If you have a kiddo who is hesitant to dip their little fingers into messy sensory materials, or even outright HATES it, try giving them a tool such as a paintbrush or spoon. This will allow them to engage with the tactile media without actually having to touch it. It also serves as a nice introduction to messy play! Then as the child becomes more comfortable engaging in sensory play with the tool, she can gradually begin to explore the messy stuff on her own terms, when she feels ready.
When it comes to messy play, shaving cream is perhaps the most classic medium used by pediatric occupational therapists. Some kids LOVE the stuff and could bathe in it from head to toe every day if their mommies let them (like the kids in this picture). Others, like those mentioned above, probably wish it was buried in a deep dark cave far, far away.
So what do we do? Give ’em a tool!
My toddler son got to try this activity last week since he’s still not so sure about things that are goopy or foamy. All we needed was a baking sheet, some old paintbrushes, a big piece of paper (bought a whole pad from the dollar store for future projects!), and three drops of food coloring.
I squirted the cream onto the pan, showed him how I swirled in the food coloring, and then demonstrated how to brush, brush, brush! on the paper since he was a little nervous about it at first. But once he saw that it was okay and we could sing fun songs while we brushed, he reached for a brush and joined right in! He remained engaged in this process for about five minutes before he decided he was all done. It was a good start!
As mentioned previously, if you have a child who is nervous about or avoidant of tactile sensory experiences like this one, don’t force them to touch it or “just be fine” with it. Gauge their comfort level, offer demonstration and gentle encouragement, allow them to watch peers or siblings engage with it while positively reinforcing them for doing so (but DON’T punish or shame the one who doesn’t engage), sing songs or count or rhyme while doing it, make shapes and faces and sound effects as appropriate, and provide plenty of opportunities for exposure over time. Make it fun! Praise them when they try it and allow them to wipe their hands or take a break when they need to in order to keep it as positive an experience as possible.