Baby Sensory Play: Don’t Make the #1 Mistake (I did!)

how to do sensory play with kids without mistakes

As a developmental therapist, Montesssori homeschool teacher, and mindful mama, I frequently think of how to set things up so they go smoothly. This time however, it went all wrong. Hopefully, this learning moment for me will help you avoid the same mistake with your little one!

So the scene is set.  My little cutie is ready to play and I have all my materials and a whole bunch of space in the family room. Perfect! Let’s do sensory play!

Montessori-based Sensory Set Up

I set up my special textured rug first. It was soft to the touch, with fringes throughout, and vertical lines and love bugs all over it. After that, I put our a soft red blanket, a winter bear, and Montessori inspired toys including wooden balls, wooden snowflake cutouts, wooden bowls, spoons and little non-edible puff balls. Lastly, I went with the soft and warm theme and had a basket of hats, gloves and scarves.

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Before we even got onto the rug, baby was ready for sensory play. She wanted the puff balls and pushing them into her sock made her giggle. She enjoyed the added sensory feeling on her toes and liked the challenge of using her thumb and pointer finger to get them out!

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The room was quiet, the sun was shining and baby was headed for the center of the carpet. First the bowls were interesting and the snowflake cutouts attracted her attention. Unfortunately, her attention didn’t remain on these items long, and I was a little curious as she usually spent 5-10 minutes with these items when seated at the table. She moved on to the bear and then the hats and gloves, then onto the puff balls again, and then back to the bear!

After several minutes of baby switching toys every other second, I realized I had made a sensory play mistake, one commonly made, but still, not one I thought I would make as a developmental therapist. I should know better!

#1 Mistake in Sensory Play: Set up too many items, or items that are over-stimulating. Baby loses attention and instead of exploring, they just go wild!

Result of Mistake: After sensory play, baby is all charged up, and hasn’t seen or processed any of the toys designed for exploration and learning.

Rule of Thumb to Avoid This Common Mistake: Make play balanced so that the sensory items are not over-the-top stimulating. If you have all the senses involved or too much of one sense at one time, baby can lose focus. We call this “shutdown” where the growing nervous system shuts down and focus can’t happen. Baby goes wild, or at the very least gets quite hyperactive.

In this case, I overdid the visual and touch senses. Too much color, too many toys, too many things to touch and explore.

 

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After a few more minutes of play, as I tried to figure out how to correct my mistake, baby just about lost her marbles. Well, at least her puff balls. She went back and forth between snow cutouts, wooden balls and puff balls till she just couldn’t stand it any longer.

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She handled it well for the most part, crawling off the rug and sitting her bottom in the basket for a giggle. I wish I could be so calm and jovial in times of stress!

 

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Sensory overload! Too much visual stimulation with too many “feeling” toys on top of it all!

So I regroup and try again after a few minutes pass and baby calms down. I let her just crawl it off in her natural play space. Good thing she is a pretty good self-regulator.

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Simple Montessori-based Sensory Play Set Up

My new sensory play set up, was much simpler. I scrapped the overly visual rug and went with the soft blanket. Still red and alerting, but just one tone. I also focused on the winter wear, thinking her positive experience with them in play would help when she needed to actually wear them, when we were headed out the door into the cold winter weather.

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After spending 10 minutes with the winter gear, she approached the wooden cut outs behind her. She attempted to get them herself, and explored them for 10 minutes as well. Now I feel like I am doing something right. She is able to focus and learn within this new sensory set up.DSC_0019

After a few more minutes, she went back to the winter gear and showed me her skill at combining. Combining is a developmental milestone where babies take one toy they know about and put it with another toy they know about. You know, to see how they might work together, or not!

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So after a total bomb at the beginning, this time, winter sensory play went well.

After working with thousands of kids, developing sensory plans and playing with them directly, I can only hope you realize as a mindful parent that there is a bit of trial and error that has to happen when it comes to your specific kids sensory play needs. My baby needed it toned down, but your baby might have been just fine with the original set up.

Mindful Parents Sensory Tip to Avoid Mistakes:

Simply look to see if your baby is able to focus on the items presented in the sensory activity. If they can’t, the set up is too much for them. If they can, you probably nailed it.

Our little ones learning through sensory play is the idea that we as mindful parents are trying to create. The very idea that you read this article till the end says you are well on your way to preparing a great sensory and Montessori play time for you child.  Most importantly, have fun! Remember, you are loving you baby when you spend time playing with them! Hopefully this little tutorial will help!

 

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Calming Sensory Play in the Family Garden

I have been trying my hand at gardening recently to get more fresh food into our diet. But don’t tell my neighbors I am new to all this gardening gadgetry, for by the looks of this Birthday garden gadget gift from my dad I look like a total PRO.

I have been wanting to get my kids more involved in gardening for a long while. Sure the food is our own, so we will know it is free of pesticides and grown in good mineral-filled soil, but there are more benefits than just feeding my kids nutritious foods. Sensory play is built into gardening just naturally and that means calmer kids. It’s yoga outside the studio.

Nature teaches our children to be more thoughtful and calm

Planting a garden helps kids to be more mindful and grounded. It teaches them a sense of wonder.

Smells, textures, tastes, and heavy work are a few of the senses that are engaged when sensory play happens in our family garden. Plus, I have found most of these sensory activities in the garden to be grounding and calming for the kids AND me! This usually leads me to be more mindful in general. Always a good thing.

I hope you will find ways in your own garden to find calm, and be more grounded too. Here are 4 quick ideas that really work. Give them a try!

Garden Sensory Play that Calms Kids:

  1. Heavy work tasks calm by using deep muscle receptor activation. Hauling dirt on a tarp, pushing a wheel barrow, and stacking bricks will get those deep receptors to fire and cause calming neurotransmitters to be released. A good 20-30 of this type of work won’t tire kids, but it will calm them down.
  2. Nature is beautiful, even if it is in a small garden patch. Seeing plants and trees and grass, as well as watching the slow but steady pace of nature is calming. Once you start your garden, it will become a place you hide away in from the rest of the world. Add some artful bunnies statutes or fairy themed signs, and you kids are certain to calm down form a long day at school.
  3. Smells can be just plain calming in and of themselves. There are of course smells that everyone likes, and some more than others. The smell of dirt and fresh cut grass for example are just two obvious smells that bring ideas of spring and carefree days to mind for me. Even if you kids don’t love these smells yet, after one season of gardening, they are sure to crave them!
  4. Tastes and foods are grounding, and if you or your children find them to be grounding, then it’s a plus if they are healthy. Chewy foods like string beans are theoretically calming. So are foods you can suck, lick juicy tomatoes or plums. Knowing food is nourishing and that they came from their own back yard, has a charm factor that just can’t be matched.

Muddy shoes and dirty hands, clothes, and shovels prove to me that this is the way to go for natural sensory play. Even better, the veggies in the fall will be a great built in reward!

Keeping Animals Out Of Our Garden: #1 Gardening Tip!

Raised bed with hinged top

Raised bed with hinged top

The one idea that we found to be priceless was a hinged and covered raised garden bed. All the fruits of our labor we’re kept safe from our groundhog and deer visitors. We enjoyed the food, and they didn’t. So if you want to get outside as a family this year, I recommend taking a look at these plans on how we built it. Not to hard. Totally worth it.

We got the plans from a great blog on home building ideas. If you like this design check the plans out at:  swingncocoa.blogspot.com My dad and husband adjusted the plans a bit to meet our need of keeping the dear away. The top arches have wire mesh between them as do the ends. The bottom of the bed has chicken wire too, to keep out the digging type rascals that might want our goodies.

So enjoy a look at our Big Garden Garden Gadget. We hope you enjoy this idea and we hope it works! We’ll keep you posted on what we harvest in terms of food and great family sensory fun!

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By dusk we have the plant starts in!

By dusk we have the plant starts in!

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