Jello Sensory Activity for Toddlers
Jello Sensory Activity for Toddlers
I thought this was going to be a great idea. What toddler could resist the jiggle of jello?! I had seen this Jello sensory activity for toddlers on Pinterest earlier in the summer. Then I had searched high and low for small plastic animals to use and had finally found some! I didn’t expect this is how it would turn out!
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What is Jello sensory play?
The idea for this activity is for toddlers to use all their senses in playing and learning. They use their fine motor skills to dig and pull out the items stuck in the jello. They feel the coldness, the slipperiness, and the jiggling of the jello, they subconsciously compare that to the hardness of the objects inside. Using all 5 senses here they even smell and hear the Jello (trust me there is a noise when you finally capture the animal out of the Jello lol). And of course, there is the taste. I honestly thought that would be Boogie’s favorite part of the whole activity! Turns out it was Daddy’s favorite part lol! It’s a search and find activity that doesn’t take very much prep work, is mostly edible (though if you plan it right, could be fully edible), and can be combined with learning vocabulary, habitats, and more.
How do you prepare for the Jello search experience?
- Find some smaller sized plastic toys. Animals are great for this as you can combine them with many books and other activities. Just be careful about them not being too small and a choking hazard. Know your toddler and always supervise. You can use the bigger plastic animals, but you won’t be able to use as many or you’ll have to double the recipe and find a bigger container. You could also find edible foods to use instead. Wooden toys might be ok, but be careful of leaving them in too long and that they don’t have a coating that is unsafe for toddlers.
- Wash the toys with food safe soap and set aside to dry.
- Mix your Jello. I decided to make mine with less water to try a thicker consistency like you would use with cookie cutters. In the end I think that was too difficult for my 17 month old and I should have tried either normal consistency or even more water to make it easier to get through. It was extra jiggly though!
- Put your toys inside the container. Preferably something wider and longer rather than deeper, but use what you have! I did try arranging them inside at first, but they float so that didn’t work. I could maybe find something to stick them down inside, but I’m not sure what I could find that a toddler could still pick up and that would be food safe.
- Pour in your Jello Mixture.
- Put in fridge to harden. You will need about 4 hours so my advice is to make it earlier in the week so it’s done, or make it first thing in the morning.
When is the best time and age to do a Jello sensory experience?
This is going to be very personal to your schedule and child, but here are some things to consider when timing it.
- This is a messy activity, so I would advise doing it right before a bath or right before you go outside to do water play.
- You could do it right after you read a book about the types of objects you used.
- Feed them a healthy snack or meal first so they don’t fill up on Jello.
- Make sure your child has a decent pincher grasp and doesn’t stick everything in their mouths still. I recommend around 14 months, but with diligent supervision can be earlier.
The benefits of a Jello search activity:
Are you wondering why on earth someone would choose to encase toys in sticky Jello for a toddler to play with? You wouldn’t be the first lol! The truth is we often as parents need to give our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers access to sensory experiences we ourselves try to avoid. I mean most adults I know don’t look at Jello and think “Let’s rummage through it and get it all through our fingers!” No, we use a spoon and avoid the stickiness that comes from the sugar gelatinous mess.
The problem is when we avoid these sensory experiences, we inadvertently deny our children the opportunity to explore their world and learn through play what that experience is like. Children, young children especially need to get dirty and experiment with our different substances react to poking, squishing, and yes, even throwing and dropping. These are little scientists in action.
It also helps prevent phobias of textures and other sensory experiences. How many adults have you met can’t stand to hear a sound or touch a certain texture? I know many, most of them grew up never being allowed to get dirty. This is helping desensitize them to the textures and sounds.
One benefit that is often overlooked in these activities is how it helps build spacial awareness. Being able to find the animal is only one part of the equation. Being able to guide your hand to it and correctly place it is another. It’s often overlooked because it seems so natural and automatic to us, but young children are still developing these skills. There are some children that develop more slowly than others in this area and they could really benefit from this exercise.
With Jello, like in water, perception is also a bit skewed. The perceived depth and even placement isn’t exactly as it appears. Not much, but enough that it adds to the challenge and helps their brains make that connection. Every experience you offer your child to see things in a different way helps their brain store that information and creates connections that are useful in their development. We have made these observations and so it comes naturally, but to our toddlers, it’s all new.
Fine Motor Skill Development
Another benefit to playing in Jello is to help build and improve their fine motor skills. They have to not only dig through the Jello, poking, scooping, and squishing, but then they have to pinch or grab the toy and guide it back out through the Jello. All while the toy is now more slippery than normal! It’s a hand workout!
Extension activities to further learning:
Finally, you can connect, math, social studies/ history, science, literature, language, and art into this activity. No, it’s not going to be as in depth or at a level that you’d normally associate with those subjects, but it nothing at this age is.
- Count the toys before pulling them out, while you pull them out, and after.
- You could put multiples of the same animals in and do addition and subtraction. “We have 2 sheep and 2 pigs, let’s count how many total we have!”, “We had 8 animals and you’ve pulled out 2, how many do we have left?”
Social Studies/ History:
- If you’re using farm animals, you could talk about why people raise farm animals and take a trip to a farm.
- If you’re using dinosaurs you could talk about the history of dinosaurs.
- This whole experience is science. Unbeknownst to you and your child, they are observing, hypothesizing, experimenting, and making conclusions.
- In addition you could use this activity to talk about fossils, animal classifications, or even habitats.
- Choose a theme of the toys you’re going to be using and then find books around that theme. Read the books before and after and talk to your child about the connections.
- If you are doing this with a verbal child, have them make up a story about the types of animals you used.
- For younger children this helps build vocabulary. As you pull each animal out you name it and, if possible, make the animal sound. Even better if you can show other pictures of the same animal, and of course visit them in real life.
- You can extend this by learning another language with your child and using both languages.
- Point out the colors of the toys that you see.
- While it may seem ridiculous for a toddler to do art based on this theme, it’s more about creating habits and giving your child the opportunity. Once finished and cleaned up you could help your child match the colors of the crayons with the toys and ask them to draw it. Most likely you’ll just get a bunch of random lines. That’s perfect, that’s the first stage of art!
- You could also do crafts with your child around the theme you’ve chosen. So If you used farm animals you could make puppets or a picture of a pig with circles (which goes back to language and math!)
Boogie’s review of this jiggly sensory activity.
Here’s the video about our experience including how I made it!
Boogie was about 16 or 17 months when we did this activity. He was really unsure what to make of it at first. Like, really unsure. He thought it was more funny to touch the top, but didn’t seem to realize you could dig in. It could be because I had decreased the water so it was more solid than soft. Not sure exactly. He seemed to enjoy scooping at it with a spoon more than digging in it, but overall we had some laughs and had fun. And dad got to eat Jello lol!
Would we do it again? Yes! And this time I don’t think I’d use red Jello with farm animals. I didn’t think that one through so much. My first thought was it looked like a massacre! Luckily Boogie had no frame of reference to think blood and death with animals soaking in red Jello lol! I also would add more water so that it was easier to dig through and I would add the extension activities above. Maybe even do blue Jello with an ocean theme…
Have you done this activity? Tell me about it in the comments! Have another favorite sensory activity for toddlers or preschoolers? Tell me about that!
In the meantime, here are a few more jello activities for your toddler or preschooler!