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Loose Parts: Sensory Tables & Creativity for All

Loose parts: creativity for all

What seems to be the buzz-word in early childhood education? Loose parts! I was fascinated to learn more about this theory, developed by architect Simon Nicholson in 1972.

The theory of loose parts, in sum:

‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’ ~ Simon Nicholson, Architect (The Theory of Loose Parts: An important principle for design methodology, 1972)

Basically, the more materials in a space that people can tinker with, move around, and design, the more creativity and interaction there will be. For kids, this means they learn more, and all the latest brain development research supports this. Sensory play – or playing with loose parts – encourages kids to discover, learn, and build skills and confidence.

Take a museum for instance…what parts of the museum are most popular? Usually the ones where there are some sort of loose parts involved. Maybe an interactive exhibit where you can manipulate objects, or walk under them or, do something that interacts with the space.

Anyone who has ever been in a preschool classroom can attest that the post popular activities are the water or sand table, finger painting, and building blocks…all of these are sensory play using loose parts! Kids are just naturally drawn to the very activities that will be most beneficial for their learning!

This doesn’t affect just kids, by the way. As adults, we might have bought into the myth that creating and having a direct relationship with our space is for some sort of creativity elite – the architects, the artists, the ‘professionally creative ones.’ Nicholson reminds us that loose parts should be an important principle of design in spaces for all humans. It’s in our nature to tinker, innovate and create.

Now, what are some specific examples of loose parts? Here are some simple ones that you can find in nature:

  • Pinecones
  • Sticks
  • Rocks
  • Pebbles
  • Leaves
  • Seashells
  • Dirt
  • Sand

And others that I know kids love:

  • Water beads
  • Rice
  • Crinkle paper
  • Straws
  • Bingo chips & magnet wands
  • Pom poms

What loose parts are you using in your sensory tables this week? Happy playing!

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A quick and easy New Years’ Eve play idea!

NYE Confetti Drop activity

Looking for a quick activity for  your kids on New Years’ Eve? This is the perfect low-prep activity while you’re making those appies or dinner. Just pull out the paper recycling and any other papers you want to purge from your house. If you’re like me you might want to use this as an opportunity to declutter a bit, and just take a quick walk around the house to find papers you no longer need.

I found gift bags and wrapping from Christmas, some old cards I’ve kept for 10+ years and I know I’ll never really use, some scrap paper in my office, and broken party decor that I probably should have recycled long ago.

Then, I set my kids up at a SensaTable and later on the floor with a big sheet under them. The mission? To cut up or rip up as much paper as possible into tiny pieces!!!

We will pin this to the ceiling in an old hammock (but you can use a sheet, or a garbage bag) and pull on it at the New Year countdown. Incidentally, that happens to be at around 7pm at our house before the littlest ones are in bed…

The kids will love having all that ‘confetti’ fall on them. More importantly, they’ll have fun developing their fine motor skills as they rip up the papers, and you’ll have your hands free while prepping for the night!

Happy New Year!

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Sensory play: how to contain the ‘mess’ and still have fun!

Sensory play: how to have less mess and more play

Do you love the idea of sensory play, but don’t look forward to the mess involved?

Sensory play is not an option for our two-year-old son, it is a must. He seeks it out. He’ll scoop up dirt from the garden and run inside with it to see what it will do when he rubs it into our shag carpet. He’ll dump the whole bowl of blueberries on the ground and squish them just to see how it feels. Even as a baby, he would get his food EVERYWHERE but his mouth, just because he craved that extra sensory stimulation.

Sound familiar?

Messy child sensory play

Needless to say, sensory play can get messy, and for many parents this makes them think twice about encouraging sensory play. But experts agree that sensory play is highly beneficial for kids. In fact, the messier the better, they say. So, what is a parent to do?

Here are five ways you can minimize the mess and maximize the fun.

  1. Use a sensory table. Now, I might be biased because I hand-make affordable SensaTables. But in all seriousness, using a sensory table – or even just some sturdy bins – places natural boundaries around sensory play and allows for kids to explore items and materials at the same time.
  2. Protect your floors for easy clean up. If you have carpets, consider an office floor mat to protect the carpet. For hardwood floors, consider an old blanket with a non-slip rug pad underneath. I love the blanket method the most because you can just roll up the mess and dump debris in the garbage. And if it gets dirty, I just throw the blanket in the washer and don’t have to get out the floor mopping gear.
  3. Use a waterproof apron like this one with sleeves. That way their clothes will stay dry and clean, or have a much higher chance to! Make the apron a part of the ‘sensory play routine’…
  4. Create a ‘routine’ for sensory play. It can be a simple one, but as you know, kids thrive on routines. Here’s one we use: apron on, blanket under the table, play, wash hands, remove apron.
  5. Have a few simple rules. Two good rules we use are ‘items stay in the bins’ and ‘we don’t eat what’s in the bins.’ Many children will appreciate a full explanation – for instance throwing items might cause other people to slip and fall on them later, and eating the items might make them sick. If some items escape the bins, ask your child to help you clean up before playing can continue.

