Sensory Play for the Early Days

Connor stayed in the mouthing phase far longer than I had anticipated. In fact, I could argue he is STILL in that phase. Every now and then I will catch him trying to eat a flower or taste a rock and I think… Oh boy. Some things never change.

Fun fact: When Connor was 18 months old, he ate a dead snail and got salmonella.

It was one of those slow motion moments of motherhood where you can see it unfolding but you can’t move fast enough to stop it. He found a sun-dried, crusty snail stuck to our patio door and before I could grab him, he popped it in his mouth with a big CRUNCH. I was disgusted but figured, eh what’s the worst that could happen…lesson learned.

I took this right after he spit out the snail. You can see the bits and pieces of shell fragments on his lower lip.

If you have a child who finds a way to put anything and everything in their mouths with often comically terrible results, planning sensory play can be daunting. You have to assume they are going to eat whatever you put in front of them. I get it! To help, I’ve put together some of our favorite sensory play ideas below.

Tip #1: Water is your best friend

Flowing water is a magical thing for little ones. They will stay fascinated with it for hours. Developmentally they are learning so many things from playing with water: gravity, cause and effect, currents and streams, temperature, buoyancy, and more. As long as you are watching (and you don’t mind an elevated water bill), plop them in the tub and let them play away!

More Ideas:
1. Add blocks to the tub
2. Poke holes in plastic or foam cups and show littles the water flowing from them
3. Use color tablets (in the bath section) to turn the water different shades
4. Squirt globs of shaving cream in the water. It floats on top and makes for fun pincer grasp practice
5. Dim the lights and add glow sticks (especially fun with shaving cream since they glow under the white clouds)

Tip #2: Choose Something Edible

Food is a child’s first sensory play. If your little one still enjoys mouthing things, there are endless options for sensory exploration with food. Muffins are both squishy and crumbly. Yogurt is slimy and cold. Noodles are long and wiggly. While your child plays, sprinkle these descriptive words into your conversation. They build vocabulary and background knowledge.

More Ideas:
1. Pudding and yogurt are great first paints. Your child can use them to finger paint their high chair, paper, or themselves! Let them paint in the tub and clean up is a breeze.
2. Add a few drops of food coloring to cooked noodles and shake them in a bag to make colored noodles. Children love to squish the cooked noodles between their fingers. They can also practice scissor skills on long strands of spaghetti.
3. Grind up cereal in the blender to make edible sand. Add a little bit of coconut oil to make it sculpt-able. Add food coloring or sprinkles to make it more magical.

Tip #3: Use Textiles and Cloths

Soft, silky, bumpy, smooth, light, heavy, itchy, warm: these are all words that can be learned from playing with different types of fabric. Starting in infancy, children enjoy exploring different textiles. Gently drift a colored scarf across their face during tummy time. Make forts out of different style blankets. Let them dance with ribbons to music. Textiles are a great early sensory tool.

More Ideas:
1. Lie on your back with your child and raise a blanket up high overhead then let it drop to your faces. This up and down motion and the accompanying breeze is fascinating to little ones.
2. Crawl through different textured blankets with your little ones. Talk about what they feel like, which one is heaviest, which one is softest, etc.
3. Dance with ribbons or silk scarves. Listen to them move in the breeze.

Tip #4: Play with Something Sticky

Contact paper, painters tape, and stickers are all interesting sensory experiences for children. Put a sheet of contact paper on the wall or against a door and let little ones practice sticking age appropriate items to it. Cheerios, pieces of fabric, marshmallows and more will stick to the contact paper.

More Ideas:
1. Play tape rescue. Use painters tape to stick toys or puzzle pieces to the floor (or trap them inside muffin tin compartments). Have littles use their fingers to rescue the toys.
2. Use a lint roller to pick up pipe cleaner pieces off the floor. Then have them remove the pipe cleaners and place them in a bowl. This develops fine motor strength and their pincer grasp.

If your child still tries to eat everything in sight, you are not alone! Mouthing is very normal and an important stage in development. There are plenty of sensory play ideas to keep your little one safe and you sane during this time. Which activities are favorites in your house?

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