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Sensory tubs provide hours of engaging fun and learning opportunities! They are a wonderful, tactile, sensory play activity that allow babies and children to explore, discover, imagine, create and learn while engaging their senses.
Through the simple fun of exploring and play, sensory tubs provide children with opportunities to develop; language, creativity, fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, laterality skills, concentration, problem solving and thinking skills. Whilst manipulating the materials, children are also measuring, guesstimating and learning about cause and effect, encouraging early STEM skills useful for science and maths later on. Research studies show that children exposed to sensory experiences, like sensory tubs, exhibit considerable improvements in their learning ability and cognitive functioning.
What you need
- Choose a tub – these can range in size from a kitchen tray to a large plastic storage container or clam shell. In most cases, the bigger the better.
- Choose fillers and implements, utensils or tools to place in the tub. There is a limitless number of options, though age will be a determining factor. Enjoy the great ideas below. You will find the ‘how to’ of these sensory tubs, and the clever people who pinned them, on our GymbaROO Pinterest page here.
Safety Warning: As you would with any activity that involves small objects and children, ALWAYS supervise your little ones and make sure nothing goes into their mouths that they may choke on.
No implements needed! Simply feeling, touching, squeezing, splatting, picking up, dropping and squishing is exactly what babies need to do. As they get older, you can add in large scoops, spoons, cups, pots and pans.
Fillers: Food stuffs are great fillers for sensory tubs for babies, though do not include foods that you haven’t introduced into your baby’s diet, or that your baby is allergic to. Ideas are; yoghurt, cooked pasta, rice cereal (with and without water added), cooked noodles, soggy bread crumbs, stewed fruit, jelly, cream and edible finger paint. Other ideas include; water in shallow trays with things that float (coloured ice cubes, plastic balls, bubbles – blow bubbles onto the surface of the water); scarves, fabric with different textures, etc.
Toddlers – 2 1/2 years
Implements: Too easy! They will all be in your kitchen cupboards. Anything that helps toddlers learn to spoon, pour, scoop, tip, fill, empty, shake, put things in and pull them out – scoops, ladles, shovels, funnels, tubes, pvc piping (OK, maybe that’s not in your cupboard), spoons, pots, pans, sieves, colanders, jugs, cups and jars of different sizes, empty milk containers, herb shakers etc. Of course, never too many at once, that just gets confusing.
Fillers: You can now also include fillers such as; uncooked rice, coloured rice, uncooked pasta, cooked coloured spaghetti, pompoms, beads, sand, dirt, mud, leaves, dough, cotton balls, rocks, shells, oatmeal, flour, tapioca, corn, bird seed, toy animals, toy cars and more.
2 1/2 – 5 years
Implements: Add in tools and utensils that refine fine motor coordination, encourage thinking skills, motor planning and conversation; ice-cream scoops, tweezers, pegs, mini tongs, measuring cups, measuring spoons, small spoons, jars with lids, scissors, small fishing nets. Add anything that helps your child learn to practice skills like; pouring from one container to another, holding whilst spooning or scooping, measuring, placing filler in jars and screwing on lids, picking up small items with tweezers, ‘finding treasure!’ etc.
Fillers: As well as all the above ideas, this age group love themed sensory tubs; worms in the garden (cooked spaghetti in dirt), archeologist dig, farm, winter, spring, beach, rainbow (colour sorting), I spy, monster muck, Australian birds and animals … we are limited only by our imagination!
Bindy Cummings is a teacher, and early childhood neurodevelopmental consultant and early childhood development lecturer. She is the Editor of GymbaROO’s ‘First Steps’ magazine and online content, and the co-creator of GymbaROO’s Active Babies Smart Kids series. More on Bindy Cummings here.
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