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Food in the sensory table

  • 1.  Food in the sensory table

    Posted 21 days ago
    Hello NAEYC community,

    I am looking for some advice.  I work in the diverse school district based program and our Early Learning Community adopted a policy about 10 years about no food (rice, beans, oatmeal, flour) in the sensory table.  The primary reasons being implications of food scarcity and rice is sacred in some cultures (a lesson we learned after we saw a mother picking up one grain of rice at a time).  So now 10 years later some of the teachers want to repel the policy stating the difficulty in replicating that sensory experience and the cost and ease of using food.  I'm wondering what you think.  Do you all use food in your sensory tables?  If so why or why not?

    Thanks,
    Kim


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    Kim Rosholt, TOSA
    (pronouns: she, her, hers)
    Preschool Education Coordinator
    Kids Place
    St. Louis Park Public Schools

     "In the rush to NORMAL use this time to consider, which parts of normal are worth rushing back to."
     -Dave Hollis
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  • 2.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 20 days ago
    I work at a Head Start program in New Hampshire. We do not have a policy prohibiting food in the sensory table, however, I personally did not use it in my classroom. While I have used it in the past in other educational settings, food insecurity is such a big issue for our children and families here that it felt insensitive to use food in that way. I focused primarily on sand and water, but also used paper from the shredder, collections of loose parts, nature items, shaving cream, water beads, etc.

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    Patrice Hunt
    Coaching Coordinator
    Strafford County Head Start Rochester Center
    Rochester NH
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  • 3.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 20 days ago
    I totally agree with Patrice, and not just because I am also from NH! 😊 Back in the 1970s when I taught in a program in Boston area for low income and at risk kids, basically a full day Head Start program, we became aware of kids eating the food items in the sensory table. More reflection led to the decision not to use food as a play item for issues of cultural sensitivity and food insecurity. Plus it sends a mixed message - don't play with your food at snack or meals but play with this food during play time. Sand, water, oobleck, shaving cream, bubbles, plus other found items such as polished stones and leaves are great for using in the sensory table.

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    Dottie Bauer
    Professor emerita
    Keene State College
    Antrim NH
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  • 4.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 19 days ago
    I totally agree

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    Cathy Williams-Scales
    EnglishIV Teacher
    Newman International Academy
    Desoto TX
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  • 5.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 18 days ago
    I agree that food should not be wasted in centers. I visit the food shelters weekly and their are many families who are in desperate need of food especially the elderly. With the current pandemic unfortunately the sensory centers should be closed. I send Play-Doh for the children to use at home. My parents are too stressed to make play dough at home.

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    [CC] [Lewis]
    Lead NC-PreK Teacher
    NC
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  • 6.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 20 days ago
    I have been a preschool teacher for 40 years, and I have struggled with this issue every year!  My specific school communities have not experienced food insecurity, yet out of respect for those who do and to support cultural sensitivity, we rarely use food for anything other than eating.  We have occasionally used expired rice or pasta, and explained that to the children.  In our sensory table we've used birdseed, pellet stove pellets, shredded paper and Easter grass.  Kodo Kids has an amazing variety of non-food sensory items, like shredded coconut husk, "sand" made from corn cobs, and cocoa husks (which smells amazing!).

    https://kodokids.com/product-category/sensory/

    Debbie Manos
    Lead Teacher
    Kingston Co-Operative Preschool
    Kingston, WA

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    Debbie Manos
    Lead Teacher/Director
    Kingston Co-Op Preschool
    Indianola WA
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  • 7.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 20 days ago
    I teach a 60 hour Preschool class and this is something that we discuss in our class.  I agree that especially in larger areas where the population is more diverse, that using food can be an issue.  I live in Montana and that is not as much an issue for us, although I encourage my students to be culturally sensitive to the families that they serve.

    I have created a very comprehensive list of other items that can be put into the sensory table instead of food items.  It just takes a bit of creativity.  Also, in the past when I taught, I used different kinds of dough that I made and put it into the sensory table with items.  Cloud dough is one of them.  (If you make cloud dough, make sure you use the one with vegetable oil, not baby oil so it is not toxic).  Children love the cloud dough recipe and there are many more that are fun.

    If you would like to see the recipes I have used or the list of items for the sensory table, please let me know.  I can send it.

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    Tamara Christofferson
    New Provider Support Specialist
    Child Care Connections
    Bozeman MT
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  • 8.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 20 days ago
    Hi Kim,

    We are not allowed to use food, per Young Star guidelines. We use those beads(orbs)  that expand with a little water, or shaving cream, or cotton balls, puff balls, plastic eggs.

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    Tracy Vruwink
    Childcare Director
    South Wood County YMCA
    Wisc Rapids WI
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  • 9.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 19 days ago
    This is maybe my first time replying to this format. I have taught  in a Montessori preschool for over 40 years and have never thought about foods being wasted by use in a sensory table. There are so many other many other materials that can be used to replace food stuff. Examples: buttons, gravels, cut up sponges, scrapes from recycled paper, beads, sand, and so much more. We do use a small amount of rice, beans, pasta on our Practical Life Shelf

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    Juanita Collier
    Preschool teacher
    Nashville TN
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  • 10.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 19 days ago
    Hello  Kim, I work with 3-4 year old preschoolers. I use colored rainbow rice in my sensory table. The children love playing in it a lot. While playing in it they measure, serve, talk about the different colors, and even share the utensils inside the sensory table. They tell each other how to keep the rice at the sensory table and not to be thrown around in the classroom. They always have fun playing in it. I do not use beans because there is the tendency for some of them to stick it in their nose or ears. I can use oatmeal as it is fun to play with for the children. I do not use dry  flour because it might be a little bit messy when it is in the flour form and hard to clean off anywhere it spattered into. Most of the time we make the flour into home made playdough . This is a very fun project the children love to participate in, although it cannot last more than two days. To me having food in the sensory table is okay once in a while since it's not all the time and it's not a whole bunch at a time. Thank you.



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    Doris Lawson
    Saint Paul MN
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  • 11.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 18 days ago
    Hi Kim
      I am a retired teacher working in a Community College Early Childhood Program, and we had made the decision about in 1990's was to use only flour and salt and those ingredients to make playdough, otherwise we stopped using all food products.  I worked in a diverse economic population and a good number of our children came from families with low income.  We didn't use any food products, because some of the products we used were eaten by various children in our population and out of respect for their possible circumstances.  I would assume with the pandemic there are families who do not have enough food or food products they once may have had, and using them for sensory or art may not be a good time to surrender this practice.  This topic has been going on for years in our field and it is one we have to decide based on the community we served and our philosophy for teaching.  I have found great substitutes for sensory activities, I shop in our downtown area where prices are cheaper than educational programs or stores.  You can a larger number and larger selection of bags of buttons, large size sequins, depending of age of child, beads etc.  I have also use flax seeds in the sensory box for pouring.  I personally would avoid rice and food products children can recognize as food in my population.

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    Evangelina Ruiz
    Wilmington CA
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  • 12.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 17 days ago
    I will never forget in my first year as a lead teacher, and my third year teaching young children, over 40 years ago, a parent of one of the children in my class (from a country outside of the United States) approaching me about my use of rice in the sensory table. She was shocked and explained that what I was using for children to play with would feed many children and families in her home country where food was scarce. I think being "culturally sensitive" (let's just say sensitive to the needs of humanity), means that we are open to learn and change our practices and look for good alternatives, even though that might take some imagination and creativity. But I am hopeful that taking this less convenient path, is the better path and is a lesson for young children and for us who teach them.

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    Alan Guttman
    Baltimore MD
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  • 13.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 17 days ago
    We've also had this ongoing discussion for years! With regard to the cultural sensitivity aspect, we had someone bring up the point that clean drinking water is also a scarcity in much of the world, and how wasteful it was for us to let children "play" in it- yet no one seems to question the appropriateness of water play! We ultimately decided to allow rice and lentils as the only food materials for sensory play, as we have 8 toddler rooms and they cannot explore with many other things that are chokeable. We provided each classroom with one bulk bag of rice, and it has lasted each room over a year (pre-pandemic). We know that we are lucky that food insecurity is not such an issue in our community, and felt that there weren't other safe, cost-effective materials for toddlers and other young children that could replicate the critical sensory opportunities provided by rice and lentils (we're not comfortable with toddlers potentially eating shaving cream, for example).

    Our preschool and kindergarten rooms use much less food for sensory play, as they have more options for other small objects that be used in the sensory table.

    I think as long as there is critical self-reflection of the reasoning, community concern, and any other aspects involved, that the decision on whether or not to use food cannot be a one-size-fits-all. Thanks for bringing this up, I love seeing what others have to say on the topic!

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    Kira Hartley
    Program Coordinator
    UWM Childrens Center
    Milwaukee WI
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  • 14.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 17 days ago
    I too do appreciate this professional discussion and am interested in the intersection of values and practices. So for philosophical and values discussion purposes, kindly indulge me this "thought exercise". What happens when our values and practices create true "pain points" for us? Are we more likely to examine our values or reconsider modifying our regular practices? Suppose enough (or all) parents decided that they did not want to enroll their children in programs that use food for play? Then, would be change our practices, adjust our values? What if NAEYC stopped accrediting programs that use food for play? And the idea that we need to be mindful of wasting water was not "wasted on me". I think it's a good point to bring up and raises larger issues around our environment, and care for our planet. I appreciate this lively discussion.

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    Alan Guttman
    Baltimore MD
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  • 15.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 16 days ago

    The comment about water waste caused me to reflect on my sensory table "rite of passage."

    Beans were being used in our table when I joined the teaching staff, and they bothered me because the overflow mess was difficult to clean up. I'm all about messy play, but I like to set the students up for success, to be able to manage their environment as much as possible. Most kids found this particular clean-up to be pretty discouraging and they opted out. This was a problem for every medium used in the sensory table.

