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.




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.


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.


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.


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


Does the Polar Vortex of 2014 have you and your Little Pnuts looking out the window, wishing you could run outside and play? We have the perfect activity to help bring a little outdoors in eliciting hours of giggles with oodles of learning through play!







What You Will Need

  • Floral Water Beads in a variety of sizes and colors
  • Water
  • A large container
  • A variety of scoops, spoons and small containers
  • Various Small Toys, ie, Squirting toys, shells, to set the theme
  • *Optional – light table (see our DIY light table for how to make your own) Light Box Fun


Get Ready…

Prior to play, you’ll need to hydrate your water beads. Simply take your water beads and sprinkle them into your large container and add enough water for your water beads to absorb and plump. We recommend adding at least an inch to two inches of water to the container. The water beads will need 6-8 hours to absorb all the water in the tub. Your Little Pnuts will enjoy watching the time-lapse of your water beads changing and growing.

Get Set…

Once the beads have plumped to the size of small marbles or grapes they’re ready for play. Set up the container of water beads on a table or on the floor. Spread out a variety of tools for your Little Pnuts to use for scooping and stirring. We used regular table spoons, measuring spoons and measuring cups for scooping. We also used small containers to scoop into, pour out and sort.


Establish a theme and decorate accordingly with your small toys. We thought a colorful & playful theme would be fun using the squirt toys the Little Pnuts have in their bathtub. They loved hiding the toys under the beads and scooping them out or feeling for them. The texture of the beads are fun, similar to jello marbles and our Little Pnuts enjoyed feeling them fall through their fingers. They also loved seeing how they would bounce and roll on hard surfaces

Variations of Play

Our Little Pnuts enjoyed a variety of ways to use our water beads. We used scoops and containers to teach volume and mass. Separating the beads using various sized spoons allowed for counting and number recognition, the 1/4 teaspoon allowed one water bead to be scooped up while the tablespoon would scoop 5-6 beads at a time. We were able to segment out colors using our 1/4 teaspoon to scoop one colored water bead at a time and separate them into separate containers.

*We advise that parental supervision should be present at all times. If your Little Pnut is still putting things in their mouth we recommend you wait before introducing them to water bead play.

Water beads really are an amazing way to enhance sensory exploration. Our Little Pnuts enjoyed many hours of learning through play.

Watch the Video:

Little Pnuts Learning Through Water Bead Play!

Developmental Milestones:

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

Fine Motor Development, Language Development, Focus and Concentration, Sensory Exploration, Cognitive Development, Number Recognition, Color Recognition, Hand-Eye Coordination & Team Work.


—Melissa Pia Bossola Beese, Little Pnuts Founder

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