Today I’m sharing ten tips for managing sensory play … so both the kids and you can enjoy the experience!
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So. Sensory play.
Kids stick toys into play dough, play with a giant bin of rice, squeeze slime through their fingers, write with shaving cream, paint with their feet, create their own mud… ack, slow down! How about this tip for managing sensory play? Just don’t do it!
There was a time when I kept the play dough in the cupboard and wouldn’t even consider buying shaving cream or glitter (okay, I still don’t buy glitter). But the fact is that sensory play is good for kids on so many levels. For me, the biggest reason of all is that it keeps them away from the screen. I’ts November – and I’m anticipating at least three months of being stuck indoors. By getting my kids (and me!) comfortable with sensory play, we’ll have some truly enjoyable winter afternoons.
1. Get the right materials.
For me, the ticket to stress-free sensory play are these essentials: a good surface, plastic bins, and the right clothes.
1. Vinyl mat. It took me almost two years of doing sensory play to finally get myself over to Jo-Ann Fabric to buy a stretch of vinyl. For less than $15 I have a giant play mat that easily wipes clean. It fits on both the table and the living room rug. You can also order oil cloth on Amazon.
2. Plastic tubs. A big plastic container is the best for a giant sensory tub. I also like medium-sized boxes for smaller projects. The best part is you can put a lid on them to continue the fun later (or keep the baby out of it until you have time to clean up).
3. Old clothes.
Until I finally asked my husband to raid his closet for old T-shirts, many of our play sessions sounded like this. “Why didn’t you roll your sleeves up? Sigh. You’ve got slime all over your pants. Are you still wearing your school clothes??” Now they roll up their sleeves, slip on a big old shirt, and it’s all good. (Tip: wear short sleeves underneath. And for little necks, clip that big shirt in the back with a clothespin.)
2. Find activities you’re excited to try.
Recently I received this amazing resource… with over a hundred sensory play ideas right at my finger tips! It’s Asia Citro’s new book, 150+Screen-Free Activities for Kids … and it’s amazing. In fact, when this beautiful book arrived in the mail, one of my kids immediately snatched it out of my hands. I gave my big kids (ages 4, 6, and 7) some sticky bookmarks to mark the activities they wanted to try. Over 50 bookmarks later, I got the book back!
Seriously… if the idea of sensory play makes you squirm, this book will completely change your tune.
3. Start with something simple.
If you want to keep your excitement up, start with something easy, like homemade playdough. The other day my boys watched me whip up a triple batch of classic homemade playdough. After it had cooled, they were busy for a good hour. When they were done, I just popped it into a container for the next day (when it was, indeed, requested).
P.S. That tray for holding supplies? A Dollar Tree find!
4. Be clear about your rules.
I really love dry oats for sensory play, but I’ve learned the hard way to make my expectations clear. During a moment of weakness last summer I let two of my boys (ages 2 and 4) take the bin of oats to the front walk. They did not follow my urging to “keep the oats in the bin,” because when I went outside later they had been strewn down the entire sidewalk.
Now, I set out the vinyl play surface with the instructions that “oats need to stay on the mat.” So far, so good!
5. Remember: Not every sensory experience looks like Pinterest.
It’s easy to get discouraged when a play recipe doesn’t turn out like you’d hoped, or when your kids play for less than a minute and bounce off to do something else. (Yes, that happens here.) Why on earth am I dreaming up these fun play invitations when my child turns up her nose?
Don’t give up! Pull it out another day, or try something different.
Our first attempt at flubber wasn’t a big success, but we’ll be trying again. (Making a prettier color is the first thing we’ll do- ha!) I made this quickly so I could go work out in the basement, but next time I’ll slow down, since one of the best parts of 150+Screen-Free Activities for Kids is troubleshooting advice for all the play recipes.
Plus, if an activity doesn’t catch your kids’ interest, try one of the variations in the book. How about red cherry flubber? Or taste-safe glowing flubber?
6. Do activities you’re comfortable with.
Try to move out of your comfort zone, but accept your personal limits. Your kids might love a shaving cream fight, but you don’t have to go there.
- Is play dough your thing? Branch out a bit and try magic foaming dough, moonsand, and colored salt dough (chapter 3).
- If your kids enjoy imaginative play, make a dinosaur rescue world, penguin world, or a bubbling swamp world (chapter 5).
- And if you like to keep it simple, there’s you’ll find ideas in chapter 6. How about colored water play, dried oats, or reusable gelatin?
7. Try baking soda and vinegar for sensory fun that doesn’t disappoint.
When my six-year-old came home from kindergarten, we set up this erupting volcano dinosaur world (page 141) together. Baking soda and vinegar reactions never stop being cool!
8. Know your kids. Adjust accordingly.
If you have a child who is squeamish about sensory play, choose something that’s not as messy to start. Or add a favorite toy. My two-year-old is crazy about toy cars. If I add them to anything, he will be interested. So today during his baby sister’s nap I pulled out our giant tub and created the fizzy foaming car wash from the book. And wow did my boys have fun!
9. Be prepared for clean up.
Think ahead to the end of the activity – something I’ve learned from experience, and one of the wonderful tips for successful sensory play in 150+Screen-Free Activities for Kids. When we got out some edible finger paints for the baby (Chapter 4: Paints) and put her on the giant vinyl mat, I had a towel waiting. This was a good thing, because when she was done she crawled right toward me. I just scooped her up and brought her upstairs for a change of clothes.
10. Get your kids inspired to play!
My oldest is a bookworm who often turns up her nose at sensory play. But if I gave her this for Christmas, you can bet she’d be excited! Put 150+Screen-Free Activities for Kids in a bright container with some contact paper, corn starch, shaving cream, cotton balls, flour, cornmeal, vegetable oil, food coloring, craft foam sheets, baking soda, salt, vinegar, gelatin, and rice… with these supplies you can do half the activities in the book!
So. Sensory play. It’s pretty spectacular.
I’m going to be pulling out the sensory fun all winter long. Will you join me?
More reads on managing messy play:
- A control freak’s guide to a messy play date, from Left Brain Craft Brain
- 6 tips for cleaning up and containing messy sensory activities, from Creative with Kids
- Managing messy play, from Fun at Home with Kids
- Secrets of the Fearless Mess Makers, from Not Just Cute
*(Disclosure: I received a copy of 150+Screen-Free Activities for Kids at no cost in exchange for an honest review. We love the book, and all opinions are mine!)