I’m going to be completely honest here. If you are very worried about a sensory mess, sensory play might not be for you, and that’s okay.
The activities I suggest on Parenting Not Perfection are not for everyone; they will often be messy in some way or another. I choose not to view this as a problem, but rather, a learning process for everyone. Let me explain…
Everyone has their own level of comfortability and perspective on what is “messy”. I personally love to have an organized living environment because it helps me focus and feel more at ease. I’ve even completed the Konmari method of tidying. 😮
However, I have come to fully understand and accept that kids learn best when they are given the space to explore freely without anyone eye rolling, sighing, or giving them constant “reminders” of what the rules are as they play. Especially when these rules are in place, simply in fear of, a dreaded Sensory MESS.
This is not to say that kids don’t need rules or boundaries; they absolutely do. A huge part of setting boundaries is the connection and communication you have with your child; setting boundaries with your child is essential.
If this is an activity that hasn’t been done many times or maybe even ever, its very important to remember that. Remember that they are not necessarily going to know what to do, or what not to do. This is key, because it will help remind you this is a time to model, teach, guide, and parent.
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How to be Successful in Sensory Play (and Art Projects)
Have a clear idea of what your own tolerance is. For example, do you despise messy activities altogether? Do you tolerate them to a point? Are you better with a sensory mess that can be swept with a broom or do you prefer something that stays on the table and can be wiped away? Just as I mentioned in “Connecting through Play for Beginners”, it is important to look at yourself first. Knowing what you like and do not like is super important. I’m sure you’ve noticed that kids pick up on everything, no matter how subtle. So, the first step is definitely knowing yourself.
Think about your child. Going into activities fully aware can help you have more realistic expectations and help guide your decisions on whether or not this is the right activity for you and your child to engage in right now. Does your child dive head first into new activities or hesitate to explore until they are comfortable? Do they like to see someone model what to do first or are they all about taking the lead? What kind of sensory play do they prefer…dry, wet, noisy, quiet, seated, active, etc…? Its okay if you don’t have all the answers. I want you to get excited thinking about all of the things you’re going to find out about your child.
Okay, now that you have a pretty good idea what kind of sensory play you and your child might be interested in, What’s Next?
Gather the Materials.
I know a lot of blogs suggest doing all of the prep before introducing it to the child. I have to say, I strongly disagree with this method. I believe kids should be a part of the entire process, not just making a sensory mess. That way they learn valuable lessons, such as, being helpful, following directions (communication 😉 ), responsibility, and most importantly, patience. Although it can certainly seem that way, these days, not everything happens on demand.
Prepare the Activity, Together.
I know you might be thinking, “How old does she think my kid is?” But truth be told, I honestly don’t think it matters. To build connections I feel you should include your children in the process. This gives you both plenty of opportunities to communicate, learn about each other, work out solutions and build a routine, so that, each time will get easier and more productive.
To help you, I give suggestions of how you can include your child for each and every activity! Each activity found on Parenting Not Perfection comes with an easy to print, PDF file in our Free Printables Library; including, “Materials Used”, “How to” & “Communicating & Connecting”, which is where you will find the suggestions to include your child, build a stronger connection & help improve communication.
It can be quite difficult for kids to accept that things are not immediately ready for them. Of course this is understandable; let’s face it we don’t really wanna wait for things either, do we?
Set Up the Activity Together.
Again, I know I’m the odd person out here by suggesting this. However, the more you include your child the stronger your connection will be and the more they will begin to feel included. Tell me, who doesn’t want to feel included?
Including your child can be, asking them what ideas they have? Where would you like to do this activity? (You can give them a clear choice here, “Do you want to play with this outside or in the kitchen?” If there is only one place you feel comfortable having them do sensory do not ask the question, lol) Including them could also be, allowing them to insert their ideas, “Hey Mom, you know what would go great with this?…” is something I hear all the time. The items she chooses always intrigues me, as I often would never have thought of putting those things together.
Are you starting to see how this is building your connection, improving your communication, helping your child feel included, allowing them to have a say, opening the door to creativity, improving self confidence and so much more?
Having fun. Letting go. Smiling. Laughing. Feeling like a kid again. Making memories that will last forever. Connecting. Happiness. (If you’re not there yet its okay, fake it until you make it 😉 )
End on a Positive Note.
This might not always happen, but it should always be the goal. Often times the biggest sensory mess comes at the end. Sometimes this is because they have mistakenly learned that making a mess is the way to end an activity. I’ve seen this thousands of times, in homes, daycares, schools, etc…
Its a classic situation I’m sure you’ve either seen or been a starring role in, we’ve all been there. The child decides to begin throwing, swiping, banging, etc… the materials and the parent, caregiver, teacher, etc… swoops in and says something like, “That’s all done” and takes it away. Its a natural response. The child gets up and moves on to something else.
But really think about it, what did that teach them? I’ll tell you; throwing, swiping, banging, etc… is how you end an activity. So each time the child is done or perhaps more common, doesn’t want to do something, they repeat the behavior that has gotten the item taken away. Makes complete sense from the perspective of the child which is often based on cause and effect.
So How do I End on a Positive Note?
Keeping the activity timeframe short, especially in the beginning. Set a timer and communicate to your child when they have “5 minutes left”, “2 minutes left”, “1 more minute and its all done”. It might seem like strange advice to end the task while your child is still happily engaged but remember you’re in the teaching phase. You want to be the one to initiate the end of the task so you can model how the task is ended (which is not by dumping it on the floor or throwing it at Mom 😮 )
Yes, you will probably get some disappointment, maybe a tantrum, tears, or your child might turn into a lawyer pleading their case for more time. But remember this means two things; 1. They really enjoyed this activity and 2. They will be excited to do it again. It also reinforces other important skills, such as, regulating their emotions, accepting limits, taking no for an answer, etc… Look at the big picture 🙂
And remember, over time they will get used to the routine. They will know about how much time they have left when you say, “2 more minutes”. They will know how to end an activity appropriately by saying, “All done, let’s clean up” instead of dumping or throwing, because each time you’ve cleaned up that’s what you’ve said. So, they won’t need to always be timed, they will be able to communicate and in turn have more freedom. And you will have less sensory mess 🙂 Win-Win!
Clean Up Together.
I know you might be thinking, “Uh oh, okay yep, this is the part I was NOT looking forward too!” and “Wait, What?!? Did she say together? It would be MUCH easier if I just did it myself!” Except I’m gonna let you in on a few things…
Cleaning up is another opportunity to teach your child. Of course its easier to do it yourself, you’ve had years of practice! But if you make this part of your sensory play routine right from the start, your connection will grow even stronger. You will help your child become more aware of their surroundings, responsible, helpful and caring. They will learn how to clean in a variety of ways. What’s the best way to wipe something? What’s the most efficient way to sweep? How do I transfer this to the garbage can without spilling it? How to ask for and accept help when needed and how to work as a team, etc… It is truly amazing how many things kids can learn in real life when you let them.
Are You Ready to Get Started, Despite the Sensory Mess?
The following Sensory Storytime activities are great for everyone, but especially beginners…