A trail of muddy footprints leads from the back door to the kitchen. A colorful smear of paint on the bedroom wall. Toys have been dumped all around the living room floor. You heave a sigh, not looking forward to cleaning up the mess. 

It’s no secret; children favor messy activities. Splashing in water, finger- painting, digging in the dirt—you name it. However, caregivers often don’t want to deal with the clean- up afterwards, so they avoid these activities. Other times, they want to do these things but just don’t know where to start. 

Sensory/messy play is an essential part of a child’s growing development. So, how can we offer it without overwhelming ourselves? 

What is sensory play? 

In childcare, when we say “sensory play” it is often referring to science activities. However, science is just the tip of the iceberg. Sensory play refers to any activity that involves the senses. The more senses an activity incorporates, the better! 

You’d be surprised what counts as “sensory play.” Trying new food? A good sensory opportunity. Going to the beach? Lots of new sounds, smells, and textures for children to explore. Even listening to music or going outside offers important sensory input for children. Even infants learn about the world through sensory activities. 

Touch Sense (Tactile)
Tactile refers to our sense of touch and to the information our body gets through the skin.
- Our sense of touch is important because it helps us learn about our body and the environment we live in.
- Some of the tactile receptors are close to the surface of the skin and others are deep in the skin.
- Light Touch gives the brain an alerting message, "Pay attention". It is a useful sensation to increase a person's awareness of what is going on.
- Touch Pressure sensation occurs when you get a firm touch on your skin. Many people find comfort in touch pressure input.

Why is sensory play important? 

Sensory play holds a very important role in a child’s development, in both the short and long term. Here are just a few reasons why it helps: 

  • It helps them understand their senses and their own bodies more through hands-on learning.  
  • It helps improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills through practice as kids explore cause-and-effect relationships. 
  • It develops fine- motor skills, which are used in activities such as cutting with scissors and writing with a pencil. 
  • It supports emotional regulation, giving children something to help calm their emotions when they are angry/upset. 

Having several opportunities through the day for children to explore with their senses is vital to their growth and development. Caregivers can offer both structured and unstructured activities. 

How can I “accept the mess?” 

It can be very hard allowing your child to fully explore sensory activities. When I was brand new to teaching, I was far too focused on the aspect of “cleaning it up” and not the importance of allowing my students to make that mess. We often forget that the process for learning can be very chaotic at times, and that a child NEEDS to dump water onto the floor just to see what happens.  

So, what can we do about it? I decided to start where it would be easier for myself. At first, water play made me frustrated with how many times I needed to wipe it off the floor, so I traded it out for simple shredded paper and built myself up from there. There are still some days where I decide a huge mess would be too overwhelming, and so I trade it out for something more manageable, saving the big mess for another day. 

If messy play makes you anxious or is overwhelming, then start where you are most comfortable. You can make it easier on yourself by putting a tarp underneath or keeping it outside/in the kitchen. You can even ask your little one to help with the cleanup by handing them a child-sized broom or a wet-wipe. After all, even cleaning up can be a fun sensory experience! 

How do I introduce sensory play? 

Chances are, you’ve already introduced sensory play without even realizing it. However, there are several ways to deliberately encourage sensory play. Factors to keep in mind are a child’s age, interests, and developmental stage. 

For infants, start small. Offer them textile blocks, colorful scarves, or music.  

For older children, try spraying some shaving cream on the table and letting them play with it. You can also take them outside to dig in the garden or pick flowers. Going to a petting zoo or farm is also a great experience for them. 

You can also start a sensory bin – get a large, clear tub and fill it up with whatever you want. You can put it in the kitchen, on the porch, or even on a spare table. Sensory tubs can also be purchased online if you want one with a fun design to it.  

You can fill the tub with dried oats, magic sand, fake snow – anything you can think of! Your children may also have some great ideas for it. 

Other sensory bin Ideas: 

For Infants: 35+ Brilliant sensory bins for Babies – Kid Activities with Alexa 

For Toddlers: Sensory Bins Ideas for Toddlers – Enchanted HomeSchooling Mom 

For Preschoolers: 19 Amazing Sensory Bins for Preschool – Taming Little Monsters 

For School-age: Sensory Bin Ideas for Kindergarten at Home – How Wee Learn 

How else can I offer sensory play? 

Some children are more sensitive to sensory input than others. They may dislike the feeling of paint on their hands, or certain textures might make them upset. Luckily, there are many ways we can change the game and help them feel more at ease. Sensory toys such as Pop-its or a weighted blanket are a great place to start. For some older children, you could offer them a pair of gloves so they can protect their hands. 

If a child is simply not engaged, try catering it to their interests. Are they super into cars? Try having them drive trucks through the mud. Do they like baby dolls? Make a “baby doll bath station.” The possibilities are endless. 

Book of the Month: Faith and Science with Dr. Fizzlebop: 52 Fizztastically Fun Experiments and Devotions for Families. 

A fun science book that incorporates experiments with devotionals. Inspiration comes from bible stories, learning about the world through hands-on experience. Aimed at an older preschool/kindergarten demographic. 


Kostelyk, S. (2020) The importance of sensory play for children, The Chaos and the Clutter. Available at: https://www.thechaosandtheclutter.com/archives/the-importance-of-sensory-play-for-children (Accessed: October 12, 2022).  

Susie (2018) Are you terrified of messy play? (You don’t have to be!), Busy Toddler. Available at: https://busytoddler.com/managing-messy-sensory-play/ (Accessed: October 12, 2022).  

What is sensory play and why is it important? (2019) UGro. Available at: https://www.u-gro.com/blog/2019/06/what-is-sensory-play-and-why-is-it-important/ (Accessed: October 12, 2022).  

What is sensory play and why is it important? (2022) Action for Children. Available at: https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/blog/what-is-sensory-play-and-why-is-it-important/ (Accessed: October 12, 2022). 

Have you ever wondered why your child scribbles? Congratulations—they’re learning to write! Are they making a long string of random letters, with no clear words in it? That is an important stage to writing called Emergent Writing.  

Learning to write is a very long process that can take 6-8 years to perfect, with many stages and steps along the way. While there are ways we can support a child’s writing skills, it’s important that we do not rush them. They should be allowed to figure it out at their own pace. 

When will they start writing? 

Depending on the child, they will start writing around 5-6 years old. However, a child is learning the skills necessary to write from as young as 6 months old. 

When learning to write, there are a lot of steps that a child must go through before they’re ready.  

  1. Preliterate (Scribbling) 
  1. Emergent (Start of Letters) 
  1. Transitional (Invented Spelling) 
  1. Fluent (Dictionary Spelling) 

(NAEYC, 2017) 

Why do they hold crayons like that? 

As they build up the muscles in their hand, children will hold writing utensils in many ways. The way they hold it right now is simply the most comfortable way for them. 

(Greutman, 2010) 

They may spend a longer or shorter amount of time on any step than this diagram provides. They may even skip a step entirely. This is perfectly okay, as it’s important for them to explore their strengths and grow confidence in their abilities.  

Right vs. left handedness 

A child usually shows their hand preference around age 3, though this may take more or less time, depending on the child. Both right- and left-handed dominance is natural, and there is no difference in how they will learn to write.  

I want to stress that it is NOT a good idea to force a left-handed child to be right-handed. When you force any child to use their non-dominant hand for an extended period, it disrupts the natural flow of their brain, and can cause several short- and long-term effects such as bedwetting, extreme fatigue, poor concentration, and more. (Penwise, 2021). 

How can I support their writing skills? 

There are many ways to help children learn to write, and it’s important to give them many opportunities to practice.  

  • Fine motor activities build up hand muscles. Activities such as playdough, threading beads, or painting/coloring are good places to start. This will help them develop their hand-eye coordination and self-confidence. 
  • Pointing out print around them. Reading to them or helping them read, pointing out the letters in their names, and playing with foam letters/letter cards will help them get familiar with the idea of print. 
  • Asking for communication. When they’re writing or playing, you can initiate a conversation about the activity. Using open-ended questions will get them thinking and help them learn how to express their ideas through words, which will help them when they are ready to learn how to write. 

What are open-ended questions? 

An open-ended question is a question with no clear answer. It’s okay if a child does not answer right away, as it will still get them to think. Even when they are not talking yet, it’s good to help them learn vocabulary and recognize words. A few questions you could ask are: 

  • What are you cooking? 
  • What other materials could you use? 
  • How can we fix that? 
  • Where can we find that? 
  • What happens after that? 

If you’d like to learn more, here is an article that goes more in-depth on why open-ended questions are important to early language/literacy skills: 75 Interesting Open-Ended Questions For Children (firstcry.com) 

Book of the Month: The Boy Who Loved Words, by Roni Schotter 

In this Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning book, Selig collects words, ones that stir his heart (Mama!) and ones that make him laugh (giggle). But what to do with so many luscious words? After helping a poet find the perfect words for his poem (lozenge, lemon, and licorice), he figures it out: His purpose is to spread the word to others. And so, he begins to sprinkle, disburse, and broadcast them to people in need. 


Booe, M. and Booe, J., 2022. Forcing A Left-Handed Child To Be Right Handed: A Good Idea? | Little Ninja Parenting. [online] Little Ninja Parenting. Available at: <https://littleninjaparenting.com/forcing-a-left-handed-child-to-be-right-handed-a-good-idea/> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Greutman, H., 2010. Typical Pencil Grasp Development for Kids. [online] Growing Hands-On Kids. Available at: <https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/pencil-grasp-development-for-writing.html> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Kids, P., 2022. Support your preschooler’s emergent writing skills. [online] Library.pima.gov. Available at: <https://www.library.pima.gov/blogs/post/support-your-preschoolers-emergent-writing-skills/> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Kim, T., 2022. Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. [online] NAEYC. Available at: <https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2017/emergent-writing> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

Klöppel, S., Mangin, J., Vongerichten, A., Frackowiak, R. and Siebner, H., 2010. Nature vs. Nurture; Long-Term Impact of Forced Right-Handedness on Structure of Pericentral Cortex and Basal Ganglia. [online] JNeurosci. Available at: <https://www.jneurosci.org/content/30/9/3271> [Accessed 12 September 2022]. 

The start of the school year is fast approaching, and many new children will be coming to the classrooms. Some are used to preschool; others are brand new. It’s a busy time of the year, and a major transition for children of all ages. 

Whether or not this is their first time at school, it’s common for a child to be upset or anxious that you’ll be leaving them alone for the day. Not only is it difficult for children, but it can also be a tough time for parents and caregivers. Separation anxiety can affect everyone, and it should be taken seriously. 

Thankfully, there are ways to ease the stress of drop- off, setting both you and your child up for success. 

Start the day off right. 

Wake up at the same time every day and eat a good breakfast. Get your child active even before you get in the car, either with a morning dance party, a short walk, or even just a short stretch in the morning. When they’re in a good mood, it’ll be a lot easier for them to say goodbye and settle into the classroom. 

Establish a short, simple, and consistent drop-off routine. 

Most children thrive off a predictable routine. If they know what to expect, it will be easier for them to process that you’re going away. It can be a quick hug and kiss, then handing them off to their teacher. If you’re finding it particularly hard, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

Please do not sneak away; while it may be easier in the moment, it will be harder emotionally on your child when they look up and realize you’re gone, and it can complicate drop-offs in the future.  

Talk it up. 

In advance, talk about how they are going to go to school. Talk about how they can play with toys, eat lunch, make new friends, etc. 

There are also quite a few books that can help your child understand. A few I really like are: 

Let them bring a comfort item. 

A small stuffed animal or blanket can help a lot when they are missing home—just make sure your child’s teacher is okay with this beforehand. If the class doesn’t allow toys from home, then you can offer them something of yours,such as your hat or scarf. You could also write them a note or offer to bring a book from home (just make sure it’s labeled). 

You can also send a family photo with them to school. Many preschools do have a “family wall” in each classroom, but even as they head off to elementary school, it can be nice to have a reminder of home with them. 

