What are the benefits of sensory play?
Sensory play can be essential for some children to help them engage with and develop their senses. However, all children (and adults!) can benefit from the variety of sensory engagement that these activities have to offer.
Creating games that build a child’s sensory skills can be simple to set up, with many of the resources for these games being found at home. The core focus is on building different skills, whether that’s balance and coordination, oral motor skills and breathing control or sensory stimulation.
If you’d like to find out more about the senses and sensory processing, check out our article on understanding sensory processing disorder for your child.
Now, let's have a look at some of the fun activities that can be played…
Oral motor control
Playing activities that focus on oral motor control are good for developing the motor skills involved in speech and for eating. These activities require the combined use of multiple motor movements and awareness, such as the lips, cheek, tongue and jaw, along with coordination and strength.
The practice of deep breathing has also been shown to be beneficial for self-regulation, as it has a calming effect.
Oral motor activities to try at home
The Bubble Volcano
The bubble volcano is great for breathing control, deep breathing and for self-regulation. The most important aspect to note for this activity is not to breath in during this exercise.
For this activity you will need; a bowl, a straw, some washing up liquid and some water.
How to complete the activity:
- Get a deep bowl and add a good squirt of washing up liquid
- Add some water, no more then a quarter of the bowl full
- Get a straw and blow through the straw into the water
When you do this activity, the idea to blow through the straw in long slow breaths. Whilst doing so, you will create a volcano of bubbles rising up over the bowl!
The Beans Air Lift
This activity will practice the skills of breathing control, coordination and stamina of oral motor skills. The most important aspect to note for this activity is to ensure that the dried object is larger than the opening of the straw.
For this activity you will need; two bowls, some dried beans, or even cereal such as Cheerio’s would do, and a straw.
How to complete the activity:
- Place some dried beans, Cheerio’s or similar object in one of the bowls, and leave the second bowl empty next to it
- Using the straw, you must breath whilst placing the straw on a bean from one bowl, and continue to maintain the suction in order to move the bean across and place it in the second bowl
- Keep going and see how many beans you can move across
We found a great short video from Creative Health Solutions LLC that shows these activities being performed, along with others you may wish to try.
The Bubble Volcano & The Beans Air Lift
Turbino Blowing Game
The Turbino blowing game is designed to develop breathing control. The purpose of the game is to blow a propeller and to get the coloured side of the propeller to land on a matching coloured picture on the base.
There are two sets of pictures to choose from, which offer different degrees of difficulty.
Fine motor skills
Playing activities that focus on developing fine motor skills will strengthen the muscles and improve coordination in the hands and wrists. These skills are important for a variety of tasks, from getting dressed and doing up buttons and zips, to handwriting and using scissors.
Fine motor skills activities to try at home
The Colander & Pipe Cleaner Challenge
This activity is fantastic for children to develop their grasp and coordination for moving small objects, and for developing hand-eye coordination.
For this exercise you will need; one colander and some pipe cleaners.
How to complete the activity:
- Lay out the colander and the pipe cleaners for your child
- Encourage them to thread the pipe cleaners through the openings in the colander by demonstrating this activity to them
When you do this activity, you may find it useful to tape the colander in one place to maintain focus on the action of threading the pipe cleaners. Other things to consider are using a variety of different coloured and textured pipe cleaners to engage more senses. You can even try this activity with box which you could make small holes in beforehand.
Here’s a fantastic short video from Lovevery showing this activity in action. You have to just love the look of concentration on children’s faces when trying thread those pipe cleaners!
Construction Brick Play
Building a construction with bricks such as Lego, or larger Duplo or Silishapes Soft Bricks for younger children, encourages fine motor skills whilst allowing for creative play. Simply letting children push bricks together and pull apart will be building their fine motor skills.
For this exercise all you need is an assortment of construction bricks and an open space for play.
Playing with construction bricks will allow children to develop dexterity and hand strength. For older children, this can also be a great therapeutic exercise and can develop skills in teamwork and sharing when planned constructions are done with others.
Threading String with Beads or Buttons
By using string to thread beads or buttons, children can learn the careful fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination similar to the Colander & Pipe Cleaner Challenge. Another way to use these resources is to wrap the strings around the different shaped beads and objects.
The TickiT Light Panel Colour Resources are a great for this activity. Offering a variety of colours gives the activity more visual stimulation, and the transparent quality of the shapes also means that their great to use on a light panel which creates an added sensory experience to engage children.
The set contains different coloured strings, blocks, shapes, construction blocks, beads and counters.
Gross motor skills
Unlike fine motor skills, gross motor skills involve the movement of larger muscles. These include the legs, arms and torso. Improving gross motor skills can help with the activities of running, jumping, catching and climbing.
Practising gross motor skills activities can help to develop the functions of balance, coordination, strength and reaction time.
