Having worked in Early Years for almost 18 years, trained in Child Development and having a degree in Child Psychology, the importance of fun, educational play is at the forefront of my mind with my own children. Sensory Play is something I'm a big fan of.
What is Sensory Play?
Young children learn with all of their senses; look, feel, taste, smell and listen, to explore and learn about the world they live in. Sensory play is an activity that stimulates a child's senses, enhancing their learning and naturally encouraging them to use scientific processes whilst they play, explore, create and investigate.
What are the benefits of Sensory Play?
Sensory play encourages language development, introducing lots of new vocabulary, it helps a child develop and enhance their memory and supports cognitive growth and of course, fine and gross motor skills. It allows them to question things and use trial and error to problem solve. Sensory play is crucial to brain development, helping to build nerve connections in the brains pathways which enhances their ability to complete more complex learning tasks.
Sensory Play is something children can do as small as babies, is super simple to do, even at home, and can be adapted for any age and ability.
Recently, my 2 year old Taylor and I have been enjoying 'Sensory Saturdays'.
Let me show you some of the things we've been exploring in our sensory trays lately...
For our sensory, or messy, activities we have a tuff spot (otherwise known as a builders tray) which can be purchased from builder supplies stores or eBay/Amazon, we got ours for about £16, and a large plastic storage tub which we picked up for £6 from the local discount store. You can use pretty much any containers you wish, we used to use small Ikea drawers when Taylor was younger, see here.
For this activity I filled the plastic tub with 2 cans of shaving foam then laid out different things around the tub for Taylor to choose what he'd like to explore with; silver spoons and utensils and small world toys; people and animals.
For any messy activities we cover the floor with an old shower curtain, it can be wiped clean or thrown straight in the washing machine and dries quickly too. And Taylor wears an apron or one of his older brothers old t-shirts which can also be thrown straight in the wash.
Taylor had lots of fun exploring the shaving foam, talking about what it looked and felt like. 'It looks like snow!' 'It feels like sloppy custard'.
He will often start off slowly... looking... trying to work out what to make of it. Sometimes I'll often model play to show him it's okay to get stuck in. But he soon gets involved and has lots of fun. It wasn't long before he was taking off his socks and giving his toes a good wiggle in the foam!
It can be adapted in any way, maybe with winter animals for a winter themed tray. Or hide letters or numbers inside the foam for children learning their letters and numerals.
Another one of our fun sensory activities was nicknamed the 'Crunchy Tray', using the tuft spot. I emptied leftover or stale crunchy foods and emptied the last of the crunchy cereal boxes. Simple things you can find in the back of your cupboards, that'll make a good crunchy sound.
We used pasta sheets, uncooked noodles, pringles (the sour cream and chive ones left over from Christmas that I don't like, haha) and cheerios. There are so many things you can use, and don't ever throw any out of date store foods, keep them safe for occasions like this!
Working in Early Years, I know the benefits of using real household items such as kitchen utensils, they encourage this as much as possible, some nurseries even use real wood and tools in their construction area! Obviously only allow this if you are confident to do so. Somebody commented on my instagram photo that they felt uncomfortable with the pizza cutter, in case he accidentally hurt himself. I see their concern, but I'm very confident allowing him to explore with these and have been doing this with children for years. You know your own child and what you feel is safe for them to use. Plus, this pizza cutter rarely manages to cut through pizza! ;) As long as the activity is well supervised, there should be no problem, and of course the activity should be adapted depending on the child's age and stage of development.
Taylor loved exploring the crunchy tray and loved breaking the foods with his toy hammer, crushing them with the potato masher and learning the skills to use the other utensils. It was great fun and encouraged lots of new words; crush, crunch, bash, break...
Bags of porridge oats are super cheap to buy. I often keep bags of out of date oats in the messy cupboard for messy activities. I set up a pile of oats with a bunch of household items to explore with; large and small spoons, colander, saucepan and weighing scales. Activities such as these are quick and easy to set up, are totally open ended and nothing a quick hoover can't tidy up.
Taylor really enjoyed this sensory activity, he kept commenting how soft the oats felt and loved scooping them using his fingers or the utensils available. it wasn't long before the socks came off again and he was burying his toes in the oats and pouring them over his legs. :)
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