Day 3: The Gift of Sensory Play
Made a gift for a friend's son's birthday...was going to pick up some bath toys for his gift, but then I thought, well anyone can get those for him...why not assemble a special birthday sensory bin? I didn't spend anymore than I would have on the bath toys, it took maybe an hour to assemble, and voila- a versatile gift that promotes early learning and can grow with him for years! (and there's a gift receipt just in case I'm crazy and the boats are all they really wanted after all).
Sensory play and exploration is a BIG theme in our house. People ask, "Why bother?"
The emphasis on sensory play and it's part in children's development is research-based, and championed through Montessori & Reggio teaching methods.
More than "just a fun thing to do on a rainy day," sensory tables provide your child with the opportunity to learn about a host of concepts while manipulating sensory-appealing materials- think dry beans, rice for those with allergies, sand, gravel,water, shaving cream, different textures, colors, weights, etc.
In addition to exploring the world through play, children practice skills which support learning in measurement, sorting, comparing, describing, developing language, counting, not to MENTION the skills involved with teaching children appropriate boundaries when playing productively (think "we don't throw rice," "this is not safe to place in your mouth," "we put items away when we are done with them," etc.).
Not everyone has the space- or desire!- to have a sensory table in their home. (We have a small DIY one that will be featured later.) But sensory bins offer all the fun in a tidy, storable package! Start small: choose a base material, such as rice- store brand is something like $10 for 20 lbs. Put a few inches in the bottom of a plastic tote. Add "tools"- measuring cups, plastic cutlery, play doh tools, small cups, etc. Include a set of sensory materials to explore (but record what you introduce so you will know if something turns up "missing"). For material ideas, see photos here. Put down a cheap plastic table cover- makes for easy clean up, cause this can get MESSY! And...GO! Play! Let your child lead, you follow. Resist the urge to show a "right" way to play: your input should focus on safety and logistics: "we do not eat the rice," "pouring rice on the floor is fine DURING SENSORY BIN TIME, not any old time of day," etc. Ask questions...watch...learn...enjoy!
As I said, sensory play is a big deal around here, so you'll see much, much more in this vein. For today, here is the gift I assembled for a friend's son's birthday. He is turning one, entering his second year of life: aka prime time to introduce sensory play! A big word of caution, though: sensory play is NOT something to set your toddler doing while you wash dishes or do other work: it is IMPERATIVE that you engage WITH your child for safety reasons. Sensory play is great, but not if your child is not attended to and begins eating and choking on the pieces. Plus, playing WITH your child guides them in approprate ways to play and interact with the materials, gives you the chance to ask questions that lead them to make their ONW discoveries, and of course- time to CRAFT those positive memories with your budding learner!