Photo: Andrea Mulder-Slater
Sensory play encourages creative thinking and exploration, giving children ample time to interact with materials that stimulate the senses. Kids build both fine and gross motor skills through “hands-on” activities, all while developing their cognitive abilities, language skills and problem solving capabilities.
And you thought they were just getting messy!
These five engaging and relaxing sensory activities will take your kids beyond the sand box.
Fill up a storage bin or container with lukewarm water, then add a few squirts of dish soap, baby shampoo or bubble bath liquid. Create bubbles with a whisk or non-electric hand-mixer, and encourage your child to feel the soapy water and move the bubbles around with funnels, cups, toys or natural objects. By doing so, he’ll explore science as he discovers that some objects sink and others (including bubbles) float. His motor skills will also get a great workout!
(Note: For an extra bit of science fun, try setting a bar of Ivory Soap on a microwave-safe dish and heating in the microwave for about one minute until it expands into a mountain of foam. So fun!)
Guess what? You can make your own finger paint using a few household ingredients.
Add 2 tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup cornstarch to 2 cups cold water in a saucepan. Heat on medium heat, whisking as you cook, until the mixture turns to jelly (about 5 min). Remove from heat and mix in 1/4 cup liquid soap (dish soap, hand soap or baby shampoo). Cool and divide into muffin tins, add one drop of food colouring to each section and mix well with a spoon.
Encourage your child to dig into the paints and create pictures on paper, wax paper, cardboard or even rocks. If she is hesitant to touch the paint, provide lots of tools like paintbrushes and spoons and set up a bowl of warm soapy water as a quick hand cleaning station.
By pushing paint around, your child will express herself creatively, build self-esteem and experience science at work as she blends colours while making something that is truly one of a kind.
Note: This paint may look messy but because soap is one of the ingredients, it will wash off easily.
Fingerpainting is a terrific, tactile activity for little hands. However, if getting sticky is a little too overwhelming for your child, he might instead prefer this clean and relaxed approach.
Lay down a sheet of poster paper or cardboard and over that, place a sheet of plastic wrap—taping down the edges. Have your child add several blobs of paint (homemade or purchased) using spoons or brushes. Then, tape another sheet of plastic wrap over of the paint and encourage your little one to mush the colours together.
He'll be able to feel the paint moving beneath the plastic. Let him flex his problem-solving skills as he decides which colours to blend and mix. If he enjoys the process, he will be more likely to touch the paint with his fingers the next time.
Note: You can carefully remove the top layer of plastic wrap, lay a sheet of white paper on top of the wet paint and press lightly to make a print.
You might not often hear the words "legumes" and "fun" used in the same sentence, but that shouldn’t stop you from allowing your child to play with dried lentils and beans.
Simply provide a hefty supply of beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, corn, etc., and a variety of kitchen items and/or toys. Your child will work on her hand-eye coordination and small motor skills as she fills containers and empties them again. Her imagination will run wild as she pushes her cars through the peas and pretends to wash her toy dog with seeds.
Note: Be sure to supervise toddlers, to make sure they don’t put any of the dried legumes and seeds in their mouths, or simply use Cheerios (or a similar cereal) instead.
Colour and texture are the keys to this vibrant sensory activity. Simply separate a bag of rice into several zip-close bags and add 1/4 tsp of vinegar and one or two drops (you don’t need much!) of different food colouring to each to create a variety of colours (one colour per bag). Close the bags tightly and shake. Empty the rice onto plates and leave to dry (overnight if you want to be sure the colour is set).
Set your colourful rice up in rows like a rainbow in a small tray or container and provide some toys or craft items to hide beneath the rice. Your child can match the colour of her toys to the colour of the rice in the tray as she works on her dexterity while exploring how the rice feels between her fingers.
Turn the sensory experience into a game by hiding a few small toys or plastic gems in the container, encouraging your child to seek, find and count her treasures. (Be sure to keep a close eye on the fun, in case your little one decides the vibrant grains look like candy sprinkles and tries to eat them!)
Cloud dough is a favourite of many parents and caregivers because it is so easy to prepare (only two ingredients), has a soft texture and is such a pleasure to work with. (It's like a no-cook play dough.)
All you need to do is mix 8 parts flour with 1 part oil (cooking oil or baby oil).
Encourage your kids to knead and squish the mixture into shapes using cookie cutters, spoons and spatulas. Cloud dough molds nicely and then breaks apart like sand, making it the perfect material for pretending to operate an ice cream shop or bakery, or building up imaginary mountains. Mixing in some grated lemon rind, powdered paint or glitter will add a pop of colour to the sensory experience.
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Forget the craft room, for your child’s next crafty project head straight to the pantry for inspiration.