When you think about learning, things like books, flashcards, and chalkboards might come to mind. However, for babies, toddlers, and preschool-aged kids, play is the best way for them to take in information! Best of all, parents can enhance these experiences when they engage their child's senses. If you're looking for some fun and easy sensory activities for kids, we have some spectacular options that can keep your kids entertained for hours.
Benefits of Sensory Play
Sensory play has been shown to foster language development, hone fine and gross motor skills, and aid in their overall cognitive development. It also encourages creativity, problem-solving, and social interaction.
However, one of the most notable benefits of sensory play is that these games and activities can have an almost immediate calming effect on young kids. This can be a game changer for children who are having frequent meltdowns or sensory stimulation issues. Learning to self-regulate emotions is a critical skill for children, and sensory play may help with social-emotional learning.
Sensory Play Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers
Sensory activities and games are all around you! You likely have some, if not all, of the supplies in your home. Here are some simple and fun ways to engage your kids' senses with minimal effort.
Next time you have a pasta night, take the time to boil a few extra spaghetti noodles. One of the easiest sensory activities for toddlers is playing with their food. Plain noodles are a great choice because they limit the mess and they are extremely slippery when wet. Next, grab a shallow bowl or clear bin and add some linguine-style noodles and water!
Pair the activity with tongs, ladles, and an empty bowl. Your kids can simply noodle around in the food or you can see if they can transfer the wet noodles into the bowl.
Parents who grew up in the 90s probably remember the ball pits at McDonald's! There's a reason our parents loved to frequent this fast-food restaurant. It was not only a quick meal, but their kids also got to enjoy some sensory play! This meant a calm and happy kid when they got home.
While a ball pit of that size will be hard to replicate at home, it is pretty easy to put a small one together. All you need is a kiddie pool and the balls, all of which can be found on Amazon!
Large dog owners should keep in mind that this activity is very exciting for your furry friends. Because of the thin, hollow design, dogs can easily consume these balls. Therefore, put them away once the playtime is over or keep this play area in a room where you can close the door. Otherwise, you may find some very colorful poop in your backyard in a few days!
Water tables are the quintessential sensory play tool - and there are lots of ways for kids to engage in sensory water play. Parents can either let their kids splish and splash in the water or they can add in colorful cups, scoops, balls, and squirt toys to enhance the fun! This engages their sense of touch, hearing, and sight.
Bath Time Bubble Fun
If you don't have a water table, the bathtub is a spectacular alternative. The combination of the water, the bubbles, and fun bath toys makes for an immersive sensory experience that stimulates the senses and allows them to get clean at the same time!
Sand boxes are another classic sensory activity that stimulates a child's senses of touch and sight while also working on their fine and gross motor skills. Have them scoop, pour, dig, and even sieve through the sand to find different objects.
Don't want a sandbox in your backyard? Many community parks have sand play spaces built into their structures! Just bring along some cheap beach toys and you are set.
For preschool-aged kids, you also have the option of filling a sandbox with small pebbles. This can have the same effect with less of a mess.
For the parents looking for sensory activities for preschoolers and older toddlers, gardening is a wonderful opportunity to learn and play at the same time! Not only does this engage their senses of touch and sight, but once they have grown some fruits and vegetables, they can also involve their senses of taste and smell!
This is also a great activity for instilling a sense of responsibility in young kids. They have to remember to water their plants and pull any weeds that may impede the garden's growth. Did we also mention that a vegetable garden is an easy way to get your kids more excited about eating their leafy greens? Nothing beets an activity with this many benefits!
This classic molding material is perfect for building creativity and stimulating the sense of touch. You can make the experience even more fun by adding in plastic pastry cutters, mini rolling pins, cookie cutters, and even stamps!
Just like the sandbox and the water table, sensory bins are spaces that allow your kids to engage in sensory play. They let them explore textures, enjoy different colors, and hear different sounds. Best of all, you can start small and then add to these play spaces as your child outgrows certain aspects of the box. This makes it a fantastic activity for both toddlers and preschool aged kids.
I Spy Sensory Jars
Many parents enjoy the benefits of sensory play, but could do without the mess. Sensory jars are the ideal solution, especially for preschoolers. These are easy to make and you can pair them with the different I Spy-style activities. Make a list of all the items hidden in the jar and see how many they can find!
Blindfolded Taste Test
Another sensory activity for preschoolers is a blindfolded taste test! Grab a sleep mask, tie, or long scrap of fabric and cover their eyes. Then, grab an array of differently flavored items to see if they can guess what they are tasting.
This is not only fun for your kids, but it is also amusing for parents. Pick sweet, sour, savory and spicy options like chocolate, lemons, pickles, jellies, marinara sauce, and mild peppers.
Another excellent sensory activity for preschoolers is a test of their sense of smell! All you need is some index cards, a glue stick, and spices from your spice cabinet. We recommend choosing smells that your children will recognize - pepper, cinnamon, onion, oregano, and chili powder are a good start.
The intent is to see if they recognize either the scent or a food item that the scent is associated with. For example, when they smell oregano, they may note that it smells like spaghetti. Chili powder might smell like tacos and cinnamon might smell like pumpkin pie! As they get good at identifying these simple scents, start adding in real foods like fruit that you have around the house.
Who doesn't love a good dance party? All you need to do is turn on some of their favorite tunes and start grooving! For the parents who want to add the aspect of touch and enhance the sense of sound to this activity, give them fun costume accessories to use during their dance session. Feather boas, maracas, folding fans, and colorful Mardi Gras style beads can all make this sensory experience more fun!
Another great way to introduce textures, tastes, and smells is through food! Making pizza, pasta salad, and ice cream sundaes are all interactive sensory activities that kids of all ages enjoy! Have your kids wash their hands and then assemble their meal. Once everything is done, then they can eat up their tasty creation.
Concert at Home
For the parents who can stand the noise, grab some wooden spoons, pots and pans, paper plates, maracas, and any other noise making items from around your home. Then, let your little musicians fill the air with their own personal melodies! This is a wonderful activity for kids of all ages.
Sensory Play Can Happen Anywhere
Sensory activities for kids aren't just meant for at home and in the backyard! Since they are calming activities, they're also ideal for crowded places and spots where your kids may feel stressed, like the doctor's office. Sensory I Spy jars are wonderful for on-the-go and so are fidget toys and busy bags! You can customize these grab bags with items that your kids love and keep them in your car or diaper bag for any occasion.