December 9, 2011 at 6:00 am
Oh, the rice box! How many busy days has it saved me? How many times have I pulled it out when the kids needed a calming activity and I needed a few minutes to accomplish a task?
I first heard about creating rice boxes a few years ago from a fellow homeschooling mom. She had several sensory boxes for her little ones — a rice box, a bean box, and even a cotton ball box.
Her children loved them, and I figured mine would too.
Little ones, especially, benefit so much from sensory activities. The ages of 18 months to 3 are the times I have used sensory boxes most, but my children still love them. Actually, I do too. It is really soothing to sit down and run your hands through rice, water, sand, or other materials.
The question I get most often, though, is about the mess. Because a sensory activity will really only work if you don’t dread the clean-up right?
What has worked in our home is to fill a long sweater box with rice, beans, etc. and lots of little tools like spoons, pitchers, different shaped bowls, cups, etc., little cars or boats and funnels — ALWAYS FUNNELS!
We then put the box on top of an old sheet spread out over the floor. (We have hard wood floors.)
We have ground rules: the rice or other material should stay in the box, everyone should be sitting or kneeling (no walking around with handfuls of rice, for instance). It needs to be said, once in a while, that throwing the rice is not allowed. Usually one reminder of that is enough, and older kids usually remember from last time!
We keep a little hand-broom and dustpan near-by for spills (and that kind of becomes part of the play), and when we are done, we bring out the big broom (if doing this on carpet, a vacuum would do the trick, of course!).
We also fold up the sheet as best we can and put “clean” rice back into the box to use again. If we have any “dirty rice” from the floor (we have pets and pet hair), we head for the garbage can. It’s important not to just scatter rice in your yard — for the same reason that people started throwing birdseed and blowing bubbles after weddings.
Really, there isn’t a lot of mess as long as rice doesn’t get thrown, and as long as the activity is sort of a “the rice box is open!” and then “the rice box is closing” kind of activity. I learned that from a Waldorf teacher — the open and closed thing — and it just helps to set some limits, which keeps the mess down.
The biggest thing, really, is to know that there will be a bit of mess, but that it is a nice, calming sensory mess, so in the end, it is probably worth it. My kids will play with this for at least an hour once a week, and if we add different materials (try snow in the winter!), the rice box gets used even more!