At-Home Sensory-Based Play Activities with Julie Friedman

At-Home Sensory-Based Play Activities with Julie Friedman

Mompreneur Julie Friedman joins us this episode to discuss her journey to bringing sensory-based play into her home. Julie is the owner and founder of Young, Wild & Friedman, a Houston-based company that ships sensory play kits worldwide. She shares her inspiration for starting her business and gives a first-hand account of how sensory-based play has positively impacted her daughter’s development. She shares similar stories from other families. We also discuss simple steps parents can take to bring sensory-based play into their own homes.

About Julie Friedman

Julie is a mother of four. Her oldest child was diagnosed with a speech disorder coupled with anxiety. In 2017, she started Young, Wild & Friedman to help other parents integrate sensory play into their own children's lives and takes pleasure in knowing that each kit plays a small role in a child's development.

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Stephanie (00:06):

Hello, and welcome to Unbabbled a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays, and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel, and we're certified speech-language pathologists who spend our days at the parish school in Houston, helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. In this episode, we sit down with entrepreneur, Julie Friedman of young, wild, and Friedman. She discusses her journey to bring sensory-based playing to her home for inspiration for starting her Sensory Kit company and how incorporating sensory-based play has positively impacted her children's development. Throughout the episode, Julie shares stories from other families who have had similar experiences and provides tips and simple steps parents can take to bring sensory-based play into their homes. While it can sometimes be a bit messy, the result is always worth it. We hope you leave this conversation inspired to play.

Stephanie (01:01):

Welcome today. We are very excited to talk to Julie Friedman, who is a mom and entrepreneur, and just a general awesome person. And we're really excited to talk to you about your journey with sensory play. So welcome.

Julie (01:17):

Hi, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Stephanie (01:20):

So for anybody who isn't familiar with you and your story already, can you just give us a bit of a background on what got you personally interested in exploring sensory play?

Julie (01:30):

Yeah, totally. So our oldest child, Evie actually goes to The Parish School. It's been such a great bit for her. We're so thankful for that. But about four or five years ago, we were, Evie wasn't talking and she was almost four and she still just wasn't really talking. And we were, couldn't really figure out what was going on. And we had gone to doctor after doctor and nobody really gave us much guidance. She had been in speech therapy since she was two. And, um, still only had a couple single words and then kind of like her own language. And, um, it was at one point when she had, she is about three and a half, and we like had a behavioral psychologist come into our house and do this two day evaluation with us. And it was super play-based and, um, it was actually kind of fun.

Julie (02:28):

And at the end of it, she asked me if I was familiar with sensory play and I was like, I don't know what that means. We were really young. I had Evie when I was like 23 years old. And so it was like 25 and I'm like, yeah, Nope, not a clue. And so she was just like, well, why don't you look into it a little bit? Cause I think that if you could incorporate sensory play in her day to day routine, it could really help bring out her language and, um, could also help with her anxiety. She had really high anxiety just because she wasn't able to communicate. And I mean, as you can imagine, that would be pretty stressful. So, so I, you know, took to Google and read and read and read during her nap time for the next week about sensory play and what it was.

Julie (03:19):

And I was really interested in all of the articles and research that I had read about it. And so I started thinking of ways that I could bring that into our lives and make it fun and engaging and not like super-duper messy because sometimes sensory play can be like a disaster. So I started making homemade Play-Doh and I was just using, you know, products from my pantry. It was flour and cream of tartar, oil, water, and salt. I made this Play-Doh and my first couple of batches were really no good, but, um, trial and error cut that it, and I, I presented it to her and she was kind of like, yeah, you know, not into this, it's not cool at all. So I was like, well, dang, I just felt like all day making this Play-Doh. And so I was like, okay, I'm going to try again.

Julie (04:10):

So I made it again and I put like purple food coloring in it. And I put lavender essential oils. And I was like, okay, maybe if I give this to her with some like stamps, she'll be more into it. And she was kind of into it, like wasn't like thrilled. So then the next week I made it again and I made it with like, I made chocolate and vanilla and strawberry and I put it in a little box and I put cupcake liners and cookie cutters and candles and buttons and rhinestones and a rolling pen. And it was like, let's make cake and cupcakes. And she sat there and played with this for like two hours. And I was like, Whoa. Okay. So I, um, I shared about it on Instagram, so we all do these days and it kind of, I just had people, my friends, it was just my personal Instagram.

