After college, I wasn't very sure what I wanted to do. However, I knew I was good with kids. That led me to a job working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Man oh man did I LOVE working with that population of kiddos! One valuable lesson I took away from my time in the field was the importance of understanding how sensory experiences effect us all differently.
Even without sensory processing issue, most of us have textures we just hate. For me, I can't stand avocado I'm fine with it in guac, but I sure don't want a big old slice of it on a sandwich. We learn, develop, and grow through experiencing a wide variety of sensory inputs.
Over time, many of us learn which kinds of inputs we enjoy (warm water in the form of a bubble bath) and which we want to avoid (loud noises). Its important to expose our kiddos to a wide variety of sensory inputs from an early age. You'll quickly learn which your kids like, which they hate, and which can have calming or overstimulating effects on them. This information can be used in a variety of ways, including helping create a calm environment when you're kiddos are overstimulated.
One of my favorite things to play with back in the day were water beads. They are round, marble sized squishy beads that are often used in centerpieces and as vase fillers. They feel wet, cold, and squishy all at the same time. They even bounce. You can get them from a variety of places on line as well as Michael's and Joann's. I got a big old container from Michael's for around $5 with a 40% off coupon.
The great thing about water beads is you can use them purely for sensory input or as medium to explore other topics. I filled a large tuperware box with the entire container of water beads. I then added shapes from our shape sorter. This let us explore both the texture of the beads as well as talk about shapes.
Emma was very timid at first. She loves all things involving being wet, so I was hoping she'd get on board. With a little coaxing from Dad she dove right in. Emma played for a good thirty minutes before we had to clean up for nap time.
During the play, we talked about all the sensations she was experiencing We also talked about the different shapes and used the shapes as cups to scoop up the beads. She's only 22 months old so our shape talk was secondary to letting her play. But you could easily adjust this activity with age to have the kiddo receptively or expressively identify the shapes.
The possibilities with water beads are really endless. You can put in different animals and have your kiddo find them and make animal noises. You could have your kiddo guess how far a water bead will bounce and then evaluate their predictions. The sky is really the limit when it comes to different ways to use these beads!
A couple of safety notes...
You should be watching your kiddos at all times when playing with water beads. These suckers can easily be mistaken for candy. They defiantly shouldn't be eaten! Also, keep track of where the beads roll off to during play. I know our cats were pretty interested in what we were up to. I doubt they would be good for pets to eat. When you're done playing, throw them back in the container and top it off with a little water. They last forever!
I think providing your kiddos with different sensory experiences is both fun and rewarding. There are so many creative ways to use so many different materials. We recently busted out the shaving cream. Emma was not a fan. I'd love to hear what your favorite sensory play materials are!