    As I found my footing and moved in the direction of everyday, all-weather outdoor play, I began to feel the sensory table was taking up valuable real estate in our never large enough room. As our outdoor time lengthened, and I gained the buy-in of parents, caregivers and the other teachers, I pushed to get rid of the indoor sensory table, and simply put a plastic one outside where the students could play with mud, dirt, leaves, mulch, whatever they found in the back yard. It was really messy, and it was really sensory. In fact the whole yard was sensory and the table became more of a site for building "habitats" and other child determined projects.

    Water play is beloved, and again, my thinking started with my own teacher issues: I didn't want to be a water mule, spending my precious outdoor time ferrying pitchers from the sink to supply all the water needs. I let the environment supply the water, which is to say: rain, snow and sleet. The back yard was the habitat in which we lived. The students played in the rain and were water-rich. As dry weather came, the water started to disappear, but the students quickly learned about all the crevices and places that they could gather from. They learned about wasting and hoarding. They squabbled a lot. But they got used to the idea that water play was finite and dependent on rain fall.



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    Karen Lefkovitz
    Independent Consultant
    Philadelphia PA
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  • 16.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 16 days ago
    I'll say it again. I am so grateful for this lively discussion. Some of Piaget (who?) resonates for me here, as we remain children all of our lives in how we assimilate and accommodate in this diverse and complex world we live and work in. Do we allow ourselves to truly assimilate new ways of looking at the world and how we practice in it? How do we accommodate this information into our schema (including our cultural values, backgrounds, and dare I say, politics)? How do we navigate through the not so neat and tidy discussions without an "all terrain brain"? Not all of us are equipped as well as we would want, and many of us, including me, are ill equipped from the biases and prejudices we assimilated and accommodated during our upbringings. Yes, perhaps the "sensory table" is a great place to start a deeper and broader discussion of the real messy stuff that also defines many of us.

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    Alan Guttman
    Baltimore MD
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  • 17.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 16 days ago
    I am glad to see this conversation even though in many places the use of food as play material has long been viewed as inappropriate. It strikes me how many people say that since their own community has plenty of food, they aren't concerned about food waste. Are we all sharing the same, one planet? Is there an endless supply of rice, pasta, beans that can be partially thrown in the garbage when others are unable to have enough? Do we only care about the families from other communities and countries when they are in photos and books?

    I think we have a duty to teach the larger context about subjects, the various aspects of materials and experiences. Young children are learning values and culture with whatever we put in the sensory table. When we use water, we can talk about how vital it is to use only what we need. In the summer, we can bring a bucket of clear but used water outside to water plants or grass. Inside we can let them explore loose parts, recycled materials, reusable materials, and mix outdoor items with toys. Who hasn't filled the table with Autumn leaves then let the dinosaurs run amok?!

    If we care enough about recycling to have a recycle bin in the center or at home, we can be mindful enough to consider both the practical aspects of food as play material (food insecurity is extremely prevalent in the U.S. right now, let alone worldwide) as well as the philosophical aspects of it (are we teaching children to consume and discard, or to consider our neighbors and how to share resources?)

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    Mars April Caulton
    Education Coordinator,
    Mary Crane Centers
    Chicago IL
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  • 18.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 15 days ago
    Children love to help. Why not use the food you would have put in a sensory table as a donation children would make to a food bank or shelter?

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    Ann Brown
    Executive Director
    The Learning Village
    Kalamazoo MI
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  • 19.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 14 days ago
    This is a great discussion.  It would be helpful if we were mindful of language and with not "othering" people.  It's not others who may be food insecure--it's people in our communities and our child care settings, including people who are participating in this forum.  Rice, beans, and other kinds of food aren't important in the cultures of "other" people-- they're important in the cultures of people in our communities and our child care settings, including the people who are participating in this forum.  I'm not trying to fault any of us, but ask for the realization that these aren't issues because they're important to people other than ourselves--they're issues for all of us, as Mars Caulton has reminded us.

    Similarly, it's a great suggestion to involve children in donating these (and any) foods to a food bank and teaching them about food insecurity.  We need to do so in a way that doesn't "other" those who use food banks.  Even in the most affluent places there are families who are food insecure and they may be in our classrooms.  The people who use food banks may be sitting at your table, or may be you or me down the road.  The messaging for children around this is important.

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    Aren Stone
    she/her/hers
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA
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  • 20.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 13 days ago
    Thanks for an important reminder, Aren. I would like to add that indeed states that currently, the average salary for an early childhood teacher is $13.53 per hour in the United States. Not only may we be sitting at the table with folks who are on a very tight food budget, often they are us!

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    Karen Lefkovitz
    Independent Consultant
    Philadelphia PA
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  • 21.  RE: Food in the sensory table

    Posted 12 days ago
    Yes, Karen!  Thank you.  A sad and necessary point to remember.

    Karen Lefkowitz wrote:  "Thanks for an important reminder, Aren. I would like to add that indeed states that currently, the average salary for an early childhood teacher is $13.53 per hour in the United States. Not only may we be sitting at the table with folks who are on a very tight food budget, often they are us!"

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    Aren Stone
    she/her/hers
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA
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