The kitchen offers a wide variety of preschool sensory play options.
Some of these ideas came from our wonderful Occupational Therapist, some from myself and many from the book The Out of Sync Child Has Fun (can’t recommend it enough.)
Straws– Mouth work can be amazingly centering for kids. These aren’t big activities in themselves, but can be a good thing to include in a snack or meal time.
- Drink a smoothie or milkshake through a straw
- Drink yogurt or apple sauce or pudding through a straw- Oh how thrilling!
- Use a little coffee straw or a narrower-than-usual curly straw to drink water or juice
Spreading– any of the following on crackers, tortillas, fruit or bread.
- Nut Butter
- Cream Cheese
- And finally- you can try finger painting with pudding if you’re not opposed to sticky-ness.
Cutting– To teach my kids to cut I have them put all their fingers together and hold their hand, “straight as a board” and place it on the back of the knife. The other hand holds the knife handle. In this way they can push the blade through the food and keep all body parts whole and attached. In handing over a very sharp knife to a young child I DO stay close by and keep a good watch on the activity, though with practice they’ll gain more independence. Also, for food with a round edge such as carrots I slice off one side so they don’t roll. My five year old can slice carrots, but they’re a bit too hard for my three year old still.
- Carrots, celery, potatoes (for older kids)
- Avocados, bananas, cheese, bread, squash, cooked chicken (for younger kids, with a butter knife or plastic knife)
- Make a soup, stew or curry that involves chunks of food and let your little one dump their cut ingredients in to the pot- so exciting to REALLY be contributing to the family meal.
Cookie Cutters– Most food is more exciting cut into a fun shape, and pressing down to cut out shapes is a good ‘heavy work’ activity for kids. What all to cut?
- Cookies, naturally…
- Cheese crisps (quesadillas)
- Slices of fruit or cheese (with mini cookie cutters)
- Potatoes or yams
- Cooked apples or pears
- Butter and sugar or butter and flour for baking- my kids love using the dough cutter to moosh butter
- Rolling out cookie dough is also great fun of course
- To make small pieces of nuts, candy, or crumbs you can put the ingredient in a plastic bag and have your kid roll that with a rolling pin.
- Take out the spice jars and smell ’em!
- Let your child smell the vanilla, lemon, garlic etc. that you’re cooking with.
- Drip some scents onto cotton balls or paper towel bits (Use scents such as vanilla, lemon, vinegar, almond extract; basically anything that can be transferred to a cotton ball.) Make two of each scent and have your child match up the scents.
Sensory Snacks– Use descriptive words to talk about the foods you’re eating. I like to encourage my kids to explore the tastes of foods before they outright reject them. Even if something is “yucky” you can ask, “Is it sour? Bitter?” and so on. Sometimes just labeling a sensation makes it interesting rather than bad.
- Eat something with interesting texture: chewy, crunchy or maybe silky or smooth
- Have a tasting with a few different foods (whatever is on your snack plate at the moment is fine.) Ask questions like, “Which food here tastes salty? Which ones are sweet? What does this food make you think about? “
- Make up a toothpick snack (or a whole dinner if you want to be your kids hero.) where every thing is in cubes to be stabbed. If you have large tongs these can be fun for this snack too.
Do you have a favorite way to play in the kitchen? I’d love to hear them so I can add them to our repertoire!
More ideas for simple play for preschoolers can be found in my collaborative ebook: Three to Five: Playful Preschool