Keeping little hands busy is never a challenge with toddlers as they will always find something to touch, fiddle with, undo, pull apart, explore and investigate. Which is fantastic!  Except when it is nappy cream on a couch, cereal sorting all over the floor, upturning baskets of laundry or hiding your keys. Planning sensory play experiences that support their interests and connects deliberately with their stage of development and makes for engaging moments. 

The Why For Sensory Play

Why plan for play? Because, if they don’t have something to do– they will find something. Being intentional provides for better outcomes for all.  The first two years – are an unrepeated time of brain development, a once in a life time leap. Yes, you read that right – the foundations for future learning and understanding are laid down in the early years.

Child development theorist Jean Piaget determined that children 0-2 are in a sensorimotor stage of development.  Learning about their world involves hands on work. They cannot develop understanding about water or snow or sand by having it described or seeing a picture.  Water must be touched, poured, transferred from one container to another, splashed, tasted and sat in – and not just once. Through each experience children are developing their knowledge of water properties.

The What

The best things for sensory play are natural materials and open-ended materials.  Things to touch, dig through, explore and manipulate. The Early Years Learning Framework frequently nominated as Childcare Centre’s as the educational curriculum recommends holistic learning as a practice.  This is learning that incorporates an integrated approach to learning. Learning includes all developmental areas. For example, considering water play – such an experience provides for the opportunity to learn about the properties for water through hands on play. 

When scaffolded the learning can provide so much more as communication skills are increased by new words and development of the conversation turn-taking of a conversation. Physical skills enhanced by pouring from a large container to a smaller one, controlling with hand eye coordination. Emotional regulation supported when turn taking is worked through when it is time to finish up. Relationships of trust are building through play together

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The When 

A usual toddler day is made up of routines and rituals that give plenty of opportunity to have experiences.  When we think of learning for toddlers it is perfect to think of it as all the time! Bath times provide opportunity to play with water- so rather than this being a routine to rush through and get it done, it can be a time to create a shared experience not a battleground.  Use the time to connect and engage in cooperative and shared moments.

Now The How Of Sensory Play

If we continue with the sensory play experience of water there are endless possibilities to create fun.  How to decide on the set-up for a particular occasion? Factors that are most obvious are time and space – If you cannot be in the physical space with full supervision – then this is not the time for water play.  Safety first – so being physically and emotionally present is a must.

What to do will depend on what has been observed as an interest. A tub with floating ice cubes and containers of warm water to explore melting, dissolving and disappearing – solid to liquid science.  Measuring with different sized and shaped containers makes for maths. Conserving water from a shower to water the garden is environmental. Painting the fence making patterns with water that dry can be creative. Swimming is physical. Bathing dolls social and emotionally based.  All provide for holistic experiences however have a different learning focus that can extend on children’s learning interests.

It is totally perfect to create repeat play experiences. Children engage deeper with materials they are interested in and explore further when given the chance to revisit experiences. Bathing dolls everyday that your child continues to be engaged in the experience is a demonstration of concentration, persistence to task and building of skills.

The bottom line is there are so many different ways to engage with sensory play with your toddler and really there is no right or wrong way. So have a go and hopefully it will be an enjoyable experience for you both. 

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