Sensory Hot Dog

 

 

The idea for the Sensory Hotdog came from a Southpaw product found here.  L and J both like deep pressure, it is calming and helps them get organized, especially before tasks like writing or math.  If you don’t mind using bedroom pillows or couch cushions, they work just as well.  I did mind having our pillows on the floor, however I was not willing to spend $300-$500 to remedy the situation.  So, I made our hotdog for about $35 and it was super easy.

I bought 5 yards of  thick, but soft, khaki fabric for the “bun”.  I simply folded the fabric in half and sewed around three sides, then turned right side out.  Next I sewed a double fold hem on the fourth side and sewed one long seam down the middle to create the top and bottom of the bun.  Last I sewed Velcro on the open ends so the filling can be removed and the cover can be washed.  I stuffed one side of the bun with two body pillows, the other side i filled with chunks of high density foam and polyfill stuffing.

For the ketchup and mustard I just sewed long tubes and filled with a mixture of polyfill and poly pellets – they weigh about 8 pounds each. I used a green mottled fabric to sew two random blob shapes for relish which I filled with smaller foam chunks and a little bit of poly pellets – the relish weighs about 4 pounds each.

 We already had body sox for the children (hotdogs).

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Sensory Room

 

 We have had sensory areas throughout our home for many years but longed for a “real” sensory room.  The cost of setting up my dream room from Snoezelen was many thousands of dollars and would clearly never happen.  I spent hours pouring through websites, catalogs and Pinterest for ideas and eventually came up with a list of our “must haves”.  Next I determined what I could make myself, how to replicate some sensory items with items that were similar in effect (but with a much smaller price tag), and what I would need to purchase.  I researched products and prices all over the globe!  Nearly every product was much more expensive through special needs catalogs/suppliers than it was anywhere else (toy stores, teacher supply stores, Amazon, pet stores, etc.).

Another consideration was that our room still had to serve as a physical therapy room, play room and homeschool room so the sensory items had to fit into the space without taking over.    

 

 This is our reading nook.  The white board is made from a piece of shower board, the fabric organizer holds the markers.  I made a blanket and furry pillow to provide different textures.

The lights are outdoor Christmas globes that we have had for several years but never used.  I tied leftover white tulle together and wrapped it around the globes to soften the light.

The chandelier adds some sparkle, especially when other lights are on in the room.  I used fishing line to attach beads to a  metal base (which held lotion received as a Christmas gift last year). 

We have swing hooks attached to the ceiling beams at each end of the room so at least two people can swing at the same time.  This is a Currambera Hammock Swing Lounger.  It’s very soft and supportive with a weight limit of 300 pounds so it can hold two people (the colors are really fun too!).

 

Just to the right of the reading nook I added an LED color changing bulb.  There is a remote control making it very interactive.  You can choose one specific color, fading colors of different speeds or even flashing and strobe light effects.  I hung a paper lantern from the dollar store over the bulb to soften and diffuse the light.

 I hung a white sheet over a large bookcase, to reduce visual clutter and serve as a screen for lighting effects.  I installed blacklights ($12 each from Menards) to both sides

 as well as the ceiling in front of the bookcase.  This provides plenty of light for our sensory table.

 I found a bag of random wooden items (beads, blocks, craft sticks, etc.) for $2 and painted everything in a variety of florescent paint colors.  I also added inexpensive items as I found them such as random fluorescent KNEX parts ($.50), jelly bracelets ($1), pony beads ($3), pipe cleaners ($2), and a number of Glo Fish aquarium accessories from the local pet store.

I made a large Lite Brite with a scrap of peg board, duct tape and pool noodles.  The “pegs” are simply fluorescent pipe cleaners cut into thirds.   

Of course the sensory table is fun with the lights on, too.

 

Most sensory rooms feature lighting effects.  There are projectors, rotators and wheels required putting the cost well over $1,500!  This is way out of our price range, plus I wanted something portable so it could be used in the bathroom (J will not take a bath, but she will go in a sensory tub – I’ll post on that another time) and bedrooms as well.  Our solution is the Aurora.  There are no wheels to change and it was a grand total of $15.55 including the adapter!  The colors can be changed, steady, fading slowly or changing quickly.  The lights have a very soothing wave like movement.  It can powered with an adapter or with batteries.  The Aurora works in a small room or large room, covering the walls and ceiling.  The photos above show some of the different settings on our white screen (sheet). 

