I’ve got a terrible secret. When Pickles was a newborn I never went to a carpet store and secured their off-cuts so that he could do tummy time on a range of different fabrics. I never plunged his tiny fists into jars of dried lentils. I never filled his bath with edible homemade glow-in-the-dark slime. Is it any wonder that he’s already two and still hasn’t composed a symphony? Some would say he was just born lazy. The internet would say his parents never enriched his infancy with sufficient sensory experiences.
The second time around things were going to be different. But since Pords was three weeks old I’ve been teaching a class at university. I’ve only had to actually go in there two mornings a week, but it’s also involved a mountain of reading, marking, and prep work which have meant that I’ve had even less sleep than can usually be expected with a newborn and a toddler in the house.
I won’t lie, most of the time I’ve enjoyed it – stretching the brain in different ways and interacting with people who can generally speak in fully formed sentences – but there has certainly been guilt associated with the fact that I may not have been bringing my A game to mothering 100 percent of the time.
Last week was the last week of semester. There will be exams to mark soon but this week has been work-free. Phew. Time to let some stillness in, or more likely sit back and just enjoy all the magical chaos that make up a day with Pickles and Pords. But I am ridiculous and, remembering my secret shame from Pickles’ infancy, Monday was declared “Sensory Play Day”.
Sensory Play Day was never going to be a thing
I got up early and made three colours of Play Dough. I set up a tray with kinetic sand. Then it was time for the piece de resistance – the worms in mud. This one had it all – the smell and taste of the chocolatey mud, the touch and sound of the squelching through little fingers, the sight of what would look just like worms in mud. There was no way it was going to be anything other than totally amazing.
I got Pickles to help me mix up some “mud” (cocoa, flour, sugar and water) in a box. Unfortunately, I’d made the fatal error of preparing things in the wrong order and, while I was cooking the spaghetti “worms” to go in, he found a spoon and was happily gorging on my precious play mud. By the time the worms went in he was well and truly over it and calling for a cloth. In the post I’d read about this activity online, the poster mummy’s children were wide eyed with excitement when their mother had told them they were allowed to squish their hands in the mud and dig around for worms. Pickles just wanted to clean up. I dunked Pords’ feet in there and let her squidge around for a bit. She seemed quite pleased by it. But that 30 seconds of baby joy before Pickles insisted we discontinue the activity probably wasn’t worth the effort. Sensory Play Day Fail #1.
Next we moved onto the Play Dough. One blue, one green, and one pink ball sat proudly on the table in their freshly made glory. Surely this would be a winner. Pickles loved rolling and cutting and Pords picked some up in her tiny fist and had a little lick. So many senses engaged. Winner! Then, after what seemed like two minutes, Pickles rolled all the balls into one. For a moment there was a beautiful rainbow swirl. Pickles said “Wow!” Then the three parts made a decision on what colour they would be come. Spew green. It’s currently sitting proudly cling-wrapped in my fridge. A reminder of the spew of days gone by, and of days to come, and of Sensory Play Day Fail #2.
Finally we had the kinetic sand in a tray. If you are not familiar with kinetic sand it is actually a really cool concept. It clumps together so you can build things with it and then falls apart again when you give it a tap. It’s great for sand play when you’re inside because it cleans up relatively well. The thing is, it’s pretty expensive so you never really have enough of it to be able to properly dig around in it. I think it’s probably great for older kids. Pickles again moved on quickly, taking sand on his hand, clothes and shoes all through the house. So much for easy to clean up. Sensory Play Day Fail #3. I sighed and tidied everything away. I looked at the clock. It was 9:37am.
What did I learn from Sensory Play Day?
Look, there were definitely moments of fun in all the activities. Maybe their brains now have millions of new neural connections or something. But the best thing about Sensory Play Day is that I learned that the whole thing is a bit of a farce. The part that the author of the worms in mud post had left out after she wrote that her kids were super excited to be allowed to put their hands in, was that after it was done she put the kids back in their boxes on the shelf.
I’m kind of glad Pickles wasn’t excited about being allowed to get dirty. He gets dirty everyday in actual mud. Outside. He runs bare foot on carpet, or grass, or sand, or dirt. He sticks his hands in lentils or chickpeas or beans or whatever when he’s snacking on them. He might not bathe in edible, homemade, glow-in-the-dark slime but he certainly seems to spend a lot of his time covered in some sort of slime from somewhere. He smells flowers. Dances to music. Tastes more things from the garden than I care to think about.
The point is, all of his play is sensory play. Every day is Sensory Play Day. And unless you keep them vacuum-sealed in their packets on the shelf, it’s the same for your small people. So, it’s time to breathe out.