Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wet Touch Sensory Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Although this article is aimed at parents of toddlers and preschoolers, I have to say that a lot of these are just plain fun for just about anyone.  I've seen teenagers have a great time with Ooblek, for example, when it is a new phenomenon to them.  Sensory activities do a few things for kids including, soothe, entertain and act as an impetus for verbal communication.  I recommend their use especially with toddlers that no longer need to such and chew on everything.  If they still put everything in their mouth, it is too early for this.  These activities can be particularly good for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.  If your child is still sticking everything in his or her mouth, here is an article with some edible alternatives for you.

With sensory activities for kids, it is great to rotate through different substances.  This keeps the activities "fresh."   When I say sensory activities are entertaining, I really mean it.  Kids that won't sit still for anything, will often engage in these kinds of activities for two to three times longer than they'll engage with the average set of toys.  Rotating helps to keep sensory activities as engaging as possible and allows them different experiences inspiring the need for different descriptive word sets and different kinds of conversation.

I have previously written this article about dry sensory experience options that are a lot less messy than the list that follows, but the items below can be done inside over a table cloth (spread out on the floor) and scooped up fairly easily too when the kids are done.  Most of these activities are best done in some sort of tub or pan.  In the preschool we used to use tubs for mixing mortar because they are nice and big for multiple kids to access the activity.  In your home, a brownie pan is likely to work well.  Include utensils for scooping and pouring and you are all set.

Different Substances to Try:

Finger Painting:  This classic activity is a no-brainer that has the potential to fill an afternoon with funny squishing and squashing of colors to make "pictures."  Experiment with your child with mixing the primary colors and see what they get, can they figure out how to make brown (bet they will on accident!)?  Just let them delight in the cool squishiness of finger paints.  Here is a recipe if you'd like to make your own.

Ooblek:  This one has to be my favorite.  Like slime, it is non-Newtonian (or amorphous) and so it has some reactions to touch that are pretty outside of the general experience and expectation.  All you need is cornstarch and water.  It can be pretty messy.  However, once it dries out all one need do is sweep it up (don't pour it down your drain!  It will clog).  As an activity for the outdoors, ooblek seriously can't be beat.  Nature will clean up the mess.  Her is a recipe and list of amazing things to try with your toddler and your older kids while experimenting with ooblek.

Sand and Water: This is another classic that most associate with a visit to the beach, but why not make a sandcastle in a tub on your table at home?  You need just enough water to make the sand moist and "sticky."  Then, let your child, scoop, pour, mold, mash and mold again with the sand to his or her heart's content.

Magic Sand:  This is sand that has been treated with petroleum jelly so it will repel liquids.  Most pet stores that sell hermit crabs have a supply of bags of this stuff at more reasonable prices than you pay if you order from education science suppliers because it is often used as the hermit crab's substrate.  Pour a little water into your "sensory tub" and then place about 2-3 times the amount of sand in the tub.  If your child has already played with sand and water, how this sand reacts will be a surprise and the difference will be fun for your child to explore.  Your child can make "beads" of sand in the water, pour water over the sand and watch how it beads up and drains down the "beach," scoop and pour the water, and scoop and pour the sand. 

Shaving Cream:  Just spray some shaving cream out on a counter top, or vinyl table cloth and let your kid go at it.  Its simple, but watch how entertaining your little ones will find it.  Mix in a little food coloring and you've even got a color experience (though some food dies will stain).  In a mixing bowl, dribble in white glue and fold gently until it is a bit "sticky" and your child can even scoop it onto paper to make puffy art. 

Dough: Any kind of dough will do, the more different doughs with different textures you can engage a child with over time, the better.  Aside from play dough play, try actually making bread doughs, and noodle dough.  In each case, playing with dough actually strengthens many of the same muscles in the hand as those that are later used in writing and is considered in preschools as one of many important precursor activities to teaching writing.  Punching down bread dough can be a great way to "let some anger out" for a frustrated two year old.  AND making bread is a great exercise in delayed gratification.  If you Make your Own Play Dough, you can also add (just a tsp or so) mint or lavender oil and it will smell a thousand times better than the stuff you buy at the store.  I also like adding bits of crushed spices or herbs occasionally because it changes the texture experience.

Water: Water is an amazing thing all on its own.  Check out The Magic of Water for ideas about using this substance in your sensory table.

Blowing Bubbles:  A big tub of bubble fluid to splash in is a great sensory experience, as is actually blowing the bubbles.

Jello: Make some Jello with your child's favorite plastic toys in it.  Then let him or her squish and moosh the Jello to get the toys out.  Jello is really fun to "play" with.  Give him or her a plastic butter knife (and associated "safety" talk) to cut the Jello apart with, a spoon to scoop it with and then enjoy a few minutes to scrub that sink without her running off.

Goop: This is great!  Use a bar of ivor soap and grate it as you would cheese.  Add just enough water to make it "mold-able" and then separate it into three separate containers and add a touch of color to each with Kool-Aid, or food dye.  Let him or her squish and slosh in the soap mixing the colors.  This one is especially good for in the bath tub.  If you grate the soap finely enough, you may even be able to show your little one how to pipe it through a large tip frosting piping bag so he or she can "draw" on your shower wall.

Prime-Time Slime: 1 cup of liquid starch, 2 cups of white glue (and a few drops of any color you would like to add).  If using color, mix it and the glue first.  Add starch slowly.  If you store this in an air tight container you can reuse it.

Clean Mud: (Very similar to Goop) 1 bar of soap (Dove and Ivory seem to work best), Some toilet paper and warm water.  Grate the soap and add other ingredients until it looks like whipped cream.  Play until bored.  More squishing activity.  Because of the paper, you'll want to throw this one away rather than wash it down a drain.

Flubber:  Do you remember the Absent Minded Professor?  Well, this stuff won't make your car fly, but it will "fart" if squeezed right, bounce, and keep your kids entertained.  You will need 2 bowls for this one in order to mix it.  Mix 1 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of glue.  Add any color you might desire.  SEPARATELY Mix 1 cup of water and 5 TBS of Borax.  after the Borax is dissolved, pour and mix slowly into the first mixture.  Put in the sensory tub and allow your child to help you continue kneading and mixing.  It will look slimy at first but eventually become a big ball of flubber.  It will keep and be reusable for about a week if you keep it in an airtight container.

Glittery Puff Paint: Mix 1/2 cup of flour, salt and water.  Add a few drops of color and put into a squeeze bottle (like an old glue bottle) for your little one to squeeze out and then touch and squish etc.

Pumpkin Goop:  The goop from inside your pumpkin at Halloween can be sorted from its seeds in your sensory tub (making a jack-o-lantern is a wonderful sensory activity by the way).  Related Article.

Ice:  There are so many wonderful things to do with ice, with kids, but for starters you can try giving them a pile of shaved ice to scoop and mold.  Then, check out my upcoming article about Ice play.

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