By Calley Roering
This is my first year teaching preschool, and I want to make sure that I give my kids ample opportunities to explore through sensory play. Sensory play is naturally exciting for children because they are able to use all their senses to begin understanding the world around them. Starting as early as four months of age, a child is able to engage with sensory activities. Depending on their age, there is a wide variety of sensory materials and experiences they can explore. Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates a child’s five senses: touch, smell, taste, hearing, seeing – plus balance and movement. Sensory play encourages children to make observations, ask questions, and experiment. (Yes, genuine experimentation can start even at preschool age!)
What I enjoy most about observing children engaged in sensory activities is watching how they notice characteristics of the materials they are exploring. I typically prompt them with questions while they are exploring, asking, “What does it feel like? Does it smell like anything? Does it remind you of anything? What does it look like?” I ask open-ended questions to prompt their use of descriptive language and support their language development. In addition, sensory activities advance children’s willingness to discover and try new things, like food. Furthermore, sensory play encourages the development of gross motor and fine motor skills by allowing children to practice big body movements and handle small objects (like picking gems out of slime or melting ice cubes with a pipette filled with water). Lastly, sensory play fosters positive social interactions between children and adults in the classroom. Children are learning how to share, accommodate others, and work together while they check out a sensory activity side by side.
In my class, some of the kids’ favorite sensory activities include exploring “glurch,” painting, playing in the water table with funnels and buckets, experimenting with musical instruments, and using play-dough. Here are some sensory recipes that you can try at home with your child:
1. Equal parts liquid starch and white glue. (For my class I used two cups of each.)
2. Add these two ingredients together and mix. The texture will first feel like string cheese; leave
it alone for 30 minutes and then come back and mix again.
3. If the texture is still not slime-like, leave it alone for a while longer.
4. Continue to mix until it looks smooth and shiny
You can add liquid watercolors or food dye to give it a pop of color.
Adding essential oils is another way you can stimulate your child’s sensory experience with scents.
Combine in a saucepan: 1 cup flour, ¼ cup salt, 1 tsp. cream of tartar.
Add and whisk until smooth: 1 cup water, 1 tbsp. oil, 1 tbsp. food coloring.
Cook over medium heat until playdough is nearly set. Add 1 tbsp. vanilla extract or essential oil, if desired. Stir until vanilla or essential oil is blended, then remove and knead when cool. Store in Ziplock-type bag or airtight container.
Sensory play is not limited to the indoors. There are many sensory activities that children can dive into outside. Some of those include: digging for worms, making “bakery items” with loose parts found outdoors (water, sand, leaves, gravel, mud, etc.), feeling and tasting the snow, viewing the colors of the trees, listening to the sounds of various animals outside, running, and walking. Whether indoors or out in the natural world, sensory play sparks children’s natural drive to discover.