Imagine an hour in your day when you can sit back, reheat that coffee, and finally get to read through that Athleta catalog sitting on your kitchen table. Once we help introduce sensory play, we may be on our way.
But it takes a couple of sensory play training rounds before you can fully relax as couscous is being scooped and poured on your kitchen floor. Grab the oats and the bin. How to introduce sensory play is here!
What Are the Benefits of Sensory Play?
Sensory play is the work of a child. It explores sight, touch, smell, sound, and sometimes taste to develop a deeper understanding of core math and science concepts.
- Brain development – Kids use their noggin in so many ways during sensory play. ‘What’s this? Will it work if I do that? What’s this called, and how do I use it?’
- Explores sight – Water in sensory play moves and changes shape and color is appealing to the eye. Great for exploring what they see!
- Exposure to new textures – Learning about different textures is amazing because it encourages children to try new things as they grow.
- Focus – Sensory play is so fun that they become completely absorbed and focus on the activity!
- Hand-eye coordination – pouring, scooping, picking, what more could you ask for when it comes to hand-eye coordination?!
- Listening – Sensory play materials make all kinds of sounds. The patter of rice, the pouring of water. You name it, sensory play’s got it!
- Self-control – When your child is trying something new, they are practicing self-control through their body movements to achieve what they want.
- Smell – The smell of something new is enjoyable and intriguing, and it gets them engaged in the activity.
- Sometimes even taste – exposure to different tastes through play allows children to try different foods. Broccoli, here I come!
- Touch – even as adults, we love touch. The feel of a fluffy blanket is my personal fav! Experiencing touch teaches children to try something new, even if it feels strange at first!
There is so much more to science and math than memorizing words. But that’s not the only reason sensory play is important for a kid’s development. Check out these 4 ways play can boost your child’s mood.
Sensory Play Ideas
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when choosing a sensory play activity. Luck for you, I’ve listed loads below! All activities should be done under adult supervision © 2021 by Days with Grey LLC.
Texture Sensory Play
- Beans – Pour and Scoop
- Cloud Dough Construction Site
- Color Mixing
- Flower Cutting
- Kinetic Sand with Pups!
- More Beans – and how to make it work
- Sand Shaving Cream Duplo Mix-Up
- Shaving Cream Eyeball Play
- Sticky Pumpkin
- Tissue Paper Pumpkin Art
- Water Beads – the brand you will love
You can add many things to water. Use funnels, containers, plastic cups, and bowls.
- Bear Soup
- Cranberry Pour
- Eyeball Soup
- Ice Alphabet Match
- Lemon Sensory Bin
- Neon Squirt
- Ocean Bin
- Outdoor Water Ramps
- Paint the Ice
- Rescue the Bears
- Shaving Cream Foam Block Play
- Water Buttons
- 35+ Ideas for Water Play Roundup
RELATED: Curious how I manage to stay home with 3 children under 5? Breakfast Invitations save us.
How to Introduce Sensory Play
Step 1. Sit with your child
In your first couple of setups, you are sitting WITH your child. They are sitting on the opposite side of you so you can face one another.
Step 2. Encourage your child
Support your child as they begin to engage using prepositional phrases. “Good job! You are putting your rice IN the cup! Look at you! You hid the spoon UNDER the rice.”
Step 3. Keep up encouragement as they play
Encourage your child when they begin to take handfuls of your chosen sensory play and dump it into their lap. You can do this with phrases such as, “Put the rice IN the bin. Watch mommy; I am putting the rice INSIDE the bin.” Then continue to model where the rice needs to go.
If your child listens, remember to congratulate them on their excellent job, again using prepositions. “You did it! That’s right! You put the rice INSIDE the bowl. Smart move!”
Step 4. Reinforce that sensory items need to stay in the tub
If your child continues to toss the rice, take the bin away. Remind them. “Mom asked you to keep the rice inside the bin. If we throw the rice, the bin gets put away.”
Remember, your child is still learning. If your child asks to play again, remind them to keep the rice INSIDE the bin as you place it back on the floor.
Now again, you are going to sit with your child. Continue to sit together as you model and reinforce for the first handful of sensory bins.
How to Set up Sensory Play
Step 1. Pick your sensory play filler.
There are a couple of guidelines regarding what you are putting into the sensory bin.
The first and most important rule is ensuring your one-year-old will not choke. If it is a maybe, do not use it. Not worth it. There are SO many other sensory play ideas to use in exchange.
Here, I am using couscous. Sometimes I find what will go into our sensory bin by what is expired in my pantry. Sadly, my couscous enthusiasm must have dwindled since it expired in 2016. Yikes!
