Why do parents and teachers spend so much time creating sensory play experiences for young children? If you scroll on Pinterest, you’ll find thousands of pages with pictures of different sensory projects. Why is this? Isn’t sensory play simply to provide fun and entertainment for kids? Or, are there actual learning benefits from sensory play?
The answer is simple, sensory play is a fun, and engaging way to provide infinite learning experiences for your child. With sensory play, the learning is endless. You may design a sensory play station with the intention of your child/student learning one thing only to discover they have created something completely different and with that, teach themselves countless lessons about the world around them.
What is Sensory Play
Sensory Play is any play that stimulates one or more of the five senses to teach about the world around us! As I mentioned above, you can find thousands of ideas for sensory play. This can be overwhelming. We have narrowed it down to our 5 favorite simple sensory activities for young children. We suggest keeping them in small containers and circulate through them so that your child never gets bored!
#1 Play Dough
At the top of the list, we have Playdough. We use playdough every week in preschool. Kids never tire of it. Seriously, kids love this stuff. Playdough is so versatile. You can use it to teach so many things, and develop important skills. Some of these skills include: fine motor skills, creativity, letters and language recognition, numbers, shapes and other math skills (just to name a few!) We love to make our own playdough. It always turns out so much nicer than the store bought stuff. Plus, it's much more cost effective and you can add fun things to it like glitter and scents!
Here is one of our favorite playdough recipes from I Heart Nap Time!
Combining playdough with different materials and a playdough mat can diversify your child's play and encourage learning specific concepts. Here are a few fun ways we have turned a simple play dough project into a kit:
- I Love Pie! Teaches parts and wholes. Add a rolling pin and rolling pie cutter!
- Snowy Day!. Add glitter to your white playdough and include supplies to make a snowman like buttons, pipe cleaners, small sticks and fake eyeballs. Encourages rolling out snowballs with your hands.
#2 Kinetic Sand
If you have not played with Kinetic sand, you are in for a treat! Kinetic sand is sooo cool! Not only do the kids love it, but we could sit and play with it for hours. The best part about it is that there is no mess. Kinetic sand sticks to itself so it does not get everywhere.
What do you actually do with kinetic sand? Kinetic sand in itself is a wonderful sensory experience. It has a very intriguing consistency and can be formed into all sorts of shapes. To be totally honest you really don’t need any extras to give your child a fun experience with Kinetic sand.
If you want to add some exploration, give your child small items they can use to press in the sand or make molds out of. The sand holds the shape of whatever you press into it or put it into. You probably have many items around your house that you can add to the sand to make it more interesting! A few items that might be fun are: small cups, spoon, fork, plastic knife, rocks or gems, leaves, and beads or buttons.
#3 Water Beads
You may be familiar with water beads, as they are used in vases for decoration. But have you ever thought to use them as a sensory project for your child? Water beads start out super small and after you just add water they grow exponentially. For instance a few tablespoons of water beads can grow to fill a 16-20 ounce container.
Watching the water beads grow starts out as a wonderful science lesson and ends with an amazing sensory experience. It's hard to describe what water beads feel like so we will let you and your child figure it out for yourself. Asking them to describe what they feel like may spark a wonderful language lesson! Tools like spoons and cups can be fun to try with water beads. Add animal figurines, or a light table to prompt their imaginations.
#4 Dry Rice and Beans
Dry rice and beans make a great inexpensive sensory bin. You can use them just as they are or dye the rice different colors. Here are some simple directions if you want to dye the rice.
- Fill a ziploc bag with rice
- For every one cup add 1 TBSP of vinegar and a few drops of food coloring
- Zip up the bag and shake
- Add more food coloring if needed
- Pour out on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper and allow to dry overnight before using
There are so many fun things you can do with rice. Kids love to run them through their fingers. They can pick out the beans from the rice and put them in a bowl. You can also hide other items like plastic animals or magnetic letters in the rice for them to find. Some fun things to add are funnels, measuring cups, gems, scissor scoops, spoons, large plastic tweezers and jars.
#5 Instant Snow
This is another one that begins with a simple, yet amazing science project. The instant snow starts out as a powder, then, just add water and watch it grow into a cold, wet feeling, snow like substance. Kids are amazed by how it transforms. If you keep it in a sealed container the snow stays good for a week or so.
We hope you have fun with these sensory play ideas. Something important to remember when giving your child sensory play opportunities, try no to make it too structured.
The beauty of sensory play is to give your child the resources, let them guide, then watch the learning magic happen. When they are allowed to let their imaginations soar they will create and learn far more than you could have ever planned!