Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sensory Box Fail {Carnival of Natural Parenting}

Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.



When the girls were still little babies, Andy was in his Master's degree program and taking a class on the way the brain works and learns. It was so fascinating to discover how genius kids are from the earliest age. I mean, learning to walk, mastering a new language, making sense of the world, all in a few years time? Smarties. 

We thought we'd capitalize on this newfound knowledge while they were still young, harness the power of their developing brain, and somehow make our kids super scary smart.  

Then from the all-mighty Pinterest, we learned about sensory activities, and sensory boxes! Such a fantastic idea. You put an assortment of carefully chosen items into small boxes and let your kids explore using their senses, creating a learning environment TIMES TEN and molding the geniuses of tomorrow. Or at least provide some alternative stimulation for two little city babies who didn't yet know what grass is (and screamed when they stepped on it, but that's for another day).

So me, being the on-top-of-it mom that I am (stifle laughter, please) would put together some carefully chosen sensory boxes to engage their minds and make them brilliant. 

That was our plan, and in theory, it's true. Sensory activities are really important for kids - Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute wrote a great post about it - and according to research, "Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one." It's part of the scientific process, and we are made to learn this way; it's like Christmas morning for our brain.

But then the unthinkable happened. 

My kids don't get sensory activities! 

Or, more truthfully, they don't get what I (emphasis, ME) want them to do or learn from the sensory boxes. They're just not there yet. So it ends up like this: 

Me: Ruthie, the water stays IN the bowl. Use your pourer-thingy and pour it into the other bowl! Isn't that cool how it pours? It's like a little waterfall!
Ruthie (this happens all in looks and gestures and a little eh! eh!): Sure thing, mom. Pours water onto floor. But see how awesome it looks when all the water covers the table AND the floor! So now it's like a LAKE instead of a waterfall. BOOM.

Me: Hey girls, put these dyed pasta shapes into these different containers and lets practice our colors and sort them out all smart-like! 
Them: Throws pasta across the room. Yeah! Pasta wars! Yum! Pasta chips! Bonus points for getting it way under the couch so mom can't reach!

Me: Here's a nature box, full of nature-y things. Let's explore and keep you from getting nature deficiency syndrome. 
Them: Yum, pine cones! Let's eat them! Ouch! Both loudly cry and throw said pine cones.

Me: Here's a box of beans. Run your fingers through them and see how it feels!
Them: Mmm, beans smell cool! Cool beans! Stick beans up nostrils and then I proceed to freak out. 

All that to say, I know that sensory boxes are really great in theory, and I do believe in them. And I'll keep trying, especially with mentors like Deb from Living Montessori Now (Check out her Pinterest!). But sometimes, you introduce them before the kids are ready, and sometimes your kids just won't get past the let's see how far we can throw this! phase. And sometimes (always) as a mom, your expectations are blown out of the water.

And that's ok. They're not dumb, and you're not either. Their brains are still learning and thriving just discovering, only in a different way than I intended. Imagine that!

Maybe I'm just a little - ok, a lot - overeager and overzealous. 

So let's go find a mud puddle, or better yet, make one, and let THAT sensory fun begin. 