Gross motor skills activities to try at home
This is a fantastic activity to do with your child any time. Dancing involves the movement of large muscles, building strength, balance and coordination.
For this exercise you will need; some music or a music video to follow along to.
How to complete the activity:
- Play the music or music video
- Use a variety of dance moves such as jumps, arm swinging, turning and stomping
If your child is free spirited, then the dance move possibilities can be endless. If your child is more comfortable with instructions, and logical planned activities, then either following along to a dance video or using a set of dance move instructions cards may be beneficial as an aid.
Even completing this activity to well-known nursery rhymes like ‘the wheels on the bus’, which have dance motions is a fantastic way to get some large muscle movement activity!
This can be completed as either an indoor or outdoor activity. Hopscotch requires the movement and coordination of the legs, with hopping, jumping and turning.
For this activity you will need; some chalk (white or coloured) or Washi tape, an object for throwing to mark which square to hop to, such as a bean bag, and space for playing.
How to complete the activity:
- Mark out the numbered squares for playing hopscotch by using either chalk for outdoors, or Washi tape for hard floors indoors
- Throw your object to land on one of the squares
- Hop along the Hopscotch to the end, being sure to miss the square where the marker fell, then collect the marker on your return
This activity is so simple, but great at encouraging movement, planning and coordination. It also encourages maths skills and counting by hopping along the different numbered squares.
If you want to make the game a little more challenging, try adding different moves that your child has to do for different squares, such as touching their toes or spinning around.
For a challenging motor and balancing exercise there is the WippWalker. To complete this exercise children must learn to ‘walk’ by putting their weight on one foot whilst simultaneously moving the WippWalker forward with the other, and then alternating this motion to the opposite legs.
By continuing in this way children can create a walking motion. However, this is a challenging activity that smaller children would find difficult.
Playing activities that focus on tactile perception are good for developing the skills involved in the senses of pressure and touch. The tactile sense is picked up by receptors on the skin, and a signal is sent to the brain to communicate the feelings. There are more of these receptors in the hands, feet and mouth, which is why getting those hands dirty is such a good way to explore the tactile sense.
These activities require the exploration of different tactile perceptions, through textures, shapes and materials.
Tactile play activities to try at home
This activity can easily be created with ingredients you find at home. Sensory boxes enable children to explore different textures with their hands and get a little bit messy…which is always lots of fun!
For this exercise you will need; a good-sized container to use for your sensory bin, white rice which you can colour with food colouring and vinegar, a container with a lid for mixing the rice, a container or tray for drying the rice, and some tools such as cups, scoops, spoons, funnels and brushes.
How to make coloured rice for this activity:
- Add your rice (about 130g per coloured batch) to a clean dry container that has a lid, along with a few drops of food colouring and half a teaspoon of vinegar
- Put the lid on the container and give the rice mixture a good shake to combine well, allowing the dye to be absorbed by the rice
- Put your rice aside onto a tray to dry, clean out your mixing container and create another coloured batch
Once you’re done, you’ll have an assortment of colours to use for your child’s sensory bin. Once the bin is filled with the dried coloured rice, children will love to explore the texture with their hands and to use the tools to measure, mix and pour.
If you don’t have any rice you can use many other things as a filler for a sensory bin, including dried beans, lentils, popcorn kernels, sand or even shredded paper.
Tactile Hula Hoop
You can create a tactile sensory experience for your child by wrapping different textured materials around a hula hoop and letting your child explore the different sensations.
For this activity you will need; a hula hoop and a selection of different textured materials (old offcuts can be great for this), and some non-toxic glue for attaching these materials to the hoop. It is always advised to keep an eye on younger children when playing with different materials and ensure that no loose fibres or parts are left within reach.
How to make your tactile hoop:
- Ensure the hoop is clean and dry before attaching any material
- Applying glue to a section of the hoop, attach the material and hold in place whilst the glue dries
- Try and add a variety of textured materials for the best sensory experience, adding 10 or so textured materials depending on the size of the hoop
You could use string to tie around the hoop when you add the material in order to add pressure whilst the glue dries. Great materials for texture include velvet, fleece, ribbons, fur, tinsel and thick foam material. You can also make your tactile hoop with different coloured material, making it more visually stimulating for young children.
Tactile Discs Set
Tactile Discs are made from an inviting tactile material that challenges children’s sense of touch on both hands and feet. At the same time, it develops the ability to describe sense impressions verbally.
Using the Tactile Discs for an activity, children can improve their sensory skills by the fundamental sensing of the tactile structures by either their hands or feet. The discs can also be used to play blindfold games based on memory and recognition.
We hope that you’ll have some fun trying out these sensory activities at home with your child. These are a great way to develop the senses, explore the senses…and simply have fun!
We’d love to hear about what sensory activities you do with your children at home. If you have a good activity, please share it for everyone by leaving a comment below.
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