It was a hot evening in our old neighbourhood. We were on the 24th floor of an apartment that seemingly soaked up every beam of the afternoon sun. Sweltering my way through making dinner, my just turned one-year-old sat underfoot, unsettled. She never let me cook alone. This particular day, however, the heat combined with my divided attention had her particularly ornery. As I husked corn, her big eyes looking up at me. As I pressed the skin of the husk in between my finger and thumb, I had an idea! I switched from husking into the sink to husking on to the floor. Almost immediately daughter was mesmerized as she pulled the corn silk from the husk little bit by little bit. She was calm, focused, and methodical. It was then I first saw how sensory play correlated with increased self-regulation in a child. It also showed me how simple sensory play ideas could be. Since then, I have seen how the chaos in my home can turn to calm by grabbing a simple sensory play medium, setting up an invitation to play, and letting my kids explore at their own pace.
There is no denying there is a self-regulation component to sensory play. We’ve all been there. The kids are acting up. You throw the in the bath and then suddenly, they are splashing happily. Or, you take them to the park. They get their hands into something like bark mulch or sand. And suddenly they’re right as rain. But self-regulation only scratches the surface of the wealth of learning and value that comes from sensory play. And sensory play ideas needed be an elaborate process found online, they can be as simple as combing some very basic household items.
What is sensory play?
Sensory play is any form of play that engages one or more senses.
Sensory Play Benefits
In sensory play, children aren’t simply splashing water, molding playdough, or digging in dirt, they’re learning a multitude of things.
In sensory play children learn:
- Cause and effect. For instance, if I stack this then it will create a pile. If I press down on it, it will become flat. If I pour water, sand will become wet. If I fill up a container past its rim, the contents will spill over. Really the causal learning is endless!
- Scientific reasoning.
- Sensory play is one of the earliest forms of hypothesis and theory testing. During sensory play, I stretch playdough to see how far it goes and learn at a certain point it breaks. I can then continue to test if adding more play dough delays the breaking point and if removing play dough increases the time at which it breaks. I can test to see if wet sand is easier to build a castle with than dry sand.
- Physical properties and physical reactions are also learned by manipulating sensory mediums
- Mathematical reasoning. If I take 250ml of water and pour it into a 500ml bottle at first, I will think the quantity has changed based on the size of container. But with enough experience, I will slowly learn that the quantity remains the same.
- Problem-solving. If the cup I’m filling with cloud dough is overflowing, maybe I should try split up the contents between two containers or use a large container to fill.
- Creativity. Sensory mediums can act as a canvas for a child’s imagination. Play dough can become a flower, a ball, a person, a scene… A water table can be a swimming pool, a science lab, a pond, ocean, or adventure scene.
Furthermore, there is a tremendous To read many more of the fascinating benefits of sensory play, including how they promote language and social and emotional development, click here.
7 Simple Sensory Play Ideas
The truth is sensory play ideas are all around us, whether you’re cleaning out your pantry, playing outside, scrolling through Pinterest or visiting a preschool or kindergarten classroom. And while water tables and sandboxes are staples in every childhood, there are so many other ideas to stimulate the senses.
- Grab a tub of water and some crystals or jello powder. Put about a tablespoon of the crystals in water and grab some bath toys to play with.
- Empty out the old stale cereal from your pantry by putting them in a bin. Run over them with toy trucks or smash them using toy tools.
- Make coloured cloud dough using chalk, vegetable oil, and flour.
- Make playdough with jello in it.
- Using coloured lentils, rice, or/and or dried beans, put them in a disposable pan or bin, grab some farm toys and have fun!
- Free ice cubes with food colouring and then place the ice into a bin with water. Again, add bath toys for some extra fun!
- Take some glitter glue, mason jars, little toys and warm water to make sensory jars.
- A bag of top soil, a large container or kiddie pool, and trucks or sandbox toys and have fun!
Want more sensory play ideas including the research behind play and adaptations for all ages?
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