Jars & Grain: Up-cycle Household Materials into Multiple Activities

I want to share a series of activities I put out for the kids that overlapped materials and built off of one another. I have limited space (don’t we all, really?), so I want to be able to use the same objects in multiple ways. Sometimes it’s also helpful to introduce things in parts to keep children from getting overwhelmed/overstimulated. Often through using materials, I’m inspired by a thought of “oh, it would be so cool to add blah blah blah”, or the kids play with something in an unexpected way that prompts an idea to add something else in.

Jars & Lids

When I initially presented the glass jars and lids, I was concerned it wasn’t going to be open-ended enough, and would, therefore, get boring quickly. Sometimes keeping things open to creativity has more to do with the way an activity is presented. For this, I gave the simple instruction that the bottles and lids needed to stay on the tray. The mason jars I had on hand, and the rest I dug out of the recycle bin. A tray isn’t necessary, but having something that creates a boundary–like a place mat or kitchen towel–helps.

The first time I laid out this activity, I gave the kids time with it separately. Part of this was just out of curiosity about what they’d do, and part of it was to just give some space to each of them. My 5-year-old approached the tray and quickly had the lids sorted and screwed on. She had a good time taking them off again and then she was off in her imagination pretending to pour, cook, and serve to, well, I’m not really sure, but she knew.

My 2-year-old fiddled around with the lids, dropping them into jars, with no particular goal in mind. He took the ring from the mason jar and put it around one of the smaller jars, and tried-out putting multiple lids on one jar. The blue bottle caught his eye and he held it up and looked through it. He rotated his head and body to look around the room that had suddenly become a whole new world.

After watching both of the kids interact with the same activity, I realized I didn’t have anything to worry about when it came to allowing room for creativity. They both ended up using the jars and lids for something other than on and off (although that in itself is excellent for developing fine motor and cognitive  skills). 

Grain: Scoop, Fill, Stir, Dump

I had some (very) old whole oats and spelt in the pantry, so I thought they would be interesting for the kids to play with. While I generally try to stay away from using food for play–both because there are people around us in need and because I want to avoid waste–this was way past the point of being fit for human consumption. You can really use anything for this–sand, pea gravel, or if you’re like me, there’s probably some rice or oats or something in the back of your pantry you wouldn’t dare eat. 

To set up, I laid out a cloth to (sort of) keep things contained, and I added some items to fill, scoop, and stir. Any kind of container will work here, but preferably something shallow that allows the kids to see over the edge and interact easily. I told the kids that everything should stay on the cloth–which it obviously didn’t totally–but it did keep it from spreading across the entire room. They quickly took most of the spoons and bowls out, ran their fingers through the grain, watched it fall from their fingers, and then took to filling the bowls and serving me, each other, and perhaps a few imaginary friends. When it was time to clean up, the cloth did help to round up stray bits, and then the kids helped to sweep up the rest. 

Bottles, Grain, and Funnels

I had the idea to use the same materials from the previous activities and add in a few things like magnifying glasses and funnels. I used the trays and the cloth again, and since the weather was gorgeous, I was able to set it all up outside on the table. They enjoyed scooping the grain into the jars, putting the lid on, and dumping it from container to container. My 2-year-old explored the outdoors through the blue and brown glass and inspired his big sister to do the same. 

They used the spoons, scoops, bottle caps, and of course their hands to scoop and pour the grains. Filling the jars all the way full with grain and then putting on the lids kept them busy for a while. They also discovered that the grains made an interesting sound when they shook them in the jar. I pointed out that there were magnifying glasses on the table, so we explored what the grains look like up close.

Bottles & Funnels with Oil, Water, & Liquid Watercolors

Using the same funnels and some of the smaller bottles, I set out an activity with a pitcher of water, baby oil (any kind of colorless oil will work here), and liquid watercolors (food coloring would be a good substitute if you don’t have liquid watercolors on hand). I also included pipettes/eye droppers for using with the watercolors.

I included all 6 of the basic colors I have for watercolors, but a part of me thinks it might have been better to limit it to just primary colors. My focus wasn’t really on the kids perfectly mixing colors to make another color, but rather just to experiment with the materials. As you can imagine, by the end every jar was a lovely shade of brownish-black.

We all found it really interesting how differently the paint interacted when the kids put it into water alone, then how it changed when they added the oil, and finally how the paint reacted when they dropped it straight in the oil. It made these really neat droplets of color (until they put the lid on and shook it).

While my daughter had worked with pipettes before, this was an introduction for my son. It didn’t take him long to figure it out, and they both had a great time first with the paint, and then mixing everything together by the end. They also experimented with pouring from the pitcher, but also from jar to jar.

Using the funnels made it easier to keep from missing the receptacle, but it made it more difficult to judge when a jar was full. The kids got to see what happens when you fill a jar plus the funnel and then take the funnel out (which was precisely the moment I realized a towel would have been a good call–live and learn).

I’ll be sure to keep you posted as I set up other activities using the same materials (be sure to follow me on Instagram!). I’d like to add in sieves of varying sizes with the grain. I’d love to hear your ideas for other ways I might be able to use these materials, so please leave a comment below!

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