Sensory Play | What's it all about?

The term "Sensory Play" has become quite a buzz word used a lot in the world of baby & toddler play these here's a brief explanation in case you don't know what all the fuss is about.

Maria Montessori (an Early Childhood guru), believed that children learn best through their senses (here's a link to another great blog if you'd like to read more - How We Montessori). Early Childhood professionals advocate the fact that all children learn differently and this is where sensory play can be a powerful learning tool. If your child is a tactile learner, then sensory activities that involve touch and messy play will be beneficial for them (e.g. write your letters in shaving cream or sand). I remember as a child I hated anything messy - doing a paper mache balloon animal was one of the most traumatic experiences of Year 1 because I must have had difficulty processing the 'touch' sense.

If your child is musically minded (like my one year old seems to be) then activities that involve sound and the auditory sense will appeal to them (banging on saucepans, listening to music, discovery bottles they can shake, variety of rattles etc). I believe when an activity is claiming to be "Sensory Play" it should engage as many of the senses as possible!

Sensory bins are a fun, toddler friendly activity (there's much more you can do with them when your baby is passed the 'putting-everything-in-their-mouth' phase). Just type 'sensory bins' into google images or Pinterest for a whole bunch of ideas.

So... here's some baby & toddler play ideas organised into the key sense which they nurture.


- Ribbon Rings (these are also a lovely addition to music and dance experiences)

- Rainbow Rice (equally engages the touch sense - I couldn't decide which category to put this one). Add treasures for little hands to find, together with funnels, cups and containers for scooping and pouring. And yes you may recall I've blogged about this before :)

- Board Books (especially touchy/feely, lift the flap books, colour books & books that make noise)

- Puzzles! Chunkly, knobbly, bright, inviting puzzles. Enough said! I've seen an awesome idea called "Peek-a-boo Puzzles" where photos of the baby are stuck underneath a puzzle piece...definitely want to try this!

- Go on a nature walk with magnifying glasses.

- Eye spy bags (google this for some examples).

- Drawing! Toddlers are instantly fascinated when they realise that a pencil, chalk, paint or texta can make marks on paper. It's a wonderful to observe this 'ah-ha' moment! Another idea is to 'paint' the ground outside with a brush and water on a warm sunny day :)


- Discovery bottles - engaging both the hearing sense as well as sight.

- A variety of rattles and shakers (click here for my 'noisy' treasure basket idea)

- Musical instruments - maracas, bells, xylophone, tambourine...

- What could engage your baby or toddler's sense of hearing more than your voice! The first sound they tune into before they are even born. Singing to your child is absolutely priceless and part of my daily life with little Miss One. (Oooohhh idea for another post on my favourite nursery rhymes, songs and finger plays).

TOUCH and all the messy fun your child can have!

- Doughs! There are an infinite number of recipes to create amazing doughs for your little person to squish and squash through their tiny hands. Many of them are edible and safe for very young children. You can add colour, glitter, texture, scent and provide a number of additions to complete the play experience. Below are two of my favourites...

- Play-dough: here's the best recipe I've found

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tbsp of oil (any oil will do)
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 cup boiling water
  • Then add your food colouring

-  Cloud dough: two ingredients needed. 8 parts flour to one part oil. For children past the 'putting-things-in-their-mouth' phase you can use baby oil, but for younger ones, you should use any kind of kitchen cooking oil (coconut oil gives a lovely scent!)

- Sensory squishy bags. Simply put hair gel and some pretty things into a glad zip lock bag (I double bagged mine to make sure it stayed shut!). Select smooth items so they wont pierce the bag and supervise your baby or toddler closely to make sure little teeth don't bite through it!

- Sand and Water play - need I say more?

- Rainbow spaghetti (click here for my previous post)

- Feely bag - great for children in the early years of school to learn about 3D shapes and encourage language skills and adjectives. I used this idea in a recent Science lesson where we learnt about different textures and what things are made of.

-Texture books (and my previous post on homemade texture books)


- Food play! I saw a great idea on another blog where you use the little puree pouches as if they are paint and let your child explore with finger painting on their high chair table.

- Jelly play! Obviously jelly contains sugar, but as with all treats, we use this only on occasion as a 'sometimes food' for a special treat :)

- For young babies who are still in the 'putting-things-in-their-mouth' phase, anything tactile should also be edible (eg make finger paint using yoghurt and food colouring)

- I also love the idea of making a meal look visually appealing...there's an ice cube tray serving idea circulating the internet at the moment. I'm sure you've seen it!

- Many Occupation Therapists will recommend food play and self feeding in order to promote good eaters! (This is my fave: Mama OT)


- Many of the ideas listed above such as rainbow rice and play dough, can simply be enhanced by adding a scent. Lavender, vanilla, mint, lemon, cinnamon, apple pie... YUM!

- Smelly bottles (like a discovery bottle but make some holes in the lid. An idea for older children is to make two of each scent and get them to match them.)

- Create a 'smelly' scented treasure basket with things such as herbs, spices, leaves, flowers, or better yet collect these things from the garden or local park with your child!


Finally - I stumbled upon this great 'five senses' lesson plan that would be awesome for kindy/reception/preschool aged children. I love when I find an AMAZING new blog to follow via their pin on Pinterest...I can only hope that with time this will help people come across my little corner of the internet!

Want to read more on sensory play? I found this article really informative in my research for writing this post.

So, in conclusion I recommend that you tune in to how your child responds to various sensory stimulation and not only foster the sense in which they learn best, but ensure they are being exposed to the others. Some children may be bothered by certain sensory input (feet touching sand or clothing labels on their skin) while other's may seek sensory input and want to touch everything around them! If you have any concerns, consider speaking to a paediatrician or occupational therapist.

Happy play and engage the senses!

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