My Quick and Simple Towel Technique for Kitchen Sink Sensory Play
Does your child love playing in the sink and you hate the mess? Does water always seem to pool within your under-sink cupboard? Why not add a simple towel? Here's how I've gained peace of mind with sink play.
Often times lately Zoey’s sensory play time ends up with her playing at the kitchen sink while she cleans her tools. At first I used to stress over the water itself as I found it sometimes spilled over the front of the counter and would dribble inside the cupboard doors under the sink. I hated having to clean up under the sink and cleaning her tools for her rather than letting her do it herself made it much easier on me. I can’t remember when it happened but at some point I suddenly had an idea to use a towel and, maybe then or a couple times later, realized I should drape that towel over the cupboard doors. This was life changing! Zoey has since spent hours of time cleaning out her sensory toys with no added stress on my part. It’s such a simple idea but I realized, this last time, that I needed to share it with you in case you’re also troubled by water falling under your sink too.
Although we normally don’t start out doing sensory play fun at the kitchen sink I find that it can easily end at the sink if I want the kid(s) to wash their tools themselves. When they were younger, and sometimes even now, I changed out their sensory bin for soapy water so they can continue to play at the table and I know that the cleaning has started. Sometimes, though, the sink is needed and I started loathing it as I found water would dribble off the front of the counter, trickle down behind the cupboard doors, and then pool within the cupboard itself. I hated cleaning it up each time and so found it simpler, on me, to finish cleaning the sensory play items myself. As such, when I came up with this simple idea and found that it truly worked I was ecstatic. Looking back I can’t remember if the whole idea came to me at once or if it came in parts but for such a simple idea it sure makes my life so much easier.
For this you just need a bath towel… which you may already plan to use to sop up any excess water anyway. I simply grab this towel, which is the exact same width as my under sink cupboard, and fold it in half so the short ends meet. This doesn’t need to be exactly halfway so don’t worry. After opening both cupboard doors I then lay the towel over the one door and stretch the other end out to drape over the opposite one. This won’t go too far on either end yet as there’s still a gap between the two open doors. I then slowly close both doors, at the same time, while pulling the towel towards either of the outer edges. As the cupboard doors close the gap between them gets smaller and the towel reaches closer to either end. Once the doors are closed the top is now fully covered with a towel that hangs down on both the inside of the cupboard and the outside. Now when any water drips or drizzles down it’s absorbed by the towel rather than tumbling directly into the cupboard and making a mess.
I haven’t done this with a differently sized towel yet. That said, if I were using a smaller towel I could see centering it where most of the water appears or folding it in half lengthwise to cover a wider area. If I were using a larger towel I could see it bunching up and would fear water going into any of the gaps left if the cupboard doors do not close all the way. In that case I’d try to move the bunched up areas closer to the center so there’s less openings along the top.
I thought to record this trick for you a couple weeks ago when Zoey was doing sensory play. This was a couple days after doing the baking soda and vinegar dinosaur volcano activity and while Ada was doing school I was trying to figure out what sensory bin activity Zoey wanted to do from our cupboard. We were both getting so frustrated as Zoey kept telling me she wanted to do science yet refused each and every item I pointed to in the cupboard. I had no idea what science meant in this context and Zoey wouldn’t use any other words. Finally, after asking for different words so many times, she changed what she was saying to volcano without the dinosaurs and it dawned on me that science actually meant baking soda and vinegar explosions. At first I was going to give her two separate small measuring jugs of vinegar so she could mix yellow and red vinegar together to make orange but she next insisted she only wanted orange. She was so happy the whole time and kept using the word science whenever the baking soda and vinegar fizzled up. Repeatedly she exclaimed things like: Wow! Mom look how much science I did. Wow! I did a lot of science! It was so adorable.
Using the Trick
Anyway, while Zoey was playing with her orange vinegar and baking soda explosions, also called science, I knew she’d need the sink to clean out the tools so I quickly cleared it out from breakfast before going to my other tasks. With the towel trick available I was no longer scared of the resulting mess and this way Zoey could achieve more independence. Plus, inevitably, when the cleaning becomes just another form play it will extend the sensory play time which would be great for both of us.
Once Zoey was done doing science I had her put all of her used items into the sensory bin with the leftover orange vinegar solution. I carried the filled bin over to the sink for her while she ran to grab a towel. I then folded the towel in half and placed it over the doors under the sink, as shown above, to protect the cupboard.
Once we had the towel draped over the cupboard doors Zoey pulled up a chair, turned on the water, and started cleaning. Normally, before she starts, I’d put the plug in the sink so there’s a natural water limit, the sink’s volume, forcing her to limit her water use and stop when it gets too high. I also sometimes add dish soap to the empty sink so as she runs water the bubbles show up making it more fun to play with and help her to get her tools cleaner. This time around; however, with the bin in the sink I left the plug out and didn’t add any dish soap.
I normally lay out my drying pad or a kitchen towel so she can set any cleaned items down to dry. Once she’s all done I move all of our eating-related items (like the spoons, measuring jugs, and plastic bowl) to the right side of the sink so I can give them a final cleaning, or load them, after supper. All of their sensory tools are then left out to dry and are later returned to the sensory cupboard.
Once everything is done I open up the dry cupboard, pull the towel off, and immediately dry off the counter above the cupboard and the doors themselves. Now that I know the cupboard will stay dry I pass the towel to Zoey so she can clean up the rest of the wet counter, the chair, and the floor itself. Hopefully in that order. This way she has a part in all of the cleaning yet I don’t have to worry about a wet cupboard.
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