Rain, rain, go away! You wouldn’t know it today with the rain hammering down outside but the start of Spring was promising with bright blue skies, birds singing, the village sheep baa-ing, bright yellow daffodils in full bloom and the kids and I spotting our shadows as we enjoyed our walks to and from school…apparently its due to brighten up tomorrow!
When we said goodbye to our chickens earlier this year I was determined to use the space for something the children could still all enjoy and benefit from. In their place we now have two raised beds, one for growing fruit and vegetables, and one which I am creating a sensory garden in.
I have made a start on this by planting the last of my sunflower seeds that I have used in previous years, I hope the bright colour and eye-catching flowers will be popular with this years mindees.
Along the front of the bed I have planted some mint taken from a cutting elsehwhere in the garden and also some basil and some rosemary which hopefully the children will enjoy using their sense of smell to enjoy.
Next up, I would like to plant something called ‘Lambs ears’. I loved this plant as a child, it has incredibly soft leaves which I hope the children will enjoy with their sense of touch.
I also plan to plant some lavender that we like to use our playdough for a more sensory experience.
I am pleased to report that the sunflowers have started to grow already and I will keep you posted as to how it all progresses.
This week I created a winter themed sensory bag for the babies I look after to explore. Neither of them seem too keen to get messy so this was perfect for them both. Sensory bags provide a fun sensory experience without any mess. They are also more easily tolerated by kids who hate sticky or messy sensations on their hands.
I try to provide my mindees with lots of different sensory experiences to help them become more comfortable with new sensations.
Sensory play is, quite simply, any activity that stimulates the senses. This includes the five main senses of touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound.
What are the benefits of sensory play?
At birth, a child’s senses are not fully developed. Instead, they develop over time as children engage with the world around them. This means that babies, toddlers, and preschoolers learn about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing, and moving their bodies.
Because young children’s senses are still developing, each new sensory experience builds neural pathways that grow the architecture of the brain. The brain growth that occurs through sensory play enhances children’s senses, and their enhanced senses in turn make them better able to use those senses for learning. For example, as children engage with various textures, they learn which ones are rough vs. smooth, which ones are hard vs. soft, and which ones are wet vs. dry. This awareness is a first step in learning to classify and sort objects.
Baby sensory classes are big business. As a home based childcarer I aim to provide lots of different things to stimulate all 5 of babies and toddlers senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste) outside of expensive classes.
Babies love to put things in their mouths and I don’t discourage this as this is how they learn. All my toys are regularly inspected for cleanliness and safety.
I am to provide resources that offer a range of different textures, types, colours and shapes which will provide a lot of sensory stimulation for all the children.
These are just some of the sensory activities and resources I provide here at Aston Childcare (the safety and ages of each child is always considered before using any of the items listed) –
Playdough – adding things such as glitter or lavender
Small bean bags
Treasure baskets – filled with metal items, wood items, plastic items, ribbons
Touch and Feel sensory books
Cooking and baking sessions to explore taste and smell.
Outside basket – filled with fir cones, interesting leaves, twigs etc
Arts and crafts items such as pom poms and wool.
Paper and cardboard sensory bag with different types of card eg shiny, ridged, coloured
On Monday we made some fantastic coloured rice. Using Basics white rice, food colouring and vinegar we put the ingredients in to a bag, tied a knot and got massaging the colour into the rice. This was a great sensory activity as we squished & squelched the bags until all of the colour was combined evenly. We discussed which colours to use, the smell of the vinegar and the feel of the rice in the bag.
We then left it on a tray to dry and when ready we came back to make marks in the rice using our fingers and paint brushes. Messy play materials like this rice are wonderful for mark making (quite literally the earliest form of writing, where a child makes marks and symbols) and early writing which was the aim behind this activity. You can use all manner of things to write and make marks with – fingers, lolly pop sticks, cotton bud sticks, chopsticks, paint brushes and the feet of toy dinosaurs. We swirled and zig zagged in the rice and had great fun!
My mindee will not sit and write on a plain piece of paper. It does not interest him yet, so I need to find new ways to make writing fun for him and this is just perfect for igniting his interest unaware that he is in fact learning!
The Benefits of Sensory Play (source: HIGHSCOPE | Extensions, VOLUME 25, NO. 5)
We know that young children are oriented toward sensory experiences. From birth, children have learned about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing. Sensory play also contributes in crucial ways to brain development. Stimulating the senses sends signals to children’s brains that help to strengthen neural pathways important for all types of learning.
