- What are sensory play activities?
- What are the benefits of sensory play?
- What is sensory play for preschoolers?
- Our top ten sensory play ideas
Ever popped bubble wrap and felt like the universe was great? Let’s face it, we’ve all been there! Sensory play is good old-fashioned plain simple fun! For children, as well as being fun, sensory experiences are incredibly important for developing certain parts of their brain which can grow their skills, language and understanding of the world around them. Want to find out more about sensory play activities? Then read on!
What are sensory play activities?
Whether you know it or not, you probably already have an understanding of what sensory play is. Ever played peek-a-boo? Ever blown a raspberry? Ever used a silly voice to make a child giggle? If so, then you are already using sensory play!
Sensory play refers to games and activities which stimulate the senses for young children. Whether it is sight, sound, touch, smell or taste, there are lots of excellent games and activities which can be used to stimulate the senses and boost development and learning in preschool children.
Some people think that sensory play is a serious scientific activity that needs to be calculated, pre-planned and only done in certain ways. In all truthfulness, sensory play can be spontaneous and lighthearted – it can be planned but it can also just be the natural instinct of a parent to try and make their kid laugh.
Despite the lighthearted and fun nature of sensory play, it is incredibly important for a child’s development. Even babies born prematurely will benefit from things such as Kangaroo Care which is centred around skin to skin contact which is a form of sensory activity. Kangaroo Care is when a baby (naked or in a nappy) is held on the bare upper torso of an adult making direct skin contact. Everything from the warmth that the baby feels to the gentle heartbeat that it might pick up is thought to help the baby relax and aid brain development.
What are the benefits of sensory play?
Many sensory games are set up like puzzles. Whether it is fitting a shape into a gap or piling things on top of another, sensory play activities are the ways in which young children are introduced to problems and it is through sensory play activities that they learn the power of solutions: how to overcome problems and explore different options.
Sensory play has countless benefits. As well as providing a good opportunity for quality bonding time, there is evidence to suggest that sensory play activities can develop a whole great range of skills including:
- Problem-solving skills
- Language development
- Motor skills
- Social interaction
What is sensory play for preschoolers?
Sensory play is still as incredibly important for a preschooler as it is for a toddler or an infant. As children move from the developmental stage of toddler to preschooler, there are still many benefits to sensory play activities. Preschoolers are usually considered to be young children between the ages of 3 and 5.
Our top ten sensory play ideas!
There are lots of things that count as good sensory play games. Some of them aren’t even games and are just fun activities. As Mary Poppins says, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and - snap - the job’s a game!”
1. Cooking and playing with food
The satisfaction of feeling bread dough squeezing through your fingers, feeling the resistance when you stir a bowl of porridge, licking your fingers after making chocolate ganache! Messy food (preparation, eating or just generally mushing), is a great way to stimulate the senses. It is also a good opportunity to teach domestic skills.
Need some inspiration? Then read our blog post about the best cooking ideas for children.
2. Making a calming bottle
We all know that arts and crafts can boost intelligence. Part of the reason this is true is because sensory experiences boost brain development. What better craft activity to do than build a calming bottle?
We all need a calming bottle every now and then – we adults included! Calming bottles are easy and fun to make and are surprisingly calming! To make a calming bottle all you need
- An empty clear bottle
- Some clear glue
- A bit of eco-friendly glitter
- Food colouring (optional)
This is the tricky bit! Mix all of the ingredients into a magical sparkly substance which you then pour into the bottle! Once you’ve done that, similarly to a snowglobe, you can spend hours watching the glitter slowly float up and down the bottle.
3. Go outdoors!
There is nothing greater than the great outdoors. Venture not far out of the house and you will find heaps and heaps of fun activities that stimulate the senses. From smelling the spring flowers 🌸 to jumping in a pile of leaves, 🍂 outdoor learning activities are great for stimulating the senses! 🌳
Outdoor play can also be a great opportunity for teaching kids to look after the environment as well as introducing them to the basic elements of biology!
