Sensory Play! Fun Sensory Activities
Our five senses are critical to our lives, helping guide us through everything from the daily tasks of walking, talking and eating to the more complex functions like creative and artistic projects, playing sports and critical thinking.
Sensory activities can be extremely beneficial for all preschool children, but they are of particular value for children with autism.
Children under the spectrum have varying needs and display a range of different behaviors, so activities should always be targeted according to their individual support strategies.
Fortunately, there are many sensory activities for children that can help change the way the brain reacts to touch, sound, sight, and movement.
By stimulating the senses through what’s called Sensory Play or Sensory Activity, we can help develop our children’s creativity while also encouraging social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and linguistic development.
Sensory play also helps strengthen the brain’s neural pathways and connections which leads to greater learning potential.
The benefits of sensory activities:
- Stimulate brain thereby enhancing sensory processing system.
- Social skills are improved, and hence communication skills and interaction are improved.
- Motor skills are improved, such as coordination. It includes even gross motor skills.
- Sensory activities calm down the children if they are overactive and agitated.
Try a range of activities to stimulate all of the five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Go gently and evaluate what works well, and what should be avoided.
What are sensory activities?
Sensory activities are those that stimulate the 5 senses: touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound, as well as the vestibular (responsible for our sense of balance) and proprioceptive (keeps track of and controls the different parts of our bodies) systems.
Sensory activities can also be very calming, which can be particularly helpful to kids on the autism spectrum.
Window painting with shaving cream
Grab a can of shaving cream and head outside (inside also works if you do not mind the cleanup). To start, plop a good amount of shaving cream onto the window. If age-appropriate, you let your child take a turn at spraying it too. Together, practice writing letters, drawing pictures or just swirl your fingers around. Place some in their hands and have them press it to the window to experience different feelings.
Shallow plastic tubs filled with different textures for kids' experience may be placed outside. Think about cotton balls, beads, lentils, water, etc. Place water in between the sticky materials. Use shaving cream or sand for the sticky materials. Ask the kid to walk from one tub to another tub. Explore the item in the tub by stepping from one tub to another is the base of the activity.
Make up a large batch of playdough and divide it into separate bowls. Mix different ingredients into each bowl, to create easily identifiable smells, for example cinnamon, almond essence, lemon juice, vanilla essence, ginger and so on (you could also add food colouring). While the children play with the dough they can enjoy the different smells and try to guess what they are.
Set up a car washing station outside in the garden with bowls of water, soap, sponges/brushes/cloths/towels and a selection of plastic vehicles. The children will love playing with the soapy water, scrubbing the cars clean and drying them off again.
Homemade musical instruments
There are lots of different musical instruments that you can make with young children, and creating them can be just as much fun as playing with them. Ideas include shakers: fill plastic bottles with rice or dried beans, rattles: thread buttons or beads onto some string, drums: use wooden spoons to beat on plastic tubs, and chimes: hang up some bottle tops or shells
You’ll need to prepare this activity a day or two ahead. Find a large plastic box that will fit in your freezer, quarter fill it with water, put some toys in and freeze. Add three more layers, and then turn out your ice block. The children then have to get the toys out of the ice, using a selection of tools: spray bottles with warm water in, toy hammers etc.
For this activity you’ll need plastic bottles, socks and bubble mixture. Cut the bottoms off the bottles, and put the socks over the ends, pulling them all the way over the bottle and then folding them back so you have a tight fit. Dip the sock-covered end into the bubble mixture and blow through the top end to make lovely long bubble snakes.
Being the parent or caregiver of a child under the spectrum isn’t easy, especially when everyday situations cause feelings of anxiety and overwhelm that interfere with daily functioning.
While this sensory activities won’t eliminate these challenges, our hope is that they will help stimulate your child’s senses, develop their social, language, fine and gross motor, and self-control skills, increase their attention spans, and help them learn.