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

 

Looking for an activity to celebrate Fall with your Little Pnuts? How about a pumpkin hunt? This is a super easy and inexpensive activity that has lots of potential for fun and playful learning!

 

 

 

 

What You Will Need

  • A bag of miniature pumpkins and gourds, preferably in a variety of shapes and colors (often sold in the produce section of your grocery store during the season)
  • Somewhere to hide them – we used a nearby playground, but even your backyard would work!
  • A bag for each Little Pnut to collect his/her pumpkins

 

Let’s Begin

To set up, simply hide the pumpkins and gourds around the designated area while your Little Pnuts are engaged elsewhere.

 

Let’s Play

When the pumpkins are all hidden, give each child a bag and have them collect the pumpkins.  Once they’ve all been collected, bring them all together to investigate and compare.  Talk about the different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures of the pumpkins and gourds.  Help your child sort the pumpkins by various attributes (bumpy and smooth, round/not round, etc.). Slightly older Little Pnuts may enjoy a turn hiding the pumpkins for the adults to find! You can also work on expressive language by having the children give you verbal directions to help you find the hidden pumpkins.

 

Developmental Milestones:

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

Problem Solving, Reasoning, Fine/Gross Motor Development, Receptive/Expressive Language, Sensory Development

 

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


 

In the mood for a winter play activity, but no snow in the forecast?  Never fear! Your Little Pnuts will love playing with this peppermint-scented cloud dough so much, they won’t even miss the fluffy stuff!  Scented cloud dough only needs three ingredients and the possibilities for creative sensory play are limited only by your imagination. 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

What You Will Need

  • A large plastic container
  • Flour
  • Cooking oil (we use olive oil, but vegetable oil, canola oil, and coconut oil work, too
  • Peppermint essential oil (optional)
  • Assorted kitchen tools, containers for filling/dumping, cookie cutters, small toys, pinecones, etc. for playing in your “winter wonderland”

Making the Cloud Dough:

Place your container on a low table or on the ground where your Little Pnuts can access it easily.  Add flour and cooking oil (stay away from baby oil – it smells nice but can be toxic if ingested or inhaled) in a ratio of eight parts flour to one part oil.  Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil if desired.  Have your Little Pnuts help you mix the oil into the flour with their hands, a spoon, or even a whisk.

Let the Fun Begin:

Encourage your Little Pnuts to explore the cloud dough with their hands and feet, kitchen tools, and/or toys. Use your imagination…gently press the dough into balls to make snowmen, or if you are brave, have a “snowball fight!”  Flatten the powder with your hands and use cookie cutters to stamp holiday shapes.  Use pinecones to make “trees” in your tiny winter landscape.  Measuring cups and ice-cream scoops are the perfect tools to make pretend food with your cloud dough.  You can even use a stick or a cotton swab to draw or write letters in the dough.  Open-ended play activities such as this are wonderful opportunities for language enrichment– talk about how the dough feels and smells and describe your play as you go.

Variations:

Try using various essential oils to and/or spices to add different scents to your cloud dough.  Pumpkin pie cloud dough would be a fun autumn activity; lavender-scented cloud dough would be very soothing. If you are concerned about Little Pnuts ingesting the dough, be sure you buy “therapeutic grade” essential oils as they are the only ones that are edible.

To add color to your cloud dough, try adding crushed colored chalk,  powdered gelatin or drink mixes.  Make it sparkly by adding fine glitter.  Of course, just plain-ole’ cloud dough is loads of fun, too!

Developmental Milestones:

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

Fine Motor Skill Development, Hand/Eye Coordination, Focus & Concentration, Vocabulary Development, Symbolic Play, Sensory Development, Social Interaction

 

—Stephanie Haass, Little Pnuts Early Childhood Activities Expert & Bloggerwww.two-daloo.com
 
 
 

 

 

It’s that time of year–Autumn. The leaves turn, pumpkins are harvested and coziness settles in. It’s our favorite time of year. A time of year that invites outside play, beautiful sunsets and family interaction. Here is a fun outdoor activity for Little Pnuts of all ages that envelopes the Fall harvest. Perfect for a pumpkin playdate or a Halloween party–why not play a game of Pumpkin Patch Leap Frog?

  
 
 
 

What You Will Need:

  • Eight medium-sized pumpkins test them out to see if your Little Pnut can jump over them easily
  • Two short pieces of rope these will be used to mark your start and finish line
  • A timer to be used to see which Little Pnut gets through the pumpkin patch the fastest

 

How to Play:

Find an open area and create your pumpkin patch obstacle course, either by placing your pumpkins haphazardly or in a straight line about 3 feet apart.

Using the pieces of rope, mark a starting point and ending point on both ends of the line.

Have your Little Pnuts line up, taking turns, have each Little Pnut leap over each pumpkin one at a time all the way to the finish line.

Using a timer, time each Little Pnut to see how fast it takes them to leap from start to finish.

 

End of Game:

The Little Pnut with the fastest time leaping through the pumpkin patch, without tipping over a pumpkin, wins.

 

Developmental Milestones:

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

Gross Motor Skill Development, Coordination, Balance, Focus & Concentration, Logical Reasoning, Understanding of Winning & Losing, Competition, and Social Interaction.

 

—Based on a game found in “Kids’ Garden, 40 Fun Indoor and Outdoor Activities and Games”, by Whitney Cohen
 

 

 

 

A fun indoor or outdoor activity for Little Pnuts of all ages.  This is a game that  allows you to be a pirate and a detective all at the same time. Your Little Pnuts will have a blast “scavenging” for the treasures you’ve hidden to and fro! 

 
 
 
 
 

*We recommend that the teams have Preschoolers who are learning to read for this variation of the game.

 

What You Will Need:

  • Small, Silly, Fun Items that you can hide in various locations either in the house, outdoors, or even both.
  • Pre-made lists with all the items to be found. This will be handed out to each team to gather. To help with new readers include a picture next to each word to help with word association and to ensure they will be able to find the items they are looking for.
  • A timer depending on the age of your teams set the timer to what you feel is an appropriate amount of time to find the items on the lists.
  • Prizes 2 types, some for the winning team and some for the losing team. Make sure there are enough for everyone.

 

How to Play:

Hide all the items in locations where each team will search to find them. Place the same number of items as there are teams in each location. When a team finds an item, they are only permitted to take one item.

Set a timer for the amount of time in which each team must find all of the items listed on their list.

On your marks, get set…GO!

Each team is off to find the items as listed on their sheets. Send them off in different directions so that they are all looking in a variety of locations. Remind them to keep each location where they found an item a secret, making it difficult for the other teams to find out where they might have found the items on the list.

 

End of Game:

The first team to find all the items on the list within the allotted timeframe wins.

 

Developmental Milestones:

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

Gross Motor Skill Development, Coordination, Reading Skills, Word Association, Focus & Concentration, Logical Reasoning, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Teamwork, Understanding of Winning & Losing, Competition, and Social Interaction.

 

—Based on a game found in the book. “You’re It!”, by Katie Hewitt