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When we as adults/parents think about teaching, the first thing that comes to mind might be flashcards or memorizing time times tables like we did back then.

While reading, singing and exposing them to learning materials to learn the world around them, nothing beats sensory learning.

Sensory learning has been around since the beginning of time, because of the way we learn naturally.

Mother working on a laptop while her toddler engages in imaginative play with wooden blocks on the bed, promoting creativity and sensory development.

What is Sensory Play

Sensory play is the fundamental way children learn through their five senses. Often, sensory play is activated through touch, smell, hearing, sight and sound.

This is how children learn about the world around them through daily experiences through their senses. Play also allows for cognitive growth, language development and refined motor skills.

It also allows children to harness the social skills they need in their later years while helping them develop an awareness of mindfulness.

Sensory play encourages out-of-the-box thinking and helps with being more observant and experimental. So there, you know a little bit more about sensory play, but where to start you may be asking. Right here.

What are the Benefits of Sensory Play?

For the first 3 years of life, there is rapid growth and development in a child’s life. As they get older, knowledge becomes more actionable, as shown in their everyday lives.

Sensory play allows children the chance to engage in a world that helps them grow. It forms connections in the brain to form complex thoughts and tasks.

Sensory Play Ideas and Activities

The idea for sensory playtime is fun-based activities that are easy to set up, but getting ideas might be the more difficult part. Check out the list below that you and your child might enjoy.

Important note:

Keep in mind that safety is always a priority. Do not give young children items that are a choking risk. Always supervise children around water. Consider which ideas are developmentally appropriate and safe for your little one.

Create a Sensory Bin

It is easy for children to have fun with a sensory bin. Simply fill a large container with materials like rice, beans, sand, or water beads.

Add scoops, small toys, or cups for a better range of exploration. Your child will immerse their hands in the textures, enhancing their tactile experience and fine motor skills.

Remember, little ones explore with their hands just as much as their mouths, so be careful to clean all items and beware of choking hazards.

Check out this inspiring video on Sensory Play Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers on YouTube!

Playing with Food

Yes, you read it right! Be ready to clean because it will get messy. Let them squish, squash, and explore different food textures like cooked pasta, jello, or even sensory-friendly edible playdough.

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A study in 2017 says that kids who have sensory playtime with fruits and vegetables are more likely to experiment with different foods. This hands-on experience stimulates their senses, encourages creativity, and helps them become more familiar with various textures.

Textured Balloons

Have you ever tried this before? You can use items like rice, beans, or water beads to create a tactile exploration experience. As your child squeezes the balloons, they’ll experience different feelings and roughness in the contents.

"Colorful plastic tubes of different lengths, used for sensory activities to promote creativity in toddlers."

Sound Tubes

In order to have your little one connect to the auditory world you can either buy one or collect paper towel rolls. Collect a few different items to place inside like stones, rice, beans or beans.

Safely secure both ends with the items inside, duct tape works fine. Your little ones will enjoy the different sounds and vibrations from the similar-looking toys.

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Edible Playdough

Edible Playdough is a great activity that combines creativity, tactile exploration, and a dash of deliciousness. If you decide to make your own or buy it and add some color to keep your child occupied for hours.

Playdough promotes the development of motor skills, exploring different textures and creatively shaping different shapes and figures.

Recipe for Homemade Edible Playdough

Creating Edible Playdough at home is simple and you’ll only need a few pantry staples. Here’s a quick and easy recipe to kickstart your sensory play adventure:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Flavor extracts (optional)

Get ready to mix, mold, and munch on some fantastic Edible Playdough.

Balance Beam

This activity might be easy depending on where you do it. It activates the use of gross motor skills and also enhances balance and coordination. You can get easy access to this by going to your nearest playground but you can work on the same skills at home on the ground with some painter’s tape or masking tape.

Here’s a quick rundown of why this activity is so valuable:
  • Improves Gross Motor Skills
  • Enhances Balance and Coordination
  • Boosts Confidence
  • Encourages Focus and Concentration

Sandbox

If your little one is itching for some outside fun well the sandbox is the answer. Feel free to invest in a sandbox or consider a homemade old-school-style sandbox hole. Dig a hole depending on the age of your child, not too deep will be sufficient.

All it takes is sand and a few toys like a shovel or a cup to spark that imagination for a good old sensory playtime.

Swing, Swing

Swings are a classic playground staple, but instead of using it the traditional way try something different. Challenge your child to maybe lay on the swing on their stomach or their back and spin them around. While laying pull them by their legs or spin them around on the swing.

Using the swing in an awkward way will evoke an usual sense of experiencing the normal differently.

"Close-up of young plants being carefully planted in the soil, demonstrating a sensory activity to boost toddler creativity and connection with nature."