Julie (05:00):

And I had my friends reaching out to me being like, Whoa, that's so cute. Can you make me one for my kids, blah, blah, blah. So I started kind of making them for my friends and then I had like other people asking me to make them and I was kind of like, okay, well I can, I only make about four, takes too long. And so, so I, um, just kind of from people asking me to make them, I started a website like on a whim, like a month later and I would do like a little launch with them. I'd make a theme and I'd be like, okay, I have 30 going on sale 8:00 PM. Okay. And it was so funny cause they would sell out in like a minute and I'd be like, who are you people. Who is buying this? And so that was in 2018, uh, when it very like the very, very beginning, but very into, like into 2018 when it first started and how, um, now what two and a half years later we have, you know, 35 employees and a 15,000 square foot warehouse. And we, um, have, it's been like this business from, um, just my daughter needing sensory play, so here we are.

Stephanie (06:10):

It really resonates with parents having a similar experience with something that will hook their child in and bring out all this imaginative play and language and calming effects that it just seems to be universal with kids and everything like Play-Doh. What were the effects that you first started noticing with Evie?

Julie (06:32):

I really just noticed, first of all, she's never has been and still is not into toys. Like I could buy her the world and she will not play with any of it. And she has like a very unconventional way of playing. Like she just doesn't play with toys the way they are intended and doesn't is not interested in them. And so this was one of the few things that would like keep her attention and that she would actually sit and do it. And so that was really nice. And I think also just using her hands, um, and like needing the dough and working with it obviously helped with her fine motor skills. Those muscles are really important for little kids to work and it's hard to get them to do that, but Play-Doh is like a really easy way to incorporate that and um, like really fine tune those fine motor skills. So she's really good. She's got great handwriting, uh, pretty good penmanship now. And also it really just kind of calmed her down. Like she could just kind of sit there and kind of decompress and, um, do her, her Play-Doh. So that was, that's really the main benefits that we've seen from it.

Meredith (07:44):

And I think as a parent, you'll almost pay anything if it'll keep your child's attention for an extended period of time, but then to see these added benefits on top of it is so great. And I know you mentioned something less messy and something that would keep her attention, is that why you chose Play-Doh because there are other sensory type activities you could, you could have explored.

Julie (08:06):

Yeah. And we actually, we, we did a ton of different activities. This was just really my favorite one that, um, you know, we've always been water beads and that's a total mess. Um, but they're so fun. They're very addicting. So I understand why people like them. It's kind of, I'm kind of scared of them, but I kinda love them at the same time. And you know, we've done all the kinetic sands and you know, we, we make bins now for Young Wild and Friedman with those other types of fillers as well. But I think the Play-Doh, there just wasn't anything that people were selling kinetic sand and you can pour your own rice in a bin and that's no big deal, but there was no product like that. There is, you know, the Play-Doh brand with their yucko little stinky, tiny things of crumbly dough.

Julie (08:55):

And I hated that stuff and I never would let my kids play with it because every time they did it was just like crumble all over my house and stick on my carpet. And I was like, I hate those. So are, you know, our doughs, obviously it smells really good and it's not sticky. And it lasts for a really long time. And so it was just kind of a got, there was like a need for it. And it wasn't, I couldn't buy it anywhere else. Like I could buy kinetic sand and I could buy water beads, but I couldn't, um, buy a Play-Doh kit.

Meredith (09:23):

Yeah. And I love that you bring themes into all the kids because I do think that takes the interest level up. And um, you get to see a little bit more, maybe other play skills and pretend, play and language come out with that as well.

Julie (09:35):

Yes, totally. You'll the kids will like create an entire world with their kits. Like we have a little pet kit and it's really fun to see my kids will, you know, they'll make the dog food and the dogs will be lining up to go out to recess and they have like a whole, it's really neat to see like what they're, what they say and what they imagine. And it's really true. Like with these kids, their imaginations really do just run wild. It's like, you just like pop a can of worms with it. They're just like you would, I always get emails from moms that are like, I have never heard my kid play like this before. Like he created this entire world and sat there for three hours and cried when it was time to go to bed and didn't want me to put it away. So it's like, it's really neat to get those emails with people feeling the same way we did about them.

Stephanie (10:23):

I think that Plato for some kids, without having little toys and like the loose parts type play added into it, it can be really overwhelming cause you're giving them like a blank slate and being like create and for some kids that's great. And it works really well. And other kids are like, I don't know what to create, especially for a lot of kids who have language delays and difficulties also then have difficulties coming up with like novel and new ideas or they get stuck on making the same thing over and over again. And just the act of adding in other little toys and materials just opens up their world of like, Oh, now I know I can create a pet store or a dog food, or I'm going to give the dog a bath. And it really is a way to bring in real life play, but also give them a starting point for play. That's really clever.

Julie (11:11):

Yeah. And a lot of speech therapists, they use our kids in therapy. I know I've donated a lot of them to the Carruth Center and to having a therapist tailor. And so they use them sometimes, but I always get emails from, you know, a speech therapist saying like, this is, it's such an engaging way to, you know, find a little animals or knickknacks in the kit and work on those certain sounds, but using the play with it and, you know, language skills and creating a place scene and things like that. So it's also like really, I get a lot of feedback from people using it in therapy, whether it's occupational therapy or speech therapy or even ABA therapy. So lots of therapists are able to use their kids too, which is kind of neat because it's, it's, it's interesting because I made it to help my daughter, but it's like so beneficial for every single kid. It does. You don't have to have a speech disorder or, you know, a sensory processing disorder. You could just be a normal kid that wants to use their imagination. And this is the perfect play item for basically any kid or adult kind of, cause I like them too.

Meredith (12:15):

And it's great your kids have thematic materials, but there's still so open. I think about a lot of the Play-Doh kits that the Play-Doh brand makes and and you know, the dentist kit or the mouth kit. And it's really, you can really only use it in one way or one type of play scheme, but yours, we have a space kit, we have your space kit at our house and we've had it for a long time and it's still in really good shape and the Play-Doh still works, but, um, it's amazing how many different ways, you know, my kids have used it, you know, making planets or sometimes they use the little alien figurines and sometimes it's more of like a science-y, you know, activity. So it can be used in so many different ways with the same materials.

Julie (12:57):

Totally. That's a big positive about them also.

Meredith (13:00):

Yeah. I mean, especially as a parent, I don't want to have to go out and buy new stuff every time we want to play something different.

Julie (13:07):

And it just leaves, you know, it leaves a lot up to the imagination and it's completely child led, which is hard to find toys and things like that that are, that really are just like super open-ended and allow your kid to do whatever they want with it. It doesn't have one purpose. It doesn't, you know, like the purpose isn't just to take care of the dentist kit and their teeth or whatever it has, you know, a million different ways to play with it. Just like you said, that's a really neat benefit about it.

Stephanie (13:36):

I have to find some parents when I tell them like, well just play with your kids. Like, that'll start getting language coming and going that you've spent so long, like changed computers. Now you're doing other things that when you tell a parent to like go play, then they're also like, what do I play? Like how so? I think that it's really great to also for the parents to have a jumping off point, to be able to engage in with their kids. Cause I, I play with the Play-Doh with my kids. I like Play-Doh. I also like my hands in the rice and my kids for a while this summer were really into shaving cream, which is a mess. And we only do outside. I like having the shaving cream and it just, it hooks me into when I engage in their play.

Meredith (14:20):

Yeah. Like those are fun, but I love shaving cream. It's one of my favorites to play sensory. But again, it's very messy and you know, I, I consider a Play-Doh when I think of Play-Doh store-bought Play-Doh to be kind of messy too, like you were saying, it's one of the things, you know, I always have to end up waiting and then vacuuming up afterwards. Cause all the like dried crumble, but your Play-Doh is a little bit more it's like softer and it lasts longer and I don't have that same issue.

Julie (14:48):

Yeah, totally. Yeah. It's took me a minute to get that recipe right, but we did it.