Suggestions for Sensory Play
- Bath soap and water
- Cloud dough
- Kinetic sand
- Shaving cream
- Shredded paper
Step 2. Create your sensory play buffer zone.
I like to lay down a variety of buffers to create the “okay to spill zone.” Do I tell my kids there is an “Okay to Spill Zone?”
Allow you and your children some flexibility. If I tell my children they have some extra room to spill; water will be everywhere. – These are the tricky mom moves that keep me sane.
If I tell my kids to keep the water in the container, it will naturally trickle into the buffer zone. It happens. But it is also important to make limits you can wiggle with to set your patience up for success.
Keep in mind; little arms are practicing holding their hands steady. This skill needs to be done repeatedly to help down the road when they pour their own milk, write, and prepare ingredients for a meal. The trick is to keep the space clean and to invite.
What to use as your buffer zone
- Old bedsheet
- Old indoor cycling mat
- Old towel
- Old yoga mat
- Plastic shower liner
- Plastic table cloth
Step 3. Set limits on sensory play; sit tight.
Unfortunately, we cannot set the sensory play up, then walk away.
I have never met a one-year-old that also doesn’t like to run away with the rice as it falls aimlessly out of their hands. I also know of a couple of one-year-olds that enjoy throwing rice across the room.
Now riddle this – It is usual for your one-year-old to WANT to throw, toss and run away with your supplies! They are curious little people that are learning life through their senses. That is a brilliant thing!
Our role here is to help them understand the guidelines of when and where to go awol. It is just as important to remind your toddlers that they need to keep the rice IN the bin.
I find this book Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers an amazing resource for children!
Step 4. Troubleshooting sensory play conflict.
Many times all three boys are hands-on in a sensory bin at once.
It can go smoothly, and rarely do things plummet south. But it happens! They are kids.
Typically I try to stand on the sidelines and see how they work themselves out. When they need me to intervene, we have two phrases that I like to share.
Sometimes these phases work, and others, in the heat of the moment, do not. But what is more important is that I am implanting suggestive problem-solving skills that surprise me when the kids use it on their terms.
When there is a BIG problem, stop.
Come sit next to your kids and say, “Let’s make a plan.” If it doesn’t resonate with them, remind them that “the sensory bin will go away”, and they can let you know when you are ready to try again.
Both of these phrases are incredibly powerful to hear and practice. We want our children to be problem solvers and find ways to resolve conflict without adult intervention. The way we do this is by modeling ourselves.
Step 5. Remember, cleanup is just a vacuum away
We are all moving at 100 MPH. We don’t really want to add one more thing to our to-do list, which is to clean up spilled-over rice. I get it. But the longevity of sensory bin play outweighs the cleanup time by a long shot.
Remember, cleanup is just a vacuum away.
Now you are ready to begin sensory play!
RELATED: Check out these Outdoor Toys and Supplies for your sensory play.
My Little One’s Experience With Sensory Play
Here, my 20-month-old is scooping and pouring. My toddler has been practicing on and off again for the last couple of months.
It started with the strawberry bin, but who are we kidding? That was probably mostly for my pleasure to watch and take pictures.
Then we moved on to stacking blocks and sand play. The more we do, the better my toddler understands that sensory play materials do not get thrown across the room.
Does sensory play etiquette happen on its own? No. But keep trying and you’ll get there!
RELATED: 40+ Ideas for One-Year-Olds
Sensory Play is Incredible for Development
There are so many options for sensory play, and it doesn’t have to be complicated! When will you try sensory play?
Love Sensory Play? Check Out These Ideas
- Five Secrets that Support Sensory Play
- How to Decode Sight Words
- Kinetic Sand for Kids – 20+ Ways to Play
- What’s Inside? A Beginning Sound Activity for Kindergarten
Activities on Demand
Want great ideas without the ads? Download these 20 hands-on learning games for kids.
Frequently Asked Questions
What age should you introduce sensory play?
Sensory play can be introduced as early as a few months old. Keep in mind sensory play is not limited to a traditional bin filled with rice. One-year-olds learn by looking, seeing, touching, hearing, and grasping. Allow babies to touch new textures and objects for sensory play. Toddlers like to stack, transport, touch, fill, dump, bang, pound, push, twist, climb, and swing. Sensory play can be in a bin or in the backyard.
How do you introduce more sensory experiences?
Think about how different objects feel. Does a plastic play pot feel the same as a metal pot in the play kitchen? Does the fabric on the rug feel different from the fabric on a silk scarf?
How do you incorporate sensory play in the classroom?
Adding a textured wall with many different fabrics is a fun way to incorporate sensory play for all ages.
What are sensory play examples?
This list of sensory bins for kids has sensory play examples for clean sensory play, water and ice, and messy sensory experiences.
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