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Ever find yourself with no ideas in which to keep your little one occupied during the ‘terrible twos’? It is a testing phase, trust me, I’ve been there. I want to put you on so something you might not have considered before, edible sensory play.

A young child is focused on stacking wooden blocks of various shapes and colors. The child is wearing a white long-sleeve shirt and is carefully placing a rectangular block on top of a structure made from other blocks. In the background, there is a wooden chair and a soft, cozy cushion, creating a warm and inviting play environment. This activity enhances the child's fine motor skills, cognitive development, and creativity through tactile exploration and constructive play.

Yep, you read that right. Not only is it a fun activity, it’s a wholesome way for playtime with the added benefits of child development. Wouldn’t you appreciate playtime that is more engaging in ways that your child is constantly learning, of course, you would.

With edible sensory play, your child explores different textures, colors, and tastes without the worry of putting non-edible items in their mouth.

As parents, especially stay-at-home dads, we know how difficult it is to find activities that are both safe and engaging. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to get the creative juices flowing and start expanding fine motor skills.

For those of you who are new to edible sensory play, it is nothing too technical. We will get into a little bit more into the benefits and some easy sensory recipes. There will be some tips so your child can make the most of the activities.

Why is Edible Sensory Play Beneficial?

Children who get introduced to edible sensory play get introduced to a myriad of benefits that differently affect their overall development and overall well-being.

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It promotes Exploration and Curiosity

Edible sensory serves as a gateway for children to embrace exploring and curiosity.

Children are curious beings by nature, so why not give them a safe space in which they can touch, taste and explore with different textures, and colors to stimulate that sensory experience and set a light beneath their sense of wonder?

Through hands-on interactions with various edible materials like fruits, vegetables, or even pudding, children expand their knowledge of the world around them.

This sense of curiosity ignites their imagination and assists in cognitive development by bringing to life their understanding of different sensory inputs.

A child engaged in an edible adventure creating a rainbow with colorful fruits or constructing edible structures with marshmallows and pretzel sticks will most certainly captivate the child’s attention and bring some joy and learning.

This type of exploratory play also sets a strong foundation for lifelong learning through a sense of discovery and inquisitiveness.

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Honing Fine Motor Skills

Sometimes you would look at someone and see how fine and precise their motor skill are. This is not by luck, this is the effect of skills honed from a young age.

Motor skills involve using small muscles in our fingers, hands and wrists that we use daily for writing, buttoning up our shirts and pretty much everything else.

Edible sensory play gives our children an early start to hone those techniques. From squishing soft dough to picking up tiny food items, these hands-on experiences help enhance hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and muscle control in young learners.

These play activities include using items like colored rice, pasta, or homemade playdough made from edible ingredients. The advantage of such activities encourage children to use their fingers to pinch, roll, and shape materials, thereby strengthening their fine motor skills

Parents will oversee and provide all the necessary ingredients and edible materials, which require different manipulations. Little things children do like forming a scoop with their hands and pouring things out all promote sensory play and refine hand movement.

These activities are not just about play, it starts now by setting good foundational skills our children will use in the future.

Full length of anonymous toddler squatting barefoot on floor playing with round wooden shapes of different size and pasta and putting biggest shape on while developing fine motor skills at home Photo by Tatiana Syrikova

Safe and Healthy Edible Sensory Play Ideas

Children engaging in sensory play activities will still need to be supervised after all, safety and health are our top priorities. Here are some creative ways to include some edible elements into play sessions.

DIY Edible Playdough Recipes

One way is to create your own edible playdough to stimulate and ensure safe playtime. A few easy-to-follow recipes using simple ingredients:

  1. Classic Edible Playdough:
    • Mix 1 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of salt.
    • Slowly add water until you reach a dough-like consistency.
    • Divide the dough and add different food colorings for a vibrant touch.
  2. Gluten-Free Edible Playdough:
    • Substitute regular flour with gluten-free flour to accommodate dietary preferences.
    • Use natural food coloring or fruit purees for a colorful and safe alternative.

Try offering different ingredients and tastes to the edible playdough over time to keep the child highly engaged in their learning. Also, keep in mind the dietary restrictions so every child can enjoy without restrictions.

Sensory Bins with Edible Items

Sensory bins filled with edible items can be a delightful way for children to explore different textures and materials. You may want to create bins with the following edible items for a tactile adventure:

  • Uncooked Rice: Fill a bin with uncooked rice for a crunchy and moldable sensation.
  • Beans: Dried beans offer a unique tactile experience for sensory play.
  • Cereal: Colorful and easy to grasp, cereal can add a playful element to sensory bins.

Supervision is still required in edible play scenarios to prevent ingestion of large quantities and ensure safe play. Feel to engage with your child during sensory play to encourage imagination and sensory development, your involvement is a positive addition.

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A young child wearing a green headwrap and a white fleece jacket is crawling on a white, textured rug. Beside them, a smiling adult is lying on the rug, engaging with the child. In front of the child is a wooden toy roller with colorful balls inside, enhancing the sensory play environment. This scene captures a moment of bonding and playful learning, highlighting the importance of sensory exploration and fine motor skill development in early childhood.

Setting Up a Safe Sensory Play Area

When setting aside a space dedicated to edible sensory play keep in mind the following. Be prepared to enter a world where the mess and disorder are the fun and the lesson.

Washable Surfaces for Easy Cleanup

Opt for surfaces that are easy to wash and clean up after use. Surfaces such as a plastic tablecloth or washable play mat to contain messes and make cleanup a breeze. Let your child know they are free to explore and be messy without consequences.

Child-Friendly Utensils and Tools

Provide child-friendly utensils and tools that are safe for their little hands to use during play. Preferably, plastic items like spoons, knives, cups, or silicone molds that are easy to grasp and pose no safety issues. These tools will amplify the tactile experience for children while keeping them safe.

Add Learning Opportunities to Sensory Play

Edible sensory play provides a great opportunity for parents to add some learning experiences to the fun. By sprinkling some educational elements into playtime to enhance both learning and sensory play.

Counting Games with Food Items

Counting Cheerios

  • Materials: Cheerios or any small, round cereal.
  • Activity: Have your child count out a specific number of Cheerios and place them in a line or circle. You can also create simple addition or subtraction problems for them to solve using the Cheerios.
A young child is engaged with five different size rings entangled with sensory play items, including wooden blocks and various sensory edible playdough products. The different size rings, scattered around, add an extra dimension to the sensory play experience. In the background, a wooden chair and a soft, cozy cushion create a warm and inviting play environment. This activity enhances the child's fine motor skills, cognitive development, and creativity through tactile exploration and constructive play.

Fruit Salad Counting

  • Materials: Various small fruits like grapes, berries, or pieces of banana.
  • Activity: Ask your child to add a specific number of each type of fruit to a bowl to create a fruit salad. For example, “Can you add five grapes and three strawberries?”

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Pasta Necklace Counting

  • Materials: Uncooked pasta (like penne or rigatoni), string.
  • Activity: Have your child string a specific number of pasta pieces onto a string to make a necklace. You can practice counting by twos, fives, or tens as they add pasta pieces.

Counting with Crackers

  • Materials: Different-shaped crackers or cookies.
  • Activity: Create a simple chart with numbers and have your child place the correct number of crackers next to each number. You can also ask them to sort the crackers by shape or size.

Color Recognition Activities

During sensory play, integrate color recognition activities by using colorful fruits, vegetables, or snacks. Allow your children to identify and sort items by color, making them get more used to their color recognition abilities while stimulating their senses through vibrant hues.

Candy Color Sorting and Counting

  • Materials: Colorful candies like M&Ms or Skittles.
  • Activity: Have your child sort the candies by color and then count how many of each color they have. This can also lead into simple graphing activities where they compare quantities.

Simple Science Experiments

Floating and Sinking Fruits

  • Materials: A large bowl of water with various fruits (e.g., apple, grape, orange, banana).
  • Activity: Have the children predict whether each fruit will float or sink, then test their predictions by placing the fruits in the water. Discuss why some fruits float (e.g., apples) while others sink (e.g., grapes).

Floating and Sinking Vegetables

  • Materials: A large bowl of water and various vegetables (e.g., carrot, cucumber, cherry tomato, broccoli).
  • Activity: Let the children guess which vegetables will float or sink, then place them in the water to see the results. Explain how the density and structure of the vegetables affect their buoyancy.

Buoyancy with Snacks

  • Materials: A large bowl of water and various snack items (e.g., popcorn, crackers, marshmallows, chocolate chips).
  • Activity: Ask the children to hypothesize which snacks will float or sink, then test each snack in the water. Discuss how the air content and density of the snacks influence their ability to float.

With a combination of learning opportunities with sensory play, you can create a wholesome and enriching experience that nurtures your child’s development in a fun and interactive way.

Edible sensory play is a game-changer for child development. We’ve explored how these activities stimulate curiosity, support fine motor skills, and offer a safe way to explore new textures and flavors. Plus, it’s just plain fun for both parent and child!

As dads, we can join in and have fun in these moments with our kids, turning everyday items into fantastic learning tools. Let’s remember the essentials:

  • Encourage exploration and creativity
  • Use safe, non-toxic materials
  • Make clean-up easy and stress-free

Now it’s your turn to roll up your sleeves and jump into the world of edible sensory play with your little ones. Try out the ideas we’ve discussed and don’t forget to share your experiences.

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