Sensory Play for Kids
What is sensory play? It is allowing children to explore all types of materials to stimulate their senses such as feeling different textures or temperatures (that are safe) or smelling various items.
Why is it important? The way we acquire information is through our five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hear). Our brain processes these different types of information and is then able to identify it. For example, through touch we learn what rough or squishy is. Through smell we learn pungent or faint or floral or stinky etc.
It is important for children to have all of their senses stimulated so that they can process various forms of information in order to identify what’s what in this complicated world. And what better way for kids to learn than by playing? That’s what sensory play for kids is all about.
There are four major learning types – visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. A learning type is not established until a child is around age ten. That means you don’t know which way your child will learn best, so stimulate all of their senses. The more they touch, smell, see, hear, taste things, the more well-rounded and intelligent your child will become because sensory stimulation encourages brain cell growth. Touching things also helps improve a child’s gross and fine motor skills as well as improve memory, concentration and coordination.
You probably know some of the typical sensory play ideas such as Play Doh, bubbles or sand so we’ll provide some different ideas for sensory play that maybe you hadn’t thought about.
- Spaghetti Worms – cook up a pot of pasta, then let the kids wiggle their hands about in piles of cooled pasta. Or if they’re a little older, provide kids’ tweezers, chopsticks or forceps and let them attempt to pick them up and place in a jar or a bowl.
- Shaving Cream Slither – squirt shaving cream into a bowl or on a cookie sheet. Let kids explore just the shaving cream or bury plastic alphabet letters or small items for children to find.
- Peas, Beans and Lentils Sorting – empty dried peas, beans or lentils into bins. Either put them altogether and let kids sort them or have them pre-sorted and let kids fill up cleaned and emptied soda or water bottles to create artwork (like sand art we did as kids).
- Hide n Seek in Rice – dump uncooked rice into a bowl or large flat container with sides. Bury small plastic farm animals or other trinkets and let kids discover what’s hidden while feeling the texture of the rice.
- Balloon Games – partially fill balloons with water, include other small items if you like such as bottle caps, and submerge in the sink or bath tub to enable kids to feel the balloons floating in the water. They feel different than when you hold them in the traditional way tied to a string.
- Egg Carton Play – gather up some pom poms, beads of all sizes (but not too small for the little children), other trinkets etc from the craft or dollar store. Let kids fill up plastic eggs and stack in an empty egg carton. Or just sort the items out and place in each spot in the carton.
- Scented Rice – dump uncooked rice into a bowl, then drizzle in strawberry, vanilla or other favorite scents you’d use while baking. If you want to take it a step further, add food coloring too, then let dry. When finished dump into a sand table or other flat surface with a lip. Bring in the big trucks! Let kids drive their trucks through the sand, or bring in sand toys to scoop up the sand, sift it, scoop it, pour it etc. With this playful experiment kids can smell, see and touch different textures.
- Jell-O Fun – pour your mixed Jell-O into different molds or old fashioned ice cube trays, then let it harden in the fridge as per usual. Once the Jell-O has set, let kids dig in! What fun to feel it squish all over your hands! Let kids scoop it up, wiggle their toes in it, make different things with it, sort shapes etc. You might just find them licking their hands too!
- Button it up – kids love to sort buttons. Get a bag of buttons from your craft store or your own from home. Let kids sort by color, size, shape etc. Muffin tins are handy to do your sorting.
- Ice, Ice, baby – gather up various size and shape containers and old ice cube trays. Fill them up with water and a drop of food coloring. Once frozen, remove from freezer and let them sit out a few minutes to let them soften, making it easier to extract them from their containers. Then dump in clear plastic tubs and let kids explore. Add in some tub or pool toys for variety. Kids can scoop up the ice with pool toys or pick them up with tongs. This is a great one for summer. You can even add the ice to a kiddie pool.
Other items to explore would include dried pasta, corn meal, tissue paper, newspapers, crepe paper, Ziploc bags filled with liquid to squish or beads in an empty water bottle for shaking. For the paper items, think of the crinkling noises they make to stimulate the auditory senses.
If you want to stimulate the olfactory senses, open up bottles of some of your favorite scents and let the kids sniff away. Get out your perfume, but also think kitchen. Let kids get whiffs of coffee, vinegar, vanilla extract etc and help them identify different aromas.
Sensory play is very beneficial for special needs children as well.
Just like having someone brush your hair can be very relaxing, so can just running your hands through beads or listening to running water. These are all various activities that can calm the mind while stimulating the senses. Research shows that sensor play builds connections between brain cells which leads to a smarter child.
If you want more fun activities to stimulate your child’s senses and educate them while having fun, be sure to check out my book, Kidding Around Town. It’s on sale now! Learn more about parent’s favorite go-to guide for having fun with kids in DFW.