Meredith (14:54):


Stephanie (14:56):

The kinettic sand, the water beads, the Play-Doh, all of that fun can be messy. Do you have any tips for parents who are just getting started and might get a little hung up on worried about the mess? How do you handle the messy factor outside? Not everybody lives in Houston where I can just shove my kids outside year round .

Julie (15:16):

Cooped up in New York and stuff like that because, well, well I think that you kinda got to start, start small. Like one of my favorite sensory play things to do, especially with babies or young kids. When, you know, it's important for little ones to play and learn and engage with their senses. That way kids that may not be old enough for Play-Doh or old enough for water beads cause choking hazards. I like to get a big one of those under the bed storage tubs and I'll just put ice cubes in it and a couple of bowls and tongs and a scooper. And you know, it's really, my kids love playing with ice cubes, just having the cold and then watching a melt or I'll even make like microwave a little thing of water and let him pour the hot water on it and watch it melt. And so I'll just put that on a towel. And so it's not like, you know, it's water, don't add food coloring. It won't be that bad.

Meredith (16:14):

But if you want to be brave, you can add food coloring.

Julie (16:18):

Hi. Yeah. My kids like love mixing water with food coloring. It's just addicting for them, but that's why we try to do that one outside. We also have, we have a sensory table, um, that we use. And so there's one, you can get one at Ikea or there's a local girl in Houston. Her name is Amber Hicks. She sells little sensory tables and we have one of hers and it's got just a, kind of a big clear tub. And it basically the size of a kid's play table, but it has a tub in it. And um, that's another easy way to kind of contain the mess. Um, so you can kind of have like a bigger play area, which is really good for like two and three-year-olds because they're not gonna keep it in the shoe box. It's just not going to happen so that having a table or, um, and just kind of teaching your kids.

Julie (17:05):

I think it's really important for us to teach our kids. We're going to play with this. We keep it in the bin. If it comes out of the bin I have to put it away, but we can try again in 10 minutes and just kind of reinforcing that and teaching them how to play with it. Just like you teach them how not to, you know, climb on your dining room table. It's the same kind of concept that if you teach him and take it away when they don't do it and then present it again and say, let's try again and they'll get it. And, and then you can be braver and move on to shaving cream and water beads.

Meredith (17:36):

You've talked a little bit about the feedback you've received from the speech language pathologists and other occupational therapists, other therapists. Have you received a lot of feedback about seeing some of the benefits that you've seen in your own children from other parents?

Julie (17:50):

Yeah. We, we get emails every day from teachers, parents, moms, anybody basically saying how I got in a lot of emails from a lot of kids with autism and they've which they always, they always make me cry because it's so, so sweet. I have these moms that'll email me and they'll be like, my son won't do anything. I can't get him to sit for five minutes. He will not do anything. And lastly, he has his iPad. That was the only thing that will hold his attention. And I went out on a limb and bought one of your kits. And I was really hesitant because I was like, I'm going to waste 30 bucks. This is not going to work. And she was like, and I got it. She sent me a video and she was just like, he's been sitting here for 45 minutes. He has never done anything for 45 minutes, not even his iPad for 45 minutes.

Julie (18:37):

And he is so into it. And he is really, really playing and he's talking like, I've never heard him talk before. And it's, um, it's, it's really sweet to get those emails and those hear those stories. We get a lot of those on Instagram as well. And, and so that's always kind of heartwarming to get, to hear how they're helping all different types of kids. And, um, I've also gotten a lot of emails from kids that are hospitalized with cancer or some sort of illness, and they're just stuck in their bed and there's nothing to do. And, um, our kits have been a big blessing to those children as well. Um, so yeah, we're, we're really thankful to be able to kind of get out there to kids and provide a really hands-on engaging tool that can do what most toys can't.

