One of our classroom zones includes sensory play. But what exactly is sensory play, how it is helpful for learning and development, and how can you continue that learning outside the classroom?
As a parent, you want to provide your child with the best possible environment for learning and development. They learn as much or MORE at home as they do at school, so this blog will help outline ways to bring the benefits of sensory play into your home.
And don't worry - you don't have to set up a huge ordeal in order to get the benefits of sensory play.
What Is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is an activity that allows children to experience and explore their senses:
Sensory play can be done independently or with others, and can help children learn about their body, emotions, and surroundings. You've probably engaged in sensory play without knowing it!
Playing Peek-A-Boo with a baby is a sensory activity: Now they see you, now they don't. Singing or telling a story to your child explores their sense of hearing. Learning to whistle engages their sense of body awareness. Spinning around really fast until you fall down is a great (if disorienting) balance and body awareness activity.
Let's dive into more about sensory play's benefits and some tips for you to engage all the senses.
Why Provide Sensory Play Opportunities?
Providing sensory play opportunities can have a number of benefits for children's development.
One of the most important benefits of sensory experience and play is cognitive development including attention span, problem-solving, and emotional processing. Playing with the senses helps your child learn how to think and anticipate responses. They learn to process information through their senses and develop basic motor skills.
Playing with the senses helps children develop self-awareness and understand their emotions. When children are able to explore and understand their environment, they learn to trust their own instincts and intuition. This builds resilience - a key trait for successful childhood development!
Sensory play also promotes socialization. When children are able to share their experiences with others, they learn how to cooperate and share resources. Playing together is a great way to build friendships.
How to Create a Home Environment for Sensory Play
Make sure all the materials your child needs are close at hand. Sensory play is a great way to engage your child's senses, but it can be difficult if they have to go search for something specific. Make sure all the materials needed for the activity are within easy reach so your child can get started.
Safety is the number one priority with any activity. As we've written about before, risky play is a way for children to learn about natural consequences and practice self-regulation when they go fast, climb high, or experience different environmental conditions (like playing in the rain with no boots -- those soggy socks aren't so fun, and this helps them learn that boots are an important part of rainy days).
Knowing that pushing the limits of their sensory experiences can be helpful from this risky play standpoint, you still need to make sure that everyone knows the rules and stays safe.
Make sure all materials used in the activity are safe. Avoid sharp, hot, or other dangerous materials during your sensory play. If you want to practice with temperatures, make sure that your "hot" option is comfortably warm and not dangerously hot or boiling. (Sounds obvious, but reminders are always good!)
This could also mean using large items instead of smaller ones, if your child is at an age where they're putting things in their mouth!
Set clear rules about how the activity is to be conducted. For example, if you're exploring the sense of smell and letting your child smell different scented markers, candles, or other non-edible materials, a very clear "This is not for eating" rule needs to be communicated!
Make sure everyone in the activity is aware of the rules and follows them.
Check ingredients. If you're doing sensory activities with younger kids, look for non-toxic or taste-safe options. For instance, you can make a whipped cream similar to shaving cream by whipping up the juice from a can of chickpeas. That way if your toddler sneaks a taste, you don't have to worry. Thanks for this awesome food-safe tip from The Scott Cottage on Instagram!
Clay and dough-type products for children like Play Doh are typically non-toxic but still taste pretty terrible. So maybe those risky play consequences will come into play here!
Stay nearby for assistance. Your growing child will want to be independent as they continue their play, but we advise always keeping an eye on them in case of breaks, spills, or an unexpected response to the activity.
Tips for Getting Started with Sensory Play
Like we mentioned above, you don't necessarily need to pull out all the stops and provide the most Pinterest-worthy sensory play environment. Engaging the senses doesn't need to be complicated or over-produced. Here are some tips to get started.
Find out what your child likes and explores the most. This will help you find activities that interest them. Working with their natural likes and dislikes gives you an easy to follow guide! If they love touching different textures, you can let them touch different things around the house and explore that sense. If they love music, listen to a few genres and let them dance it out.
Start small with simple activities. Don't start with something that will require a lot of preparation or set up. This will make it easier for you as the parent and for your child to follow their natural interests with no pressure to do it "enough" to make it worth your time for all that setup!
Encourage your child to ask questions about what they're doing and why. This will help them learn more about their own body and mind.
You don't need to overstress about whether sensory play is doing enough for your child. The important part is to provide opportunities for your child to explore their senses and have fun. By following these tips, you can create a safe and encouraging environment for sensory play.
Happy Black History Month! Each February we celebrate Black History Month to learn about the culture, heritage, and history of the Black community. Using books, music, art, and conversations, we can encourage even the youngest of learners to celebrate Black history. During this month at Heights, we're incorporating stories, art, and more to focus on a celebration of Black culture.
Of course, learning about Black history shouldn't be limited to just one month out of the year. But during Black History Month, it's a reminder for people of all cultures to specifically seek out and deepen their understanding of Black history. While it's easy to share about the successes and accomplishments of Black historical figures, it's also important to teach children from all backgrounds about the harder topics related to Black history too.
Help Preschoolers Celebrate Black History Month
One of the easiest ways to teach kids about Black history is through stories and reading! Having a diverse array of books to choose from helps expose kids to different cultures from an early age and teaches them to appreciate the differences between people, instead of thinking that differences are bad or strange. This makes children more empathetic and compassionate, and starts to build their sense of social justice.
There are countless books about Black history written by Black authors for readers of all ages. Some of our recommendations include:
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race by Megan Madison
Little Black Lives Matter by Khodi Dill
Teach Them Young ABC's African American Edition by Shamariah Starr
You can also start talking about race and culture at all ages of your child's development. Part of Black History Month's importance is acknowledging what Black people have experienced throughout history, which includes hard topics like racism and slavery. Have a conversation about race and prejudice with your preschooler – explain why it’s important to learn more about the histories of different cultures, and how we can all work together to make things better for everyone.
You can look to your preschooler's favorite tv shows to help celebrate and learn during Black History Month too. Sesame Street and CNN partnered to develop Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests, as a way to help connect with children and help families explain and understand racism in kid-friendly terms. And PBS Kids had a special about race and racism featuring content from popular shows Daniel Tiger's neighborhood, Arthur, and Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum.
Preschoolers are developing a strong sense of fairness, right, and wrong - which means they'll catch on to simple explanations of treating people unfairly based on the color of their skin. Remember to keep things simple and age-appropriate and answer your child's questions honestly.
Black History Month doesn't have to just be about history, either. Embrace your child's current favorites and enjoy shows, movies, stories, music, and more that feature Black characters and artists who are making history today!
Lunches are a Labor of Love: How to Encourage Your Child to Eat their Balanced Lunch
Beth Edmiston, PhD, RN, CCRN is a Heights mom and our health advocate! Look for more blogs from Beth about keeping our kids healthy at school and home.
Hello Heights Coop! My name is Beth Edmiston, or to the kids in Mx. Taryn’s room, Miles’s mom. This is our third year at Heights Coop, and we have been packing lunches and snacks since even before that.
Besides being a mom, I am also a nurse, and spent many years as a cardiac nurse. Part of my job was educating patients on heart healthy nutrition. Since starting to pack my own children’s lunches and being the person responsible for figuring out how to support my kids’ balanced diet, I found my knowledge and creativity in this area were really lacking. Over the years, I have done a lot of digging through medical resources, magazines, cookbooks, and so on, to learn about child nutrition, what to do about picky eaters, and ideas for healthy, fun snacks.
So how can we balance healthy eating with our busy lives? I have put together some solutions to support our preschoolers in getting comfortable with a wide range of nutritious lunch and snack foods.
Let’s Talk about Nutrients
Having a variety of nutrients and food options is important for building healthy bodies - and a healthy relationship with food as our kids grow. A balanced diet has a place for all types of food. Remember, all food is fuel for our bodies.
Most people are familiar with the major nutrient groups: Carbohydrates, protein, and fats. These are called macronutrients. Other nutrients like vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. And all of these types of nutrients work together in our bodies to help us learn and play!
It’s About Balance
Let’s talk about sugar, since there’s a lot of talk about it when it comes to nutrition. As long as meals and snacks are balanced, sweet treats can be a tasty part of your child’s lunch. In fact, sugar is the nutrient that is most readily converted to energy in the body, so having a mix of complex and simple carbs can help keep energy levels sustained throughout the day.
