Sensory play is a great way to stimulate a child’s senses - build cognitive skills and influence how your child learns about their world.
What is Sensory Play?
In essence, sensory play includes play that engages a child's senses. This includes touch, smell, sight, sound and taste. Sensory play also covers movement, balance, and spatial awareness.
When a child is born, their senses aren’t fully developed. They only mature over time as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers explore the sensory world around them. Each new experience they have with a different sense builds nerve connections that grow the architecture of their brain.
Sensory play encourages learning through exploration, curiosity, problem solving and creativity. It helps to build nerve connections in the brain and encourages the development of language and motor skills. There are many benefits that may go unnoticed, such as the development of abilities to focus and block out distractions.
Sensory play is an important part of childhood and, within reason, there are really no limits to what you can use in sensory activities. Nature can often be your best friend when it comes to sensory play!
The festive season offers some great ways to engage children in sensory play. It a fun way to encourage excitement for the holiday and Christmas season while promoting learning and development.
Christmas Sensory Play Ideas:
1. Candy cane scented playdough
With a few pantry ingredients, you can make this easy homemade playdough recipe that smells amazing.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup boiling water
3 drops food colouring
tablespoon of each spice you want to make a “flavour” with or a teaspoon of the liquid scented oil or extract you are using.
In a large pot on the stove, boil the water. Once the water is boiled remove it from the stove.
In a large bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer add all of the dry ingredients including the spices.
Mix all of the dry ingredients well using a paddle or dough hook.
Once mixed add in the vegetable oil, food colouring if using and if you are using a scented oil add that in now.
Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add the boiling water and mix until the playdough has formed. If it is too sticky for your liking add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time and keep mixing.
The homemade playdough is done once the dough is all mixed and pulled away from the sides of the bowl on the dough hook.
Once your playdough is ready, you can encourage your child to make Christmas themed shapes, objects and decorations such as Christmas Candy Canes!
2. Christmas sensory bin
For this fun sensory play activity you will need:
box, bowl or large dish
different Christmas-themed objects such as ornaments, pine cones, bells, tiny Christmas figurines etc.
Using rice as the base of your sensory bin is a cheap and easy way to get started. To make things more fun, you can dye the rice with food colouring. Once the rice has been added to the box/bowl/dish, you can do ahead and add which every Christmasy objects you have.
To make things more fun, you can blindfold your child and ask them to feel the different objects and guess what they are.
3. Christmas tree sensory bags
Sensory bags, also sometimes referred to as squish bags, provide kids with a fun sensory experience with virtually no mess. Sensory bags may also be more easily tolerated by kids with sensory processing issues who dislike sticky or messy hands.
To make these bags I gathered some supplies for each kid, including:
Large size ziplock bag
permanent marker to draw a Christmas tree outline on the bag
duct tape or any suitable strong tape
clear hair gel
green food colouring
“ornaments,” including beads, buttons, sequins, and googly eyes
With the permanent marker, draw an outline of a Christmas tree.
Next, squeeze about 1/4 to 1/2 of the gel into the ziplock bag then add a few drops of the green food colouring. After this, ask your child to add the 'ornaments' to the bag.
Once the materials are in, close the bag and seal the top with duct tape just to discourage any from attempting to open up the bag.
Then the fun began!
Let your child squish the materials together, mixing the green coloring with the clear gel.
Encourage them to move the “ornaments” around the bag. This is good for fine motor practice.
Once they have played and squished the bag a few times, ask them to move all the gel and ornaments inside the Christmas tree shape.
4. Make Fake Snow
This is such a fun way to incorporate both winter and Christmas! Learn how to make fake snow by following along with the video below. This is a great winter craft for kids and easy to make at home. This artificial snow will entertain your children and is a great sensory play activity to do at home or even in the classroom!
What you will need:
Some corn starch
Some baking Soda
Play Accessories (for example: star and round cookie cutters)
Sensory play is a key part to a child's overall development and should be encouraged as often as possible. Making it theme-related is a great way to add a little bit of excitement as well. A child's senses are how they learn about the world around them and make sense of the many new things they're experiencing each day.