Taking the leap into messy play at home doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, the beneﬁts of tactile learning far outweigh the negatives, so here are two recipes for play that are easy and inexpensive ideas for engaging your child’s senses.
Children learn through their five senses – it’s how they explore and understand their world. Providing play that helps kids tune in to their sensory impulses can seem daunting, but with clear set-up and pack-down times, and using easy-to-source materials and ingredients found in most pantries, inviting your child to engage and create can be a breeze. The result for you, the parent, of inviting a little mess into your home, is a child full of wonder, fully present and excited by play. Focus less on the mess and more on the special time of teaching and learning and enjoying your children because, if you’re getting involved in the play with them, they will most certainly be enjoying you!
Play should have no purpose but the play itself. When setting up an invitation to explore, you do so knowing that the only end product is mess and joy. Your child will learn no matter what – they are children, it is what they do naturally – but it won’t necessarily be the kind of learning outcome you expect or desire. Sometimes, expectations can get in the way of learning because, if you’re quantifying play or seeking learning outcomes, it’s not play anymore; it’s just academic achievement by stealth.
There is no one correct way to play and there are no ‘right’ outcomes being sought here. Let your child direct the play. Follow their lead and trust that they know what they are doing, or at least that they have a plan and understand which direction they want to go in. Just because their idea of watching paint drip onto the floor might not be your idea of what painting should be, doesn’t make it the wrong way to paint. It makes it a different way to paint. They may well be discovering the intricacies of gravity. Rice play will encourage kids to explore the quantam mechanics of flow, while yoghurt games delve into viscosity and the intrigues of colour. But these are just a wonderful side effect of play, not ends in themselves. Science, maths, language – these are all understood and engaged with in an innate way, not one that will enable them to pass a test about particular colours or scientific concepts.
Above all and, most importantly, engaged children are happy, connected children. And happy children are a lot easier to parent!
Set-up time high
Clean-up time mid
Mess factor mid
This play is a bit like fizz droppers in reverse and, because you’re working with ice, it becomes an interesting outdoor play invitation. With changes in state, chemical reactions, temperature changes, colour and mess all meeting together, there is a lot here to be discovered and explored. Just think of it as a fun party bursting at the seams with people!
You will need
- several colours of food colouring*
- white vinegar
- an ice tray
- baking soda
- a tray or trough
Mix each food colour with some vinegar in the ice tray and freeze it.
When the vinegar ice has set, pop out the cubes and place them in the trough or tray outside. Let the children enjoy sprinkling baking soda over the cubes, mixing them together, listening to the sound of the two reacting, watching the cubes turn brittle and foamy, then into colourful puddles, and making a big, fizzy rainbow soup.
When the little ones have finished, get the hose out and have fun washing away any spillages.
* Note: because you want to see a reaction between the vinegar and the baking soda – and the more concentrated the vinegar is the better – in this instance, using concentrated store-bought colour is advised as it won’t dilute the vinegar like homemade colour will. Because it smells like vinegar does, children are unlikely to want to put it in their mouths anyway.
Set-up time low
Clean-up time mid–high, depending on your set-up
Mess factor mid
There is a lot to love about yoghurt paint. It is perfect for the child who wants to put everything in the mouth and the parent who doesn’t want the fear factor of giving young children real paint. It wipes clean easily; although, like most paints, it is not too friendly with carpets. If you’re looking for a window of time to cook a meal, take your postcards off the fridge and let the kids paint the door.
You will need
- plain Greek yoghurt
- an ice tray or muffin tin
- several colours of food colouring
- paper (optional)
Portion out the yoghurt into the ice tray or muffin tin. Mix in the food colouring to make a rainbow of ‘paints’. Sit the little Picassos in front of the fridge or easel and marvel at their creativity. If you’re concerned for the health of your fridge, magnet some paper to the surface.
This paint will dry and it is possible to keep the art for some time, provided the yoghurt isn’t applied so thickly that it rots.
Both your fridge and the floor should wipe down quickly, or let the dog in and get it to do the work for you. If your darlings paint themselves more than the surface you’ve provided, you can always fill the sink, pop them in and get them to do the dishes while they’re in there.
Reproduced with permission from Recipes for Play by Rachel Sumner and Ruth Mitchener. Published by Penguin Group NZ. RRP $30.00.
more craft ideas from tots to teens: