Early Childhood Sensory Play

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Sensory play is an important part of early childhood development and education. When a child is engaged in this type of play, it may look like a mindless messy activity but the amazing things happening for this child is far greater than simple play.

Sensory play has multiple benefits for children. It supports language development, social interactions, fine motor skills, large motor skills, cognitive growth and increases problem solving skills. It has a calming effect for the anxious or upset child. It allows children to feel in control of their actions and in turn encourages them to feel good about their decision making skills.

Children uses their senses to to explore, understand and navigate their world. Teachers, caregivers and parents providing these activities is important to encourage brain development.

What is sensory play? Anything that activates any of the five senses. It can be fun, messy, and easily put together, It just needs to be engaging to the child. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. One of the most effective ways to provide sensory play is using sensory bins.

A sensory bin is typically a shallow, plastic container, but for one child it could be a

bowl, or a pot from the kitchen.

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Listed below are multiple suggestions for sensory play. As long as you are supervising, any of the materials can be used, but I recommend considering the age and developmental stage when choosing sensory bin fillers.

  • Soapy water
  • Kinetic sand
  • water beads
  • cloud dough
  • playground sand
  • mud
  • shaving cream
  • slime
  • play-dough
  • finger paint
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  • jello (prepared)
  • pudding
  • marshmallows
  • oatmeal
  • cooked pasta
  • potato flakes
  • ice cream
  • whip cream
  • Tapioca pearls
  • watermelon
  • rice
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  • letter squares from old scrabble game
  • Cardboard tubes
  • cut straws
  • shredded paper
  • cotton balls
  • packing peanuts
  • sponges
  • bubble wrap
  • cut pool noodles
  • Bingo chips
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  • plastic leaves
  • fake grass (Easter)
  • feathers
  • tinsel
  • Spanish moss
  • pine cones
  • sea shells
  • corks
  • fake flowers
  • aquarium gravel
  • bird seed
  • potting soil
  • snow
  • ice cubes
  • sticks
  • hay
  • saw dust
  • rocks
  • epson salt
  • pebbles
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  • pom-poms
  • pipe cleaners
  • buttons
  • magnets
  • marbles
  • sequins
  • jingle bells
  • plastic coins
  • confetti
  • pony beads

The most important thing (besides safety) is to find something interesting and engaging. Remember children are always interested in thing they see in our adult world, so giving them a safe place to explore those items will always be a big hit and they won’t even know the amazing things you are doing for their growth and development.


Great example of an inexpensive sensory table available on amazon

WOYC Preschool Activities

Preschool Activities for each daily theme during
Week of the Young Child (April 8th – April 12th, 2019)

The Week of the Young Child is an annual celebration sponsored by the world’s largest Early Childhood Education Association, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, also known as NAEYC.

On their website https://www.naeyc.org/events/woyc they describe the purpose of the week is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet their needs.

Early Childhood schools and centers celebrate children throughout the week using the daily themes suggested by NAEYC. I have listed a few ways that you can celebrate the week that is so important to children,

Music Monday:

Host a dance party: What preschooler doesn’t love to dance? Turn on the music and have them dance their hearts away. Try different types of music-Jazz, Blues, Classical, Country, Folk, Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, and Latin. Encourage them to dance the way the music makes them feel

Musical Instruments: Plan to have teachers, parents or even the local high school band bring in their musical instruments to demonstrate the sound of each. Let the children hear and touch each (and maybe even try them).

After seeing the instruments for themselves, provide various materials for them to make their own version of each.

Lip-sync: Have the children create their own microphone with large pom-poms and paper towel rolls and put on some of their favorite kids music and let them enjoy singing.

Outdoor music: Take the music outdoors. Bring the CD player or Bluetooth speaker and let the children enjoy a recess with background music.

Art: Provide a variety of art materials such has markers, crayons, stamps, paint, or colored pencils and have the children draw/paint to music.

Tasty Tuesday:

            Fruit kabobs: Using kabob sticks have the children make fruit kabobs using fresh fruit—strawberries, blueberries, grapes, pineapple chunks, apple chunks, kiwis, melon chunks—anything you want. Have the children make their own tasty snack.

