On Tuesdays Squidge and I go to a sensory play toddler group run by our local Sure Start centre. The centre has a beautiful little sensory room complete with fibre optic lights, mirrors, and walls that change color and are filled with bubbles. Each week the play worker also brings foil blankets, ribbons, pieces of sheepskin and common household objects that have interesting textures for the children to play with.
Squidge loves going to sensory time and the moment we walk into the Sure Start centre his little face lights up into a huge grin. He’s not quite sure about the sensory room and usually ends up making a beeline for the door instead of exploring the lights and colours but he has great fun in the main play room, picking up interesting objects and thoroughly inspecting them before putting them in his mouth (I really thought he might have grown out of this by now).
I’ve been meaning to make a Squidge a sensory basket ever since he started nursery and his play worker showed me the beautiful ones that they had. The thing is, I’m not particularly creative or artistic and in the past year my efforts at sensory play amount to a few full body painting sessions (Squidge, not me) and a couple of ‘noise makers’ which were tupperware boxes half filled with pasta.
On Saturday however, I had a sudden spurt of creativity and when Squidge went down for his afternoon nap I left the Northern One playing on his Playstation and went out to by craft supplies. I was completely unaware that our local branch of Sainsbury’s had such an extensive craft section but I came away armed with a basket full of glitter, stickers, glue and a number of seemingly random items such as hair gel and a shower puff.
Once home I covered the kitchen table in crafty loot at set about making a basket of sensory toys for Squidge. Most of the items I bought, such as nail brushes and loofa mitt I’d picked up for their interesting textures and so didn’t need anything additional doing to them. However, I had great fun making glitter gel bags which the play worker at sensory time told me about.
To make them you half fill a ziplock bag with cheap hair gel, add a generous amount of glitter and squeeze the bag until the glitter has been distributed evenly to make pretty, sparkly goo. One of the things I didn’t remember to buy was the ziplock bags (fairly important) and rather than go out again or put off making them until I next went shopping I dug out the left over breast milk storage bags and used those instead. In my defence Squidge can’t read and anyone who visits the house knows what a dingbat I am anyway…
My creative spirit was dampened slightly when I got a bit over-enthusiastic and added little plastic stars to the gel and glitter in the bags. On squeezing the bags to spread the glitter through the gel, the surprisingly sharp points of the stars made holes in the bags that, although the holes were tiny, were more than big enough for my house to end up covered in sticky glitter goo. I solved this by double bagging and so now Squidge is the proud owner of two squishy glitter bags that say Lansinoh on each side in large purple letters.
When finished Squidge’s home-made sensory basket contained –
- Two nail brushes
- A loofa mitt
- Four tiny wooden spoons
- Some bendy foam hair curlers
- A shower puff
- A detangling hair brush
- Two squidgey bags of glitter gel
- Five tupperware pots with brightly coloured lids and googly eyes (added by me) filled with rice/lentils/chickpeas/different types of pasta
- Four tiny tupperware pots (also with googly eyes) filled with glitter and stars
- A sisal teddy bear (really a guinea pig chew
- Two rope balls (that are actually cat toys)
- Two mice made from hairy string (also cat toys)
Yes, the last three items in my lovingly constructed sensory basket came from Pets at Home and if I’m completely honest I only feel the tiniest bit guilty. There are no small parts on them that Squidge could pull off and choke on, they’re brightly coloured, have interesting textures, are far cheaper than any specifically designed sensory toys and Squidge is far to young to understand the difference between things meant for humans and things meant for pets, so as far as I’m concerned it’s win-win.
I am not a Mummy who finds creative, messy play particularly easy and I’m well aware that I’m not going to be winning any prizes for my efforts. Where other Mums write entire award-winning blogs about their craft endeavors with their children I do my best to get the paints and the bubble mixture out once every couple of weeks and resist the urge to follow Squidge around with the mop.
When Squidge started nursery, one of the things I was most relieved about was the fact that he would get three days of messy play a week and all I’d have to do was pack his nursery bag with multiple changes of clothes. Most days he comes home in entirely different clothes to the ones I laid out for him in the morning; his daily report detailing escapades in the sand pit, mud kitchen, water trays and the like.
Initially I felt very guilty about not being hugely enthusiastic about sensory and messy play, worrying that we would miss out on doing fun things together because I just can’t stand things being sticky. When I was small my Mum always did lots of crafty things with us, from making pom-pom creatures to baking gingerbread men, so leaving it to nursery to do most of the creative stuff makes me feel like I’m not trying hard enough. Last week my Mum suggested that I made some playdough for Squidge and while it sounds nice as an idea I know that I’ll spend most of my time persuading him not to eat it and scooping it out if his mouth if I turn my back for more than ten seconds. However, I’m slowly learning to accept that it didn’t matter who he actually did the messy play with (whether it was with me, nursery or my Mum) and that Squidge and I have fun in other ways.
Together we spend hours reading stories, learning about shapes and colours, going for walks in the sunshine and splashing in the bath. I know that he has a lovely time at nursery getting messy but that he also likes to sit on my lap while I read to him and he looks at the pictures. I may not have an awful lot of patience or enthusiasm when it comes to paint and sand but I will read the same book again and again because it’s Squidge’s favourite and reading it five times a day is what makes him happy.
So if you’re like me, don’t beat yourself up about lacking enthusiasm for sensory or messy play; instead focus on the types of play that you do enjoy and make sure than you congratulate yourself on the day that you do manage to get the paints out.
Louise is a full time mum and a part time neonatal nurse who has battled depression for many years but particularly during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss.
In 2015 she was shortlisted in the ‘Fresh Voice’ category for the BIB (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards and the ‘Bereavement Worker’ category for the Butterfly Awards. She was also one of the keynote speakers at BritMums Live reading’Twinkle Twinkle’ which was her account of caring for a premature baby on the day that he died.