Oh Baby! Finding the Joy of Sensory Play with Littles
By Becky Will www.teachingtotes.com/haverhill
Okay, I have a confession to make. Sensory activities are not my forte, but they are growing on me. I felt compelled to share my prior experience because I’m sure there are parents or educators out there who may be curious, scared or just unsure of what sensory activities are and why they are important. Fear not, I was there once too.
About 10 years ago (pre-parent life), I worked as a Curriculum Director at a local children’s museum. I was fresh out of grad school. I was thrown into my first job working with kids and families. One thing I was told to develop was sensory play opportunities for families.
They didn’t cover that business in grad school. Clarification definitely needed! I was given the classic squeaky rolly sensory table on wheels, told to fill it and have fun. Fill it? With what?! Cheerios?! The tiny humans around me were all under the age of 5 and mouthing all the things. It just seemed scary and messy. I proceeded with caution.
I consulted my coworkers. One of them mentioned putting in flour. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do so I took the advice. I bought the flour and filled the bin. We bought some sifters, cups, scoops, etc. I prepped the bin and rolled it into the classroom. I held my breath as I announced the activity.
I could see the apprehension on the parents' faces as they walked in and took a seat. Messy activities make some people VERY uncomfortable. I knelt down and began playing alongside the children. The kids and I noticed that when we moved the flour with the scoops, it looked like ice cream!
We talked about the feeling of the flour and texture in our hands. We made it “snow” with the sifters. We built mountains. We hid things in mounds of flour. We got messy. Some kids just went in elbow-deep and just sat there enjoying the sensation in silence. Others moved the flour around wildly like a blizzard talking excessively about their experience with snow.
I packed up the sensory table that day with a little more understanding as the kids trailed flour footprints throughout the museum. All I could hope was that the parents also left with a little understanding of the magic that happened there in that moment and felt inspired to do something similar at home.
Zoom a good 10 years into the future and I’m a mom of 2. My daughter is 18 months, super curious and getting into ALL the things. I could feel my negativity rising as I picked her off of the kitchen table for the bazillionith time that day. She’s screaming. I’m defeated. Internally I’m screaming, “I LOVE YOU, BUT IS IT BEDTIME YET?!”
I had 30 minutes. At my breaking point, I ran to my porch and broke out a Teaching Tote. I pulled out a bin of rainbow rice. Grab the bowls! Scoops! Cups! ALL THE THINGS! ASAP!
I kept it simple. She sat with those items on my kitchen floor for 10 glorious minutes practicing her fine motor skills (scooping, pinching, pouring).
She was engaged. Still. Quiet. Hallelujah!
I think this is all just a reminder that:
1) Sensory activities can be a variety of simple things (dried corn, dried beans, pebbles, sand,uncooked rice, playdough etc) and be as elaborate or simple as you wish. Regardless, there is a skill that is being taught (fine motor skills, language skills, spatial awareness, etc)!
2) The mess can be good! Just prepare your space and dress them appropriately for the activity. No squeaky rolly or expensive sensory table needed. Just some bowls and you are good to go! Do the activity outside if you’d like or place a towel beneath the surface where they are playing for easy clean up!
3) The imaginative play that pops up is incredible and I encourage you to engage your child in this. You can literally add any items to your sensory bin (chunky shape puzzle pieces, sight words, magnetic fridge letters, pattern blocks, plastic animals, construction vehicles, etc). There are SO many options and so much inspiration out there!
I’m constantly inspired by our own Specialists:
Our own Jennifer: https://www.instagram.com/brightmamalight/
Our own Kelly: https://www.instagram.com/kjeanneb/
Our own Amber: https://www.instagram.com/playandlearnwithluca
Our own Jocelyn: https://instagram.com/itsthesemplelife
When I asked our Teaching Tote Specialists to share their favorite sensory Instagram accounts, they recommended checking out these for inspiration!
Did you know that most Teaching Totes come with a sensory activity included?! YUP! No prep on your behalf! Our specialists are knowledgeable in play-based learning activities and have some really amazing sensory activities for rent!
Check in with your local specialist at www.teachingtotes.com