Like many OT’s I love encouraging my patients to engage in sensory play. Previous blogs have given suggestions for fun sensory play ideas for the great outdoors, but if you’re anything like me once it’s cold you’re not venturing out! I wanted to share some of my favorite sensory play activities for inside to keep your children busy while fostering cognitive, social, developmentall, and language skills.
Sensory play is great for all kids, even those who are not currently being treated for sensory processing difficulties through occupational therapy. Sensory play helps children experience different textures, smells, sights, movements, and sounds through various play mediums. This is beneficial in so many ways. Sensory play helps the body learn to process these different sensations, it helps children learn body awareness and where they are in space, it can be calming or have an alerting effect, and it’s just fun. No matter the reason behind it sensory play is a great way to help fill your child’s day with new, fun, and engaging play activities.
Here are six of my favorite sensory play activities for kids of all ages:
Shaving cream is a great play activity, rub it on a mirror to practice writing letters, drawing shapes, or fun pictures! Or bury your favorite washable toys in it and dig around to find them. Add food coloring for more fun and the addition of a more intense visual stimuli. A taste safe alternative for younger children is using an electric mixer to whip the juice from a can of chickpeas into a foam.
Shaving cream can also be a great way to incorporate self care skills such as hand washing or teeth brushing. Use a toothbrush and the bottom of a plastic pop bottle as your “tooth” and practice brushing all around it and in the crevices. Or practice brushing the teeth on a doll or other toys.
Pro tip: For easy clean up do this play activity in the bathtub!
Cooked pasta is a great tactile play experience, add food coloring to the water when boiling to make fun colors. Let it cool, and add a little bit of water to make them slippery, then let the little hands dive in! Add in some of your favorite washable toys and containers to increase the imaginative play and fun. This is also a great activity for working on utensil use or cutting. Practice scoping and using a fork or snip the noodles with scissors to work on some of those self help and fine motor skills.
Water is a simple and easy sensory play activity. Fill a tub with some water, your kiddo’s favorite waterproof toys and some cups, big spoons, or measuring cups to encourage scooping, dumping, and pouring. To increase the fun, freeze water proof toys in ice cube trays or small containers of water then use dumping the water, hammers, or syringes of water to free the trapped toys.
Build your own sensory bin
Sensory bins are a simple and inexpensive way to create sensory play experience. Some great sensory bin base items are rice and beans, oatmeal, easter basket grass or shredded paper, cotton balls or pom poms, sand (crush graham crackers or cheerios for a taste safe option), or water beads (use tapioca pearls for a taste safe alternative). Start with your base then add in scoops, tongs, toys, and containers. The joy of this type of play is it gives a base for your child’s imagination to run free and learn new ways to engage with everyday items.
An obstacle course is one of the best ways to bring proprioceptive input into your child’s play, and get some of those wiggles out when we’re stuck inside. See Kelley Harlan’s ‘Let’s Make an Obstacle Course!’ blog post for some great information and ideas for your obstacle course.
Paint with Kool-Aid
You can easily turn Kool-Aid packets into water color paints to create masterpieces with a fruity twist. Just mix the powder from a packet of kool-aid with a small amount of water to create your paint. Use the activity to talk about different scents, fruits, and colors with your kids.
An added bonus to sensory play is that it opens an opportunity for discussion about new experiences and can help with language development. While doing all these activities talk to your child about what they are feeling, smelling, seeing, and hearing. Is it slimy, sticky, warm, or cold? Does it feel hard or soft? How does it make them feel? Help your child put language to what they are experiencing. Play is the best way for a child to learn, seize this opportunity to help them gain a new skill. Most of the time they’ll be having so much fun they won’t even realize how much work their brain and body is doing. Don’t be afraid to jump right in with them Mom and Dad, you deserve some play time too!