Friday, November 25, 2011

Toddler Toys: I Spy Jar

Anyone who actually follows this blog, poor soul, will have noticed that I am all over the map lately. You never know if you're going to get a digi-scrap post, recipe, toddler tip, or even a crochet pattern. I'll give you a clue to the common factor: practically everything can be done in 30 mn or less, with a distracting child or two in the room!

Today's second project: The "I Spy" Jar.
For several years, a couple of "Find It" games have been showing up at our annual church retreat. Filled with colorful plastic "sand," these approx. 12 inch tubes also contain about two dozen small plastic objects which may be revealed by carefully shaking and rolling the container. The object is to check off each hidden object from the list - including the always elusive penny. They're surprisingly diverting for adults and kids alike. They're also about $25 from the manufacturer!
My version is essentially free.

1. Sturdy clear plastic container with lid (I used a small Parmesan cheese container)
2. A handful of small toys, buttons, beads, coins, marbles, and other found objects of your choice
3. Enough rice to fill the container to within about 3/4 of an inch of the top.
4. Heavy tape (duct or electrical) to seal lid, or glue if you want to make it really permanent.
5. (Optional) Laminated checklist of all hidden objects.

Instructions (like you need 'em!)
Combine rice and found objects in jar. Seal lid with heavy tape or glue.
If desired, create a checklist of objects to be found and challenge your kid (husband?!) to complete it during a long car trip. If your child is a pre-reader, consider photographing each object and making a pictorial checklist.

(I know, it could be Much prettier. The duct tape is quite unattractive. If you need it to look nice and Don't need it to stand up to small children, you could glue a piece of pretty scrapbook paper around the taped edge, but be sure not to obscure too much of the tube or you rather defeat the purpose!)

My two year old actually played with this thing for 15 minutes tonight despite having entered the "manic" phase of tiredness.
A teacher friend of mine thought they may also be useful for some of her older students who just can't sit still. Or, depending on how much of a sense of humor your guests have, consider placing one in the bathroom during a party in lieu of those dated magazines! :)

I made several of these as Christmas gifts for kids in our lives, and here's what I did to make them prettier
1. I dyed the rice so it wasn't simply boring white. Since these were Christmas gifts, I went with red (OK, pink) and green, but the sky's the limit.
Here's a blog explaining how to use water colors to dye rice:

I went a different route and used food color and vinegar - essentially the same method as dying easter eggs. Mix water and vinegar about 50/50, color with food coloring, and add only liquid enough to barely wet the rice you are dying. Use a jar or a zip-lock, and mix it around well, then let it sit for several minutes to get darker.
My method yielded far paler results than the watercolor option above, though.
The important part is to let it dry REALLY well (I spread it on a cookie sheet and put it in a warm oven for a while) before sealing it in the I-Spy jar. We don't want mold!
2. I glued, rather than duct-taped, the lids.
Honestly, this is a dicier proposition than it seems it ought to be. I had very bad luck when trying to hot-glue a metal lid to a glass jar for another project (the glue was too thick, interfered with the threading, and really didn't stick to such non-porous surfaces very well), so this time I didn't even attempt it. I used Elmer's and let it dry over night. It Seemed to be holding, but I think a really determined child could get it off. Super glue would probably be your best bet.

3. Before filling the jars, I photographed the group of items that would be included. I printed it at about 3x4 inches, laminated it, hole-punched it, and tied it to the jar with a stretchy cord. The plan is for the kids to use the card as a challenge, and to stretch out the game a little - "can you find the red bird? No, that's the blue one: keep looking!" Theoretically dry-erase markers or crayons could be used to mark off each item as it is located. You could have your kids race, use it as a "time out" timer ("You must find 10 items before you can get up from that chair!"), etc, etc.
Of course, if your target audience is able to read, you could simply make a text list of the items. That's how the commercial jars are labeled.

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