There is nothing better to stimulate the ears and fire up the soul as a good dance off! Dancing can be a great way of coordinating the body, eye and ear in harmony – ok, not always harmonious but you get the sentiment!
Dance doesn’t have to be ballet, it doesn’t have to be structured and you don’t have to do it with a teacher. If you can still take it, you can even just listen to We Don’t Talk About Bruno and have a go copying the countless epic dance moves! Maybe a bit of Dolores’ flamenco or Camilo’s epic thriller moves?
Another classic dance game is the all-time favourite musical statues where you have to dance and then freeze (like a statue) when the music is stopped. 🎶🗽
Dancing is also a great introduction to learning music!
5. Learn a musical instrument
A friendly bit of advice: some instruments are more tolerable than others. The otamatone – just as a random example – is probably one of the less tolerable.
Joking aside, if you can find an instrument your child is keen on (as well as one which the rest of the household can tolerate), learning a musical instrument is one of the best sensory activities which children can learn from a young age. Whether it is the guitar or violin, string instruments are complicated, fiddly and a great way of developing motor skills as well as mindfulness and patience. For guitar, it is best to start kids off with a ukelele (or a toy guitar). At the earliest, the violin is usually taken up at any age above four.
Even if the sounds your child is making might be closer to a dying cat than actual music – that’s totally fine! Even the horrible cat noises can be an important part of a child’s sensory development. Learning how to make the right sounds and how to irritate family are an important part of growing up!
6. Make your own instrument
Whether it is a bit of rice in a biscuit tin or some dried pasta in a tupperware box, there are lots of fun ways to make instruments which can act as sensory play toys.
The example of rice in a tin or pasta in a box would make a fun, cheap and easy to use shaker. As well as the fun which comes with playing with the homemade instrument, the process of putting it together will involve conversations, planning and coordination – all important skills for preschoolers!
If you’re not feeling crafty, you can even get out the pots, pans, wooden spoons and create a percussion drumming kit. Nearly every household item can be turned into some sort of percussion instrument which can be used for sensory play activities.
7. Guess the food
Get your child to close their eyes and put some food in their mouth and see if they can guess what it is. While ‘guessing the food’ is actually quite easy, there is something exciting about not knowing what comes next which gets us hyper-aware of what we are tasting.
This can also be a great way of getting your child to eat healthier foods!
8. Guess the object
As well as stimulating taste buds with eyes closed we can also stimulate touch. Simply getting your child to close their eyes and then putting an object in their hand will get them feeling that object and trying to guess what it is.
It doesn’t have to be a sophisticated object: maybe a spoon, a specific toy that they like or even a scrunched up paper ball. Again, this can be a fun, easy and spontaneous activity that requires basically no planning and can actually be quite a lot of fun!
Jumping is a great way of stimulating sensory activities. Whether it is jumping on the bed, jumping in a puddle or jumping over a skipping rope, jumping stimulates many senses and teaches balance and coordination.
It is generally agreed that sports boosts confidence in children – even if it is simply the endorphins from jumping.
10. Water activities
From savage water fights to simply playing with toys in the bath, water activities are a great way to introduce children to so many different experiences. Learning what something feels like when it’s wet vs when it’s dry, playing with bubbles, seeing whether something will sink or float – all of these activities involve thinking, learning and brain development. 🛁
When it’s a scorching hot day, water fights are a great way of stimulating the senses and also cooling off. You don’t need to go and buy water guns or anything fancy, you can simply use a hose, bucket or empty water bottle!
Water activities refine motor skills as well and hand-eye coordination – especially with the slightly distorted experience of it being underwater.
So there you have it, our top ten sensory play activities!
Sensory experiences are a crucial part of learning. If you want to know more about alternative styles of teaching and learning you can check out our GoStudent post about the perfect Montisorri activity for every age to our seven top tips to make amazing Montessori rooms.