Talk to your child’s teacher. 

Progress can be slow, but if it seems as if your child isn’t getting better as the year goes on, try asking their teacher how they are after you leave. Often, children calm down quickly after you leave. You can ask for pictures or send a quick email/message to check in. 

Be prepared for setbacks. 

It’s quite common for children to “roll back” in their progress, especially if there is a teacher change, a new classmate, or an interruption of their routine like a vacation. Even a child who has had easy transitions from the start can decide one day “I don’t want to go to school.” It’s important to keep steady with your drop-off routine.  

Don’t forget yourself! 

I had a mother a few years ago who struggled a lot with separation anxiety. She was so focused on her child having a smooth transition that she forgot to take care of herself. I approached her one day and asked if she wanted to read a story to the children before she left, and it really helped her accept that she was leaving her child for the day. After that, she would ask if she’d be able to read when she was having a particularly hard day, and we were more than happy to have a guest reader. 

Of course, not every parent has the time to stay and read a story. So, what can you do? Some of the same ways to help your child can also help you. Keep a picture of your child close, check in with your child’s teacher on how they’re doing, and remind yourself it isn’t forever, just a short while. Don’t be afraid to talk with someone—a friend, your partner, or a professional. 

Know that you are not alone—many parents feel this way too.  

Book of the Month: Chu’s First Day of School Board Book. By Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex. 

Chu, the adorable panda with a great big sneeze, is heading off for his first day of school, and he’s nervous. He hopes the other boys and girls will be nice. Will they like him? What will happen at school? And will Chu do what he does best? 


Butler, A. and Ostrosky, M., 2018. Reducing Challenging Behaviors during Transitions: Strategies for Early Childhood Educators to Share with Parents. [online] NAEYC. Available at: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/blog/2017/08/10/parental-separation-anxiety [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Hoggard, E., 2017. Understanding Parental Separation Anxiety. [online] Counselling-directory.org.uk. Available at: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/sep2018/reducing-challenging-behaviors-during-transitions [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Robinson, L., Segal, J. and Smith, M., 2021. Separation Anxiety and Separation Anxiety Disorder – HelpGuide.org. [online] HelpGuide.org. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-and-separation-anxiety-disorder.htm [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Robinson, T., 2017. From a Preschool Teacher: The Do’s and (please) Don’ts of Dropping Off your Kid. [online] Scary Mommy. Available at: https://www.scarymommy.com/dos-donts-separation-anxiety-from-teacher [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Swanson, W., 2021. How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety. [online] HealthyChildren.org. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Soothing-Your-Childs-Separation-Anxiety.aspx [Accessed 12 August 2022]. 

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. This rings even more true for our young ones. It’s when they get much of the energy required to learn, play, and grow.

A couple years ago, I had a child who would come into school every day absolutely miserable. He would cry inconsolably and refused to play or partake in any of the morning activities. It wasn’t until lunchtime, when he was able to eat, that he finally calmed down. He was the happiest boy for the rest of the day.

We talked to the parents about this, and quickly discovered that his breakfast consisted only of baby mash and a cup of milk. He hated eating it and was refusing to eat enough to satisfy his hunger. Once we talked about changing breakfast to include food that was a little more appetizing, he came in smiling and had much smoother drop-offs from then on.

While doing your own work, whether that’s sitting at a desk or being up on your feet, when do you focus the best? It’s likely you’ve experienced an empty stomach, where all you can think about is what you’ll get for lunch; maybe you skipped breakfast that day, or all you managed was a donut. Either way, you are not getting as much work done as you would on a full stomach.

The same goes for our children. Their work is play, but it’s hard for them to focus on playing if all they can think about is the rumbling in their stomachs.

In childhood philosophy, we often discuss a theory known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” The theory goes that you need each level of the pyramid in order to fill the needs of the next level. If one level of the hierarchy is not being met or fulfilled, then a child cannot develop to their fullest extent. (McLeod, 2007)

(McLeod, 2007)

For now, we will focus on just the bottom level: physiological needs. More specifically, we will focus on the need “food.” This includes far more than making sure there is enough to eat, we also need to be giving children a well-balanced diet. Every kid enjoys sweets such as ice cream or pastries, some might only want to eat pasta and nothing else, but this will not keep them full or give them the nutrients to grow their brain and body. So, what should we be giving them?

