Monday, April 1, 2013
Top 10 Sensory Activities for Toddlers
I recently took up a challenge with my 26-month-old daughter S to try out a new creative craft or activity every day for 30 days straight. It quickly became clear that S was most engaged by sensory activities; those which encourage free-form, tactile exploration and emphasize process over finished product. Or, in other words, stuff she could really get messy with! Some of these activities held her interest for 30-45+ minutes - win win!
Here are the top 10 sensory activities we tried out during our challenge. I selected and ranked these based on my daughter's enthusiasm, total play time and how well each sparked her imagination. All these ideas came from other sites (via Pinterest), so I've included the corresponding links which you can follow for more details and "recipes" (where applicable).
10: Bath tub water balloons - This was the first time S played with water balloons and she was thrilled! We used small balloons and filled each until it was about the size of a lemon. This allowed her to get a good grip and squish each one without it breaking too readily. We let her play with them in the kitchen and living room until bath time and then she had fun splashing around with them in the tub. One of the balloons got a tiny hole in it and S was super-amused when I repeatedly squirted her with it! Total play time: 10 minutes outside bath and 10 minutes in bath.
9: Rainbow bath ice cubes - Another fun bath activity! S was interested in the initial process of making the cubes (especially learning how the various colours combined) and then enjoyed chasing them around the tub. We played a game where I threw three in and she had to find and put them all in a bucket before they melted. We then repeated it with clear cubes, which gave her even more of a challenge. We made a whole tray of coloured cubes so used half of them during one bath and the other half a few days later. Total play time: 5 minutes making the cubes and 10 minutes per bath.
8: Rainbow salt tray - This activity involves adhering colourful construction paper to the bottom of a tray, pouring a thin layer of salt on top and having the child "paint" the salt in neat patterns to reveal the colours underneath. S wasn't so much into drawing pictures with the paint brush as simply playing with the salt. It really brought out her creativity; she made "pancakes", "eggs" and a bunch of other "food" and shared them with me. And, of course, she enjoyed flinging the salt everywhere. :) Total play time: 20 minutes
7: Cloud dough - Fluffy yet moldable, this is Neat Stuff, and super-easy to make - just 8 parts flour to 1 part oil. (We used vegetable.) Similar to the rainbow salt tray, S made a lot of "food" and loved squishing the various shapes I molded and squeezed into the bowl. Total play time: 20 minutes
6: Shaving cream marbling - Have you ever squirted out a huuuuuge amount of shaving cream for the sole purpose of squishing it through your hands over and over again? If not, you should. And feel free to bring your child along for the ride. ;) Seriously though, this was an awesome sensory experience. The colours were neat, but the tactile sensations were out of this world! S squeezed, patted, swirled and shook the cream for 20-25 minutes until she made the (inevitable) switch to warpainting herself, which was followed closely by bath time. ;)
5: Gloop - This stuff is supposed to be, well, gloopy and sort of string-able. Oddly, ours didn't come out like that. It was just kind of squishy. However we used white corn flour (the only type available at the store) so I'm wondering if you need the yellow variety to achieve the desired effect? In any case, this didn't take away from S' zest for the experience; she glooped around for a good 25+ minutes.
** Update - April 10th ** - Turns out gloop is supposed to be made with corn starch, not corn flour! Well, what we here in North America refer to as corn starch, that is. In the UK apparently they call this corn flour, hence my initial confusion. In any case, we made it with corn starch today and it came out as I'd envisioned. And S, of course, had a ball!
4: Home-made finger painting - I'm cheating a bit to include this activity, as we did it a few days before our challenge officially began. However it's too awesome not to include. Two of S' absolute fave things to do are painting and getting her hands dirty, and finger painting is (of course) the perfect marriage of the two. Plus with this home made recipe, you know exactly what's going in! (And everything's safe and edible, except arguably the food colouring - though you could explore natural colourings using ingredients such as spinach and carrot). We made a few bowls of this stuff in an array of colours, and S painted until it was all either on pieces of paper or somewhere on her body. :) Total play time: 30 minutes
3: Marshmallow sensory play - Did you know that when you toss a bunch of marshmallows in a tub of water there's a cool magnetic effect? The marshmallows form together into chains and other Tetris-esque shapes, but they don't stick together (as I thought they would) so you can shuffle them around and they'll join back together in different configurations. This had me particularly intrigued, however S (as expected) was more enraptured by the feel of the marshmallows in the water, swirling and squishing them with delight. We heated a few up which did make them stick together (of course - I've made my share of rice crispy squares!) and S loved playing with the gloopy 'shmallow clumps too. Total play time: 40 minutes
2: Pasta play dough - This activity is super-awesome for a couple reasons: 1) Highly engaging for the child, honing both creativity and fine motor skills and 2) Dirt easy to prep and clean up - just grab a few tubs of prepared play dough (or make your own, based on one of the jillion recipes out there) and a handful of pasta in different shapes & sizes. We've done this activity 3-4 times now and our materials have included small and large macaroni, long rice noodles and corn. S loves play dough on its own, but getting to stick stuff into it amps up the fun factor even more! As usual, there's a heavy food theme with her play; she loves to make birthday cakes, cookies, etc. She especially likes sticking in the long rice noodles as the "candles". :) Total play time: 30+ minutes each time.
1: Spaghetti sensory play - This puppy took the cake both in terms of total play time and immersion factor, and as such I had to award it top spot. First of all, I decided to change things up a bit from the original instructions to vary the sensory experience. I divided the cooked spaghatti into two tubs, colouring one red and orange and keeping it warm, and colouring the other blue and green and putting it in the freezer for a few minutes to chill it down. S jubilantly squished, made food, told tales and gave the spaghatti personalities for a solid 45 minutes. About 30 minutes into the play, I gave her a third tub of water which she happily incorporated into the experience. Messy? Boy was it ever. Worth it? 110%!!
What sensory activities have you tried with your own children? Which one(s) do they enjoy the most?