What Are The Benefits Of Sensory Play?
We’ve shared several different sensory play activities on the Safari Ltd. blog this year! As a mom and teacher of preschool kids, I cannot say enough about the benefits of sensory play. So much research has been done on the value of sensory play and experiences for young children. It helps strengthen fine motor skills, supports language development, helps kids develop problem solving skills and so much more.
How To Make A Gelatin Dinosaur Swamp
Today, I am sharing one of our favorite sensory play activities: a gelatin dinosaur swamp! This activity is great for two main reasons:
- It encourages imaginative play
- It strengthens hand muscles and fine motor skills.
Before I get into the details, I’ll talk a bit about why each of these is so important!
Why Is Imaginative Play So Helpful For PreSchool Kids?
Imaginative play is so valuable for preschoolers who are learning how the world works! It allows them to explore and understand the world around them in a safe and controlled way. As I watch my kids and class play, I am constantly seeing bits of their real lives played out and examined. This play helps kids develop social skills, think critically and explore emotions. One of the biggest reasons we love Safari Ltd. is because they are open ended and allow for so much imagination!
Fine Motor Skills And Childhood Development
Developing fine motor skills is a crucial part of childhood development and I work to make it a part of our play whenever possible! Especially for my kids who are in the prewriting stage. I am constantly designing activities that strengthen their hand muscles, which they’ll need to hold and maneuver a pencil for years to come. In this activity, the strength needed to pull the dinosaurs out of their gelatin swamp will give little hands a great workout. I also provide my kids with fine motor tools wherever possible: tongs, tweezers, spoons, scoops, etc. If your kids are unsure about these tools at first, that’s ok! Keep offering them and see if they’ll eventually try them out.
-2 packets unflavored gelatin
-Green food coloring
-Shallow dish (like a pie dish)
-Small rocks/glass stones
-Faux greenery (or real plant trimmings!)
-Tongs, spoons, tweezers and other fine motor tools
How To Make A Gelatin Dinosaur Swamp Sensory Activity For PreSchoolers
Step 1: Make the gelatin. Follow the instructions on your gelatin packet to make your gelatin with boiling water. Usually this means adding gelatin to boiling water and stirring until dissolved. Add a few drops of green food coloring to the water and gelatin as you stir. Once your gelatin is dissolved, pour it into a shallow pie or baking dish.
Step 2: Gently place your dinosaurs from the Baby Dinos Toob into the gelatin mixture. Do this BEFORE you put the gelatin in the fridge to set. I placed baby dinosaurs in ⅔ of the dish and left ⅓ empty to add more small world elements later. Once your dinosaurs are arranged the way you like, gently move your tray to the fridge and allow it to set completely before moving to the next step.
Step 3: Once your gelatin has set and you are ready to play, gather your small world play supplies. For this swamp I used small rocks, green glass stones and a few pieces of faux greenery. I create small world play regularly for my kids so we keep a lot of supplies on hand! I love using washable items like rocks and faux plants so that I can clean them and reuse them over and over again.
To finish the swamp, I first add a small layer of rocks to the empty ⅓ of the gelatin tray. These will sit on top of the gelatin. Next, I placed the small green stones on the gelatin around the dinosaurs. These added a fun element to the play because they look similar to the gelatin but feel so different! My kids are always intrigued by different textures in sensory play. Finally, I stuck the pieces of faux plants gently into the gelatin along the edge of the rocks.
Step 4: Before bringing my kids in to play, I set up our play area. Indoor messy play can feel a little bit daunting. However, with the right set up you can really contain the mess and allow your kids to enjoy messy play year round! We have a large, shallow plastic box that we use for messy play. It’s big enough for both of my kids to play at the same time and catches all of the mess. I also usually place towels or a drop cloth underneath them as they play.
For this swamp play, I placed our big box on top of a drop cloth and then added the pie dish containing the dinosaur swamp. I placed a smaller plastic box, some tongs, tweezers and spoons into the box as well! When my kids came in, they went right to work pulling the dinosaurs out of the swamp with the tongs and spoons. My daughter, age 22 months, was struggling at first, and eventually switched over to using her fingers, which is absolutely fine (great problem-solving, kid!).
One thing I know from my experience teaching is that all kids will find their own way to engage with sensory play. Some love the mess and dive right in. Others are more hesitant and rely on tools to play. Any way that your kids want to engage with this play is great! Keep providing them with new sensory experiences and opportunities to learn :)
Step 5: When your kids are finished extracting their baby dinosaurs and playing with their small world, you can extend their play with a bit of dino washing! After removing the gelatin dish, I added some warm water and soap to our big plastic box. My kids used dish cloths and brushes to wash the gelatin off of all their baby dinos! This is such a simple way to extend play and my kids always love it.
This post is by Emily Limer, a mom of two little Safari fans and a preschool teacher. You can follow her on Instagram @makingwithmommy for more kids craft and play ideas!
The Dino Babies TOOB is part of our TOOBS collection. Our exclusive TOOBS® are all-in-one sets including several miniature figures focused on a theme, with packaging that serves as a re-usable portable storage case with a latching top and carry handle. These mini toy sets are great for vacations and trips, dioramas and school projects, or sand tray therapy and other play therapy exercises.