Plant a Garden

Planting a garden brings back memories but not-so-pleasant ones. Long story short my father was a farmer and had acres and acres of land and I was tasked to help occasionally. Let’s say the very warm temperatures in the Caribbean were not conducive to my childhood Sundays, but I digress.

Disregarding the previous, planting a garden can be a fun experience for a child. The sensory benefits are ongoing and educational. It does not have to be acres of land to achieve this- you can utilize familiar home ingredients like cups or egg trays.

The feeling of planting and sorting seeds when digging in the dirt, pulling weeds, or cutting flowers all stimulate the senses.

Taste Test Challenge

As your little one gets older, they’ll be able to participate in more activities. Once a child is in preschool and beyond they can engage in the test tasting activities.

To set the right stage for this activity, ask your child to close their eyes or blindfold them and offer them different fruits and vegetables to enjoy. As they taste the sweets, sours and different textures, have them try and guess what they are eating.

Bread Baking

It might be a bit slower than baking by yourself, but be patient and let them enjoy the journey of measuring and pouring the different ingredients.

"In a charming garden setting, colorful butterflies dance around delicate foliage, setting a serene backdrop."

Homemade Musical Instruments

Pre-schoolers have a knack for making instruments out of various household items with little to no assistance. Crafting instruments like rice shakers, drum sets using pots and pans, or tambourines from paper plates.

This action activates their creativity and fine-tunes their motor skills your child explores different sounds and rhythms.

Jumping Fun

Jumping is a great way for some physical activity. It’s a burst of energy and joy that toddlers and preschoolers love to indulge in. There are a lot of ways to integrate jumping into their activities – ropes, small exercise trampolines or hopscotch.

Mud Kitchen

Let your little one cook in the outdoors where the mess can be unlimited and the cleanup is limited. Create an outdoor space into a kitchen filled with pots and pans and of course mud.

Watch along as they concoct the most delightful mud pies, mix up muddy soups and everything in between. You can add more natural elements like leaves, sticks and stones for a more sensory experience.

Painting through Plastic

Another messy-free way to keep children engaged is by painting through plastic, with the feel of paint squishing through their fingers.

To get this going, get a sealable plastic bag like a gallon zip-lock bag. Slip and paper or two into the back with a blob of paint and watch them go to town squeezing and squashing the plastic wall of the bag. You’ll have something of a masterpiece and a tired toddler at the end.

Frozen Toy

This next one teaches your child the difference between hot and cold which can be a tricky lesson to teach. With some ice and some toys, they’ll be off.

To get started, get an action figure or a small enough toy to be frozen. When frozen allow the child to manipulate the ice until it thaws out and the toy becomes free.

You can also provide kid-friendly ice-scalping tools for them.

Another idea with the frozen toys, paint the toys while they are frozen using them as textured tools. As they defrost while painting they leave behind intriguing imprints.

Guess What That Is?

Older toddlers are always full of questions, what’s this or that? This time let them be the ones to find the answers with a guessing game.

Keep an object out of sight but let it make a sound and let them guess what that thing is – crinkling paper bounce a ball or a certain toy – ask them to guess the object making the sound.

You can also test their sense of smell like using coffee or scent from fruits.

"A sensory journey through flavors and textures begins with the diverse foods on the tasting plate."

Puff Ball Sorting

Puff ball is a lot of fun for children old enough who won’t put the balls in their mouth. These soft sensory balls are great objects to help kids learn about color and size.

To create a sorting activity, simply pour out all the balls into a big container and provide smaller containers for sorting.

Pre-school kids often enjoy sorting by size and color but to add a bit of difficulty have them use tongs or plastic tweezers and use a timer.

Counting and Grouping

Taking the activity up a notch, introduce counting and grouping. Have them count the number of puff balls in each section or have them recreate the color patterns provided.

This sharpens their cognitive skills and understanding of mathematics in a playful way.

Beading

Beading is a good opportunity for younger children to run their fingers through funny-feeling beads, they also have the option to choose the color and sizes of the beads.

While older kids can use regular string and beads, younger children should use stiff pipe cleaners to prevent slipping off as they play.

Water Play

Introducing water play as a precursor to beading can set the stage for a fun time for your tot. As long as they aren’t afraid of water have them indulge as much as they want.

Fill up the baby pool or the tub and watch then enjoy some household items or better yet different types of beads floating on the surface.

Takeaway

Sensory play is not just about keeping our little ones entertained, it is the creative avenues we provide for our children to have the best chances to learn in the natural world. As parents, we are here to nurture our children’s development and learning the best way we know how, and sensory play is a powerful tool in our parenting arsenal.

When we introduce our kids to sensory activities, we are offering them moments of fun and laughter while laying the foundation for crucial skills like creativity, fine motor abilities, cognitive growth, and social interaction. These activities go beyond just the mess and chaos, they are the cornerstone of our children’s early learning experiences.

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