I have a bit of a confession to make. It's hard for me to get into Play-Doh. I think it's the smell. The kids still play with it now and again because what's a childhood without Play-Doh? For quite some time now I've been wanting to make the leap into playing with dry beans as an alternative. (I wouldn't suggest this activity for a little one who still likes to put things in their mouth, as the beans can definitely be a choking hazard.) A child may not be able to build with beans, but it's the next best thing to an indoor sandbox. Except the kiddos come out of the experience a lot less messy. Speaking of mess, the beans didn't make as much of a disaster as I thought they would. At least not this time. Much of the mess was contained to the plushy baby quilt we put down, and the beans were very easy to scoop up off the blanket.
All you need for a fun playtime is an inexpensive bag of mixed dry beans (the bag we purchased was less than $2), some plastic spoons, muffin tins and/or egg crates, and a few different shaped containers. We ended up using muffin tins over egg crates; it was much easier to scoop the beans up with the plastic spoon in the more slippery metal muffin tins.
My oraganizationally thrilled heart happily spent quite a bit of time with my four year old daughter, sorting beans by shapes, colors, and sizes. Some of the beans looked terribly similar, so it was a great experience for her to learn how to classify something by more than just color.
Both of the girls played happily for hours. HOURS. The baby was none too happy when it came time to clean up for dinner either. A day later, we're still finding some of the split peas here and there on the carpet, but I do believe this is going to be a favorite lazy afternoon game for a long time.