Everybody knows that too many sugary things all at once will give us a tummy-ache, but we also know that the lure of the forbidden is real! Remember that feeling when someone tells you "No, you can't do that" and suddenly that exact thing is all you can think about? That feeling is so powerful for children, and as we strive as parents to guide our kids to a healthy relationship with food, avoiding that lure of the forbidden can be very helpful.
Assigning moral value judgments to food, such as “good” vs “bad,” “healthy” vs “unhealthy,” etc, can have a lasting impact on a young person’s relationship with food. But encouraging your child to choose different colors, textures, or shapes of food and talking to them about how this gives their bodies all the different macro and micro nutrients they need will support them in building confidence with food and trust in their bodies as they learn what they enjoy from each category.
Remember, it’s all about balance! To reduce jittery hyperactivity and the dreaded sugar crash, pack some fats and proteins along with carbohydrates and sweet treats to stabilize their effects on blood sugar. This could look like hummus with carrots and crackers or a Greek yogurt with some chocolate chips to sprinkle on top. The possibilities are endless!
How to Encourage Your Kids to Eat Nutritiously
Kids can be picky! (Even I’m a picky eater sometimes). New foods can bring unexpected flavors, textures, and smells that take a while to get used to. Research shows that people may need to try a new food at least eleven times before they actually like it! As you’re encouraging your child to eat from many different food groups to get their nutrient bases covered, here are some suggestions to make it more fun for you both.
Eat the rainbow! Involve your child in grocery shopping and meal prep so they can see how many colors of fruits, veggies, and other foods are available. Colorful food is so much fun to eat, and you might even find new varieties of tried and true ingredients you haven’t seen before, like purple cauliflower, carrots, and even rice. Bell peppers provide a beautiful array of colors too, and go great with hummus, ranch, or your child’s favorite dip. Turning new foods into a fun and colorful activity can increase your child’s interest in their fruits and veggies.
Colorful fruits and veggies also come with their own unique micronutrients based on color called phytonutrients.
Red foods help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and help promote skin health! These foods include apples, cherries, tomatoes, watermelon, beets, strawberries, red bell peppers, raspberries, kidney beans, red grapes, pomegranates, and red onions.
Orange and yellow foods are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, and they help boost the immune system, reduce the risk of heart disease, and support healthy eyes. Orange and yellow foods include: citrus fruits (orange, lemon, grapefruit), mango, papaya, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches, bananas, and bell peppers.
Green foods are rich in so many amazing nutrients that support the immune system and our overall energy levels. Green veggies have folate and vitamin K and they help our blood and brains stay healthy! Try green foods like: broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy greens (kale, chard, collards, romaine and green leaf lettuce, cabbage, arugula, etc.), asparagus, green beans, peas, zucchini, green apples, kiwis, grapes, and avocado.
Purple and blue foods are not only beautiful, they help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, decrease inflammation and pain, and support cognition and skin health. Berries especially have incredible healing benefits, helping reduce inflammation and more! Purple and blue foods include: blueberries, blackberries, grapes and raisins, plums and prunes, figs, eggplant, and purple varieties of onions, potatoes, cabbage, and cauliflower.
White and brown foods are also important in this rainbow! These phytonutrients can help protect against certain cancers and support bone and heart health. These foods include mushrooms, potatoes, parsnips, daikon radishes, jicama, cauliflower, onions, and garlic.
Read more about eating the rainbow at Food Revolution Network - and get some amazing recipe ideas too!
Try different preparations. Sometimes your kids (and you!) might love a raw veggie and hate it cooked, or vice versa. Try different preparations of foods to see if you love it a certain way! You can try roasting, steaming, grilling, or pickling instead of eating raw. You could also try using lettuce or other leafy greens as wraps, to make things more interesting.
Pack lunches and snacks together in the evening. Children engaged in decision-making and preparation of meals are more likely to eat their lunch and try new foods. Offer food choices, and talk about how to balance your packed lunch to include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. I encourage my kids to include a fruit, vegetable, or small dairy product (string cheese) as their snack. The lunch should complement the snack choices and vice versa. If lunch has lots of veggies, make the snack a fruit option. Or include fruit in their lunch and a veggie snack to mix things up.
