So, what is sensory play? Simply put, sensory play is different types of play that stimulates young children's senses – including touch, taste, sight, sound and smell, as well as anything that involves movement and balance.
One of the great things about sensory play is there’s really no limit to what you can do (obviously within reason and ensuring it’s safe). It means there are lots of types of sensory play activities for children of different ages. Take a look below at some of the different types of sensory activity in the early years of a childs life - from baby to preschool age.
Sensory play for babies 0-12 months
Sensory stimulation is an important way for babies to first get to know the world around them. Before sensory play turns into hands-on activities, babies have many early visual and motor stimulations.
- High contrast colours, like Black & White shapes, help children to develop the optic nerve. Consider hanging different B&W shapes around your child’s play area.
- Tummy time can be adapted into a sensory experience by using a bright-coloured playmat.
- Going for a walk, or even just window-watching is another great sensory activity. Chirping birds, feeling the breeze, and experiencing different surroundings work well all whilst narrating to your baby as you go.
- Noisy toys are great! Your baby will likely become fascinated with sensory toys that squeak, rattle, play music etc. Offer your child an assortment of different noisy toys to play with. Make sure you check the minimum age recommendation on the toys first.
- Feeling different textures whilst describing them to your baby is another form of sensory play. “The cat’s fur is soft, the grass is wet, and the blanket is fluffy”
Sensory play for toddlers aged 1-2
When toddlers begin to walk and talk, there are even more sensory play experiences for them to take part in. This is when sensory play can turn into different types of art and messy play!
- Sand, sand and more sand! But what are the benefits of sand play? Well, playing in the sand - wet sand and dry sand - helps children learn about textures through their sense of touch and develop their hand-eye coordination. Sensory play that includes other children also helps with social skills and language skills! If you’re looking for accessories for this, take a look at our range of Sand & Water Play products.
- Make music with things like bells, shakers, tambourines, triangles, and a keyboard or keep it simple (and cheap) by using pans and spoons!
- Bathtime play is another great sensory activity for your toddler. If you don’t mind getting messy, bathtime crayons and paints are great. If you want to keep it clean, give your little one sponges, measuring cups, empty bottles etc to see what floats and what sinks.
- Getting messy with finger paints is a great sensory activity as it involves colour and touch. The best bit is this can be done just before bath time to wash away the mess.
- Smelling and tasting different flavours can be fun! Get some spices, empty out the jars and get your little ones to smell them. If there are any spices they like the smell of, pop a little in some plain yoghurt so they know how they taste too!
Get them moving and feeling different surfaces with small ride-ons, like our Bugs range! Let them scoot along a range of surfaces like grass, the path, carpet and wooden floors to feel the difference
- A great way to develop your child’s balancing skills is using a balance board! Not only can the board be used for balancing, but it can also be adapted into a chair, table, bridge, slide and more. A balance board assists in muscle development to promote good posture, plus improves balance, coordination and other gross motor skills.
Sensory play for pre-schoolers 3-4
As your children's communication skills and attention spans get stronger, you can make the sensory play more complex but just as fun! You don’t need to spend loads of money to do this, don’t worry – it’s simple to up the sensory play without spending a fortune.
- Set up samples of different coloured fruits and let your little one explore them – ask them to describe the smell, colour, texture, size and of course the taste!
- Digging in the sand is another great sensory play activity. Pop in different shaped items into a sand pit and let your child dig and explore to find them - our Dig & Explore accessory kit is a great way to do this. If you don’t have a sandpit, you can create an indoor version by putting things like uncooked rice, pasta and oats into a tub.
- Mud Kitchens are a great sensory play activity that stimulates everything from fine motor skills, maths skills and problem-solving. We’ve delved into the benefits of a mud kitchen in this article so if you’re considering getting a mud kitchen, take a look!
- Give your child a collection of different objects like tiles, blocks, sticks and stones etc and let them make patterns with them! If your child is hesitant to do this at first, make one for them to get them started. Then sit back and see what they come up with!
It’s never too early to get started with sensory play and we hope the above helps inspire you on what to do with your little ones.