Early Childhood Sensory Play

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Sensory play is an important part of early childhood development and education. When a child is engaged in this type of play, it may look like a mindless messy activity but the amazing things happening for this child is far greater than simple play.

Sensory play has multiple benefits for children. It supports language development, social interactions, fine motor skills, large motor skills, cognitive growth and increases problem solving skills. It has a calming effect for the anxious or upset child. It allows children to feel in control of their actions and in turn encourages them to feel good about their decision making skills.

Children uses their senses to to explore, understand and navigate their world. Teachers, caregivers and parents providing these activities is important to encourage brain development.

What is sensory play? Anything that activates any of the five senses. It can be fun, messy, and easily put together, It just needs to be engaging to the child. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. One of the most effective ways to provide sensory play is using sensory bins.

A sensory bin is typically a shallow, plastic container, but for one child it could be a

bowl, or a pot from the kitchen.

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Listed below are multiple suggestions for sensory play. As long as you are supervising, any of the materials can be used, but I recommend considering the age and developmental stage when choosing sensory bin fillers.

  • Soapy water
  • Kinetic sand
  • water beads
  • cloud dough
  • playground sand
  • mud
  • shaving cream
  • slime
  • play-dough
  • finger paint
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  • jello (prepared)
  • pudding
  • marshmallows
  • oatmeal
  • cooked pasta
  • potato flakes
  • ice cream
  • whip cream
  • Tapioca pearls
  • watermelon
  • rice
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  • letter squares from old scrabble game
  • Cardboard tubes
  • cut straws
  • shredded paper
  • cotton balls
  • packing peanuts
  • sponges
  • bubble wrap
  • cut pool noodles
  • Bingo chips
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  • plastic leaves
  • fake grass (Easter)
  • feathers
  • tinsel
  • Spanish moss
  • pine cones
  • sea shells
  • corks
  • fake flowers
  • aquarium gravel
  • bird seed
  • potting soil
  • snow
  • ice cubes
  • sticks
  • hay
  • saw dust
  • rocks
  • epson salt
  • pebbles
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  • pom-poms
  • pipe cleaners
  • buttons
  • magnets
  • marbles
  • sequins
  • jingle bells
  • plastic coins
  • confetti
  • pony beads

The most important thing (besides safety) is to find something interesting and engaging. Remember children are always interested in thing they see in our adult world, so giving them a safe place to explore those items will always be a big hit and they won’t even know the amazing things you are doing for their growth and development.


Great example of an inexpensive sensory table available on amazon