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Sheet Sensation

Age: 0 to 8+
Time: Under 1 hour
Materials: plain bed sheet, mallets (optional), rolling pins (optional)

Sheet Play Activity for Kids

Got bored kids? Hand them an old bed sheet and watch it transform into a fort ceiling, a hauling tool, and an impromptu game of tug-of-war. In fact, we have an activity dedicated to just that (See Not a Sheet). But as much as we love the simple power of playing with a sheet in endless ways, we also like to take things up a notch -- and so do our kids. When our girls decided they wanted to give the old bed sheet we used for play a makeover, they reached for the fabric markers. Instead, we redirected them outdoors to see what they could find to give the sheet an update. Eureka: we discovered Nature’s Tie-Dye.

The kids scoped out colorful things in the yard and garden -- berries, goldenrod, green leaves, and dirt. Then we all went to work. Armed with spray bottles, mallets, rolling pins and, best of all, our hands, elbows, knees and feet, we mashed, stomped, and rolled the color out of all of that nature and onto our sheet. It was a full-body, fabulous sensory experience that we have since repeated with many classes. It’s good, productive, messy fun -- creative and gratifying for all involved.

The Guide

  1. Set the stage: Select an old bed sheet or a few old pillowcases (the types you won’t mind donating to the cause). Plain and light-colored works best. Gather the sheet, some water (with spray bottles if you have them), a mallet or rolling pin, and head outdoors. Talk about how you can take this ordinary bed sheet and turn it into “our special sheet,” making it festive and colorful. Wonder together, “Where could we find color out here?”
  2. Collect colorful (and fragrant) stuff: Walk around together, keeping your eyes peeled for colorful plants and other features of your landscape. Give each child a bucket and carry your own sack to collect items. Announce, “Let’s gather as many colorful things as we can!” Then snip berries (reminding children that these do NOT go into mouths), small tree limbs, flowers, and other greenery. Even if the colors aren’t vivid, herbs like sage and basil can be especially stimulating on a sensory level -- the smells are fantastic. (If you feel like you need a few more colors, toss in couple of pantry items -- turmeric, paprika, and beets are great examples of natural pigments.)
  3. Experiment with your found materials: Bring your stash back to your sheet and ask, “How can we get the color from these objects onto our sheet?” Now is a great time to introduce a little bit of water and model how to use it -- a spritz or sprinkle will help the pigment from flowers, grasses and other plants stain the sheet. Magical! Let kids get creative and find their groove with this.
  4. Channel I Love Lucy: Remember the episode where Lucy and Ethel stomp grapes? Place some berries under a corner of the sheet, and use a mallet, stick, or your hands or feet to smash the berries into the fabric, oohing and ahhing as you do. Once you’ve got the kids intrigued, welcome the group to tuck their berries and other plants under the whole sheet, throw off shoes, and stomp away. If you are into singing, sing and stomp to make this even more joyful -- and make use of just about every one of the senses. Talk about extrasensory perception!

Why is this activity great for kids?

This activity is sensory stimulation without actually being overwhelming. Because the ingredients are natural and the project is low-key (it’s just an old bed sheet, after all), kids can engage their senses of sight, smell, and touch as they work. It’s also a surprisingly physical activity for what’s essentially an art project. So much learning during the early years takes place through direct physical experience, and this activity calls on your child’s whole body. Kids also learn a lot about cause and effect as they turn natural materials into pulp (not to mention a clean sheet into a tapestry). The very act of transforming objects is an engaging brain-building behavior pattern that children exhibit in all cultures. Finally, even very small children are building a foundation for creative, flexible thinking when they confront an open-ended “problem” and come up with a (very messy) way to “solve” it. All this -- plus plain old fun -- from an old bed sheet!

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