I am a huge fan of hands on sensory play. It can help children to build tolerance to different textures, brings in lots of new language and encourages children to extend their play skills. My son, J (aged 4) is not a fan of messy and sticky textures. We’ve spent the last couple of years building up his tolerance starting from dry materials (pasta, rice, split peas), then dry manipulative materials (playdough, salt dough, squashy toys) and now building up wet textures with some stickiness. Zimpli Kids very kindly gifted us various Gelli Baff, Gelli Play and Gelli Slimes to try out and review.
I thought I’d share what we got up to…
First things first: how easy is it to make the Gelli Baff?
For some reason I thought it was going to be a pain to set up. I imagined having to mix stuff together like a science experiment. However, the hard work is done for you. You simply pour in the first ‘mix’ and then add water (there’s easy to follow instructions in the box). You then mix by hand until its at the right consistency. This can take some time so be patient. There’s something quite therapeutic about the feeling of it firming up. This is same with the Gelli Play and Gelli Slime.
Secondly: how easy it is to dispose of?
Again, I thought I would be left with loads of mess to have to try and clean…and a blocked sink. However, yet again its simple. With the Gelli Baff you add a second sachet of mix and stir it all in. The Gelli-Baff goes back to water and then drains away down the bath (or you can pour down the toilet). Always read the instructions to make sure you are disposing correctly as different products have slightly different instructions.
Here’s some of the activities we got up to:
- Dinosaur Swamp
I set up the dinosaurs and some plastic trees in the green Gelli Baff. I used our old baby bath as I knew that J would never sit in a bath full of this stuff (although I could imagine it would be fun for a child without sensory challenges). This meant I could set it up in the kitchen where I have a floor that can be moped afterwards. I also set up a bowl of water next to the swamp. This is so that J could wash his hands if he was getting upset or anxious over having Gelli Baff touching him.
J had fun pushing the dinosaurs so they sunk down into the ‘swamp’. At first he made sure he’s fingers didn’t touch any, but after a while he would accidently touch it which did lead to him gradually being more tolerant. He didn’t put his hands actually in the Gelli-Baff but its still a win as he was having fun moving the dinosaurs around.
You could also use wild animals and make a jungle theme, farm animals and make it a farm yard/field or aliens and have a swampy green planet. Plastic small world toys are great to use as you can just rinse them off at the end.
2. Under the Sea
This is another example of using Gelli Baff with plastic small world toys. These are toys from the bathroom so didn’t need to buy anything new. We just use items we have around the house. This time J was a bit more confident touching the Gelli Baff. He actually put his fingers in to retrieve the sea animals. We made the creatures swim around, hide in the cave and J was lining them up around the baby bath. We also sang ‘sea songs’ such as ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’.
If your child isn’t sure about the texture, the best thing to do is follow their lead. Don’t ever force a child’s hand in, as this can cause more anxiety and the child can be less likely to want to join in again. I put my hands in and let J see how much fun I’m having. I hold my hands out so he can touch/stroke if he wants to. I also make sure that there’s ways he can play without feeling like he has to touch the stuff. Having some toys buried underneath and others on the top means he can choose how he’s comfortable to interact.
3. I-Spy letter challenge
We moved onto slime to try and bring in another texture. The first time I made it I went a bit wrong (I didn’t read the instructions properly). But it ended up being a positive as it was less ‘sticky’ and J actually used his fingers to move the slime to get to the letters I had hidden. I used Junior Scrabble tiles (because they are wipeable) to hide in the slime. J would pick them out and tell me which phonic he had found. We use phonics rather than capitals wherever possible as its not often we write/read all in capitals so it’s important children recognise the phonic and its sound. J had fun putting the letters back on and making words that I then had to read to him.
I added a paintbrush and I began to ‘write’ the letters in the mixture. J had a go and was copying ‘s’ and ‘o’ shapes as well as having fun making long lines and pushing the slime off the tray (thankfully I have put it inside a bigger tray to catch the bits that fell off). Children often learn best when they are active so using sensory play for phonics is a fab activity.
