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Sensory-based play for your toddler is now available on the North Fork. (Photo courtesy of Little Moments Little Fam)

It’s never too early to learn!

Little Moments Little Fam is an immersive pop-up series combining art, play, and sensory discovery to spark curiosity and cultivate an early love of learning in toddlers. 

Owner and sensory play expert Amelia Little founded Little Moments Little Fam to celebrate the joy of discovery through sensory play. So far, Little Moments Little Fam has hosted pop-up playgroups, birthday parties and home sessions.

But she wasn’t always an expert. Little was on maternity leave when she first encountered sensory-based playtime. 

“I was sitting at home [with] this little baby and it was snowing. We had just moved back to New York and didn’t really know anyone,” explains Little.

Her mother, a former early childhood educator, would come over daily with old lesson plans, several of which included sensory-based playtime activities. The two encouraged him to explore the world through his senses and witness the enjoyment and rapid educational development of the baby. Little was then inspired to further research sensory and nature-based learning and its benefits. 

“I realized I want [my kids] to have a love for learning,” says Little. “It’s super important to me and I think you can do that through play rather than being roped down into a curriculum. They are still learning colors or basic science and math, but we use activities like making potions [mixing baking soda, vinegar and glitter/confetti]. They don’t realize they’re learning in that space.” 

Sensory play is not a new concept — researcher Jean Piaget developed his theory of cognitive development in children based on sensory activity in the 1930s. However, this holistic approach to childhood development gained popularity in the past decade and numerous early childhood programs developed to emphasize the importance of the five senses: touch, hearing, taste, sight and smell. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, research finds that this approach of hands-on learning creates crucial neurological pathways in a child’s brain during the early stages of life and has been linked to enhancing essential functions like motor skills and critical thinking.

Little shared her colorful homemade sensory table kits on her Instagram page, Little Moments Little Fam. She began to develop a following of Long Island parents who wanted to provide fun educational experiences for their toddlers. In August 2023, she decided to expand beyond her Manorville home, announcing her plan to host several sensory-based playtime classes across Long Island, as well as options for private events. 

“[The] community was so welcoming — it’s been a beautiful thing to meet these parents and see their children have fun,” says Little.

One of the original sites for her outdoor playtime classes was at Horton’s Flower Farm in Riverhead, where Little noted the high demand from moms for more North Fork-based classes. She rapidly forged partnerships with local businesses to use their spaces for additional sensory play sessions.

Currently, Little Moments Little Fam hosts three classes on the North Fork throughout the month. She made connections with Stroller Strong Mamas (a mommy-and-me fitness class hosted by Rachel Goodale in Mattituck), the George D. Costello Sr. Roller Rink in Greenport and Cutchogue Presbyterian Church, all of whom have invited her to host multiple indoor classes. 

Each class lasts approximately 45 minutes, strategically scheduled in the late morning before lunch and naptime. The sessions adhere to a simple structure, beginning with a Play-Doh segment, where Little shows kids how to cut, mold and roll out the colorful clay to get them used to tactile play.

Gradually, Little introduces additional stations, including sensory tables with colorful dyed rice or kinetic sand for the kids to explore by digging. Occasionally, she incorporates a nature-based craft before unveiling water/ice/fizzy tables, allowing the children to engage in some messy fun. 

“Once the water tables are open, that’s all they want to do,” says Little. “Once that is over we do a story time and always end with a song.” 

The themes for parent-and-me classes change from month to month. Throughout January, Little’s classes featured arctic anima.s and winter wonderland themes. She froze plastic penguins in muffin tins and encouraged the children to use different tools, like plastic hammers and chisels, to free the toy. As February approaches, Little has planned plenty of Valentine’s Day-themed classes, as well as St. Patrick’s Day in March. 

Little Moments Little Fam will begin to host summer programs where, for the first time, Little will provide a three-hour drop-off program for children between the ages of 3 and 5. These weekly classes, hosted at the Cutchogue Presbyterian Church (27245 Main Road, Cutchogue), begin July 1 through Aug. 9 and will, of course, emphasize play and touch-based learning. Classes are $400 a week registration is open now.

“I will still be hosting my parent-and-me classes for the younger ones,” says Little, “along with weekend birthday parties.” 

Parent-and-me sensory-play classes are available across Long Island several times a week and are $30 per child, with discounter class packs also available. Check the Little Moments Little Fam website for a full calendar.