Product Spotlight: Design & Play STEAM Kits

by Kirk Iwasaki | Lakeshore Senior Product Designer

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. It’s where STEM concepts, like critical thinking and engineering, meet the creativity of art. Our Design & Play STEAM Kits help kids integrate artistic flair and STEM knowledge to create vehicles with the perfect balance of good looks and functionality.

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How do kids use the Design & Play STEAM Kits?

Kids use the kits to design and create real-working cars, boats and planes.

They grab their own arts and crafts materials to decorate and add custom details to the precut pieces. Once they’ve built their vehicles, they can add finishing touches.

Next, they test their creations. They might discover that improperly aligned wheels make a car wobble or that acrylic gemstones make a plane too heavy to soar. Kids fine-tune and test their vehicles until they discover an ideal combination of engineering and design.

What will children learn?

Since these kits are open-ended, they cover a variety of concepts. For example, children could learn about:

  • Problem solving—as they troubleshoot through the design process to build their vehicles
  • Cause and effect—as they test and adjust their vehicles
  • Natural forces, such as gravity, motion and buoyancy—as they create flying planes, racing cars and floating boats
  • Communication—as they design with partners

Kids will also learn how to use creativity and perseverance (a key 21st-century skill) to create something unique. That’s what kids love most—creating a one-of-a-kind vehicle that looks and works just the way they like!

Kids Design Their Own Fashions—No Sewing or Cutting Required

Posted by Chelsea Guerrero | Lakeshore Marketing

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Kids start noticing fashion at a young age. This curiosity is cute when they try on your shoes…and not so cute when they use the “grown-up” scissors to cut up your favorite scarf for a new doll dress.

Lakeshore’s My First Fashion Designer kit encourages the creativity, curiosity and independence of early fashion experiments while minimizing the safety issues and worries that could come along with it.

Below, Product Development Manager Lynette Hoy answers my questions about the all-in-one kit that’s a young fashionista’s dream come true.

CG: What inspired My First Fashion Designer?

LH: Even young children are drawn to the glitz and glamour of fashion! We wanted to help kids as young as 4 safely make their own fashions, so we created a design product that requires zero sharp items, such as scissors, needles and pins. This way, even the youngest fashion designers can get creative while safely bringing their stylish dreams to life.

CG: How does My First Fashion Designer work?

LH: This kit comes with the essentials kids need to create fashionable dresses, skirts, tops, wraps and more—all without sewing or cutting. Kids will have a blast mixing and matching the included fabrics and accessories to create tons of different styles. Best of all, kids can create their runway-ready outfits in just three easy steps:

1) Choose a fabric and wrap it around the dress form.

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2) Secure the fabric by pushing our super-safe buttons into a slot in the back of the dress form.

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3) Add accessories—like the included design ribbons—to complete the design!

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CG: What skills can a child develop using this product?

LH: If you’re a parent, you’ll love that My First Fashion Designer helps kids exercise and improve developmental skills. As kids repeat the hand motions needed to manipulate the fabrics and use the buttons, they’ll boost fine motor control while getting better at “dressing” their mannequin. Plus, the kit also helps kids learn to follow simple instructions and exercise their imaginations as they design.

CG: What special considerations did you make to design this product for children 4 and older?

LH: Safety and functionality were our top priorities. While our button fasteners do not have any sharp points, they hold outfits in place like magic. We also included pre-cut fabric pieces in two versatile sizes and pre-cut ribbons so kids could avoid having to use scissors. Using the two sizes we scaled perfectly for the dress form, kids can make anything from a scarf to a full-length dress.

To help young children get started, we also included a colorful guide with step-by-step design directions and bright pictures to provide inspiration.

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CG: What will kids love about this product?

LH: Kids will love unleashing their inner fashion designers with our easy-to-use pieces and dazzling fabrics. And, of course, they’ll adore sharing their work. I had my daughter Presley create a fashion show for the whole family. Her designs were amazing, but my favorite part was seeing her take pride in her creations!

My First Fashion Designer outfits
Everything you need to design over 100 outfits!

Inspire STEM Learning Through Cardboard Creations

Posted by Victoria Montoya | Lakeshore Director of Public Relations

Imagine you’re a kid. Mom and Dad just received a huge package. After you see what’s inside (and discover it’s just a boring appliance), what’s the first thing you do? Play with that glorious, empty box! Is it a car, a robot…a fort? It can be anything you want!

To encourage this kind of creative thinking, Lakeshore’s Research & Development team dreamed up the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit—a set of kid-safe tools and reusable hardware that makes it easy for children to build anything they imagine with an ordinary piece of cardboard.

I sat down with Lynette Hoy, a manager in our Product Development department, to find out more about these cool new tools.

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VM: What inspired the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit?

LH: The son of one of our product developers inspired us. The little boy had a brilliant building idea…he just needed some help from his father to bring it to life.

  • The materials: an old computer-shipping box.
  • The vision: a robot with moving arms.

As the pair tried to make the robot, they found a major hole in their resources: kid-safe tools. Since our developer had to do all the sawing and cutting, his son didn’t get the hands-on experience he could have. That’s when this engineer chose his next product to develop—safe tools to help kids bring their brilliant ideas to life with their own hands.

cardboard creator tool kit
Our kit includes kid-safe tools, reusable hardware, and an activity book. Kids will have a blast!

VM: How can parents guide kids through the designing and building process?

LH: Turn cardboard creating into a family event! Here are some tips:

  1. Start by talking about recycling, then discuss how reusing cardboard can help the environment.
  2. Ask your kids what they want to make! You can make anything you want, but the kit comes with an activity book filled with projects and step-by-step instructions if you need a place to start.
  3. Turn the idea into a plan. Tell your kids planning is a key part of the design process, and explain that a good plan helps the final product turn out perfectly. Have them sketch the overall design, as well as the individual parts. Decide on a good size and gather the materials you need. Before you start creating, outline all the pieces onto the cardboard so you know where to cut. Remind your kids to measure everything before they make any cuts; they’ll want to make sure all sides are equal to build a stable structure.
  4. Keep a discussion going as your kids build. If they run into problems, ask questions to help them persevere and develop solutions. For example, if your kids don’t know how to add moving arms to their robot, ask them to think about what kind of connector they should use. (Hint: Attaching the arm with just one rivet will allow it to move and swivel.)

VM: What STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills does the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit promote?

LH: Our kit is all about using the STEM design process and persevering to take ideas from start to finish, an important 21st-century skill.

We suggest kids build confidence by making the projects in our activity book, so they’re ready to create their very own designs. That’s why we made all the pieces in our kit reusable—so kids can build again and again, boosting their STEM skills in these areas each time they practice:

  • Spatial awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Measurement and data
  • Engineering
  • Structural stability

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VM: What will kids love about this product?

LH: Kids get a rush of pride when they see the final creation and realize they can actually build something they imagined. After that, they can’t wait to discover what else they can make.

Kids also love using our “grown-up” tools. Our tools work just as well as the real thing, and since they look so “official,” they give kids the confidence they need to build.

VM: What are some creative things you’ve seen kids make using the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit?

LH: The possibilities are endless! For example, the kids over at the Lakeshore preschool, Kids & Company, just used the tool kit to make these adorable costumes.

cardboard-costumes

They simply used their imaginations, our tool kit, and some craft materials, including:

No other kids on the block will have costumes like these!

7 STEM Activities You Can Do at Home & Beyond!

by Eric Chyo | Lakeshore Product Development Manager

What would you guess is the most important ingredient for valuable STEM learning? It’s not fancy lab equipment, complicated engineering books or the latest high-tech gadgets. Every kind of STEM learning out there actually hedges on one much simpler concept: curiosity.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, but beyond that intimidating acronym, STEM simply represents a hands-on approach to exploring the world, examining how it works and solving real-life problems. So if you have curious kids, they can practice STEM!

Research shows early STEM learning benefits kids across multiple subjects.1 So while you’ll undoubtedly see more STEM activities popping up in the classroom, don’t let the learning stop there. Get in on the fun and support STEM learning at home with these simple activities (for ages 5 & up) that turn your kiddos into the super-solvers of the future!

