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10 Things We Learned Talking Sensory Play with Kendra of Learning For Littles

10 Things We Learned Talking Sensory Play with Kendra of Learning For Littles

Celebrated for her accessible and inventive sensory play activities, our friend Kendra of @learning.for.littles hopped on IGLive with us to debunk common misconceptions around play based learning, share valuable insights + a bunch of super easy activity ideas for anyone looking to get started! 

Here’s what we learned: 

1. A Child’s Senses Develop Over Time

Did you know littles are developing their senses from birth into toddlerhood? Kendra suggests incorporating sensory play into your day-to-day routines can aid in the development of your little ones ’ senses.

“I think it's important to note that a child's senses develop over time. They're not fully developed from birth, and our children are actually developing their senses through exploring the world around them through touch, through taste, through smell, all of the five senses.” 

2. Sensory Play Can Help Develop Language and Social Skills

toddler sensory play bin

📸 @hallsinaz

The benefits go beyond the senses, with research supporting other essential interpersonal and developmental skills. 

“Sensory play is actually very beneficial to language skills — when you're playing, say for example, with messy play with your child, you might be describing things like, “‘Oh, that's sticky, or oh, that's soft.’ That helps with building their vocabulary.”

3. Setting Yourself Up For Success Starts with Consistent Boundaries 

If you’ve ever tried to understand why your child woke up and decided they no longer like something they couldn’t live without the day before, you know reasoning with moody toddlers is a formidable task.

Boundaries are something Kendra gets asked about a lot, especially with messy play. She says they are essential for sensory play and may even help your child develop better self-control skills. 

She suggests setting clear and consistent rules such as “keep it on the table” or “that doesn't go in our mouth.” 

“That's how these things are learned, right? Is through consistently telling your child, ‘The rice doesn't go on the floor,  it goes on the table.’” 

Toddlers are going to toddler, and that’s completely normal. On these days, she recommends you, “Just put it away and bring it back at another time when they might be in a better headspace to listen and to follow the rules. If you stay consistent, they will eventually learn, oh hey, she’s serious, and it just makes it a lot better for you and the child.” 

4. Myth: Sensory Play = Messy Play

You don’t need a mop bucket to introduce sensory play. Kendra says anything that activates touch, taste, smell, sight, or sound is a sensory experience.

"When most people think of sensory play, I think they think of messy play. However, there are so many other types of play that will also activate your senses —  if you really think about it, most play will activate at least one of those five senses.” 

5. You Can Do Sensory Play at Every Age, Even Baby!

Since we now know senses are developing from birth, you can promote them at any age! 

Kendra says there's a big misconception around age and sensory play, but it is important to keep in mind that babies are still exploring with their mouths. 

"My favorite thing to do with my daughter when she was a baby, I would just give her a basket or a bin full of different objects because babies typically love to just pull things out.”

During these activities, she aims for various textures or sizes while still keeping play safe, so littles can bring pieces to their mouths if they want to. With her daughter, she uses "Sensory balls or scarves, little blankets, face cloths things like that, that have different textures that she can pull out and explore. That was always what kept her the most engaged."

Ultimately, "You have to do what works for your child at whatever stage they're at. You don't have to wait until they're at a certain age or when they're done exploring with their mouth, you can dive right in and do what works for you and, of course, what's safe for your child." 

Kendra's fun ideas: 

  • Having them crawl around in the grass outside, that's a form of sensory play for a baby.
  • Sensory bottles are great for babies. 
  • Contrast black and white toys are also really great for babies
  • Touch and feel books. 

6. Sensory Play Can Start in The Bathtub with Water Play

baby playing with toys in water

📸 @evie.sophia

If you engage in tub time with your LO, you’re already introducing sensory play! 

“My go-to is water. Water is the best thing you can use because everyone has it and it's the easiest thing. And if you think about it, just putting your baby in the bathtub is a form of sensory play.”

Kendra's fun ideas:

Kid bath bombs, bubbles, glow sticks (shut the lights off for added fun). 

7. Your Pantry is Full of Great Sensory Play Pieces

You don’t need fancy bins or expensive toys. Kendra says there’s likely a treasure trove of great ideas in your kitchen!

toddler sprinkling cooking ingredients sensory play
“I'm a big believer in just using what you have — If you look in your pantry right now, the options are endless. You can use rice. You can use dry beans. I've used oats and cereal. If you have a toddler that would love the messy play but still bringing things to their mouth, there are so many taste-safe options."

Kendra's fun ideas:

  • Using a bin filled with Cheerios 
  • If you're brave, a bit of yogurt would be a lot of fun! 
  • If you have dry chickpeas at home, throw them in a bin, add some measuring cups, a couple of bowls (anything they can scoop and pour with). 
  • Any dried food is excellent, dried pasta or dried beans (And the thing to note here: you can reuse these!)

8. Elaborate Bins & Activities Are Cool But Not Necessarily More Effective  

Forget what you’ve heard (or seen on IG). When it comes to sensory play activities, you don’t need to prepare a drawn-out lesson with big expectations. Kendra says you can make it as straightforward or as interesting as you feel suitable for your LO. 

Kendra is a content creator, so her bins and activities are obviously going to be eye-catching, but she says that it’s unnecessary for success. She started her sensory journey super simple.

“When we started out, they were straightforward. I used what I had on hand. My child would interact with a very basic sensory bin just as much as she would with anything elaborate —  “I think that’s important to keep in mind. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. Your child doesn’t care. They’re going to play with it, and they’re going to mess it all up anyway.”

Kendra's fun ideas:

  • You could use a bin of feathers or pom-poms or even cutting up felt strips. Options that are very touch-oriented and easy to clean up.
  • Seek and find. If you have a wooden puzzle, you take out all the pieces, put them in a container of pom-poms, and then have them dig through the pom-poms to find the pieces or do color matching. 
  • If you have little bowls with different colors, they could pull the pom-poms out and place them in the bowls. 

“So there are definitely ways you can make it a little more interesting rather than just playing with the pom-poms. But I think you'd be surprised. The more open-ended it is, I feel like the better engagement.”

9. Messy Play Often Keeps Toddlers Busy The Longest

toddler painting

📸 @puremomblog

Messy play is always optional but a great idea if you’re looking to keep your toddler busy for long periods. 

“With toddlers, I'm all about the messy play, but that's definitely a personal preference. The reason for that and the reason I'm such a big fan of messy play is it's what will keep my toddler occupied the longest, hands down.”

“Recently, we did water beads and shaving cream. Which sounds like a nightmare probably to a lot of people, but it kept her so engaged. She played with that for a full hour and then played with it again the next day, which in toddler time, that's a long time to hold.”

10. Dying Bases is an Easy Way to Enhance Sensory Play

Add a splash of color to the mix!

"I like to dye sensory bases. For example [referencing Valentine's Day], if you have rice you can dye it red or pink to fit the kind of theme that you're looking for."

Learn how to dye your own sensory bases and find other fantastic play-based learning ideas and insights on her blog!

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