There is so much to say about all types of play, but sensory play is perhaps one of the most engaging because it involves many or all of the senses simultaneously.
In sensory play, we touch, smell, hear, see and sometimes even taste and this helps to build connections in the brain. Sensory play can encourage the development of motor skills, problem solving, language and can also be very calming and relaxing for children.
Here are a few of our favourite ideas that you can try at home.
Note: You may want to do some of these activities outside or put down suitable table and/or floor coverings, there will be mess!
Ice play is one of the easiest and most simple ways for children to enjoy sensory play, and they can spend hours exploring the ice, playing with small world figures, adding colours of trying to excavate items that have been frozen in ice blocks.
The day before your ice play activity you need to make your ice cubes and ice blocks, this is where you can get creative! Ideas we have used before are:
Small balloons full of water and little toy dinosaurs, so that you are left with frozen dinosaur eggs.
Standard ice cubes or ice cubes made of fruit juice or squash.
Frozen yogurt for edible ice play
Frozen rubber gloves to make ice hands.
Old ice cream containers, cake tins make good ice blocks.
You can also add bio-degradable glitter for extra sparkle.
On the day, put down table coverings or set up outside. Depending on the size of your ice blocks, find a similar container/ plate for your child to play on. We have used dinner plates as well as our Tuff Tray.
About 30 minutes before you start the activity, remove all large blocks of ice and ice balloons from the freezer, this is so that start to melt slightly and don’t stick to children’s skin during play. Smaller ice cubes only need 5 minutes.
To add colour to the fun, we mix water with either food colouring or children’s paints (if children are not likely to eat the ice,) and give the children old Calpol syringes to squirt the colours onto the ice. Stand back!
We always add small world, waterproof toys. Dinosaurs, animals, figures, Lego, whatever your child enjoys.
Children can drop table salt onto the ice and watch how it changes the way that the ice melts.
If you have keen photographers at home, there are some great photo opportunities to be had with the ice, the colours and the toys.
Rainbow rice is great for sensory play and small world play, as well as digging, pouring, measuring, colour recognition and much more.
How to make rainbow rice:
1. Choose how many colours you want to make and pour your rice into that many food bags.
2. Squeeze some non toxic children's paint into the first bag, tie the top, (squeeze some air out of the bag) and then move the rice around in the paint until it's completely covered.
3. Repeat with all the colours.
4. Pour the rice into trays to dry. (It takes about 30 minutes).
5. Crumble up any rice that is stuck together.
6. Pour back into bags to use later, or use it immediately to make a picture to play with!
All plastic bags can be washed and reused. Or you could mix in bowls.
Sand is fantastic for play for many reasons, including its sensory properties. Remember that holiday you had on that beautiful beach when you felt the sand between your toes? Remember how satisfying it was as a child, when you made a sandcastle that didn’t fall down? Good, wasn’t it?
Sand is great for children to play in, it offers a unique environment where they can dig, build, demolish, hide objects and create landscapes. The best thing about sand play is that all the small world figures stand up in it, so it’s less frustrating for children, in that sense, than other types of play.
Whether on the beach, in the garden, or in a tray on a table. Sand play can:
Develop motor skills, through building and pouring
Support language skills, through narrative
Develop mathematical skills
Allow for imaginative play
In a therapeutic sense, sand trays offer children a contained space to play out and work through difficult feelings and develop their understanding of situations. You do not need to be involved in this play, but your child will find it helpful if you are sat quietly, holding the space. They may not talk to you, they just need you to be there.
Sand play may not be for every child, we are aware that some children may not enjoy the sensation of sand between their fingers and toes. If this is the case, then have a look at some of our other activities instead.
Always make sure that your child washes their hands thoroughly after sand play and ensure that you change the sand regularly. Sand can harbour bacteria; this may be problematic if your child has lowered immunity.
Water play is another sensory activity that is great for children, whether in a bowl, in the sink, in a tray in the garden or a paddling pool, water play allows for a unique sensory play experience.
Children can find water play deeply relaxing or totally invigorating, depending upon their mood and situation.
Many children enjoy water play and quickly become deeply engaged because the water enables them to access their subconscious ‘playful’ part of the brain very quickly.
Water play can support:
Creative and imaginative play
In a therapeutic sense it can enable children to access and work through issues on a deeper emotional level. Parents do not need to interpret or interrupt play, but they do need to be present to hold the space for a child as he/she works through worries. It can be interesting to watch.
All water play must be supervised by an adult at all times.