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1. Join the maker movement

Celebrate the ultimate creative activity: making stuff. Your kids don’t need expensive equipment or special instruction manuals to start making—just their own creative minds, a few easy-to-find materials and some encouragement. Here are a couple of ways to get your kids making:

  • Turn a regular craft table into a maker space by piling it with any materials you have on hand—like straws, rubber bands, craft sticks, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, plastic foam, tape, glue…and other odds and ends. Ask your kids to build! If they need a little boost, pull up some ideas online and help them build their first creation.
  • Start collecting large cardboard boxes and encourage your kids to find new ways to use them. Kids can make anything imaginable from recycled cardboard—castles, houses, cars, vending machines, robots and rocket ships…the sky’s the limit!

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Having “ready-to-go” materials around helps kids create the moment inspiration hits. Plus, it gives them firsthand experience with the design process!

2. Turn wonder into discovery

Every little question your curious kids ask—and we know they ask a lot—presents a prime opportunity for STEM learning. Whether they ask how the toilet flushes or how the refrigerator light turns off, you can answer tons of questions in our digital age. Simply head online together and investigate the answer.

When you see your kids playing with their favorite toys or eating their favorite treats, ask them to guess how those items were made. After they come up with a solid guess, research How It’s Made videos on YouTube that give kids an up-close look at the manufacturing process of their favorite products. Not only will this help foster a healthy sense of wonder, it will also help kids build up their “bank of knowledge.”

3. Tinker with everyday tools

A child’s daily routine includes tools, gadgets and inventions that all resulted from a design process, and therefore, can be improved. Have your kids brainstorm how they might design even better versions of things they use every day. They might make scissors more comfortable to hold, design a toothbrush for fun brushing or even improve a spoon handle to minimize dribbling.

Ask your kids to sketch their new and improved tool and explain what they’ll change and why it’s an improvement. They can even create a working prototype! For example, kids can work with clay or play dough and old spoons to create a spoon handle for a steadier grip.

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Then have them test out their new design…and watch them get a huge kick out of using something THEY invented. As they design and test, they’ll feel just like real engineers—with the power to improve things and invent from scratch!

4. Take advantage of community workshops & events

Your local hardware stores and craft stores probably provide workshops for awesome make and take projects just for kids. As kids delve into these exciting workshops, they’ll handle tools and materials they don’t have at home, and the more tools kids can use, the more opportunities they have to invent, improve and innovate.

You can even check out local events, camps and science fairs that offer STEM activities…so your kids can get even more hands-on experience with exciting new tools and materials.

5. Meet the inventors of the past…at your local library

Have your kids imagine a world without electricity, medicine or even chocolate chip cookies! Tell them people from the past invented many things we enjoy today. What did those people all have in common? They asked questions, examined possibilities and innovated solutions to improve their world.

Ask your kids what invention they want to learn about—from bicycles to computers and even candy bars! Head to the library and help them find books to answer a few simple questions about their invention:

  • Who invented it?
  • What inspired the inventor’s idea?
  • What materials did the inventor use to create something completely new?

After learning about real-life inventors, kids will be inspired to see if they can be inventors too!

6. Learn up-close at a museum

Nothing brings learning to life quite like your local museum. If your kids love dinosaurs, they’ve probably enjoyed books and movies on the topic, but a museum can awe them with real dinosaur bones! Plus, kids can discover exciting STEM career paths they never knew existed—like becoming a paleontologist!

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7. Observe workers in action

The next time something around the house tragically stops working, turn the disaster into a learning experience! When your plumber, electrician or mechanic arrives, ask if you and your child can observe their work. As you watch, encourage your child to ask questions about their tools and the problems they discover as they work.

Kids can learn so much from watching a worker’s process of tinkering to detect and correct a problem. As kids observe and question, repairing a toilet turns into an educational experience! Plus, since your handyperson will stick around until they solve the problem, kids also learn the importance of persevering to solve problems—an essential STEM skill!


1. National Research Council, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas,” The National Academies Press (2012): 2-4

Have You Met the Lakeshore Kids™?

by Aaron Eskridge | Lakeshore Product Art Director

Lakeshore Kids Sketch with names

Do you love our Lakeshore Kids as much as we do? You know the ones…they hang out on our signs, grace our catalogs and even pop up on our website from time to time. You probably see these smiling kiddos every time you visit our stores…but do you know who they are or where they came from? Just like any other kids, our Lakeshore Kids have a story—and a personality—all their own!

