Jackie Nunes is a blogger at WonderMoms.org. She is a former pediatric nurse and now a full-time homeschool educator. She and her husband have three children. Their middle child suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was 4. Now 11 years old, she is hearing impaired and uses a wheelchair. Jackie and two other moms created Wonder Moms as a project to share real talk, helpful information, and practical advice with parents of kids who have intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, language and speech delays, deafness, chronic illness, and traumatic brain injury.
Kids need to play to learn. In particular, sensory play is important for kids of all ages. What is sensory play, exactly? According to Kids First Community, “Any play which stimulates the use of touch, smell, sight, hearing, using fine motor muscles, etc., is considered sensory play. Stimulating neural pathways through sensory experiences is a crucial part of kids’ early brain development.”
To put it simply: Our children need sensory play to help them understand the world around them. But sensory play offers numerous other benefits, as well. For instance, in addition to enhancing cognitive development, sensory play also helps children develop social skills, language and communication skills, and physical (fine and gross motor) skills. Plus, sensory play has a calming effect as it absorbs kids’ attention.
Therefore, many parents are looking for sensory play activities they can do with their child. It’s a fact: Families bond when they play together. If you can find sensory activities to do as a family, you can strengthen your family bonds while helping your child learn how to process new stimuli.
If you are looking for fun, family-friendly sensory play activities, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve identified twelve sensory activities that moms, dads, and kids will enjoy.
Make Jingle Bell Bracelets
Want to start a family band? Begin by making jingle bell bracelets or anklets for the whole family! This is a simple DIY craft that will put your child’s sense of hearing to the test. Kids will love shaking their arms and legs to make noise. Bonus: Parents, you don’t even have to have rhythm to teach your kids how to make music!
Design a Rainstick
A rainstick is a neat way to use the senses of hearing, sight, and touch. As a family, you can make your own rainstick using an empty paper towel roll. Kids can decorate the outside of the rainstick, and then marvel as the stick makes a sound exactly like rain. PBS has full instructions.
Paint with Shaving Cream
Shaving cream has an interesting texture, making it perfect for some messy sensory play fun. All you have to do is put shaving cream on a baking sheet and watch your little ones draw pictures in it or simply squish it between their fingers. You can take it up a notch by adding some food coloring to the shaving cream.
Pop the Bubbles on Bubble Wrap
A bubble wrap play mat is a great sensory activity for your kids—and yourself! Tape bubble wrap to your floor using painters’ tape, then join your kids in coming up with creative ways to pop the bubbles. From fancy dance-floor footwork to good old-fashioned crawling, this activity combines sound and touch with fun.
Taste Homemade Ice Cream
Sensory exploration is not only fun, but it also can be tasty! For example, there are tons of recipes for homemade ice cream. Making ice cream together as a family is a great way to bond, use your senses, and teach your kids some basic math and science.
Create Edible Sensory Playballs
Another fun activity to try as a family is to create edible sensory playballs. These balls are made primarily of Jell-O in assorted flavors. Once you finish making the playballs, you can smash them, squish them, and eat them! It’s fun everyone will enjoy.
Make Edible Playdough
Playdough is a fantastic sensory item, but if you have little ones, you run the risk of it ending up in their mouths. (A basic knowledge of first aid and CPR is never a bad idea for parents helping their kids explore.) Instead of having to worry about this great sensory activity being harmful, look for DIY recipes for edible playdough. This way your kids can safely squish, squash, build and taste to their heart’s delight.
Get Silly with Slime
Slime is all the rage—and for good reason! Making slime is super fun, and it is also a great way to engage the senses and learn a little something new. Here are Home Science Tools’ four most popular recipes for this goopy sensory activity.
Sort Objects Using What You Own
A sensory bin is a box with a basic filler and other objects. For instance, a plastic shoebox can be filled with sand with plastic dinosaurs buried in it. Every member of the family can use their hands (and their senses) to search the bin to find the dinosaurs. Families can also use sensory bins for sorting activities. For example, fill a bin with various buttons and have children sort the buttons based on different features (such as size, color, shape, etc.).
Celebrate the Holidays with Unique Sensory Bins
Using the same idea above, make a sensory bin exploration part of your family’s holiday traditions. As a holiday rolls around, create a themed sensory bin. For example, at Easter, fill the bin with Easter grass and bury thematic objects like plastic or wooden bunnies and eggs.
Play Outdoors Barefoot
A simple, basic sensory activity for families is to play outdoors barefoot. Kids—especially babies—must learn what the ground feels like under their feet. For example, grass is often a new and different texture for babies, and the way it feels under their feet is much different than a carpeted or hardwood floor. Or, visit a lake or beach nearby and watch your little one enjoy the new experience on his or her feet.
Go on a Nature Hike
A family nature hike is another wonderful way to engage your five senses. As you walk, point out and compare the things you see, hear, smell, and feel. For example, if you’re somewhere like a park, you and your children could contrast the feel and smell of the mulch around the base of trees with the bark on their trunks. Or notice and explore the differences between the outside world and your home. Later, the water and snacks you pack will allow you to use your sense of taste.
Sensory play doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. If you look, chances are you can find ways to make everyday experiences opportunities for your kids to have fun and explore with their senses.