Taste-Safe Sensory Foam

Sensory play has been a boon to me with a three year age difference between my kids. It’s something they can both have fun with and play in their own way, but they are playing together in the same space, which makes my life immensely easier. I also love for them to experience different sensations, especially my youngest. We play with slimy, messy, gritty, powdery, crunchy, you name it, and I’m always looking for more things to introduce them to and to hold their interest.

I was just about to empty out the liquid in a can of chickpeas (called aquafaba), and I thought about this vegan meringue recipe I wanted to make for my aunt last time she was over, but then it hit me. We could use the chickpea foam for a sensory base! So here is the recipe, which has taken the sensory world by storm!

  • Liquid from a can of chickpeas
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Whip it at high speed with a hand mixer or stand mixer for 5-7 minutes until stiff peaks.

That’s it! It couldn’t be easier and I love that it uses something you would normally throw away. I’ve seen some beautiful, messy play with this after I shared it on Instagram, and I’m so excited to share it with you all here! Let me know how it goes!

Notes:

  • If you don’t have cream of tartar, you can try a splash of vinegar or lemon. I haven’t tried the foam without it, but it serves to form and stabilize the foam through its acidity.
    A blender will not get the thick, stable foam like a hand or stand mixer, but if it’s the only thing you have, give it a shot!

DIY Patterned Playdough Roller

It really can’t get easier than this. It’s just hot glue on a toilet paper roll. Yeeeeep. Use your fingers to support the roll as you imprint it into playdough, or stick it around a rolling pin if it fits! We’ve made so many variations of this so far, including these mermaid scales and a honeycomb print!

Original idea from @playtime.messy.madness on Instagram!

IKEA Flisat Table to Light Table Hack

This is so simple that I hesitated posting it because, well, you’ll see! But this is by far the easiest way you’ll find to make your Flisat table (or any two plastic bins!) into a light table!


Ok get ready for it. Take a bin and put some fairy lights in there:

Put the other bin on top of it:

You’re all set! Have fun with your new light table! It works like a charm!

DIY Magnetic Shapes

I’m always trying to find ways to repurpose supplies I purchase for activities. We have a big bag of magnetite powder we use to make magnetic slime, but I haven’t thought of another use for it…until now! By mixing it with glue and baking soda, you can pipe (like frosting) any design you can think of, and it will stick to a magnet. This is perfect for magnet-on-a-pole fishing games. Read on to learn more!

Materials

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Method

Note: Magnetite powder (an iron oxide) is very messy and should not be touched with bare hands as it stains. Wash hands thoroughly after doing this. Older children may help with steps 3-6, but should always be supervised as any large amount of iron is dangerous to ingest. The dried shapes are safe to handle with bare hands, but the shapes and magnets should not be handled by children who put things in their mouth.

  1. In the ziplock bag, measure in a 1:1:1 ratio the magnetite powder, school glue, and baking soda. Since the first two ingredients are so messy, it is totally fine to just eye-ball the amounts. This is a very forgiving goop.
  2. Squeeze out the air and seal the ziplock bag.
  3. Mix the contents thoroughly by squeezing and mushing.
  4. Snip off a small lower corner of the bag and pipe designs onto wax paper like you would if you were decorating a cake. (Though these will not be incredibly fragile, you don’t want any shapes to have lines with less than ~1/4 inch thickness or they will break with typical child’s play.)
  5. Let dry for 24 hours.
  6. Paint the shapes with paint or nail polish.

Discussion

Magnetite is a natural mineral made of iron and oxygen. It is attracted to a magnet and in some cases can be magnetized to become a permanent magnet. Magnetism was discovered millennia ago by observing metal sticking to naturally magnetized magnetite, called lodestone. Though I haven’t been successful in magnetizing the shapes made by this project, it is possible to magnetize magnetite by placing it in a strong magnetic field (eg. very strong magnet or electromagnet).

The shapes you will make are called magnetically soft, in that they become temporary magnets when exposed to a magnetic field (i.e. other iron-containing things will become attracted to it when it, itself, is in a magnetic field), but if the magnet is removed, the shape becomes unmagnetized.

