Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sensory and Discovery Bottles for Toddlers and Preschoolers - Recycling Craft Project

SAHM + Pinterest = Craftmania!

I've been "upcycling" lots of plastic bottles into sensory bottles for Jackson lately, and I must admit, it's pretty fun, not least because it involves a hot glue gun. These may or may not just be overblown rattles, but he seems to find them at least moderately interesting, and I've been having fun. Here's what I've done so far:

Dice Discovery Bottle (DRY): When Jackson was "helping" me "clean out" my office supply drawer, I found five dice (two red, two white, one green) that seemed like they would be educational but deadly. I solved the choking-hazard problem by putting them in a bottle of expired Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend, which is a nice textural mix of couscous, quinoa, orzo and baby garbanzo beans. The bottle is a single-serving Arrowhead bottle of the type distributed at the in-laws' house.

Button Jar (DRY): A mix of colorful buttons that sat in my sewing kit for about five years finally has a purpose. These buttons rattle nicely against the glass of the baby-food jar, and the iridescent colors are a pretty blend.

Confetti Prism (WET): This one is colorful confetti in a Nyquil bottle. The water was not supposed to be pink like that, but the confetti dye has bled into the water. The triangle shape of the Nyquil bottle is great for increasingly the "visibility" of the objects inside. (I now have my eye on a three-sided Peptobismol bottle in the medicine cabinet.) I love this confetti mix from Target ($2) because it has a lot of butterfly shapes in it and when you turn it over, it looks a bit like the butterflies are fluttering through the bottle.

Silver Rattle (DRY): Silver balls, which went unused during another recent craft project, found a new home in a sturdy Martinelli's apple juice bottle. These balls are pretty light, but I make sure to put anything that might be hard or that's going to be fiercely rattled into a bottle that can definitely hold up to it. We don't want balls bearing to shatter a glass jar, for example. This bottle is J's fave right now. He likes shaking it and announcing, "Loud! Loud! Noisy!"

Straw Shaker (DRY): These are cut-up colorful Big Lots bendy straws in a Pepsi bottle. This one is a good shaker, and it's interesting to contrast the sound from this bottle to the sound of the toothpicks bottle.

Magic Bottle (WET): This one is bouncy balls from the .99 cent store in a Voss bottle with water and lamp oil. The balls float on top of the water, but then the lamp oil floats above balls, so it allegedly looks like they are floating in the middle of the bottle. (Personally, I can see the margin, but maybe that's because I'm looking for it?) This bottle was inspired by this pin on Pinterest, and this bottle is actually my second attempt. The first version was too many balls (five) in too small and too textured a space (an old vegetable oil bottle), and the lamp oil immediately started discoloring, so that it was a light yellow, which sort of ruins the intended effect. I'm now questioning whether this needed to be lamp oil or if baby oil would provide the same effect for less money and without having to go to the hardware store to find lamp oil. Be aware, you need to find a wide-mouth bottle for this one, otherwise you can't get the bouncy balls inside!

Toothpick Shaker (DRY): Colorful toothpicks ("party picks" according to the box) in a Gatorade bottle make for another nice shaker. My version of this bottle was inspired by this pin on Pinterest, which suggested you could make a DIY rain stick with toothpicks and rice. I tried it with the rice, but it never seemed to work right (maybe I had the proportions wrong?). I eventually discovered that the toothpicks alone inside a relatively textured bottle like the Gatorade bottle provided roughly as much sound effect as did toothpicks plus rice, and I liked the look much better without the rice, so here we are. Making this bottle taught me that for certain bottle projects you do want to seek out different sizes and shapes of bottles for different projects with different goals.

Bead Bottle (WET): Pony beads and water in a mini Arrowhead bottle make for a simple, straightforward, inexpensive bottle that has a great swirling effect.

Hula Bottle (WET): I call this a hula bottle--it's a deconstructed plastic flower lei and purple glitter in a vegetable oil bottle. I'm strangely fond of this one for no particular reason.

Wave Bottle (WET): This is an all-time classic sensory bottle, and this is another one where the bottle itself seems to make a difference. I don't think this one would half as effective if it weren't in a tall, smooth bottle (this is a Smart Water bottle from my parents' recycling bin). This is just vegetable oil and water with blue food coloring (err strongly on the side of caution with food coloring--you can oversaturate very easily!), and when you rock it, can see the effect of wave in the ocean. Totally entertaining, for me at least. You could also put floaty little ocean animal toys in the bottle for added effect.

Sensory Bottle Tips
  • If you have any objects are your house that are fun but dangerous (don't we all?), use the danger as inspiration. Encase the objects in a bottle and they suddenly it's safe! Beads, dice, balls, buttons, pins--basically everything you have to take away from toddlers--can be an inspiration for a bottle.
  • Less is more. My least favorite bottles are the ones I overfill. My current rule of thumb is that the "featured item" should take up no more than 1/3 of the bottle.
  • If you don't like the result of your first attempt to make a bottle, or if just goes wrong somehow, cut your bottle open over a colander, retrieve your treasures and try, try again. Sometimes it takes a few passes to get the mix right.
  • Be careful not to put hard objects in glass, lest the bottle shatter under vigorous toddler examination.
  • Go slow with the food coloring. Put it in one drop at a time, swirl it around, see what you think of that color, and then add another drop if you want a darker shade.

Sensory Bottle Supply List
  • Collect cleaned, dried-out bottles in interesting shapes and sizes.
  • Goo Gone and/or Goof Off are invaluable for getting off label-glue residue, but sometimes you can do it with just soap, hot water and elbow grease.
  • Filler material, which can be anything you find around your house that seems intriguing, or something you find at a discount or craft-supply store.
  • A funnel helps get tiny objects and/or gushy liquids into the bottle with less spillage; canning funnels can be used on wide-mouth bottles like the ones that contain applesauce.
  • A hot-glue gun or a tube of superglue secures the caps; some people use tape, but a quick  swirl of glue inside the cap looks tidier.


  1. Oooh. You have a glue gun? I saw them at Michaels and was sooo tempted. This post makes me want to buy one and try every single projetc!

  2. Yes. Mom gave it to me years ago and it's finally getting some use! Superglue works just as well, and it might even be a little easier, but "glue gun" is as irresistible as it sounds. :D

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