We adore well-made toys – especially loose parts that encourage open-ended play. My daughters Rose and Jane are three and almost five, so we’re drawn to items that stand the test of time, inspiring their imaginations and evolving with them as they develop and grow and change. I also prefer to choose pieces that are aesthetically beautiful; messes are so much more pleasant when they’re nice to look at. When our friends at Cloth started carrying Grapat’s Mandala sets, I knew we needed to start collecting them.
When they arrived, I was struck by the gorgeous colors and shapes and was instantly inspired to create a rainbow sensory bowl activity for the girls, to introduce them to each set and see where their play took them.
Here’s what you’ll need: a few large bags of white rice, washable paint (I used tempera paint, but Crayola will also work), gallon-sized bags, bowls or bins, and an assortment of spoons, scoops, and tongs if you have them.
Arrange each mandala set by color into separate bowls or bins. If you don’t own a bunch of different sets, you can always separate out the individual colors within each set for an ombre color activity.
Next, pour the rice into gallon-sized bags, add a dollop or two of paint, and mix until the rice is saturated (Jane and Rose had a ton of fun helping me with this part but make sure your bags are sealed tightly before you let your kids go to town – I learned this lesson the hard way). Also worth noting: while the mandala loose parts are ideal for this activity, you can use any of Grapat’s amazing sets (including these darling rainbow sticks and buds).
Let your rice dry (ours took about ten minutes) and then pour it into the bowls or bins containing your mandala sets until they are completely covered. Set them out with trays, baskets, spoons and tongs, and encourage your kids to see what they can find.
I sat with the girls and helped them, and I could see their little minds whirling as they sifted out each individual piece and organized it by color into the trays. Once all the pieces were out of the rice, they immediately carried the whole lot over to their picnic table and started playing with them in different ways – first pretending that the blue discs were blueberries, that the orange cones were carrots, that the mushrooms were, well, mushrooms – and then they grabbed the empty bowls and started adding all the pieces to make me a salad.
Since then, we have discovered a multitude of possibilities within each set. The orange cones are both fire and hats. The red cones can also be fire, and cherries and chocolates and hats. The yellow honeycombs are houses and heads. The blue discs are coins and raindrops and puddles, while the pink roses are candies and macarons and spaceships and eyes. The green cones are celery and asparagus, but sometimes broccoli and cucumber and trees. And the mushrooms, while mushrooms, are often also people. We also recently received the purple eggs, so you better believe we’ll be doing easter egg hunts well into the spring and summer.
In addition to pretend play, these loose parts lend themselves to a variety of art expression. You can work with your kids to create a three-dimensional color wheel, or a nature scene with sun and sky and trees and flowers. You can arrange the pieces into large shapes like a heart or a cloud or a peace sign. You can use them as home décor by finding old letterpress trays and filling them with all the little pieces, or stacking them neatly on a shelf to admire. So many possibilities, so much time and I’d love to hear more ideas from any of you if you have them. Tag #grapatmandalas on Instagram to be featured on @cloth.
--Written by Kristen Dickson from @tojaneandrose, a bright-siding girl mom looking for that everyday magic.