Spooky Spaghetti Sensory Bin
BY JEN KOSSOWAN, MAMA.PAPA.BUBBA.
Oct 17, 2017
Fall is officially in full swing, which means that many parents are beginning to look for ways to keep their little ones happily occupied indoors. If you ask me, when it comes to keeping toddlers happily engaged indoors, sensory bins are where it’s at. They’re tactile, open-ended, super fun, and can be whipped up with pretty much anything you have around the house. Since we’re quickly approaching Halloween, I made my little one a spooky spaghetti sensory bin filled with creepy crawlies and he just loved it the entire experience.
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Here’s what you’ll need:
- a shallow plastic bin of some sort (we like using short stackable storage bins)
- long uncooked noodles (we went with bucatini this time, but spaghetti and linguine work perfectly too)
- gel food colouring in Halloween colours (we used black, orange, purple, and green)
- cooking oil
- plastic creepy crawly figures
Hands down, gel colouring will give you the most vibrant, colourful results and thankfully it’s now readily available in the baking section of most big grocery stores. In a pinch, the traditional liquid colouring will work, but a) a true black is really tricky to make, b) you’ll need to use a lot, and c) the finished pasta won’t be nearly as vibrant as the stuff made with gel colouring. Cooked pasta play is fun either way though, so don’t let colouring keep you from trying this activity with your little ones — it’s actually still really fun with noodles that aren’t coloured at all.
Now onto cooking the pasta! I like to do this part the night before or during nap time just because I like to get it all done at once and it’s not the most kid-friendly process, but do what works for you, of course. Fill your pot with as little water as is needed to cook a package of pasta, add a teaspoon of gel food colouring, and cook the noodles as you usually would, leaving them significantly on the al dente side.
You’ll have to do this process for each colour of course, but if you haul out all of your pots and do all of the colours at once, it takes no time at all.
When done, strain the noodles and rinse them really well in cold water. This will both cool the noodles and remove any excess colouring so you can be sure it won’t transfer onto your little one’s hands.
Add the noodles to your shallow bin and drizzle them with the tiniest bit of cooking oil. You don’t want them to be greasy — you just don’t want them to stick together. Work the oil through by tossing the pasta with your hands and admire the beautiful colours coming together.
Lastly, add the creepy crawlies! These are really easy to find at dollar stores this time of year and can be used for all kinds of activities. I like to tuck them into the cooked pasta a little bit so they look like they’re crawling through it.
Now for the best part — play time! But first, whether you’re just getting started on sensory bins with your little one or if they’re a routine thing in your house, you’ll probably want to make the expectations clear from the start. Since the beauty of a sensory bin is its open endedness, I usually stick to two simple rules. First, the items in the bin are not for eating (though it wouldn’t be the end of the world if a couple of pieces of pasta did get eaten in this case), and second, we try to keep the bin filler in the bin (though this is often a work in progress and an inexpensive shower curtain or table cloth under the bin makes for quick and easy clean up). With that out of the way, I usually sit back and let my little one explore while supervising from a couple of feet away.
What your toddler does with the materials in the sensory bin is up to them so long as the expectations you set out at the beginning are being followed. The spaghetti is particularly fun to touch, so expect lots of swishing, squeezing, picking up, and dropping. This particular sensory bin also lends itself really well to a search for creepy crawlies, which works on visual discrimination and fine motor skills, so it’s possible you'll see that too. When you sense your little one losing interest, you might quietly join in and try extending the play by introducing a new way to use the objects or by talking about the types of creepy crawlies and the colours of the pasta.
When you’re done, the pasta can be stored in a zip-close bag in the fridge and used again in the next couple of days. After that you’ll probably want to compost it, but don’t let the sensory bin fun stop there. Try creating other sensory bins based on upcoming holidays and your child’s interests. You can see some of our favourites here.