f your child really dislikes getting their hands messy-or if they won’t even touch messy foods, then it’s important to go slow and respect their sensitivities. Although going slow does not mean that we do not push them to the edge of their “boundaries.”
The approach that I prefer is a technique of “approach and retreat.” The idea for this approach actually comes from my education in horse training from a horseman named Pat Parelli. This approach is all about the non-verbal communication used to push a horse to the edge of their comfort zone. By releasing that pressure with intention, the horse can relax-then pushing again, hoping to get them to go just a bit further and then allowing the release or retreat. By using this approach, you can push the horse to their comfort zone without having them react with the emotional right side of the brain. Of course, this is not a comparison between your sensory defensive child to a horse, but using this example, you can see how important it is to allow emotional breaks. These breaks will help you get your child out of their comfort zone without trauma or causing them to go to a “fight or flight’ mindset.
Before starting a sensory activity in which you would like your child to touch an unfamiliar texture in play, you may need to reduce their tactile defensiveness. You can start by giving them a deep, firm hand massage before your planned activity, and you may be sitting on the couch or a swing. While this should be a calming and comforting activity for the child, you want to be sure to apply deep pressure to assist with the next portion of the activity. This massage is used to help to calm down the overly excited touch nerves in their little hands.
More ideas for messy sensory play (I would change this to a heading, to break up the sections a little bit)
I encourage my families to find a space that is clear from other distractions during this playtime. Outdoors is a wonderful place to do these activities as you do not have to be worried about the mess, and there are fewer “no’s” for the child. Being outdoors also takes away the pressure of this being something that you are expecting them to eat. If your child would be too distracted to play outdoors, you may use a large plastic tablecloth or large cookie sheet on the kitchen floor as a way to introduce this idea. You sitting with your child at their level and helping them with this experience is the most important part!
Here are some great ideas for sensory play to get you started:
1. Playing with cooked spaghetti or pasta. You can add food coloring in a zip lock bag to make it fun colors. Here is a great link for coloring pasta.
2. Put a few drops of paint on a piece of paper inside of a ziplock bag. Let your child experience the squishiness of the paint without the mess. After you have done this a few times, do it without the bag!
3. A bin of rice or dried beans. You can push some toy figures into the rice at different levels to encourage their play with the rice. Add spoons and cups so that they can use tools to put the beans or rice into the cup and then dump it out.
4. Make some Jello in a shallow cookie sheet and let it set. You can include tools or figurines and have them push those items into the jello.
5. Driving cars or walking toy animals through chocolate pudding ‘mud’ on a cookie sheet. This can also be done with whipping cream!
6. Bubble Foam and trucks are really fun for kids and allow them to have a different type of tactile experience. Here is a great link for this activity! https://pin.it/1cWLvZH
7. Playing with Playdoh or Kinetic sand. You can slowly add different things to the PlayDoh or sand to vary the texture (rice, beans, or sand).