How to Play

  • Alphabet Fishing (learning letters): We tied a magnet to a wooden pole and went “fishing” for magnetic fish shapes and letters covered by dried rice in a plastic bin. You can use this activity to learn upper or lower case letters, or spelling a name.
  • Fishing for Compliments (learning to read): We made magnetic hearts and I wrote adjectives that complimented my daughter on the back of them (eg strong, smart, kind, etc). She fished for them in a tub of dried rice and black beans and sounded the words out as she found them.

As always, let us know if you’ve tried this on Instagram and Twitter @cara_florance. Tag us and include the hashtag #IBravedTheElements for a chance to be featured!

xoxo

Cara

Magic Color Changing Raised Salt Painting: A STEM Activity

This activity takes raised salt painting to a whole new level! In this twist, we use some secret ingredients that will make the special paint change color once it hits the salt!

The above picture was made entirely by my almost four year old. And even though this was the fourth picture she had made, the process was still as magical to her as the first time.

 

The secret to the color change is in the special paint. Instead of a true watercolor, we are using red cabbage juice! Red cabbage juice contains molecules called anthocyanins that change color when exposed to different pH levels. For more of the science involved, check out this post. The painting surface, which is usually just glue and salt in the classic activity, is actually different mixes of glue, salt, and safe household acids or bases in our version. You can create the picture beforehand for your child (like I did above in the mermaid video), or they can plan and create their own science art all by themselves (like the snowman further up).

Materials

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Method

Making Red Cabbage Juice

There are several ways to get juice from a red cabbage. All of these methods make quite a bit of juice. We freeze leftover juice in an ice cube tray, then save the cubes to melt for future projects.

  • Just juice some in a juicer (if you have one).
  • Add about a quarter of the cabbage to a blender and blend with about a cup of water (adding more or less depending on how much cabbage you have). Then strain the liquid.
  • Bring ~2 cups of water with chopped red cabbage to a boil, turn off heat and let sit till it’s cool. Strain the liquid.

Making the Salt Mixes

You can safely access three colors of the red cabbage juice with household solid chemicals: blue-green, purple, and pink. Prepare the mixes in a bowls or cups. Don’t forget to label them. Make as much as you need, or save some for later. The amount you make will depend on how much glue you need to cover, but the mermaids above took about 2 tbs of each.

  1. Acidic Mix (Pink): 1 part citric acid to 6 parts table salt
  2. Alkaline Mix (Blue green): 1 part baking soda to 3 parts table salt
  3. Neutral Mix (Purple): All table salt

Making Your Art

  1. Draw your design on the paper with a pencil.
  2. Decide which parts will be blue, pink, or purple.
  3. Using the glue, trace the drawing on just the lines that will be pink.
  4. Sprinkle the Acidic Mix onto the glue (with fingers or a spoon), then shake off the excess.
  5. Using the glue, trace the parts of the drawing that will be blue-green.
  6. Sprinkle the Alkaline Mix over the new glue, then shake off the excess.
  7. Using the glue, trace the parts of the drawing that will be purple.
  8. Sprinkle the Neutral Mix over the newest glue then shake off the excess.
  9. Let dry for about 30 min (This is optional. It will still work when the glue is wet, but you just have to be careful to not smoosh it with the paintbrush otherwise acid or base crystals that get stuck to the brush may change the color of your paint stock when you double dip.)
  10. Load a brush with red cabbage juice and touch it to the salt/glue lines. Keep dabbing until your whole painting changes color before your eyes!

If you try this, be sure to share your creations with us! Find us on Instagram and Twitter @cara_florance. Use the hashtag #IBravedTheElements and we might feature you!

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Diaper Snow: Sensory Science

Deep inside diapers lies an amazing molecule that can absorb hundreds of times its weight in water. It is called sodium polyacrylate and is an inert, skin-safe polymer that can provide loads of fun sensory play. Read on to learn what it is, where to get it, and what to do with it!