The Lakeshore Kids personify our hope to spark young imaginations, instill a sense of wonder and foster a lifelong love of learning. They represent the heart of Lakeshore so well, you might think we planned it all out—but believe it or not, we weren’t looking to brand our whole company when the Lakeshore Kids stole our hearts!

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The Lakeshore Kids entered the scene on the cover of our 1992 catalog (shown above). The cover features five smiling children standing behind paintings that perfectly match their features—from their outfits all the way down to their skin tones. We hoped to capture the true magic of our new People Colors® Paint…a product we made to help every child create a self-portrait and say, “This is ME!”

After we released the catalog, everyone wanted to see more of the Lakeshore Kids! Artist Ron Ellsworth (affectionately called “Doc” by his co-workers) created digital versions of the kids so we could put them anywhere…from hall passes to store signs. He even gave them their very own names: Alex, Brandy, Ricky, Keisha and Scooter.

Before we knew it, these kids became a beloved symbol of Lakeshore. People loved our kids so much, we even published a book about them called What Do You Want to Be? When teachers toured our offices, they brought their books so Doc could sign them.

Eventually, even our Lakeshore Kids experienced growing pains. While Lakeshore grew like a well-fed teenager, our kids stayed frozen in time…and started looking a little old-fashioned. In 2013, on the kids’ 21st birthday, we decided to let them grow up a little.

We called on artist Brandon Starr to reinvigorate the gang. Brandon’s new concepts gave the kids a modern twist, but kept each of their unique spirits intact. Even better, his lively designs let us show the youngsters doing lots of exciting activities—just like real kids!

Lakeshore Kids Sketch 2

That’s where the story ends…for now! With such big hearts and bright personalities, we know our Lakeshore Kids have only just begun to instill a lifelong love of learning in kids around the world!

Want some Lakeshore Kids to brighten up your life? Here are some of our favorite products:  

Inspiring Children with the Wonder of Science

by Emily McGowan | Lakeshore Early Childhood Product Development Manager

Children are natural investigators. Send them outside, and they’ll soon be following a bug across the sidewalk just to see where it’s going. Hand them a magnifying glass, and watch as they zoom in on everything—and everyone—in the room. Children have lots of questions about their world, and they can’t wait to discover the answers!

Shake & Reveal Science Cards
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By tapping into children’s natural curiosity, parents and teachers can provide focused and meaningful experiences that build fundamental science skills and encourage children to think like scientists. This is important because inquiry-based learning—the ability to ask questions about the world and then go about finding the answers—is becoming more prevalent in today’s society. In response to a need in the modern workforce for critical thinkers and problem solvers, a new focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has emerged in the classroom. So, in order for children to succeed in school and beyond, it is important to get them interested in science at an early age.

When our Research & Development team began brainstorming new ways to captivate young children’s interest in science, we knew it was important for children to experience the thrill of discovery. Kids’ first science experiences should be joyful and magical—which keeps them coming back for more. At the same time, our team wanted to address the core science topics that are included in most early childhood curriculums—introducing fundamental concepts that children will encounter again in the elementary grades.

These ideas led us to create our Shake & Reveal Science Cards. These fascinating cards use the magic of magnetism to introduce concepts—like weather and the parts of a plant—in a super-engaging way.

Each activity card has a question at the top for children to investigate, such as What happens when a volcano erupts? To answer the question, children just slide the card into the included window box, give the box a shake—and presto! Magnetic shavings inside the box stick to the card in just the right way—creating a fun picture that reveals the answer!

Because the product works through the power of magnetism, the cards can be used again and again. Kids just pull the cards out to “erase” the picture and try a brand-new one. Plus, the magnetic filings are fully contained inside the box—for safe, mess-free exploration.

