Children learn with their whole bodies, which is why sensory activities are a very important part of their education and development. Exposure to touch, smell and textures encourage children to explore and investigate. They allow children to process different sensory information, helping their brain create stronger connections to sensory information, and learn which are useful and which can be filtered out.
Below are some suggestions for sensory activities that can be done at home.
- Treasure hunt: Fill a container with a dry food (such as rice, beans, cereal, oatmeal or pasta) and hide objects inside the medium for your child to find.
- “Bath” play: Using toy cars or animals, have your child get the toy “dirty” in shaving cream or dirt. Your child can “clean” the toy using a spray bottle or by dipping the toy into a container of water.
- Crinkle paper: To improve fine motor skills, have your child rip stripes of paper and crumble them up. Then, show them how to either place the strips onto a piece of paper to create art, or insert the strips into a container such as a paper towel roll or clear plastic bag.
- Music time: Make your own instruments using an empty paper towel or toilet paper roll. Place tissue paper or fabric on one end; fill with rice, beans or beads; and place another piece of paper or fabric on the other end to close off the opening. Secure the coverings with rubber bands, decorate the outside and shake for music.
- Nature walk: Get outside and collect objects like rocks, sticks, leaves and flowers. Encourage older children to write about their experiences, draw a picture in a notebook, or use a camera to take a photo of what they find.
- Food time: Designate a time for messy food play. Have your child “help” prepare a meal by presenting them with different food textures on a tabletop or in a bowl. Provide a plate, cups and spoons.
Through sensory play, children can experience touching, smelling and playing with a texture in an environment with little expectations. As a child begins to develop trust and an understanding of any given texture, it helps build positive pathways in the brain to say it is safe to engage with whatever the item is. The desire to engage with sensory play comes naturally for children and should be encouraged and supported both at home and in early learning environments.
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About Jordan Huffman OTR/L
Jordan Huffman is a pediatric occupational therapist and is certified in Child Passenger Safety Education. She has been working within the pediatric inpatient rehabilitation setting for the last nine years and received her bachelors and masters degrees in Occupational Therapy at Saint Louis University. Currently, she is a practicing senior therapist on the inpatient pediatric rehabilitation floor at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.