Sensory Play Sunday: Footloose and Bin-free Toddler In Nature

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Toddler in NatureMost of the weekend in our household is dedicated to the mundane: catching up on laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping, yard work, cleaning the tub.  We work hard to take advantage of this slightly less unscheduled time to put things into place to help the upcoming week go smoothly. But I gotta unwind, too, and in the most basic, mid-thirties white woman way possible: Farmer’s Market in the morning, homemade pizza and red wine, and Sensory Play Sunday with our boys. Our toddler loves sensory play, his little brother likes to watch him, Josh and I take a bunch of pictures.

pretty scenery
Giant cheap sensory bin just begging to be wrecked by a toddler

Benefits of Sensory Play

Sensory play is so important for young developing brains. Imagine our brains as an overgrown field that our thoughts must cross in order to complete tasks; without paths for the thoughts to traverse, getting across the field is difficult. Our neurons are these paths, allowing thoughts to cross the brain, i.e., send and receive messages. They’re important. Now imagine the difference between a clear, large, well paved path versus an ill-maintained one. Which one is easier to use? Every time a path is used, i.e., neuron firing, the path becomes deeper, more entrenched in the landscape (brain). So, not only do we need healthy neurons for our brains to function, we need those neurons to work efficiently. Very young children begin this process of neuron formation with their senses. That means that the more an infant or toddler engages their five senses (touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing) the more their neurons fire while taking these sensations in. The more neurons that fire the deeper the grooves in the brain. The deeper the grooves in the brain the more the brain’s surface area increases. The more the brain’s surface area increases the more neurons that can fit inside, therefore enabling higher functioning. Capisce? Big A seems to have some sensory issues going on—we’re currently in the diagnosis-seeking trenches, replete with pediatrician, First Steps, therapists, and Birth to Five strategy sessions—so we really push this form of activity with him. It seems to help him-at the very least it stimulates and delights him, and that’s enough for me.

toddler in the woods
Babe In The Woods

Babes In The Woods

Pinterest would have us believe that we need to make bins to get the full sensory experience. Don’t get me wrong, we love bins, I’m sure you’ll see ’em pop up around these parts, but, ugh, it can be such a process sometimes. Making them, getting them out, laying out the tools that are supposed to make cleanup easier but are really just another step in an inexhaustible process, said cleanup. And don’t you just feel like such a MOM, standing in the checkout line, clutching all that pipe cleaners and felt? Screw it, let’s head outside and have the same experiences with zero worry about staining your wood floors. The Japanese call this “shinrin-yoku” which means forest bath, so find ways to work that into the conversation in between “no mouth!”

Walterfall Kid

We headed to the water straight away. Big A’s agape mouth proved that we had taken him to the biggest water table he’d ever seen. A beautiful local landmark, Big A clapped in delight at the tall limestone waterfall, the sound of the rushing water filling his ears. Josh went knee deep in the cool water with Big A in his arms, looking and looking but not wanting to touch the waterfall. We walked to the opposite shore and Big A sat for awhile and laughed and shouted at the water, alternately flapping his arms and raking his fingers through the sand. I loitered about with Little A wrapped to me, describing the landscape to him. Josh knelt with Big A on the ground, examining fossils and shells. They talked about their size, color, and the way they felt. Eventually we headed down a path and back into the water. We talked about the minnows and rocks under our feet, the moving water, all the trees. Crossing again and finding another path, Josh set Big A down. I thought he’d feel a bit cautious about it all, but, as Motherhood is determined to humble me, I was completely wrong. Big A charged confidently down the trail, then off it, finally plopping down and seizing greenery in his chubby fists, screeching with delight. It was a very big event when Josh found a toad.

Toddler with fossilsIndiana Fossil

When we got home and Josh put Little A down and started supper, Big A kept accosting us happily, tugging and smiling. He’s yet to speak, but later, with both boys asleep, Josh and I agreed that it felt like he was trying to thank us.

How do you incorporate outside time in your week? Comment down below! Share this article, maybe the scroller thinking of ordering a bunch of bins online will reconsider.

 

Megan

Megan

Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, three boys, and a bunch of corn. She’s a voracious reader and a life-long recipient of questioning looks.
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