Clean the Rocks. Toddler Sensory Play

Nov 2, 2013

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My toddler is really into sensory play at the moment. At this stage in his development, I find that this type of play is likely to hold his attention for longer than many of the ways we play.

The other day I was desperate to get a little bit of necessary paperwork completed and wanted something that would keep him independently occupied next to me without needing much input from me, for as long as we could manage. I knew my best chances would be something sensory but I didn't have the time for preparations and I didn't want something that was going to create a large mess.

Here's what we ended up with. An Invitation to Play with shaving foam, rocks and water. Cleaning rocks!

Age: 18 months+
(N has just turned 2. See the bottom for Handy Tips to simplify or extend for your child)

Materials: Rocks, shaving foam, paintbrush, water (can be in a cup, jug, water-bottle, squirter, etc) and something to contain them in. If you don't have a sand/water table like we've used, large plastic tubs or bowls will be fine.

Here's how I set up the Invitation to Play. It took me about 3 minutes to get it all together.
One of the best ways that I've found to contain certain messy materials for indoor play is in a sand/water table. We use ours indoors almost daily as a "discovery table" and it's an easy, light weight, portable item that I can quickly throw all manner of items in to be explored and investigated in a more contained environment.

You don't need to pay a lot of money for a fancy one. We've had a couple and never spent more than $25 on them. I would go for a divided table with at least 2 separate sections as I've found them to be the most useful.

As he is very familiar with painting, the first thing he did was grab the paint brush and start painting things with the shaving foam.

It wasn't long before all the rocks ended up in the shaving foam and the mixing and swirling began.

He went and got the spoon to add to his play. This type of self-initiated and directed play is exactly what you'd be hoping for and I always try to encourage it within reason. (Adding a spoon to the play, yes. Getting say, a cushion off the couch to add to the shaving foam, may not be as encouraged, haha).

He examined the properties of the shaving foam as he shook his spoon and discovered just how sticky it was and the force needed to remove it. Even holding the spoon upside down did not make the shaving foam fall off, unlike most things he uses with a spoon. 

Water is one of his favourite things to play with so I had expected him to really be into squirting the water with the squirter bottle. However, the slipperiness of the shaving foam on his hands and the bottle meant he was struggling to use it the way he normally would. He desperately wanted water though so managed to get me to include a small jug of water to the activity.

Plonk, plonk, plonk! One by one he plopped the rocks into the jug of water and started mixing them all up.

His pouring skills are getting so good. You need lots of water to really clean those rocks!

Handy Tips

Simplify this activity by providing a small bucket of water, some pre-foamed rocks and a spoon. Your child should love dropping the dirty rocks into the bucket, watching the splash from the drop, seeing the water change from clear to murky and lifting the rocks out with a spoon to reveal them nice and clean once again.

Extend this activity by:
  • Adding in various other items to be dirtied and cleaned again. Items that aren't so solid and smooth will be trickier to get all the shaving foam off with a paint brush.
  • Adding in some smaller pebbles to encourage fine motor development
  • Encouraging your child to work on sorting. Sorting the dirty rocks from the clean, small rocks from large rocks, etc.
Mix it up with a few drops of food colour to the shaving foam and see the colours swirling and mixing. What colour will the foam end up as?

- Use descriptive language that goes with this experience to help develop your child's vocabulary. Eg "wet, dry, clean, dirty, mess, drop, splash, brush" etc.

- Please Note: Shaving foam should not be ingested and will sting if it gets in your eyes so be sure to supervise your child at all times. I recommend having a damp cloth on hand so that you can quickly wipe hands, faces etc. as needed. 

- If you have a child with sensitive skin, I'd try a shaving foam for sensitive skin. My son has fairly sensitive skin but I've found he has no problems with the cheapest shaving foam around. 

- If you are doing this activity inside like we did, I strongly recommend putting a towel (or 2) under where your child is working. Shaving foam (and water) will make plastic/tiled etc surfaces slippery so the towel is great for keeping things safe and for easy clean if any shaving foam escapes its contains.

Happy playing,
Debs :)

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