As a mother of two very active boys, I always have to find creative ways to keep them busy while making sure they are both entertained and developing their skills. Sensory activities are always the best as they keep my boys entertained for hours and also stimulate important developmental skills. Edible sensory activities are great because being edible makes them all the safer for younger kids and babies, Jelly is always on our list of items to use for sensory play.
In most cases, babies can play with Jello safely, from the age of 6 months, as long as specific guidelines are followed. If you want to play with your baby with Jello, here’s how!
Jello or any type of jelly can be fun but also messy, sticky, and slippery. When playing with jelly, you want to make sure to keep your little explorers safe and happy so they can enjoy the experience and get the most out of their playtime. There are some things to consider when playing with jelly to make sure your little ones benefit from their jelly experience.
Benefits of letting babies play with Jelly
Messy, sensory play can have amazing benefits for your little ones. It promotes skills that are essential to your baby’s development. Early years educators all over the world, including myself, use messy play to help promote healthy development in young children every day.
Some developmental skills that playing with jello may stimulate are:
- Gross motor and movement, Balance and Coordination skills, Body awareness, and Spatial awareness: (Physical Development) by moving things around in jelly. Squeezing, squishing, grabbing, empting, pouring, and sifting all help develop gross motor skills.
- Fine Motor skills: (small muscle development) by holding items, picking up small items out of the jelly, squeezing jelly through small spaces.
- Hand-eye coordination and visual tracking skills: by putting jelly in and out of containers.
- Communication skills (Oral skills, Speech development, Hearing and Language and Listening skills: talking about what they are doing, playing games that require listening, and following directions, listening to instructions for games and responding appropriately
- Social and Emotional Development: Spending quality time with parent or carer playing games, confidence-boosting by learning how to move things and do things independently, ability to control actions when playing with others, and sharing.
- Sensory Development and Imagination and Creativity: as children explore jelly through touch, smell, sight, and taste.
What to consider when buying Jello for playing with babies
The main ingredient used in making jello is gelatin. Gelatin is an animal-based product. It is made using animal collagen that is a protein making up the skin, bones, tendons, connective tissue, and ligaments of the animal.
To make gelatin, the bones and hides of specific animals (usually pigs or cows) are boiled and then dried. They are then treated with an acid-base and filtered until all the collagen can be collected. The collagen is then made into a powder once it is dried and then sifted so it can make gelatin. Gelatin is a natural product and poses no health issues if eaten.
Vegan or vegetarian jello does not contain gelatin but instead uses another gelatinous ingredient. The most commonly used is agar-agar, which is a jelly-like material made from red algae or seaweed. The red algae contain galactose, which is a blood sugar like fructose and glucose. This ingredient is plant-based, so it also poses no harm if eaten.
Other ingredients used to replace gelatin in vegan jello are guar gum, the root of Kuzu, and carrageenan, which are all safe ingredients.
Although one of these is the main ingredient used in jello, other ingredients are added to jello purchased in a shop. Jello has preservatives so it can be stored. Depending on which jello you buy, it usually contains ingredients like artificial flavorings, maltodextrin (to give the slippery, smooth jello texture), food coloring (some jello contains natural colors and flavors), sweetening agents, Adipic acid (to give a stronger tart flavor).
Something to be aware of is artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame, which are usually used in sugar-free jello. Studies have been performed that show adverse effects such as cell damage and inflammation that can be caused by these ingredients.
Raw jelly cubes, which can be bought instead of powdered jelly, pose a choking hazard for a baby as they are solid and do not melt quickly, and can be dangerous for children.
If you want to make jelly by using raw jelly cubes, you need to follow the direction on the packaging carefully to ensure the jelly does not pose any threat to your little one.
General safety guidelines for playing with Jelly
The advantages of jelly are that it is soft and edible so worries such as ingesting dangerous substances, cuts or scrapes, or other physical injuries are reduced. However, injuries are still a possibility if play is not correctly supervised and monitored.
Some injuries that may still occur are:
- Slipping and possible injuries related to a fall from slipping
- Choking, gagging or minor suffocation from trying to eat too much of the jelly at once (similar to any food-related incidents)
- Jelly in the eyes or nose
Don’t be discouraged by these possibilities as accidents are normal, and if you are prepared you can decrease any risk and avoid serious injuries completely
Here are some general safety guidelines to follow when playing with jelly:
- Children under 6 months are not recommended, but if using jelly with children under 6 months, ensure they do not eat the jelly (tasting is ok but eating it can cause indigestion and stomach issues)
- Check ingredients of jelly being used for any allergies
- Ensure baby doesn’t get jelly in their eyes (see below what to do if this happens)
- When using jelly in a tub, pool, or area big enough for baby to sit in, ensure that baby does not stand up in the jelly (This is to help prevent slips and falls which can cause serious injury)
- Ensure baby doesn’t try to ‘smell’ jelly and get it in their nose
- If using toys, ensure there are no small pieces which can pose a choking hazard
- If your baby tastes jelly (over 6 months only), ensure they do not try to eat it too fast which can cause choking, gagging, or even stomach pain.
