Some of you may say 'what's the point' of creative, sensory play? Why do children need to engage with squishy paint and clay that will get trodden into the carpet?
Sensory play IS messy and after you have spent the best part of half an hour trying to carefully sprinkle glitter into a thimble sized paint tray whilst your 18 month old is already declaring 'I'm bored' you've probably lost the will to live. Crafty time then becomes cranky time as you get left to tidy up! But before you hide the paints and glitter in the back of the cupboard never to be seen again, let me try and persuade you of some of the benefits of messy and sensory play.
What is important about sensory play?
Messy and sensory play stimulates the senses for your child (and you!). Exploring sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and movement help to build up a picture and make pathways for storytelling and communication. This supports your child's learning, creativity and of course, encourages a vivid imagination! It is important to remember unstructured sensory play allows children to play freely without a drilled in learning process, helping them to discover their own likes and dislikes and to think for themselves.
Imagination and creativity
If like me, your kids will not sit at table and make a beautiful canvas or rainbow pasta necklace for 3 hours it's probably because they don't want to. Or, you enthusiastically announce 'let's make some bug sculptures' and get the monotone response of 'No' from your four year old. Creative play needs to encourage imagination on their terms and like all good games and activities kids need to think they are the ones coming up with the ideas and in the lead.
Start with a bit of a prompt and let them take it from there. Perhaps you could say "Ooh Teddy's just mentioned he is feeling a bit hungry, perhaps he would like a nice big lunch?" Cue, pots, pans, spoons and plenty of creative dry goods from the kitchen such as muesli, pasta and rice. Let them tell you about what they are doing and provide plenty of 'open ended' tools for them to explore. Use a bag or box for them to discover a toy, word or an object and discuss how you can take the play opportunities further. Never be intimidated by creative activities....make a rocket to fly to the moon, a huge mummy eating caterpillar or even a dollshouse. A cardboard box and a bit of imagination is all you need!
What sensory play it is NOT!
Creative play is NOT making something for your children. Let them do it themselves and choose activities that are age stage appropriate. Trying to finish a sock puppet with a 12 month old will be nowhere near as fun as making pink mud pies or painting dinosaur footprints. Any activity that involves an adult staring in confusion and muttering 'let me just...' whilst your little one has to wait patiently for 30 seconds will end in boredom and a general loathing of crafty time. Make it an active activity; make up a playdough dance, squish some paints with your feet in a tub, squeeze some gloop and use descriptive fun words during the process.
DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT suddenly decide to engage in any messy play 10 minutes before you leave the house. Instead, have a selection of crafty activities to hand such as sticker books, safe cutting tools or a chalkboard in case your little one announces they are feeling a bit creative and heading for the aprons. The idea is that you don't ever have to say no or raise your eyebrows to the skies whilst feeling guilty, instead you can offer an exciting enough alternative.