What is Sensory Play? Why Is It So Important?

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Sensory play is a form of open ended play that encourages the use of your five senses and teaches your child to use descriptive language (e.g. These noodles feel slimy and look shiny).

Sensory play can seem like such a huge task, Pinterest makes it seem so much more daunting than it needs to be, for a lot of people. You don’t need anything fancy or any special supplies (Unless you want to of course!) Artistic ability isn’t even a requirement! The most important think to consider while planning sensory play activities are:

  • “is this project developmentally/age appropriate?”
    • As your child grows, the sensory play activities will morph and grow with them. Sticking to age and developmentally appropriate activities is extremely important in making sure that your child is getting the most out of these activities.
  • “Are these materials safe?”
    • Avoiding harsh and unnatural chemicals is especially important during sensory play, as children experiment with objects and materials, they may put them in their mouths to further examine the product.
  • “Are these materials engaging my child’s senses?”
    • It is sensory play, after all! Encouraging your child to tell you what the materials feel like, look like, do they have a smell? Sensory play should encourage your child to use their senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and yes, even taste!) Not all sensory play activities will engage every single one of the senses, of course, they could!

By including regular sensory play in your child’s life, you are laying the ground work for teaching well rounded problem solving skills and creative expression. It has been shown to help with anxiety, memory and the use of fine (grasping/writing/drawing) and gross (sitting, walking, jumping) motor skills.

Sensory play ideas:

  • Play dough
    • You can make it yourself or buy premade, there’s lots of great premade, non toxic playdough options out there if making it just isn’t your jam. Wild Dough just launched in the U.S. and Canada, which is AMAZING! I can not wait to try it out! (I’m not affiliated, just obsessed.)
  • Dry noodles
    • You can color them with food coloring to create a lot of visual stimulation as well as choose multiple different noodle types.
  • Cooked noodles
    • These can be especially fun, you can dye them with food coloring after cooking them by putting them into a ziploc with a splash of water and food coloring. Let your child help squish it around to coat all of the noodles with food coloring!
  • Dry beans
    • Have a variety! Provide scoops and bowls for your child to use, encourage them to hear the sounds the beans make when they land in each bowl.
  • Paper
    • show your child how to rip the paper, encourage them to rip it themselves. Allow them to create freely with the paper shreds. Wonder out loud about the sound the paper makes when they rip it.
  • Whipped cream
    • Mmmm yumm. This is a great activity to get your taste senses involved in! Have your child squish the whipped cream in their hands, scoop it with a spoon, even taste it!
  • Ice cubes
    • Ice cubes are a great summer activity! You can even add surprises in the ice, like little toy bugs! Or you could add food coloring and enjoy watching the colors melt and mix together (this is a great segue into basic color theory!)
  • Slime
    • Playing with slime is a fantastic way to help build hand strength! And there’s so many different types!
  • Rice and herbs
    • What a great way to introduce your child to some strong smells that might be intimidating to their senses, in such a fun way! Let them mix the herbs in themselves and experiment with how the herbs change the appearance of the rice.
  • Musical instruments
    • You can make your own with a bottle and some beans, rocks or rice! Or even just letting your child bang on pots and pans with different objects.
  • Snow
    • Winter is almost here, snow has already started to fall in many areas! Playing in the snow helps a child build muscles they need in order to improve their gross motor skills!

Sensory play can be messy, which I know can be a huge turn off for people. But, children learn best through play and yes, through making messes. After play time is over, encourage your child to help you clean up!

It’s also beneficial for adults to engage in sensory play activities, so don’t be afraid to jump in and play too! But, make sure to let your child lead.

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3 thoughts on “What is Sensory Play? Why Is It So Important?

  1. […] Today, I found the perfect “bin”, and the best part? I didn’t have to spend any money, at all! We still had our daughters old changing table in the attic. It is PERFECT! So, if you have one laying around, that you just don’t know what to do with, definitely consider using it for sensory play! If you’re not sure what sensory play is and you’d like to learn more about it, you can check out my post here. […]

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