And, here is a bonus one: chat with your child as they play. Part of the joy of sensory play is that kids can have mindful self-directed fun. And that is great for their development! But equally important are the language and social skills they gain by talking with you about what they are doing. Introduce words to describe what they are sensing – is it slimy? crunchy? soft? Doing so will encourage them to play and also stay aware of their surroundings. In turn, you’ll notice messes are minimized, and fun and learning optimized!

Lastly, remember that messy fun is often what the best memories are made of. The clean up might seem like a big task now. But if you can turn it around into a positive experience with your child, those memories will last a lifetime.

Happy playing!


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A Super Simple Sensory Activity – Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin sensory play

Gutting pumpkins for Halloween can be a messy chore…or you can turn it into a sensory treat that your kids will love!

We washed, gutted and then drilled pretty patterns into our pumpkin together. Then washed it again (the washing part was a big hit especially with our two year old). 

**You will need:**

A great sensory table like this one

A medium size pumpkin

A knife to cut the top of the pumkin

Some spoons, measuring cups, or any other fun instruments to scoop with

A candle and matches

A drill and different size drill bits

Some markers (we used washable ones so the kids could ‘wash’ the pumpkins again at the   


Also great to have:

A blanket under the table with anti skid mat, for easy clean up


We used a deep bin for the pumpkin. It was just the right height so the kids could reach into it and feel around the pumpkin. We also used two smaller bins, one to stash the little utensils for scooping with, and another for warm soapy water. The kids dunked their hands in there if the pumpkin goop felt too gross on their hands.


Once the pumpkin top was removed, my husband and I helped the kids scrape the inside of the pumpkin with a spoon. Then the fun of feeling and scooping out the slimy pumpkin guts began! 

We filled the large bin with some warm soapy water and the kids used washcloths and little cups to rinse out the pumpkin. 


Once it dried we used washable markers to draw patterns on it. 


We drilled different sized holes wherever the kids said they should go!


Then put a candle in it and ran to the bathroom to see what it looks like in the dark. 


Pretty magical, eh?

Our two year old is begging to do this all again…so much fun!

Happy Halloween!!

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How to Make a Sensory Bin + IDEAS!

Looking for ways to keep your younger child occupied? Sensory play offers great developmental benefits, but is also a tonne of fun. Our sensory tables make it easy to create ‘bins’ with different themes and materials that will keep your child happy and busy, learning through play.

Here are some tips:

  1. Choose a container. Our sensory tables come with Ikea Trofast bins and lids for easy storage. You can have different bins that are stacked in a closet when not in use, or filed neatly in a Trofast Storage Shelf. But you can also use X-Large ziplock bags that you pour out into a bin later.
  2. Choose a base, or filler. Your bin is most fun when there is a lot of one type of material – a base or filler – that children can scoop, sift through, and dig their hands into. Look for materials that are inexpensive and non-toxic. DollarTree, Walmart, and other discount stores carry inexpensive brands that can be used as fillers. Other fillers might be simply water, foam, water beads or sand.
  3. Choose a theme. For added fun, you can use themes for your bins. Themes can be anything from ‘colours’ to ‘animals’ to ‘scooping’. You can rotate themes based on the seasons, holidays, and other timely events in a child’s life. It also makes it easy to introduce and reinforce concepts – for instance you can do a sensory table theme around ‘numbers’ to reinforce books you’re reading about numbers, or animals, or hockey, or whatever other subject your child is interested in!
  4. Have fun! Put your bin together and have fun! Always supervise small children who might put items in their mouth. Talk with your child about what they are experiencing – this stimulates language development. Talk to them about how items in the bin feel, smell, and sound. Give them ideas and items to scoop things into or sort with. Provide ladles, measuring cups or salad tongs for sorting and picking things up with, to help with fine motor skill development. Here’s an ultimate list of sensory bin tools that add to the fun!

Here are some sensory bin ideas to get you started:

Scented Rainbow Beans

Coloured rice, pasta or salt

50 Rice-based Sensory Bins

Non-Food Sensory Bin Ideas

15 Must-See Sensory Bins

10 Ways to Use the Sensory Table

Sponges in the Water Table

Rubber Ducks!

The Ultimate List of Sensory Bin Fillers

The possibilities are endless!

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