Seven sensational sensory play ideas

October 10, 2017 Published by

Children use their senses to explore and make sense of the world around them; they do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing. Some parents assume sensory = messy! or simply aren’t aware how important sensory stimulation is for children’s learning and development.

Sensory play is quite big in the world of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) because it is so accessible and adaptable to the child. But every child can enjoy exploring their senses through different games and activities; because of this, sensory play is perfect when you’re entertaining a range of ages and abilities.


Mess-free colour mixing 


A clean way of using paint and introducing children to colour mixing is to place two colours of paint in a zip-lock freezer bag – close the bag and then let your child ‘squidge’ the bag and observe what happens when the colours merge.  Young hands will love the feel of the paint in the bag and will learn what happens when different colours are mixed together. Through this experience they will be developing their fine motor skills and learning about colour and colour mixing. 

Sand-tray play 


Playing in a sand-tray or sandpit provides lots of learning opportunities: fine motor control, trial and error learning and imaginative play.  Children can pour and dig the sand or they can add water and make sandcastles.  Provide a range of tools to facilitate your child’s exploration and to extend the learning potential even further you could hide objects on a theme: items beginning with a specific letter; animals; dinosaurs or magnetic letters…the list is endless.    

Water-tray play (or sink, paddling pool or bathtub!) 


As with the sand play, this has lots of scope.  Children will enjoy pouring water into different size containers; washing up kitchen items or role-playing with dolls and action figures.  Try adding bubble bath to the water and giving your child a whisk so that they can make bubbles – you could ‘hide’ items under the bubbles and see how long it takes them to find them all.

Ice play


Freezing plastic animals in ice and getting your child to work out how to get them out is great for problem-solving and exploring the scientific concept of melting.  Children will enjoy melting the ice (provide a water bottle of warm water, check this is not too hot) and retrieving the object inside.   You could also make little ice-boats by freezing water in small plastic boxes – add food colouring so that the children can differentiate between them.  Let your child float them in water and observe what happens – you could try different water temperatures.    



Children love squeezing play-doh between their fingers and using different tools to create their masterpieces – this is a brilliant activity for developing the muscles in the hand and enhancing fine motor control.  Provide them with a range of tools (these don’t have to be purpose made; kitchen utensils work perfectly) and let them see what they can make.  Adding other toys, such as a tea set, will extend your child’s play and make the play-doh creations part of your child’s role-play. 

Rainbow jelly 



Giving children items for sensory play that are edible enables them to explore using the sense of taste.  Jelly is great for this as it is easy to prepare, cheap and can be bought in different colours.  Put the jelly on a tray and let your child explore with their hands…it sounds disgusting but to them it feels (and tastes) amazing!  You could hide items in the jellies and encourage your children to get them out.   


Edible finger painting 




Using their hands (or feet) to paint is great for sensory stimulation, and edible paint means it will be safe in case they decide to see what it tastes like! Provide your child with different colours and some utensils as well – brushes, sponges, slices of vegetable, leaves etc.  This type of activity is good for developing creativity, understanding of colour and fine motor control.   If you don’t want your child to make a mess indoors, this would make a great garden activity. 

Your child will really enjoy exploring with their senses and will learn a great deal about the world around them.   Once you start thinking about it, you will discover that there are lots of sensory activities to be found and many of them use items commonly found in our homes.

This fabulous curated list of play ideas have been carefully selected from the Learning 4 Kids website, which is home to an array of fun and creative play ideas for children to enjoy




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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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