The other day we set up a provocation for the infants. The teachers set up a design table with pieces of clay that looked like small, round stones. We set each child in front of the provocation so they could take turns and explore the clay individually.
The children had a wonderful time experimenting with the clay and it’s texture. Some of the infants were anxious to get their hands in the clay and immediately dived in, while others were cautious in approaching this foreign gray mass. Once they started to see their ability to manipulate the clay with their little fingers, they loved to squeeze the material and tear it into small pieces.
As the children grabbed pieces of the clay, they all did the exact same thing: dug their nails into the matter. You could see that they loved piercing their nails through the clay and having it squeeze between their fingers. The longer they played with the clay, the more ways they found to manipulate it by either folding the material or tearing it piece by piece.
This sensory experiment allowed the children to work on their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and muscle strength. It’s amazing to observe infants when they study about their hands, examine their reflection in the mirror, or realize that they made that noise. This activity was enjoyable because they realized that they have an effect on the clay because the clay reacts to their manipulation. Often times we see infants explore different objects and no matter how hard they smack, push, or squeeze an object… it doesn’t have a physical effect. With the clay, the children realized that their efforts had a direct result on the way the clay looked!
This simple activity is an excellent example of sensory play for infants. They were able to touch, feel, smell, manipulate, and see the clay, opening their mind to understand cause-and-effects. Sensory play with infants has been proven to improve motor skills, cognitive development, creativity, social development, raise awareness of how the world works, contribute to language acquisition, and is a therapeutic experience. Since infants don’t have words to describe what they encounter, they are still able to make sense of the information they experience through their senses.