Make the food appealing and get creative. No, I’m not talking about those unrealistic Insta-mom lunches. Use fun ice packs, bento box containers, or add a fun napkin. I use a flower shaped cookie cutter to cut sandwiches into a fun shape! Pack some ranch or Italian dressing as a carrot or broccoli dip, or try hummus. Switch up the cheese snacks (I sometimes buy blocks of cheese and slice them myself, and my kids think it’s gourmet). Do a “homemade lunchable.” Pack leftover pasta in a thermos as a main dish. Make things easy on yourself. Start with one thing and add this to your toolkit. Eventually, as you add different methods, being creative with food choices will be easier.
Check the label. I know this can be so tedious, but some items may be hiding ingredients that you want to know about! Double check that any sweet snacks also have protein to help them sustain energy longer and reduce crashes. And also check for any potential allergens if your child or their classmates are sensitive or allergic to ingredients.
Help your child eat their lunch, even though you aren’t there! If you know your child struggles with the size of a regular sandwich, cut the sandwich into smaller pieces or use a cookie cutter to make the sandwich more appealing. Peel oranges ahead of time and place in a container for your child to easily eat. Cut fruits and veggies into smaller pieces to ensure your child attempts to eat them. Remember, the children have 20 minutes to eat lunch and you want to set them up for success!
Be persistent. Remember, it takes someone at least eleven times of trying a new food to like it. Discontinue foods that your child has a strong negative reaction to, but keep packing interesting new options! With persistence and a little creativity, they will eventually start to try new foods and find new favorites.
Finally, remember not to be hard on yourself. Every once in a while, we all only eat frozen French toast sticks or chicken nuggets for dinner. Remember that all food is fuel for our bodies, and don’t beat yourself up! Raising little humans is hard, and you’re doing great.
Beth Edmiston, PhD, RN, CCRN is a Heights mom and our health advocate! Look for more blogs from Beth about keeping our kids healthy at school and home.
The dreaded sick child. We’ve all been there. You wake up, preparing for your day, and then your kid just doesn’t look right. Are they sick? Maybe their temperature is a little elevated or they have a runny nose. They still eat breakfast, and you have a morning meeting that you need to be at… So you have to make the decision on whether or not they should go to school.
As we finish the third full year of a pandemic (not to mention, the ‘tripledemic’ we are currently weathering between COVID-19, RSV, and the flu), this is beyond tiresome and frustrating for us parents. However, “this too, shall pass,” and we need to remember why it is so important to keep sick kids at home.
Our beautiful Heights Coop Preschool is a small community. Many of us have younger children and infants who have basically no immunity and are not old enough for vaccines. I see so many grandparents who graciously pick up and drop off students and who likely do some caregiving. A handful of us take care of sick people or care for the elderly. Heights Coop School staff are only a handful of amazing teachers.
When one of us is sick, we are all exposed. While most of us can manage our sick selves at home, please keep in mind that the three viruses mentioned above hospitalize and kill thousands of the elderly and young just in an average year. Minimizing illness exposure of vulnerable people is everyone’s responsibility.
Signs and Symptoms to Look For
Fever (100.4°F) is the most obvious sign of illness; however, there are many other signs and symptoms that warrant a child staying home from school. A low-grade temperature (99-100.3°F) also indicates that your child may be sick or starting to show signs of illness.
Vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, and severe coughing also are all obvious signs. Some less obvious signs and symptoms of common illnesses may include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, lack of energy, or generally not feeling well.
Don’t forget, if you child has needed a fever-reducing medication (Tylenol/acetaminophen, Motrin/ibuprofen) within the last 24 hours, keep your child home because they are still contagious!
Lastly, if your child is exhibiting symptoms and has known or suspected exposure, please have them tested.
Screen-free Activities for Sick Days
It is a real struggle to keep a sick child busy! Of course, movies, YouTube, and television shows can be nice, restful options (remember, you have that meeting!), but when you can, engaging your child in activities encourages their development even during an illness. Pick activities with familiarity to promote comfort and security and avoid frustrating tasks. A sick child’s attention span will be shorter than
normal, so plan for frequent breaks and (fingers crossed) a long nap.
If your child wants to or needs to stay in bed, use a lap desk or cardboard piece to give them a firm surface to work on. Coloring, reading, duplos/blocks, and puzzles are easy, quiet activities to do together. Playdoh, painting, and cutting and pasting are a little messier, but can entertain children for a while. Bubbles are nice for
warmer weather and may even help clear out lungs. Of course, enjoy all of the cuddles and hugs you will inevitably receive!