 Our top priority for our sensory room was a bubble tube column.  The cost for a bubble column corner (mirrors, column and platform) was a minimum of $3,800 – again, that was out of the question!  

I figured out how to make a bubble tube, mostly using aquariumaquariumaquariumaquarium supplies.  However, the cost of the acrylic cylinder alone was cost prohibitive.  I did find some portable bubble columns that were more affordable but they were also pretty small.  Finally, I discovered Sensamart when I ordered some of their chewies through a different catalog.  I checked out their website and found this amazing bubble column for only $119.  At over 4 feet tall and 4″ in diameter it’s the perfect size for our space.  The colors fade gently and the bubble speed is adjustable.    

 Acrylic mirrors were much more expensive than I imagined they would be.  I purchased one large mirror and attached it to the wall, it was very thin and at $50, still more than I wanted to spend.  So, for the other side of the corner, I attached mirror trays with Command Velcro strips.  The trays were only $22 for a set of six and are very sturdy.  We can also remove them to use with the light table and other projects. 

 I built the padded bubble column platform myself for just under $13.  See the tutorial here.  It’s very comfortable, padded and the perfect size for our space while still roomy enough for two.

 Next to the bubble tube is our crash pit.  I was super excited to discover A K Athletics.  They offer affordable crash pits, gym mats and other foam products in custom colors.  We chose a purple crash pit, 60″ x 60″.  The pit has a full floor mat which makes it very sturdy, more shock absorbent and allows  the pit to be moved easily.  Every once in a while I slide it out into the middle of the room and let the children crash into it from the trapeze bar or buoy swing.

 Cloud Nine is L’s favorite activity at occupational therapy.  Again, it was not in the budget.  Also, it wasn’t the right size and I really didn’t like the grey colored cover.  So I waited until just before Halloween when this ultra soft teal velour was on sale at Hancock Fabrics for only $2.30 a yard. I purchased nine yards and made a cover to fit the crash pit, then stuffed it with chunks of high density foam.  The bottom has a velcro opening so the foam can be refilled or removed for washing.

 More Command Velcro strips on the walls allow for hanging panels (like the latches board).  I can easily change the panels without damaging the wall.

I also added glow in the dark stars from the dollar store and self-adhesive mirror circles around the room to reflect the lights.

Above the crash pit is my favorite light feature.  I found LED rope lights on clearance at Walmart for $6.  I bought two sets and attached them to the ceiling beams with the included clips.  I found 20 yards of blue shimmer fabric at the thrift store for $4!  I folded it in half and hung it over the rope lights.  I made the light blocking curtain from leftover fabric from another project.

The crash pit in action! 

We saw a linelite shower here.  However, at $225 it was another out of budget item.  I made my own budget friendly version for $25 using a thick piece of rigid foam cut into a circle and then attaching fluorescent parachute cord.

     

 The little glowing eggs in the photos are Oggz.  They slowly change colors and can be moved and carried around the house.  It comes with a charging base so there are no batteries to replace.

   

 The glowing round balls are swimming pool toys purchased at Walmart for $2.50 each.  The colors slowly change or can be set to a steady glow of one color.  They float in water which makes a nice addition to water play in the sensory table.

Swinging… 

 There is still plenty of space in the middle of the room for physical therapy, obstacle courses, playing in the Sensory Hot Dog (above)…

 and playing with the Lego and Activity table (tutorial here).

DIY Bubble Column Platform

 

When designing our sensory room I knew I wanted a platform for the bubble column.  The primary reason – to keep it from tipping over, secondly for a comfortable place to sit or curl up and enjoy the bubbles.  I looked at many platforms online and in catalogs but I couldn’t find one that would work for us.  They were all too expensive, the wrong size/shape and were covered in white (or institutional blue) vinyl.  Sensory wise, my kiddos prefer soft fabrics and typically don’t like the feel or “coldness” of vinyl.  I didn’t like white – I wanted a darker color that would kind of disappear in low lighting.  And I am personally sick of the institutional blue color that every special needs or therapy product seems to come in.  So, I decided to make a platform myself…

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I used scrap wood (2×6’s) to build a frame.  I added support in the middle so the platform would be sturdy and not bounce; and left an area in the back (bottom right in the photo) to hold the base of the bubble column and allow for the electrical cord to go through.

