If you are a parent or caregiver looking for activities for young children, you’ve probably noticed that “sensory play” is all the rage on kid blogs and Pinterest. There are even entire websites devoted to sensory play for little ones, and while they are full of creative ideas, you may find yourself asking, “Does my child REALLY need sensory play for development?”

To answer this question, let’s look at what we know about sensory play.

 

 

WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?

Sensory play is simply play that encourages children to use one or more of the senses.  Often called “messy play,” sensory play experiences focus on stimulating children’s senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement.

Research tells us…

  • Young children rely on sensory input to learn about their environment.
  • Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.
  • Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.
  • Children’s exposure to sensory play opportunities is declining.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?

The first three points on the list above are pretty self-explanatory. In a nutshell, sensory experiences are like food for the brain…they provide valuable input that allows the brain to build new pathways that in turn support growth in crucial areas of development.

The fourth point, however, is what sheds some light on the answer to our original question, “Is all this REALLY necessary?”  You may be thinking, “My parents didn’t do sensory play with me, and I turned out ok!”  The fact is, our little ones spend much less time outdoors than their parents and certainly grandparents did as children.  Since the outdoors is naturally full of sensory play opportunities, this has definitely had a part in the decline of sensory play.  Secondly, although children can definitely fulfill their need for sensory play indoors when given periods of unstructured playtime with stimulating materials, the truth is that indoor time is often monopolized by television, battery operated toys, or toddler/preschool programs that focus on drilling academics rather than fostering important play skills.  This has resulted in a generation of children who may not even know how to play when given the opportunity…how sad is that?

So in short, the answer to your question is yes, sensory play is crucial for your child’s development. And since children today are no longer given ample opportunities for naturally occurring sensory play, it is up to us as parents to be sure their needs are met.

BUT WAIT!!  

Before you rush out and buy the materials to recreate every zany sensory activity you ever pinned on Pinterest, here are some much less time-intensive activities that you can do to enrich your child’s “sensory diet” without losing your sanity as well.

  • Play with sand, mud, water, shaving cream, cornmeal, water beads, dried or cooked pasta, dried beans or lentils, etc.  Provide a variety of containers, kitchen tools, and small toys for your child to explore with.
  • Sing and dance to music.  Use child-sized instruments, scarves, ribbon wands, etc. to encourage participation and engage multiple senses.
  • Build with blocks, empty cardboard boxes, or canned goods.  Knock down your towers and talk about the loud noises.
  • Add essential oils or extracts to play dough and compare all the different scents as you play.
  • Pick out a variety of fruits and vegetables at your local market (try to choose some that are new to your child).  Have a “sensory picnic” where you encourage your child to touch, smell, taste, and play with all the different produce.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood or in a wooded park.  Let your child stop and pick up leaves, sticks, rocks, or whatever else interests him/her.  If you want, bring a bag to fill with your “treasures” to bring home and make a collage with, or just simply to show to another family member.

MORE GREAT STUFF JUST FOR YOU:

To learn how to use fun sensory play activities to help get your toddler talking, check out Building Language with Sensory Play. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/sensory-play-and-language/)

For an entire gallery of  sensory play ideas, click HERE. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/category/play/sensory-play-little-minds-tot-school/)

Stephanie HaassLittle Pnuts Early Childhood Activities Expert & Blogger, founder of www.two-daloo.com

 

Summer is the perfect time to get outdoors, play games and to get wet. Why not include a little balance and coordination to an afternoon of Gross Motor Play. Water Balloon Stomp is a fabulous way for your Little Pnuts to practice color recognition, build on counting skills, improve strategic thinking all while enjoying outdoor fun.  A great water play activity for a play date or for individual play this activity is sure to elicit plenty of giggles.

 

What You Will Need

  • Filled Water Balloons in a variety of colors, filled.
  • A bucket filled with water
  • A Timer for the variation on play

Get Ready…

Gather up some water balloons. We usually fill up a bucket(s) with water and then drop the water balloons in that to keep them safer longer.

Get Set…

Find a good place for your Little Pnut to “stomp”. The beauty of this activity is you can do it just about anywhere outdoors. We did this activity on our deck but the yard, the driveway, or patio work great too. Gently lay out one or more water balloons on the ground.

…Stomp!

You may have to demonstrate for your Little Pnut the action you are after but I promise you they will catch on quickly. Our 22 month old did! He had the best time trying to stomp on and break the water balloons with his feet. That alone is a good exercise in concentration and coordination. The older Little Pnuts will be a little more accurate and break the balloons more quickly but it may take the littles a few tries. Mix it up and make a color recognition game out of it for your Little Pnuts by laying out more than one balloon at a time and telling them what color balloon to stomp. Practice counting by challenging them to break a designated number of balloons.

For even older Little Pnuts write numbers on the balloons with a sharpie and see how many balloons they can break (ie. points they can score) in a designated time period. Older Little Pnuts will love the added element of a time challenge. The possibilities are almost endless. Most importantly though, have fun & get wet!

 

Happy Playing!

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Gross Motor Skill Development,  Focus and Concentration, Strategic Thinking, Balance, Coordination, Color Recognition, Number Recognition, Number Sequencing, Counting Skills, Cooperative Play, Cognitive Development, Group Play and Individual Play.

—Jennifer Haas, founder of Plain Vanilla Mom.
 
 
 

It’s the perfect weather for outdoor water play. Stay cool in the hot summer sun while introducing your Little Pnuts to the joy of fishing. A great game of strategy while encouraging concentration and focus. Perfect for a play date or for individual play, Fishing for Ping Pong Balls, will get your Little Pnuts excited about splashing around!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need

  • Ping Pong Balls (as many or as few as you like) 
  • Something to fish with like a butterfly or bug net or a kitchen strainer with a handle or even slotted spoon would work.
  • A body of water. Think kiddie pool, bathtub, water table or large plastic container.

Set Up

Fill your designated container with water and drop in a few ping pong balls. We found that the ‘more the merrier’ in respect to the ping pong balls was especially true for this activity. Give your Little Pnut his fishing gear of choice. We used a kiddie sized butterfly net but a kitchen strainer with a handle works great too.

Let Them Fish!

See how many ping pong balls they can catch. Have them count them with you.  If your Little Pnut is capable, challenge them to catch a particular number of ping pong balls. If you happen to have different colors of ping pong balls have them catch balls of a certain color. Ours were all white so we focused on making this a counting activity. For the littlest of Little Pnuts it’s great hand-eye coordination just for them to catch the ping pong balls and throw them back in the water.

 

Happy Playing!

 

Developmental Milestones:

This activities focuses on the following Developmental Milestones for your Little Pnuts:

Gross Motor Skill Development, Fine Motor Skills, Focus and Concentration, Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving, Cognitive Development, Coordination, Cooperative Play, Group Play and Individual Play.

—Jennifer Haas, founder of Plain Vanilla Mom.