Rice and other dried food stuffs make a great alternative to sand play and offer a totally different sensory experience for toddlers to explore. Little Sparks (and considerably older children believe me!) love this kind of sensory play and will explore with great concentration, busying themselves for significant time periods. This is just as well because it certainly makes a mess! You really do have to adopt a positive mindset and prepare yourself for this, or alternatively take it all outdoors on a dry day. Our friend George, pictured here, loved playing with the rice so much he insisted on taking off his shoes so that he could feel it in between his toes!
We usually only do this when we are having a clear out of the pantry cupboard and use odds and ends which have reached their ‘use-by’ dates. At the end of the session materials are recycled for craft activities. Little Sparks also enjoy playing in this way with large bags of bird seed – again we use this for further activities such as making our own bird feeders. We realise that there are sensitivity issues regarding the use of food in play and that some early years settings adopt policies which do not support such play. Compressed wood-chip pellets (often sold as cat litter) can also be used for this kind of sensory experience.
If you have a large sand or water play table they are ideal for presenting materials, alternatively you can use builders’ trays, large pet litter trays or even an old baby bath. Enhance the play by adding cooking pots and utensils. The ‘real thing’ always seems to go down better than toy kitchen equipment. Provide dustpans and brushes as Little Sparks like to help tidy-up (and then drop it everywhere again!) You can also colour the rice by placing portions in Ziploc bags and adding a few drops of food dye, particularly if you are investigating colour based topics. Agitate the contents to spread the dye around and then leave the rice to dry before allowing your Little Sparks to play with it.
The Importance Of Sensory Play:
Sensory play or ‘messy play’ enables babies and toddlers to develop hand and eye control, fine motor skills, supports development of muscles and presents rich language opportunities especially when play is carefully and skilfully supported by adults. Growing children gain a firm foundation in the use and manipulation of tools and materials and investigate these to extend their knowledge of the world.
This form of active play enables children to learn using all of their senses, this is vital in developing neural links in the brain and supporting memory function. Remember also to enjoy everyday sensations with your baby or toddler; smell flowers, crush handfuls of leafy herbs in the garden, feel the rain on your faces and let the wind blow your hair, listen to blackbirds singing and diggers rumbling. The smell of greenhouses full of tomato plants, dusty old sheds, and even burnt toast can all exert powerful sensory reminders of our childhoods. Our senses are very much a part of who we are. And don’t forget to go barefoot, like our friend George, and enjoy the sensation of grass, sand and puddles underfoot.
Remember to check out all of our activities for toddlers and babies.