The inspiration for this sensory art experience came from the teachers’ observations at snack time. In EY1 some of the children bring a prepared snack from home and some of the children have a snack that their parents have selected and that the school provides. Snack time in EY1 brings with it great excitement as the children rush to find out what they have for snack that day. The teachers, in consultation with the EY1 children, have tried to create an experience that is similar to a ‘home environment’ and the children sit at a table alongside their friends and a teacher whilst eating.
Eating is often a very sensory experience for children as they first explore by touching the food with their hands and fingers before finally placing it in their mouths. Children learn to enjoy new foods first by playing with them. When they squash, pat, smear or make designs with an unfamiliar food, they experience the sensory qualities of that food. What does it smell like? What does it feel like in their hands? What colour is it? Is it wet or dry? Then, when comfortable, they begin to explore the food with their mouths as they start to eat small amounts.
In order to acknowledge this need to explore food and to present the children with an opportunity to experience a variety of foods in a comfortable and supported environment the teachers created a ‘dinner table’ and brought in food which might be found in kitchen cupboards or fridges at home. A piece of paper was set up on the long table in the Atelier and plates of food containing avocado, asparagus, yoghurt and spices such as paprika were placed on it. Paper was also rolled out on the floor so that if the children wanted to get down and be physically involved with the food, using their feet or bodies to explore, then they could.
The children were given very little direction during this experience, instead they were simply invited to explore the food. At first they hesitantly approached the food, before turning and asking if it was ok to put it in their mouths and eat it. Some time was spent trying the different types of food on each plate but then the experience began to move in a different direction as the children started to notice that if they rubbed it on their leg or on the paper then it made a mark.
The children began to comment on the different textures and colours as they squashed the foods between their fingers or toes. The experience then progressed to the children creating designs with the food as Olivia picked up a piece of asparagus and began to use it like a paintbrush, dipping it in the yoghurt and then sweeping it across the paper. Ruari began to create patterns with the different foods, placing them on top of each other before announcing that he had created a new salad for the teachers to enjoy.
The teachers found it fascinating to watch as the children approached this experience with such enthusiasm. Food, which would be turned down at snack time and declared as ‘yucky’ would be explored at length with elbows, fingers and feet. As we shared our observations with parents they too expressed their surprise that their children had enjoyed experimenting with the different foods. We know that when children feel safe and comfortable they are more willing to take a risk and participate in new experiences. When food play is separate from the child’s meal, children know that they are not expected to taste or eat the food. This gives them the confidence and willingness to experience the food in different ways.