(Written by Tracey Louis) Parents of busy toddlers and pre-school children are often kept on their toes trying to find fun, engaging and affordable activities to keep the kiddos occupied. Kids learn so much through their play; it is how they discover the world and develop their coordination, ability to focus, body awareness and many other skills that translate to more social, intellectual and emotion success as they grow up. Sensory play (play activities that engage the five senses: smell, sight, sound, taste and touch) are ideal for developing these skills.
Summertime brings the perfect weather to take sensory play outside. Kids get to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and clean up is a snap for parents who can just hose off the messy evidence of a fun play session afterward. Here’s four sensory play activities that will keep kids happy and won’t break the bank (in fact, many of the materials can easily be found around the house or at the 99 cent store).
Get Your Hands Dirty and Investigate!
These two activities allow kids to really explore with their hands, eyes and mouths. If you sing or talk to your child during play, you can engage their ears too. Both of these play activities can easily be placed in a kiddy pool to contain the mess and make clean up easy.
Baking soda and colored vinegar sensory play
What you’ll need:
- Food coloring
- Spray bottles and/or plastic containers paired with medicine droppers (one for each color)
- Baking soda
- Play clothes that can get dirty
In each bottle or container, pour some vinegar and add your choice of food coloring. Younger children may find it easier to use medicine droppers and older kids with better motor skills will enjoy using the spray bottles.
In the play pool, make several mounds of baking soda. Place your child and the colored vinegar containers in the pool. Then let your child explore how the colored vinegar comes out of the spray bottle or dropper, adding it to the baking soda and watching it turn colors and foam as the baking soda reacts with the vinegar. These are all food items, so this is a great activity for kids that really like to explore by putting things in their mouth…they may not like the taste, but it won’t hurt them.
What you’ll need:
- Shaving cream or whipped cream (whipped cream may be a better choice if your child is likely to put things in his or her mouth)
- Child-safe kitchen utensils – wooden spoons, plastic cooking utensils, cups, containers
Put shaving cream or whipped cream in the kiddy pool along with a variety of utensils. Let your child explore by squishing the cream in his or her hands, smearing it on himself and using the utensils to move it around and play with it. Be prepared for a shaving/whipped cream fight to ensue! Outdoor shower with hose after play is an optional bonus playtime.
Color Their World
Canvas Creation with Watercolors
- Small canvas (although thick paper or card stock will do too)
- Paint brushes
- Elmer’s or other washable glue
- Three small containers (1 each for water, glue and salt)
Get three small containers (the small paper Dixie cups work well) and put water, glue and salt in each container. Put the glue and salt aside until your child needs them later. Create a work space at a table or on the lawn and place the canvas or paper along with the watercolors, brushes and container of water and allow your child to explore the colors and make his or her own Picasso creation (younger kids will need Mom or Dad’s help).
Let the watercolors dry a little bit (just a few minutes). If you don’t want the colors to smear, wait until the watercolors are completely dry. Then take the glue and with a finger or brush, put a light film of glue over the canvas or paper. While the glue is still wet, let your child sprinkle the salt over his or her picture. When it’s dry, it will give the picture a shimmer, great for showcasing your child’s masterpiece.
What you’ll need:
- Color! (Crayons, watercolors, finger paints, stamps and stamp pads, side walk chalk stickers, etc.)
- Paper (can be drawing paper, coloring book pages, paper rolls taped to the ground or table…whatever will be fun for your child)
Set up “color” stations of your choosing, allowing your child to play with different color tools. For example, place sidewalk chalk on the patio, crayons, stickers and stamps together with drawing paper, and finger paint and paper rolls laid out for finger painting. Assist your child as he or she plays with the different coloring mediums and make color creations together!
Enjoying the gorgeous summer weather and making lasting memories with your child really can be easy. Now go enjoy yourselves!
About the author: Ms. Louis divides her time between keeping her active, energizer bunny daughter busy and promoting the lake fun at the Highland Lakes in the Texas Hill Country. She’s lucky to be able to work from home, but needs to find creative play to keep her bundle of energy busy sometimes to get some work done!