it's something that happens naturally. it should. a child should have a few playthings, though not so many that they can't decide what to play with first. we could open a shop of plastic shite, 1% of which gets played with, the rest of which spends its time in boxes around the house.
helicopter parenting seems to have reached an all-time high, when i look at "helpful" blogs about how to stimulate your children's senses, and how to get them playing with certain things.
the last time i saw such concentrated effort with the sensory integration was when i worked in a special-needs school. the kids there spent all their time in wheel-chairs, so for them to dip their hand into a bucket of sand, water, lentils or whatever was a new experience. it was a really valuable area of learning for them, as they were not physically able to experience the world as freely as an able-bodied child.
but sensory tables for children seems a bit too far. what happened to them rooting in a cupboard, upturning a bag of pasta and messing about with it for a while? now we have a designated plastic table, with indents full of different substances to stimulate touch, taste and smell. but these items are all out of context. how is a baby to know where a sea shell comes from? don't buy a bag of them and turn them out into a basin for your child - bring them to the beach. want them to play with water? give them the hose in the garden, put them in the bath or the sink, better yet get them to a stream or the sea. want them to play with lentils? get them to help cook dinner.
it just seems that this is another modern invention to "educate" children, which involves spending money on plastic things, and removes children from the natural environment.
let them loose in the garden, the park, the woods, the gravel driveway. let them eat dirt, get dirty, get filthy, then washed clean. forget the prissy easel in the sitting room, give them a sheet of wallpaper on the kitchen floor. kids work at floor height; babies need stuff down low. get on the ground with them. stop strapping them into high-chairs for dinner, have a picnic on the floor. they will spend most of their lives on chairs or at tables as adults, for now let them crawl, come and go, and learn how to eat, get messy and make a mess. that's their job, that's how they learn. relax about your upholstery and your walls. all too soon you'll have the house to yourself and be missing the mess.
you have no time, you hate the mess, they'll ruin their clothes / the house etc. all the excuses.
buy them clothes they are not worried about keeping clean, don't make a fuss if they rip or ruin an item, don't talk about the "state of their hands" etc, it'll all instill a reluctance to really participate in the real world. instead, talk about how much fun they must have had, to get that filthy. let them learn how to remove their clothes, how to wash and dry themselves and get into clean, dry clothes. they are all important life-skills they need to learn, and you need to let them learn. without impatience, without judgement, just as part of everyday life. make the time. make a mess possible; let them play.