Children playing with sensory material

Fill a large shallow tub with different materials for your little ones to play with

Sensory experiences in the early years form the foundation for all your child’s future learning. Here are some of my favourite activities to engage their senses. Remember – the more senses you can engage in the same activity the better:

* Gardening. Toes squelching in the mud, running through the sprinkler system, smelling all the flowers and herbs (and hopefully NOT eating some of the bugs they find) – we are particularly lucky in this beautiful country where most days can be considered outside days.  Consider creating a sensory garden and include lots of brightly coloured and unusual  flowers (making sure to check beforehand that they’re not poisonous); plant vegetables and fragrant herbs or shrubs such as rosemary, mint, lavender, roses and jasmine; lay pebbles and stepping stones with different textures and hang ribbons, wind chimes, crystal beads and your old CD’s from the low hanging branches of trees.

* Sensory play dough.  Make your own play dough at home and add baking essesences or aromatherapy oils to the dough. I also like to add split peas, lentils, sesame seeds or poppy seeds to give the dough different textures. Look out for the recipe further down in this blog.

* Bath time fun. Oooooee – the possibilities!  Add bubble bath, bath salts, fizzy bath bombs or aromatherapy oils to the bath water.  I’ll sometimes even throw in some chamomile or rooibos teabags for variety and these are often gentler on sensitive skins.  Pull the container with bath toys closer and make some bath tub paint (simply mix some food colouring with 1/3 cup dishwashing liquid and 1 Tablespoon of corn starch).  Kids love the idea of a “glow in the dark bath”  – for this simply throw different coloured glow sticks in the water. Allow them to squirt water through syringes or to play with water balloons .

* Sensory tubs.  Store bought sensory tables are great for allowing children to play with different sensory materials, but large shallow tubs or cat litter boxes (obviously NEW litter boxes, that have never been used by cats) work just as well. Younger children can also be made to sit in the tubs with the sensory material  so that there is greater skin exposure to the sensory material – this should always be done under adult supervision).  Fill the tubs with sand, rice, maize, mud, a mixture of oil and water, cornflour (mixing the cornflower with water makes an interesting goop), wood shavings, cooked or raw pasta, cotton wool balls, tissue paper, lentils, split peas, shaving cream, popcorn, jelly or ice-cubes.

* Rubber glove feely “bag”. Fill some clear rubber gloves with water and add some of your child’s favourite small toys or objects with interesting textures before tying up the wrist end.  You can also add food colouring to brighten them up cornflour to make the water milky and more mysterious.  Or freeze them for outside play on hot days.

* Play some party games.  I especially like games in which one sense is temporarily “disabled” and children have to use their senses to compensate. Children often rely very heavily on their sense of sight at the expense of their other senses.  Games such as “pin the tail on the donkey”, “bobbing for apples”, “Marco : Polo” or smashing a party pinata are great in this regard.