Experiencing different textures and mediums helps toddlers and infants build their comfort and confidence when moving in different environments, notes the National Association for Early Childhood Education. Incorporating seasonally themed sensory activities, such as snow, allows tots to have fun, while adapting to these different sensations. While packing peanuts and cotton balls might be great snow substitutes for preschoolers, such items are serious choking hazards to infants and toddlers. Finding safe, non-toxic snow substitutes requires a little flexibility in your definition of "snow-themed."
The Real Stuff
Provided your kids have appropriate mittens, hats and coats, heading outdoors to play in the snow is one of the most natural sensory activities available. Dress them in flexible mittens or gloves so their hands have enough freedom to gather, roll and build the snow. If the snow is wet and sticky enough, let them use beach toys to practice shoveling, patting and molding. Pulling a sled through the snow with your little ones bundled inside introduces them to the smooth, gliding movement of riding on flattened snow.
A few inches of white sugar spread in a broad, flat container instantly becomes a snowy landscape when you add a toy sled and small doll that's large enough not to be a choking hazard. Show your tots how to "make it snow" by grabbing and releasing a small handful of sugar. They'll experience the unique sensations of gathering, holding and passing the grains through their fingers. Supervise closely to ensure they don't put handfuls in their mouths. For easier clean-up, lay a tarp or plastic trash bag under the container before your little ones begin their sensory exploration. Use salt for a less sweet alternative.
White Flour Powder
White flour is soft and delicate; it also creates an exciting cloud puff when little hands pound the surface. A few cups of white flour in a clean, slanted painting tray, along with a horizontally-cut toilet paper tube as a sled, lets your children explore the movement of the flour down the "ski slope." Although the concept of winter recreation will probably be lost on your infant, she can still enjoy pushing the open tube through the dense, powdery flour. You can also show your toddler how to "comb" the slope by raking her fingers through the flour.
Quilt Stuffing Wonderland
Strips or sheets of cotton quilt stuffing, the coarse white insulating layer found inside comforters, can transform any play area into a winter wonderland. The filling fibers must be dense enough so your children can't easily grab a mouthful from the sheet. A single or double layer of these filling sheets on the floor lets your kids experience rolling themselves, and maneuvering their toys over this soft, fibrous material. Encourage them to press down on the "snow" with their hands to feel how the material immediately springs back.
- Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images