Sensory play is one of the most exciting and enjoyable ways for children to learn and develop. Not only does sensory play help to develop and build gross and fine motor skills, but you’ll also notice a real improvement in your child’s concentration, coordination and enthusiasm for learning.
Using all the five senses helps children to discover more about the world and develop a curiosity about everything around them. Sensory play is ideal for encouraging imaginative ideas and creative thinking alongside logical reasoning and problem solving.
There are so many ways you can incorporate sensory play activities at home with your child. It’s so satisfying to watch children learn and develop through various sensory play activities that are often quick, cheap and easy to create for them.
Make Homemade Playdough
Source: I Heart Naptime
This is one of the most popular and time-tested sensory play activities that you can do at home. Playdough is ideal for developing all fine motor skills as children learn to squeeze, roll, twist and build with it.
Homemade playdough is super easy and incredibly cheap to make using a recipe like this one. You can use playdough at all stages of child development – from sensory stimulation to learning colours, numbers and letters.
Create Pasta Necklaces
Source: Mum’s Grapevine
Everyone has got some dried pasta stored in the kitchen cupboards so even on a rainy day you won’t have to head to the craft store for a long list of equipment. Simply find some string, an old ribbon or a stretchy band and get creating.
For ease of use, we recommend buying home brand tubed pasta, which makes it easier for little hands to thread and handle. Encourage your children to decorate their necklaces and think about whether you can paint the pasta in different colours too.
Try Finger Painting
Source: Nourishing Our Children
Finger painting is a really great way for children to work with their hands, literally. Put out a selection of coloured paints and get those sleeves rolled up. Encourage your child to think about mixing the paints to make a new colour if they want to.
Ideal for hand-eye coordination, there are all sorts of other benefits to finger painting which you can learn about here. The pictures that your children create through this kind of sensory play activity will be ones you’ll treasure for years to come.
Make a Mini Sand Garden
Source: Home Depot
This is a gem of a sensory play activity as it allows children to really create their own worlds. Making sand gardens like this one are perfect for those who only have a small patch of outside space, or even none at all. All you’ll need is a container (whatever size works for your home or garden) that you can fill with sand.
Sand gardens have even been used for adults to aid mindfulness and focus concentration. Your child will love adding to theirs and making it their unique space.
Source: Early Learning Ideas
Learning how to categorize and sort different objects is a really important skill for children to discover at a young age. It’s so easy to go outside and collect up as many pebbles as you can find –this in itself is a great sensory activity to spot and feel the pebbles to begin with.
Allow your child to sort the pebbles however they prefer – whether it’s by colour, size, texture or shape. Try not to interfere with their ideas but gently guide them if they ask for help.
Moving Cotton Wool Balls Between Jars
Source: Entertain Your Toddler
This might seem like a simple activity but it’s a brilliant sensory play idea to improve hand-eye coordination and for children to learn about empty and full spaces. Get a big jar or bowl and fill it with cotton wool. You can then offer them an empty one, with a wooden spoon to move the balls to and fro.
Children love working on a task and this is simple, safe and quick to set up. For older children, you could try different objects such as toys or even fruits such as lemons.
Source: Teach Early Years
Bricks and building blocks have been a staple of childhood toys for decades – and with good reason. Available in all sorts of different materials, building blocks are extremely versatile and can be adapted for all sorts of sensory play activities. Stacking bricks can help children develop their spatial awareness, their sense of colour and shape and in older children, they’re a useful aid for numeracy skills.
It’s always good to have a set of bricks or building blocks for children. Try giving your child the whole box or basket so that they can pick out exactly the ones they want.
Painting with Water
Source: Happy Hooligans
If you’ve got a garden or a yard with a patio, brick wall or paving stones, you’ve got a blank canvas ready for you. Give your child a roller or a fine brush and a bucket of water and they can paint away – then watch as the sun dries up their creations. Don’t worry if you don’t have outdoor space though, there are some brilliant resources now available to allow children to paint with water – and the best thing is there’s minimal mess involved!
Water the Flowers
Source: My Kids Time
Being outdoors is a sensory play activity in itself but get your child a watering can and things can get even more fun. From smelling the flowers to understanding the difference between dry and moist earth, watering plants is a rewarding and satisfying activity to stimulate the senses.
If you don’t have a backyard, why not get some smaller potted plants for your window sill or some indoor plants such as succulents? Even just one or two will make your indoor space feel tranquil and calm.
