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Tickle Their Senses. Play dough, slime and more!

Simple sensory play activities for your kids

Simple sensory play activities for your kids

Children instinctively gravitate toward sensory play. Have you ever seen a child walk around a mud puddle? No. Kids automatically feel the need to explore that puddle, that sand, that layer of ice on top of the puddle. And there is a good reason for that desire to engage in sensory play; it’s one of the best ways kids learn.

Children enjoy using all five senses as they play. They focus their sight on everything around them. They listen to the sounds, enjoy touching objects and smelling them and when appropriate, tasting them. In addition to the five senses, children also learn body awareness and a sense of balance as they engage in hand-on activities.

As kids do simple sensory play activities, they gain cognitive skills, learn new language, learn social skills, problem solving skills and both fine and gross motor skills. Something as simple as playing in sand can help kids think about what sand is made of and where it came from, learn words such as smooth and rough, figure out ways to form the sand into shapes and problem solve that adding a bit of water aids in making that sand castle. Forming the sand into shapes builds motor skills and waiting for a turn with a certain tool aids in social awareness.

Sensory play is fun. It has a calming effect on children, especially those who are nervous or anxious. Simple sensory activities can engage children for much longer periods of time than an adult-led activity because they are both fun and satisfying. Be aware that while it looks like kids are “just playing,” in reality they’re building new neural pathways in the brain which sets the stage for deeper learning later on.

Here are some simple sensory activities, many of them using items you already have around the house.

  1. Play dough, slime, cloud dough and kinetic sand are all products that invite lots of squishing, shaping and creating. Cloud dough is made simply with two parts cornstarch to one part hair conditioner. Or, you can use eight parts flour to one part baby oil. Kids love to play with these dough products and will find new ways to play with them each and every time. Lots of kinetic satisfaction here.

  2. Musical activities: Kids love to move to the sounds of music. They like to play games such as musical chairs or freeze tag. They also love to create sounds to go along with music. Homemade or purchased rhythm instruments such as shakers, drums, maracas, and tambourines will keep kids busy for long periods of time. Simple scarves allow children to respond to music in dramatic ways and making up dance moves is another way to hear and respond to the rhythms of music.

  3. Listening Games: Take your kids on a sound walk or simply stop all activity indoors and listen for a period of time. Then ask your children to report on what they heard. Another way to play this game is to have a checklist and “search” for various sounds such as sirens, birdsong, shuffling of feet, etc. You can also play auditory processing games in which you give simple verbal directions and have the children follow them in order. Have children identify various animal sounds or random sounds such as the noise a zipper makes or tearing a piece of paper.

  4. Edible Sensory Play: Tasting fun can sometimes be the goal such as tasting a variety of melons and identifying them. Or, the fun can be in using items that if tasted are safe for children. Some edible ideas for sensory fun are playing with rainbow Jell-o, making cereal necklaces, finger painting with cool-whip, yogurt or instant pudding, or playing in cooked pasta. 

  5. Painting, drawing and coloring with various art supplies are always great ways for children to express themselves and explore new learning. Keep a variety of pencils, markers, paints and coloring tools on hand. Bring out new ones periodically to keep the activities fresh and interesting. Invite your child to share their thoughts about their drawings or paintings or ask them to tell you a story about them.

  6. Sensory tubs can be filled with a wide variety of substances including sand, rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, dry beans, cooked spaghetti, seeds, water, tapioca or ice cubes. Kids love to sift, scoop, pour, sort, hunt for and organize objects found in the tubs. You might try small sea creatures in sand, pieces of sponge in water, or small animal and people figures in rice. Yes, these activities are sometimes messy, but they offer tons of sensory play experience.

By now you probably have thought of several sensory activities you can do with your kids without even leaving home. For more ideas and information on sensory play go to:

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