Learning Through Sensory Play

by Patti Jo Wilson | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist

Sensory play isn’t just about touch. It’s about engaging all the senses children use to learn about the world. In fact, the more senses children use during an activity, the more learning potential it has. Sensory play can even help babies meet developmental milestones!

Follow these tips to infuse any space with opportunities for infants, toddlers and preschoolers to enjoy sensory play at school or at home.

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Sensory play for infants:

  1. Stimulate visual development using secure mobiles babies can swipe, bat and grab.
  2. Play soft, soothing music to nurture babies’ hearing. Be sure to avoid harsh, sharp and loud sounds. You can even purchase CDs made just for little ones, like Singable Songs for the Very Young.
  3. Provide a wide variety of soft sensory toys. For example, our star-shaped beanbags are perfect for sensory play because they incorporate textures and colors little ones love. If you’re caring for nonmobile children, take the toys to them.

Sensory play for toddlers:

  1. Set up stations for sensory play. You can use full-sized units, like our Toddler Sand & Water Table, or simply place a variety of sensory objects in a craft tray filled with dry rice. Try to include items that stimulate as many senses as possible, like Stack & Nest Sensory Toys featuring bright colors, bold patterns and fun-to-touch textures.
  2. Add soap and different types of sponges to your water play area. Toddlers will love playing with the soapy bubbles and squeezing the sponges.
  3. Play a variety of sounds and have children guess what they hear. You can even group sounds into categories to make the guessing easier.
  4. Introduce dough play! There are plenty of store-bought options, like Lakeshore Dough or Theraputty™, and it’s even easy to make your own.

Sensory play for preschoolers:

  1. Set up a secondary sensory table to provide even more opportunities for kids to explore. Stock it with open-ended sensory items that can be left out for long periods of time, like our Nonhardening Modeling Foam or our Tactile Letters.
  2. Turn a nature walk into a tactile scavenger hunt. Ask kids to collect objects that are smooth, rough, heavy, shiny, squishy, etc.
  3. Set out shaving cream to help kids explore touch and smell. Children love squirting shaving cream out of the can and squeezing it between their fingers!
  4. Have children take off their shoes and explore with their feet while walking on sensory mats, like our Silly Shapes Sensory Mats. You can even use the mats for seating!
  5. Let kids paint with their fingers! Change up the texture by adding glitter or picking up some of our Foam Sensory Paint.

Sensory play at home:

  1. Help babies respond to sensory stimulation by massaging them after their baths. Rhythmically massage their arms, legs and torsos using a baby-safe lotion or oil.
  2. Help toddlers collect items that have different textures (like bubble wrap, flannel, aluminum foil, kitchen scrubbers and sandpaper) to put in sensory books they can feel and explore.
  3. Poke holes in the tops of small containers and fill them with items that smell different (bananas, vinegar, vanilla, etc.) so children can explore with their noses.

Find our top picks for sensory play here, and start filling your space with opportunities for exploration today!

References:

  1. “Infant Massage for Babies with Sensory Impairments,” California Deaf-Blind Services, last modified 2011, files.cadbs.org/200001096-b825fb91fa/Infant%20Massage.pdf.
  2. “Why Infant Massage?,” Infant Massage USA®, accessed 2017, http://infantmassageusa.org/parents/parents.php.
  3. Thompson, Stacy D. and Raisor, Jill M., “Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children,” NAEYC 2013. Accessed 2017. https://www.naeyc.org/yc/files/yc/file/201305/Meeting_Sensory_Needs_Thompson_0513.pdf.
  4. “Growing In Sync Children,” NAEYC, accessed 2017, http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/article/growing_in_sync_children.
  5. “Why Sensory Play is Important,” The Spruce, last modified September 1, 2016, https://www.thespruce.com/why-sensory-play-is-important-2086510.