Source: Ecosystem for Kids
Remember sand timers? They might remind you of school exams and time ticking away but they’re also a useful thing to have when it comes to sensory play activities. You can make them yourself if you don’t have one already and you can then use them for things like timing your children to brush their teeth for long enough.
Your child will love watching the sand switch from top to bottom, and they’ll enjoy turning it upside down and right way up accordingly.
Make a Mud Kitchen
Mud. Children love it. Adults less so – but try and stop yourself from making your children avoid mud. In fact, as a sensory play activity, there’s nothing that quite rivals a mud kitchen. Wherever you’ve got a patch of unused outdoor space, you could make a little safe area for your child to play in the mud.
Just feeling the mud, understanding the difference between dry and wet, solid and soft – all of these will help your child to get in touch with nature alongside aiding their development.
Pop the Bubble Wrap
Source: Hello, Wonderful
It’s important to figure out what your child is happy with when it comes to noise levels and always work within the boundaries of what they feel comfortable with. Some children prefer softer sounds and certain tones – but most children will enjoy popping bubble wrap.
Whenever you get a parcel or a delivery wrapped up in bubble wrap, cut off a small piece and offer it to your child – allowing them to feel it and to understand the sound that it can make. You can even colour in the bubble wrap to add another element. Always ensure your child is supervised while playing with the bubble wrap.
Threading Beads Onto Pipe Cleaners
Source: Happy Hooligans
Threading has become really popular with children – encouraged by adults who recognise the extreme importance of it for teaching fine motor learning. Have a look at this activity to see the equipment that you’ll need and to learn more about the benefits.
You can always add an extra dimension by helping your child to bend the pipe cleaners into different shapes – from stars to hang above their bed, to bracelets to give to their friends.
Try Potato Printing
Source: Claire’s Little Tots
Using vegetables as stamps to print different shapes and sizes is not only fun for children but also a cheap and creative way to make your own play equipment.
There are lots of different ways to make your potato stamps but you can get as imaginative as you want about shapes, sizes and paint colours. Always make sure that you’ve dried any excess moisture from the potatoes – and remember these ones aren’t for eating!
Create a Sensory Bin
Source: The Best Ideas for Kids
There are so many things you have in your home that can be turned into a sensory play activity. Why not collect them all together and make a sensory bin? Start in the kitchen as this is where you can make the most of things like rice, dried beans and lentils.
Encourage children to explore the sensory bin – both with their eyes open to see the colours and shapes, and with their eyes closed to really focus on textures and how things feel. Let your child add to the sensory bin whenever they like with new additions.
Wobble the Jelly
Source: Learning 4 Kids
Remember the song “Jelly on a Plate”? Most children love this old favourite, and the good thing is that you can extend it to an activity using jelly. Start off by making your own jelly – it’s fun in itself for children to learn about how it sets in the fridge and how you can add fruits and juice to it.
Then you can start the activities. Expect mess, but also a lot of excitement and some great sensory play exploring touch, sight and maybe even a little taste too!
Bang the Drums
Source: Red Ted Art
Ok families, get ready for some noise! This isn’t the most peaceful of activities but it’s another one that children love and you can start off by getting them to make their own drums. Children can enjoy the sounds of the drum as well as feeling the vibration of their hands or a stick on the skin of the drum.
Why not get your children learning new rhythms and practising their hand-eye coordination at the same time by drumming along to some of their favourite songs.
Make a Rainstick
Source: Buggy and Buddy
Perhaps one for the older children with more developed fine motor skills, rainsticks are a really fun sensory play activity – both to make and to play with. The sound that they make fascinates younger children and you can almost feel the pieces inside moving up and down.
If you want to make your own rainstick, it involves a few parts but is fairly simple – just follow these simple instructions.
Get a Set of Bells
Source: Laughing Kids Learn
Another thing that envelopes lots of elements – from coordination and rhythm to entertaining with sound – is a set of bells. There are all different types that you can buy and they’re definitely worth the investment as children love to play with them in all sorts of capacities.
The feel of wooden and metal bells is good for young children to experience and they can develop their skills by shaking, rattling and moving the bells to different types of music and songs.
Save Scraps of Fabric
Source: School Time Snippets
Next time you’re thinking about throwing away old clothes or getting rid of a tatty scarf, save the fabric and offer it to your child instead. Put a variety of fabrics in a basket altogether and let your child run wild with their pick of whichever they want to play with.
Think about the different textures of fabrics – from lace netting to thick furs and coarse denim. The opportunity for sensory play is never ending.
Learn Smooth v Rough with Sandpaper
Source: Buggy and Buddy
It’s often overlooked by parents but sandpaper can be a really good household resource to use for sensory play. Younger children should be carefully supervised but older children will love activities such as colouring on sand paper.
For smaller hands, why not use sandpaper gently to show them the difference between smooth and rough? You could put a small patch of it next to soft silk or faux fur as a contrast.
Hunt for Pinecones and Feathers
Source: Create Play Travel
Making use of nature for sensory play resources makes sense. The great outdoors has so much to be discovered and you can take your child on a hunt for objects such as pinecones and feathers.
Once you’ve collected a selection of items, put them in a bag and allow your child to reach their hand in and guess the item. They’ll love being part of the process of creating such an engaging game.
Make a Treasure Box
Source: Childhood 101
In recent years treasure boxes have made a real comeback and creating one for your child can stimulate hours of sensory play at home. Children love to select the items that they want to play with – then explore and discover them at their own pace. Treasure boxes can be appealing to babies doing tummy time through to those sitting up and playing independently.
As long as it’s safe and well supervised, there’s really no limit to the types of things you can put in a treasure basket. Make sure you vary textures, shapes and sizes – anything from lemons and clothes pegs, to a small metal colander and a pastry brush. Go ahead and get creative.
Bubbles are fascinating to children and they can really encourage them to play creatively and marvel at the magic. It’s also a great physical activity to get children chasing the bubbles from a bubble machine, challenging them to catch them and handle them as gently as possible.
If your child is old enough you can teach them to blow the bubbles themselves, but for younger children, a bubble blowing machine can be a great investment to keep young eyes fixed for hours!
Collect Some Lavender or Rosemary
Source: Kids Do Gardening
It’s easy to forget the sense of smell when it comes to sensory play activities – with many ideas focusing on touch, sight and sound. If you’ve got access to strong smelling plants such as lavender or herbs such as rosemary, you may want to include these in sensory play.
Drying out lavender can be a really fun activity to do with older children, and picking rosemary to use in cooking (such as on potatoes) is a good way to engage with healthy eating.
Source: Fun a Day
This is an extra special creation – golden glitter slime. It does require a few extra ingredients and a tiny bit of effort to make it, but it’s ideal for a special occasion like a birthday party or a treat day.
Follow the simple recipe for slime and then use the sparkling result to encourage all sorts of creative sensory play from children of all ages. Slime can stretch a surprising amount so make sure you let the little ones tug and pull it to its full capacity.
Get Out in the Rain
Rainy day? Don’t be tempted to stay inside or discouraged by the thought of your child getting wet. Feeling the rain on your face can be one of childhood’s great joys. Children love to put up their umbrella (younger children and babies love to watch these too) and pop outside.
Make sure your child is wrapped up warm with waterproof clothing and appropriate footwear – then let them loose and show them the puddles of water – let them jump in if they’re feeling brave or spend time looking at their reflections.
Listen to Classical Music
Source: Born Cute
Listening to music is hugely beneficial to a child’s cognitive and sensory development. You can read more in-depth about the numerous advantages of playing music to your child here but simply switch on the music and see for yourself. Encourage your child to move and experience the music in any way that feels natural to them.
If you want to make classical music extra fun, why not turn it into a game with musical statues if you’re children are moving about?
Singing Songs or Nursery Rhymes
As well as listening to music, encourage your child to join in with singing and nursery rhymes. They may have started to encounter these at pre-school or childcare – and they’ll often have picked up actions to go with the traditional songs.
You can try incorporating clapping or stamping the feet in time to the songs as well to make things extra fun. Here’s a list of some of the most popular songs for children.
Fill a Bag with Tissue Paper
Source: The Resourceful Mama
Children love new and noisy materials. Try filling a small bag with tissue paper and fasten it securely. Pass it to your child and encourage them to squash it, crinkle it and explore it in any other way that they want to.
This is yet another example of how you can recycle materials that you have around the house to make a quick and easy toy for your child to engage in sensory play with.
Ice Cubes on a Hot Day
Source: Busy Toddler
Ice cubes are both fascinating and confusing to children – they’re a pretty unique material which you can incorporate into sensory play at home on a hot day. There are a number of ways you can use ice cubes in sensory play – from putting a couple in a bowl and allowing your child to free play with them (the chances are they’ll put them in their mouth or at least lick them!) to allowing your child to smash them and watch them turn to water.
Create Your Own Rainbow Rice
Source: Simplistically Living
With just a few drops of food colouring, you can create rainbow rice for your child to play with at home. Follow a recipe that allows you to make rainbow rice without the rice staining your and your child’s hands – mess is great but you don’t want to dye your hands bright green!
You can use the rainbow rice for all types of sensory play – from putting different colours in a sensory bin, to making bottles filled with it to shake up and down.
Make Edible Water Beads
Source: Step Momming
This is a new craze that children love – and it’s perfect for encouraging sensory play. Water beads can be a bit of a risk with young children so make them edible and it’s all a lot easier!
Follow a simple recipe like this to make your edible water beads and then you can relax and let the play commence!
Taste Testing Vegetables
Source: Very Well Family
Don’t forget taste when it comes to sensory play. Playtime is the best time to get your children engaged with fruits and vegetables. Whether you offer puree or vegetable sticks, small segments of fruit or cubes, use sensory play at home to get your children eating well.
Healthy eating habits are set early on so making fresh fruit and vegetable fun by offering a sensory experience that your children can enjoy will help everyone.
Eating with Hands
Source: Claire’s Little Tots
Feeling food is something your child should learn to do early on. Alongside this, eating with hands helps to develop hand-eye coordination and your child’s motor skills. Try to make food easy for them to deal with so they don’t get discouraged and give up.
There are a number of edible sensory play activities which you can try and you’ll find them listed here with instructions on how to set them all up.
Get Glow in the Dark
Source: Childhood 101
Children love to see things that glow in the dark. From UV paint to glow in the dark stars that you can put on the ceiling of their bedroom for when the lights go off. You can also use lamps to create shadows on the walls or just fun activities that will help your child to learn the difference between light and dark.
Always remember that children should not be allowed close to very bright lights so it’s important that their eyes are always well protected.
Source: Because I Said So, Baby
Wood, metal, plastic – there are so many materials in your home for your child to discover. You can either let them explore at their own pace by finding out how things feel, how they look and the sounds that they make. Or you can gather different materials and place them next to each other.
Why not get a sample of a few different materials and place them altogether? You could try a wooden spoon, a metal mixing bowl, some plastic toys and any other bits you find in between.
Treasure Hunt Around the House
Source: Entertain Your Toddler
This is a clever rainy day activity or useful for when you’re stuck indoors. Give your children clues like having to find something soft, or something that makes noise – or simply take them around the house yourself and show them different things in each room.
As long as they’re supervised you can show them all sorts of objects and let them use as many of their five senses as possible to learn about them in the way that they want to. It’s also fun to hide things (in fairly obvious places!) and see if they can find them, depending on their age.
Source: Own the Yard
A popular game at playgroups and preschools, you can recreate the parachute game with a large piece of breathable fabric such as a light bed sheet. Another popular stand-in for a play parachute is a shower curtain – this has the added benefit of feeling different to most materials your child will experience. The more colourful the better as children will love watching the sheet float up and down.
Always be extra vigilant when using any type of material around children that their faces are never covered.
Look in the Mirror
Source: Essential Baby
Yep, it’s that simple! You’ve probably got several mirrors in your home on the walls that you can use for a sensory play activity and your child will love looking at their reflection – especially with you standing next to them!
Another fun activity with mirrors is for babies doing tummy time or for those learning to crawl. You can hold a mirror up to them on the floor (or for tummy time hold it facing them as they look up). They’ll instantly reach out towards their reflection and it can really help develop their understanding of self and the environment.
As you can see there are so many ways to incorporate sensory play into your children’s day to day life at home. It’s so rewarding to watch them develop and learn through discovering the world according to their senses. Sensory play activities at home don’t have to be expensive or complicated and are often really quick to set up and start – just think of all those materials in your home and garden waiting to be explored.
Remember to also check out local libraries, art galleries, children’s museums and learning centres for further expanding your child’s voyage of sensory play discovery. You’ll be inspired too seeing new ideas presented in new ways. Enjoy the ride!