Young children use their five senses – sight, taste, smell, sound, and touch – to explore and learn about the world. Sensory play is commonly used in classrooms to provide children with opportunities to experiment with various materials that promote the use of their senses. Incorporating different textures into activities is one way to allow them to explore their sense of touch.
Using playdough is a great way for children to develop their fine motor skills, as they explore the texture and experiment with the dough. Children can use tools that playdough often comes with, such as small rolling pins, scissors, and cookie cutters. But you can also add unconventional items to your playdough center and watch the creativity that unfolds. Try setting out items like birthday candles, buttons, shells, gems, or pasta noodles. Children will come up with ways to use the items in their playdough that you haven’t even thought of! Your playdough center may be quickly transformed into a bakery, pizza parlor, or tea party!
Sand tables provide many opportunities for children to engage in hands-on play. Your sand table may contain traditional items like pails, shovels, rakes…and sand! Give consideration to other materials you could place in the table instead of sand. Try soil, pebbles, slime, rice, or various shapes of pasta. Adding items like measuring cups, funnels, and spoons gives children more opportunities to stretch their thinking. You could also use items like plastic animals and vehicles.
Water tables keep students engaged and allow them to use their creativity and stretch their imaginations as they play and learn. In addition to traditional bowls and cups, try adding items like scoops, muffin tins, ladles, turkey basters, or egg beaters. You could even encourage children to experiment with different objects to see if they float or sink. Adding ice to the water is fun and also introduces the concept of melting. Water tables provide the perfect place for potentially messy activities, like color mixing experiments with food coloring.
Whether you want to purchase or DIY, here are some great options for sand and water tables:
- A variety of sand tables at different price points
- A variety of water tables at different price points
- The $30 30-Minute DIY Sensory Table
Through sensory play, the child can learn to block out the noise which is not important and focus on the play which is occurring with their peer. Having an area in the classroom for crafts allows children to boost their creativity, use their fine motor skills during tasks such as writing, cutting, and pasting, encourages hand-eye coordination, and gives kids lots of treasures to bring home to mom or dad! Consider rotating through different art materials to provide lots of variety at your craft center. Beyond paper, markers, scissors, and glue, consider setting out items like chalk, feathers, beads, string, coffee filters, and paper bags. The craft area is also the perfect place to set out your Noggins!
Providing opportunities for children to actively engage in sensory play is crucial to brain development. Adding sensory activities that allow children to explore their sense of touch can be easily accomplished. Because children use their natural curiosity while playing, often all you need to do is provide them with materials and then let their imaginations do the rest. You can even involve children in selecting materials to use in the classroom by taking them on a nature walk. You will have many little helpers, eager to collect leaves, stones, pinecones, and dandelions! And if you’re ever unsure of what types of items to add to your sensory activities, just ask the kids. They are filled with ideas!
Written by: Erin Agnello
Edited & Designed by: Jamie Schmalenberger
Graphics & Images by: Jamie Schmalenberger, MamaOT.com, & ATeachingMommy.com
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.