Stephanie (19:28):

It's amazing. When I was working in the early childhood side of Parish, it was really easy. Once I got parents over the mess to get them hooked into sensory play because they could, it seemed a little more age appropriate or they saw it more frequently and they were bought in, I have a little bit harder time getting parents of the older elementary aged kids to like do the sensory play. Do you see that Evie is still engaged with that as she gets older and playing with it and new ways that are still benefiting her development instead of just, you know, math facts and drilling,

Julie (20:03):

I know, right. It is harder as they get older to keep their attention with it. You have to be pretty creative with Evie. She is like, if she's not as into the kits anymore, like, I mean, probably because I have like, Oh, Dieter on them. So she's not like super like, yeah, you need to play with it. Like she'll kind of play with it for a minute and she enjoys it more if she's with her siblings and they're doing it together, like I've also kind of had to like be a little bit more creative with like, for my, my boys, for instance, I'll like throw in some Paw Patrol figures and they're like, Oh, cool, wait. And so just like throwing a new, like, things that they're interested in, um, is, is helpful. We also with like a learning kit. So we've done that with Evie with, for her math facts. Like we'll make, you know, roll the dice and two plus four, okay. Roll it on Play-Doh or things like that, um, are helpful to keep using it. But, um, it does. I feel like it does get trickier as they get older, but she's always into water beads, always into ice. And so I think you just kind of have to see what your child's interests are and, you know, keep presenting them in different ways and adding new things that they're into and seeing how it goes that way.

Stephanie (21:25):

Yeah. Using the Play-Doh kit, like manipulative for math and I'm learning. That's a really great idea to make it a little more fun and hands-on. Yeah,

Julie (21:34):

Because math is like so boring,

Meredith (21:36):

So abstract.

Julie (21:39):

It's not, not good for my brain.

Stephanie (21:41):

I found that if I can bring in the sensory aspect of it with my first grader, then she's more inclined to do things like sight words, or if we just let her do the math in like a tray of shaving cream, or if she can pull manipulatives out of rice bins to count them for math facts or writing her name in the sand, or we'll do a tray filled with like salt or cornmeal. And she can write her name in there that build once some of that sensory input to regulate her body or just make it fun. And then I think that sensory play still can be really useful with other kids. The parent, it still calms me down. I mean, still has the same benefit. Yeah, it definitely does. I think about the rake with the sand. Yeah. Maybe put them on the desk in a very calming.

Julie (22:41):

We have like a, we have a sensory event. It has this moon sand in it and he is like obsessed with it. He's like, can you put some of this next to my desk? Or like do this on my conference call, go into this. Like I know it was amazing.

Stephanie (22:54):

The next wave of sensory bins for adults. Yeah. For stress. There is coloring books for adults. Now we just need like, you know, sensory kits. Let's do it. I just want to ask you, what is your favorite kit that you've made? What's your all-time favorite? Hmm.

Julie (23:14):

That's a tough question. I feel like I have different things from different kids that I love. Like we have a rainbow unicorn kit and I'm obsessed with the rainbow swirly dough. I think that's so beautiful. I could stare at it all day, but I think personally, I think my favorite one is the candy kit because I love all those little tiny, like have them all over the place, little knick-knacks and planning out as you can see a little girly girl, I've got high heels here, but have I just can't get over the, all the little candy residents I could. I just I'm like, do I have a sensory problem? I'm like, I could just like run my fingers through them and pick them up all day. I'm like, these are so gorgeous. And you're like, love the tiny little gummy bears and the little lollipops, I think miniature things like that are so cute. I think I love the candy kit the best.

Stephanie (24:08):

Well, at the end of every podcast, we ask our guests, do you have one piece of advice to give the audience and it can be about this specific or just, you know, like broccoli or your mom, any advice that you want to give, what would your piece of advice be?

Julie (24:26):

Put people on the spot, it's my favorite. Kidding. This one wasn't on the list. I think that it would have to be just not to take your life and your kids and everything too seriously. Just, you know, we liked to turn on the music while I'm making dinner, have fun, dance it out, just let your kids be kids. And don't take yourself too seriously. Don't hold yourself to too high of a, you know, supermom expectation. Chicken nuggets are cool for dinner every now and then you don't have to cook it all. You don't have to do it all. Um, and just, you know, let yourself give yourself grace.

Meredith (25:06):

That's great advice, now only to remember and apply it. Well, we thank you for much. That was such a joy talking to you today and we appreciate your time. Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. I love talking to you guys. Thanks, Julie. All right. Appreciate it.

Meredith (25:27):

Thank you for listening to the Unbabbled podcast. For more information on today's episode, please see our episode description for more information on the Parish School, visit If you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice. And if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review a special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amanda Arnold and Stella Limuel for all their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.