*This is a post I wrote for my old blog that I’m re-posting.
Picture this: Ten kids under the age of six in bare feet and underwear, skating on shaving cream on the kitchen floor, falling down, getting back up, laughing and squealing! This was the scene I encountered upon entering my father-in-law’s house not too long after my husband and I met. At that moment, all I thought was, “Ah, yes…this is totally the right family for me!”
By engaging in play that utilizes their senses, children (at any age) are using scientific inquiry. To an infant or toddler, everything is new, so lots of questions develop which leads to exploration. The child explores objects and materials using his senses, gathers information about them, and attempts to answer his own questions.
Not only does sensory play create connections in your child’s developing brain, but it also serves as a calming mechanism and can help children release emotions that they may not yet be skilled enough to sort out verbally. For example, the process of scooping and pouring a substance can feel very calming and relaxing (water, rice, sand); squeezing and pounding a material can help release anger and frustration (playdough, clay).
You hit the power button on your TV – it won’t turn on. “Hmmm,” you think, “that’s strange.” If you’re like me, you probably continue to hit the power button, harder each time, hoping it will eventually work. It still won’t work so you follow the power cord and realize it is not plugged in. Duh.
When a toddler displays challenging behavior (biting, hitting, screaming…), I typically first ask myself if they have had enough access to sensory play (by first, I really mean after I stupidly keep trying whatever I am trying in the first place that isn’t working). Often times, I find a connection between a lack of access to sensory play and the challenging behavior. In this way, I liken sensory play for a young child to a power cord for a TV — just like the TV cannot properly function without the power cord plugged in, a young child cannot properly function without opportunities to engage his senses. If your toddler is driving you over the edge with challenging behavior, consider implementing some sensory play into her day and see if you notice any differences.
That day in the kitchen, my nieces and nephews weren’t just participating in what will become an awesome childhood memory for them, but they were also creating valuable connections between pathways in their developing brains. The feeling of soft, foamy shaving cream between their toes; their feet sliding around on the smooth, slippery floor; the fresh, musky scent; the sounds of laughter around them — the kids were engaged in a meaningful activity full of lots of sensory input — two things that are very conducive to appropriate brain development. AND…the kitchen floor got a good “mopping” in the process! See? Good for everyone!
So go ahead…engage those senses and have some fun! Your kitchen floor needs cleaned anyway, right?
A few of my favorite sensory activities (it was hard to narrow my list down to a few!):
— Cornstarch + Water (touch) — this is just pure awesomeness…is it a solid or a liquid?! Try it. You’ll love it, too.
— Texture Collage (touch): gather materials of various textures (cotton balls, sandpaper, ribbon, beans, etc.) and let your child glue them to a piece of cardboard.
— Coffee Sand (touch and smell): mix coffee and sand together = fun texture and yummy coffee smell.
— Flubber (touch): Click here for recipe.
— Colored Rice (sight, sound, and touch): Mix a few drops of food coloring with a teaspoon or two of rubbing alcohol and add it to uncooked rice. Let it dry and then get to playing!
— Plain Water (sight, touch, sound): add measuring cups for scooping and dumping, wash clothes and dishes for “washing,” water wheels, sponges…the possibilities are endless!
Links to other great sites with wonderful sensory ideas:
Lekotek: Sensory play ideas from Lekotek, complete with recipes.
Mommy Poppins: This site has 99 great ideas for sensory activities.
What’s your favorite sensory activity?