I used wood screws to attach a sheet of plywood on top of the base (ours was 29.5″ inches square).  Next, I marked where the column would need to go through the platform and drilled a one inch hole in the middle.  Then I could get the jigsaw blade inside the circle and cut it out.  I did a dry fit over the bubble column to check placement and size.  I wanted to have a little room around the column to allow for upholstering but not so much space that things would get dropped into the crevice.  I did have to enlarge my first cut to get just the right fit. Then I sanded all the edges and rounded the corners a bit.  I also wrapped the cut out for the column in duct tape to prevent the bubble column from getting scratched.

While it would have been easier to have one large piece of high density foam to use for the cushion, I had several smaller pieces that came as packing material for the crash pit.  Since thick, quality foam is quite expensive I decided to use what we already had available (“free” generally wins at our house).  I used a little tacky glue to attempt to hold the foam in place after I had it cut and arranged.  However, that did NOT work.

I wrapped the top and sides of the platform in quilt batting and attached it with my upholstery stapler which did keep the foam in place.

I found some soft knit fabric and Walmart  for $1.50 a yard!  I love the gold flecks.  Because it is thinner than upholstery fabric, I folded it in half and sewed around the edges creating a two-ply fabric before securing it with the upholstery stapler.

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Figuring out how the finish the hole for the column took a little thought…

I poked a hole in the center of the circle, then cut towards the edge making four triangle flaps.  I cut a piece of thick black felt into four equal rectangles, then sewed the long edge of each rectangle to the knit fabric, creating a four flaps.  Once the flaps were each tucked inside, none of the wood or foam was visible.

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I positioned the bubble column where I wanted it, lifted the platform over the top and plugged in the motor.

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Finished!

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Plenty of room to sit (photo taken before I added the mirrors)
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Two children can fit on the platform…

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Mirrors in the corner add so much!  Unbreakable acrylic mirrors are expensive as well, so I bought one large mirror for the wall and attached three mirrored trays (with Command Velcro strips) to the bookcase side of the corner.  They were only $5 each and I can take them down to use with the light table, building blocks, symetry, etc.

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My 15 year old even has plenty of room to sit…

Cost Breakdown:

wood scraps for frame: free (on hand)

plywood top: $8.00

foam for seat: free

batting: on hand

fabric: $4.50

felt: on hand

Total cost: $12.50!

Pretty amazing, especially considering that to purchase a platform would be at least $600, and would still not be in the color or fabric that we wanted.

Easy DIY Reversible Lego Activity Table with Storage

I wanted a reversible Lego and activity table for my children.  I looked at new and used tables but could not find any that would work for us.  The new tables were too expensive, most were flimsy, too small, too short and lacked storage.  So, I designed and built my own table.  The children love to play on it and I am in love with the storage!   Legos are great for building, fine motor skills, creative play, etc. but my kiddos NEVER wanted to put away or take apart ANY of their creations.  So, we moved the Legos off the dining room table when it was time to eat, moved them off the couch when we wanted to sit and I basically spent hours (well, it seemed like it) moving Legos around every day.  Now we can put the finished creations in the table when it’s time to use the table for something else (light box time, playdo, puzzles, etc.).  Also, we never had a good place to keep our light box before.

Supply List:

  • 2′ x 4′ plywood 3/4″
  • 2′ x 4′ hardboard or 1/4″ plywood
  • (2) 1×8 at 4′ feet length each
  • (2) 1×8 at 2′ length each
  • (1) 2 foot long 2×2
  • (4) 1×2 at 2′ length each (or one board 8′ long)
  • (4) 1×2 at 4′ length each (or 2 8′ boards)
  • wood screws
  • wood glue
  • wood filler
  • (2) handles (optional)
  • primer
  • paint
  • polyurethane
  • chalk board paint
  • (8) Lego baseplates 10″ x 10″
  • Loctite for plastic
  • *Optional: wood for legs or pre-finished legs in desired length

Tools Needed:

  • screwdriver
  • drill
  • sander and sandpaper
  • saw (power or hand)
  • tape measure
  • square
  • paint brush
  • paint roller

**All joints are made by applying wood glue, pre-drilling countersink holes and then screwing together with wood screws.  Use the longest screw possible without going all the way through the second piece of wood.  I used screws in three sizes for this project: 3/4″, 1 1/4″ and 2″.  i prefer to use screws with square drilling points since they don’t strip as easily as the standard heads.

