Why is sensory play such as finger-painting, play dough, sand, mud, and etc important to a child’s development?
When engaged in sensory play children use all of their senses. It promotes sensory integration which is the ability of the body to integrate and process all of the information it receives via the sensory modalities of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and vision. As children pour, dump, build, scoop, and explore they are learning about spatial concepts (full, empty). They learn pre-math concepts along with language and vocabulary. Messy play can be calming to children. It is not just about making a mess and getting dirty; it is an essential component to learning that encourages exploration and discovery through play.
You can easily create simple sensory (messy) activities for you preschooler:
- Make mud and sand pies
- Sift, pour, and stir sand, water, and dirt
- Drive toy trucks and cars through dirt, mud, and water
- Play with vinegar, baking soda and color (from Play Counts)
- Play in the water hose and with sprinklers this summer
- Play with play dough, include add-ins such as glitter, sequins, flavors, and scents such as chocolate play dough cupcakes from NurtureStore.
- You can also put similar add-ins into your painting projects:
- Jump into puddles after a rain
- Blow bubbles (Preschool Projects)
- Squeeze colored water from eye droppers and turkey basters
- Play with colored ice and mix the colors.
- Paint with not only paint but with water, glue, and shaving cream; use hands and fingers!
- Create sensory boxes using beans, rice, packing peanuts, coffee grounds, and just about any materials you feel are safe and interesting to your child.
Here are some edible options that both preschoolers and toddlers will enjoy. It’s not that we want a child to eat these recipes, these are just non toxic options just in case they are placed in the mouth:
Home-made finger paint recipe from I Can Teach My Child (use food coloring)
Create a sensory box using giant pasta shells from Plain Vanilla Mom
If your child doesn’t like to get their hands dirty, play at their pace but encourage them to try the activity. You might begin by using brushes and utensils then move to using fingers and hands.
Ick. The Mess
If you are like me, you struggle facing the mess and clean up. Sometimes that alone would deter me from having messy play. Try using a tray to place materials on as this will help contain the mess and set boundaries.
Another way to create a simple, but natural boundary is to use a vinyl table cloth to create a play space on the floor. I use one that is at least 80 inches in length, then fold it in half with the vinyl out. This keeps dirt, lint, and other goodies from sticking to the cloth back. I have found this to be very successful on home visits. It creates a play space that the children seem to naturally stay on. Of course it also helps contain materials and makes clean up easier.
From the beginning, have your child help with clean up. It will likely be easier to do it yourself, but it is important to teach them this life skill and responsibility.
Have a great time getting messy together!
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