Babies and children’s minds are like sponges. The more you place them in suitable or conducive environments the more they learn and absorb. Look how cheekily I used the pun of a sponge on a blog post about sea creatures, but hey it is so apt here. With #babyT I did see how early exposure to flash cards helped him develop a rich vocabulary even before he turned 1. He also enjoys reading books along with us and has picked up a lot of words and concepts from them. However, as he approaches 2, I saw how his appetite for learning was not getting satiated with just books or flashcards. He was asking for more stimulation and for learning to appeal to all his senses. Learning by touch and “doing” seemed to be the order of the day.
I am not the mother who plans out her child’s daily activities, much as I would like to. I am simply not that creative enough nor “crafty.” However, I did realise the need for structured play and learning as babyT was growing. He was no longer content with just being handed a toy or sat in front of the TV.
Structured play, or “play with a purpose,” is any activity that offers your preschooler a specific learning objective. It could be learning a certain life skill like teaching the months of the year or working on important physical abilities such as gross and fine motor skills.
He wanted to be guided through it and explained so as to make sense of what he was seeing. I used this insight to set up a learning environment for him to teach him all about sea creatures. This set of sea creature activity aimed to involve most of his senses and also included some amount of formal learning using books and similar resources.
Here’s what our sea creatures activity included:
- Sensory Tub
- Sand play
- Seashell colour sorting
- Books & flashcards
- Wooden magnetic fishing board
- Rhymes & songs
This was by far the star of the show. This was also pretty simple to fix up once I had all the ingredients at home. I filled up a tub with water beads and added tons of water (filtered, potable water) and left this concoction overnight. The next morning just before our play I added accessories in the form of plastic models of sea creatures, little rocks and stones, colourful shells, some twigs and leaves for seaweed, and ICE CUBES just for some textural fun.
BabyT was surprised when he entered his playroom and saw the sensory tub laid out on the stay dry mat we usually use for all our activities. After taking all the sights in he then ventured to dip his hands and explore the sensory tub and all its contents.
He indulged in splashing about in the watery mess, squeezing the squishy water beads and holding the cold ice cubes in his palm until they were too cold for his tiny hands. He then began fishing the sea creatures, saying their name out loud and then placing them on the mat outside. He used his beach kit to play with the water beads and poured them about in the tub, sieving them and watching the water drops trickle down and the beads remain in the sand sifter.
He was a bit intrigued about the twigs, leaves and stones he found during one of his exploratory missions in the sensory tub. And I reminded him of the corals and rocks and seaweed that he saw in one of our books on the sea. (See below)
Eventually, he sat down inside the sensory and kicked about, thus getting a top to toe sense of the water beads and the sea creatures in it. He even proclaimed that he was Sailor Sammy, a character from his favourite book “Boats Sail Away” BabyT did get a lot of water beads down his shirt and inside his diaper but nothing that a warm bath after our play couldn’t clean.
BabyT has been on 2 beach holidays already and has played in the sand. So he understands the concept of sand but I wanted to create a linkage between the sea and sand. I bought him this kinetic sand play kit off Amazon. Kinetic sand behaves in a very peculiar manner, but it is so soft and soothing on the skin.
BabyT and I both spent a lot of time running our hands through the sand and he even eventually began stomping on it and kicking it about too. The kit also comes with a few moulds which can be used to make animal shapes out of. Good for fine motor development and identifying how shapes can be formed.
Seashells Colour Sorting
Ever since babyT indulged in a sorting activity months ago where I asked him to match flash cards and animal shapes, he has been hooked to sorting of any sort. Kids, I tell you! So I just have to say the word sorting and he throws away whatever he is doing and runs to me. I should use this for positive discipline sometime maybe.
For the sea creature activity, I also bought these colourful seashells. They are actually intended to use as decor in indoor aquariums or pots. We used our set of stacking rings as colour coordinated jars to sort the shells into.
This activity is great for learning colours and hand-eye coordination.
Books & Flashcards
Our favourite part. BabyT loves books and makes sense of the world around majorly through books. Ask him what his favourite toy in his playroom is and he will say “Book”
These were some of the books babyT loved to learn about words and images to do with the sea and sea creatures.
Our love for flashcards is also proven over and over again. Before I begin any activity or new learning for babyT I do run a search for flashcards in the theme. I loved these flashcards which I got from Amazon. They are simple and give a realistic image of what the sea creature looks like.
I use flashcards to supplement learning & vocabulary. For example, I used the oyster card (as shown above) to tell him how oysters make pearls and I showed him my pearl necklace. He was overjoyed to feel and touch them and know that they were made by a creature living in the sea.
I hate stickers. There I said it! I hate them because kids (and adults) love peeling them off eventually and then they leave ugly marks on wherever they had been stuck.
But then someone on my Instagram introduced me to reusable stickers. (By now you must know that anything reusable piques my interest) So I got these reusable stickers by Melissa & Doug for babyT. It came as a booklet with multiple scenarios and sticker sheets. This one with the ocean in the backdrop was perfect for our Sea Creature Activity.
All the sea creatures that you see here are the stickers. I peeled a tiny bit of the corner from the sticker sheet and let babyT peel the rest of it off and then stick it on the ocean base. At first, he stuck all the creatures one on top of another. I didn’t stop or interrupt him. But I did peel a few big stickers like the shark and stuck it up higher on the sheet. That gave him the idea to spread the rest of the stickers across the base.
He has since removed and stuck the sea creatures back several times. This is one sticker sheet that I loved too.
Wooden Magnetic Fishing Game
I love wooden toys. I have said this many times. And when a toy exists in wood form, there is no surprise that I will grab it and add it to our collection.
I bought this wooden magnetic fishing game from Little Fingers at Work. The fishing stick has a magnet embedded on one end and the little fish have a screw in their mouths which sticks to the magnet. BabyT did not quite understand the concept of fishing but he loved pulling the fish high up and out of the board.
Songs & Rhymes
Up until babyT was a year old or slightly more we avoided any form of screen time. However, as he got older and more active it was difficult for me to get things done and mind him too. It was then that we began slowly introducing screen time. We only do rhymes and songs (without any special effects) on the casting device. And whenever we do play anything on the telly for him I do make sure someone, mostly me, is around to explain things to him and help him make sense of what he sees. It’s never a one-way street. This helps immensely in gaining positively from screen time.
So coming back to the point I was trying to make – any learning activity is incomplete without the accompanying songs and dance and fanfare. And this is how we discovered babyT’s favourite, most obsessed over rhyme “Baby Shark Doo Doo” (facepalm, sometimes I regret screen time. lol) I am not going down this rabbit hole alone, here’s me trying to put this song into your head now. 😀
And then there was this song too. A personal favourite. I love it for its gentle rhythm.
Jokes apart, babyT did learn about the baby shark family and all the creatures that live under the sea. Like I mentioned earlier too, I made sure I sat with them the first few times (or a 100) we watched these 2 rhymes and helped him identify the sea creatures and objects in the backdrop too.
This helped close the circle on all the learning around the sea creature activity. Sensory tub, books and flash cards all tied together into a visual for him with the rhymes and videos.
For now, we have packed away most of the sea creature activity resources, save some books and the rhymes of course. Did you know the baby shark family has also adopted Tara shark and Nana and Nani shark into their clan? Sigh. That’s the level of obsession. It’s cute though.
Hope you are inspired to try some of these activities for your children. Which one do you think they would most enjoy?