how to make a simple winter playscape
Sensory Activities

How to Make a Simple Winter Playscape

My youngest daughter is every bit the hands-on learner. She loves to dive into things, and explore and manipulate her environment with her body. She possesses a tenacious need to “do for herself,” rather than have things done for her (even if she has not been shown how yet.) And rare is the lesson when she is not dancing, bouncing, climbing, rolling, or balancing with one knee on her seat, the other leg flagged out beside her in counter-weight fashion.

sensory play

Early on, I learned that this need for touch extended beyond the realm of academic pursuits. Hands-on activities, sensory play, and plenty of freedom indoors and out are essential for her self-regulation, her health, and her wellbeing. I’ve learned that if I sense anything out of balance–if she’s tired, grumpy, distant, uncharacteristically emotional, or anxious–a sensory invitation is a fail-proof cure.

sensory play

Luckily, sensory invitations can be ridiculously simple, and it doesn’t take much to keep her happy and busy for hours. On the simplest end of the spectrum, a large mixing bowl and handful of kitchen items, paired with a few cups of cornmeal, flour, or even water will do a fine job. On the fancier end, I can whip up a batch of homemade play-dough in less than ten minutes. Paired with just about anything–a cup full of acorns and pebbles, an assortment of cookie cutters, a few sticks of uncooked spaghetti and some dried beans–and she’s happy as a clam for a whole afternoon.

For the holidays, I wanted the girls to make some gifts for their friends, but I wanted it to be something they could more-or-less do on their own from start to finish. I decided to have them make miniature snow playscapes, complete with some sensory snow (similar to kinetic sand) and a hand-painted peg doll in a sealable package. Not only did they have a blast making the playscapes, but they’ve been playing non-stop ever since with the extra snow they made. The “indoor snow” has become one of my youngest daughter’s favorite sensory invitations, and it keeps for months in the refrigerator.

How to Make Sensory Snow

Sensory snow is so easy to make–your child will love measuring, pouring, and mixing the ingredients! Simply pour a 1/2 cup of white-colored hair conditioner into a bowl, add 3 cups of baking soda, fluffing and stirring with a fork after each cup until well-combined. Continue fluffing and stirring the mixture until all of the baking soda is evenly distributed throughout the conditioner. That’s it!

sensory snow
Measure and pour 1/2 cup of white-colored hair conditioner into a large bowl.
sensory snow
Add 3 cups of baking soda to the bowl, mixing between each cup. Mix and fluff with a fork until the mixture is well-combined.

There are lots of variations on “kinetic snow” but we like this one the best because it holds together a bit, so you can make little snowmen, snow forts, snowballs, etc. When the girls were putting together their gift kits, they added a little tree from the craft store and a hand-painted peg doll to each playscape kit. (We did seal the peg dolls with Modge Podge first, so the paint wouldn’t be worn off by the snow.)

We keep our sensory snow in a sealed glass jar in the refrigerator. When the girls want to play with it, I dump it out into a baking dish and bring out their little “storytelling basket.” The basket, which we use with our Blossom and Root curriculum for narration, includes peg dolls they’ve made (and some that I’ve made for them), rocks, acorns, little animal figurines we’ve collected, pinecones, and other fun little bits and pieces. Once they finish playing, I simple brush or rinse the “snow” off the pieces and return them to the storytelling basket, pour the snow back into the glass jar, and put it back into the fridge for next time.

sensory play

I do recommend looking for an unscented conditioner to use, especially if your child is sensitive to strong smells (or if anyone else in the house is.) We used a basic Dove brand conditioner, which didn’t seem to have much of a scent until we used it to make the snow. My girls don’t seem bothered by it, but it does seem a bit overwhelming to me when they are playing with it.

If you have a good brand of white-colored, scent-free conditioner you’d recommend, please drop it in the comments. šŸ™‚

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  • Reply Victorea January 28, 2020 at 11:32 pm

    I made this today and it was such a hit! My 3.5-year-old played with it non-stop for an hour and half. I made dinner in quiet. It was magical.

    • Reply Kristina Garner January 29, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      I’m so happy it was a success! šŸ™‚

  • Reply Laura in NH February 14, 2020 at 12:17 am

    Love this, thanks for sharing!! For our kids we use. Coconut scented conditioner from Everyone brand and I believe they make an unscented as well – fairly clean and gentle ingredients for little hands (and noses) Iā€™m looking forward to making this tomorrow with my youngest who, at 6 is still constantly seeking sensory experiences. Looking forward to using your Book Seed for The Mitten next week as well!

  • Reply Mary August 23, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    Laura, some kids never stop. My 9yo would *love* this. Anything sensory really roots him.

  • Reply 12 Treats of Christmas! – Sarah Meade, Writer for Children December 12, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    […] you to my friend and Critique Sister Nicole for sending me recipes for homemade play dough and sensory snow. My little ones loved playing with both. I added peppermint extract to the play dough for a candy […]

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