Sensory ideas to play at home with your child

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. It helps children in many aspects of development including:

  • Exploratory learning: sensory play is unstructured, open-ended, not product-oriented.
  • Encourages imagination and creative play.
  • Problem solving and concentration.
  • Fine motor skills and coordination.
  • Language development: experimenting with language and descriptive words.
  • Self-esteem: sensory play offers kids the opportunity for self-expression because there is no right answer and children feel safe to change or experiment with what they are doing.

It is a vital part of growing and learning and is extremely important in developing healthy sensory integration in all children.

Tactile sensory activities are one type of sensory play that is easy to do at home. These activities facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to create, investigate, discover and explore.

You can encourage sensory play through sensory bins, table-top activities, activities around the house or even in the garden! While sensory play does not need to be set up and managed with fancy materials, it does need to be FUN and inviting for your children to join in the play.

Here are some fun ideas to try at home:

Cloud Dough

This is made using rice cereal and coconut oil. The rice cereal is an amazing texture. It’s soft and fluffy, but powdery and flaky at the same time. Once the coconut oil is added, it clumps into fantastic balls to be molded, shaped and explored.

You will need:

  • 1 Cup baby cereal
  • 3 Tablespoons of melted coconut oil

Pour the rice cereal into a container. Add the coconut oil and mix together. Let it cool.

Ideas to play:

Feel it, smell it, squeeze it, grab it, spread it…and of course taste it!

Rice Sensory Bins

You will need:

  • 1 tablespoon Vinegar
  • 1 cup Rice
  • a few drops food colouring

Rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of rice and as much food colouring for the shade you desire. Make it in a ziplock bag, pour in the vinegar and food colouring, add the rice and shake the bag. Once the rice is mixed well, spread it out onto the wax paper to dry. It takes about an hour.

Ideas to play:

  • Choose a few small toys such as animals or shapes and hide them in the rice for your child to find. Let them try guess the animal or shape before they open their eyes.
  • Play “where is my hand?” in which you bury your hand under the rice and try find it.
  • Use a funnel to watch the rice fall through through the hole.
  • Mix the colours together.
  • Add dry black beans and have fun picking them out.
  • Climb into the bin and hide your feet.

Rubbery Goop

This can be stretched and pulled apart into smaller pieces and it all rolls back up into a smooth soft ball.

You will need:

  • 2 cups bicarbonate soda (baking soda)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 cup of corn starch
  • Food colouring

Combine all ingredients into a saucepan. Mix the ingredients together using a whisk to remove lumps. Heat on stove stirring with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to the boil while continuously stirring. Small lumps will begin to appear, continue to stir until a thick mixture has formed. Pour out onto a wooden tray or surface. Be careful the Rubbery Goop will be very hot! Let it cool and knead together to form a smooth ball of Rubbery Goop. Store in a plastic zip-lock bag or air tight container.

Ideas for play:

  • Play with Rubbery Goop much like play dough using rolling pins, play scissors and cookie cutters.
  • Add gemstones, bottle tops, shells, toy cars, dinosaurs or any other nick knacks from around the house.
  • Use descriptive language to describe the experience: ‘how does the Rubbery Goop feel? It feels soft, smooth and stretchy.’

Sand Foam

You will need:

  • clean sand
  • shaving cream
  • large tray or tub 

There is no real defined amounts for the ingredients, the sand and shaving cream amounts can be adjusted until you are happy with the consistency. Start with 3 cups of sand and 200ml of shaving cream and see what happens! Add more sand to continue exploring the textures.

Ideas for play:

  • Add dinosaurs, shells and toy cars to extend the play and encourage imaginative play stories. The shells would make a great beach theme activity, the dinosaurs to create a sandy dinosaur world and the toy cars creating roads or moving sand construction site.
  • Hide plastic alphabet letters, numbers or other items to create a hide and seek game.
  • Draw and write in the sand foam tray. You can write your name, letters, numbers, draw shapes and pictures.

Spaghetti Worms

You will need:

  • cooked and cooled spaghetti
  • large tray
  • food colouring

To colour the spaghetti, place approximately 8 drops of each colour food dye into separate bowls. Evenly share out the cooled spaghetti into the bowls and gently stir until the colouring has evenly dispersed. Mix it all together into one large bowl to play with.

Ideas for play:

  • Squeeze it, squash it and stretch it!
  • Hide coins or marbles in the spaghetti for your child to pick out.

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