Friday, September 18, 2015

8 Tips for Using Food for Sensory Play That Aren't Wasteful

We like to use food items for sensory play in our house. There are lots of non-food sensory bin fillers that you can use (see 50 here and 50 more here), but sometimes nothing beats the sensory exploration of rice, oats, or beans. However, we try to use food items in such a way that it is not wasteful and will reuse the same sensory bin fillers over and over. So here are my 8 tips for using food for sensory play that aren't wasteful.

Sensory play tips for kids: ways to use food for sensory play that aren't wasteful from And Next Comes L

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Sensory Play Tip #1: Use expired food items

Raid your pantry to see if you have any food items that have expired. They're no longer good to eat and you're liking considering tossing them out for good anyway, but wait! Those expired food items are the perfect items to use for sensory play.

Have a bag of expired oats? Dye them! Have a bag of expired rice? Dye that too! Those dried chickpeas that are a few months old? Dye them too!

By repurposing expired food items for sensory play, you are saving yourself from purchasing a bag of rice solely for the purpose of sensory play. You are also avoiding wasting food by simply tossing it out because it has passed its expiry date.

Examples: Rainbow Dyed Puffed Wheat was made with cereal that was over two years old or this tape resist mirror play used expired Cool Whip.


Sensory Play Tip #2: Use peels and inedible portions of food items

Apple peels, potato peels, carrot peels, egg shells, carrot tops, or even melon rinds are all wonderful items for sensory play. You're likely going to toss or compost these items, but before you do, let the kids feel them, smell them, look at them, lick them (if appropriate), etc.

Examples: Carrot Shavings Sensory Play (from House of Burke)




Sensory Play Tip #3: Involve them in the grocery shopping or gardening

The grocery store itself is a perfect way to use food for sensory play. Buying a watermelon? Have them use their nose, hands, and eyes to pick the perfect watermelon. Need a jug of milk? Let them open up the cooler section to feel the cold air in this section. You can even give the kids some proprioceptive sensory input by having them lift heavy objects or bringing the bags of groceries into the house. Or if you are at a store that does taste tests (like Costco, for example), then let them sample the food items to engage their sense of taste.

Gardening is also a great way to encourage sensory play, so be sure to let them dig in the dirt alongside you.


Sensory Play Tip #4: Let them play with their food at mealtimes

We all know that saying, "Don't play with your food," but I don't really pay attention to it most of the time. Why? Because I frankly don't care how the kids get the food into their mouth (hands vs. utensils) as long as they're eventually eating it. So try skipping the utensils at mealtimes and letting them use their hands to explore the different textures and smells while eating. Offer them a variety of finger foods with a variety of textures like dry crackers, slimy kiwi slices, mushy banana slices, or sticks of spicy pepperoni. Encourage them to smell the different food items before tasting them too.


Sensory Play Tip #5: Reuse sensory bin fillers over and over

We use the same sensory bin fillers over and over, sometimes over the course of months or even years. So those dyed chickpeas we made? We still play with that exact same batch over a year later. And that dyed coconut? Again, over a year old.

To reuse sensory bin fillers, we simply store the materials in an airtight container or in a zipper seal bag. Then we store in a dry, cool place until the next time we want to use it.


Sensory Play Tip #6: Share your sensory bin stash after your children outgrow it

When your children outgrow the sensory materials that you have collected and stored (or perhaps they don't even like the texture of a particular material), then consider donating and sharing it with others. Donate your unused sensory bin fillers to a preschool, a daycare, a friend, or any other early childhood facility to reuse. Recycle that sensory collection!


Sensory Play Tip #7: Incorporate sensory play into cooking, baking, and meal prep times

There's no need to create a sensory stash of dyed oats and chickpeas, etc. because you can easily incorporate sensory into cooking, baking, and meal prep times. For example, your children could knead pizza or bread dough. Or they could lick the spoon after making chocolate cake. Let them smell spice containers as you cook. Or they can scoop and measure the flour for a recipe. You likely know how messy scooping flour can be with little kids and they will inevitably get some flour on their hands or arms. That right there is sensory play.


Sensory Play Tip #8: Use a splat mat to reduce waste

When we play with sensory bins, I always use a shower curtain as a splat mat on the floor. It not only helps to protect the floor or carpet if we are using something really messy and colorful, but it also catches and contains any sensory bin fillers that may spill out during sensory play. When the kids are done playing, I simply pick up the shower curtain and shake the items back into the sensory bin before putting the materials away for storage.

Examples: See our splat mat in action here. I simply just picked up the mat, shook the coconut back into the bin, and then reused it. In contrast, you can see how not using a splat mat creates more waste here.

Other Ideas You'll Love

50 Non-Food Sensory Bin Fillers with Free Printable

50 More Non-Food Sensory Bin Fillers with Free Printable

Water Bead Sensory Activities for Kids

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