Sensory Play

Sensory exploration is so important for babies and young children. They learn about the world around them through their senses. In this section, you will find some suggestions for Sensory Play. Please be safety aware at all times.

Sensory Exploring Bags

Sensory bags offer children the ability to feel different textures with their hands, feet or bodies through tactile exploration. This also encourages hand-eye coordination, visual scanning, and attention span building.

  • Bags filled with coloured dry rice: add a few drops of different food colouring to small bowls of dry rice, mix through and allow to dry fully, place into a strong freezer bag, hide small animals inside and seal the bag. Use a double bag if preferred and seal well. Dried beans and lentils also work well.

  • Dried cereal, such as rice krispies, hoops, etc: sealed correctly into bags gives crunching sound when squeezed with hands or feet. Makes a new sound and is light to hold in small hands.

  • Large and small marshmallows: put the mallows into a freezer bag, add small colourful or noisy toys inside to find. Make sure to seal the bag well.

  • Paint bags: choose at least three colours of paint, place into a freezer bag and seal. Small children are delighted when they are shown how to squash each colour into each other. A good activity for engaging and talking about colours, and following direction up/down/in etc. Shaving cream can also be added for effect and smell.

  • Gel bags (hair or hand gel of any colour): place into a freezer bag, add small toys inside to find. Seal well.

Sensory Books

Sensory books for children are interactive and perfect for exploring words like noisy, rough, smooth, squishy and soft.

Finger Plays

Fingerplays are short little stories often using rhymes with finger movements to tell the story. Fingerplays introduce rhyming and poetry to young children. They provide fun opportunities for children to listen, imitate and speak. They encourage children to match words with physical actions. Fingerplays allow young children to enjoy exploring language in ways that build word skills and use new words.

Fingerplays can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime and can be about things that interest your toddler. For example, animals, people, numbers, colours, places. They encourage children to match words with physical actions. All the family can join in and have fun together. Below are some simple fingerplays to try with your child. 

Where's Thumbkin?

Where is Thumbkin? Where is Thumbkin? (both hands behind back)
Here I am. (bring out one hand with your thumb up)
Here I am. (bring out the other hand with your thumb up)
How are you today, Sir? (wiggle one thumb)
Very well, I thank you. (wiggle the other thumb)
Run away, run away. (hide hands behind your back)

Here is the Bee Hive

Here is the Bee Hive? (make a fist with thumb inside), Where are the bees? (questioning look)
Hidden inside where nobody sees (point to closed fist).

Watch, and you’ll see them come out of the hive (look at closed fist)

One, two, (pull out thumb, then index finger) three, four, five (open remaining fingers).

'Buzzzzzz'. (fly fingers in air like little bees)

Knock On The Door

Knock on the door (gently knock on child’s forehead)
Peek in (lift one eyelid)
Lift the latch ('lift' end of nose)

Clean your feet (rub cheeks)
Walk in (pretend to walk into baby’s open mouth).


Playdough Recipe

2 cups Plain flour

1 cup salt (fine)

1 cup warm water (a few drops of food colouring can be added)

1 tablespoon of cooking oil helps to make dough pliable (optional)

  1. Place flour and salt into large bowl, carefully pour in water (and oil if using) and mix together.

  2. When cool, knead to smooth dough. A little extra flour can be added if too sticky.

  3. This dough can be kept in the fridge to reuse. Keep it wrapped in cling film/plastic bag, and it is good for 1-2 weeks.


The benefits of your child playing with Playdough.

  • Fine Motor Skills: This helps your child’s hands develop the strength, dexterity, and control needed to manipulate everyday items such as scissors, pencils, zippers, and buttons.

  • Social skills: Playdough provides a lot of open-ended opportunities for children to experience independent and cooperative play. In both styles of play, children are exploring abilities, life experiences, and emotions. When playing with others (either an adult or child), children are learning about cooperation, collaboration, self-control, and friendships.

  • Creativity: Whatever your child’s imagination can come up with, playdough is a fantastic outlet. Playdough can create anything!

  • Language : As children play with the dough it encourages discussion about what they are creating, so their sensory experiences are expanding their vocabulary. As you ask your child questions, they are learning to listen. There are so many different ways children learn comprehension, listening, and communication skills through playing with playdough.

  • Problem-solving: Trial and error, creating shapes, comparing sizes, counting – just simply playing with playdough exposes children to early maths and problem solving. Stories can be retold using dough shapes as props.

Sensory Benefits of Playdough

  • Hand strengthening: Squishing, smashing, pushing, pulling, twisting, and cutting are all fun playdough activities. Just the basic act of playing with playdough builds children’s hand and finger muscles. Playdough also comes in a variety of different consistencies some of which require more strength than others to manipulate. This makes it fairly easy to meet individual needs.

  • Proprioceptive: Pushing in cookie cutters or toys, pulling back a rolling pin, or even just squeezing a very stiff dough all provide deep pressure input for your child’s joints.

  • Tactile: Everything about playdough at the most basic level is about exploring using the tactile sensory system. From textures to consistencies, to toys and items used, playdough is all about hands-on exploration. Some children like to sit and squeeze orroll around a ball of playdough in their hands, it acts like a stress ball. Playdough can assist as a stress reliever.

Playdough tools

Any of the following can be used as playdough tools:

  • Cookie cutters, wine corks, small rolling pin, lego, straws, pasta, plastic safety scissors, combs, pinecones, toy tea set, small plastic animals, and cars.

  • Adding a drop of lemon, ginger or vanilla scent quickly and easily. 

  • Food colourings can give a dramatic change to playdough. Just add a couple of drops into the water in the recipe above. Make sure to add the food colouring before adding the flour.

Water Play

Water play can take many forms, including bath play, pool play, playing with a water table or splashing in a basin. Water play can have many important benefits for a child’s development. Water play releases energy, it can be both invigorating or relaxing and calming for young children.

It increases a child’s ability to concentrate on one activity. It can be a repetitive activity (scooping, pouring and running their hands through the water). Gentle water play allows them to unwind, order their thoughts and relax.

Never leave children unattended during water play.

Benefits of water play

Below are some of the benefits of water play

  1. Physical development
    Playing with water helps a child develop hand and eye coordination skills. Actions like pouring, squeezing stirring, or squirting, develop fine motor skills such as the pincer grip which is an important skill for school. The pincer grip will enable a child to hold their pencil correctly. Water play is a great sensory experience for children as it introduces them to different textures, such as wet, slippy, frothy, and slimy, as well as temperatures (warm and cold).

  1. Open ended play
    Water play allows children to explore and use their imagination. It’s an amazing sensory experience. It gives freedom to choose and become creative. It helps with early maths, for example: full/empty, volume, estimation, heavy/light, more/less. It also is an opportunity for counting/colours.

  1. Language
    During their play time with water, children will have the opportunity to learn lots of new words, such as funnel, whisk, bubbles, sieve, squirting, taps, sink, plug, sponges, cloths, drizzle, wet/dry/soak, drain, suds, aprons and squeeze.

  1. Social
    Water play can be a therapeutic activity to help children to feel relaxed and calm. They become absorbed in the activity and it helps to improve concentration skills. Water play is inviting for others to join in the play and this gives opportunities for sharing space and toys, taking turns, waiting, looking, listening and imitating. Water encourages role play – washing the dishes/bathing toy dolls/teddies, allowing children to practice real life skills.

Setting up for water play

Prepare the area: have a suitable space with newspapers or towels for spillages.

Things to use: household containers, plastic bottles and jugs, sieves, funnel, whisk, empty yogurt cartons, soup ladle, wine corks, toy tea set,  animals or boats.

Play the Go Fishing game: use a shallow plastic container and add a small amount of water, plastic fish, real shells, marine toys /animals, rocks and stones and use real fish nets.

Bubbles can added for extra fun.

Cooking and baking with toddlers and young children

Cooking and baking engages and stimulates all of the senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. Cooking with toddlers provides them with valuable sensory experiences. Children are more likely to taste new foods if they have helped prepare them.

You can have fun and happy experiences cooking with children that will give them good memories of cooking and spending time with family. If children enjoy cooking and become confident, they are more likely to cook as an adult.

The benefits of cooking with children

Eye and hand coordination and fine motor skills: Pouring ingredients into bowls and jugs, cracking eggs, measuring, spooning cake mix into cases, spreading icing onto cup cakes are all good ways for children to practice their eye-hand coordination.

Hand strengthening: Rolling pastry into balls, flattening dough, sprinkling cheese, whisking eggs, and using a sieve all help with hand strengthening.

Social skills: Cooking and baking is an activity which includes sharing, turn taking, waiting, tasting, washing hands, communicating, and life learning skills.

Language: Following a recipe can benefit a child’s listening and sequencing skills. Verbal instructions, reading a recipe out loud or using visual instructions all encourage a child to prepare for the next step in the recipe. Describing textures such as slimy egg, hard egg shell, soft tomato flesh, or bitter lemon add new and different words to their language. They can now connect an action to a word.

Maths: Measuring and weighing, for example spoonfuls of flour, selecting the correct size cup, counting out ingredients, like eggs or apples, all help their maths skills. Other examples would be setting a timer and watching the numbers go down or comparing sizes such as a small or large tin or with spoons, or different coloured bowls or cups (red versus blue bowl/cup) and estimating amounts.

Preparation for cooking

Preparation is key to a happy cooking session with your young child:

  • Choose a time when your toddler is not overly tired – first thing in the morning or after naptime work well.

  • To keep the cooking experience short to suit a toddler’s attention span, pre-measure the ingredients before you begin and have each ready in separate bowls or containers for your toddler to add to the mixing bowl or saucepan as required.

  • Be patient and allow time for them to enjoy each step. It may take longer for them to fill the cup cases with cake mix but allowing them to do the task helps build their confidence and abilities.

  • Toddlers love to mix and stir so be sure to include mixing and stirring in the cooking experience!

  • Little children love the experience of using a sieve. If you’re well prepared, this can be a great fun experience. You can sieve any of the following: flour, cocoa powder, icing sugar. Make sure to place a cloth under bowl to allow for spillages.

  • There will probably be a mess but that is part of the process too. Toddlers can help clean up too. This gives a good opportunity to use sponges and dish cloths, refuse bins, dustpan and brush. They learn to return correct foods to the fridge and cupboards and learn about recycling and composting materials.