Back with another calming activity for little ones (even elementary age kids like this one). Of course, this activity is sensory in nature (have you guessed that this is important for kids?). It is a rice box. A what? That's right, a rice box. Now this activity is best used with kids who are not putting EVERYTHING into their mouths since they have a tendency to want to eat the uncooked rice...yuch! I've used this activity with kids as young as 18 months. You know your child best and whether they are ready for this developmentally.
Here's what you'll need:
- A large plastic container with a lid (the ones that roll under your bed with wheels are great)
- A large bag of rice, and I mean large. I bought a 50 pound bag at Costco for $12.
- Plastic cups, spoons, plastic animals, cars, or play food.
- A large blanket
- A vacuum
Pour the rice into the plastic container until it is deep enough to bury and hide the toys (about three inches). Spread the blanket out on the floor and place the box on top of it. Put the toys in and let your child go! Consider this an inside sandbox that is easy to vacuum. Great for people who don't have a yard or sandbox. Also great for rainy or snowy days when the kids are driving your crazy! I suggest using a box with a lid that will fit under your bed when not in use.
Why is this a calming activity you ask? Kids work their stress out through their hands. Stress? Yes, they get stressed just like us. Even though we think they are just playing, they are doing a full-time, 24/7 job of learning about the world. So yes, they do get stressed. The hands on play with the rice is soothing and helps calm the central nervous system.
Some things to consider about this activity:
- Make sure the toys and objects in the rice box do not pose any type of choking hazard or danger to your child, i.e., no knives, broken glass, etc. -- just kidding about the knives and glass. Now some of you may be saying "Does she think I'm stupid? Anyone would know better than to put small objects in there." I'm here to tell you that no, not everyone knows better (remember, I'm a former Children's Protective Services worker...you'd be amazed...). Common sense is not that common.
- When you introduce this to your child, do not push them too hard to touch the rice. I've had parents push their children's hands into the rice box with disastrous results. Think of it this way, would you put your hands in some unfamiliar substance? I didn't think so. Must of us would have to start gradually, maybe touching it quickly and withdrawing until we were eventually able to see that it posed us no threat.
- Model pouring the rice and play with it yourself. It actually feels quite good! When your child sees your comfort with the activity, they will be more inclined to try it.
- Once your child is feeling comfortable with the rice box (which for some kids might be never while others will dig it from the get go), work towards getting their bare feet in and then maybe sitting in the box with clothes on. The ultimate is to get them in their in just their diapers (beware of the next change though!). When they are stripped down, they can experience the sensory input of the rice fully, e.g., on their legs, feet, arms, etc.
- And finally, the burning question: How do I keep them from throwing the rice all over my house? I use the three strikes rule. I let them know before we start that the rice stays in the box. When they throw it out (which they will), give them a verbal warning to keep the rice in the box or it will have to be put away. After three tosses, the box goes away and we try again some other time. (I had one little boy who was very persistent. I took the box to his house at least six times and he got three strikes every time. On the seventh visit, he picked up a handful of rice, looked at me and then put it down. He figured it out!)
Once kids figure out the ground rules of this activity, they could play in it for hours! Great activity to do before nap times or bedtime or after a chaotic playgroup. You'll always want to be in the same room with them during this activity (we all know how sneaky they can be when we are not around -- don't want to find rice in the VCR).
There are a number of other developmental benefits to this activity which I will discuss next time. Have fun with this one and let me know how your kids like it!