While children will be delighted to reveal one picture after another, the activity can also provide a springboard for additional learning:

  • On the backs of the cards, children will find the answers written in word form to help boost early reading skills and science vocabulary, along with intriguing facts about each topic. In this way, the cards provide a great way to introduce a topic and then launch into a deeper investigation. Adults can ask guided questions to extend learning, such as, What time of year do you usually see snow? Besides snow, what else can fall from the clouds? Can you describe any other types of weather?
  • The window box can also be used alone—without the cards—to explore the concept of magnetism. Glide a small magnet over the box to show how the magnet attracts the shavings inside the box.
  • Encourage children to use the window box and a magnet to explore the power of magnetism on their own. Then challenge children to create an artistic design using the magnet and shavings!

By providing opportunities like these for young children to investigate scientific concepts in an exciting, hands-on way, they will gain an early interest in scientific investigation—and explore foundational science concepts they will build on in the future.

Set Off a Chain Reaction of Fast-Paced STEM Learning

Posted by Emily Leong | Lakeshore Marketing Manager

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When you were a kid, did you ever build a wobbly tower of household objects to reach your mom’s secret stash of cookies? That was some good problem solving, huh? Children are natural problem solvers. They confront obstacles with dauntless imagination—whether they’re searching for a lost earring or creating a makeshift fort. Every day, kids are making incredible things happen—so just imagine what they might do if we gave their innate problem-solving skills a boost!

That’s what Lakeshore’s R&D team had in mind when they developed the Create-A-Chain Reaction STEM Kit – K–Gr. 2! It’s a fast-paced and totally addictive way to help kids develop 21st-century skills like problem solving as they create chain reaction courses…then watch them come to life! I sat down with the kit’s lead developer, Kirk Iwasaki, to learn why kids can’t get enough of this kit.

Create-A-Chain Reaction

EL: For starters, can you tell us how the Create-A-Chain Reaction STEM Kit works?  

KI: I can do more than tell you—I can show you! Just take a look at the Create-A-Chain Reaction STEM Kit in action!

Basically, kids set up their very own chain reaction tracks made of ramps, pendulums, hammers and more. When they’re done building, they’ll drop a ball on the track to test their design. If the ball misses the goal, kids have to figure out what went wrong and fine-tune their course until the ball makes it all the way through.

EL: What inspired the Create-A-Chain Reaction STEM Kit?

KI: I’ve always been inspired by the work of inventor and cartoonist Rube Goldberg.  He illustrated crazy contraptions that really got me thinking: what if we brought his contraptions to life? His inventions would be the perfect way to teach STEM concepts…and I knew kids would go nuts for them!

EL: What will kids love about this product?

KI: Getting the ball to the goal! With each miss, kids have a priceless “so close” moment that motivates them to make tweaks and try again. When the ball hits home, they feel a huge rush of accomplishment. Next thing you know, they’re asking, “What can I do next…?”

Kids might have to design, test and redesign their track many times before they get it right. But that’s a normal part of the process…and a key to building STEM skills!

Create-A-Chain Reaction
EL: Why is the process of testing and redesigning so important for building STEM skills?

KI: The design process is a major component of STEM, which simply stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The process teaches kids to work through mistakes, learn from them and strive for successful solutions. It’s all about perseverance—an essential 21st-century skill!

EL: What special considerations did you make to design this kit for children in kindergarten, first grade and second grade?

KI: For one, we made super-durable pieces to stand up to years of active play. We also made the pieces chunky so they would be easy for kids to handle and manipulate.

Even the design cards are perfect for kids! Each card shows kids how to build a chain reaction step-by-step and outlines how to use each piece. Plus, we leveled the cards, so kids can take on more challenging chain reactions as their confidence grows. When they’re ready, kids can graduate to our Gr. 3-5 kit!

EL: What happens if a child masters every track?

KI: Then they have mastered the kit, but the fun doesn’t stop there! Kids can keep inventing their very own chain reaction tracks—the possibilities are endless!
Create-A-Chain Reaction Kids

