Whether you’ve been following me for a little while or a long while, you’ll know that I love all things sensory play! But when it comes to food-based sensory play, well that can be a bit controversial. You see, many early years childcare centres don’t allow food-based play (often for cultural reasons), but I am a very strong advocate for using food for sensory play.
Our youngest daughter Audrey had a tough start. She had very poor oral motor skills so after careful guidance from her team of occupational therapists, a dietician and a speech pathologist, it was recommended that we do alllll of the sensory play with as many different textured foods as possible. And you betcha I was all over that!
Sensory play goes much deeper than being a fun way to spend 10 minutes with your little learner. These experiences are rich with so many opportunities to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, oral motor skills, cause and effect and so much more. Check out the pincer grip on Audrey as she picked up these frozen peas!!!
These food-based sensory experiences allowed Audrey to explore food in a totally risk free environment. She was able to have a little taste without sitting in the high chair having an official ‘meal’ and she was able to practise moving the foods around in her mouth as she explored and played.
Today I’m going to share with you some of the taste-safe, edible sensory play experiences that I’ve prepared for my own children over the years.
Before we get started though, please always supervise your child closely during sensory play. You know your child better than anyone else so be sure to use your best judgement and do a full risk assessment before playing. Please consult a medical professional if you have any concerns about your child’s development. This blog post does not constitute or replace medical advice!!!
Handling the mess
Let’s address this right upfront – sensory play can get messy pretty quick!!! Does the idea of cleaning up a messy play session REALLY turn you off? It can be so hard to watch the mess go EVERYWHERE and not want to jump in to clean up!
Here are a few tips before you get started:
- Prepare for the mess – Sometimes mess is unavoidable, so make sure you have everything on hand for tidying up before you even get started.
- Prepare the area – I almost always pop a big queen sized sheet down on the floor to catch spills but you could pop a Tuff Tray on the ground or even do your sensory play in the bath for a very quick tidy up!
- Just have fun! – Sometimes the mess might be hard for us to see past, but I guarantee that your little one is having a wonderful time and learning so much through the experience. The short term miss is so worthwhile!
Keeping it Simple
Getting your baby involved in edible sensory play is as easy as giving them something mushy and fun to play with at dinnertime! There are so many amazing textures and flavours that you can use which will treat all of their senses!
One of my all-time-favourites were frozen strawberries! We popped a few on a tray for baby Lilly and she had a ball squishing the berries around in her hand…and covering her entire body like paint!
Another really easy edible sensory tub is jelly! Whether you buy a packet mix from the supermarket or make some flavourless jelly out of gelatine, it will only take you 5 minutes to set up! This one can be quite enjoyable for teething babies with jelly straight from the fridge.
You can extend this one by placing some of their favourite toys inside the jelly before you set it in the fridge. A lot of people have great success adding some link toys to the jelly ready for their little learner to pull out of the set jelly!
I mentioned this one earlier, but frozen peas are a great one to help get those little fingers working hard! This one is great for scooping and pouring practice as well as encouraging the use of their pincer grip to pick up the individual peas. The pincer grip is when your little learner uses their pointer finger and thumb to pick up a small object.
The rainbow of (edible) colours
After something a little bit different? You can re-imagine so many items in your pantry just by adding a bit of food colouring!
Pasta is an easy one to add colour to. Just pop about a tablespoon of colouring to the water as your pasta cooks and you’re good to go! Just make sure you rinse it a few times before you give it to your baby to play with so that you don’t have any colour rubbing off during your play session.
Long strand pastas like spaghetti or fettuccine work well for this as there is ‘more’ for them to grab! I loved this spaghetti below – it reminded me of octopus tentacles and had a great texture for Audrey to explore too.
Cous cous is another fun edible sensory tub for your little learner! Similar to the pasta, you can just add the food colouring to the cooking water. Using the larger pearl cous cous will make it easy for your little learner to pick it up with their fingers.
Next is my all-time favourite! Hands up if you have that packet of baby rice cereal sitting in the cupboard? Maybe given to you by a well-meaning grandparent! We always did baby-led weaning but my Nana often grabbed a packet of rice cereal so I often used it for edible painting!
Mix up a batch following the instructions on the packet but add a drop of two of food colouring. Pop it down on a sheet or in the bath for a quick clean-up and let them explore!
So where to from here?
Once you get started with sensory play, I have no doubt that you’ll become a little bit addicted like I have! In fact, I love sensory play SO much that I wrote an entire book all about the topic! Click here to learn more about my sensory play book!
Sensory play is such a wonderful way to support your baby as they begin to make sense of the world around them.
I hope this post have given you some ideas to get started with when it comes to taste-safe or edible sensory play. If you try any of the activities shared here, I’d LOVE for you to tag me on Instagram at @littlelifelonglearners or use my hashtag #littlelifelonglearners so that I can see what you’ve been up to with your little food explorer!