It is best to offer a variety of foods so that they do not get bored with breakfast and help broaden their tastes so that they are more willing to try new and healthier foods.

Proteins: Foods such as meat, eggs, beans, and yogurt that will keep them full for longer. Protein will digest much slower than foods that are high in sugar, as it has many more nutrients to be dissolved into the blood stream and it won’t give your child a “sugar crash” later in the day. Proteins also provide the much-needed “building blocks” to make and repair cells in the body. (Why Is Protein Important In Your Diet? | Piedmont Healthcare, n.d.)

Complex Carbohydrates: Often found in fruits, starchy vegetables (squash, peas, etc), and whole grains. This will help provide your toddler’s brain and muscles with the energy they need, keeping them active throughout the day. Just as with protein, complex carbs keep you fuller for longer. It takes the body a lot longer to digest, and it can use the nutrients found in complex carbs more than in simple carbs such as in sweets, pastries, and sodas. (Younkin, 2017)

Healthy Fats: Ground flax seeds, olive oil, nut spreads, and even avocado can be worked into their breakfasts. Fats are important for a child’s brain development, giving the brain an “insulator for electricity.” (Why Is There so Much Fat in Our Brain?, n.d.)

Liquids: Drinks are important too! Offer them a cup of milk or water. You can even offer them a fruit/veggie smoothie if you have the time to make one.

Try to avoid sugary and artificially sweetened foods. If you’re worried about oatmeal being too bland or yogurt seeming unappealing, try mixing fresh fruits to naturally sweeten it. Bananas, strawberries, or blueberries are a great way to start; just make sure they are cut up into manageable sizes for your little one.

If you’re having a hard time getting them to eat, here are a few tips to help ease them into these new foods:

  • Try presenting it in a fun way! Create smiley faces out of blueberries or use a special plate to entice your child.
  • Eat the same food (and make a big deal out of it). When sitting down, try saying: “Oh, look! We’re both eating yogurt!” Even if they don’t eat it right then and there, it will help show them it is a safe food to eat.
  • Introduce it with familiar/favorite foods.

Here are a few places to find simple recipes to get you started:

Simple Toddler Recipes: 15 Toddler Breakfast Ideas (Easy + Healthy) | Dietitian Meets Mom

Vegan Breakfast options: 17 Easy Vegan Breakfast Ideas | Cooking Light

Nut Free ideas: 17 Nut Free Breakfast Ideas to Jumpstart your Morning| Nut Free

Thank you for reading!

Book of the Month: “Can you Smell Breakfast?” By Edward Jazz. “Can you Smell Breakfast?” | Amazon

Ivy and her mom try to figure out what dad’s cooking in the kitchen by the smell of it. Is it pancakes? Cotton Candy? Oatmeal?


Fish, J., n.d. 15 Toddler Breakfast Ideas (Easy + Healthy). [online] Dietitian Meets Mom. Available at: https://dietitianmeetsmom.com/toddler-breakfast-ideas-healthy/#:~:text=Meat%2C%20eggs%2C%20beans%2C%20yogurt%2C%20and%20nut%20butter%20are,and%20corn%29%2C%20and%20even%20whole%20grains%20provide%20energy. [Accessed 6 July 2022].

McLeod, S., 2007. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Piedmont.org. n.d. Why Is Protein Important In Your Diet? | Piedmont Healthcare. [online] Available at: https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/why-is-protein-important-in-your-diet [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Exploring your mind. n.d. Why Is There so Much Fat in Our Brain? [online] Available at: https://exploringyourmind.com/why-is-there-so-much-fat-in-our-brain/ [Accessed 6 July 2022].

Younkin, L., 2017. What Is a Complex Carbohydrate? [online] EatingWell. Available at: https://www.eatingwell.com/article/290631/what-is-a-complex-carbohydrate/ [Accessed 6 July 2022].