Why sensory play?iStock/daiphoto
Any play that engages your child's senses is sensory play. Both children and adults learn better when they can explore a new concept or activity with their senses, according to PBS Parents. This is because our brain is built to connect memories with a sensory experience. Parents can help their children pick up on difficult or abstract ideas through activities that encourage them to touch, taste, smell, see, and hear. "Even exposing your child to organized sensory activities for five to 10 minutes daily can be very beneficial to his or her developmental growth," says Kyle Heebner, occupational therapist at HM Therapy Services in southern California. Before you get started implementing sensory activities for kids, it is important to aim to keep these activities fun and motivating, according to Heebner. "Frustration, tension, and or lack of motivation can have negative outcomes," he explains. "If you find your child or yourself becoming frustrated, take a break, make changes, or begin a completely different activity at another time."
Sensory tables are popular in early education schools, but you can easily mimic them at home without breaking the bank. Purchase an inexpensive sensory table online or use plastic containers of varying sizes to create one using a table you already own. Fill the containers with everyday items of different shapes, sizes, and textures. (Think large dried beans, feathers, or sand.) Give your children empty cups and measuring spoons or bowls and allow them the freedom to explore these items. Sensory tables can be used to teach wide variety of lessons, but one simple activity is building language skills. Engage the sense of touch and teach your child to use words like rough, smooth, wet, or heavy. Check out other fun indoor activities for toddlers.
Bounce a balliStock/artmarie
Bouncing a ball seems simple enough, right? Making an activity structured and organized is one way to set it apart as sensory play, according to Heebner. Using a ball, instruct your child to stand in one spot and count as she bounces the ball. Once this task has become easier for her, increase the challenge level of the activity by asking her to bounce the ball three times on only one side and then three times on the other. Eventually, work up to taking a shot in a basket.
Simple household activities, like baking, can easily be transformed into meaningful sensory activities for kids. "Have your child help locate specific supplies using different movement methods, for example, hopping to place items at specific marked locations," he says. Parents can also ask their child to recall the names of tools and supplies being used. Have them help pour and measure ingredients and help mix or create designs with their hands as a way to improve sensory motor skills.
Turn on musiciStock/gradyreese
This fun sensory activity suggested by PBS Parents costs nothing, and it's the perfect way to engage your child's sense of hearing. Put on your favorite music at a normal volume then change the volume. Talk to your child about quiet and loud, or create fun sensory games asking her about the sounds she hears or quizzing her on the ideas of quieter or louder. While you're at it, have a little dance party. Dancing is great form of exercise and a great way to get the wiggles out!
Make new colorsiStock/neoblues
Using zip-top bags and tempera paints in the primary colors, teach your child about mixing colors while using their senses of sight and touch, suggests Learning 4 Kids. Your child can use his hands to mix the colors together, creating new ones using the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow.
Learn to zipiStock/esezer
Create a zipper board with cardboard and inexpensive, colorful zippers from your local craft store. This activity, recommended by Autism Speaks, takes a few minutes to put together, but it provides endless fun your child. Using a hot glue gun, glue your zippers in varying directions to a large piece of cardboard. Once it is dry, your child can zip and unzip to their heart's content. This simple activity uses the senses of touch and hearing.
Touch, sort, and measure brightly colored beansiStock/pproman
This sensory activity is popular for good reason: Kids loves to touch, sort, and measure. Recommended by Fun at Home with Kids, use a small airtight container or a zip-top bag, mix one cup of beans and 15 drops of food coloring. Shake the bag well to make sure the beans are completely covered with colors and then spread on a paper towel to dry. Repeat with each color. Once the beans are completely dry, pour them into a large plastic tub, and let your kids touch, sort, and measure these brightly colored beans.
Make a soap rainbowiStock/ryanjlane
Another activity suggested by Fun at Home with Kids is fun for the senses of sight and touch. Using a blender, mix together two tablespoons of dish soap, food coloring, and ¼ cup of water on for one or two minutes until it creates a thick foam. Repeat with each color and pour into a large tub for play.