Got a little one who adores exploring textures? Who wants to touch EVERYTHING? Who loves to get dirty?
If the answer is yes, that’s good. Because sensory play is great for his or her development and creativity. It’s just not so wonderful for you and your floors, but we have a few handy tips for that…
We asked childcare manager, Andrea Christie-David from Leor In Home Early Learning to weigh in on sensory play. What is it? What are the benefits of sensory play? And how can parents encourage this creative play (without the excessive mess to clean up afterward)?
Sensory play makes perfect sense
Sensory play is any type of activity or play which promotes and stimulates any of the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Most children are exposed to this type of play every day, which is great because kids – especially infants, toddlers and preschoolers – can’t get enough of it!
Any time your little one is mushing his food in his hands before eating it, he’s exploring both the taste and touch senses. When you sing to your infant or let your tot splash in muddy puddles, you’re fine-tuning their sense of sound. When you and your little one bake cookies together, you’re channeling his or her sense of smell. Playing in a bubble bath, moulding figurines with play dough, rolling around in the grass – all explore the sense of touch.
Andrea tells Mum Central.
These sensory experiences are significant for stimulating brain development, encouraging new language skills, regulating emotions and encouraging creative fun!
As children are being exposed to different sensory play at home or daycare, they are beginning to use multiple senses to accomplish a task. This heightens their brain development. They will learn more from that experience and retain more information.”
The added benefits of sensory play
Not only is sensory play engaging and entertaining, but it’s also crucial for children’s development.
Sensory play develops their attention and concentration levels, as well as their information processing and problem-solving skills. It’s also helpful for teaching kids pre-mathematical skills, such as sorting, measuring the quantity and shapes.
Sensory play lets kids tap into their creative side and become familiar with different textures. This is great for keeping them entertained, but it also helps to develop their sense of achievement.
Great for fine motor skills
Ruth Barker from Toddler Education Series explains that sensory play also helps little humans with their fine motor skills.
By absorbing information through the senses, manipulating objects with fine motor skills (the small muscles of the hand) and engaging their gross muscles through action, this assists in increasing strength, stamina and coordination, particularly of the core, limbs and hands.”
Soothing for all senses
Sensory play can also be soothing, calming and mesmerising. As Andrea explains, “For those children who need help with self-regulation, sensory play can provide calming and therapeutic techniques to help them deal with their emotions.”
Plus, it’s a great stress-reliever for parents too!
Awesome sensory play activities and ideas
Looking to add more sensory play to your kids’ day? Here are a few fun ideas to throw into the mix.
Water play fun – Place a water trough outside, complete with ladles and pots. Add shampoo or bubble bath to make bubbles and throw in a few sponges for squeezing. Make it messy by adding shaving foam to the fun! Or mud!
Kinetic Sand action – Kids LOVE sand but it’s not always easy to make a mad dash to the beach. Luckily, Kinetic Sand brings the sand play to you with soft, stretchy, colourful sand that is so much fun to play with! Check out the reviews here.
Taste testing – Here’s one for those taste buds! Enjoy a feast at snack time by filling up a 12-tin muffin tray with different treats. Try sweet flavours (mini marshmallows and berries), tangy flavours (orange pieces and grapes), and salty flavours (pretzels and nuts). You can even add a blindfold for added fun!
Textured fabrics – A great way to engage babies in sensory play is to let them lay and play on different fabrics. Many play mats include textured squares and tags built into the mat, but you can also bring out the soft cotton blankets, silk scarves and woolly sweaters for them to feel and explore.
Sensory bags – Make these yourself by filling up sandwich bags with sand, grass or hay and adding an assortment of beads, pom poms and other crafty items. You can make sensory bags out of other textures too, such as non-toxic paint, rice, lentils, etc.
Coloured rice – Toddlers will love driving their toy cars through this brightly coloured rice! You’ll need sandwich bags, dried rice and different-coloured paints to create a rainbow of rice fun. Simply place rice and a dollop of paint into each sandwich bag, mix around and let dry.
Musical instruments – Delight the sound sense by creating musical instruments out of things you have at home, such as empty paper towel rolls filled with dried beans or rice for shakers.
Hunt for buried treasure – For another sand play activity, fill up a large tray with Kinetic Sand and hide little objects (bouncy balls, toy dinosaurs, insects, miniature figures or old coins) for them to dig out.
Edible paint – Great for taste and touch, we’ve got easy-to-follow instructions on how to make edible paint using icing sugar or coconut.
Want more ideas? Check out our sensory play recipes for some easy DIY ideas to make.
Top tips for managing the sensory play mess
Of course, with all the fun comes a bit of a mess! Here are some ways to control the chaos when engaging in sensory activities.
- Plan your activity area either outside or always use a messy mat to cover an area inside your home.
- Always have baby wipes on hand! These are great for cleaning slimy fingers, washing down toys and wiping countertops.
- Control the amount of mess by starting with a small amount first and then adding when necessary.
- For younger infants, use re-sealable bags to keep messy ingredients inside whilst still allowing sensory engagement by moving the liquid or materials around the bag, feeling it.
- For toddlers, contain sensory items in a large tray or tub and place in the garden or on a messy mat indoors.
- With older children, be sure to discuss the rules and boundaries before starting any activity. And make sure they have a clear understanding of what they need to do to help clean up afterward.
- Choose mess-free activities. Kinetic sand is one of our top choices for sensory play in preschoolers, kindy kids and beyond. And what’s extra-awesome about it is that it’s relatively mess-free, unlike slime and playdough. It never dries out, is reusable and doesn’t stick together, so it’s super easy to clean up.
There are plenty of bright colours and kits to choose from too, which means you can always add to your Kinetic Sand collection as you go. Check out the full range of Kinetic Sand at Big W, Kmart, Woolworths and Toyworld.
What to read next
- Check out even more sensory play ideas with these 10 Recipes for Sensory and Motor Play
- Get crafty with these 13 Fun Crafts for Kids Using Things You ALREADY Have Around the House
- Learn more about why we’re loving Kinetic Sand, the Ultimate in Creative, Mess-Free Sensory Play For Kids