Tag Archives: Sensory

Colorful Ice Sculptures

This is one of my favorite winter-time sensory activities!  Though it’s great any time of year, colder temps outside make it easier to freeze all those ice blocks!  Get your kiddos in on all the action by letting them mix the colors (I like to use washable liquid or powder watercolors), and letting them observe the change from liquid to solid…..and then back again!  Pop the colored ice into your sensory table, kitchen sink, or even the bathtub, and get building!  (Originally posted 12/18/09.)

Ice is a fun, inexpensive, and fascinating material to explore in your sensory table!  I like to add color to the water before filling my ice molds, to add interest, and so that the colors begin to mix as the ice melts.  Then I fill a variety of containers – ice-cube trays, of course, but also empty plastic food containers (Cool Whip, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), plastic cups, popsicle molds, muffin tins – anything to create an interesting shape.  You can place these in your freezer, if you have the room, or if you’re lucky enough to have absolutely frigid temperatures as we did here, just place them outside overnight.

Place the ice in your sensory bin with paintbrushes and water, and show the children that if they brush the ice with water and then press two together, the water freezes and holds the ice pieces together like glue!  They can build castles and forts to their hearts’ content!  I also add a salt shaker so that they can observe what happens as salt is added to ice.  Inevitably, they’ll eventually want to chop at the ice (particularly if they’re only partially frozen, with water in the middle, a fortuitous and fascinating accident), so if you want to protect your paintbrushes, provide something else, like craft sticks to use for chopping.

This activity provides experience with science concepts like freezing and melting.  Talk about why the ice is slowly melting and discuss whether the ice would stay frozen or melt outside right now!  It also provides a frigid sensory experience that paves the way for language development as you use synonyms for the word “cold”, like “freezing”, “frigid”, “chilly”, and “icy”.  Other words to describe the experience, such as “slippery”, “smooth”, “melting”, “freezing”, and “dissolve,” easily come into play.  (And, if your children are anything like my own boys, words like “destroy”, “blast”, and “invincible” will also likely come into play.)

See how much learning fun you can have with a little water and coloring?  For a fun spin, you could also try the same activity outside on a snowy day!

For more wintry activities, click here!

 
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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, science activity, sensory activity

Guest-Posting at Modern Familia

I’m over at Modern Familia today, with a post about sensory play for preschoolers.  Here’s an excerpt:

Children Are Wired to Receive and Utilize Sensory Input From Birth

Think of your average preschooler. How long has this child been proficient with language?  Depending on the age, the child may not really be too proficient yet! Others seem to have been talking non-stop since 2 1/2, but that means they’ve been talking now for all of…..about a year!

Now think of how long these children have been seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting. Their whole lives! Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one. This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance. The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.

Click here to read the entire post.

Photo by Raul A

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A Handful of Fun: Why Sensory Play is Important for Preschoolers

(Please, please, feel free to print and share this article with parents and teachers! Simply cite the source as Amanda Morgan, www.notjustcute.com.)

 Think of your average preschooler.  How long has this child been proficient with language?  Depending on the age, the child may not really be too proficient yet!  Others seem to have been talking non-stop since 2 1/2, but that means they’ve been talking now for all of…..about a year!  Now think of how long these children have been seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting.  Their whole lives!  Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one.  This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance.  The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.

This is why we must allow young children to learn through experience, not just lecture.  These children need to use their senses and be engaged in meaningful experiences.  As we talk with them about what they are observing and sensing, we give them new language tools to connect with these more familiar sensory tools, building language as well as supporting cognitive concepts specific to the experience. 

Now, the flip side to this equation is important to remember as well.  Just as children learn through their senses, they also are developing the ability to use those senses and are building the neurological pathways associated with each one.  With added sensory experiences, combined with the scaffolding of adults and peers, children become more perceptive.  Their sensory intake and processing becomes more acute.  As they are better able to use their senses, they are then better able to learn through their senses.

Sensory play is really part of the scientific process.  Whether out loud or within the internal dialogue of the mind, children have developed a question, leading them to investigate– by grabbing, smelling, listening, rubbing, staring, licking , what have you!  They are using their senses to collect data and from that, attempt to answer their own questions.  Whether or not young children are always able to verbally communicate this process, it is still a valid exercise in scientific inquiry.

