Sensory play activities are enjoyable and educational for your toddler or preschooler. You’re encouraged to join in the fun but expect to get your hands messy! Any pastime that stimulates your little one’s hearing, vision, taste, touch and smell involves sensory acts. Awakening the senses through play will help promote the development of your child’s emotional, social, cognitive, physical, creative and language skills.
Sensory learning demands hands-on experience that allows your young child to test a wide array of sensations. Giving your preschooler an ice cube so she can feel it melt her hands is far more effective than trying to explain the sensation of melting ice, explains Angie Dorrell, a past commissioner of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in an article published on the website Earlychildhoodnews.com. You’ve heard of people who are “book smart” or “street smart” but more educators are calling on parents to help their toddlers and preschoolers develop what author and occupational therapist Lindsey Biel defines as “sensory smarts.” Biel maintains that sensory development in childhood is so critical, that when it’s lacking, every other kind of “smart” is at risk. For example, children refine their fine motor skills while pouring, stirring and measuring. Language development may also improve as sensory experiences give a young child something exciting to talk about.
Playing tug-of-war with a rope or jumping on a trampoline provides your tot’s hands and feet with different sensations. Playing catch with a bean bag or water balloon can help your toddler or preschooler learn about how different items feel while simultaneously improving her gross motor skills. Speaking of water balloons — filling them with dried beans, ice, flour or cotton balls is a sensory activity that lets your child feel and compare how differently each balloons feels depending on what it contains. Squirt some shaving cream on a tray or kitchen counter. Ask your tyke to spread it around as she moves her fingers through the foam. Encourage her to write a letter of the alphabet or a number with her finger. Once she has finished making a mess with the shaving cream, turn your little one into a kitchen assistant to help her improve her sense of touch. Ask her to use a soapy sponge to wipe the kitchen table and counters.
Taste and Smell
Chances are your toddler or preschooler won’t put up a fight if you ask him to sample some healthy goodies. His sense of taste will develop when he eats something salty like a pretzel followed by something sweet like strawberries. Serve your toddler a spoonful of low-fat ice cream and let him compare it to a sip of chicken noodle soup. Give him a taste of crunchy and chewy foods like peanuts and raisins to provide a completely different sensation. Cook with garlic, mint, ginger, lemon, vinegar and other robust scents. Place a sample of each scent in separate containers and ask your toddler or preschooler to describe the smell and explain how each one is different. Walking outdoors, you’ll run across a variety of scents, like freshly mowed grass and flowers.
Sight and Hearing
Flip on a light with a 100 watt bulb, use the dimmer switch or turn off the lights and light a few candles to help your little one experiment with sight. Put on a shadow puppet show or grab a flashlight for a game of flashlight tag as you chase your little one around a mostly dark house or backyard. Sing songs with your toddler or preschooler as your help her develop her sense of hearing. Play the piano, guitar or other musical instrument if you are able. Experiment with low, medium and high volumes by playing with the CD player or radio dial. Sit quietly outside with your child with eyes closed and guess the sounds you hear like a neighbor raking leaves, a car driving down the street, the soft murmur of a couple walking by or birds chirping