Young children depend on sensory experience to learn by processing and interpreting vital information about their environment. Even before birth, babies are quite sensitive to touch and sound. Upon birth they immediately recognize their mother’s voice and smell and they respond to their mother’s soothing touch while rocking or nursing. Experts agree that sensory experiences allow children to respond to the demands of life, including satisfying needs of learning, communication and basic survival.
Sensory play can have many looks. Some educators and parents create themed tubs with a base of colored rice, sand or dirt, confetti, or dried noodles. Included in these tubs are spoons and cups for scooping and pouring, and also small theme based objects to find. Some devote an entire table to sensory play, including a mud kitchen or water table for outdoor play.
But you can give your child valuable sensory experiences without doing a tub or a table. Here, Corinne, at nine months is enjoying “finger painting” for the first time. Because Corinne is so young and still explores her world through her mouth, I made an edible paint for her to play in. It is simply plain Greek yogurt with a bit of agave nectar and a few drops of food coloring.
Other edible finger paint recipes include colored vanilla pudding, sweetened condensed milk, and homemade whipped cream. Still other edible paints are less tasty, but completely safe for babies. Hereis a great recipe that calls for corn starch from The Imagination Tree. Here is a recipe that calls for gelatin as a thickener from Hands On As We Grow.
As you can see, Corinne is quite satisfied with having seconds, and she is obviously very pleased with herself.
William, on the other hand, couldn’t be convinced to paint with his yogurt, but instead enjoyed sprinkling star shaped sprinkles into it, a great fine motor activity, and then gobbling it up the usual way.
At first, it is hard not to worry about the mess sensory play can make. It is messy, and typically meant to be, so put a tarp or sheet under the sensory tub, table or high chair. It is well worth the fun. Or, with something like finger painting, just throw the kids in the bath afterward with some unexpected toys for another great sensory activity!