Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sensory experiences and Play....

This one is for Susan....

There is never a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the amount of education and experience I had with children and child development before giving birth to my own child. It has served me well and (so far) I am not finding that having my own son has made me abandon any of my previously held beliefs about children and the environments I believe are best for them. If anything, they have gotten STRONGER! And get this, I have even more of them! Oh geez, they just keep coming I tell ya.

So while I am thankful for the knowledge and beliefs I have, being a mom in this situation can be downright lonesome and isolating from time to time. For example, this morning we attended a baby sign language class through our city. I really love the idea of exposing Elijah to another language and since we have no native speakers of any other language in our household and I have taken sign language in the past, this seemed like a good way to do that. But I got to tell you, I should have just bought a book with signs in it to refresh me. This 45 minute class was full of the same old thing I see everywhere when people relate to children. Lots of "yays and good jobs" abounded. While expressive faces on adults can be authentic and natural when talking to babies and children we love, usually what I see in these classes is an exaggerated enthusiasm. People bouncing around like they do on that Barney television show attempting to constantly entertain children with happy faces where everybody is friends and it is never OK to feel like bored for an instant. Can you hear the valley girl accent I am affecting?

For those of you who don't understand why I don't believe saying "Good Job" to children every time they breathe without dying, I will have to save this for another blog, but in the meantime, here is an article to aid you in understanding where I am coming from.

But back to the classes offered for children. I realize this may sound a little like a detached or cold point of view, but so many of these classes are loud, fast paced, and hyper cheerful to the point of being fake. I don't want my child surrounded by that at all. I want him to be a part of authentic people and experiences. This is something (forgive me for those currently enrolled) that Gymboree frankly does not offer. Who said it was developmentally appropriate to hang a baby or toddler from a bar or have them doing a forward roll anyway? I want him to explore his world, but AT HIS OWN PACE. It literally tears my heart out when they hand my child an instrument in music class and then tear it away from him 3 minutes later because the song is over. Children need long periods of uninterrupted free time to explore and without too many restrictions. This is the only way they truly learn anything.

It is lonely when all the people who get you and understand why these things are important have older children who could care less about playing with Elijah. Most(thank goodness for you Jennifer) new moms usually do not understand the way I prefer to play and relate to my son. I can't seem to find any friends or connections in these classes, maybe because I can barely get through the class itself without pulling my hair out.

I have started a class for Elijah for this exact reason. I want an environment where he can touch things as much as he wants, where the adults sit back and observe the child's pace, where songs are sung slowly and at a tone where the children can understand the words and see the actions. I want an environment where the children's voices are heard more than the teachers. I want one where the people in the class are treating their children with as much respect as all human beings deserve. I don't want any child being treated like a doll or much worse, a pet. "Good Rolling, Fido!"

Sensory experiences are important, children need to engage all of the senses to truly learn, but overwhelming a child with sights and sounds causes irritation to their senses. Unfortunately I think many of these classes are attempting to be live television sets. This only causes a dependency for things to be loud and obnoxious in order to grab a child's attention. Maybe their is a vicious cycle here?

Instead give them the gift of true play (play is defined as free choice of an activity) and save your money (these classes are outrageously expensive) and give your child a container with flour and water, I guarantee you their brain and personality will be better off!

Some sensory ideas you can bring into your own home (sorry I took so long to get here Susan): Email me with clarification on any of these.

Cornstarch (Flour)/ Water: Cornstarch cleans up much easier than flour so I usually go this route, but flour is a whole new texture when wet. Plus you can make your own playdough.

Rice/Beans/Pasta with containers: Save all those scoops, plastic containers for use with things like this. Cooked Pasta provides a whole different experience and if you are really ambitious, color the pasta for a rainbow effect. You can add sequins or glitter here too.

Soil/Water: I use organic soil when I work with children. You can add seeds or beans to this with older children and plastic cups for planting.

Shaving Cream: For any child not putting everything in their mouth, squirting some of this on a table with combs and food coloring in spray bottles is awesome!

Plain old water: with animals, cups, funnels, food coloring, basters, any clear item from the kitchen, the possibilities are endless.

Play Sand: There are so many different kinds of sand these days, some mold into shapes with compressing. My favorite is this and this. There are even recipes for the moon sand online.

Flax Seed: OH MY! This is one mom won't want to leave for just the little ones. The seed is so silky smooth I could keep my hands in it all day, after playing with it for a week or so, add warm water and you will not believe how great it feels. Warning: Very difficult clean up :(, but so worth it.

Salt/Ice: I put out ice cubes for sculpting into different designs, add spoon and some salt. You can also freeze food coloring with a little water and paint with the frozen ice cubes.

Flubber: Here is the recipe. I put this out with green strawberry crates and scissors. I make it in much bigger quantities of course.

There are so many other ideas like making your own clay, paint, coffee grounds, fresh cut grass, gelatin molds, etc, etc, etc....

The possibilities are endless. If you are in the neighborhood, come by our playgroup and then I do all the clean up. :)
Happy Playing!


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tracy. I think you verbalized why I have been apprehensive about enrolling my guy in gymboree (despite money from my MIL to do so). I've always thought it so important for kids to explore independently, with us there in the wings. Although I must admit that I do say "good job," so I'll have to read the article you linked to!

    As for the sensory play, my boy puts everything in his mouth, so I am afraid to give him anything edible (or inedible, lol).

  2. AMEN!
    That is why that infant class (at Highland Hall)is so nice. Calm lullabies, simple toys, children just "lying around" and figuring it out for themselves. Adults out of the baby's way!

    I have been caring for another baby and the two of them really seem to enjoy each other and random flotsam that they find lying around. Today both of them spent 15 minutes examining the flowers embroidered on my shirt. I think that slow and simple time has a real effect on them.

    And I a with you...SO glad to have some child development study before I had my own!