A No-Bake, No-Knives, Purposeful Sensory Play Activity for Preschoolers
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I can’t take credit for this one, you guys — it was all my daughter’s idea.
A few weeks ago, she handed me the box of Triscuits and asked if she could make “the recipe on the box”. This “recipe” is literally just a stack of Triscuits with a dollop of ricotta, some blueberries, a drizzle of honey, and a little sprinkle of lemon zest. Um, YES.
I love getting my kids involved in the kitchen, and I make it a point to say “yes” pretty much whenever they ask to help. This is the reason my kitchen is always messy. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)
Cooking with children is seriously one of the most valuable activities you can do with your kids — I put it right up there with outdoor play and reading together. This is a purposeful activity that incorporates so many sensory experiences — the texture of the squishy bread dough, the smell of the vanilla, the way pancake batter transforms into a delicious breakfast (or dinner — don’t judge).
They are learning a valuable and practical skill, and they are connecting with YOU as they do it. Science, math, creativity, health, fine motor skills…seriously, cooking with kids is the best. (And it helps to remind myself of all those benefits when I’m scraping crusted cookie dough off the underside of the cabinets. #momlife).
Benefits of Cooking with Kids:
- Sensory stimulation
- Teaches life skills
- Teaches math (“I’ve added one cup of flour and I need two in total. How many more do I need?”)
- Teaches science (“I wonder what will happen if I add this to the mixture…”)
- Creative outlet
- Nutrition and health lessons
- Potential to increase “accepted” foods for picky eaters
- Fine motor activity
- Connection with adult
- Purposeful activity leads to independence and sense of pride
I gave my daughter a cup of blueberries, a stack of Triscuits, some yogurt, and a little bowl of honey. She immediately got to work, and I thought she did a fantastic job recreating the picture on the box.
(Hot tip: if you can give your child a picture of the recipe they’re making, this can seriously increase their independence in the kitchen!)
My daughter is a fairly picky eater, and Triscuits are one of the few go-tos in our house. As a result, she’s “baked” this recipe at least five more times in the last few weeks.
I love that it keeps her busy for a good twenty minutes, and it encourages her to eat a combined food. Right now, she is very much one of those kids who only eats one food at a time — plain spaghetti, a piece of cheese, a handful of strawberries. Getting her to combine flavors is a huge win for us.
I also loved how flexible this “recipe” is — it works with whatever fruit or yogurt or soft cheese you have on hand.
My kiddo further extended the activity when she dug out an old medicine syringe (the kind without a sharp tip, like for baby medicine). (Side note: am I the only one who has at least a dozen of these shoved in my utensil drawer, the volume marks completely worn off?) She used that to squirt yogurt on top of the crackers and pretended to “frost” her “cupcakes”. This kept her going for another ten minutes.
I love sensory bins and water play and texture activities, but nothing beats a purposeful sensory activity — aka, an activity with an actual, usable outcome. These sorts of real-world learning opportunities do so much to help kids build independence, a sense of pride, and personal autonomy. It’s one thing to splash around a water table, but it takes things to a whole other level when the child can help wash the car or bathe the dog.
Here’s What You Need:
- Crackers (we use Triscuits because I like how simple the ingredient list is!)
- Yogurt, ricotta, or a soft, spreadable cheese
- Optional: baby medicine syringe or piping bag, lemon zest, cinnamon, or other add-ons
Tips for Success:
- You can show a picture of the desired result, or just allow your child to explore the ingredients on their own. Strew the materials out on the table and allow your child to discover and explore at their own pace.
- Keep the materials simple at first. On later iterations of the activity, you can provide extension options, like a small syringe (sharp tip removed!) or a piping bag, different fruit options, or add-ons like lemon zest or cinnamon.
- Give the activity a purpose — serve the final product during a poetry tea time or as a snack for their younger sibling.
- This is one of those activities that only gets better the more you repeat it. The child gains confidence with each repetition, and they will begin to make their own requests and extensions once it becomes familiar.