Sensory activities are really important for kids as they learn and develop their senses.
One of the problems children face today is that parents don’t want them getting mucky or making a mess, which is a real shame, like my mom always says “Kids come washable”
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Screen Time Vs Sensory Activities
Now we have all heard the warnings about kids (and adults) having too much screen time, and how that affects children’s development. For kids aged between birth and three, their brains are developing extremely quickly and are particularly sensitive to their environment.
Medically this is often referred to as the “critical period” because it is at this time that the foundation of everything else we learn is laid.
For a child to develop normally they need specifically environmental stimuli and obviously, these can’t be found on a screen.
What the screen does do, especially tablets, pads and smartphones are giving the child instant rewards for their actions, which doesn’t happen in the real world.
Each time the child swipes and gets a response, they get a hit of “feel-good dopamine”, repeated hits of this are what causes kids to become addicted to the device.
If you want to limit kids’ screen time, try using this one golden rule (it’s brilliant!)
In the real world, we don’t get such instant gratification and this is one of the things that kids are missing out on.
I’m not totally anti screen time but it does need to be limited (preferably to when mama needs to get stuff done) and kids do need plenty of sensory play alongside it.
In a Montessori classroom setting, many sensory activities are part of the foundation of Montessori learning. Most of the activities have a purpose beyond the sensory aspect and when children understand there is more meaning to the work they are more attentive rather than finding the activity as “busy work”.
Learning about all the senses
Sensory activities and play aren’t just about touch. We often think of things like water play, sandpits and playdoh as sensory play but the sensory play needs to involve the other senses too.
Watching colours change in a colour mixing experiment. Or the smell of coffee as you grind it. The sound different types of beans make when poured into bowls made from different materials. Or the taste of cooked onions compared to raw. They all expand the child’s knowledge of the world.
Sensory play also helps build the child’s vocabulary. As they find new words to describe the sensations they are experiencing. It helps with fine motor skills and as a bonus, it is often very calming.
Below you will find a mix of activities, all that can be done at home. Some are messier than others, and some not messy at all. All of them will give your child some sensory fun and help them develop and hone in on their senses…
Here are 50 great ways for your child to have more sensory play…
It goes without saying really if your child is still mouthing things then chose your activity carefully. Anything involving water, don’t leave the child unattended. EVER.
Ball matching (one of the activities from my Montessori Inspired book) These are different weighted balls and the child has to match them, they are also fun to make together.
Make sound cylinders Another matching activity, shake the cylinders and match the sounds, again you can make these with your child, two activities in one!
Make cloud dough – a variation on playdoh, with different textures and can be made together, you don’t need to prep ahead of time.
Play with packing peanuts – Those little polystyrene packing pieces can make for hours of fun. Try dabbing an end in water, then you can stick them together. With older kids challenge them to make something.
Herb and spice smelling bottles – These are easy to make and fun to do, it’s surprising how many adults struggle with this activity too! Try it on the rest of the family. This is another one you can put together with your child or collect the things in advance together than you actually make the bottle when they are asleep.
I have a free set of herb and spices 3 part cards in the resource library that you can use with this activity.
Play with bubbles in the sink (add a hand whisk for extra points!). This is an oldie but a goodie and a great way to kill time if you have got to the point where you just need to get them busy.
You can also do this in the bath or in a tub in the garden. Rather than fill the bath, sit your child in the bath with a plastic bowl and some kitchen utensils, bubbly water and let them go at it. The bath acts as a container for the mess then.
If you need to work, grab your laptop and make yourself comfy in the bathroom – not ideal but at least you can get some work done.
Finger painting – I see many a mama cringing here. You don’t have to, for a mess-free version put dollops of paint in a ziplock bag and seal with tape. Or take the finger painting into the garden or the bath.
Playdoh (my go to recipe here) Playdoh is one of those classics, great to have on hand, you can add colours and scents (try a few drops of lavender if you have a child that needs some calming vibes!) If you are into themes, you can easily incorporate toys and the such for themed playdoh play.
Making bread – This is one of my all-time favourite activities with kids. When I was teaching at the Montessori farm, we made bread dough and wrapped it around sticks and then cooked it on an open fire. So much fun. Bread had this reputation for being really hard to make but it doesn’t need to be and it is both a Practical Life and Sensory activity.
Ice treasure – My son even as a tween would ask for these! It does take some prep time but is a fab activity for the summer.
Ripping paper – toddlers often go through a stage when they want to rip things, pages out of books, peeling the wallpaper, pulling the tissues of out the box and shredding them everywhere. Sound familiar? Trust me, your child is not being naughty, they are being curious that’s all.
If you find this happening, give them what they need, a nice pile of paper to rip to their heart’s content. Try mixing up the types of paper, depending on your child’s age you can introduce sticking too.
Ice cooking – Another good one for the summer but doesn’t need much prep time, as long as you have ice, you can cook!
Bubble snakes – This is so much fun, quick and easy to whip up and if you make them for the neighbourhood kids you will soon be crowned the ‘fun mom’
Baking! – Any kind of cooking or baking is a sensory experience as well as a practical life one. So, dust off the old cookbook and get your aprons on, the best bit about this – is you get to eat your hard work at the end! Our favourite Rock Cakes recipe is here.
Pouring water – This is one of those simple activities that gets overlooked. Couple that with busy parents who find it quicker and easier to do the pouring. Saves on cleaning up spills, we end up with kids at the age of 10 who don’t know how to pour themselves a drink.
Sad but true. If you are worried about the spills, do this outside or in the bath. The best idea is to start off with a small amount of liquid. And how to clean up is part of the activity.
Use two small jugs and show the child how to pour from one to another. When they have mastered that use a glass and get them to practice pouring until the marked line. Add a few drops of food colour to make it easier.
Colour mixing – Go as big or small as you like with this. Small helps with the fine motor skills too so you are working on more than one skill at once.
Texture matching game (matching scraps of different fabrics) If you are into sewing, go and raid your stash. If you are not, then before you throw out old clothes look at what you’ve got.
Cut scraps of fabric, the same size 10x10cm is a good size. You need two squares of each fabric. Then close your eyes, pick up a square and feel all the others until you find the matching one.
Taste-testing – this post is a blast from the past and obviously was an indicator of things to come, as Ebi-kun started his own Food Tasting YouTube channel!
Water beads – I have to admit, I haven’t used these, they came on the scene too late for us to try them really. DO supervisor your kids when you are using them, I have heard about children ending up in hospital because they swallowed them
Spice painting – Mix a bit of spice and some water and paint away. This would go well coupled with an activity about the silk route or somewhere rich in spices. If you wanted to add something else to it as a lesson.
Treasure basket – collect 5 or 6 different household items for your baby to explore. You can start putting these together when they are about 6 months old. Just be sure that the items you put in the basket are safe to put in the mouth.
Shaving cream – there are lots of ways you can use shaving cream, from just playing to writing letters in it, printing and doing the raining rainbows experiment.
Raining rainbows – one of our favourite experiments and one of the prettiest, you can combine this with a weather lesson too. There are a set of free weather experiments to do at home in the resource library.
Mystery bag – all you need is a bag and a few things from around the home.
Exploding Volcano – I have yet to find a child or adult that doesn’t love doing this!
Light table – you can make these yourself at home or buy a cheap one. There are so many different ways to explore using a light table, get onto Pinterest and take a look, you might be there a while though!
Shadow play – Shadows fascinate kids, just simple hand puppets can lead to hours of entertainment, here is a quick video to learn some basics:
Painting with different objects – homemade brushes, cars, stamping, grab a few (old) toys or things from the recycling bin, crack open the paints and have some fun.
Sensory bin – This is another thing that became all the rage after Ebi-kun was old enough to play with it really. Do a quick google and you will have a million and one ideas on what to do.
Basically, get a big box and fill it with dried beans, rice or pasta with some scoops and bowls etc. There are all kinds of themes to try too. I think the biggest complaint is the mess it makes, this is where teaching your child how to use a brush and pan comes in handy!
Sandbox – who doesn’t love a good sandbox, proper old school sensory activities fun!
Mud pies – Random fact, children in Japan make rice balls rather than mud pies! Just shows that kids everywhere love playing in the mud.
Make a zen garden – or a fairy garden, get a big plant pot and plan away, you can go to town with accessories or get some things out of the recycle box. Succulents make great mini garden additions.
Colour walk – two ways to do this, both are fun. Most places are OK with you picking up fallen leaves and petals.
Make shakers – Get out the recycling bin and make some maracas. Put some rice or dried beans inside a tube or a couple of containers and tape them shut. Now it’s time to get your groove on (OK I know this isn’t the quietest of activities but it is a great way to burn off some energy if you can’t leave the house for some reason)
Texture boards – cut cards to the same size, and stick various things to them. All different textures, sandpaper, felt, corrugated paper… close your eyes, pick one up try and match the other one.
Eye Spy Bottle – Another one to make with your child, my boy enjoyed colouring and pouring the rice as well as playing with the bottle. We kept a bottle in the car, for sensory activities when you are on a road trip!
Cotton wool – or any other new texture, toddlers will find new textures fascinating so when you catch them pulling the bum wipes apart or playing with cotton wool, embrace it. Give them more of what they need.
Coffee grinding – Why grind it yourself if you can get a small person to do it for you! Joking aside, it takes some great skills to grind coffee. And there is the small to add to the experience. Plus the bonus that gets a nice cuppa at the end of it.
Kinetic sand – I have seen homemade versions of this, but I haven’t tried it myself. The good thing about this stuff is the minimal cleanup.
Make gloop (and talk about it being an oobleck)
Scooping seeds out of a pumpkin – perfect for autumn, and lots of texture fun going on. You can do this with other fruit and veg too, and at least you don’t have to worry about them if they try to sample it!
Washing up! – Yes, make it into sensory activities, and get the chores done at the same time!
Make snow at home – this is perfect if you don’t get the real white stuff!
Planting seeds – or any kind of gardening is a great sensory activity, the sounds of the insects, the feel of the soil and plants, the smell of the flowers and herbs.
Fuzzy felt – Oh I loved this as a kid and I was happy that my boy did too. You can use this in so many ways, from telling stories to creating amazing masterpieces or using it as a puzzle!
Any game which needs a blindfold – blind man’s buff, pin the tail on the donkey, anything that removes one sense helps strengthen other senses.
Play instruments – doesn’t matter what, it’s all sensory.
Any matching or memory game – I used my son’s artwork to make this set and they are still going strong.
They Don’t Have To Be Messy!
As you can see, sensory activities don’t have to be messy, we use our senses in so many different ways. It’s just important that we give our kids the opportunities to try things themselves, to get in there are touch and feel things.
Pay attention to what your child is up to, were they really being “naughty” when they smeared bum cream all over the TV or was it a sensory curiosity? (Hint: they weren’t being naughty!)
Remember to bookmark and pin this post to refer back to it and feel free to hit the share buttons so your mama friends have plenty of ideas to refer to too.