My kids have never been ones for traditional ‘quiet time’ where they stay in their bedrooms and read or play. Instead, we’ve always taken that afternoon lull and enjoyed the one-on-one time. This can be in painting together, reading, playing a board game, or sometimes enjoying some sensory play. Some of you might question how sensory play can equate to that much-needed break for the parent. I get it; the thought of setting up a sensory activity and then dealing with the mess is far from ‘quiet’!! A little trick I learned is to prepare small sensory boxes with relatively mess-free materials. In this blog, I will talk you through an example of how I put these together and how they work well for fair and focused play.

Putting together the box…

The key here is to keep things simple… very simple! This starts by using a small box. There’s no need to make a substantial sensory invitation here, just a small container with a lid that can be easily stored and easily accessed when needed. For this particular box, I chose to use these cute mini pom-poms (purchased from Amazon). They are bright and fun, have an interesting fluffy texture, and lots of colors to explore. They are a dry sensory filler and naturally clump together a little so don’t end up all over the floor.

The next thing to consider is which tools and containers to include. My preschooler will spend the majority of her time happily scooping and transferring the sensory base between containers. For that reason, I always have between 2 and 4 fine motor tools. I included the entire Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set™, except the Twisty Dropper™, because there was no water involved. It is important to remember that to encourage your child to play with the box for a prolonged period of time, you need to ensure that the tools are developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. The last thing you want is for them to get frustrated and give up on the box with a sense of defeat. In this box, I chose to use these brightly colored silicone cupcake liners (from Amazon Basics) as the containers as they lent themselves so well to sorting.

The final part of the box to consider is the loose parts. I love using the Learning Resources® counters in these little boxes. I chose to include the insect ones as I knew my four-year-old would enjoy identifying the different insects and pretend small world playing with them. A top tip… always add a dice. It might seem like a pretty dull addition, but dies make for such an exciting link to early numeracy, and we have spent hours over the years making up our dice games with little sensory boxes like this one.

Playing with the box…

As I mentioned earlier, a quiet time sensory box like this works wonders for us in the afternoon. I sit with my preschooler, and we enjoy exploring the materials and playing games together. I know that can seem a little counter-intuitive, as quiet time is often used as break time for the parent, but for me, it has always paid off to invest a little time at the start of the afternoon and then the following hour or so passes naturally with independent play.

When my preschooler first opened the box, she immediately searched through the contents, describing what she could see. Her first line of action was to remove all of the contents except the mini pom-poms. She enjoyed using the Handy Scoopers™ to scoop them up, simply enjoying moving them around the box. Then she started to fill the cupcake liners with the pom poms, pretending she was a delivery truck, dumping her load of pom poms into the liners. This was great for both her fine motor and gross motor skills.

Next up, she wanted to enjoy some color matching. This is where the cupcake liners and insect counters came into their own. She intuitively let her imagination run wild, using the cupcake liners as tiny insect houses. I loved watching her use the simple materials in front of her to create such fantastic play scenarios. At one point, the Handy Scoopers were being used as a giant flying insect net trying to capture the critters and return them to their houses.

Remember how I said earlier that it’s worth adding dice to the box just in case… well, that ‘just in case’ happened this time around, and it was brilliant to watch. My little one decided that she wanted to invent her own ‘bug game.’ She assigned us both a selection of insects and cupcake liners, created highly complex rules that only a four-year-old could understand or follow, and proceeded to win the game every time. Sound familiar? When I said that it might lead to games being made up, I never promised that they would be fair games!! As my daughter was teaching me her game, Jokes aside, there was so much learning and development happening. Her communication skills and vocabulary were being tested. She was constantly referring to numbers on the dice. Best of all, she was problem-solving and learning how to work cooperatively.

Do you think a quiet time sensory box would work with your child? Each child is different, but this helps my preschooler enjoy a calm half-hour of play. Best of all, it nearly always then leads to her happily playing independently for the next 30-60 minutes, and I’m not left with an enormous clean-up on my hands. A win-win!