If I could go back in time to the early toddler years, I would have one message for myself: “Sensory activities, dude. Sensory. Activities.”
It took me much too long to realize that my son Ryan’s energy – or as we like to say, his “spirited nature” – could be tamed or channeled momentarily by sensory activities, which work to stimulate any or all of a child’s senses.
These days, I have a whole shelf of sensory standbys. Even at five years old, these activities are the best way to occupy Ryan for significant chunks of time and calm his body, especially during the winter months when all that energy is trapped indoors.
There is no need to get fancy or pricey. Most of my favorite sensory activities utilize materials you probably already have in your home. Encourage your child to add a few favorite toys to the mix (in our home, it’s always dinosaurs, but any small plastic animals, superheroes or other figurines will do the job), and watch their imaginations come alive.
1. The Dry Spell. Choose one or two dried goods from your pantry, such as oats, rice or short, uncooked pasta noodles. Set out different bowls or plastic containers of different shapes and sizes, as well as measuring cups and spoons. Pour, stir, mix and measure.
2. The Dry Spell is Over. Yesterday, you let them manhandle the uncooked rice and pasta. Today, cook it up for them and show them how food takes on a different texture after it’s been cooked. (Tip: If you cook long pasta noodles for play, drizzle a little oil over them to keep them from becoming too sticky.)
3. Pack it up. Empty all those shredded bills and junk mail into a bowl or large plastic bin; add another bowl and a pair of kitchen tongs and watch your kids bury and unbury their toys. Or pull out a large shipping box filled with bubble wrap or packing peanuts and let them bury themselves.
4. Winter Water Table. Simply fill up the kitchen sink with water and toys. Add bubbles for extra fun.
5. Homemade Dough. Make a soft, sandy dough by mixing 8 cups flour and 1 cup baby oil. For a dough that is more like real Play-Doh and less messy, mix 2 cups flour, ½ cup salt, 2 tablespoons cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil; stir in 1-1/2 cups boiling water; form dough and separate into 3 or 4 sections; add food coloring to each section, if desired.