Fun Sensory Play Ideas for Your Child

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A few sensory play ideas for you and your child, and how to integrate them into your day.

Fun sensory play ideas that you can do with your baby, toddler, or preschooler. Learn how important sensory play is for children and why you need to incorporate it into your playtime.

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Sensory play is one of my favorite things to do with my kids. I find a lot of the activities soothing myself and the kids are always super engaged in this type of play.

As you might expect, sensory play toys are usually messy. They also often require supervision. Many of these activities I’ll pull out only when I can give my kids my undivided attention as I don’t want them swallowing something like magnetic Bingo chips. Please take care to use these items safely as some aren’t meant for play.

While I’ve played with some of these toys with my kids as young as 1 years of age, I find that my older kids will also enjoy playing along. They’re fun!

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is any play that incorporates your child’s senses- sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell.

When your child is a newborn, they’re exposed to lots of new triggers for those senses naturally- everything is overwhelming when all you’ve known is the womb! As the baby develops, parents expose their kids to new stimuli over time, such as introducing new tastes via foods at 6 months. Parents will hand their baby different texture blankets and toys. The baby will hear different people talking to them, different music types, and more. And of course, they’ll be exposed to new smells every day.

Why is Sensory Play Important?

Sensory play is, in my opinion, early scientific discovery and experimentation. While I occasionally ask questions to get my older children to think about what we’re doing when playing with sensory toys, they don’t need me; they’re doing those things on a subconscious level through play.

More and more evidence is coming out that kids NEED play at these developmental stages. They learn and process by DOING, not with studying and flash cards.

Their brains are building connections based on what they see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. This is a great resource on how babies senses develop over time., even though they begin to develop their senses in utero.

Why I LOVE Sensory Play

What you’ll see is that kids seek sensory play, even if you don’t provide those opportunities. Often I’ll find my youngest child splashing in the dog’s water bowl or hitting a pot with a spoon to hear the sounds it makes. I don’t think we need to incorporate sensory play, as long as we don’t take away those opportunities. But it’s a lot of fun to encourage it and it’s a little less messy if we set it up!

I love sensory play toys and activities for the following reasons:

  • The kids will stay engaged with it for a LONG time compared to other types of toys.
  • I enjoy playing with a lot of these toys myself, but if I want a break, I can also sit back and watch them play happily alone.
  • It is easy to incorporate questions or experimentation that helps them learn and develop, even when they’re older.
  • This type of play doesn’t need to be expensive!

Sensory Play Ideas

BINGO WANDS

Bingo wands are one of our favorite sensory activities. It’s so soothing to wave the wand around, picking up and cleaning off bingo chips as you go.

Toddler playing with magnetic Bingo wands.

For only a few dollars, you can pick up a couple of wands and a bunch of chips. My favorite part is that they’re easy (and fun) to clean up.

I use an old glass jar to store them all (although plastic might be better) out of reach.

Questions for the Kids: What happens when you touch other things around the house with the wand? What in the room is metal or not? What happens when you touch the doorknob?

WATER BEADS

Water beads are another favorite. They come in small bags and a little can go a LONG way. They’re ooey and gooey, but not sticky. These take some time to setup as they come as tiny pebbles. When you add water, they expand, but it takes an hour or two for them to grow.

Water beads before and after adding water.

I love to put them all in a big container such as a water table. Make sure to keep things as easy as possible to cleanup.

Toddler playing with water beads.

If you use a water table, you can use a strainer over the drain to empty the water out after, then place a baggy under the drain to collect the beads after. The beads WILL dry up and go back to their original size so you could potentially reuse them.

Unless they stick their dirty feet in them, in which case it might be better to reuse these for your flower pots (their intended purpose, I believe).

Son standing in a bowl of water beads.

Questions for the Kids: Why do you think the water beads get bigger in water and smaller when they’re dry?

PAINTING PLAY

Grab an old paint brush and an empty ice cream container (or a plastic bucket). Fill the bucket with water and let the kids “paint” outside on the pavement or deck.

Boy painting the deck with paintbrush with water on it.

My kids love painting everything from the siding to the deck with these and we’ve had fights over the paint brushes at play dates. SO much fun!

Questions for the Kids: How long does it take before your painting disappears? Why do you think it disappears- what is going on?

FROZEN DINO EGGS

Dinos frozen inside "eggs" of ice.

This is a fun one, but it takes some prep. It’s not terribly messy so it is a decent one for the kitchen table. Lay out a towel or two on the table for easier cleanup.

The day before, take some tiny dinosaur toys and some balloons. Squeeze them in through the opening in the balloon- be carefully or you will rip your balloons. Fill the balloons with water as much as you can. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Once somewhat full (slightly larger than egg size), tie off and place in the freezer.

When you’re ready to play, cut the balloon away from the frozen “dinosaur egg.” Place the egg(s) in an empty shallow container. Give the kids spoons, droppers, and/or paintbrushes and a small container of warm water.

Toddler using a funnel and a measuring spoon to melt ice.

They can use the dropper to drop hot water on the egg. They can try to brush hot water on the egg. Etc.

Dinosaurs half out of their ice egg.

Questions for the Kids: What tool worked best for getting the dinosaur out of her egg? What was happening when you put hot water on the ice?

BEAN SENSORY BIN

A few bags of dried beans or a pile of rocks… it doesn’t matter. Put them in a bin and add things for the kids to dig and scoop with. Give them items to bury. Plastic Easter eggs for them to put the beans in, then open/close are fun!

My oldest son found this veryyyyy soothing… haha…

Son laying in a bean sensory bin.

Questions for the Kids: N/A This is probably better for the younger kids who aren’t verbal yet.

FABRIC SCRAP TOY

Use an old wipes bin or a Kleenex box for this toy. Tie together thin scraps of fabric. Let them pull the rope of fabric out… it’s even better if the fabric is all different types so they can feel the differences in the fabric.

Old kleenex box stuffed with fabric scraps tied together.
Empty wipes container filled with scraps tied together.

Let them stuff them back in and do it again.

Questions for the Kids: N/A This is probably better for the younger kids who aren’t verbal yet.

FABRIC SENSORY PLAY BIN

This is also a good one for younger children. I put together a play bin with some scraps of different types of fabric, as well as some things like spools leftover from thread.

I find older kids get bored with this sooner. You may be able to incorporate water for one of these bins, if you’re comfortable drying everything after. Different fabrics react differently with water so this might be interesting for them!

Shoebox bin filled with different fabric scraps.

Questions for the Kids: N/A This is probably better for the younger kids who aren’t verbal yet.

Do you have a favorite activity that isn’t on the list? Leave it in the comments below!

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Best sensory play ideas for kids under 5! Check out these fun ideas for your baby, toddler, or preschooler.

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