Updated: Aug 15, 2021
I personally rate Sensory Play rates as the most preferred form of play in the early years. As children my siblings and I had access to every thing in the house other than those which were hazardous or unsafe. It was okay to go and get your hands dirty in the mud, to splash in a puddle minus rainboots, get wet and then run home dripping to change into yet another set of clothes. Many afternoons were spent making sand castles, putting and patting sand over our foot to build caves, gluing pieces of wrappers together to create magical shiny structures, using potters clay to make garden creatures and small furniture for the castles. On days when we decided to be super sleuths, we would make telephones out of paper cups. There are many more in the list. Focusing on sensory play as my own children were growing up was an obvious choice. During my teaching years too, I would incline more towards sensory play and activities. I would always have an array of activities to keep the young minds and hands engaged. These did not cost me a pay cheque; however, they required my planning mode to be at its best. My house rule was- all recyclable cardboard, cartons, jars, lids, old pots and pans can all find a place in my classroom play zone provided they meet the safety specifications.
In this post I am sharing a few tips and few of my personal favorites along with links to other websites that have numerous ideas for both parents and teachers to incorporate in the day-to-day life. However, do remember the key to success will lie in your planning.
Setting the tone for successful Sensory Play
Be it a home environment or the classroom, these tips are going to make setting up for Sensory Play an easy task for you. These are some practical, tried and tested tips that should encourage you to provide for Sensory Play for your child, Each day and every day.
1. Be an observer and follow child’s interest- Remember to watch your child play to understand which materials interest and attract the child. You will know if your child is totally engaged and immersed in the play or is it just surface level involvement. Don’t let the flops disappoint you. Use them as a teachable moment and introduce materials and activities that attracts the child. I have had my daughter enjoy playing with the sand but only if she had a stool or a mat to sit on while playing. I wanted her to enjoy the play and moved sand play to a big bin which provided her the opportunity but respected her desire to keep away the sand from her body and clothes. I have seen children who could not care less and would jump into the sandpit and sit and play in it for hours. Each his own!
2. Be a collector- Nothing that can hold material, can be bent, can be taken apart and put back again, glued easily, makes noise, can float, can roll, and perform any function that aids use of senses can go into your “For Sensory Play” bin. Just make sure it is child safe and appropriate. You do not really have to visit a store to set up a sensory play activity for your child. There is always something at home which can be integrated easily to provide the experiences. Kitchen towel/ aluminum foil rolls are extremely versatile as one can use them to make things from Rain Sticks to a maze for sorting-coloured pompoms/ different grains/ nuts/ bottle lids. This can be taped to a door. Kitchen music with tins and simple containers is an instant hit with children.
Not only does it save you money, it also helps us support our Earth by reusing what we can.
3. Keep it simple and age appropriate-The simpler the task the higher the enjoyment for all involved. Increase the complexity level as the child progress and is up for another challenge. Too easy and children loose interest, too tough leads to disappointment. Make sure it is just right and age appropriate. Remember it does not define your child’s intelligence but is more about the child’s sensory requirement.
4. Repetition leads to mastery- Quick gratification and the over eagerness for new often leads us to appreciate what repetition is capable of doing to our human brain. The same rule applies to tasks and activities that we introduce to children. Remind yourself and your child the importance of repeating an activity. Be an informed observer to check for boredom setting in as a result of either too easy or being too many times. Your child might want to come back to the same activity that they rejected some time back, make sure to provide for the rekindled interest.
5. Expect it to get messy- Anything that involves little hands at work can tend to get messy. Make sure you cover the surfaces where you set up the activity to catch for spills and mess. Teach children the steps to working on the activity and also how to clean up in case of a mess.
6. Involve your child in both-setting up and clean up – As children become participants in the process they learn to enjoy and respect the work more. A sense of empowerment sets in and they know they are as capable as they come. It gives you a helping hand. The conversations lead to beautiful moments where you can appreciate what your child can do and your child learns to appreciate the effort you put in. Soon the older sibling can lead setting up the activity and the younger sibling/ friend lends a helping hand. Make sure you explain and demonstrate exactly what is required.
7. Join the fun- Remember its play and paly is for everybody, not just children. You will be amazed at how relaxed and calm playing with your child makes you feel. The key is to schedule the play time well in advance and stick to it no matter what. It takes just 21 days to form a habit. Make it a habit and enjoy the smiles and squeals as you join the fun with your child, not competing but playing alongside.