jello sensory play

I have a love-hate relationship with sensory bins and play. No matter what, it seems like an epic mess for me to clean up is the end result. That being said, wee try to do at least one messy sensory activity per week to help Sumner work on his occupational therapy goals.

Sumner, like me, does not like to touch things that are slimy or sticky. He’s also not a fan of getting messy. One of the ways to work on this is exposing him to messy, sticky, slimy things as often as makes sense for our family. It’s important for his development because there will be times when he needs to encounter these textures and not have it ruin his day.

At a recent occupational therapy session, Sumner got some marker on his hands. It was a “dots” marker that was wetter then usual. Once it was on him, he immediately asked for help to clean it off. Unfortunately, a wet wipe did not do the trick and we — his OT and I — spent the rest of the session re-explaining to him what had happened. It was like he would accept the story and forget about it until he noticed the marker on his hands all over again. Talk about ground hog day!

So back to the jello.

In conversation with his OT, I mentioned that I was thinking about submerging Sumner’s “Mr. Potato Head” toy in a bunch a jello as a fine motor and sensory activity. He is highly motivated by Mr. Potato Head. It’s remarkable how we’ve been able to use it in different settings to target various therapy goals. (More on that another time.) Whenever we find something that lights him up, we try to include it in his daily activities as he’s more likely to join in when there’s intrinsic motivation for him.

In other words, Mr. Potato Head was our gateway to working on skills that he doesn’t prefer to target in other ways. We’ve been wanting to work on developing his pincer grasp (i.e., two-finger grasp) to help with his eating skills and as a precursor to coloring and writing. Typically, OT would have him work on this by picking up and transferring small objects such as beans or beads into containers. Unfortunately, Sumner simply does not see the point in this activity and he is not motivated by us praising him for accomplishing tasks like this. External motivators do not work with him. He truly couldn’t care less about whether his behaviors earn him praise.

My idea was to encourage him to use his fingers to dig the potato head parts out from the jello. Thus accomplishing fine motor practice in a potentially messy way.

A couple days before, I made 5 liters of lime green jello. Yes, I’m aware that is a LOT of jello! I used about two-thirds of it to submerge the Mr. Potato Head parts and the rest for a jello mold of squigz for another day. It took about 36 hours for the jello to completely solidify.

Once we were ready, I unmolded the jello into an IKEA trofast bin. I wanted to give him enough space to work and explore. Plus, I had high hopes that the bin would contain most of the mess.

Then, I took it all out to our back patio as this seemed like an outside messy play activity. We encouraged him to find all of the pieces and put them in a bowl of soapy water. He was hesitant at first, but eventually decided that touching the jello wasn’t such a bad idea. Once he found all the pieces, I transferred the remaining jello back to the bin. I’m going to melt it back down and use it again. We tried to get Sumner to wash the rest of the jello remains off the pieces, but he told us he was “all done” and walked away.

All-in-all, it was a pretty successful first attempt. I’m hoping with practice that he’ll become less apprehensive about touching it and will be more willing to try different ideas.

How do you feel about messy play? Would you try this activity?

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