So any mom who has ever explored the wonders that is Pinterest has most likely seen a variety of sensory activities run across your page. 

What’s the deal?

Sensory play, aside from being amazingly exciting for kids, and generally a huge mess for adults, is actually extremely beneficial to a childs development and learning processes. 

Its a given that kids are hands on learners. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a toddler who learns by sitting still and being talked at. Try to explain to a child about how snow melts. Now place a clump of snow in his hands. Let him feel the cold, experience how the warmth of his hands turns the snow into water. Which is the better teacher? There is something incredibly soothing about digging your hands into a bin of rice and feeling it fall through your fingers. At the same time, the childs brain is learning about mass displacement, gravity, etc, without even realizing it. Pouring, filling, dumping from cup to cup also encourage fine motor skills.

Experience is always going to be the best teacher.

Too cold to play outside? Drag a bucket of Snow inside!

 

 While their minds, emotions, and senses are completely engaged in what they are doing, they just think they’re playing! I’ve been caring for kids- both as a nanny and as a Family Childcare Provider- for over 11 years, and I have yet to have heard a child turn down the idea of sensory play. It engages the whole child, their entire minds and bodies centered on the task at hand. It’s also a great medium for encouraging imaginary play. 

The best part is you don’t have to be super-crafty-mom to do it. I’m a big fan of Maria Montessori  and her emphasis of being an observer of the child. Whenever I notice my kids bickering more, fighting, acting out, 9 times out of 10, they are getting bored! Quickly being able to pull out a sensory activity really helps to shake things up with cranky kiddos. Most of the items I use are things already found in my home. No extra trips to hobby lobby for some insane hard to find ingredient. Below I’ll have a list of some really simple sensory play activities.

 

water play !

When I first opened my daycare, I had a lot of space, but no outside toys. Not so much as a single slide. The kids spent hours playing with a bucket of water. That was it. A bucket of water. Sometimes we’d get really crazy and throw some paintbrushes in it. But mostly, I just sat back and watched them use their imaginations. 

Pinterest can be intimidating, scanning ideas can really help job the imagination, but can also sometimes make you feel inadequate.  Don’t be afraid to step out of the box and make something work for you. You don’t need some crazy handmade sensory table that lights up and is self cleaning. For a long time I used old cake pans and sat each kid at the kitchen table. It took me months before it dawned on me that our train table could be used for more than just trains or building blocks, and now most of our sensory activities are done here. (But outside is my favorite- no muss no fuss!)

 

And clean up doesn’t have to make you want to pull out your hair, after all, the main reason I proclaim “sensory activity!” Is to give the kids something to focus on (and me a break) But being toddlers, don’t expect too much. 15-20 minutes is pretty great for their tiny attention spans. Any toys, cars, kitchen accessories that were used can easily be dumped in a sink fills with soapy water.

Involve the kids in clean up. You may have to hold your breath- they obviously aren’t going to get everything perfect- but you’ll be surprised how well they really do do. Never do for a child what they can do for themselves. Clean up for my Littles is a part of the play experience. They are proud. They love running back and forth with wet towels to wipe up remnants of shaving cream or flour. It’s a REWARD to see who is allowed to be the “big helper” and run the vacuum. Encouraging the children to not only do for themselves, but do for one another, builds such a sense of self esteem and confidence. 

 

This list, by no means, touches all the aspects of sensory play or all the fun you can have. I try to keep it as natural (and safely edible) as possible, as it is designed for little ones, who enjoy using ALL their senses in exploring. I have several sensory bins that I keep in clear plastic shoeboxes, themed up, but the majority of these things can be pulled out of the pantry with very little planning, excellent for a rainy day. 

  • Flour
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Water
  • Ice cubes (I like to freeze toys in a hint block of ice and give the kids various things to chip or try to make it melt)
  • Snow
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Corn kernels
  • Oobleck (corn starch and water) 
  • Play doh (I enjoy making my own) 
  • Shaving cream
  • Cloud dough (flour and vegetable oil) 
  • Cooked spaghetti (you can dye with food coloring and a splash of oil to keep from sticking) 
  • Salt
  • Tissue paper, tape, safety scissors 
  • Oats
  • Sudsy foam (dawn and water in a blender- this is fun to do in batches and color with water colors
  • Finger paint
  • Cool whip (a good one for babies who you don’t yet trust with shaving cream)

Do your kids do any sensory activities? What’s your favorite? Have any concerns or want any recipes? Leave a comment and I’d love to discuss it! 

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Lauren Lewis
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Lauren Lewis

Early Childcare Educator at Lauren's Little Ones
Lauren Lewis is no stranger to childcare development, having spent over 10 years as a nanny or family childcare provider. She's the wife of a travel geek, mother of two vivacious children, and has an amazing talent for trailing lost things behind her a la Hansel and Gretel.Her passion for lifting up women and advocating for children pours out in her work as a Central Indiana Event Coordinator, Writer, and Social Media Relations Director for Breastfeeding World.Her life is full of busy, crazy and LOUD. It is full of love and hope, ups and downs. And coffee, always lots of coffee- but she wouldn't have it any other way.
Lauren Lewis
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