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Sensory Pine ConesFor many of us, as cooler weather arrives, it becomes a season for boldly braving outerwear battles in order to get our children outside for a healthy dose of natural sensory input. With my own children, the lure to get my children to bundle up on some chilly days is pine cones. Yes, pine cones.

My children love to play with these ubiquitous evergreen seed pods, and, through my SPD lenses, I am willing to deal with sap-stained hands and clothing to allow them to.  Here is how to make pine cones part of your sensory diet:

Challenge: What sensory fun can you have with pine cones?

Original Purpose: Seeding evergreens

With Sensory Savvy Lenses: A Feast for the Senses

1. Tactile-Olfactory-Auditory-Visual Gift Making Fun
After getting some tactile input through collecting pine cones, put them in the oven for 20 minutes or so at about 275 degrees. (This kills the bacteria.) Then, combine some white or silver glitter along with a dash of your favorite scented spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and allspice, in a zippered plastic bag. Once cooled, paint the pine cones with a 50% glue-50% water mixture. Shake them with the glitter and spices in the bag, long enough to induce giggles or at least long enough to get a bit of pine cone-maraca-bag auditory input. Let the pine cones dry and then wrap some string around the top. You’ll have lovely scented “snow” covered ornaments to entice your eyes and your nose.

2. Visual Pine Cone Sort
For younger children who are learning the concepts of small, medium and large, collect a basket of pine cones. Make and label three ovals on cardstock – a small one, a medium one and a large one. Have children sort the pine cones accordingly, sizing them against the ovals. For an extra challenge, offer tongs for the children to transfer the pine cones with. This will give them some extra fine motor control work.

3. Visual-Tactile Pine Cone Science

Get some tactile input by gathering some mature woody pine cones (not new green ones!). Look to see if they seem opened or closed. Then, put them in a shallow bowl and douse them with water, swishing them around for more tactile input. Finally, sit back and take note: Do you see the pine cones closing up? Pick them out of the water and let them dry out. Use a hair dryer for this if you want some auditory input, or simply wait – to practice patience. Take note again: Do the pine cones open again? Explore why this might be. (Protecting seeds, perhaps?)

4. Proprioceptive-Vestibular-Listening Fun
Instead of Duck, Duck, Goose, play Needle, Needle, Pine Cone. “It” carries a pine cone in one hand and uses one finger from the other hand to tap the shoulder of each person sitting in a circle saying, “Needle.” When “It” wants to choose someone, “It” drops the pine cone in that person’s lap saying, “Pine cone!”, before running around the circle trying not to get tagged before taking that person’s place.

5. Creative Tactile-Fine Motor Pine Cone Sculptures 
Put out some multi-colored playdough, twigs and pine cones. Encourage your child to make free-form sculptures and creations from these. Some tiny bits of playdough rolled into balls and pressed onto the pine cones can make a Christmas tree. Twigs stuck to pine cones using playdough as adhesive can make all manner of animal creatures. A ball on top of a pine cone, two small ovals on the bottom and two twigs sticking out from the sides makes a man. Let imaginations run wild for a lot of tactile, fine motor fun. Use scented playdough for some extra olfactory input.

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Martianne is a homeschooling mom with over 20 years of experience in education, youth work and dramatic arts both in the United States and abroad. With certifications as a Middle School Generalist and English 8-12 teacher, plus a drawer full of certificates from a wide variety of professional development workshops and graduate courses, she brings a comprehensive “traditional” background to her present-day creative pursuits. Visit Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.