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (posts will be live and updated no later than afternoon on June 11):
  • My little gastronomes — "I'll never cook a separate meal for my children," Maud at Awfully Chipper vowed before she had children; but things didn't turn out quite as she'd imagined.
  • Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don't. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn't mean she always lives up to them.
  • Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
  • A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year - because HE wants to go to school.
  • I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she's not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn't it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
  • The Mistakes I've Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
  • I Only Expected to Love... — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
  • They See Me Wearin', They Hatin' — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with "babywearing haters."
  • Parenting Human BeingsErika Gebhardt lists her parenting "mistakes," and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
  • Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids... — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But "doing it right" looks different to everybody.
  • A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter's high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
  • Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on MommaJorje.com.
  • The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
  • Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
  • How to deal with unwanted parenting advice — Tat at Mum in Search thought that dealing with unwanted parenting advice would be a breeze. It turned out to be one of her biggest challenges as a new mum.
  • How I trained my 43 month old in 89 days! — Becky at Old New Legacy used to mock sticker charts, until they became her best friend in the process of potty training.
  • My Double Life: Scheduling with Twins — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot was banging her head against the wall trying to keep up with the plan she made during pregnancy, until she let her babies lead the way.
  • Parenting in the land of compromise — As a holistic health geek trying to take care of her health issues naturally, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama regrets that her needs sometimes get in the way of her children's needs.
  • Practice Makes Good, Not Perfect — Rachael at The Variegated Life comes to see that through practice, she just might already be the parent she wants to be.
  • 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering: How to Free Yourself and Your Family — Sheila Pai at A Living Family shares in theory (blog) and reality (video) how she frees herself from 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering that can damage the connection, peace and love she seeks to nurture in her relationships with family and others.
  • 5 Things I Thought MY Children Would Never Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child largely laughs at herself and her previous misconceptions about things her children would or wouldn't do, or be allowed to do.
  • Policing politeness — Lauren at Hobo Mama rethinks a conviction she had about modeling vs. teaching her children about courtesy.
  • The Before and The After: Learning about Parenting — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work reminisces about the perspective she held as a young adult working with children (and parents) . . . before she became a mother.
  • Parenting Beliefs: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how we can make a mindful decision to become the parent we want to be. Decisions we make affect who we will become.
  • The Great Breastfeeding Debacle — In Lisa at The Squishable Baby's mind, breastfeeding would be easy.
  • What my daughter taught me about being a parentMrs Green asks, "Is it ever ok to lock your child in their bedroom?"
  • Sensory Box Fail! — Megan at The Boho Mama discovers that thoughtful sensory activities can sometimes lead to pasta in your bra and beans up your nose.
  • Montessori and My Children – Theory vs. Reality — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her experiences with Montessori parenting and describes the results she sees in her now-adult children.
  • I Like The Mother I Am Now More Than The Mother I Intended To Be — Darcel at The Mahogany Way thought she would just give her kids the look and they would immediately fall in line.


  1. This is hilarious! The part about your city kids crying about grass — um, yep. Been there, done that. And I totally agree that sensory bins (and, really, any Pinterest project) always end up heading in imaginative new ways once you get actual kids involved!

  2. Haha! But surely your kids are exploring the boxes too, just not in the prescribed way and don't you remember how it was always more fun to play with stuff your own way and not the intended way? I almost never played with anything the way it was supposed to be.

  3. Or . . . I'd argue your kids are doing just fine with sensory boxes (except for beans in the nostrils - oops!), you just need to give yourself permission to let go of your expectations for them :) I had to do that with Kieran - he rarely wanted to feel or sort or mix just like *I* wanted him to. But he would get more adventurous if I'd sit back, bite my tongue, and let him explore in his own ways! Plus, it's ok to introduce the same sensory bin at different ages - they'll just get different things from it each time they do it. Maybe at 18mo it's "how far can we throw the pasta," and "wow, gravity works to make the water spill on the floor from the table." And at 3yo it's "interesting, dry pasta is crunchy, and cooked pasta is soft." And at 5yo it's "the red pasta is different from the green!" All are valid and good :)

    1. Thanks Dionna - great advice from someone who goes ahead :) I'm always having to readjust my expectations but that's a good life practice!

  4. As Robby Burns stated in his poem "best laid plans of mice and men often go astray..." At least you are trying and succeeding in giving them a great diverse way of looking at things!

  5. Oh my gosh, I laughed so hard reading this! Thank you!

    When my oldest was an infant I caught onto the idea about babies seeing black and white images more clearly and then I found some "flashcard" type things with swirls, images and shapes. I am embarrassed that I spent time trying to get her to focus on the cards, motivating her to roll over by looking at them, etc. Sensory boxes and activities are so wonderful and as your girls mature they will get more and more out of them. Nothing can be as bad as yabbering at a 2 month old baby to look at flash cards! *Facepalm*

  6. You've got kids who think outside the box (literally) and that's something to be celebrated!

  7. I love this post! We have had our own share of sensory box fails....the chickpeas that we are certain other tenants will be finding for centuries to come....the dyed hands from adding colour to rice....oy. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I really need to do this... but I am paranoid my experiences will be the same. Or trying to figure out how to arrange it so that it is stimulating for both the 1½yo AND the 3½yo... or something.

    Cool thing, when my teen was a baby, my mom got this big dish (made for going under a potted plant to catch water runoff) and we used it under a jumping-in-a-doorjam thing for sensory stimulation... on her feet! She got to sense rice and water (separately)... it was really cool.

  9. AnonymousJune 14, 2013

    I have to constantly remind myself how intriguing it must be for my 18 month old to pour water from one vessel to another, and all over the table and floor. Over. And over. And over. They always want to explore things in their own way don't they?! Funny post, love it!


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