes another hour in the afternoon, the bin was on the table and lots of free time fun was had. 

Some of these items were also used in guided activities such as those on the red and pokadotted trays you see in the pictures above, and you can read more about other guided activities we did with items in the discovery bin here .

What was in your February Discovery Bin?  Please leave a comment and let us know about it.  Thank you.

Also don’t forget to link up to our Valentines Day Link Up.  Share your activities, crafts, recipes, ideas, play time, and more.

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Pink Activities

What’s In The Box? and What’s On The Shelf?

A lot of “P” activities and especially “PINK”.  

All week long we are learning with:
the letter “P”,
the shape of a heart,
and counting to three.

Here I prepared an activity tray with several “P” activities to go along with our Letter Of The Week.

This is a fun activity.  This is a little wooden box with a window.  Inside are balls and you watch through the window and try to get a ball into a hole by moving or tilting the box in different directions until the little ball rolls into a hole and stays there. 

This activity was a huge challenge for my three year old.  For quite awhile she was frustrated that she wasn’t getting the ball in. 

We talked about making little movements instead of big changes when tipping the game.  We also talked about using the table to help hold it still.  She finally mastered it.  She learned to make smaller movements and use the table to help her.  Not only did she get the ball in a hole, she got it in a PINK hole!  She was so proud of herself.

Then we played and practiced with three sizes of foam hearts.  They were also slightly different shades of pink.  We talked about how colors can be lighter or darker or brighter shades of the same color.  She lined up the hearts from biggest to smallest.

Then she stacked them from biggest on the bottom to the smallest on the top to make a pretty layered heart.  Then she pretended to give her heart valentine to a friend.

Next she practiced counting to three by placing clothes pins around a pink bucket.

Practiced counting both forward and backward. 

She also counted three pennies and placed them in the pink bucket, and three pink cubes and placed them in the pink bucket.  It was good practice to use different “P” items for counting to the number three to reinforce this learning step.

Here she is looking through a pink magnifying glass at pink butterflies and also pink hearts.  These cards were from a domino set we printed off and laminated.   You can read about where to get them and how we used them here.

Its fun to be silly.  She is looking at me taking her “P” picture.

She completed a Dora activity page about the color pink.  She loves Dora related activities. 

Then we read the story Pinkalicious Pink Around The Rink.  I love these early readers, and can’t wait to pick up some more in this series. I will write a review of this book for you later and post a link.

Coloring pink.

Sorting pink letters and numbers and cubes from other colors.

She had a lot of fun with practicing her “Pink” and “P” activities. 

We did lots more related to this, so stay tuned, there are more stories to come!

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Pom Pom Sorting Tot Tray

Pom Pom Grasping, Sorting, and Transferring Activity for Valentines Day

Whats On The Shelf?

A Pom Pom Sorting Tot Tray

Valentine container filled with red, white, and pink pom poms.
Containers for sorting, red, white, and pink.
Tongs for grasping and transferring.
Spoon for scooping and transferring.  (These tool items were in the toy box, they were part of a veterinary kit the kids plays with.  They were pink, small, and I thought they would be easy for them use to grasp the pom poms.)

I used this activity with my three year old daughter and two year old son.

First, she practiced reaching into the valentine container to grasp pom poms with the tongs.  Then she transferred the pom pom she pulled out to the matching colored container.  I noticed she kept counting to five and then would start over with her numbers each time she reached five pom poms.  She did this on her own, I did not ask her too.  We had been practicing counting to three this month, even though she know up to twenty verbally.

Then she practiced scooping with the spoon to get a pom pom and transfer it to the color matching bucket.

She had no trouble matching her pom poms to the right color of container, but some challenge in grasping the pom poms with our little plastic tools.  They were short and didn’t allow for enough reach at the right angle to retrieve the pom poms very well.

The task became very simple for her once I realized she needed a lower container to hold the pom poms so she could hold her scoop more horizontal and her pom poms stopped rolling off. 

Then little brother practiced his grasping and transferring skills.

This is a great activity to practice fine motor skills, concentration, color sorting and discrimination, transferring objects, eye hand coordination, counting, and more.  This activity also reinforced the letter “P” and two of our vocabulary words for February including pom pom and pink.  You can read about the Letter Of The Week here.

This activity could be adjusted for older children, by adding in dice and having the children place the correct number of pom poms in the containers based on the number on the dice.  Use two dice, and two pom pom colors to practice addition or subtraction skills.  When done, graph how many pom poms you ended up with for each color or graph for each roll of the dice.  I think I might make a printable to use this with the older kids.  Stay tuned…..

How do you use pom pom activities to teach concepts to your kids?  Leave us a comment.  Thanks!

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