- Never leave baby unattended when playing with jelly.
What to do if jelly gets into baby’s eyes
Accidents can still happen even if you are vigilant and supervising the activity. This doesn’t make someone a bad parent, some accidents are just unavoidable. The important thing is to make sure you are prepared in case an accident does happen so you can react correctly and quickly. Children learn and grow through experience, so don’t stress if something happens, it will just teach them to be more careful themselves next time.
My boys like to get really messy with the jelly, and it usually ends up all over them, so we usually put it in a tub in the bath, strip them down to diapers, and let them fully enjoy the experience. However, this usually means they end up with sticky jelly everywhere including their hair and sometimes their eyes, especially if they are trying to rub some off their face and accidentally rub jelly from their hands into their eyes
Here are some steps you can follow to remove it from their eyes and make sure the jelly doesn’t cause any harm:
- Make sure you have no jelly on your own hands by rinsing them off first.
- Clean your baby’s face and area around the eyes to make sure no more jelly can enter the eyes
- Hold your baby with the infected eye facing down over the bath, sink or bowl.
- Using fresh, lukewarm water to flush the eye by pouring the water directly over it.
- You can use a clean hand the help rinse the jelly from your baby’s eyes and ensure nothing is left.
- Check for redness or irritation, blinking, or tears. This could show there is still jelly remaining.
- If there is still any jelly remaining in the eye, repeat the above steps until all the jelly is out of your baby’s eyes.
- Redness may occur, but once the jelly has been removed, the redness and irritation should start to subside and should be completely back to normal within an hour.
- If irritation, redness or any other symptoms arise after an hour and the eye does not seem to be getting any better, seek medical advice
How to make your own homemade Jello
For those parents who like to make their own, healthier homemade treats and sensory playthings at home, here are 2 recipes for jello you can make at home with your own choice of flavors, and you can be sure about the ingredients going into it. These recipes are for fresh jellies and do not contain preservatives or artificial flavors.
Recipe for Jelly (Natural – with Gelatin)
- 2 tablespoons of Unflavored gelatin
- 4 cups of juice of your choice (we used peach fruit juice) (any fruit juice, except pineapple, works for this recipe)
- 2 tablespoons honey, sugar or agave (this is optional, and you can put your desired amount according to your preference)
- Pour ½ – ¾ cup of the juice into a mixing bowl and sprinkle on the gelatin powder.
- Mix this very well until gelatin is well mixed and then let it stand for 3 – 5 minutes until it has a sort of lumpy, gravy type look.
- Pour the rest of the juice into a pot and heat on medium heat until it is almost boiling.
- Take the pot off the heat and add in your sweetener at this point if you are using any (Honey, sugar, agave). Also, add the juice/gelatin mixture and mix it all together until it is completely dissolved.
- Pour into an 8×8 (2 quarts) baking dish for thick Jello or a 9×13″ baking dish for thin Jello, or into individual glasses or jars for individual portions.
- Pour your jelly into your desired containers and refrigerate until it is completely set (we usually leave it overnight for the best results)
- Refrigerate about 4 hours or until set. (If you’ve used a 9×13 pan, it may be set in as little as 2 hours)
Recipe for vegetarian Jelly (Watermelon flavor)
- 2 cups of watermelon pieces (1 cup juice – experiment with other flavors)
- 1 tablespoon of agar powder
- ¼ cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (other flavor extracts will also work)
- Blend the watermelon pieces until it becomes a smooth juice then measure out 1 cup of juice.
- Pour 1 cup of watermelon juice into a pot and mix in the agar powder and sugar.
- Over medium heat, continue whisking the ingredients together until all the sugar has dissolved and the mixture starts to thicken (approximately 5 minutes).
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Mix well.
- Now pour your mixture into your desired container.
- This mixture can also be poured into small molds to make jelly shapes. If the mixture starts to set before you have finished spooning into shape molds, then just put back over the heat for a few seconds to soften it back up again.
Playing with Jelly is messy, sticky, sensory fun, and as long as you are supervising the activity, it is a wonderful learning experience for you and your baby. Have fun with it, talk about it and make sure to capture the fun so you can share them with friends and family.
Article checked by:
Dr Binu George – Consultant General Pediatric
(MBBS, FRCPCH, Dual CCST (UK), Paediatric Neurodisability)
Head Of Department, Child Development Department at
NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates