We made a new science creation for the kids today. It’s sensory. It’s scientific. It’s fun. My husband described it this way as he grabbed a handful of it: “This feels transgressive!” He’s not really the kind to get his hands dirty 🙂 The best part? It required only two ingredients to make. I am almost certain 90% of you have these ingredients in your house right this second, or have easy access to them. The other best part? It cost under $1 to make it using our method that I will describe below. Some call it fake snow. I am calling it Play Gel because I think its application is far broader than simply using it in a snow sensory bin. (Though that is certainly one awesome way to play with it.)
We played in it with our hands. My two-year-old couldn’t get enough of it! She wanted to crawl right into the gel and absorb it. It feels absolutely delightful to squish it through clenched fingers! The “splat” sound it makes when you drop from 12 inches or so is amazing.
We played in it with toys. It made for some incredible creative sensory play.
We cut it with cookie cutters* and it held its shape. We rolled it with a rolling pin to make it flat. We smashed it with a potato masher. We mixed it with spoons.
We loaded our Play Gel into a syringe and wrote our names with it. This is FANTASTIC fine motor skill practice. The child has to be very careful as they push the syringe so that the Play Gel doesn’t shoot out like a bullet. (Although shooting it out everywhere is pretty dang fun, too! I had to clean some Play Gel off my ceiling and walls when we were all done:) )
After we were done with our messy play I spooned some of it into plastic bags for the kids to continue to play with. They almost get hypnotized as they squish it back and forth in the bag, watching the glitter sparkle. It’s very calming and soothing. (And not at all messy!)
All of this cost me less than a dollar. Well under one dollar. With no special ingredients needed.
Want to know what this Play Gel is and how to make it? I thought you probably would.
It is nothing more than sodium polyacrylate. This is fine white powder than can absorb up to 300 times its mass in water. It fluffs up, feels cold, and looks like snow. You have probably already seen posts about how to make artificial snow this year, but I have found a cheaper way to do it that provides the exact same results.
You can buy sodium polyacrylate online in the form of Insta-Snow Powder. However, it can get pricey. Ready to see how we made it? Almost for free? Do you know what else contains sodium polyacrylate?
We used a diaper. A clean one, mind you. What you do is this: Grab a diaper and fill it up with water. My daughter is in size 6 Luvs, which hold about 5 cups of water each. Smaller sized diapers will obviously hold less. Do an experiment to see how much water your diaper will absorb before it starts leaking!
Once it is all swollen with water, grab a sharp knife or a pair of scissors (an adult should do this part) and cut away the diaper lining. Once you get a good cut in, you can just tear off the fabric layer to reveal perfectly white and squishy Play Gel. Scoop it out of the diaper into a sensory bin or a baking sheet and start playing!
We colored ours with food coloring and added glitter, but this is certainly not required. You could also add liquid watercolors if you wanted to. You don’t need a lot, only a few drops. It colors easily and vibrantly because it is mostly water! My kids wanted to make it yellow first. Yellow? For diaper snow? Yuck, I just couldn’t quite stomach that, so we added some blue and made a very nice turquoise. Then we opened a second diaper and made it pink. Then the kids mixed them to make a lovely dark purple. Keep it white for an awesome snow sensory bin or a Frozen-themed play activity!
Go ahead and buy Insta-Snow Powder. I promise I won’t judge you. But using a diaper is so much more fun! My kids couldn’t believe that I was using a diaper to make something for them to play in! I cut the diaper open amid shrieks of delighted, “She’s using my diaper!” “We’re going to play in a diaper!” Seriously, your kids will think you are the coolest.
Adding water to a powder from a bag is OK, but ripping open a diaper and playing with what you find inside provides a much more poignant learning experience for the kids. It’s something they will remember for years to come and want to do over and over again. Plus, they learn the science behind how and why a diaper works! Win-win!
Don’t have a babe in diapers at home? Ask a sister-in-law or a neighbor if you can have a couple of hers. Pay her a buck and she’ll be delighted!
Play Gel is not edible, so please keep it out of reach of your babes and toddlers. Also, don’t wash large amounts of it down the sink. I have a feeling this stuff is really good at clogging drains.
Play Gel is super easy to clean up. It doesn’t stain or stick to anything. It will dry out in a few days if you leave it out. Cover it in a plastic container and it will keep longer. Add a little bit of water if it gets too dry. Stick it in the freezer and it will probably last forever 🙂
Ready to give it a try? I promise you will not be disappointed. I had just as much fun as my kids did playing in this stuff and experimenting with it. Got your diaper bag? Then get playin’!
*When we made the star pictured above we made up our own special Play Gel song. It goes like this:
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