Bouncy, Squishy, Noisy, and Yummy: 10 Fun Sensory Play Activities You Can Do at Home
By Jackie Nunes, wondermoms.org
Sensory play provides benefits for all children, supporting their problem-solving as well as gross and fine motor skills, and improving memory function. Sensory activities are especially beneficial for kids with sensory sensitivities, helping them learn to navigate their experiences with sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, as well as the capacities for body awareness and balance.
Occupational therapists often use sensory play activities to help children learn to process stimuli and build their fine motor skills, but it’s also something parents can do at home. Here are some ideas that are beneficial, inexpensive, and fun.
Sensory Play Activity Ideas
Anything that requires your child to use their senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, body awareness or proprioception, and balance) in order to learn can be considered sensory play. Here are a few sensory play activities to consider:
Pop bubble wrap
Next time you receive a package, instead of throwing all of that precious bubble wrap away, save it for a rainy day when your kids are stuck in the house. Tape the bubble wrap to your floor using painters’ tape and encourage your kids to get creative with the methods they use to pop the bubbles. Let them roll, run up and down, or bounce along the length of the bubble wrap, or have them race toy cars over a bumpy ‘road,’ popping the bubble wrap as they go. This exercise offers the added benefit of helping kids become accustomed to hearing the small explosion of every ‘pop.’
Plant a garden
Building a garden is a big project that can help your children develop their senses in a variety of ways. Lifting pots and carrying dirt can help improve proprioception and balance. Kids also get tactile input from touching and feeling the textures of various plants. Planting small seeds encourages them to work on their fine motor skills. At the end of the gardening experience, kids can get even more sensory input by picking, tasting and smelling the vegetables or flowers. You can even let your kids finger-paint the plants’ pots, or make their own mulch.
Set up your very own emergency room and play hospital with your kids. Consider ‘operating’ on any of their ripped stuffed animals or other broken toys that are easy to fix. You can even teach them basic CPR practices. (If you need some guidance yourself, you can watch an online CPR tutorial.) Have your kids help all of the ‘patients’ they can, and have them prep the others (the ones that require sewing, etc.) for ‘surgery.’
Make homemade instruments
Before tossing things like paper towel rolls and old soup cans, consider repurposing them into DIY musical instruments. You can easily create tin-can maracas, balloon bongos, or a tambourine from a paper plate and a few bells. In addition to making the instruments, coordinating sound and movement while playing them also can improve their motor skills. Make up songs or have your kids play along with their favorites in an impromptu concert.
Make squishy bags
Mix water, food coloring, and flour in a zip-top bag, then squeeze all the air out before sealing it. Place the bag on a flat surface and have your kids use their fingers or Q-tips to draw or write, displacing the colored liquid in the bag. This activity helps kids practice their shapes, letters, and numbers.
Draw foot art
For this project, preparation is easy. Simply tape a large piece of cardboard or paper onto the lowest section of an empty wall in your house and gather all the markers, colored pencils, crayons, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) washable paints you can find. Have your kids lie on the floor, place their drawing utensil of choice between their toes, and see what they can draw with their feet. Play a game trying to guess what they’ve drawn or give them prompts for things they can try to create.
Color on sandpaper
Experiencing sandpaper for the first time could be a tactile experience in and of itself for your kids. If you also tape the sandpaper down and have them draw on it with crayons, they will have to press down harder on the crayon to get it to draw on the sandpaper, encouraging them to hold the crayon in the correct position—and improving their fine motor skills.
Make smelling bottles
Opaque glass bottles, cotton balls, and essential oils are required for this activity. Place a few drops of each essential oil on its own cotton ball and place the cotton balls in individual glass bottles. Then have your child use their sense of smell to guess what kind of oil is in each bottle.
Create a sensory bin
Many parents create sensory bins for their children. These tubs are designed to provide kids a tactile experience without making a big mess. Simply find a container large enough for your kids to play in without spilling the contents, then decide on your filler—some choices include sand, shaving foam, or ice cubes. (The possibilities are endless.) Provide tools your child can use to play with the filler, like scoops and spoons. If mess is still a concern, think about placing a tarp under your sensory bin to catch any potential spills.
Dessert texture buffet
Gather all the desserts with different textures that you can think of and sample each one. This activity comes with a warning: Be ready for a sugar rush!
Wrapping It Up
Sensory play is very important for children, and it can be especially important for those who may have sensory integration difficulties. Sensory activities help kids utilize their senses to learn, creating connections in the nerve pathways of their brain. This type of learning helps children understand and master more complex problems as they grow up.