In our busy, commercialized lives it can be difficult to slow down, be present and connect with our children. But when we finally allow our grown-up selves to put aside the “must get done” stuff and allow ourselves to play, we reap personal and familial benefits beyond anything we can imagine. Imagine getting lost in the moment like you did as a child: no worries about laundry, finances, work, the lawn, in-laws, or dinner. For a brief moment in time you free yourself from the burden of everyday life.
This personal gift extends itself to our children who have a need to connect with our undivided attention, which in turn leads to a stronger-parent-child relationship and the likelihood of more cooperation! Play is literally the gift that keeps giving. It is also inclusive: every person of every age, level of development, race, culture, religion, socioeconomic status and every other divisive factor I can think of can benefit from play.
Playing with colored shaving cream.
Play is educational in the traditional sense: children learn about colors, hues, brush strokes, symmetry, physics, chemistry, biology, and safety. And it is also educational in the interpersonal sense: it inspires self-control, emotional regulation, emotional intelligence, and a sense of capability. Through play children learn to work out problems and connect with themselves and others in ways they are not yet able to in “the real world.” There are a multitude of benefits to play and all it takes is a little bit of planning, a lot of letting go, and some gentle guiding and teaching to help our children reap the full benefits as they grow toward their full potential.
Since children learn about the world through their senses, incorporating sensory play into their lives is one of the most basic ways to encourage the development of their whole brain. The kinesthetic learning behind sensory play allows children to learn about their world as they develop language skills, motor skills, proprioceptors, cognitive skills, and imagination. There is no right or wrong in sensory play, and it is beneficial for all children of all ages, including children with special needs, and can actually be quite therapeutic for many populations.
A great way to optimize sensory play is through the use of a light panel, or light table. Who doesn’t love that amazing glow? Adding a protective cover makes light table activities practically endless.
Light Table Play
Shower curtain or other protective blanket
Light box or table
Light box cover
Translucent containers for sorting
Colored ‘gems,’ tiles, and building materials
Cups, spoons, and other stirring or scooping tools
You can find more materials for light table play here on our blog.
A number of parents express concern about making a mess, so use a protective blanket underneath the light table to keep your projects tidy. Gentle guidance for children includes such phrases as “spray bottles are for the rice” and “mommy is not for spraying, but you can spray the rice.”
The light table can be a full sensory experience, using sight, smell, sound, touch and even taste! Children can listen to the sound of beads hitting a hard surface, smell the aroma of different types of rice, and feel the slippery texture of water beads. Let your child know when it is safe to taste their light table materials, and we can ask, “how does that taste?” Learning experiences are greatly enriched by the use of multiple senses in play exploration. You can deepen your child’s play experiences by incorporating medias that call to a child’s multiple senses – enjoy!
Light Table Ideas
These activities help develop motor skills, sorting, color recognition, shape recognition, patience, balance, perseverance, critical thinking skills, and much more!
Reflections: Building on the light table with mirrors.
Exploring Yellow: Exploring shapes, color, textures & weight.
|Sorting gems in empty egg cartons.
|Sorting colored pasta into bowls.|
Tower of Cups: Stacking on the light table.
|Discovering with colored water.|
Painting on Homemade Light Table: Make your own for $10.
|Painting with Water colors|
|Exploring and observing nature.||Exploring textures with water beads.|
Ashley Kagan, Med MECD is a Stay at Home Mom of a 2 year old son. She holds a double Masters Degree in Exceptional Student Education and Early Childhood Development. She was a teacher for 14 years, 11 years teaching children with autism and 3 years teaching pre-k in a Reggio-inspired preschool. Ashley is the founder of Play at Home Mom.
RoseMarie Lamphere is a Stay at Home Mom of a 2 year old daughter and 16 month old daughter. She holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts with disciplines in Social Work and Sociology. Major contributor to Play at Home Mom.
Amy C. Bryant, EdS, LPC: Stay at Home Mom of a 2 year old daughter. She holds MS and EdS degrees in Professional Counseling and works part time with families and caregivers facing discord that present themselves as aggression, ADHD, anxiety, depression and other behavioral and relationship-oriented concerns. Contributor to Play at Home Mom.