We know that ‘Sensory play’ is a bit of a buzzword right now, but it can really help children’s development as well as their mood. Some sensory play can liven them up but often it can really relax them and help regulate their emotions. It works for us too just sit and swish your hands through a bowl of rice, who needs that glass of wine now 😉
Sensory play helps children with…
- Problem solving – they start to naturally experiment and explore.
- Fine motor skills – scooping, squishing, pinching, pouring are all fantastic for their fine motor skills development.
- Communication & language – it’s the perfect time to use lots of descriptive words for how something feels, smells, sounds, looks or tastes.
- Retention – it’s been proven that using all of your senses when learning helps you retain what you’ve learnt far more.
- Physical development – when a child’s senses are engaged neural pathways in the brain are created.
We’ve also noticed that adding sensory elements to play sparks more interest in the subject or the toys that it might be paired with.
Here are ten of our favourite sensory bases straight out of the kitchen cupboard…
- Rice – dye it all the colours of the rainbow using food colouring (see our method below). It’s fun teamed with scoops and containers.
- Wheat and other cereals – these make convincing hay bales in a farm set up. You could also pop it in the blender or just pulverise it with a rolling pin to recreate edible sand.
- Pasta – Spaghetti is one of our favourites, little ones love pulling it apart and for older ones it’s brilliant for practising scissor skills.
- Beans – We’re thinking dried beans but have seen baked beans used too. Black beans are perfect for a space-themed base. Just be extra cautious with uncooked beans as they can pose a choking hazard and some can be harmful if ingested due to a lectin found in them called PHA.
- Cocoa powder – Warning this one’s very messy and is likely to stain light clothes. Use on it’s own or mix it up with a bit of water to recreate a muddy puddle – our little piggy enjoyed it in the farm set up.
- Jelly – Wibble wobble wibble wobble jelly on the plate. For a texture unlike any other jelly is the one. Little ones mostly like to get their hands and feet stuck in, for older ones perhaps put some utensils with it so they can cut, splat, scoop and even try rolling the jelly.
- Chickpeas – like rice these can be dyed different colours.
- Spices & herbs – These are obviously better in smaller quantities and be careful with things like tumeric (unless you want everything to be yellow). They can simply be left in their pots for sniffing or tied is a small piece of cloth is great. We sometimes put some warm water so that the children can dunk the bags of herbs and spices and flavour the water.
- Oats – You can blend them first to make a finer powder or leave them as they are for more texture. We used ours as they were in the farm sensory tray.
- Flour – mixing some flour with a bit of oil can create a slightly moldable sand-like texture or just use it as is.
Our method for colouring
For the sensory items we’ve dyed or “painted” we generally use the same method. Place your rice, chickpeas, pasta or salt into a zip lock bag. Add desired amount of food colouring or child-safe paint. Seal the bag then mix it all around until the contents look coating with the colour. Empty the contents out onto a tray, spreading it out thinly. Finally leave it to dry out (preferrably overnight).
For lots of the bases we normally clean up using an empty vacuum cleaner, as it can all be poured back into a jar and kept for another day. If you have different sized things mixed in then grab a sieve and start panning out all the bigger items. For liquid bases like the cocoa muddy puddle you could pour it into a bag and freeze, then defrost it for next time or even let your child play with the frozen cocoa mix.
There are so many different things you can play about with, we’d love to see what you’ve used as sensory bases and what you’ve put with them. Please add the hashtag #ecotoyplay to your posts on Instagram.
Always remember to watch little ones even if the sensory base is taste-safe.