Does Your Child Engage in Sensory Play?

Here Are 5 Easy Ways …

Sonya Philip
4 min readFeb 10, 2022
Messy play experiences that stimulate children’s senses are a boon for their early years. (Image from Learning Matters)

Think of the most beautiful experiences of your life, or what many call the “small things” in life. What are some small things for you that can totally transcend you to another world?

It could be the sight of a beautiful sunset or the feeling of a warm blanket around you in the winter or the joy of playing in the rain as a child. Maybe the embrace of a loved one is your most endearing memory or maybe it is the sound of a child’s laughter that you find delightful.

List some such small things for you.

Once you’re done, you will find that most of these experiences involve your senses. The aroma of your mom’s dish might do it for you or simply the sound of beach waves. Either way, our best memories involve an amalgam of touch, sight, sound, taste, or smell. You could say that experiences created by these senses eclipse most other experiences.

So, for children, the significance of senses is the way they make sense of the world around them. It is through sound, touch, color, smell that children experience their environment. This not only facilitates better understanding but is crucial to brain development, especially for children aged zero to three because that’s when their brains are most ripe for growth and development.

That’s where sensory play comes in. As the name suggests, play that invokes any of the major senses of touch, vision, smell, sound and taste is called sensory play. In the case of children, sensory play can also include the senses of balance and movement.

As Educational Playcare aptly described it,

“Sensory activities facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. The sensory activities allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information helping their brain to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information.”

What are some examples of sensory play?

Children at Learning Matters playing with mud.

The best sensory play activities can be created at home and do not require any fancy equipment. A tip: use authentic materials instead of commercial toys — for example, a red plastic car has only one texture and colour. Your child will overcome their inquiry with it very soon, whereas sand, water, and other authentic materials can engage the child more.

What happens if I squeeze it? Does the weight change if I add water to it? How does water flow differently from sand? These are some natural explorations a child makes. Similarly, technology is a single dimension with very little sensory feedback for your child.

Here are some examples of sensory play that you can easily recreate at home:

  1. For experiences with texture use materials such as sand, mud, rice, flour, boiled spaghetti, dried leaves, water, finger paint, foam, etc. They can use these open-ended materials in any way they choose — for example, a child could crush the leaves, pound the dry leaves, print with them, etc.

2. Use old jars, cups, spoons, pennies, daal, beans, etc. to create opportunities to play with sound. Make sound shakers and join your children to create a jamming session using their sound creations or even kitchen utensils.

3. Use flashlights, natural sunlight, fabrics, aluminium foil, a prism to create a play experience around light.

4. For sensory play activities involving touch, you can assimilate a collection of different textures such as cotton, wool, wooden objects, linen, etc. You can also help your child create a quilt of differently textured waste clothes.

5. Give your child the required safe materials to create a sensory vision board. These could once again be items around the house such as a rag or glitter or decoration materials. You should simply give them access to the material and a board to assemble it while leaving the exploration up to the child. As they begin to immerse themselves in the experience, ask them what the objects feel, sound, look like to enable a better sensory example.

Once you begin the sensory play experience with your toddlers and preschoolers, you will soon observe your child’s gradual engagement with sensory play.

At our playschool Learning Matters, all play is sensory — while they are playing in the sand, climbing the jungle gym, finger painting, dancing to music, or engaging with process art. As a result, the children are aware and able to communicate their needs to themselves, their parents, and to us. However, the benefits of sensory play are manifold. In the next article, I talk extensively about how sensory play can help your child in their later academic journey.