Awhile back, this post ran over on The Foster Family Blog as a guest post. Thank you, Jennifer, for letting me share this with your readers! I thought I’d repost it here, now, so that its here with the rest of my toddler activity bag posts. Its a fun one!
When my twins were newborns, I found having lots of activities handy for my just turned 2 year old was critical to having any sort of peace and stability in our day. I was breastfeeding or holding sleeping babies literally around the clock, and Emma was such a good sport about it all, I can’t believe it!
I soon found channeling the ex-kindergarten teacher in me was a sanity saver. Before I sat down with the babies for a long session, I would set Emma up with 3-4 activities (in school we sometimes called these “centers”) plus a snack, so she could move from thing to thing as she got bored. One thing that really worked great for us (and still do!) were Toddler Activity Bags — gallon ziplock bags filled with a self contained, quiet activity. I’m going to share one of those here with you today, and feel free to check out my other activity bag posts listed at the bottom of my “top posts” page.
Dyed Pasta is a great base for two fun activities that are quite popular around here — pasta sorting, and pasta necklace beading. Last week I set about trying it myself, and it was a success! I really wanted to get nice bright colors, and I did, woo hoo!
Here is what you need for the dyeing:
- rubbing alcohol
- food coloring
- ziplock bags (or glass jars?)
- pipe cleaners (for needles)
- very thin ribbon for threading onto (I used a ribbon “yarn” that was sold to knit with).
- washers or key rings (to keep the pasta on the ribbon, and to use as a clasp on the necklaces)
- clear plastic cups for sorting into
The first step is buying the pasta. For sorting, the goal is fun, interesting shapes. Twists or spirals, cones shapes, bow ties, or anything cool looking all are great! For beading, you need pasta that has a fairly wide hole to fit over the needle (more on this later) and that’s not bent too much. I found 3-4 tubular pastas that worked well for this one, including long and short cut penne pasta and large “wagon wheels”. I then pulled out 5 ziplock bags and put a mix of all the different pasta shapes in each bag (I was working in bulk here so I filled gallon bags half full — you could do much smaller amounts for just your family). I have seen this done in jars as well.
Into the bags goes the rubbing alcohol. I didn’t cover the pasta completely, but it was maybe up halfway or a little more (I used 3 big bottles between the 5 bags). Next in, food coloring! I did red, yellow, green and blue, plus a combo of purple and pink (which ended up purple) from that neon set. I put in a lot — probably several tablespoons each (the whole small bottle) but again, with smaller quantities of pasta you could cut this down some. I don’t think the ratios here are critical — just make sure everything gets wet and there’s lots of color to make it bright!
Next, you seal ‘em up, and wait. And shake them around a little, turn them over, and wait. Shake shake, jiggle jiggle, flip. And wait. I kept them in the color solution for about 2.5 hours.
Next, I cut the corner of the bag off to drain, then poured them onto newspaper lined trays to dry. Warning — this can stink up the room like rubbing alcohol! I then left them to dry in the garage overnight, which kept the smell away. In the morning, they were dry, stink free, and ready for sorting. Hooray! I sorted them back out into two separate bags — the ones with big holes for beading, everything else for sorting.
Now, for the needles. To make these, you cut a pipe cleaner into thirds or so, and tie it to a length of ribbon long enough to fit around your child’s head. Twist it back up onto itself, and tie the ribbon on with a knot (in the photo below, the orange needle is tied on but needs to be twisted still. The blue one is all done). At the end of the ribbon, tie a washer. This works to keep the pasta on, and also as a clasp. When you child is done beading, just wrap the pipe cleaner “needle” around the washer to temporarily tie it together. Just unwind and reuse next time!
And for the sorting activity, I used 6 or so clear plastic cups, with numbers and dots written on them for counting practice. The kids can sort by shape or color, count pasta into the cups, or just dump and pour, dump and pour! Muffin tins or egg cartons also work great for sorting into. With older kids you can also practice fine motor skills by transferring noodles from cup to cup with tweezers or tongs. If you get tired of sorting or beading, glue them on some cardboard or heavy paper for a fun project! I highly recommend using trays or rimmed cookie sheets for both pasta activities to keep the pasta somewhat contained (ha ha ha).