I’m a big fan of small parts for sensory and small world play in general, and especially the safari LTD animal Toobs, but no single set has gotten more use than these penguins! (affiliate link) I’m not sure what it is about penguins that makes them so inviting, but they are a huge hit in any medium!
Maybe it’s because their natural habitat is so simple- snow and ocean- so it’s easy to reproduce with simple sensory materials! There are a million things you could use to simulate the Antarctic landscape, but here are a few of my favorites;
1. Penguin Sensory Play- Rice and Glass Gems
White rice is such an easy and cheap sensory filler, but it feels amazing and it’s always a big hit! Add some enticing glass gems (you can usually find these in the floral section of the dollar store) and you’ve got a lovely sensory play invitation in just a few minutes!
2. Penguin Sensory Play- Fake Snow
This “snow” is cool to the touch, molds into hills and snowmen, and smells amazing! Start with baking soda, and add white conditioner, stirring gently, until it’s just crumbly. You can mix in glitter for a little extra sparkle! This is one of my favorite sensory play recipes because it’s so versatile and fun to play with!
3. Penguin Sensory Play- Ice and Water!
This one takes a tiny bit of planning but is still super easy! The day before you want to play, fill a few containers with water, add some blue food coloring, and put them in the freezer. When you’re ready for play time, fill your sensory tub with warm water, then put in your ice bergs! The penguins can float on them as they melt, and your kiddos will love watching the ice floes slowly color the water blue! This one is fun in the winter, but even better on a hot summer day!
(This setup looks especially cool because it’s lit from below- we were playing on our EASY DIY 2-in-1 Light Table and Sensory Bin! If you don’t have a light table and/or sensory bin, I highly suggest you check it out!)
4. Penguin Small World Play- Paper Diorama
All you need for this one are four sheets of construction paper- 3 blue, one white, scissors and glue. Find out how to make the paper Diorama here- Super Simple DIY Paper Dioramas!
Paper dioramas take just minutes to assemble, and are a great prompt for open ended play. Your child can decorate it however they like (I used silver star stickers), and add some cotton balls or other pretend “snow” if desired. The diorama is lightweight and could even be folded for storage or to take on the go!
5. Penguin Small World- Cardboard Box Antarctica
If you’re excited about making a penguin Small world invitation to play, and you’re feeling a little fancier than some folded paper, a cardboard box diorama might be for you!
I used an amazon shipping box that was relatively short and wide. Trim the top flaps off and cut away part of the front so it’s easy for little hands to reach in. Glue the bottom flaps down, if necessary.
Paint the walls like the sky- for a more realistic effect, start with blue around the top, then add a little white and paint the next stripe, then add a little more white, etc, blending as you go to create an ombré effect. The real sky is darker at the top and gets whiter the closer you are to the horizon. Paint the bottom of the box a darker blue for the ocean (you can add some wave textures and details if you want) then glue a piece of white felt down on one side of the box to create a snowy landscape. Even with all the painting, this probably only took me about 15 minutes to create! Once again, you can add some cotton ball “snow” or other details if you like!
Need even more penguin play ideas? You could try;
-Making playdough without food coloring so it’s white like snow (there’s a recipe here: “Leonardo the Terrible Monster” Play-Dough Activity)
-Cornstarch and Shaving Cream Foam Dough (leave out the food coloring for a snowy look!)
-Just spray a “snow pile” of shaving cream (or whipped cream for an edible sensory treat) and have fun!
Where will your penguins go first?
Leave a comment and let me know!
If you’re teaching about winter animals, you and your kids will definitely enjoy this Winter Animal Adaptations Song!
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