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Any hands-on play in which any of the child’s senses – hearing, smell, taste, touch, and sight – are engaged is considered sensory play. Most people know that babies learn an extraordinary amount about their world through sensory play. But did you know that toddlers also benefit from the freedom to explore life using their senses? Through age-appropriate sensory activities, toddlers can gain observational, cognitive, fine motor, and abstract thinking skills. Here are some sensory play ideas for toddlers to get you started!
Sensory Artistic Play
The following are some ideas to make your toddler’s artistic time more sensory. Note: Remember to always supervise and never let your little one ingest glue, shaving cream, or other toxic substances!
- Salt painting: Put out glue for your toddler to “paint” onto construction paper. Then put salt out for them to shake or sprinkle onto the glue and make a fun sensory art creation.
- Shaving cream painting: Spray shaving cream onto a baking sheet and let your toddler make a painting with it. For more fun, add food colouring!
- Snow sculpting: Use snow from a winter day or grind ice up in a blender to create it. Then place it in front of your toddler and allow them to make a picture with it on a placemat or baking sheet, just like they would with paint.
- Edible finger paint: You’ll need four tablespoons of cornstarch, one cup of boiling water, liquid food colouring, and cold water (on a per need basis). Start by mixing the cornstarch with just enough cold water to make a paste. Whisk in the boiling water and place the mixture on the stove at low heat. Once clear streaks are visible in the mixture, you can turn off the stove and stir to create a thick gooey paint. Divide your paint into smaller bowls and add food colouring to each bowl to finish creating your paints. Always practice caution when boiling water is present.
Sound and Music Play
The following are some simple ways to activate your child’s auditory senses:
- DIY Rain Sticks: Fill a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll with dried beans or uncooked rice and cover the ends with scraps from paper bags. Secure the ends with rubber bands and decorate your rain stick with stickers, drawings, feathers, and glitter. Get shaking for some auditory fun!
- Do Re Me Musical Bottles: Gather 8 20 oz. bottles and fill them with different amounts of water. To hit specific notes use Do – 7 oz, Re – 9.5 oz, Mi – 12.5 oz, Fa – 14 oz, So – 16.5 oz, La – 17.5 oz, Ti – 18.5 oz, and Do – 19 oz. Blow across the tops of the bottles to produce these different sounds.
- Hidden Music: Find a toy that makes sounds or a music player and hide it under a pillow or blanket in your child’s playroom. Send them into the room to find it and choose harder hiding spots based on your child’s ability and speed in doing so.
- Find the Bell: Find a bell or a toy with a bell sound in it. Then put out several pillowcases. Hide the bell inside one of the pillowcases when the child isn’t looking. Then shake each pillowcase and have them guess where the bell is. To make this game more difficult, see how fast they can figure out which pillowcase has the bell inside.
Sensory Water Play
The following are some fun water play ideas.
- Bathtub sticker stories: Make waterproof stickers for bathtime by cutting out pictures from an old book, placing them on the sticky side of one-sided sticky paper, and applying another sheet of sticky paper (sticky-side down) on top to water seal the images. These will stick to tile or the side of the bathtub. Have your child tell a story with the stickers as you clean them off.
- Sink or float guessing: Gather household items with different densities, like bath toys, spoons, balls, etc. Let your child drop the items into their bath and talk about whether the item sinks or float. Toddlers may want to guess beforehand or try to remember as you drop the item a second time.
- Water play: Put a sheet of oilcloth or a water-proof mat on the floor and then place a pot or pan full of water on it. Add floating bath toys or sinking miniatures to the pot and let your toddler explore to see what they can find. Use a toy net to let them gather the toys and tell you what they’ve found.
Note: ALWAYS remember to supervise water play to protect your child from drowning!
Hands-on Station Play
The following are some great hands-on activities for your toddler:
- Guess the texture: Fill several paper lunch bags with a different item (sand, flowers, leaves, rice, quinoa, cereal, etc.). Have your child put their hand in without looking and describe the textures they feel. Then have them guess what it is for a prize!
- Spaghetti worm digging: Fill a plastic tub with soil. Cook up spaghetti noodles and hide them in the soil, with some visible on the surface. Have your child collect as many noodles as they can for sensory and cognitive fun!
- Magnetic scavenging game: Fill a bin with a sensory material of your choice (rice, pasta, quinoa, sand, etc.). Bury paperclips in the sensory material and have your child collect them using a magnet. Once you child collects them all, have them hide the paper clips again so you can find them this time!
- Nature Play Station: Gather twigs, leaves, rocks, flowers, and other items from nature with your child. Place them on a blanket and have your child explore them. Ask your toddler to describe their different textures, and separate them into categories for added learning. If your child is artistic, have them draw some of the items and keep a nature journal with their drawings.
For more sensory play ideas, visit the Sensory Play Catalog and comment with your child’s favoUrite sensory play activities.
Brigitta Burguess is a mother and writer from Michigan, who focuses on pregnancy, the postpartum period, and parenting children with disabilities. She writes for ABC Law Centers, a website that offers information and supportive resources for families of children with disabilities.