4. Star Wars – Visiting ‘Hoth’
My son is a HUGE Star Wars fan. J is autistic and so he will often get strong fascination/obsessions. Star Wars has been a huge part of his life for almost 2 years now. So, if I want to get him interested in an activity using Star Wars is always a good motivator. We used the Gelli Snow to recreate the snowy planet of Hoth.
The Gelli Snow was AMAZING, and easily my favourite. I used very cold water to make it feel more ‘snowy’. You can actually manipulate it into snow balls so you can have a snow ball fight any time of the year. The texture is also very snow/ice like so was very enticing.
We used J’s Lego Star Wars characters and wipeable vehicles, and had a Star Wars book to talk about before we played. It gave us ideas of what we could do with the characters. Firstly J moved them around and had fun positioning them into different scenes. Then I starting making snowballs and was throwing them to knock the characters over. J gave me some of his characters (I had the ‘light’ and he had the ‘dark’ side) and we had a battle. J wanted me to scoop up and make the snow balls and then he would take it from my hand (in his palm) and threw it to ‘get’ my people. I would then throw some back. We ended up playing this for quite a while and J was getting less and less anxious with the texture and more confident to handle the ‘snow’.
5. Slime Play
We gave the slime another go-this time following the instructions. This Gelli product is the harder one to set up (in my experience). It seemed to take a long time to get to a slimey texture. However, it was fun to play in. As J is maybe not quite ready for slime, I got my niece to be our ‘tester’ and role model for J. She loved getting her hands stuck in. It’s really soft and just slides over your hands. It’s very therapeutic so would be good for a calming activity. You wouldn’t need any resources in it, just have fun exploring.
The slime we used was the ‘Unicorn Slime Play’. It came with two plastic unicorns. When J saw the tray he put his hand straight in. I was shocked…so was he. He pulled it out and immediately wiped it off and looked stressed. He had thought it was coloured water. After he had relaxed a bit he used the unicorn to move around in the slime. However, it was a bit too messy for J and he left very soon after and had some sensory ‘down time’. My niece stayed and played for age.
7. ‘Baking’ with Gelli
I set one of our trays up with things I found in our kitchen. I then pretend it was a café and I was making food such as ice cream, soup and cake. J liked using the tools as it meant he didn’t have to touch anything. He spent quite a while scooping, mixing and pouring into the containers. We used the cookie cutters to try and shape the Gelli. It did actually hold its shape for a bit which made J laugh.
You can extend this by using measuring jugs, scales etc to bring in maths skills of measurement and numbers. Have some notepads nearby to make menus or write ‘food orders’. Again, using sensory play such as Gelli products can encourage children to bring in other learning opportunities and skills.
8. We’re Going on A Bear Hunt
I like to ‘recycle and reuse’. It saves both money and the environment. So, each time we were finished with any of the above I would scoop some into a container and store in the fridge. I then used these all together to make a fun activity outside in a larger tray.
We used the book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ as our inspiration. I used the green for grass, blue for water, purple (with some mud) for the mud, white for the snow and then added herbs from the garden to be the forest. We read the book together and then reenacted it using our counting bears. It was lots of fun and great way to use literacy and bring in communication/speech skills. Afterwards, J had fun arranging the bears around the tray and just explored freely.
Later, J went and got his small world superheroes and villains and they had a play in the Gelli tray. It just shows that you can add anything to these trays and make it fun. It’s great to let children take the lead. They can use trial and error to see what works in the trays and what doesn’t. When children have that sense of ownership over an activity it really helps build their self esteem and belief in themselves.
There’s so much you can do with the Gelli products. I look forward to exploring more ideas with J. I’m hoping we can build up to the slime again as this would be an amazing texture for him to access. Have you used Gelli Baff or Gelli Slime? I’d love to know your ideas for play.
Disclaimer: This post is a review of Zimpli Kids Gelli products. I received the items free of charge to allow me to create an honest review based on our experiences. I have not been paid for this collaboration.