Sensory Play: What it is and why it’s great for kids

Chances are you’ve heard the word “sensory” being used across health and education circles, whether at your child’s school, at our sessions, or online in the vast amount of information out there. At Plant the Seed of Learning, we aim to provide tools and ideas you can use with your children, but also the why behind them. Simply put, sensory play is play that incorporates the various senses we all use on a daily basis: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Many neuroscientists say that we have more than just five senses, and some claim that we have up to 21! Two additional senses that are widely talked about in early childhood are proprioception (the position of the body in space) and vestibular (balance). For a great overview of these 7 senses, plus why it appears as if a group of children all have a different “tolerance” for sensory experiences, check out this blog post from Tinkergarten, a nationwide organization dedicated to educating young children and families outdoors.

Providing opportunities for your child to use different senses during play will further deepen the connections the brain makes and help your child learn about the world in multiple ways. An important aspect of sensory play is that it is positive and child-led, meaning that the child is able to play with the materials in their own way and stop if he is feeling overwhelmed. A great example of child-led sensory play is fingerpainting: you may have a little one who loves the sensation of the paint squeezing through his clenched fist or you may have a child who is more hesitant about how the paint feels on his hands – and that is okay! Exposing your child to a variety of these types of experiences and letting him take the lead with how he plays will do great things for his developing brain!

Here are some easy ideas for sensory play with your child based on age:


  • Explore water play! Play in the bath with a variety of toys or even plastic cups and a sponge. Taking a shallow container of water outside in warm weather and allowing your baby to use toys and play freely with them in the water will provide loads of entertainment!
  • Try out some edible fingerpaint. Paint the high chair tray or a cookie sheet with yogurt or applesauce!
    Explore on the floor! Baby gyms incorporate a variety of textures and sounds baby can experience. If you don’t have one, put your baby on a blanket and provide her with baby-safe items that have different textures or make different sounds.

Toddlers and Preschoolers:

  • Continue with water play! It is neat to watch how your child’s water play changes over time. Are they better able to pour water from cup to cup? Squeezing the water out of a sponge is great for strengthening fingers!
  • Explore sensory bins. These do not have to be fancy! Fill a shallow plastic container about a third of the way full with a filler – rice, beans, water, or even dirt – and then add items for your child to find and explore in the bin. Click here for sensory bin ideas for your toddler!
  • Head outside and encourage your child to be a “scientist”. Allow her to investigate and play with the various textures, colors, and smells…spring is a great time to try out some mud play! As a bonus, outdoor play does wonders for developing a child’s sense of balance and overall coordination.

By Meredith Bailey, Family and Community Outreach Specialist, Plant the Seed of Learning