Materials and Methods

Sodium polyacrylate can be purchased as artificial snow (click here for to buy) or harvested from an unused diaper. To do the latter:

  1. Cut the top cloth-like layer of the diaper (the part that touches the baby) right down the middle width-wise.
  2. Fold it on the cut, cut side down and put it in a plastic tub.
  3. Shake it until tiny white specks gather at the bottom of the container.
  4. Remove the diaper.
  5. Add water (with food coloring if you want) a little at a time and watch as the water is quickly absorbed into the growing mass.
  6. For a lighter texture, add less water, for a slushy texture add more water.

Discussion

Polyacrylate, on the molecular level, is like a long string of negative charges. The sodium, which is positively charged, sits on these negative charges all along the string, which allows the polymer to coil and tangle up. When water is added, it displaces the sodium and nuzzles up with the negative charges. This causes the polymer strand to unravel, not only increasing the size of the gel, but also exposing more negatively charged sites so even more water can bind. This is why you get so much absorbent bang for your buck.

What to do with it?

  • Sensory Bins
    • Add cups and molds and make sand castle-like creations with the slush form (more water)
    • Add small world toys, like evergreen trees and arctic animals, to play with the lighter form (less water)
    • Initially make the snow without coloring, then give the kids squirt bottles with colored water to
  • Magic Tricks
    • Make water “disappear.” Put the dried sodium polyacrylate at the bottom of an opaque cup, show that it is “empty”, pour water in, then flip the glass upside down. The polymer should absorb the water, expand, and stay inside the cup, making it look like the water disappeared.
  • Fake Snow
    • You can inexpensively buy enough sodium polyacrylate that you can fill a kiddie pool (or larger!) sized area with fake snow that kids can play in for a Frozen themed party or what-not.
  • Fluffy Slime
    • Add it to your favorite slime recipe for a whole new feel

The Best Black Slime Recipe Ever

For the most perfect black slime recipe ever, look no further! Say goodbye to grit and residue with this amazing deep dark goop!

Materials

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Procedure

  1. In one bowl, dissolve 1/2 tsp of borax into 1/2 cup of hot water.
  2. In the other bowl, mix 1/4 cup of glue with 1/4 cup water.
  3. A tsp at a time, mix 4-6 tsp of activated charcoal into the glue/water mixture. It won’t mix in at first, but just keep stirring, it will eventually mix in! Just a minute or so of stirring. Stop adding when it’s black enough for you. Mix until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add 12 tsp borax solution to the glue mixture a teaspoon at a time while stirring. This slow addition of the borax ensures a super smooth slime without the need for lots of kneading. You will know when to stop adding when all of the black glue mixture is in the ball of slime and there is none left in a puddle at the bottom of the bowl.
  5. Pick up the glob and fold and squish a few times. You’re done! After you’re finished playing with it, store it in an air tight container. If it feels gooey after a few days, add a little more borax solution till you get the consistency you like. We think this gradual goo-ing might be due to the activated charcoal absorbing some of the borax (see below for what borax does!).

Discussion

The glue contains a long molecule called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). It is a polymer, which is a molecule that contains repeats of a subunit molecule (for example, “A” is a subunit and “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” is a polymer of A). Borax (sodium tetraborate) is a small molecule that can stick to parts of the PVA through hydrogen bonds. One side of the borate molecule can stick to one strand of PVA, while the other side of the borate can also stick to a different strand of PVA, creating a bridge between the two PVA strands. This is called crosslinking.

Having many crosslinking sites usually makes a polymer more rigid, but the interesting thing about borate/PVA crosslinking is that the bond is transient, meaning it can easily break and reform somewhere else. This causes the slime to act kind of like a liquid and kind of like a solid. If given time, the PVA can ‘flow’ as gravity pulls and breaks the borate/PVA crosslinks. It acts like a slime instead of a true liquid because as the PVA molecules pass by more borate, they can momentarily bond to borate and another strand of PVA, slowing down the flow. If you pull the slime fast, you break all those bonds quickly, allowing the slime to act like a solid momentarily.

This dark black slime is perfect for Halloween. Throw some googly eyes, plastic spiders, or confetti in there for hours of fun!