Open Discussion Forum

  • 1.  sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-05-2019 10:20 AM


    The Children's Museum where I work has a space for sensory exploration within our infant/toddler exhibit. We're interested in having an option to explore sensory doughs, and I'm curious how other facilities select doughs or dough ingredients for babies and toddlers? We have a staff person nearby, but the activity is not always directly facilitated by staff. Parent supervision is expected, though not foolproof.

    Many commercially available playdough products are labeled for ages 3+ and homemade doughs are usually edible (not great for allergens) or use ingredients that may not be "taste safe."

    Do you have a policy about what ingredients you use in sensory exploration and/or language you use to explain your choices to parents?


    ~Alli Leake

  • 2.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-06-2019 12:28 AM
    I love natural sensory exploration! But I am not allowed to use food due to military regulations. So that limits what we can do in that area. I tend to use stuff like dirt, leaves, sticks, pinecones. I would probably have large large brightly colored signs around the sensory bins that announces what is in the sensory bins and maybe make it a requirement that parents stay by their children at all times.

    Temesha (Ms. Tessie) Ragan
    Family Child Care IF Facilitator
    Perfect Start Learning
    Family Child Care Provider
    Edwards, CA

  • 3.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-07-2019 12:46 AM
    Our center also has the no food policy. To me, it should be the standard for best practice in most cases for reasons including allergies, teaching children to 'play with their food's, and for food shortage reasons (i.e., asking a child to play with and throw out food when they dont have enough to eat as it is).
    Sand and water are the old stand bys for sensory tables. Shaving cream can be an option as long as it is allowed in your state (and no allergies to the ingredients), water beads are cheap and very cool for children on the older end (with supervision, but also not natural). Bird seed could be used and recycled after use- you can do seek and find in bird seed. Shredded paper is another way to recycle. Water with a bit of dish soap can be used for a 'car wash' or baby doll baths. soil is another option that again can then be recycled for planting flowers or veggies later. adding things to sand like seashells or rocks and little animals or different types of scoops and measuring cups changes the play children engage in. 
    Just a few ideas!

    Katy Gregg
    Associate Professor
    Georgia Southern University
    Statesboro GA

  • 4.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-08-2019 01:43 PM
    for the ideas that Katy mentioned, we have a "no food policy", too. another reason we don't use food as sensory materials is our past experience with bugs and rodents using seeds, popcorn kernels, dry beans, etc as a food source. I will shield you from the details!!

    non food items that we've included in sensory bins are:
    pea gravel
    aquarium rocks
    leaves, sticks, pinecones, roots, etc
    small pieces of fabric and yarn
    cotton balls
    gems, jewels, buttons
    dirt and water
    colored water
    baking soda and vinegar
    lids from fruit pouches and bottles
    empty yarn and thread spools
    pipe cleaners
    tissue paper

    i love out-of-the-box thinking and playing with "non-toy toys" (all the while being vigilantly mindful of choking and other hazards).

    Beth Clawson
    lead teacher
    silver spring day school
    Silver Spring MD

  • 5.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-09-2019 09:30 AM
    Love your list of non-food items. 
    I'd like to add one more: 
    a variety of wax candles. 

    I work in a Jewish school and around Chanukah one year asked parents to send in any extra candles (expecting an assortment of Chanukah candles (which are typically a bit bigger than the size of birthday cake candles. I was tickled to get a wide range of candle sizes!  We put an assortment in the sensory bin and immediately the children began snapping the candles into pieces - except the thicker, shorter Shabbat candles wouldn't snap. And the creatively shaped candles (in shape of numbers or otherwise) were examined too. It was a fun time!

    Second idea:
    i recently saw a classroom that had a smaller plastic bin with lid for their sensory play. Inside was loose tea, tea bags, tea strainer, spoon and a few other tea related tools. What do you think of this idea? When a child opened the lid, the scent was delightful. 

    This reminds me - we used decaffeinated used coffee grounds one year. Similar yet different from sand or dirt. Thoughts?


    Cathy Winter
    Houston TX

  • 6.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-10-2019 09:36 AM
    Thank you all for so many creative suggestions! I love all the ideas for the sensory bins and am interested to hear that many who responded have a no-edible ingredient policy.

    In the spirit of sharing favorite ideas, does anyone have a favorite go-to recipe or product recommendation for safe play dough for infants and toddlers?

    Allison Leake
    Discovery Museum
    Acton MA

  • 7.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-06-2019 06:57 AM
    I had a child (20 months) who got salt poisoning from homemade play dough after consuming a very small amount despite the supervision we were providing.  We got most of it out of his mouth but clearly not all of it.  The child began vomiting after lunch.  We thought it was a stomach bug but after mom got him home she called poison control and they stated that homemade play dough should not be used for children under 3 because of the salt to water ratio being so high.

    when I called them the next day to get more information they recommended store bought play dough because it's "non-toxic".  They said that consuming an amount the size of a quarter could trigger the reaction.
     So that's all I have allowed in my infant / toddler classroom ever since.  We don't have a specific policy but I don't want to risk that happening again to another child.

    Julie Sizemore
    Infant Room Lab Instructor
    Grand Rapids Community College
    Grand Rapids MI

  • 8.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-10-2019 09:41 AM

    Julie, thank you for sharing this story. I'm curious, do you have a recommendation for a store bought play dough that's labeled for 0-3s or do you limit its use to only closely supervised times?

    Allison Leake
    Discovery Museum
    Acton MA

  • 9.  RE: sensory ingredient policy?

    Posted 06-23-2019 11:02 PM

    Another thing to consider is the germ potential.  When you are rated on the Environmental Rating Scales, hand washing is required before and after water play of any kind, and hand washing is required only after play dough-related activities.  Spreading germs is one of the potential concerns with sensory materials.  

    DeAnn Jones
    Co-Facilitator for the Family Child Care Interest Forum
    Discovery Place Child Care, LLC
    Bozeman, MT