2 minute read • November 7, 2023

Play-Doh Burgers: Making Magic through Environmental Enrichment

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By Helen Im, BCBA

One of my fondest summers began with my dear grandmother visiting from the countryside of Korea; she was out of her element here in the hot suburbs of melting pot America, but immediately began enriching the air and ground that we shared with her home traditions. It began with the quiet hours spent foraging in fields by the road; the dew-filled mornings were interrupted with the sharp smell of wild chives and onions and dirt-stained fingernails digging through the cold soil. The bubbly squish-squish of a mountain of soapy blankets under my toes gave me happy feet. The cooked beans that I got to mash between my small hands oozed between the spaces of my fingers. These are the things that I remember: my senses being awakened in ways I may not have experienced had I not been given the opportunity to do so. This is the magic of environmental enrichment. It turns the ordinary into sensory experiences that promote learning and enhance social and motor experiences. Enrichment brings creativity to life and adds meaning to the mundane. So, what are different enrichment activities that you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine? Well, for starters…

  • Offer opportunities for outdoor adventures and nature exploration. Outdoor play and the connection with nature is a healing experience. There are experiences in nature that we can only find in nature; take advantage of what the Earth has created for you. The dirt on the ground that stains your clothes, the textured leaves and petals of flowers, the dewy grass that tickles your bare toes; there is no limitation to nature.
  • Integrate common house items to create art activities. The kitchen pantry may be a great place to start! Make oobleck with cornstarch and water, use salt, glue, and paint to create fun crystal watercolor pictures, use cookie cutters as pattern tracers, etc. Use the kitchen spatula to flip play-doh burgers and cotton balls to toss “snow” into the air. Household items, when re-imagined, can be magic.
  • Introduce different music modalities with fun, tactile and auditory experiences. Bring out the hand drums and homemade, plastic-egg-and-uncooked-rice maracas, it’s time to make music! Music time doesn’t just have to include making music; there are opportunities to dance and engage in musical storytelling (example: using background music to create ambiance and emotional resonance), all of which creates a captivating experience for children.
  • Keep time for mindfulness and relaxation. Novel experiences can be fun but can also be overwhelming for some. Leave some time for mindfulness and relaxation by having a designated calming corner. This gives time for children who are overstimulated to unwind and relax after a long days’ worth of a child’s job.

…And the list goes on and on.

One of the most difficult things about environmental enrichment is the element of creativity. Many times, I’ve heard people tell me that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. I’ll be honest; creativity isn’t something that comes right away for some people. What I can do, though, through the pixels of the internet world, is to encourage you to step out of the ordinary. Once you begin to see and experience the world in a different lens, you can provide your child with endless opportunities to learn and grow.

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