As children explore sensory materials, they develop their sense of touch, which lays the foundation for learning other skills, such as identifying objects by touch, and using fine-motor muscles. Children can work with materials that have many sensory attributes — they may be warm or cool, wet or dry, rough or smooth, hard or soft, textured or slimy. Discovering and differentiating these characteristics is a first step in classification, or sorting — an important part of preschoolers’ science learning and discovery.
A lot of learning can occur while children are doing what they do best: playing and exploring! Consider the following benefits of sensory play to children:
Cognitive development. Even before children can speak, they are developing an understanding of things in their environment by actively exploring them with all their senses. As they become more verbal, they are able to describe similarities and differences in what they see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. For example, each time a child explores sand, he is confirming his previous explorations and discoveries that sand is dry, gritty, and so forth, and he will eventually notice other materials that share those same characteristics.
Social skills. Working closely together at the sand and water table gives infants and toddlers opportunities to observe how peers handle materials, try out the ideas of others, share their own ideas and discoveries, and build relationships.
Sense of self. As they directly experience things themselves, children explore and communicate preferences, making sense of the world around them. For instance, they discover that they enjoy the feel of dry sand or that they have an aversion to slimy things. When caregivers acknowledge and accept their preferences, children learn that their feelings and decisions are valid.
Physical skills. Children develop and strengthen new motor skills through shaping, molding, scooping, dumping and splashing— these actions all support the development of small and large muscles. For instance, holding a scoop to fill and dump sensory materials works many muscles used in other parts of the children’s day, as when they hold a cup or spoon at mealtimes.
Emotional development. Sensory experiences can be very calming for many children and can help them work through troubling emotions, such as anxiety or frustration. For example, working with materials that require pressure and manipulation, such as play dough, can help children release physical energy or tension. Likewise, sensory materials lend to children’s expression of positive feelings, such as joy and excitement.
Communication skills. Through their choice of materials and actions during sensory play, children have opportunities to communicate both verbally and nonverbally. While splashing in the water table, a young toddler may display a look of surprise as her hand makes contact with the water or squeal in delight as she is able to make the water splash repeatedly. A caregiver’s responses to the efforts to communicate help children know the message they are trying to convey has been received.
I keep reading about lavender playdough and have been desperate to try it! Yesterday afternoon the children cut some stems from the lavender plant in the garden. We then made fresh playdough which they love – taking it in turns to pour in a sachet of cream of tartar each, taking it in turns to stir and pour the flour in. We then added the lavender and got kneading! It was a very calming, soothing sensory play session!
I love using playdough with the children, it’s not just fun to make and play with but covers lots of areas of learning too –
By making the playdough from scratch together, the children learn about measurement and numbers by filling the cup and comparing the size of teaspoons and tablespoons, and about counting as we add the ingredients.
Children note changes in shape and size as they comment on, compare, and contrast the objects they make (“I made a triangle” and “Mine is a tiny ball and yours is big”). Others notice who has more or less playdough.
It encourages mathematical thinking – “What shape is that?” “Which snake is longer?” or “How many pieces do you have now?”
Children practice counting, learn about shapes (geometry) and how they relate to each other (spatial sense), and practice sorting and classifying.
While poking, rolling, and squishing playdough, children develop the small muscles in their fingers and hands. They use hands, fingers, and tools to pound, push, poke, shape, flatten, roll, cut, and scrape. Through these manipulations, children develop eye-hand coordination, the ability to match hand movement with eye movement. They also gain strength and improve dexterity in their hands and fingers, critical areas of physical development for writing, drawing, and other purposes.
Communication and Language
Children practice listening to and talking with others
It helps children build their vocabulary as they explain what they are doing. For example, when a child exclaims, “Chop!” as she brings down the plastic knife, she uses just the right word to describe her action.
Children use language to invent stories about their playdough creations.
Creativity and Imagination
Children express their ideas through art and make-believe play. At the same time, they learn symbolic thinking by pretending that the playdough is something else (“That thing with the antlers is a moose”).
Social and emotional development
It lets children feel competent (“I’m good at rolling the dough”) and proud of their accomplishments (“Hey, I made a dog”). Pounding, flattening, and squeezing are healthy and safe outlets for extra energy. They can also help children cope with strong feelings like anger or stress.