A NEW Sensory Experience: Tapioca Shreds

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It's no secret, I love sensory play - both in my preschool classroom & at home with my own child! I'm constantly experimenting with sensory play ideas & always keeping my eyes open for the next great (insert ooey, gooey, squishy, wet and/or fun word here) sensory experience for my kids... From time to time, I've even been known to fall down a virtual black-hole & Pin hundreds of sensory play ideas in a single evening... (see my sensory play board here).

Getting on the the main event, yesterday, after an amazing lunch at a nearby Korean cafeteria, we went shopping at the Asian grocery store next door. We only went in for a few items, but somehow I managed to leave the store with these fun Multi-Color Tapioca Shreds:

I've seen hundreds of blog posts about tapioca pearl sensory play and actually entered this aisle of the store to purchase a few bags of tapioca pearls for a classroom bin next week. Instead, I discovered the Tapioca 'Squiggles' right next to the pearls. They were multicolored & about $1.00 a bag (7 oz/200g) - perfect!

I hid a few bags under the other items in my cart - which turned out to be a weak attempt at avoiding my husband's questions; he quickly spotted the new addition to the cart & gave me a bit of a hard time about buying yet another item for my classroom - I quickly assured him that our child would also be playing with them and he let it go! I also thew these Training Chopsticks into our cart! 

Since pretty much everything on the bag is written in Vietnamese, I did a quick internet search to figure out how to cook the strange little squiggles. My search didn't turn up many great directions, other than 'cook until soft' & a few recipes for some coconut tapioca desserts (which I imagine might be tasty if you like the texture of tapioca). So here's basically what I ended up doing:

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil & add tapioca shreds.
2. Boil for 15-17 minutes, stirring frequently. (I tested them by tasting them - if you can't chew them, they're not ready!)
3. Drain & rinse with cool water.

4. Pour into container for play & add a few drops of oil - I used olive oil.

5. Play!
They were warm, wet, squishy, ooey, gooey & slimy! They looked a lot like gummy worms, but have no taste whatsoever. When my son was finished with them for the night, I put them into a plastic bag and threw them into the fridge to keep them from drying out & spoiling quickly. The next morning, they had solidified into a sticky gelatinous mass of tapioca noodles; I quickly remedied the issue by placing the tapioca noodle brick into the colander for a quick rinse under some warm water.

I placed a towel under the tray to catch any rogue tapioca shreds from becoming stuck to my furniture. As a warning, we did discover that a wet a tapioca noodle dries rock hard, sharp & very stuck to whatever surface it was left on... So clean up well, before anything dries! And, a dry tapioca shred cannot be put down the garbage disposal - we learned this the hard way!

I'm still unsure how long they'll last - we've used them twice & have rinsed them a few times. I was thinking that I'd add a few drops of lavender or tea tree essential oil to perhaps slow the growth of bacteria in our classroom sensory bin - to hopefully get 2-3 sessions at the sensory bin before they need to be trashed.

Anyone have ideas for maximizing the use of wet, squishy, sticky sensory bin fillers for classroom use?

Teacher Confessions: I give parents my personal cell phone number...

Teacher confession: I'm a teacher & I give my personal cell phone number to my students' parents at the beginning of the year...  

I know, right -- What am I thinking? If you're a fellow teacher, you're probably thinking that I must be crazy or begging for punishment... perhaps you're thinking that I make other teachers who don't engage in this practice look bad... which is not my intention at all!

It all started about 7 years ago when I was working in rural Alaska as a home visiting special educator in an early intervention program. It was pretty innocent really -- I'm incredibly disorganized & I simply couldn't manage my work cell phone AND my personal cell phone efficiently! So, I made the decision to just use my personal cell phone for everything. When I returned to classroom work in Maryland, I continued to offer my phone number to families. During the last 7 years of giving out my personal cell phone number to my students' caregivers, I've thankfully had very few instances where its been abused or misused.

Over the years, many parents have informed me that I have been the first and often ONLY teacher to ever offer my personal cell phone to them! Families always have positive things to say about this practice but my coworkers & supervisors have expressed mixed feelings about it - some coworkers have decided to also try it, while others really think that I must be completely bonkers! My supervisors have never really supported it, but also haven't told me that I can't do it either.

Why do I think sharing my phone number works? There are many factors at play here, but I think it boils down to accessibility... or the illusion of accessibility...
  • Accessibility!- by offering my personal phone number, it creates a very real illusion that I'm available 24/7, but in reality, I'm not really going to humor unnecessary middle of the night or weekend calls or texts -- I will likely answer, but will keep the conversation short if it's not truly an 'emergency'! Many families never call or text me on my personal number, but having the ability to contact me whenever they want, helps to build a positive relationship, especially with challenging families (although I've found that they're often the most likely to abuse the ability to contact me outside of school hours.) It makes me accessible to families - with the illusion that I'm 'always' available.
There are a few guidelines that I've come to define over the years of sharing my phone number... Most of which I had to learn the hard way -- of course!
  • If you're going to share your phone number, do it at the beginning of the year AND share it with everyone equally! Do not just share your information with a few select families - if you're going to do it -- do it with everyone! You do not want to be accused of having favorites or not treating everyone equally. I often include my information in the letter that I send home during the first week of school and/or during back-to-school night. 
  • Clearly identify the phone number as your PERSONAL phone number  & explain that if the number is used after hours, they will be contacting you outside of school hours. I often say something like "Remember, this is my personal cell phone number; if you call me after school hours, I will likely be with my family and if you call very late, I'll probably be sleeping." I remind parents of this often - especially when/if I have a family that has been abusing their ability to call/text me. 
I recently had an opportunity to make a connection with a family via my personal cell phone. A child that I've had in my classroom for quite some time finally had success on the potty! I'd been conversing with the family during drop-off and pick-up times each day, discussing progress and home routines. When the success finally happened, during the middle of the school day, I was able to quickly text the parent about it; she responded immediately with words of encouragement for her child and I responded with a quick snapshot of the child's proud smile. Then, the parent recorded the 'celebration' song that they sing at home and sent it to me to play for the child. The child, in turn, was extremely excited that her parent had sent a voice-message to reward her! This simple event was a perfect example of why I share my phone number with families AND why I'm constantly trying to integrate everyday technology into our classroom routine. Something simple of like a cell phone turned out to be a great tool to communicate & connect with families and reinforce student progress.

Of course, you have to decide based on your own situation whether or not sharing your phone number with families is a good idea or not - it surely isn't right for everyone & every classroom situation. My current classroom is very small, consisting of preschool students who often have multiple disabilities & very intensive needs - I have regular in-person contact with caregivers/families and everyone benefits from establishing & maintaining close relationships between home/school -- caregivers know what's going on at school & I have access to what's going on at home. And of course, I've also obtained permission from the family for utilizing this type of communication with them. Providing my personal phone number simply feels right & works well for now, but down the road -- who knows?!

Do you share your phone number with parents? How has it worked out for you?

yea for summer - still here, but super busy!

It's been far too long since my last post... between a back injury in April, my own busy preschooler, IEPs, assessments, parent-teacher meetings, end of year events, grant writing and a few top-secret extra special projects, I just haven't been able to keep up with everything!

Those of you who are paying attention, stay tuned -- I've got some fun posts coming up including a few product reviews, colorful arts & crafts activities, messy outdoor play, field trips to local attractions and lots of Ocean & Beach themed excitement - our summer school theme this year!