            Flavors/taste buds: Have a sample of foods that children can sample that have different tastes—something sweet, sour, bitter, salty.  Use a variety of flavorings (orange, vanilla, grape, lemon, cherry, strawberry, etc.… have the children guess what flavor.

            Decorating Cookies: Everyone’s favorite. Pre-make Gingerbread men shaped sugar cookies and have the children use colored frosting and other items to decorate their “self” on their cookie, and then enjoy.

            Personal Pizzas: Using English muffin halves have the children add pizza sauce (tomato paste), their favorite pizza toppings, and sprinkle with cheese and have them enjoy their pizza for lunch

Work Together Wednesday:

            Easel Sharing: Have two children partner at the easel to create an original masterpiece painting.

            Parachute play: Pull out the parachute and have the entire class work together to move balls or bean bags from one side to another.

            Class quilt: Provide fabric squares and have each child decorate their own with fabric markers, and then tie each square together to create a class quilt. This can also be done with large index cards, cardstock, construction paper or other types of paper and can be connected together. What a great piece of work to display in your center/school.

Artsy Thursday:

            Tie-dye T-shirts: Have each child bring in a t-shirt to tie die

            Class Mural: Using a large piece of white butcher paper, cover table and have the children decorate. I like to use inkpads with stamps or small paint brushes and paint.

            Outdoor Easels: Move the easels outdoors and have the children paint while outside.

            Collages: Provide one side of sturdy shirt box and every type of collage material you come up with—use all those scrap pieces you have been saving, tissue paper, sequins, glitter, cardboard toilet paper rolls, Styrofoam peanuts, craft sticks, pom-poms and whatever isn’t glued down and have children create a collage inside the box top

Family Friday: My favorite day of the week, great day to connect with families to celebrate children. You can go big today or keep it small.

            Family Tree: We have parents bring in family portraits all week and we hang them up on a HUGE family tree in our school Library (which is also in our entrance).

            Trail Mix bar: At pick up time, we set up a trail mix bar for children and parents to create their own snack as they leave on Friday afternoon. We provide sandwich bags or cups to fill. Some items we have available include marshmallows, chocolate chips, gummy bears, fruit ring cereal, Chex mix cereal, raisins, pretzels, candy cover chocolates, butterscotch morsels, white chocolate chips, banana chips, dried cranberries, cheese its, bugles. We try to avoid nuts due to allergies at our school but they might be an option at your school. The children LOVE creating this together with their parent.

Planting station: Provide small pots, potting soil and either small flowers or seeds and when parents come in a pickup time they can sit with their child and plant their family plant to take home to watch grow. We also provide stickers and markers to decorate the pots and put their names on them

Family Photo Booth: Using the thicker project boards (not the trif-old) we cut out a large picture frame for families to hold as we snap their picture for them. We also provide picture props so they can be silly if they want. We will use their phone and/or our school camera to capture the memory and have then printed and hanging up on Monday morning.

Whatever you do, make it a great week of fun and celebration for all the children in your life!! Enjoy!!

Picture Perfect or Perfect Picture

This week at my school we held 3 picture days. With over 200 students under the age of 6, it takes 3 days to get them all done. This use to be such a stressful week for me. I always wanted every parent to be happy with the results. I searched for the best professional photographers, checked their references, made sure they were child friendly and insisted they take plenty of shots to ensure each child had the best. Everything had to be “picture perfect”

I would push my teachers to be sure that faces were clean, hair was combed, shoes were tied, collars fixed and every child had the brightest smile. If a child was upset and wouldn’t smile, I myself stood behind the photographer and did everything from making funny faces, faking a sneeze, jumping jacks to standing on my head (well maybe not that). Whatever it took. Every photo delivered to the parents had to be, again, “picture perfect.”

Through the years, I guess you might say, I have “chilled out”. This however, did not come easy. I spent many years, once I became a parent, stressed every time my children had picture day. I wanted to be sure I picked (usually bought new) the perfect outfit, hair was freshly trimmed, fingernails clipped and shoes were in great shape.
I have evidence of this practice and results of this stress, lots of evidence, in photo albums, in boxes and in drawers throughout my house. Evidence that I had done everything I could to be sure everything was picture perfect. I found picture day to be another stressful moment of early childhood parenting. Another stressful moment that we instill on ourselves.

I watch so many parents of the children in my school going through the same thing. Stressed that everything must be “picture perfect”. They go through the same routine I did over 20 years ago, and some even take a half day off from work to be there to be sure their child’s picture is perfect. (Side note: this never works the way they want it to)

Now, when I find one of those overly stressed parents during picture week at school, I try to share with them my new found “perfect”. It’s not about “picture perfect” it’s about the “perfect picture”.

What’s the difference? I have learned the perfect picture is one that captures a moment of time in your child’s life. There doesn’t have to be new clothes, or fresh haircuts. It’s o.k. if your child wants to hold a toy car, favorite baby doll or your young toddler wants his security blanket to chew on. Let them decide what and who they want to be in their picture. I promise you, when you look back, as cute as those new outfits are, there is nothing more precious then remembering the story behind the picture.

I have had parents tell me they were going to skip picture day for a variety of reasons. Their child fell the day before and had a goose egg on his forehead. A three year old girl decided to give herself a hair cut. The preschooler had a busted lip. They forgot it was picture day and didn’t fight their child when they decided they wanted to wear their pajama shirt to school or they forgot and their child was only wearing school play clothes.

I want them to know the perfect picture is the one that expresses your child’s personality or ignites a memory years from now. A goose egg? I’m sure there is a great story behind that one or who doesn’t have a scissor mishap story, now there is evidence to reminisce about it later.

One of my favorite pictures of my son is when he was about 16 months old, I was unable to be in the room when it was time for my son’s pictures. Somehow the only the photographer captured was him with the perfect tear rolling down his cheek and his bottom lip poking out. Not sure how it happened, but not what I was hoping for, then. When the pictures came back, the owner of the picture company actually called me and apologized. He couldn’t believe that out of all the children in the school, the Director’s child’s was not picture perfect. He offered me discounts, retakes, gift cards, and many please forgive me’s, to make up for what he termed their mistake.

Now my son is 24, and it’s not often I see those tears. Thanks, however, to an inexperienced photographer’s mistake and despite my countless efforts to make everything “picture perfect”, I not only have a special memory but I also have the “Perfect picture”.

Parents, please don’t stress, the pictures will be perfect because of who is in the picture. Your child in any picture is a treasured memory and therefore each is a “perfect picture”. Don’t let the crooked smile, half closed eyes, red punch mustache or even black eye prevent you from enjoying the captured moment. Embrace those photos the most because they will indeed end up being the most “perfect picture”.

Here we go…..

Wow, I never thought I would be writing a blog but here it goes. I’m really not sure what I am doing but what I do know is that after spending thirty years in the field of Early Childhood Development and Education, I have had many conversations with parents, teachers, caregivers, students and more. I have answered questions for first time parents, young mothers, grandparents, foster moms, single dads, anybody and everybody who had a question or concern. I have hugged and comforted tearful moms as they left their 6 week old baby at my center/school for the first time. I’ve assured moms and dads that they are not “that parent”. I’ve told parents my opinion of holding their child back a year before starting kindergarten. I have played the role of counselor, teacher, mediator, judge, financial adviser, manager, student, bus driver, plumber, cook, carpenter, but yet all I ever dreamed of being was an advocate for children. Little did I know it takes multiple hats and roles to do just that.

I’m hoping with this blog to encourage parents, teachers and caregivers to talk about what’s on their mind. I know most of us want to be the best we can be when influencing the children in our lives but I also know that there is so much pressure and fear that you might “screw it up” or “scar them for life”. I want to share some of my many experiences and conversations that might help lighten the stress to be perfect. Honestly, it’s my belief that if your are making your decisions in the best interest of a child, you are doing right by them. It’s not about never making a mistake, it’s about loving the child you are caring for and with that love, a little luck, some supportive friends and/or family and maybe a glass of wine -(or two) you got this. Trust me, you will make it! (And so will the children)

So let’s get talking, what are your concerns, questions comments. Let’s get real and talk about the children in your life and how we, as those that care for them, can survive these early years. Every day or so I will pick a topic but I would love to know what you want to hear about first? Don’t be scared, I always thank parents/teachers when they bring up a question or concern because I can guarantee someone else is thinking the same thing but afraid to bring it up…..so give it to me. Let’s talk. Can’t wait to hear from you.