Play is a priority.

I really believe in creating time in every day for my toddler to play. By this, I don’t mean shoving her in a corner with a few plastic toys whilst I do what suits me. My husband and I make it a priority to set aside some time every day that is just about Briar having some fun and expelling energy. We prefer this time to be spent outdoors however sometimes due to the weather, we must retreat inside.

One of the blessings of motherhood has been learning to have fun again. Due to hurts and experiences of the last few years before we left Brisbane, I had turned into a very bitter person who wasn’t much fun to be around. My own shattered self esteem meant I found it hard to let go and be silly. When my daughter was born, something changed in me. I became immersed in a world of bright colours, silly songs, happy dances and fun games. Warwick and I often discussed how neither of us had anticipated me to be the “fun-mum”, but that’s what I became. Now, the best times are often the silly times and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Whilst outdoor play is our preference, when the weather dictates us to be stuck indoors, I’m always looking for new ideas for sensory play. It seems I’m not alone in this as other mums commented on my post about the Shaving Cream play last week. It seems we all love new ideas to keep our kiddos learning and playing whether they’re at home or out.

So often, when our children are “destructive” or make a big mess, the source of pleasure they are searching for is actually “sensory seeking”. I once read a story of a mum who was at the end of her tether as her young son wouldn’t stop peeling the wallpaper off the walls. She was understandably beside herself and very angry. It turned out this toddler loved the ripping and tearing sounds and feeling, and when given a box of paper of different textures to tear up, he left the wallpaper alone.

Admittedly, there is still the issue of appropriate use of sensory play. Briar loves drawing with chalk on the stone wall in our back yard. It is rough, gritty and colourful. However yesterday I found her drawing on the lounge room wall with chalk. She was confused when I intervened and had to explain to her that chalk was for outside only. However, a negative experience was quickly transformed when she watched me spray the area with cleaner causing the chalk colours to run down the wall. We then wiped it clean together and she watched the colours disapear. Needless to say, I wasn’t opposed to the fact she continued to wipe clean the walls for the next 10 minutes. Maybe if I drew on all the walls, she’d clean the whole house for me?

I recently read a Facebook conversation between a group of mums discussing different sensory play activities and picked up some new ideas. One mum suggested water beads which I’d never considered before. We have several empty fish bowls so I’m definitely going to order some water beads online.

Another mum suggested bath bombs and encouraging the children to hold them as they dissolve. We love adding extra fun to bath time so I was very keen to try this. We bought a bag of broken pieces of bath bombs sold cheaply. I thought this would be perfect as they were smaller bits, ideal for toddler hands. Unfortunately they were severely lacking the fizz-factor and just disolved without any fizzy fun to be had.

So instead I got some full size bath bombs, and picked a sparkly silver one for Briar’s bath tonight. We chose a night when Baby Gabe wasn’t sharing her bath time, and I’m very glad we did as this particular bath bomb certainly had a much more dramatic effect than the last attempt.

We now had swirling black bath water and my immediate thought had been that it reminded me of the Dementors in Harry Potter!! Briar seemed a bit concerned at first but she followed my lead when I told her how exciting the “purple water” was and she ended up having a great time.

She found it fascinating to dunk her toys under the water and see them “disapear” and pouring the dark purple water from cup to cup was really interesting to her. In Briar style, she called out to her daddy to come buy some “purple water in yellow cup” and sold him drink of the water for the sum of five moneys!!

Another fascinating game involved playing with a purple stretchy fish-tank plant from the set up I bought for Briars second birthday and never got around to buying a fish for. Briar loves to stretch it and dunk it under water and feel the rubbery strands between her fingers. Coloured water made this game twice as fascinating.

Sensory games can be so simple. Just immersing a childs hands in a substrate that is new and unusual can be a great source of fun and learning.

I use sensory play as a behaviour management tool all the time. Toddler doesn’t want to have a shower and there’s no time for a bath? Quick, spray shaving foam all over the floor of the shower and she’ll be in there in a flash, spreading the foam around with her feet and using her fingers to draw in it.

Miserable, tired and cranky toddler? Sitting on her level and calmly blowing bubbles for her always gets a smile out. This is also suitable for when I’m breastfeeding her brother and she’s wanting me to play with her. I can blow bubbles with a babe in arms without a problem and Briar loves to race around stomping and popping them.

We also use bubbles when she’s angry. I suffered severe childhood anxiety and remember that I used to become so angry and frustrated that I’d hit myself on the head with my hard hairbrush. So I understand that sometimes children need a physical outlet to express anger and frustration.

I rarely go anywhere without a bubble wand, and have learnt that for Briar, a melt down can be turned around quickly by stomping bubbles.

I say to her “I can see you’re feeling angry/upset/frustrated. Let’s get the angry feelings out by stomping the bubbles.” Stomping her big feelings out works really well for Briar.

However, most of the time sensory play is just about having fun!!

In the warmer months, Briar loves ice play. I’ll regularly give her a cup of ice to play with whilst she’s sitting in her high chair. The high chair tray can hold a fair bit of water so she loves to swish around the melting ice cubes and play with both the solid ice and the cold water.

For kids who aren’t likely to put things in their mouth, stirring marbles in a jug or bowl of water is a really interesting game. They are heavy and sink and make great sounds as they clink together.

A bowl of uncooked rice is great fun! Many parents do coloured rice which we haven’t tried yet, but even a bowl of boring brown rice can be exciting when you hide things in it for the child to find.

Whilst we’re on the topic of food, cooked noodles or spaghetti is a very interesting texture for children to hold, squeeze and play with. If you’re so inclined, adding some food colouring can make it rainbow coloured and very pretty.

When Gabe was born, we had to buy a new baby bath from the op shop because Briar and I had turned the last one into a mud bath! A few months ago, when I was propagating succulents, I got tired of her pouring water onto my cuttings and near drowning them. So I pulled out the baby bath and we filled it with dirt and pebbles and she had a wonderful time pouring water into it. She loves the feel of swishing the pebbles between her fingers in the water and feeling the wet sand.

A less messy idea for a sensory game is to make a cloud box. Tip a bag of cotton balls into a tupperwear container and toss a few gemstones or pebbles in too. As the child seeks out the pebbles, they can feel the soft cotton balls. Briar is quite a fan of cotton balls and cotton tips, so much so that we have to keep them out of reach in the bathroom or else she’s inclined to dump the whole packet in the bath water!

Another fun idea that has minimal mess (as long as your kiddos don’t get too over enthusiastic) is making “squishy bags”. Use ziplock bags and fill with thick paint or a cheap cream like sorbelene, or even playdough or slime! Its really fun to squish the bags around and reshape the object within, and makes no mess on the hands or tables!

Sensory play does not need you to go out and buy expensive toys and resources. Just open your kitchen cupboard or raid the bathroom draws and grab a plastic container. Here are some ideas of things you’ll have around the house that can be poured into a container to make for a brilliant sensory play experience (nb: I am not suggesting these are all mixed together, that would make a hectic mess! Each bullet point is a seperate idea):

  • Lentils, dried peas, barley etc
  • Shaving cream
  • Vegetable oil
  • Jelly
  • Cooked pasta
  • Frozen peas
  • Cotton balls
  • Leaves from the garden
  • Birdseed
  • Water and detergent: use a whisk or hand beater to mix up bubbles
  • Balloons filled with a small amount of water
  • Home made gloop (2 cups of cornflour, 1 cup of water, two drops of food dye)

Happy playing!!

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