By SALLYANN MURPHEY, guest columnist

“Are you all right?”

Jamie’s normally cheerful face was pasty white, with deep circles under his eyes. “Five days,” he croaked. “Five days locked in the house with the kids …”

In times of snow storms and arctic freezes — or even spring break — we should spare a thought for parents of small children. Keeping wee ones happily entertained can be a tall order. Electronic babysitters will only hold their attention for so long, and if there’s a power cut, you’d better have another plan in mind.

“Sensory tables!” suggests Linda Lewis, longtime educator and founder of the Early Childhood Program at Harmony School in Bloomington: “They’ll keep the kids busy for hours on end, and if you have more than one kid, it’s great for social skills. They learn to share (the toy) and share the space.”

Sensory tables have been used in early-childhood education for a long time, but are not as commonly found in the home — which is a missed opportunity, because they’re so easily made from any number of household items.

A simple storage box will do — one of those under-bed models with a lid and wheels is perfect — filled with materials that will engage all five of your child’s senses.

“There are lots of lists for fillings online,” Linda said. “Anything from shaving cream; homemade play-dough; water with plastic sea creatures and a little blue food coloring — kids will play for hours with water. We bring in snow and sometimes give them spray bottles with food coloring and water in them to spray on the snow. Sometimes we freeze plastic animals in ice blocks in the freezer and then let them melt it with salt and chip away at it with spoons to get the prize out. Bird seed and rice, are great fillings. One of my favorites is field corn. You just put the whole cobs in there and then the kids will just pick the kernels off until the table is filled with corn kernels and that’s a really great sensory feeling when you put your hands in that corn. It feels great. The kids love it! It’s especially satisfying for some reason to take the kernels off the cobs, then they play with the corn with bowls, scoops and cups.”

Older kids might while away a whole afternoon in a box filled with water beads concealing various sea creatures in their own tropical seascape; or go on an archeological dig in a tub of pinto beans and split peas, a “rocky landscape” complete with dinosaurs.

The educational advantages of sensory play include helping children to develop their creative, cognitive and fine motor skills, as well as contributing to their social and emotional growth. But above all, it’s fun!

Kids can even make their own fillings. A quick tour around Pinterest turns up recipes for moon sand, cloud dough, flubber, floam, silly putty — there are hundreds of them.

Jamie’s daughter, Hannah, 6, has even turned it into a business. She loves making slime, which she and her cousin, Lyla, now sell on Etsy in a number of intriguing flavors, like Strawberry Bubblegum or Banana Slug Slime.

The basic recipe is simple, she insists, but there are all sorts of ways of dressing it up: with shaving cream (to make it fluffy), or glitter or sequins (to make it sparkly), or hand lotion (to make it smell good). The most important ingredient is the contact lens solution, apparently, which allows the slime to be suitably “gooey” without being “gacky” at all.

Just shows what you can learn while stuck in the house on a winter’s afternoon.

The Kids’ Zone is brought to you by the Brown County Guardian ad Litem. Sallyann Murphey is the director of the program. Find more recipes — and information about the program — at To contact the Guardian ad Litem directly, call 812-340-8894 or email


½ cup clear glue

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon water-based craft paint or a few drops of food coloring

Contact lens solution

Mix the glue and baking soda together. Color with craft paint or food coloring.

Knead as you slowly add contact lens solution until it reaches desired plasticity.