Grab the oats and the bin. How to train for sensory play is here!
Imagine an hour in your day that you can sit back, reheat that coffee, and finally get to read through that Athleta catalog sitting on your kitchen table. Once we help train our children for sensory play, we may be on our way.
But it takes a couple of sensory play training rounds before you can fully relax as couscous is being scooped and poured on your kitchen floor.
What’s involved in sensory play training?
Let’s dive in.
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What age is sensory play for?
Here, my 20-month-old scooping and pouring. My toddler is practicing on and off again for the last couple of months.
It started with the strawberry bin, but who are we kidding? That was probably mostly for my pleasure to watch and take pictures.
Then we moved on to stacking blocks and sand play. The more we do, the better my toddler understands that the sensory play materials do not get thrown across the room.
Does sensory play etiquette happen on its own? No. But I am here to set you up for sensory play success.
RELATED: 40+ Ideas for One-Year-Olds
What are the benefits of sensory play?
Sensory play is the work of a child.
The sensory play explores sight, touch, smell, ears, and sometimes even taste to develop a deeper understanding of core math and science concepts.
Education guru, Cynthia Aldinger suggests, if early learners do not get the chance to TOUCH, MANIPULATE, and INVESTIGATE sensory opportunities with their hands, they may lack the FOUNDATION they need later.
We need to have our children deep in cloud dough and molding substances now so they can take what they will read later on to the next level. There is so much more to science and math than memorizing a vocabulary term.
“I remember this! I had the chance to explore this concept before memorizing vocabulary terms”.
Pick your sensory play medium.
There are a couple of guidelines when it comes to what you are putting into the sensory bin.
The first and most important rule is making sure your one-year-old will not choke.
If it is a maybe, do not use it. Not worth it. There are SO many other sensory play ideas to use in exchange.
Here, I am using couscous. Sometimes I find what will go into our sensory bin by what is expired in my pantry. Sadly, my couscous enthusiasm must have dwindled since it expired in 2016. yikes!
The good news? I have a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old that couldn’t wait to get started. Lucky for me, the older two are well versed in sensory play and typically keep it all under control.
RELATED: Why is Sensory Play Important? By Busy Toddler
2. Create your sensory play buffer zone.
I like to lay down a variety of buffers to create the “okay to spill zone”.
Do I tell my kids there is an “Okay to Spill Zone?”
Their job is to keep the (couscous, water, rice, etc.) IN the sensory bin.
What I am doing, is thinking ahead.
I know that if I tell my children to keep the water in the bin, it will naturally trickle onto the buffer zone. It happens. But it is also important to set limits you can wiggle with to set your patience up for success.
If I tell my children they have some extra room to spill, water will be everywhere. – These are the tricky mom moves that keep me sane. Allow you and your children some flexibility.
Keep in mind, little arms are practicing to hold their hand steady.
The trick is to keep the space clean and inviting.
Smooth out any wrinkles on your sheets and try and keep colors neutral.
You want to invite your toddlers and preschoolers to a clean, inviting space that doesn’t distract them from the main sensory play setup. Too many distractions will lead to disarray in play.
So what can you use as your buffer zone?
plastic shower liner
old yoga mat
old indoor cycling mat (shown here)
plastic table cloth
old bed sheet
3. Set Limits on Sensory Play; Sit Tight
Unfortunately, we cannot set the sensory play up, then walk away.
I have never met a one-year-old that also doesn’t like to run away with the rice as it falls aimlessly out of their hands. I also know of a couple of one-year-olds that enjoy throwing rice across the room.
Now riddle this.
It is usual for your one-year-old to WANT throw, toss and run away with your supplies!
They are curious little people that are learning life through their senses. That is a brilliant thing! Our role here is to help them understand the guidelines of when and where to go awol. I find this book an amazing resource for children!
It is just as important to remind your toddlers that they need to keep the rice IN the bin.
Here’s how this may look for ANY age at the introduction of sensory play:
Your first couple setups you are sitting WITH your child.
Your child is sitting on the opposite side of you so you can face one another.
Encourage your child as they begin to engage with prepositional phrases. “Good job! You are putting your rice IN the cup! Look at you! You hid the spoon UNDER the rice.”
Encourage your child when they begin to take handfuls and dump it into their lap. You can do this with phrases such as, “Put the rice IN the bin. Watch mommy; I am putting the rice INSIDE the bin.” Then continue to model where the rice needs to go.
If your child listens, remember to congratulate them on their excellent job, again using prepositions. “You did it! That’s right! You put the rice INSIDE the bowl. Smart move!”
If your child continues to toss the rice, take the bin away. Remind them. “Mom asked you to keep the rice inside the bin. If we throw the rice, the bin gets put away.”
Remember, your child is still learning. If your child is asking to play again, remind them to keep the rice INSIDE the bin as you place it back on the floor.
Now again, you are going to sit with your child. Continue to sit together as you model and reinforce for the first handful of sensory bins.
4. Troubleshooting Sensory Play Conflict
We have two phrases on repeat.
Many times all three boys are hands-on a sensory bin at once.
It can go smoothly, and rarely things can start to plummet south. But it happens! They are kids. Typically I try to stand on the sidelines and see how they work themselves out.
When they need me to intervene, we have two phrases that I like to share.
Sometimes they work, and others in the heat of the moment they do not. But what is more important is that I am implanting suggestive problem-solving skills that they surprise me when they use on their terms.
Let’s make a plan. – read more about this strategy here.
Kind words receive kind echoes. – see it posted here.
Both of these phrases are incredibly powerful to hear and practice. We want our children to be problem solvers and find ways to resolve conflict without adult intervention. The way we do this is by modeling ourselves.
When there is a BIG problem, stop. Come sit next to your kids and say, “Let’s make a plan.” If it doesn’t resonate with them, remind them the sensory bin will go away, and they can let you know when you are ready to try again.
5. The vacuum saves sensory play!
We are all moving at 100 MPH. We don’t really want to add one more thing to our to-do list, which is clean up spilled over rice. I get it.
But the longevity of sensory bin play outweighs the cleanup time by a long shot.
Remember, cleanup is just a vacuum away.
Now you are ready to begin sensory play!
Here are some great tools and resources to help you get started:
Sensory Play Ideas:
This is a sensory playlist of all ages.
All activities to be done under adult supervision © 2020 by Days with Grey LLC
Remember, you can add many things to water. Use funnels, containers, plastic cups and bowls for one-year-olds+.
Texture Sensory Play:
Water Beads – the brand you will love
Edible Sensory Play:
Which sensory play will you do today?