By Molly Getchell
Development Coordinator at CCGC
What Is Sensory Play?
At its core, sensory play is any play that engages some or all of the 5 senses, including touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing (and many times, balance or movement are included as another “sense” as well). In some ways, this might seem like a kind of silly blog post; without using at least one of these senses, it would be pretty difficult to do any playing at all! But this word “sensory” is something that comes up a lot for modern parents, and you may have already heard about how important it is to give kids opportunities to engage in real “sensory play” on a regular basis. This topic is slightly more complicated than it sounds. In a time when many children spend hours using technology every day, it can be a challenge to step back and make room for play that helps children to truly explore their environment using all five senses. But! This kind of play is so important, and the hardest part is definitely making the time available. Simple materials, a little bit of space, and an open mind are all families need to start bringing more sensory play into their homes.
Why All Kids Need Sensory Play
All kids are scientists
Giving kids a chance to experience the world around them on a sensory level means giving them exposure to objects, environments, and materials and allowing them to explore those things in a free form way. By picking things up, turning them over, combining them or changing them, kids learn real skills that help them to problem solve and make decisions in a way that no amount of screen time can achieve. Though it might sound far-fetched, children are really like tiny scientists. From the first time they are able to look around, even infants are making observations about the world around them. Later, each time a block is picked up, or a spoon pushed off the edge of a table, small children are doing experiments and “testing” the environment around them. They are looking to see if things work the same way each time, finding out about gravity and motion, and experiencing differences in weight, color, and texture that help them to learn how things are sorted in the world. These “experiments” go on all the time, not just during the parts of the day we call “playtime”. So, knowing this, imagine the kind of awesome experiences children have when we, as parents and caretakers, are able to give them a variety of materials, objects, and tools that they can explore and discover. And THAT is what “sensory play” is really all about.
Sensory Play teaches or helps kids practice:
- Motor skill development
- Frustration tolerance
- Language skills
- Math skills
- And best of all, its lots of FUN!
Side note: All kids benefit from sensory experiences, and some of the activities we have to share with you today are used in our special education day school here at CCGC, or during activity time in our Intensive Outpatient Program, North Star. For the children in our programs and in our school, activities like these can help them to learn coping skills and overcome the mental/behavioral health or educational barriers that they face (in addition to all the benefits listed above!). We’re bringing these activities to you today because regardless of age, gender, ability, mental health status, developmental level, or any other classification, all children can benefit from sensory play. There are few surer ways for children to learn about the world and themselves than by experiencing it directly. And the more they know, the stronger they will be as they make their way through childhood.
5 Sensory Play Activities that Kids Love
Luckily you don’t need an intensive outpatient program, a classroom setting, a lot of money, or any special tools or materials to make sensory play activities a part of your child’s life. In fact, there are bound to be lots of great materials already lying around the house already! Take a look below for a few of our FAVORITE activities involving some or all of the 5 senses, and try them out for yourself!
1.Calming Lavender Play-dough
This is a classic sensory activity. Not only is the play-dough fun to play with, it actually also really fun and easy to make! Lavender aroma is said to have a relaxing effect all on its own too, which doesn’t hurt if you’re looking for a way to bring a little tranquility to the household. But whether you find it calming or just plain old fun, this play-dough is sure to be a good time for kids that love to mold, squish, and shape their way through an afternoon.The recipes for this are many and varied, but typically only require a few simple ingredients (lavender essential oil might be just a bit trickier to find, but it is usually available at your local vitamin store!).
2. Sensory Boards or Frames
These are just so much fun! There are a million ways to do this, from simple picture frames filled with fun fabrics (glass removed) to complicated boards with locks and switches like this one. Depending on a child’s age, there are all kinds of ways to give them new chances to figure things out and even practice specific fine motor skills like zipping a zipper or tying shoelaces.
Slime is a modern classic when it comes to kids sensory activities. Chances are, if you have elementary school aged kiddos right now or work with children in any capacity you’ve found yourself up to your elbows in Elmer’s glue and glitter sometime in the past year or so. Check out this link to see some cool recipes you *might* not have already made, all with very safe ingredients and allergen free! There are so many cool ways to make slime your own, the ideas out there are truly endless!
4. Sensory Bins
A sandbox with no backyard required! Again this is an idea that has A LOT of variations. Fill a Tupperware bin (think shoe box sized) with any kind of material you like. Others have used sand, pebbles, rice, dried beans, beads, dried pasta, and then added small toys, rocks, sea shells, and other fun stuff as desired. Sandy boxes might have brightly colored paper taped to the bottom, making a fun reveal when the sand is brushed away. Boxes with beads or beans might be fun with the addition of a funnel for pouring and scooping. Though potentially a little on the messy side while the kids are actually playing, these boxes are easy to put a lid on and tuck away in between play times
5. Finger painting
So this doesn’t ACTUALLY have to be about painting with your fingers, you can use anything you want! There are families having tons of fun laying out the non-toxic paints and then going wild with cotton balls, tooth picks, paper towels, and just about anything else you can think of. My personal favorite? Get a collection of toy cars together, put a few drops of paint here and there on a piece of paper, and then run the trucks and cars through the paint in all different directions. Its fun to see what kinds of tracks all the tires make, AND you end up with some pretty cool abstract art work at the end!
How to Continue the Search for New Activities
This list could truly go on and on forever, and the good news is that you can easily find hundreds ideas like these with a simple search or two. Try using key search phrases like “sensory activities” “busy book” “sensory bin,” and “Fidget board”. Looking for more ideas right now? Check out our own Pinterest board and see what other cool ideas we’ve collected regarding sensory play, or follow us on Facebook to see posts of the activities that we do right here at CCGC!
Have fun and happy exploring!
Some links with more information: