Children are a lot like sponges. They use each of their five senses — seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting — to gather information about their environment.
Sensory play are games and activities that give children a chance to experience their world using all of their senses. We experience a lot of the world through our eyes, but it’s important to get our senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing involved too.
To help get you started, here are five ways you can stimulate your child’s senses today;
Everyone remembers playing with playdough as a kid. It’s a great sensory experience for little fingers, helps stimulate the imagination and builds fine motor skills.
If you don’t have any lying around the house, making your own playdough can be extremely rewarding. Not only can you (or your child) choose the colour, but you can intensify the sensory element by adding your own fragrance or fun texture.
No-cook playdough recipe
You will need:
1 cup of salt
2 cups of plain flour
2 tablespoons of oil
2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
1-1/2 cups of boiling water
3-4 drops of glycerine (optional)
Colour: Divide the dough and add a few drops of food colouring to each ball for different colours.
Smell: Add a few teaspoons of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, or cocoa powder for a sweet-smelling experience.
Texture: Add rice, sand, dried beans, split peas or woody herbs such as rosemary to the playdough to help little ones learn about textural differences.
#2 Spaghetti painting
Next time you’re having bolognese for dinner, pop on an extra handful of spaghetti. Cooked spaghetti is a wonderful way for little children to learn about texture, temperature and colour all at the same time. It’s super fun for big kids too — when was the last time you let yourself play with your food?
You will need:
1 cup of cooked spaghetti
A selection of non-toxic paints (toddlers may feel the need to taste fun coloured spaghetti!)
A few A4 sheets of paper
All you need to do is put a few different paint colours on a baking tray, then plop a few strands of spaghetti into each colour. Let your child mix the spaghetti into the paint, then show them how to “paint” with it by drawing it across the page. It’s a good idea to tape the paper to the table for younger children and be prepared for mess!
#3 Treasure hunt
Kids love surprises. As soon as object permanence sets in (around eight months), peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek become favourite games for children who delight in “finding” hidden objects.
If you have a sandpit your child will have fun finding small toys buried in the sand. For younger children, try partially burying objects then show them how to find them by brushing the sand aside to reveal the toy. Older children will have fun using a spade — you can even make a game out of it by burying toy dinosaurs for an archaeological dig, or seashells for a seaside experience.
If sand isn’t an option, a bucket of rice is a great alternative. It feels great running through little fingers, makes a satisfying sound, and can hide things just as well as its gritty counterpart.
Bursting bubble wrap is satisfying for big and little kids alike. But you can take the fun to a new level by taping bubble wrap to the ground to make a sensory stomping ground for little feet. Not only will the popping sound stimulate your child’s sense of hearing, but they’ll get a bubbly feeling on their feet too!
#5 Sensory lunch
If you have a fussy eater and can tolerate a bit of mess, creating a sensory lunch for your little one may be just what the doctor ordered.
While teaching kids good table manners is important, letting them explore with their tastebuds is just as valuable. Kids who are able to explore new foods with their fingers are more likely to have a varied diet and we all know that having fun at the dinner table makes for a more pleasurable experience all round.
You can stimulate your toddler’s sense of sight by providing a variety of different coloured foods each meal and, if you have the time, by creating funny faces or landscapes out of fruit, vegetables and pasta. Or you can let older children help out in the kitchen and prepare a fun meal that the whole family can enjoy.