The lovely @BodforTea asked me recently for some ideas on sensory/ messy play for the under 2s and so I thought I would pop all the activities we’ve done into one post- so here it is. 8 sensory play ideas for the under 2s!
Recently, we discovered the wonder that is jelly stones- thanks to the fantastic TTS Education. I could spend a small fortune on that site and when I was teaching it was a firm favourite of all the staff too. Do take a look it you’re wanting to stock up on play materials for the little ones.
Alongisde our Tuff Spot mirror and magnetic marbles, I couldn’t resist getting some jelly stones too, and we’ve been using them in lots of activities since. Jelly stones are a lot like waterbeads (used in lots of play, including our space themed sensory play activity) in that they absorb water and grow in size. The wonderful thing about jelly stones is that they grow a lot quicker (around 4 hours) and they can be mixed together to create new colours too. They vary in size and can be dehydrated and stored away for future use.
Regular readers will know that we’ve also been playing with submersible lights and that in my bid to teach colours to the toddler, we combined these lights with the jelly stones for some wonderful sensory play. So here it is- Glowing jewels water play!
Yesterday The Preschooler had a day at home as he’d been poorly through the night, so I decided we needed a nice calm morning’s play. As ever, the session was child led and what started as The Preschooler doing jigsaws while The Toddler bathed her baby in the water tray soon became the baby doll looking like she’d been attacked with molten lava! But what great fun! So naturally I took photos and here we are- Messy baby bath!
The Toddler is infatuated with baby dolls and she has so many, but only two that are suitable for water. The most recently treasured doll is the one she got for her birthday, that came with a baby bath and accessories. She loves bathing this doll and we take her up to the bathroom at hair wash time so that she can wash baby’s hair while we attempt to wash hers. Sometimes we pop the baby bath inside the Tuff Spot and let her bathe her there, and sometimes we put it inside the water tray. For this session we used the water tray so that The Toddler could stand up to play.
If you’ve been making salt dough like we have, this is a great activity for you! We recently discovered how wonderful salt dough is, thanks to Red Ted Art’s Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids. In particular, we made lots of little salt dough beads and stars, which we’ve used in our Christmas Treasure Tray.
We’ve done Treasure Trays before and they’re basically a bit of a twist on traditional treasure baskets. The idea is to fill the Tuff Spot with items from around the home- items that babies can explore and play with, usually on a set theme. Our theme was, of course, Christmas. Some of the items are not suitable for smaller babies- Bella is 22 months now and left the ‘putting everything in her mouth’ stage a while ago. That said, supervising the activity goes without saying. So here is our Christmas Treasure Tray for older babies and toddlers- a great activity to keep them amused today!
All of the items we used were really easy to find and many of them, I’m sure, you will have already. The salt dough does need a few hours to make, cook and cool down but ordinary beads can be used just as well. We love the salt dough ones as they are nice and chunky for small hands! On our Christmas Treasure Tray we had:
The baby immediately went for the pompoms- she loves transferring them from one pot to another, and I left a few empty pots for specifically for this. I chose the tiny pompoms to exercise her pincer grip and to work on fine motor skills too. She spent a long time playing with this, scooping them into the pot and letting them scatter on the tray and onto the carpet around her. She also had a good giggle when I buried her feet in the large pompoms and ticked her toes! Great fun!
The salt dough beads were a HUGE hit. I showed the baby how to use a pipe cleaner to thread the beads and that was it. Tongue out, full concentration mode switched on. She LOVED this activity and was so proud when she managed to thread her beads! I spent some time showing her how to hold her pipe cleaner right at the end, like you would a pencil, for better control and she really took in what I was telling her. I also took the opportunity to tell her colour names- as she chose a bead to thread, I told her what colour it was and she repeated the word. I also asked her to choose specific colours but we’re not quite at that stage yet! As an extension, possibly with the preschooler, the beads could also be used for making and continuing patterns, for counting and for simple addition and subtraction calculations too. The possibilities for these salt dough beads are endless and you will be seeing more posts from me soon!
For today, though, the baby was more than happy threading the beads onto pipe cleaners, so much so that we took a bagful out with us for a meal the next night to keep her occupied while we waited for our food. We have also been talking about how they feel, how they smell and how they look and the baby has learned new words “pink” “blue” and “round”.
Many of the materials on the Treasure Tray were great for sensory play, in particular the polystyrene pieces, which we used as snow. The baby loved diving her hands into the tray and laughed with delight when I scooped handfuls and let them fall onto her head. She quickly picked this up and copied me, letting the pieces scatter all around her. The Christmas baubles and tinsel were great too, she loved feeling the different textures and learned more new words- “bauble” and “star”.
And speaking of stars… we are surrounded by them this Christmas and every day there has been an opportunity to talk about Matilda, our special star in the sky and the angel in our tree. I added a star shaped cutter to the tray for a visual sensory element but we soon found a fun way to play with it. The baby and I filled the star with different materials- salt dough stars, polystyrene pieces, beads and pompoms. We pressed the pompoms right down inside the star and when we lifted it they stayed in the shape which was lovely! The baby also remembered making sand castles in the summer and repeated “pat pat pat” throughout this activity.
Because all of the materials on the Treasure Tray were ‘clean’ we were able to scoop them up easily at the end of the session to be used again. I store them all in a large disposable roasting tray and I’ve left it under the Christmas tree so that the baby can rifle through whenever she pleases. We also set them all out during our Christmas party yesterday. And I have to say that the salt dough beads are still the most popular items in there!
This activity was a LOT of fun and one of the first opportunities I’ve had in ages to properly sit down with the baby and observe her during play. It was amazing to see her learn new skills, new words and new ways to play. I cannot wait for the next stage in her journey! Most of all, this was a lot of fun… we can’t wait to do it again!