What is Sensory Play?

Outdoor mud tub filled with boys
Photo sierragoddess|CC

Have you ever tried to describe the smell of grass or feel of sand between your toes to your child?

Some things can not be taught be words….they require touching, tasting, listening, smelling, and feeling to truly experience. That’s what sensory play is all about!

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates children’s senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Stimulating the senses helps children develop thinking, language, social-emotional, and physical skills.

Though sensory play, children explore and naturally use scientific processes while they play, investigate, create and discover new sensations.

Sensory play is also linked to supporting early child development.  For example, listening to new sounds supports language development, and sorting unique materials, like soft versus hard items, supports fine-motor skill coordination and cognitive development.
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What are Sensory Activities?

Sensory activities are projects specifically designed engage a child’s senses. They open the door for play and experiential learning, allowing  kids to explore and experience the world…..and sensory activities are  just plain old fun!

Sensory activities can be messy. So if you’re not a mess fan, try the outdoors to help keep the mess outside.
What is Sensory Play - Famlii

Examples of Sensory Activities for Toddlers


  • Food buffet: Make a tasting platter of novel fruits (like papaya, mango, star fruit, pomegranates, kiwi) for your toddler to try.
  • Strong-tasting foods:  Try eating a strong tasting food (like peppermint), and then introduce a novel, milder vegetable or fruit. For children with under-sensitive taste buds, the strong food helps wake-up their taste buds and broaden your child’s palate.


  • Smencil Test: Close your eyes and try to guess the scent of each smelling pencil.
  • Shopping Smells:  Visit the soap counter at the store. Let your toddler smell a variety of soaps, and pick a favorite smell.

Touch / Tactile

  • Sensory Bins: Create theme-based shoe boxes, for instance labeled Nature, Beach, Buttons, or Treasures.  When your toddler finds a new item, help them sort it into the appropriate box.
  • Texture Gloves:  Tickle your child’s arms wearing fuzzy, scratchy, rubbery, or soft gloves.  This is a great sensory activity for touch-sensitive kids with an aversion to certain fabrics. It helps them get comfortable, and with repetition, can desensitize them to certain touch sensations.

Sight / Visual

  • Dark vs Light: Walk with your toddler from a brightly lit room into a dark room. Experiment with different light levels, and even colored light bulbs.
  • Visit the Art Museum:  Talk about the colors, textures, and shapes within the pictures. Does your child stare at any particular artwork more than another?


  • Play the Listening Game:  Sit quietly with your child for 1 minute, then talk about what sounds you heard.  Firetruck siren? Wind blowing?
  • Create pleasant sounds.Get a white noise machine, tabletop zen water fountain, or small aquarium.
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