It was mid afternoon in the program. The children were sitting with each other enjoying a snack after playing outside. As the children finished eating they started to begin their afternoon work. During this time of the day, half of the children have homework to attend to. The other half of the learning community usually reads, draws, begins project work, and begins new investigations.
Today was different. The children were wandering in our multi-purpose space looking for something to engage in. Noticing that the children needed a little help getting the work period started, I decided to find some materials and set up a provocation. Often provocations are an extension of the children’s interests but this time I was trying to inspire a new interest and exploration.
Looking in the material cupboard I noticed two cans of shaving cream. Shaving cream is one of the materials that without fail, most of the children love. A few children do not like the smell or texture, but this is a rare occurrence. In some programs, shaving cream is not utilized as much as other sensory materials because the educator’s do not like the mess it creates during play.
I love the mess! So I grabbed the two cans and looked for some tables to begin the provocation. I approached two empty tables and sprayed a little shaving cream on one, and waited. Quickly some children noticed the shaving cream and started gathering around the tables. One child said, “What are you doing?” I replied, “playing with shaving cream.” The child said, “Can I play too?” as the child began diving into the material with both hands. Another child walked up and asked, “What are you doing?” I said, “playing with shaving cream.” I handed them the can and stepped aside to observe. Then I took the second can of shaving cream and sprayed the remainder of the can all over the adjacent table.
Playing with shaving cream was not a brand new experience for the children, but a different experience from the paint, water, makers, clay, goop etc. that the children play with more frequently. The children were excited to interact and explore the properties of shaving cream. When the children have an opportunity to interact with a new or less frequently used material this opens up an opportunity for a stronger than usual physical, sensorial, and cognitive interaction.
The play started to blossom as more children joined the original two. One of the great benefits of sensory play in school age care is that it invites all ages to work together. Not all materials are popular with the older kids, but shaving cream is an exception because of the potential it offers all players. As young and old gathered around the tables to play, this is what I observed.
The volume of the group quickly became louder and louder as the play evolved. All of the talking centered on the children’s theories about the possibilities of the material. The children manipulated the material and at the same time shared with the person closest to them or whoever was willing to listen how they were experimenting with the shaving cream and what made their work interesting. The words the children used were centered on the sensorial properties of the material and the physical potential of the material to act in the way they envisioned.
Sensory play is beneficial for the children. During this play session I observed the children thinking deeply about the sensorial experience. The amount of conversation was heightened and the experience seemed different when compared to using other materials. I noticed other benefits as the shaving cream offered a wonderful physical outlet for the children who like and want to move more often.
Another thought came to mind as I watched the children continue to play. The sophistication or expense of a material is not what makes a material great. It is the possibilities the material offers children to explore, expand, and create. Materials like shaving cream and loose parts offer children opportunities to engage in an open-ended environment of discovery. There are no rules or limitations to shaving cream and the possibilities are endless.
The play went on for the remainder of the day. The children had a wonderful time. When it was almost time to go home we started to clean up. The tables, on top and bottom, and the floor were covered with shaving cream. The children’s clothes, arms and legs were covered as well. The benefits of shaving cream outweigh the mess of shaving cream. Most of the children in the program investigated the material at some point during the afternoon. As an observer what I found most important was that the children connected with each other, had tons of fun, and constructed new ideas about materials and the possibilities they offer.
What materials in your program are not utilized often because of the mess they create? Do these materials offer children immense possibilities for learning and connection? How can we rethink the potential of materials and how we can incorporate them into our work with children?