The sensory table is the usually the first place people think of for sensory play.  That’s logical, as the term “sensory” is shared by both.  The sensory table certainly stands as an open invitation for hands-on exploration, but it is not the only place where the senses come into play.  Throughout the preschool room and throughout the preschooler’s day, there are appeals being made to the five senses.  The sound of toppling towers in the block area, the feel of finger-paint sliding under their fingertips, the glow of the Light Brite at the small manip table, the smell of cinnamon playdough.  As teachers, the more we can attend to the sensory involvement of our planned activities, the more our children will be engaged and the more they will learn. 

For example, when discussing the need for warm clothes in the winter time, we can simply tell children about it, or we can have them hold ice cubes, one in a bare hand, and one in a gloved hand, let them really feel the difference and then meaningfully attach a verbal discussion to the sensory experience.

Back at the sensory table, we can find many more benefits to sensory play.  That bin of sand, or foam, or colorful rice is more than just another way to keep kids busy, it is a bustling factory of developmental growth.  In addition to honing sensory and science skills, sensory play builds language, social, and dramatic play skills as the children negotiate with one another to share tools, create stories, and build dialogues.  Both small and large motor skills get a boost as well, as the children manipulate the medium and tools of the day.  Creative, divergent thinking is displayed as the children are essentially invited to explore and come up with new ways to use the materials.  Cognitive skills are fostered as well as the children learn about specific concepts pertinent to the bin’s contents.  Things like gravity, parts of plants, states of matter, and color mixing are easily explored and understood through sensory play.  As you teach appropriate boundaries with sensory play, children develop more self-control and body awareness.

As one of the truest open-ended activities, sensory play provides an opportunity for every child to succeed.  No matter whether you are gifted or delayed, learning a new language or mastering your first, you can’t really fail with a bin full of beans or a ball of playdough.  Children who struggle to succeed or who are apprehensive about failure often find solace in sensory play.  The simple act of pouring water or running fingers through rice is often cathartic and calming to many children who may be struggling emotionally.  It can soothe the nervous child, distract the homesick child, and serve as an outlet for the angry child.  For children with special needs and sensory integration disorders, sensory play may be particularly therapeutic.  (Please note that we must also avoid over-stimulation in many sensitive children.  Special attention must also be paid to children with sensory integration disorder and properly recognizing their thresholds.)

We often think of the sensory table as being a tactile activity, which it largely is, but the other senses come into play as well!  The tapping sounds of popcorn kernels hitting the bin, the pungent smell of baking soda and vinegar at work, the sight of separating colors as tinted water, oil, and syrup are mixed together are all sensory experiences that can be tapped at the sensory table.  Taste sometimes finds less desirable ways to sneak in at the table as well, though taste-tests can also be properly planned as fantastic sensory experiences!

Find ways to optimize sensory play for your children.  Whether that’s providing a bin of sand to explore, giving your child a dish wand and plastic dishes to “wash” at the sink, or finding ways to integrate the senses into your other activities, provide space and time for sensory play!  It’s a natural and satisfying way to explore and learn!

Links you might love:

Creating a Sensory Table on a Budget

Setting Boundaries with Sensory Play

How to Find Sensory Materials on the Cheap

Messy Play: Bubbles, Sand, Dough, and Water  (Great Sensory Play Ideas from lekotek)

Find more ideas for sensory activities by clicking on the sensory tags and categories at the right, or by entering “sensory” into the blog search engine!

 

Top photo by osmar01.

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Cornmeal Play

If you’re looking for something new to put in your sensory table, consider cornmeal!  Some types are more fine than others – the fine stuff can leave a bit of a dusty residue on those little hands, but no permanent harm done, right?  Whether you have coarse or fine cornmeal, the kiddos just love it!  Compliment the play with toy cars, scoops in a variety of sizes, and even combs to create a fun texture!  Around Valentine’s Day, I threw in some foam hearts and the children kept themselves engaged burying and digging up their “treasures”!  You could add any foam features, plastic figures, or some beads or rocks. 

Sensory play builds curiosity and creativity in children as they engage in open-ended play.  Small motor skills are also developed as they dig and scoop and manipulate the material.  Language and social skills also come into play as the children work together and create dramatic storylines along with their play.  Try it out!

