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What Every Parent Should Know About Sensory Play: Benefits and Play Ideas

about sensory play

Sensory play has been recognized as an important aspect of early childhood development for several years now, and it’s not hard to see why. Engaging the senses through play allows children to explore, experiment and learn about the world around them in a fun and educational way. Parents who encourage their children to engage in sensory play are helping them to build important connections in their brains that will help them develop skills in areas such as language, motor skills, and cognitive function.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of sensory play and provide you with some great ideas for sensory play activities you can do with your children. From messy play with paint and mud to exploring different textures and materials, we’ll cover a range of activities that will keep your little ones entertained for hours. We’ll also be discussing the importance of incorporating sensory play into your child’s routine and how it can help to support their overall development. 

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is a type of play that engages a child’s senses – touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing – in a fun and interactive way. It provides children with opportunities to explore and experiment with different textures, colors, sounds, and smells. Sensory play activities can range from playing with sand, water, or play dough to creating art using different materials or dancing to music. Sensory play can be enjoyed by children of all ages, from infants to school-age children. It can be easily incorporated into daily routines both at home and in educational settings.

The Benefits of Sensory Play

benefits of sensory play

The sensory play offers numerous benefits for children’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. In this section, we will discuss the various advantages that sensory play provides for children.

  • Physical Development: Sensory play provides children with opportunities to engage their senses, which helps them develop their gross and fine motor skills. When children play with sensory materials such as sand, water, or play dough, they engage their muscles, which helps them develop hand-eye coordination, balance, and body awareness. These physical skills lay the foundation for later development in sports, dance, and other physical activities.
  • Cognitive Development: Sensory play also helps children develop their cognitive skills. When children explore different materials, they learn about cause and effect, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Sensory play encourages kids to use their imagination and creativity, which helps them develop their language skills and cognitive abilities. Sensory play also stimulates the brain, which helps children learn and retain new information.
  • Emotional Development: Sensory play provides children a safe and enjoyable way to explore their emotions. Through sensory play, children learn to identify and express their feelings, which helps children develop emotional intelligence. Sensory play also helps children develop self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness, essential for positive emotional development.
  • Social Development: Sensory play provides children with opportunities to engage in social interaction, which helps kids develop their social skills. Sensory play encourages children to share, take turns, and work together, which helps them develop social skills such as cooperation, communication, and empathy. Sensory play also helps children develop their understanding of social norms, rules, and boundaries, which are essential for healthy social development.

Best Sensory Play Ideas and Activities

Engaging your child in sensory play can be enjoyable and easy to set up. However, as a parent, it can be challenging to come up with ideas to keep your child engaged in sensory activities. To help you out, we have compiled a list of simple and fun sensory play ideas perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. These activities are sure to keep your child entertained and stimulated.


Safety should be the top priority when it comes to children. It’s important to avoid giving young children items that could pose a choking hazard. Additionally, it’s recommended to closely supervise children when they are around water. When choosing activities, consider what is both developmentally appropriate and safe for your child.

1. Create Sensory Bins

sensory bins

Sensory bins are a great way to engage your child in sensory play. Sensory bins are containers filled with materials that stimulate the senses, such as touch, sight, and sound. These bins can be filled with a variety of materials, such as sand, rice, beans, water, or even shaving cream. 

Here are some ideas to create sensory bins:

Materials needed

To create a sensory bin, you will need a container, such as a plastic bin or a large bowl, and materials to fill the container. The materials you choose should be safe for your child to play with and age-appropriate. You can choose from a variety of materials, such as:

  • Dry materials: rice, beans, pasta, sand, shredded paper, or flour
  • Wet materials: water, gel, or slime
  • Textured materials: foam, feathers, or pompoms
  • Natural materials: leaves, pinecones, or stones
  • Edible materials: cereal, popcorn, or dried fruit

It can be beneficial to refrain from directing your child’s play. Allowing them the freedom to explore and experiment on their own can be a valuable learning experience.

2. Playing With Food

Playing with food can be a fun and engaging sensory activity for toddlers and preschoolers. It can help develop their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and sense of touch. However, ensuring that the food items used are safe and age-appropriate is important.

For sensory exploration, you can use soft foods like cooked pasta or mashed potatoes. Children can squish and mold them with their hands or use utensils like spoons or forks to scoop and transfer them between containers. Children can use fruits like berries or grapes for sorting and counting activities, while your child can use vegetables like carrots or celery for stamping and painting.

3. Play Dough

sensory play

Playing with play dough is a classic and beloved sensory activity for children. It’s a great way to develop children’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and creativity. Homemade play dough is easy to make and allows for customization with different colors and scents.

