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Sensory Play for Young Children

As a mama of two toddler boys, I am always looking for new ways to keep them entertained without involving screen time. They are BUSY so it can be a challenge. I have found that providing them opportunities for sensory play has not only been a way to keep them entertained, but it has produced countless learning opportunities ranging from fine motor skills, problem solving, and language development. The best part – it is incredibly simple to set up and your child can play and explore INDEPENDENTLY so you can empty the dishwasher, prep dinner, scroll Instagram, or just take a minute for yourself!

Sensory play is simply an activity that stimulates a child’s senses: touch, taste, movement, balance, sight, or hearing. I began using “sensory bins” with my oldest son when he was around 15 months old. That’s a little ambitious, I know, but as a former teacher with a degree in Early Childhood Development I could not wait to get started with some learning activities! A sensory bin is a great place to start because it is simple. Here are the tools you need to set up your own sensory play:

  1. The Bin. An “under the bed” type storage tub is a great option so your child can sit on the floor and be able to reach in to explore. Another option is to use a sensory table. We have the Ikea Flisat Children’s Table and love it!

  2. The Filler. This is what you will add to your tub/table for your child to explore. My favorites include: dry rice, dry pasta, dry beans, kinetic sand, play dough, and cornmeal. It is important to keep in mind the age of your child. If they are young and like to put things in their mouth, make sure your filler is taste safe.

  3. The Tools. Adding in tools like measuring cups, bowls, spoons, tongs, small trucks, etc. allows your child to pour, scoop, stir, and really jumpstart their imagination to promote endless opportunities for play.

If you’re like me, my biggest fear regarding sensory play was the mess. I will be honest with you, it can be messy. Sometimes, very messy! I always put down a large, waterproof picnic blanket under our bin or table to help make cleanup a little bit easier. These are also excellent activities to do outside if you can’t handle the mess! I can assure you though, the endless play is well worth the clean up.

Now for the fun part: I am going to share some ideas and inspiration for sensory play activities! Here are a few sensory bins and activities I have done with my own boys that we have loved.

  • Construction Site – Pour dry black beans into a bin and add in small construction trucks and construction workers.

  • Ice Cream Shop – Provide different colored play dough, an ice cream scoop, pretend ice cream cones, mini erasers (to use as “sprinkles”), bowls, and spoons.

  • The Beach – Add kinetic sand to your bin along with a shovel, pail, seashells, and plastic ocean animal toys.

  • Rainbow Fun – One of my favorite fillers is rainbow rice. To make rainbow rice: put around two cups of rice into a Ziploc bag. Mix in a tablespoon of vinegar with a bit of food coloring. Squeeze and move the rice around in the bag until it is coated with the food coloring and vinegar. Lay it flat to dry for an hour or more. That’s it! I love to throw in colorful tools such as multicolor silicone baking cups, rainbow colored erasers, colorful blocks, etc.

  • Dinosaur Adventure – Provide different colors of play dough (green, yellow, blue, brown) to create a dinosaur scene. Add plastic dinosaur toys. These can be used for imaginative play and to create dinosaur footprints or “fossils”. I like to add in some small plastic trees and plastic eggs (like the ones you find at Easter).

  • Pea Soup – This one I highly recommend you do outside, but it is so fun! Fill a tub with water and pour in frozen peas. Provide spoons and bowls for your child to create a culinary masterpiece.

Some of my favorite social media accounts to follow for sensory play inspiration are @BusyToddler, @playathomemama_g, @shopleoandjune, @thechildhoodglen, and @TheMaternalHobbyist. I love posting the activities I do with my boys on my stories as well, @lexilakin, so be sure to check them out! I hope this gives you some ideas on how to fill the hours before nap time or after school and that you are inspired to try out some sensory play!

Thank you to Alexis Lakin, GCS Moms League Member, for sharing these wonderful ideas!

Please comment below with any questions or comments.

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Ashley Pearson
Ashley Pearson
Nov 05, 2020

Super helpful!!!! I’ve got my robot vacuum on standby & we will try these out!

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