1. Build a rectangle shaped box with the 2×8’s.  For strength, alternate boards so they attach at the end on the right, and on a side on the left (see photo); using a carpenter’s square to check each corner.

2. Cut 3/4″ off of the end of each of four 1×2’s.  These will be the furring strips to support the bottom of the storage compartment.  Line up each piece so it is flush with the outside of the box.  Overlap previous joints (like building with Legos) to increase strength and attach.

3. Now flip the box over so that the furring you just added is on the bottom.

4. Use a jigsaw or handsaw to cut the hardboard so that it fits snugly inside the box (mine is 23 1/4″ x 47 1/4″).  *Covering the area to be cut with masking tape prevents chipping of hardboard, plywood, etc..  Attach board to furring strips.  Avoid using screws in the four corners if you plan to attach legs later.

5. Cut the 2×2 into four 4.5″ pieces (these will be the supports to line up the upper furring strips and will also provide a place to attach optional legs later).

6. Attach one support in each corner.

7. Cut each of the two remaining four foot 1×2’s into lengths of 47 1/2″. Attach vertically to the inside of the box (one on each side) resting on the supports placed in step 6. Cut the remaining two foot 1×2’s into lengths of 21 3/4″ and attach as shown.

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8. Fill all screw holes with wood filler and allow to dry.

9. Check the fit of the plywood top now. It should be large enough so that it overhangs and rests on the furring strips, but there also needs to room to easily lift it up without scraping the sides of the table (Remember that primer, paint and poly will add additional width). I needed to sand down about 1/16″ on one end. Next, mark the center of the table top and drill holes to attach a handle on each long side, about 1″ from the edge (be certain the handle will clear the furring strips when inside of the table). Attach one handle on the side for the Lego plates, flip the top over and attach a handle on the chalkboard side. *Alternately, you could drill finger holes and skip adding handles.

10. Sand the entire piece thoroughly, paying special attention to joints.  I also semi-rounded every side of every board (inside, outside and corners) to ensure there would be no sharp edges anywhere.

11. At this point you can add leg hardware if desired. There are too many styles and sizes of legs to list here. I chose to use a plate system (4 plates at $1.56 each). Once the plates are installed you simply screw in the legs of your choice. The plates I selected are 2 1/2″ square so I attached an additional 1×2 to the bottom of each end of the table. This provided a 3″ square area to attach the plates.

 

13. Paint entire piece.  I painted the chalkboard side of the top first since it requires three coats and at least 3 days for curing. 

I used a scissors to poke four holes on the bottom of a cardboard box and used that to hold the legs in place while drying.

14.  Apply 3 coats of polyurethane to the base, allowing each coat to dry and sanding lightly (I use a sanding sponge for this) in between coats.  Do not apply poly to the table top at this point.  You will not apply poly to the chalkboard side at all, applying poly to any exposed areas on the Lego side should be done after attaching the Lego plates to ensure adhesion.

15. Apply felt bumpers to the top of the furring strips that support the table top.  This will prevent scratching.

16. Arrange Lego plates as desired on table top.  **Very important: use Lego bricks to connect each plate to the others.  This will give you the correct spacing so that lego structures can be built and secured anywhere on the table.  Use Loctite for plastic to adhere the plates and either clamp until dry or place heavy items such as books on top of the plates.

*If you have younger children and want to start with Duplos, I recommend attaching the Duplo plates with Command velcro strips.  This will hold the plates securely but still allow you to remove them and switch to Legos in the future.

17. Screw in the legs, insert the top and you are finished!

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 The legs are 21″.  This makes the table the perfect height to work with our fit balls, chairs, stools or just standing.

The purple chair used to look like this.  I found it at the thrift store for $2.75 and primed and painted it while I was working on the table.

Cost:

Lumber, screws and wooden legs were $46.  I used aspen, you could use pine and cut the cost dramatically.

Lego plates were $4.99 each from Amazon, I used 8 for a total of $40.  If you use fewer base plates or already have the plates, your cost will be less.

I needed to purchase chalk board paint ($13), primer (Zissner 123 $11) and paint (Valspar enamel in Sugar Plum $14).  I do have quite a bit of paint leftover for future projects.  Again, if you already have the paint you need it will reduce the cost of the project.

