If you’d asked me a month ago if I’d ever consider homeschooling I would probably have choked on my coffee. Yet here we are. One of the greatest challenges for me is going to be overcoming my aversion to messy play. The truth is, play dough has been mostly confined to nanny’s house. But of course things are different now, and we must adapt.
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The Importance of Sensory Play for Children
I know intuitively that sensory play is critical to my children’s development. Academics agree too, and here’s why:
We make sense of our world through our senses; you’ve probably heard people talk about visual, verbal, or auditory learners, and that’s because children and adults alike learn better when tuned into our senses. Many of our memories are associated with a sense, and can be triggered by a particular smell or piece of music, for example.
So, providing opportunities for our little ones to engage in sensory play as they explore their world is critical to brain development – it literally builds neural pathways in the brain.
As a result of these new connections, children grow more adept at completing complex tasks. Cognitive growth also supports language development, gross motor skills, problem solving and social skills.
The Importance of Order For Me
Thing is, while I’m not proud of the fact, I’m a bit of a clean freak; which translates to not being fully on board with messy play: I love the concept – but the reality stresses me out.
I crave order and live by the mantra of ‘tidy home, tidy mind’.
So I’ve always been incredibly grateful to school for allowing my daughter the time to get her hands dirty so I can focus on enjoying tidier activities with her, like reading and colouring.
Unexpected and Unplanned Home Education
Alas, we suddenly find ourselves in an unimaginable situation. During every new bulletin and press conference I find myself turning to my husband and saying words to the effect of:
This is not a film.
I think I’m trying to come to cajole myself out of shock, and force myself to come to terms with this surreal new reality. We didn’t ask for it, but we’re here nonetheless, and we have little choice but to get on board and do the necessary.
Messy Play For Mums Who Hate Mess
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my favourite sensory play products which I’ve bought and used at home – and replaced when they’ve run out because they’re that good.
1. Paint Sticks
These are wonderful because the colours are vibrant, but there’s very little mess. Open paints, a water pot, and paint brushes are all negated. If you’ve never come across these yet, they’re just like felt tips, except they contain solid paint.
The paint isn’t even wet to the touch on the page. Really, your child would have to literally draw on themselves with the paint sticks to create mess, and even that is not the end of the world.
2. Water Colour Books
What better way for your child to paint beautifully colourful pictures, than with water?!
Once painted, the page will dry, returning to its previous white state, so it can be painted again and again.
3. Kinetic Sand
Playing with sand indoors sound like my idea of hell. I imagine it as the equivalent of glitter which, as we all know, gets absolutely bloody everywhere.
But kinetic sand is not like that. Its particles are somehow drawn together, so rather than dispersing, it tends to remain a single mass. It can be pulled apart, but any stray sand can be easily collected by picking up a lump of sand and running it over the play area, just like with play dough.
It comes in an array of gorgeous bright colours, and feels silky smooth to run through your fingers.
You have to try it for yourself to really appreciate its genius.
4. Water Table
As the weather improves, for those fortunate enough to have one, it’s natural for out attention to be drawn outside to the garden.
If you’re looking for sensory play without the sand and dirt, a water table is the perfect alternative. Kids love playing with water, it’s also educational because they get to learn about gravity and displacement, it keeps them cool – and it dries leaving no marks or mess!
Why not try using a little bubble bath to add another dimension to the sensory play activity?
5. Play Clay
I love this stuff so much. It’s rare that I can get on board with kids sensory materials to the point of wanting to join in, but this clay is special.
You have to be slightly more cautious with this than with some of the other products as it probably would mash into carpets; but it feels great, it’s vibrant – and it bounces!
6. Magic Water Mat
Do you sense a theme? I love anything that uses only water, because clearing up is such a doddle! Plus, since I don’t need to be watching their every move, I can encourage independent play too.
For this one, as well as drawing, we like to have a shallow bowl of water so that we can create hand and footprints on the mat!
7. Giant Bubbles!
Always a winner, for children of almost every age! And particularly with the warmer weather, this is a great way to get the kids outdoors.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a garden, this is also the perfect activity for taking to the local park.
Do you have any other brilliant mess-free sensory play suggestions? Please let me know in the comments!