Little ones have a lot to master: when they do finally make their way in to the world, they need to learn to eat, sleep regularly, socialize, and so much more. And although it may seem silly to us, they learn about the world through play! Surprisingly, sensory play is one of the best methods a child can employ in order to learn about themselves and figure out the world around them.
What is Sensory Play?
Processing any information at all requires our senses and it’s part of how our brain develops. One way we strengthen our child’s development is through sensory play. Sensory play is any play-related activity that allows the participant to use different senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing). It’s an activity where you use your senses to explore, and it helps develop both gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Engaging our senses when we experience the world helps strengthen and maximize the infinite neural connections we create, especially when we participate in play as little ones. For example, try to imagine a favorite game or school assignment of yours from childhood. I’m willing to bet that the first thing you recall is a portion of the experience that is rooted in something you touched, smelled, tasted, saw, or heard. Because neural connections and memories are greatly rooted in the experience of our senses.
So, what are the benefits of sensory play?
It’s a fact that when our senses are engaged in the learning process, lessons become more fun and in turn, even more lasting. This means that if you want your children to really internalize a message or topic, let them get down and dirty!
Another benefit of sensory play is allowing a child to become more comfortable in different situations and under different stimuli; children (especially babies and toddlers) are hypersensitive to the world around them because they’re still learning how to take it in.
Sensory play is an opportunity to expose children to these things in small, incremental ways that doesn’t overwhelm them. Guiding them in activities that tickles their senses in a controlled manner often gives them enough power to enjoy them, and eventually even master them. This allows for maximum bodily awareness, which is so imperative especially in babies and toddlers.
Lastly, immersing children in stimulating experiences that engage all of their senses gives kids an elementary introduction to the Scientific Method. It challenges them to ask questions, create things, and make predictions about the world around them, which is essential to toddlers’ advancement.
Who should engage in sensory play?
Everyone benefits from sensory play! It doesn’t matter your age, investigating something that tickles your senses is exciting! It especially helps those who have sensory processing issues because controlled exposure to what gives us anxiety often reduces its power over us. In fact, even adults need to be reminded to be uncomfortable in messy situations, and sensory play is perfect for just that. So, get messy, Moms!
When should I start sensory play with my baby?
Now! Truth be told, any time is the best time to start sensory play. As long as you choose age-appropriate stimuli and activities, you should get a move on!
A good rule of thumb is to start in early childhood. These activities are optimal for this stage of development and also very entertaining for children. They’re also a great way to incorporate new activities, like learning a new language and learning how to work in groups.
Always make sure your child is engaging in sensory play activities under supervision, especially if they’re young and handling small pieces.
Sensory Play Activity Ideas:
Sensory play doesn’t have to be complicated nor expensive. Allowing your child to immerse in sensory exploration is an important part of their development and can be done with items you have around the house. But sometimes it’s easier to have a guide!
Here are some sensory play activities ideas that children will love:
Baby and toddler safe sensory play ideas:
Taste-safe sensory play activities:
If you have a younger child who likes putting everything in their mouth, try one of these taste-safe sensory play activities:
- Taste-Safe Slime (with only 3 natural ingredients)
- Taste-Safe Moon Sand Recipe (with natural colors)
- Taste-Safe Cake Mix Play Dough
- Natural Play Dough Recipe
Sensory Play ideas for toddlers and up:
These activities are for a wide range of kids, from 2 years old to whenever your child is not interested in them.
Please read the instructions before starting any activity to make sure it’s appropriate for your child, in case you need to make adjustments to make it more age appropriate and to find out if they will need help from you.
Sensory play activities:
- The Best 4 Sensory Play Activities for Any Occasion
- The Foolproof Way to Make a Calm Down (Sensory) Bottle
- Rice Sensory Bottle that turns into a Sensory Bin – you can use beans or other small items instead of rice to make this bottle
For more inspiration, visit this Pinterest board filled with lots of sensory play ideas!
Holiday-Themed Sensory Play Activities:
- 4 Halloween Sensory Play Activities for Toddlers & Kindergarteners
- Halloween Sensory Activity with Spaghetti and Creepy Creatures
- Homemade Christmas Play Dough Scented with Essential Oils
- I Spy Winter Wonderland Sensory Bag (with Free Printable)
- How to Make Sparkly Snowball Slime
- How to Build an Olaf Sensory Bag (with free printable)
- Decorate a Christmas Tree Sensory Bag
One activity we love to make at home is homemade soap bars that are kid-friendly. It’s a fun experience for the children to make the soap bars and then they get to use them every time they shower. If you have a little one refusing to take baths, this might do the trick.
Keep in mind that these pour and melt soap bars have to be made by an adult, but the children can help. They are as simple as melting the soap base, adding a few ingredients and waiting for it to harden.
Kid-friendly pour and melt soap recipes for a sensory bath time experience:
- DIY Ocean Soaps for Kids: This soap bar has a surprise toy in the middle. This recipe is ocean themed but you can make it any theme you want.
- How to make non-toxic bath crayons: Children can use these to “color” on the bathroom walls.
- DIY Glitter Bat Poop Soap
- DIY Santa Poop Soap
Once the soap is made, use it like regular soap and encourage your child’s imagination during bath time!
Now you have all you need to get started, or continue the fun, with sensory play activities. Let your child get a sense of the world, learn about their surrounding and develop important skills through their love of sensory play!