Set up a simple sensory tub filled with just one material and a few vessels for scooping and pouring. This open ended activity will keep kids entertained for hours as they explore, experiment and learn!
Play doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s often the activities that take the least amount of time to set up, and that involve the most basic of materials, that engage kids the most. The reason? Simple activities are open ended. Kids are free to explore and experiment in whichever way they choose and kids have such fabulous imaginations so the possibilities are endless.
So many times I’ve set up what I thought was a fabulous sensory tub for R (4 yrs) and he will inevitably remove all of the carefully selected elements and simply play with the main “material” and a few cups and spoons. So this time I simply filled a plastic tub with split peas, threw in a few plastic cups, a funnel and a couple of lidded glass bottles. This tub stayed out for an entire week and held R’s attention for up to an hour at a time – no small feat for a 4 year old with boundless energy who usually finds it impossible to sit still for five minutes!
The dried split peas are such a lovely material for sensory tubs. They are smooth and silky to touch, the glide between your fingers and make such calming sounds as they are scooped and poured. I think this may be why R enjoys this type of play so much. It is very calming and relaxing. He engaged in lots of fine motor practice with this tub, scooping the split peas into the small cups and then pouring them through the funnels.
He had fun making patterns and formations with the coloured plastic cups. First lining them up together….
….then pair by pair moving them to the sides of the tub….
…until they were all lined up again.
Much time was spent filling the glass bottles and pouring the contents out again between his fingers – such lovely sensory play. There is so much being explored and discovered here about volume, sound, velocity and weight.
R’s extended the activity by filling the vessels with split peas and then building structures with them. He constructed some very tall “buildings” and even topped one of them with an upturned funnel and declared it to be a house with a chimney on top!
Why we love this activity!
1. Open ended – R is free to let his imagination run wild and play in whichever way he wants.
2. Calming – perfect for when things are getting a little crazy and we need to slow down a bit.
3. Learning opportunities – mathematical concepts like volume, capacity and velocity.
4. Fine motor skills practice.
5. Concentration and attention span – this kept R happy for very long periods at a time.
6. It takes all of five minutes to put together.
Just a couple of notes about the split peas. At 4 years old, R is obviously past the point of putting things in his mouth but I still SUPERVISE HIM AT ALL TIMES when doing this activity. I bought several packets of split peas from the supermarket back when R was just two years old. He is now almost five. We’ve had the same split peas for almost three years now and they are still being used. A few dollars very well spent! If however you prefer to not use food in play then the split peas can be substituted with many other materials. The point of this activity is not which material you use, it’s about keeping it simple and using what you have on hand.
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