Total: $124

Time:

One afternoon to build the table, 5 days for priming, painting, applying poly and curing/drying.  *It was in the 50’s when I started and snowing by the time it was finished!  Cold temperatures increase drying time.

Our School Room(s)

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The study


 

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The school room

We actually have two rooms that we use for homeschool – one in our basement and the study on the main level.  Our home’s main level is just shy of 1,000 square feet so many rooms serve multiple purposes.  The school room in the basement is also used as a therapy room, sensory room, play room and sewing room.

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This is the sensory corner where the sensory table lives and in this photo we have the blue “crash mat” out as well. I change the theme of the sensory bin every week and alternate what is in the corner every 3-4 weeks (crash mat, trampoline, ball pit, etc.).

 

 

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Sensory bin for Katy and the Big Snow


 

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Book ledge made out of scraps…


 

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I Spy Tray


 

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Pathfinder is usually on the wall below the book ledge.

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Light box and sensory supplies.

 

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Colored rice and translucent chips in canning jars. 

 

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Plant cell model made out of scraps of rigid insulation glued together.

 

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DIY light box


Behind the curtain is a monstrous old entertainment center turned into a sewing cabinet and storage for large items like globes.     

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I keep patterns in Ikea baskets and fabric on little bolts of foam board.  I have a large drawer unit (where the TV would go) for scraps and felt.  An Ikea Bygel rail and cups installed on the side allows for easy access to the most used items.

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We use folding tables for our work area because we need to be able to quickly and easily move the tables to make room for therapy and other activities.  The gray tops were not very inspiring so I painted one teal and decoupaged a cute fabric map on top, then covered with epoxy resin.  The other table was painted black and the younger children were each given a third of the table to create a mosaic design.  The “glass” is cut up scraps of cardstock and watercolor paintings.

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Close-up of mosaic table.


              

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My desk area.


 

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Hanging storage out of file folders and duct tape.


 

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Children’s art in easy front load frames (Wal-mart).

 

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Storage unit painted black on turned to the side stores frequently used items. The side and what would be the back have black hooks and magnetic strips to hold headphones, adaptive mouse, PT exercises and more.

 

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Our reading nook

 

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White board (made from inexpensive shower board and duct tape) with Ikea picture wire and clips above for displaying artwork, maps and charts.

 

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Stairs leading to the schoolroom are painting in contrasting colors with shredded rubber added to the paint to create a non-slip surface. Ikea grip strips and handrails on both sides of the stairwell help L safely maneuver the stairs.

 

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Oil pan screwed to wall for magnetic play.

 

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Ugly storage cabinets updated with paint, new hardware and chalkboard contact paper. Puzzles, art supplies and teachers manual are stored inside. 

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Next to the white cabinets are five bookcases. The short bookcase in the middle houses picture books and easy readers with paper storage above. I keep file folder games in the purple crates and the pieces in binder pouches hooked on (what I think are belt?) hangers.

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   file_folder_games.JPG hs3DSCN5520This bookshelf houses FIAR and geography (above) as well as history and reference materials.

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hs5 The bookcase to the left holds science, art, bible and chapter books to be assigned during the year.hs6

 


 

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Spinning shoe rack for puppet storage.

DSCN5556DSCN5558DSCN4770DSCN5504DSCN5115Additional views of the school room and set up for therapy.  

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This bookcase holds current read-alouds, library books, poetry, cookbooks, field guides and educational games. Can you believe my dad built this in junior high shop class?


 

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Oversized book holder made out of a shipping box and fabric scraps. 


 

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Small bulletin board made from foam board and fabric.


 

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J’s desk – old Little Tykes table painted and embellished with her favorite things (flags, watertowers and fire hydrants) and covered with several coats of epoxy resin.


 

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Ikea Trofast storage holds pencils, scissors, fidgets, chewies, OT supplies, and math manipulatives. Photos of each drawer’s contents are laminated and attached with velcro to help the children put away their things.


 

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J’s weekly schedule is attached to the side of the Ikea unit.


 

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View from the front door.


 

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C has a large desk with lots of storage.


 

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Storage bench houses speech and social skills resources as well as bird guides and binoculars. I made the bench from an Ikea Expedit shelf, added legs and a seat from plywood and furniture foam. It is upholstered with outdoor fabric for easy care

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