Sensory play is important for all kids, but even more so for those who have sensory integration issues. Sensory play is any activity that uses one or more of the five senses – taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. When thinking about sensory play, think bouncy, noisy, tasty fun, squishy and maybe even a little bit smelly. The great thing about sensory play is that kids are learning without realizing it. But as you come up with ideas to present to your child, don’t focus on learning – focus on fun!
Exploring with their senses aids brain development and helps children better understand the world around them. It develops their fine motor, gross motor, and communication skills, along with balance and general body awareness. It can also have a calming effect on many children.
Here are 13 fun and easy ideas to get you started:
- Make homemade instruments. Make music with your child! It’s a great way to develop motor skills as they build their instrument. You can choose from several different types of DIY musical instruments that make either gentle or loud noises, depending on your child’s comfort level. Talk about the high and low sounds each instrument makes.
- Make and eat homemade ice cream. There are a number of ways to make homemade ice cream but the simplicity of a Mason jar recipe is perfect for children (if you don’t want to use glass, substitute a freezable plastic container). Ingredients are minimal (and you can throw in some different items/food textures to the mix) and your child can shake to his or her heart’s content until ready to freeze.
- Stomp on bubble wrap. Who doesn’t love bubble wrap? A great way to play with it is to get some masking or another firm tape out and make a “runway” of bubble wrap across the floor. Encourage your child to walk and dance across it while feeling the sensation and hearing the sounds associated with the bubble pops. They can use trucks, cars, or dolls to travel along the runway, too.
- Create a home garden. Kids can feel the sensation of putting their hands in the dirt and learn a little science along the way. After you plant your seeds, make homemade plant markers and watch the progress. If your child is able, encourage him or her to write down or draw what they see as their plants grow. You can try making your own mulch. At the end of the project, enjoy eating the results of your labor and talk about the taste sensations you experience.
- Finger paint with pudding. First, you’ll want to make your “paint”. Next, lay out a tray (a cookie tray works well) to contain the mess and place parchment or other paper on it. Encourage your child to create swirls, designs, and anything that comes to the imagination.
- Set up an “emergency room”. Creating this space is a great way for your child to learn more about hurts and empathy. Your child can see how to perform CPR on dolls or stuffed animals, put a cast on a broken bone, or how to use a bandage.
- Make a lava lamp in a bag. A scaled down and safe version of those vintage lava lamps, all you need is a large freezer bag, baby oil, food coloring, water and tape (to secure the bag so there is no accidental leakage). Let the fun begin!
- Play with food at snack time. Go to your pantry and refrigerator to see what you’ve got. Take a mix of foods and have your child sort them into various categories such as shape, color, texture, and flavor. Think cereal, granola, fruit, veggies, and cheese, to name a few. You can cut foods in different shapes to mix up the sorting possibilities.
- Get crafty with textures. The sky’s truly the limit on this one. You can dig around the house to see what items you have. When choosing items for your craft project, think sand, rice, noodles, cornmeal, ice cubes, shaving foam, and wet newspaper. Or, you can take your child on a special trip to the craft store and pick out a special project. If you’re at a loss of what to make, Pinterest has some great sensory-related ideas.
- Create sandbox play. Divide your sandbox into sections—dry and wet. Have your child try burying feet, hands, or both. For fun, hide some “treasures” for your child to hunt for while experiencing the different sensations associated with sand. Maybe some homemade slime, legos, or coins to experience different textures in the sand.
- Make sensory bottles. You can focus on a theme, a favorite character, or even preferred colors. If you want to include a way to discuss emotions, make an “Inside Out” set of sensory bottles. Or try making weather bottles. There is no shortage of ways you can make sensory bottles, the possibilities are endless!
- Create foam fireworks. Many children who have difficulties coping with sound or bright lights avoid fireworks. With foam fireworks, your child can experience fireworks in a fun, albeit a little messy, hands-on way to do it. All you need is space, play clothes, whipped cream, and food coloring.
- Build a fabric board. Take a large piece of cardboard, foam board, or even plywood and use a variety of fabric samples that have different textures and colors. If your child is old enough, have him or her glue the samples in a design or, if not, you can do this part yourself. Try felt, flannel, silk, carpet fragments or any other type of texture you can think of to use.
Sensory play is important for childhood development. By encouraging playful ideas that focus on the senses, your child will have fun while increasing brain function, processing, cognitive development, and emotional regulation. As a bonus, they’ll also have a great opportunity to build their vocabulary with descriptive words (think “sour”, “sweet”, “smooth”, “rough” “mushy”, “firm” etc). For children with on the autism spectrum, experiencing sensory play can help them to cope with other discomforts they tend to have with sensory stimuli.
Playing with your kids in different ways is a great bonding opportunity. Try some of these ideas and see what a difference sensory play can make for your child and the whole family.
Guest post By Jackie Nunes, Wondermoms.org