My first experience of Sensory Play
I remember when I first heard of sensory play’… I was a new, first time mum with a 4 month old. I wasn’t sleeping (of course) and was starting to feel guilty (again, of course haha!) that I wasn’t ‘doing’ a lot with my new baby. Of course I was talking to her, cuddling her, read to her, showed her things… I took her to a baby group and she fell asleep on the walk there and stayed asleep for the whole two hours. I enjoyed a hot cup of tea and a chat with other new mums, but I thought at the time that Daisy was abit too little to go to groups so I wanted to see what else I could do with her. I googled ‘Things to do with my baby’ and up came lots and lots of fantastic suggestions for babies and how to stimulate their senses and develop their early learning. I got very excited, very quickly. I am a trained primary school teacher and I remember how I used to love planning themed activities for the younger children and I thought that this was right up my street, I just never realised I could start with Daisy being so little!
I wrote down some ideas and the very first thing I did was buy a foil blanket, laid Daisy on it (great for tummy time!) and watched as she absolutely loved the crunchy sound and reflective surface.
Daisy loved pulling all the wipes out of a packet, so I stuffed a load of different scarves into a tissue box and watched as she pulled them all out (and was allowed to!).
I gave her a basket of different coloured stones to explore, put her in the bath with some beans and orange coloured toys, cloud dough, gloop, we threaded cheerios on dry spaghetti, experimented with edible painting, pulled pipe cleaners through a colander, put objects into jelly for her to get out, I experimented with play dough (badly)…
I loved making up little things for her to try, most of which didn’t cost a lot to set up and she seemed so much more interested in those than her regular toys! I’m not going to lie, my husband Tony didn’t really understand what I was doing… beans in the bath?! Haha He soon came around to the idea!
As Daisy got a bit older I started setting up themed tuff spot trays for her. My first one was an Easter tray – feathers, different coloured eggs, Easter stories, cuddly toys, fake grass, little baskets… she sat and played with it for well over an hour. Next, I put some paint in the tray, added some brushes and rollers and let her go for it, she preferred to use her feet! I did a garden theme and sometimes just added shaving foam and paint and let her go mad! One of the most successful trays I did was put a lot of small ‘loose’ items and some bowls and she spent ages scooping and pouring, which is very popular between 1-2 years old. As well as enjoying setting the trays up for her, it was something I felt we bonded over and she eventually knew when she saw my big black tray there was going to be something exciting on it!
Daisy is well and truly my sole inspiration for Sensory Sensations. Of course when our youngest daughter Indie came along she enjoyed all this sensory play too (with the added bonus of her older sister to ‘guide’ her!), but without having Daisy I would never have known about this wonderful Sensory world! She really did steer me down the path of sensory and messy play and I’m so glad she did!
Baby Indie and an older Daisy
Even now, at 5, she LOVES anything messy. Paint, shaving foam, slime, making potions… she’ll get as messy as possible, usually covering herself and laughing the whole time, it’s really lovely to see! She also still enjoys the sensory side too – coloured rice, mud and play dough being her favourites.
From birth, babies explore the world around them using their five senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. In recent years there is a decline in sensory play as the TV, computer games and battery operated toys are becoming more popular, which is such a shame as sensory play is fun, engaging with lots of learning involved!
Most children’s centres and some playgroups offer sensory and messy play activities – painting, play dough, gloop, shaving foam… take a look at what is around locally to you and take your little one along. It might give you some ideas to try at home!
Here’s some benefits of sensory play:
Sensory play can be enjoyed together, where you lead your child into an activity, give input into what they can do and ask them questions… however, sometimes it’s more beneficial to take a step back and let them explore their activity without you. You may be surprised at how they play with something and maybe it’s not how you intended the activity to be played with, but this is key to helping children develop their own preferences and imagination.
Building fine motor skills
Fine motor skills are important later on in life when children learn to write, tie their laces, do up buttons and zip up their coats. All these skills can be practiced and developed with various sensory play activities.
As adults whenever we smell a certain scent we are reminded of a certain time or place, as with a piece of music… it is the same with babies and toddlers. Repetitive sensory play helps children to develop their memory skills and in turn their appreciation for cause and effect.
Learning new vocabulary
Exploring your different senses through play leads really well into developing new vocabulary. Parents naturally talk to their children about what they can smell, see, taste, feel and hear and this will lead to children eventually describing what they are doing themselves. It is also fantastic for learning colours, shapes, animals…everything! You can tailor make the topic of your sensory play so you are in control of your child’s learning.
If your child needs to calm down when anxious or frustrated, sensory play is an ideal calming solution. Playing with something with a familiar sight, smell or texture can calm a child and make them feel safe and secure.
Sensory play isn’t just for babies and toddlers. Any child can enjoy sensory exploration. As sensory activities are naturally open-ended they can be enjoyed with older siblings as well as younger ones, as the play ‘outcome’ can vary so greatly. A lovely way to bond and share experiences together. Sharing is such an important (and sometimes tricky!) skill to learn when you’re a baby or toddler. Sensory play is so open-ended that it lends itself really well to sharing an activity and taking turns, whether playing alongside another child or actively participating in their play.
Sensory play does NOT need to be messy. Sensory play and messy play usually work really well together when exploring different textures and smells, but Sensory Play doesn’t always have to involve gloop or gunge… take a look around your kitchen, for example, if you have some spare pasta, rice or even vegetable peelings, put some in a small tray and see what your little one does… do they lick it? Smell it? Throw it?
The best thing about Sensory Play is it can be enjoyed by any child, regardless of age, ability, gender or religion and there is no right or wrong way to play. Every child can succeed which makes sensory play so rewarding and such a beneficial and essential part of a child’s early years.
*Any Sensory Play must be supervised by a grown up at all times, please do not leave your little one to explore alone!*
Katie, Sensory Sensations
We hold weekly sensory and messy play classes at Catmose Sports Centre in Oakham. Each week is a different theme with different activities. Phone 01572 490030 to book your space.
Our party packages are bursting full of sensory and messy play ideas, take a look at www.sensorysensations.co.uk/parties/ and have an unforgettable birthday experience for your little one and their friends!