Here are three lovely messy play activities for young babies and toddlers that will enable them to explore texture and materials, develop fine motor skills, muscle tone and hand-eye coordination. Parents should join in the play, talk with their child about the experience and observe the child’s reactions and acknowledge their attempts to communicate their discoveries.
As always, we recommend that parent and child are both feeling calm and relaxed in order to get the most from sensory play. Children must ALWAYS be supervised throughout the duration of these activities. Children will get messy, so dress them accordingly or cover up.
Very young babies can explore these sensory activities whilst sitting in their high chairs. If they are able to sit up unsupported spread out a cheap shower curtain on the floor and let them explore at ground level this will support gross motor skill development also. For toddler messy play you will need larger and deeper trays that are comfortable to explore at standing height.
Jelly on a plate!
Jelly is a fantastic material to use in sensory play. It is visually appealing and can be made up in a range of bright colours. It smells and tastes interesting. It is neither quite solid nor quite liquid and can be made up to different consistencies of stiffness.
Let your baby explore jelly in the tray of their highchair or place small quantities in trays on a covered floor. Always explore with your child, talk and help them to articulate the experience. As your baby grows you can add more ideas to this sort of play.
Set small pieces of fruit or vegetables into the jelly to encourage and develop a pincer grip and self feeding.
Make large quantities of jelly set in a large tray (we always use pet litter trays which are enough for one or two children, a builders tray could be used for larger groups – you’ll need a lot of jelly!) When children have had plenty of opportunity to explore with fingers and hands you can add tools such as spoons and sieves.
Make up a trays of different coloured jelly to set plastic animals and figures into. Use green jelly for sea creatures, yellow (amber!) for plastic dinosaurs or purple for plastic insects like spiders.
Place small quantities of cream on trays for babies to explore initially, help them to trace their fingers through it and make patterns. Place foam on safety mirrors so that babies can ‘discover’ their reflections as they move the foam around. Or laminate photos of your baby or family members stick them to the bottom of a tray, cover with foam and let baby find familiar faces!
As babies grow you can add more things to the foam such as paint, glitter or sand for texture, allow children to mix it in themselves. Older children can explore patterns such as zig-zags, loops and circles to help develop early writing skills.
Hide small objects in the foam for children to find, plastic figures, large beads, Lego bricks. Add cars and trucks and plastic figures.
Cooked pasta is definitely great for developing fine motor skills but I just think spaghetti is one of those things in life, like penguins, that are inherently funny! Make sure you allow pasta to cool before presenting trays of it to children.
When presenting cooked spaghetti to babies give them just one or two strands to play with initially to encourage fine motor exploration, add larger quantities as the game progresses. As babies grow you can offer them little bowls and cups to fill with their spaghetti. For older toddlers make larger trays of spaghetti, colour the spaghetti as you cook it, add glitter or a squirt of washing-up liquid for a really, slippery sensory sensation! Allow them to use simple utensils (plastic with rounded edges) to manipulate the pasta such as salad servers, spaghetti ladles, colanders, tongs and spoons. They can stick their spaghetti to paper to make pictures, the starch in the pasta makes it self-adhesive. Or make pictures on the patio – you can leave it for garden birds to enjoy if vermin isn’t a problem in your area.
If you’ve been inspired to try out these activities with your baby please come back and tell us how you got on!