Imagine you’re stuck in your house for an unknown period of time with a toddler who is starting to climb the bookshelf because he, as well as you, is going stir-crazy. Well, that was exactly my life this past week when we got an unexpected 7 inches of snow and were trapped in our house waiting for the sun to come back out. And if you live anywhere in North Carolina or the southeast, you probably saw some snowflakes last week as well.
After half a day of being lazy on our unexpected day off, I decided that I wanted to take my son out into the snow. The only problem was that I accidentally had left his coat in the car from daycare the previous day and that was reason enough for me to stay inside in the warmth. I then recalled seeing photos of kiddos on Facebook during our last mini-snow storm where they were playing indoors with snow that was in a plastic box. So, I gathered up some little animal toys, a couple of dishes, and some paintbrushes before stepping out onto my back porch to scoop up some fluffy snow to put into a tray.
In the past, my son has not been the biggest fan of snow, so I wasn’t sure how he’d react, but after a few minutes of exploring the stuff, he was loving the activity! At first, we worked with spoons and I encouraged him to scoop the snow and dump it into a cup. We have been working on using utensils during mealtime, so this was just a bonus lesson!
I then brought out a lid for the cup and we worked on the actions, ‘open’ and ‘close’. He has recently starting showing interest in signing the word, “open”, so I made sure to include this in our fun sensory activity! Creating and fostering these teachable moments really makes a difference in how quickly kids pick up on new information, especially when it comes to vocabulary. The more they hear a word and can experience its meaning, the more likely they are to pick it up and begin using it in their own language.
After playing with the dishes in the snow, we added some farm animals. We sang “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and practiced animal sounds. My son has recently discovered a love for dancing, so he kept picking the farmer up and wiggling around to let me know he wanted to keep singing.
We also practiced following simple directions and identifying familiar objects. After covering up two of the animals with some snow, I asked him, “Where is the cow, can you find him?”
As he was brushing the snow off of the cow, he realized that he had touched the snow with his hand, which made him pause. He then put his hand into his mouth to taste the snow and immediately spit it back out, probably because of how cold it was. Since we started feeding him solid foods around 7 months, he has always done well with various textures and types of foods. He has no problem touching and eating new and unfamiliar foods, in fact, the greener the food, the better. Exposing children to various types of sensory experiences from a young age is important for their development. Encouraging them to touch foods and other objects (as long as it doesn’t become a choking hazard) allows children to learn about what they are feeling, whether the object is hot, squishy, hard, prickly, etc. And if you’re unsure of where to start or what types of activities to do, check out Pinterest for some great sensory activities for babies and toddlers.
Before getting to the super fun part of our snow play, we worked on some other vocabulary. I placed different objects in the snow, including a ball, cow, spoon and brush. I asked my son to pick up the ball, which he did before tossing it across the room while saying, “ball” (which I happened to capture on camera). I am always looking for opportunities to teach my son good manners, so we also worked on signing “please” when he wanted me to hand the ball back to him. Using simple signs has helped him be able to communicate his wants and needs with us as he is learning to use words verbally. This has reduced his level of frustration when we do not necessarily know what he wants.
Finally, to end our snow sensory activity, I introduced some watered down Crayola paint that I had prepared as I was gathering up materials. I demonstrated how to dip the brush into the paint and then “paint” the snow. My son absolutely loved this part of the activity and he painted until the snow looked like rainbow mush.
As he was winding down, I read the book, “Snow” by Uri Shulevitz. Even if the book doesn’t always match the theme, I try to include stories whenever I can.
So the next time you are stuck inside while your front yard is covered in snow, find yourself a large tray and fill it up. Add some simple utensils from the kitchen or some plastic toys and bam, you have an exciting sensory activity. You don’t have to wait for the snow either, try filling a glass baking dish with two packages of jello and add some cookie cutters, easy peasy. Or, grab a can of cool whip (or shaving cream if your child doesn’t put everything into their mouths anymore), spray some into a bowl and give them a spoon for scooping. As with any sensory activity, prepare for a mess (which is part of the fun!) but think ahead and prepare either a vinyl table cloth or you could even throw your kiddo in the tub if you want easy clean up.
I’m always looking for new sensory ideas, so feel free to share any that you have done with kiddos you work with or with your own children at home. And check back in next Monday for more Mommy ideas, tips, and tricks!
Katie Z. Miller