Last week we started exploring community helpers in my two- and three-year-old classroom. I was prepared to talk about several different “heroes,” but the children were so excited about firefighters that we never even moved on from that theme! For our sensory table, I wanted to come up with a hands-on activity that would spark lots of pretend play and that would allow us to reinforce all of our new firefighter vocabulary and concepts. After a peek into our supply closet, I had it- and firefighter sensory play was born!
Community Helpers: Firefighter Sensory Play
Although we did this activity multiple times last week, I managed not to snap a single photo. Even with small class sizes, children in this age group keep you on your toes! However, my own children (twins, almost 4) were chomping at the bit to do this activity and happily allowed me to snap a few photos of the process. Wanna see how we did it? Follow along!
First, locate some sort of structure (here’s a good use for plastic dollhouses if you want to reuse them) to act as your burning building. This dollhouse belongs to our co-op, but I couldn’t find it last week so I actually used a Fisher Price red barn. Place your building inside a plastic tub or sensory table to catch all of the water and “fire.”
Next, hand your little darlings some shaving cream. My students all enjoyed trying to squirt independently, but the majority needed my help to seal the deal. Being a few months older, the twins were able to squirt the shaving cream out by themselves with a little trial and error.
After your children/students have squirted shaving cream all over your (pretend) house, you can leave it as is and move on to the color, or you can grab a spatula and make peaks in the shaving cream to make it look like flames (photo above is post-spatula). I skipped this step in the classroom but the twins enjoyed helping with it at home.
And now for the exciting part- adding color! We squirted a combination of orange liquid watercolors and red food coloring all over our shaving cream to make it look like flames. Cool, huh? In the classroom, this part was super motivating to the littles. Depending on what I had on hand that day, I let them choose from typical “fire” colors (red, orange, yellow) and squeeze it on themselves.
And now for the role play- after you’ve created your burning building, call the fire department! I gave the kiddos squeeze bottles filled with water so they could pretend to be firefighters and put out the flames. *Tip- If you are targeting requesting behavior with groups of children, don’t fill your squeeze bottles all the way up with water. At school, we would only put a few inches of water in ours and then have our younger class verbally ask for more water before replenishing the bottles from a large pitcher we kept in the room. Also, small spray bottles would work wonderfully for this activity if your children are able to use them- the squeeze bottles tend to run out pretty quickly!
One last shot of my own personal firefighter brigade working hard to extinguish the flames. When play was over, I just hosed it all off in the back yard and we were off to our next adventure!
There was a reason we repeated this activity so many times in my classroom last week- it was a hit and chock full of opportunities to practice developmental skills in many areas. On a purely sensory level, the children enjoyed all parts of the set up and play- squirting the shaving cream, dropping on the colors, and playing in the colorful “fire” with their hands. I do have a couple who aren’t as excited about diving into messy play with abandon- the squeeze bottles allowed them to participate in the play without having to touch the shaving cream, and were great for fine motor practice to boot. I saw lots of role play happening during this activity, which is wonderful for cognition and language development. And of course, lots of great social interaction happens at the sensory table each and every time we bring it out- the children are constantly negotiating for space at the table and turns with their favorite sensory items/tools, as well as requesting and commenting to share their experiences with each other and the adults in the room. The only part of our day that rivals the touch table for learning opportunities is snack time- but that’s another post 😉