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Shaky Egg Sound Match

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Here’s a quick, easy, and inexpensive way (music to a teacher’s ears, right?)  to create a great tool for incorporating music and auditory discernment.  Whoa, back up the truck, what was that?  “Auditory discernment” is the ability to hear the differences and similarities between two sounds.  It can be as simple as hearing the difference between a bell ringing and a horn honking, but it’s also the groundwork for hearing the difference between the sounds in words, like the short e sound and the short i sound.  Phonemic awareness is a critical reading skill, and it is completely auditory.  So building auditory skills actually paves the way for reading skills.  OK, so back to the project at hand!

You’ll be making a set of shaky eggs with different sounds to be matched by the children.  If you haven’t made shaky eggs before, you really should- they’re so easy.  I explained the process way back here.  For this little project, make six different sets of eggs by using six different fillers.  You might want bells, coins, rice, popcorn, salt, and beads – just to name six off the top of my head.  Keep in mind that the amount in the egg affects the sound as well, so make pairs exactly the same, and consider differentiating pairs by having disparate amounts (one set with just one bead each, and another set with ten, for example).  To simplify, you may want to use just two colors of eggs, so that each pair has one of each color.  That just makes it easier for the children to match the sets, knowing they only have to check against six other eggs, not eleven. 

Now that you have six sets, you have an even dozen and can use a clean egg carton for your case.  Line up one color in one row and the other color in the other row.  Have the children pick one egg, give it a shake, and listen.  Then help the children shake the eggs in the other row, one at a time, until they find the other egg with the same sound.  Once a pair is found, they can put them side by side in the same carton, or in a second egg carton to keep confusion down!

There you have it!  I told you it was easy!  It’s a great sensory matching exercise, and you can always use the eggs for music time as well!

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

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Fruity Scented Kool-Aid Playdough

I love cinnamon scented playdough, which I listed here, but I also love the fruity scent of Kool-Aid scented playdough!  Adding an extra appeal to the senses could hardly be easier!  Start with the Classic Playdough Recipe.  Add a packet of Kool-Aid to the water before adding it to the pan.  Ta-da!  Simple, right?  Now, if you already have a batch of playdough made up, you can also knead the powder right into the dough.  It takes a bit of time to get it mixed through, but because it hasn’t been cooked, the scent may actually be stronger that way.  Just be sure that the powder has been worked in completely.  You may even want to let it sit overnight to be sure that the powder has been fully absorbed. 

I recently kneaded some grape Kool-Aid (OK, it was Flavor-Aid, I’m a cheap skate!) into some leftover glitter playdough.  The color intensified and the smell was fantastic!  Some of the children even watched the transformation and were excited by it, asking for more Kool-Aid to mix into other playdough batches.

Adding a scent to your playdough takes a tactile sensory activity and adds another sense, making it multi-sensory.  It is appealing to the children, literally inviting the children to come explore as the scent wafts across the room!  It is also a great way to extend a familiar activity.  In addition to sensory development, playdough play enhances creativity and fine motor strength.

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

For more food-themed activities, click here!

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Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity

Paint You Can See…Smell…and Feel!

 

If you’d like to incorporate a few more senses into your painting projects, add some regular salt generously to your tempera paint and use as fingerpaint or with a brush.  The resulting project will have a bit more texture and grit that becomes even more visible as it dries.  Use side by side with “regular” paint for a great texture comparison.  This will spark interest as well as encourage the use of new vocabulary words like bumpy, gritty, sandy, smooth, etc.  (If you’re not fingerpainting, you might want to use your older brushes for this one, as the salt tends to get into the bristles a bit.)

The next day you can add another sense to the activity as you make your paint scented!  Just add a packet of Kool-Aid to the container of paint!  I actually added to the salty paint I had left over for a combined experience.  (Do be cautious, as the Kool-Aid seems to make the paint a bit frothy.  It can overflow, albeit slowly!)  The Kool-Aid adds a fruity scent while also intensifying the colors (which may also affect the washability, depending on the product).

Making your art activities multi-sensory makes them more appealing, while also enhancing the senses and building language skills as the children are bound to talk about the differences they’ve observed!  Painting in general also builds creativity and fine motor control and strength.

So try something new with paint you can see, smell, and feel….I suppose you could also add hear if you add some music….though I wouldn’t recommend tasting, at least not with this salty Kool-Aid concoction!

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

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Filed under Create, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity