November 20, 2014 10:57 am Sensory Learning Sticks
One of the best gifts parents can give their young child(ren) is a sensory table. Children learn and retain knowledge best when their senses are engaged; a sensory table offers so many opportunities for learning. You will be amazed at how centered and calm your child becomes when offered a table filled with – you name it – sand, water, cornstarch, snow (real or artificial), dirt, goop/gak, gelatin, shaving cream, bubbles, flour – the list goes on and on. Add some props (cups, spoons, trucks, people or animal figures, tubes, funnels, boats, etc.) and the experimentation and learning will really take off.
With a sensory table, children learn the properties of materials, and what happens when materials are combined (science). Adding water to just about anything makes the experience that much more fun and interesting. Children improve fine and large motor skills by pouring, squeezing, molding and stirring. Vocabulary and knowledge are developed as they describe what they are feeling: dry, silky, slimy, cold, damp, fluffy, mushy, sticky, warm, and so on. Imaginative scenarios develop when they use the props you have provided to create stories. If more than one child is using the table, the opportunities for social interaction multiply as the children share observations, draw conclusions and negotiate for the tools and props. You can give older children more control over what goes in the table by providing containers of water, food coloring, and new material they can add to the original mixture.
Messy? Definitely. Maybe you are already imagining the clean up that will be involved. But the benefits outweigh the inconvenience. In warm weather, the table can be outside on the grass or terrace. Indoors, a mudroom can be a good spot, especially if it has an easily cleaned floor. Otherwise, beach towels or a mat under and around the table will limit the amount of mess. And your child will benefit from a gift that will be used many times over and in a variety of ways.
Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years experience in working with young children.