Monday, May 01, 2017

Sensory Play Tips

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These sensory play tips will help you make the most out of sensory play for toddlers and preschoolers.

If you are new to sensory bins, then you might be a bit overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.

Or maybe you need some help containing the mess?

I know that when I first introduced my oldest son to sensory play that I was worried about the mess and wasn't entirely sure if what I was doing was right. I, too, was once overwhelmed with all of the possibilities and that was before I even used Pinterest to find sensory ideas for my kids!

Regardless of whether you are new to sensory play or not, I want sensory play to be stress-free for you and fun for your child. 

So here are my sensory play tips that will help you and your child get the most out of sensory bins, while minimizing messes.

Tips for doing sensory play for toddlers and preschoolers

Tips to Help You Make the Most Out of Sensory Bins

Here are my tips for making the most out of sensory bins with your child:

1. Always supervise your child during sensory play

This tip is obvious, I know, but it is the most important, especially if your child is a baby, toddler, or young preschooler. Many sensory bin materials present choking hazards so I cannot stress enough that you should supervise your children while they are playing with a sensory bin. Always.

2. Take sensory play outdoors

If you anticipate things getting messy, then take the sensory bin outdoors. You can always use the hose for easy cleanup too.

3. Start with something simple

I think one of the first sensory bin materials that we tried out with J was water beads. I literally offered him a container of water beads and some scoops. It was super simple and stress-free for both of us. It wasn't overwhelming with the bells and whistles of some of our other sensory bins that we have done over the years, but sensory bins were new to him and I at the time. 

So if you are new to sensory play, then start simple. Plain rice, plain oats, or similar are a great place to start. Even just a container of sand will do the trick.

4. Use a small amount

Don't want a big mess to clean up? Then use a small amount of materials. Less materials = less mess.

5. Set basic rules for sensory play

Be sure to set some ground rules for your child when they are playing with a sensory bin. For instance, if it is something that is inedible, then be sure to let your child know that they should not put the objects in their mouths. 

Usually our only rule for sensory play is to keep the materials limited to the bin and the shower curtain splat mat (see tip #5 below) we use underneath the sensory bin.

6. Use a splat mat

A splat mat is a must for us! It helps to contain the mess and makes clean up so much easier. You can use a sheet, tablecloth, shower curtain, or traditional splat mat. We personally use white shower curtains because my parents own a motel and gave us a bunch of retired shower curtains so might as well use them, right? They are waterproof too, making them perfect for water based sensory bins too. If they get dirty, then no worries. Simply toss it into the washing machine and it will be ready to go the next time you need it.

7. Embrace the mess and prepare for cleanup ahead of time

When I first started introducing sensory play to my kids, I really struggled with the messiness factor. However, I slowly became more comfortable with it. Establishing sensory play rules and using a splat mat are two simple ways to contain the mess. I also like to keep baby wipes, a bowl of water, vacuum, towels, etc. (it really depends on what sensory bin fillers are being used) handy for easy cleanup.

8. Play alongside your child

Bond with your child by joining in and playing alongside them, especially if they are a bit hesitant to try it out. Show them different ways that they can play or ask them to describe what they are doing as they play. Talking and narrating the play is a good way to build language skills too.

Playing alongside your child can also help contain the mess in a couple of ways. You can demonstrate and model how to play without it getting too messy. You can also remind them of your sensory play rules as you play together.

9. Pick materials that are suitable for your child's age, abilities, and skills

This tip is super important. For instance, if your child is still mouthing objects, then avoid using inedible objects until they are no longer mouthing. Or if you are wanting to encourage fine motor skills development, then offer materials that will help build those skills.

10. Consider your child's interests

Take your child's interests and make a themed sensory bin. It is one of the easiest ways to get your child interested in the sensory activity.

11. Consider your child's sensory preferences

If your child is a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider, then it is important to consider these sensory preferences when putting out a sensory bin. If it's a texture they actively avoid, then they're likely not going to touch the sensory bin either. 

12. Dress accordingly

If things are apt to getting messy, then wear old clothes. Or, if the weather is appropriate, then wear a swimsuit and hose off after playtime.

13. Opt for washable coloring

I highly recommend using liquid watercolors instead of food coloring when it comes to dyeing sensory materials. Unlike food coloring, liquid watercolors are washable and will not stain clothing or skin. So no stained hands for you or your child.

14. Do activities that fit your space

If you are tight on space, then you will want to consider using some space saving sensory hacks, such as doing sensory bins in the sink instead of a large container or using an under-the-bed storage container and storing all materials inside. Just simply slide the container under a bed when not in use.

15. Reuse sensory bin materials 

Be sure to store sensory bin materials in an airtight container or zipper seal bags as many, if not most, sensory bin fillers can be reused over and over. That means you create less waste.

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