To make play dough:

  • Combine flour, salt, cream of tartar, and water in a saucepan over low heat.
  • Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and forms a dough.
  • Remove from heat and knead until smooth.
  • Add food coloring or essential oils for added sensory appeal.

Once the play dough is made, children can use tools like cookie cutters, rolling pins, and plastic knives to shape and mold it. They can also add small toys or objects to the play dough for added sensory exploration. When finished, store the play dough in an airtight container to keep it fresh for future play. If creating homemade sensory dough isn’t your thing, no worries! You can always swing by a nearby large retailer and grab some ready-made dough.

4. Finger Painting

Finger painting is a fun and simple way for little ones to explore and express their creativity. It can also promote their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The colors in finger paint are often bold and bright, which can be stimulating for young children. 

Choose a safe table or tray to work on. Cover the working surface with butcher paper, newsprint paper, or an old towel. This will protect the tabletop from spills and messes. Encourage your child to explore and express themselves freely with the paint by letting them dip, mix, and swirl it in any way that feels natural to them. 

5. Water Play

water play for kids

Water is a fun and engaging sensory material that you can use for several activities. You can use it to explore through the senses of touch and sight, as well as provide opportunities for children to engage in self-play, such as splashing and pouring water. Start to set up a water play table or area.

You will need a clean surface that is safe for water activities. Choosing materials like plastic tubs, buckets, or small shallow bowls will work well. Fill the containers with water and offer your child a variety of tools for exploring them, such as small cups, spoons, plungers, and measuring cups. Always stay with your child when they are around water. Supervision is always recommended to ensure their safety.

6. Playing Outside

Playing outside is an excellent sensory activity that allows children to explore and engage with the natural world. Outdoor play provides opportunities for children to develop their gross motor skills, creativity, and imagination.

One effective way to promote outdoor activities among kids is to create a secure and supervised outdoor environment for them to explore. A backyard, park, or any natural setting could work well. Encourage your child to engage in fun activities like running, jumping, climbing, and playing games with their peers or family members. It’s important to ensure their safety while they have fun in the great outdoors.

7. Jumping Fun

jumping fun for kid

Jumping is a fun and energetic sensory activity that can benefit children’s physical and emotional development. It helps develop gross motor skills, coordination, and balance while promoting cardiovascular health and stress relief.

To encourage jumping, provide a safe and padded area for your child to jump on, like a trampoline, mattress, or gym mat. Encourage your child to jump in different ways, like jumping on one foot, hopping, or with both feet together.

Supervising your child during jumping activities is important to ensure their safety and avoid any potential injuries.

8. Listening to Music

Listening to music is a simple but effective sensory activity that can benefit children in many ways. It can help develop their auditory processing skills, language development, and emotional regulation.

Introduce your child to music. Start by playing different types of music for them to hear. You can explore different genres, instruments, and styles. Encourage your child to move to the rhythm of the music or clap along.

As your child becomes more familiar with the music, you can incorporate it into other activities like dancing, singing, or playing instruments. Music can also be a calming tool for children who may be anxious or overwhelmed.

When listening to music with your child, choosing age-appropriate and child-friendly songs is important. Avoid songs with explicit lyrics or themes that may not be appropriate for young children.

9. Balance Beam

Using a balance beam is a fun and challenging sensory activity that helps children develop balance and coordination skills. You can use a wooden board or a narrow strip of tape on the floor to set up a balance beam. Make sure to provide a safe and padded area around the beam for your child to fall onto if needed.

Encourage your child to walk along the beam, keeping their arms out to the side for balance. As they become more confident, they can try different walking patterns like forwards, backward, or sideways. You can also add different challenges like jumping, hopping, or balancing objects on their heads.

10. Sandbox


Sandbox play is a tried and true activity that not only engages children but also offers numerous benefits for their physical and emotional growth. Children can improve their fine motor skills, nurture their creativity, and expand their imagination by playing in a sandbox. It’s a simple and enjoyable way for kids to develop and learn.

In order to set up a sandbox, you may follow these

  • Use a large plastic container or a dedicated sandbox area in your backyard. 
  • Fill the sandbox with clean sand and 
  • Provide tools like shovels, buckets, and molds for your child.

Encourage your child to build sandcastles, dig holes, and create different shapes and structures. Sand play can also include sensory activities like burying objects, searching for treasures, or feeling the texture of the sand.

Final Thoughts

We at Baby Steps Daycare encourage parents to incorporate sensory play into their child’s daily routine to promote their growth and development. From playing with food to jumping on a trampoline, there are many fun and engaging sensory activities that can help children explore their senses and learn new skills. By providing a supportive and stimulating environment for your child, you can help them reach their full potential and develop a lifelong love of learning.