Sensory play benefits include positive effects on brain development. A huge benefit of sensory play for parents is it gives us a chance to get things done while they are playing. I was shocked at how long my daughter played on her own with this easy sensory play idea!
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We know that I’m frugal, right? I’m going to own up and tell you how this super easy sensory play idea came to me in this frugal story.
I was sorting through the pantry (we don’t have a pantry – it was a cupboard) where we keep our dried and canned goods, our pastas and dried beans and spices and canned tuna. As we put more food in, older food migrates to the back and then lots of time can pass and I have no idea what’s back there. I was using my own advice on eating healthy on a budget by making meals with the food we already have instead of buying more food.
I came across some fun finds – dark chocolate! local honey! canned wild salmon! And then I came across a large half-used bag of dried lentils. I looked at the expiry date and it was years expired. Like many years.
A sensory play idea born out of being frugal (and maybe forgetful)
Some of you might be thinking, so what they are dried beans, they never really expire. I used to think this too, especially because they smelled fine. But I have past experience with this. I tried using expired dried chickpeas in a yummy stew. I soaked them overnight, simmered the heck out of them the next day, and they were still slightly al dente. Pasta is fine with a little chew but I like my chickpeas soft. I tried again another time with those darn old chickpeas thinking it was just a fluke, but same thing. Not very tasty chickpeas that we forced ourselves to eat a bit of so we didn’t feel like we were wasting all the other (not expired) ingredients I used.
So I didn’t want to do that with these expired lentils. I looked at them and I looked at my daughter and I thought I bet she would like to play with them. So I got a tray and some items from the kitchen and it was magic. She was blissed out with something new, and I got some time to tidy up the rest of the pantry/not pantry.
Sensory play benefits
Let’s talk about the benefits of sensory play for our kiddos. Sensory play:
- Helps kids develop problem solving skills
- Helps kids come up with new ideas
- Develops observation skills
- Develops predicting skills
- Helps kids learn more about the physical world
- Helps develop math skills (through pattern awareness and awareness of objects in an area/in relation to each other)
- Encourages experimenting skills
- Develops motor skills
- Helps kids learn to draw conclusions
- Helps with memory
- Encourages creativity
These are all huge benefits of sensory play! Kids learn through play, it’s as simple as that. Tactile, sensory play is an important part of this for our kids.
A huge sensory play benefit for parents on the other hand is getting time to do what needs to get done. If you’re a mama who works at home, or is trying to start a blog or another home-based business, it’s great to have some activities up your sleeve that will keep your kids occupied so you can get some work done.
Sensory play research
There has been more and more research on sensory play. Teachers notice the benefits of sensory play in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Researchers have found benefits of sensory play on brain development. Sensory play can even be important in helping kids get more comfortable with trying different foods, and helping picky eaters.
Sensory play isn’t just important for kids with sensory processing challenges, it’s important for all kids. It is also great for developing STEM skills in children.
Sensory play and brain development
Sensory play helps build cognitive skills. These skills help us solve problems and come up with new ideas, both pretty great life skills to have. Sensory play can help these new little brains that are growing and building important connections.
My preschooler does not care at all about the latest sensory play research or the benefits of sensory play on her brain development. She just cares that this is fun. Each time when we “play with lentils” (her name for this sensory play) she will play for over two hours quietly by herself at the table. OVER TWO HOURS PEOPLE! This is gold for giving you time to get something done without resorting to screen time.
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Obviously if your kid is an “eater”, you will have to watch them more closely. Especially if you’re letting them play with expired beans (the expired part is not mandatory but you get bonus frugal points if you find another use for something you would have thrown out).
I will tell you for experience that the tray you use matters. Unless you love picking up lentils from all around the house (which to be honest you will do anyways but the following tip will drastically cut down on the mess). At first I used two cookie sheets and kept everything confined in the cookie sheets. That definitely kept things more in one place than just playing right on the table, but cookie sheets are too low for this play. The perfect tray I found is a large rectangular sheet pan tray with higher sides like this. The 3 inch sides really help keep the play contained.
Be creative! I switch up what my daughter uses each time we play with lentils.
Some of the household things we have used for sensory play:
- Cupcake liners (she particularly loves these for some reason)
- Different sized bowls
- Soup ladles
- Metal strainers for steaming veggies
- Little toys that can hold things (like the ice cream cone toy in one of the photos)
It’s so fun for her. It’s like getting to play in a sandbox except inside at the table!
Books on sensory play
For more ideas on sensory play, this book is fantastic with over 65 different ideas for sensory bins for kids.
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Do you see the benefits of sensory play in your kids? What kind of sensory play do you do at home?