In our last blog post we wrote a guide to the many benefits of sensory play. Take a look at that article for a reminder of how stimulation of the senses can help with the learning and development of babies and young children, in a myriad of different ways. From improved problem-solving and language skills to safer movement, better social skills, helping with autism and much more, the many benefits of sensory play are clear to see in that article. Follow the blue link above to take a look.
We promised to follow up with a post suggesting some sensory-based activities that parents or carers can undertake with babies or children at home. Our ideas below are great fun for babies, toddlers and children under five and such sensory activities can benefit them greatly.
Safety note: of course, you should always supervise your baby/child’s play and discovery to ensure they do not unwittingly harm themselves. Babies, for example, will often use their mouths, as well as their hands, to explore new objects, so remain vigilant and supervise them appropriately.
Sensory Play Ideas for Babies
• Babies love playing with bubbles. Under supervision, let them see the bubbles float slowly through the air and occasionally land without bursting. The baby will be able to see the rainbow colours swirling on the bubble surface, particularly when in flight. Babies will also enjoy it when a bubble lands on their skin with the most delicate of sensations, then another sensory ‘ping’ when it finally bursts. Bubbles stimulate sight and touch as well as giving babies a glimpse of some of the simple but magical things that the world has to offer.
• Paper. Babies will love the feeling of scrunching up paper and will notice the sound as well as the contoured feel of their new creation. They may need a demonstration to get started, though. They’ll start to comprehend the concept that something in one form, like a pristine, wafer-thin sheet of paper, can be made into something completely different — in this case, perhaps a simple ‘ball’ of scrunched-up paper. Even tearing paper has been found to be enormous fun — and enormously funny — for babies. There’s just something about it that they find hilarious, so do check out the video via that bold link if you haven’t already seen it. Older children can take things several steps further with the addition of paint, or when they discover origami — but that’s a whole other topic.
• Different objects & materials: babies will enjoy playing and learning about the properties, touch, feel and sound of different objects and materials. For example, (safe) wooden utensils, water in a closed beaker or bottle or small plastic or card boxes that they tap like a drum, or try to stack into a ‘wall’ — and so on. They’ll learn about physical properties of each along the way, including sounds, textures, touch and, if they include some carefully chosen food items, taste. It’s amazing what fun babies will have with such simple items — often learning far more from these than from purchased toys.
• The natural world: babies also greatly enjoy the simple pleasures offered by the natural world. A breeze on their faces may greatly intrigue them, even more so when they see leaves rustling and moving a little on the ground. The feel and texture of grass on the lawn or the sight of sunlight dappling through the trees or reflecting off puddles can be wondrous to them. Under close supervision, getting to know the textures, hues and smells of safe, natural objects outdoors can also be a source of sensory discovery.
Sensory Play Ideas for Toddlers & Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers can take many of the above a step further now that they’re a little older.
• Colour shakers: bottles filled with some water and the addition of food colouring or even glitter, beads and suchlike can be great fun for toddlers and preschoolers. Ensure lids are sealed and then they can shake them or swirl the contents and watch the colours mix or glitter sparkle. They’ll even be able to feel the momentum of the swirling liquid inside as they hold the shaken bottle.
• Sound shakers: little ones can do something similar by sealing dry items like rice, breakfast cereals, popcorn or even stones or gravel inside bottles. Once sealed, the children can use them to discover the various sounds that they make when shaken. It could even introduce an long-term appreciation of music and rhythm.
• Hand & foot prints: preschoolers will never be bored with smothering their hands or feet in coloured paints, then making prints on paper or card. Footprints and handprints can be random or used to make images or patterns. This process is both creative and a sensory experience for them as the cold paint squelches between fingers or toes. They’ll learn so much including about mixing pigments, creating images from simple printed shapes, about the concept of paint eventually drying to form something semi-permanent and about different textures being formed, depending on the consistency of the paint. We take these discoveries for granted as adults, but we would originally have had to learn about them during our early, formative years.
• Food creativity: toddlers can also take playing with food to the next level by introducing the concept of making images out of things like fruit- or vegetable-based sauces, cream or yogurt. Whole pictures can be made of food, using the hands, for example using broccoli for ‘trees’, peas for grassy areas and so on. The whole thing can smell great and even be tasted! Playing, hands-on, with food in this way can be fun and creative but also help children learn to accept new foods and tastes into their diets. However, care needs to be taken because proper mealtimes require good manners and children need to understand that food is not usually for playing with.
• Sensory sand: it’s very rare for little ones to dislike playing with sand, which allows youngsters to get hands-on creatively. They can learn about the unique and varying textures, consistencies and properties of sand, depending on how much moisture it contains. Dry sand has its own unique set of properties, acting and feeling almost like a powder. Very runny, wet sand is great fun as it can be used to run through the hands and ‘set’ into pointy mountain shapes that look quite magical. Or, when less water is added, sand can be fashioned into shapes and, of course, “castles”, using the hands or by filling buckets, hollow vessels, or tubs. Children can also press their hands and feet into level, damp sand in a sandpit or tray, to make impressions and patterns. It feels great too and is an almost essential part of childhood. Young children learn so much from this stimulating, multi-sensory type of play.
• Playing with dough: whether bought or home-made, dough is always a big hit with young children. It can be fashioned with the hands into shapes, characters, animals and mini-sculptures. Using food colouring in dough also allows children to discover more about mixing pigments. Salt dough can also be baked (under the close supervision of an adult) so that it hardens into more permanent creations. Many types of dough even smell great too! What’s more, it can even lead to a bigger interest in cooking real, edible dough and other baked foods when they’re a little older.
• A sensory garden. We’ve left perhaps the best until last. Making a sensory garden area with, or for, little ones will give them a magical experience. There are so many materials that can be used in the construction of sensory gardens, including soil, earth, pea shingle, tree bark, moss and so on. Plants themselves will also add to the fascinating mixture of textures, colours and even smells found within a sensory garden. It can be as small or large as you have room for and can even be achieved in containers, pots or on balconies for those who do not have gardens. It can take many forms so it’s design also gives children a wonderful creative opportunity. Sensory gardens are a complete feast for the senses for young children — adults too — encompassing touch (e.g. the textures of materials, moss and plants), smell (why not include some herbs — these smell wonderful and can be tasted too), potentially sound (crunchy gravel, rustling leaves etc.), sight (aesthetics, colour etc.) and will also give children ample opportunity to improve balance and body awareness as they construct and create in this unique space.
Sensory Play at the Nursery
At Little Cedars Nursery in Streatham, we fully appreciate all the benefits of sensory play, so ensure that all babies and children have rich, multi-sensory learning and development opportunities and activities. Indeed, everything we do and offer has an underlying purpose, to the benefit of every child at the setting. Sensory play is only limited by the imagination and it’s sometimes amazing to see what children achieve through sensory play opportunities.
Does Your Baby or Child need a Nursery Place near Streatham?
If you are a parent or carer and are looking for outstanding nurseries in or around Streatham, Tooting, Furzedown or Balham, we’d be delighted to tell you more about Little Cedars. It offers high quality childcare and facilities and could well be a great fit for your child. If our nursery is of interest, please get in touch via one of the following options: