Sensory Play

All babies begin to play by exploring sensorily. Babies love to play with textured toys and they explore these toys using not only their fingers, but also their mouths. They love feeling the toys across their lips, and chewing on them with their little gums and teeth. They explore the shape and texture of toy with their tongues. Babies who do not explore toys by mouthing them are certainly at a disadvantage compared with those who do. In fact, the lack of mouthing of toys, is often one of the first indicators that a baby’s sensory development is not progressing optimally.

Ideally, infants should be offered opportunities to explore their sensory environment, in a manner which does not result in them being over-stimulated. We often hear people talking about sensory stimulation, when referring to infant and toddler’s sensory play. We should always take care, simply to provide the opportunity for infants and toddlers to explore sensorily.  When we take over and actually stimulate babies, we are imposing sensory input, and we risk over-whelming them! Certain noisy toys which are so readily offered to infants, actually overwhelm them as the baby is not able to control the amount of noise which the toy makes. Some of these toys are battery-operated toys which simply spring to life as they are touched or handled. While these toys can be exciting and fun, care needs to be taken especially with the younger child or the more sensitive baby, to ensure that they do not in fact disorganise the baby. This also applies to certain noisy rattles and push-button toys. Just because the baby continues to play with an over-stimulating toy does not mean that he is happy or well-regulated.

Playing with messy textures can offer a great opportunity for toddlers to explore with their hands and with their bodies. Always ensure that the messy texture that you choose for your baby is non-toxic.

Let your toddler play in the sandpit wearing as little clothing as weather permits in order to let his skin have contact with the sand. Use bubbles in the bath and encourage your toddler to handle the foam and to cover his body with it. Add water to playdough so that it become squishy, and squeezes out between his fingers. Let your toddler spread this mixture over large sheets of newspaper using big sweeping arm movements. Play with playdough in the usual way, and let your toddler add texture, such as seeds or small pebbles to the playdough. You can also hide tiny objects in the playdough for your toddler to seek out.

Hiding small toys and objects inside a big tub of dried beans offers a lovely sensory play idea for toddlers and for older children. You can also hide familiar small toys in Sensory Stuff’s feely bag. Make sure that your little one has both hands inside the bag and see whether he can tell you what he has found beforehe pulls it out of the bag!

Let your child crawl through a length of fabric tubing, known as mutton-cloth tubing, which you can easily find at your local hardware store. Take care that he is not fearful in doing this, as it can be scary for some children!

Mix up a big tub of Sensory Stuff’s glue. Just add water to the powder and help your toddler to mix it up with a spoon or show him how to mix it with his hands! You can add a little powder paint to the mix to give it some colour. This glue mix remains gel-like if you do not add too much water. It can be used to glue things onto paper or cardboard, or to make Paper Mache. This gel-like glue offers a wonderful texture for sensory play!

Mix up cornstarch powder with water to make a lovely textured gloop for your toddler to draw his fingers through. The cornstarch settles to the bottom of the bowl and makes a thick mixture, which your child can drag his fingers through. Add some colour for even more fun!

Grate natural soap, such as Sunlight soap, into water to make up a soapy gloop.

Mud and water play can be great fun on warmer days! While you’re outdoors, make a leaf and seed collage by gathering different coloured leaves, which can be such fun in Autumn!

And now for some auditory sensory play…Ensure that your infant gets to spend lots of time outside in the garden so that he learns to listen for the birds, and for sounds in nature. This is very different compared to the sounds that echo off the walls in a room. Listening to the sounds that occur in nature assists in developing greater spatial awareness and in localising sounds.

Use a variety of different noisy toys beginning with soft and gentle sounds with your baby. You can fill small plastic tubs with your own sound-producing fillings, such as dried peas, small pebbles, rice, etc. Encourage your baby to listen to the various sounds, which each tub makes as it is shaken. You can expand this game to a more complex game with your toddler, as you hide different things inside a plastic bottle or tub, asking him to listen to the sound, and then try to guess what makes the noise. Was it sand or pebbles? Was it coins or rice? The game of “auditory hide and seek” can be most entertaining and can be played in many other situations. Teach your child to listen as well as to look. Playing games in the dark, provided of course that your child feels secure, is a lovely way of encouraging them to listen to the world around them.

Let your child experiment with making different sounds, such as loud and soft sounds. Stroking a textured surface makes a different sound from that made by lightly tapping a glass or a cup. Play with rhythm, and tap out a tune using various kitchen utensils. Several children playing together can create a lovely “orchestra of sound!”  Remember to keep the noise level low and manageable.

Feel your way…Older children can put on a blindfold and feel their way around a familiar room. Take care to ensure that all obstacles are removed and that the room is tidy first!

Creative sensory crafts can be loads of fun for preschool children and older children. Used containers, bottles, boxes and other used household items can be re-fashioned creatively. Textured card and paper, pom-poms, cotton wool, twines, beads, textured wool, pipe-cleaners, shiny foil, polystyrene beads and a host of other materials can be used. Encourage your child to be imaginative in making their creations. Avoid copying other themes and rather let the child make their own unique creation. Those children who struggle with expressing their creativity can be motivated by suggesting that they create alien bugs or monsters, as these creations can be more easily creatively inspired as no one really knows what aliens bugs or monsters look like! Most of all, HAVE FUN!!!