Over past few weeks Ollie and I have been doing all sorts of sensory activities and messy play with different types of food.
He’s been having a pretty rough time teething (7 at once!) and has really gone off food. Getting him to eat anything at all has become a real battle and we all dread mealtimes. I really don’t want this to start becoming a big issue for him and I don’t want him to start associating food with being unhappy. I know that negative feelings around food can often start in childhood and carry on through to adulthood. So, I thought I’d take the pressure off a bit and make food more fun for him.
I wanted to give him the chance to explore new foods, textures and smells. I wanted it to be fun without the pressure of sitting at the dinner table with people expecting him to eat. So I came up with a few different sensory activities to let him try out different foods.
All these sensory activities can be done using things you have at home. And if you don’t have the ingredients, they’re all super cheap to buy. I’m a firm believer that entertaining your children doesn’t need to cost the earth, and playing with food and household items is a great way to learn about everyday life. It allows children to experience different textures, sensations, sounds and even tastes.
Jelly Messy Play
Jelly is great for messy and sensory play, because of the unusual texture and bright colours. I got a few plastic toys and set them in some jelly overnight. I put it all in the sandpit and gave Ollie some plastic cutlery to dig the toys out. Originally, I was intending for him to get in the sandpit to play but it turns out he HATES the texture of jelly! But that’s fine! The whole point of sensory play is to give him the chance to discover new things and find out for himself what he does and doesn’t like. I like to give him chance to make his own mind up about new textures and sensations.
He had great fun squishing and scooping the jelly, and digging the toys out with spoons – just as long as he didn’t have to touch it with his hands!
If your little one is happy to play with the jelly, this would be a great messy play activity. Fill the sandpit with jelly and let them squash it, stomp on it, or even roll round in it!
We used our new tuff tray for this one and it worked really well. I picked it up from Amazon for less than £15 which I think is pretty reasonable considering how often we are using it. If you don’t have one, you could use a sandpit or a big baking tray. I think it works best outside because the birds will help with the cleanup!
I used cream crackers and crisps because they make a good noise are easy for little hands to smash. You could also use biscuits, dried pasta or even coffee beans- the smell would add an extra sensory element.
Just tip them out in the tray and let your little one smash them up. Ollie used a wooden spoon to bash them and loved it! If you’ve got older kids you could use a rolling pin or something with a bit more weight. When we’d finished we tipped it all out on the grass for the birds. Ollie had great fun stomping all over it in his wellies!
Spaghetti Messy Play
This was so easy to prepare and Ollie really enjoyed it. I just boiled some spaghetti and then coloured it with food colouring and left it to dry slightly. I wanted it to be slightly wet and squidgy. If you want it to be dry (so the colour doesn’t leak) leave it to dry overnight.
He loved scooping it, transferring it between containers and trying to thread it through the holes in the colander. He even nibbled on some which was great as he has refused to eat pasta for weeks! I cooked spaghetti for tea the next day and he ate tons which was a massive achievement! I really think that’s one of the great things about using food for sensory play. It makes food seem more fun and gives kids the chance to explore new textures and tastes without the pressure of dinner time.
Rainbow rice is really cheap and easy to make, and it can be stored to use again. It’s great for sensory play because of the bright colours and the noise it makes. You can use it in all sorts of ways – I’ve just made a sensory bottle using our leftover rice!
If you’re looking for a quiet time activity, pasta threading is very simple but effective. It is great for entertaining toddlers and older children. You can dye your pasta to make it look more interesting or use it plain. Use it to practice pattern making, counting and colour recognition. Older children can use it to make jewellery or practice sequences. It’s also great for developing fine motor skills, improving pincer grip and hand-eye coordination. This activity held Ollie’s concentration for a long time which doesn’t happen much these days! It’s also an easy activity to adapt for different ages and stages.