3 Tips to Assist Teachers with Struggling Readers

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

Sky Rocket

  1. Help students break long, challenging words into recognizable pieces. When struggling readers try to decode long and unfamiliar words, they often decode the first syllable but then simply guess the rest of the word. Prior to reading a text, pull out a few of the multisyllable words that readers may have difficulty decoding. Use magnetic letters to build the words and then separate them into recognizable parts. For example, you might break the word skyrocket into sky and rocket. Alternatively, give students an activity sheet with the challenging words printed on it and cover the words with a transparency sheet. Give students a wet-erase marker and ask them to break down each multisyllable word by circling parts they recognize. For example, when analyzing the word destruction, a reader might circle “de,” “struc” and “tion.” Then help readers sound out each part that was circled and blend the sounds together.
  2.  To strengthen comprehension, provide a purpose for reading and preview a text prior to reading. Many struggling readers can easily read and decode individual words—but have difficulty getting meaning from a text. To help this type of struggling reader, start by providing a purpose or motivation for reading, such as learning more about a topic they find interesting. Next, walk readers through a text before they actually begin reading. For informational texts, point out common text features, including the title, photos and photo captions, illustrations and diagrams, and headings and subheadings. Discuss what students think will be in the text based on what they see. By previewing the text in this way, students begin focusing on meaning right away. Write down students’ thoughts so that you can go back and discuss their predictions as they read to see if they were correct. Another technique to assist students with comprehension is to provide two or three text-based questions before students begin reading. Tell readers that the answers to these questions can be found in the text. As students read the text, they should think about what they’re reading and find the answers to these questions, and be able to show where in the text they found the answers. By doing this, students become more aware of what they are reading and begin to interact with the text as they read.
  3. Use graphic organizers to help students focus on essential information and boost comprehension. Readers who struggle with comprehension can benefit from filling out graphic organizers as they read. Graphic organizers help students break down information, keep track of what they are reading and separate important information from less essential information. Graphic organizers also help organize the information presented in a text so that students can make connections more easily. Start by giving struggling readers a graphic organizer that is partially filled out, asking them to fill in the missing information while they read. Gradually fill out less and less information for students until they are able to fill out the graphic organizers entirely on their own.

Promoting Early Development with Sensory Sand

by Emily McGowan | Lakeshore Early Childhood Product Development Manager

Have you ever picked up something you didn’t want to put down?  Maybe it was a squishy stress ball or a puppy with soft, fluffy fur.  Tactile experiences like these are not only enjoyable, but they also play a key role in kids’ brain development.  When we encourage children to use their hands and fingers to touch and explore, we’re helping stimulate their cognitive, language and social-emotional growth—while also boosting physical skills like fine muscle control, which kids will use for everything from tying their shoes to writing their name.

Sensory Sand
When our Research & Development team started looking at different ways to give kids these important tactile experiences, we focused in on a cool new material called sensory sand.  This amazing sand looks like regular sand, but it behaves differently—sticking together and moving almost as if it were liquid.  This creates a fascinating sensory experience for children—which got us thinking.  How could we challenge kids to find new ways to manipulate this wonderfully unique material?  What if kids used the sensory sand to build and design?  By creating the right opportunities, could we help kids develop problem-solving skills as they explore the sand?

As we began answering those questions, the Mold & Play Sensory Sand Play Set was born! To get kids building & exploring, we paired up the sensory sand with castle and brick molds to create 3-D sand sculptures.  We also added sculpting tools to make custom shapes and designs, plus a roller to experiment with flattening the sand.  Finally, we included a roomy tray to hold the sand and materials as kids play, which also makes the kit mess-free—a feature that all of us parents and teachers can appreciate!

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Kids love playing with the materials and making their own discoveries, but we found that we can also guide their learning by challenging them to use the sand in new ways.

  1. You can ask kids to form the sand into a ball—then observe what happens when they slowly press down on the shape with their hand. Ask, What shape is it now? 
  2. Invite children to figure out the best way to flatten the sand, and then draw a picture in it.
  3. Challenge kids to create bricks with the square and rectangle molds and stack them in two separate towers. Then ask, Which is the tallest? Which stands up the longest? 

Sensory Sand

If you’re working with children with special needs, you may also find the sand beneficial.  For example, the sand can be used to keep children’s hands busy while they’re learning something else.  You may also notice that some children with autism gravitate toward this material because it doesn’t stick to their skin.

No matter how kids use our Mold & Play Sensory Sand Play Set, we hope they’ll enjoy hours of hands-on sensory fun that engages their minds and bodies—and make lots of exciting discoveries to help them understand and connect with their world.