You may have heard about the benefits of sensory play, or maybe you're a messy play veteran looking for some fresh ideas. Here are five simple sensory play ideas you can try out today!
1) Water play. Even if you have a baby that can’t sit up, there are ways to introduce them to water play in the bath for instance. A cookie tray with just a few millimeters of water can be great fun to tap at during tummy time. For sitting and standing kids, you could use scoops and cups for pouring water. This gives them a visual element and a tactile element. Play some music or add a scent to the water (or both) and now you have up to four sensory systems firing in the brain at once! The next day you might change it to ladles and spoons to keep up the novelty. The next day, add a bit of food colouring and you are making coloured potions! The next day, try whisks and a bit of soap for soapy potions. Then, bring the whole thing into the bath one night to see how the new venue changes everything. In the SensaTable, we also use water play to teach social and life skills like peeling eggs and washing dishes.
2) Pom Poms. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t require much prep time, keep a bin of pom poms on hand. Ideally they’d be different coloured pom poms in different sizes. Then, just alternate the tools and containers in this bin for novelty. For instance, older kids might like to make patterns with the pom poms in an egg carton (which helps them with early math skills). You can hide little cards with words or letters in the bin to add a letter finding game, word making game, or word finding game to the activity depending on their level of literacy. If you have magnet wands, consider putting in a few magnetic items like spoons or pipe cleaners. Younger kids might enjoy putting the pom poms into different coloured bowls, to practice matching colours. Sorting into ice cube trays and muffin tins are also ways that kids of any age enjoy playing with pom poms. They might also like to use different kinds of spoons and scoops and tongs, or even a whisk and bowl to make ‘pom pom salad’!
3) Edible finger paints. If you have some yogurt on hand, make a few piles of it in a bin and add a few drops of food colouring to each pile, mixing them together. You’ll have a palette of colourful edible finger paint at your disposal in no time! I find Greek yogurt produces the best results. Now, let your young artist push the yogurt paint around the bin, mixing the colours, using their fingers to make out shapes, and experiment with their creation. If you have paint brushes, or even basting brushes from the kitchen, add those into the bin. If you’ve got a SensaTable, just swap one of the bins out with warm soapy water and a facecloth when your artist is nearly finished, so that a bit of water play doubles as clean up for their hands.
4) Strawfetti. If you have a pack of drinking straws, you can cut them into 2-4 inch chunks and put them in a bin to make what I call Strawfetti. Hide items in the strawfetti for them to find, which increases novelty and encourages discovery and creativity. I also find many kids like trying to re-connect the straws, so it helps to have different types and widths of straws in the mix. And, give them some different tools for scooping and sifting through the straws or experiment with. For instance, strawfetti makes a really great sound when you move your hands through it or pour it into a metal bowl or shake it around to make ‘popcorn’ using a flour sifter or pasta colander.
5) Scrap Soup. If you're cooking dinner, keep your kids close by and let them make 'soup' with the peels! Provide a few bowls or pots and utensils such as whisks, ladles or measuring cups. Carrot peels, potato peels, apple peels, and corn schucks are all great to add to the 'soup'. Kids will love getting 'new ingredients' for their soup as you prep for dinner. If you have an old towel, throw it under the kids' area and add some water to the 'soup' which will make for even more fun. And for kids that love scents, you can let them experiment with a few herbs or spices (not the very spicy kind though!). Lavender, oregano, basil, and rosemary allow the olfactory sense to be stimulated during play and can have a calming effect.
Keep in mind that all sensory play has a choking hazard, and water play, even if the water is a small amount, can be a drowning hazard. Always supervise children during sensory play. That doesn’t stop you from having them with you playing in the kitchen while you prep dinner, for instance. One mom recently told me ‘that was the quietest dinner prep I’ve ever done’ while her kids played with a bin of sensory snow next to the kitchen counter. Once you present kids with a sensory bin, it is an invitation to play that they can’t resist. Be there to make sure they’re safe and to encourage their discoveries with questions and observations, but also let them experiment and guide the play.
The next time you have a few things to get done in the kitchen, or are tempted to turn on the TV for a little bit of quiet, keep these five simple sensory play ideas in mind.
Wishing you happy playing,