I appreciate mess in sensory play, and I'm not crazy!
After posting about the sensory play adventures Gwen and I had embarked on, I think people around me are starting to get the wrong idea. Some think I’ve a superhuman level of patience and therefore don’t mind cleaning up after my toddler 24/7. Others believe I’ve a ridiculous tolerance to mess. Maybe, I do occasionally find little people with sticky fingers cute.
But I’m really only human. Who like most people feel unsettled and frustrated when the house looks like a totnardo had run through it. Especially so after sensory play activities. The beans and rice that gets everywhere, under the carpet and in crook and crannies that I never knew existed. The water spilled onto the sensory table (and you groan inwardly if water sealant hadn’t been applied). The crusty residue of Oobleck that misses your initial scrutiny. The list is endless.
What keeps my sanity though is this — the mess is proof that my toddler had tried to understand the world around her using her most primal senses of touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing.
That she had engaged in some form of play, manipulating the objects around her, to learn how things work. This reframe of mindset is what drives me to not only accept the mess that results from play, but even embrace it.
Have you noticed?
When presented with a new material, especially hyper sensory ones like slime or Oobleck, little ones become so thoughtful (and frowny) all of a sudden.
Once they overcome the inertia and get into it and internalize the experience, they become super excited and engaged. Most through repeated exposure even remember sensory experiences and can draw associations to similar experiences in the future.
That, is the beauty of sensory play.
What Sensory Play Does for Young Children
Based on what I've read, the benefits of sensory play are aplenty! Sensory play is important for:
- Brain development. When children use their senses to make sense of the world, this is creating nerve connections within the developing brain’s neural pathways. The more connections there are that’s been created and then reinforced through further play boost a child’s ability to learn more and in more complex ways
- Learning key properties of things (eg loud or soft, hot or cold, dry or wet etc)
- Language development especially when the play facilitator uses a wide vocabulary to describe how something looks, feels, tastes, smells and sounds like
- Motor skill development — all that touching, exploring, pressing, patting, squeezing...
- Social interaction, bringing children together to work on a common goal or experience something together
- Critical thinking and problem solving skills as children figure out how to make a new material work and yield to their control
- Development and enhancement of memory (Just ask a baker why he prefers to knead a dough instead of use the mixer sometimes to get the right consistency and texture. The hand never forgets how the right dough should feel like. The machine can’t tell you that.)
- Emotions regulation (A sensory bottle does wonders in calming a panicked or upset child)
After realising the myriad benefits of sensory play, I now see mess as a rite of passage for growing up, for learning through play.
And of course, mess is not permanent. As little ones become mature and more responsible and aware of their actions, they acquire the skills to clean up after themselves.
When Gwen gets older, I'm going to try this Montessori way of teaching kids to tidy up.
My Favourite Sensory Activities
These are the sensory activities I've incorporated into Gwen’s playtime, I welcome you to try these ideas too, and let me know how you find them:
Noodle Food Play, with minimal waste!
No Prep Colorful Beans Sensory Play, if you don't have the time to dye batches of coloured rice!
To follow Gwen's play adventures, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram) or A Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.