Sensory Play: what is it and why is it important?

I asked this on my Facebook, Instagram
and twitter (I’m social network obsessed!) and got lots of interesting ideas and answers:

“When we use sensory description in narrative writing, we tell the students to take a mental snapshot of a person/place & then describe it…presumably sensory play would be activities that appeal to one or more of the child’s senses?” (Clare)

“stimulates one or more of the senses” (Becki)

“Lights, music, colours, textures, smells, treasure baskets, songs, explore, magical!” (Gillian)

” Letting baby explore and learn. The messier the better!” (Jade)

Sensory play can mean a lot of things, but ultimately, it is any type of play that engages one or more of the senses.
My sons are aged 13 months and 2.5 years. They’re typical little boys and love their toys. However, like most kids that age, they have the attention span of a gnat. That is until we do sensory play. They love it!
I’m quite new to this sensory play idea. My first experience of it was at a Sure Start stay & play group I took Harrison to as a baby. They had a sensory corner with chiffon-y drapes, mirrors, light up bubble tubes & fairy lights which the kids loved. I ended up buying some fabric from the market for Harrison (and then Alex) to play with, and they’ve both seemed really calm after playing with it.
They also did more messy sensory play. They would have ‘tuff spots’ (the big tray thingies that builders use!) with jelly, cold custard, spaghetti, yoghurt etc in, which they encouraged the babies to strip down to nappies and get messy in. I was horrified! Why on earth would I let my lovely clean little baby roll around in wellcustard or jelly?! It wasn’t until a few months ago when I discovered Pinterest I found out about the different types of sensory play and the benefits it has.

What are the benefits of sensory play?

It helps kids to develop their language skills and new vocabulary. Harrison has surprised me with lots of words when doing sensory play – gooey, gloopy, slimy, slippy, wet, dry, shiny, fluffy, rough and smooth being just some of his favourites!
It also helps them to develop social skills – they have to share materials ab equipment . Fine motor skills are honed – they mould, pour, scoop, dig, sift and sort amongst other things. Dramatic play can happen – our lentils become cakes, the cloud dough is sausages. Sea shells are cups. It allows their imagination to go wild, as only a child’s would.
These are just a few benefits. Children and adults with special needs often benefit especially.

What is a sensory bin?

A sensory bin is where the materials and equipment needed for sensory play are contained. The materials should encourage children to explore, discover, create and use as many senses as possible, whilst having a lot of fun!

How do I do a sensory bin?

I always start with a ‘theme’ to give a tiny bit of structure. The theme can be very loose if you want. Some ideas: Halloween, Christmas, Easter, seaside, autumn, dinosaurs, animals, under the sea, weather, bugs, garden, jungle, transport, weather…. The list could go on, only limited by your imagination!

You then need some sort of ‘bin’ or container. We use a large clear plastic tub from Ikea with a wipe clean mat underneath. I’m going to get a ‘tuff spot’ after Christmas if I can work out where to keep it! If we do it outdoors we use the kids water/sand table.

Then you need the materials and equipment. I always use a ‘base’ material which is the main sensory aspect and quite often the messy bit. Some ideas: lentils, rice, cold cooked spaghetti, dried pasta, dried beans (although my friend has used baked beans!!), jelly, shaving foam, ground coffee, playdoh, cotton wool, oats, seashells, water, water beads, bubbles, leaves, pinecones, silly string, shredded paper, feathers….
It goes without saying but always supervise and watch out for allergies, inhalation and choking hazards!!

Then you need to add accessories – spoons, scoops, sieves, plastic animals or figures, toy cars, plastic tubs, cups, gunnels, shovels, whisks, cookie cutters..,all depends if you have a theme as to what you could put in.

The final step – let the child play. Let then explore. Let them be creative.

“You can’t teach creativity; all you can do is let it blossom, and it blossoms through play” (Kyung Hee Kim, 2011 in ‘The Creativity Crisis)’

Let them explore their senses, and most of all, let them have fun!


Gingerbread play dough

I love gingerbread. Sometimes I think
I love the smell even more. I love play dough. I absolutely HATE the smell of it, and it always seems to linger on our hands. So….I made gingerbread scented playdough!! I mooched on Pinterest to find recipes, and found a few, but as usual I didn’t have some of the ingredients, so I adapted it, & it worked 🙂
Turned out a lovely ‘gingerbread’ colour, perfect for Christmas, and smelt amazing. Not exactly edible though as there is quite a bit of salt in it which we all know is bad for you!!

1.25 cups of flour (I used plain flour)
0.5 tsp mixed spice (original recipes said all spice but I figured this might be similar/the same)
0.5 tsp cinnamon (recipe said nutmeg!)
0.5 cups ground ginger
0.5 tablespoon cream of tartar
0.5 cups salt
1.5 tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup water

Combine all dry ingredients in saucepan. Add water & oil. Stir over low heat and continue stirring until dough – like consistency. Knead until smooth & consistent.

You can substitute the spices for a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder to make (non-edible!) chocolate scented dough. Yummy!!!

activities 4 kids




Invitation to create: felt teddy bears

I love Fridays. Almost every week without fail since August last year we have been going to a fantastic playgroup in Solihull. The lovely Emer runs it. It’s called Jolly Mixture and is that popular she runs two groups in a Friday morning and one on a Tuesday. We go to the later session as by the time it finishes at 12, it’s nearly lunchtime and then nap time (for kids, not me!!) . Whilst they had their nap today I set up a little activity for when they woke up. I’m not normally very organised – I set up activities around them which can be chaotic. I did want to do gingerbread men but my gingerbread man cutter has gone walkabout (nothing new there, I’ll find it in the garden or something next year!), so I used a teddy bear cookie cutter as a template on some brown (if anyone knows where to buy brown paper/card let me know!) in plastic pots I put a few sequins, various size pom poms, some Christmas foam stickers & googly eyes, and left a glue stick next to the pots. When Harrison woke up, he wandered into the dining room and I heard an excited “wow! Look mummy!” I sat down to watch him and he got stuck into decorating the bear independently. It was lovely to watch him muttering to himself about where to stick things. When my mum popped round for her cuppa, the first thing he did was show her his bear!!





It’s only 6 weeks until Christmas! Can you believe it? I’m more excited than ever about Christmas this year because Harrison is finally starting to understand what’s going on. I’m itching to put the tree up and turn the house into a grotto! Our tradition is to put up our tree on the first Sunday in December whilst drinking copious amounts of sherry and listening to cheesy Crimbo tunes…I can’t wait!!
Anyway, to get ourselves in the spirit we’ve started our Christmas and winter crafts. Yesterday we made snowman pictures. On a sheet of blue card we ‘blobbed’ white paint with our fingers. Harrison then rushed into the kitchen and came back with a sponge and independently smudged the paint to create a snowy effect. We then used pritt stick to glue on some cotton wool and stuck on googly eyes and some tissue paper for a nose. We then talked about what else the snowman needed and Harrison decided he needed a scarf, which we made by twisting a pipe cleaner. We then finished off by using some foam snowflake stickers.
A very simple and effective activity 🙂


Elf on the Shelf

Mooching around Pinterest I see lots of posts about ‘elf on the shelf’. To be honest I never really looked at them as it looked very American. However on my Facebook group activities 4 Kidz one of my good friends Donna, a mum of two, shared some of her ideas for Elf on the Shelf. The idea is that at the beginning of December an elf
appears in your home. This elf is a spy for Santa. It’s based on a book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell. The position of the elf moves daily, meaning the children need to look for it, but they’re not allowed to touch it as it erases the Christmas magic!
Donna is trying it this year with her two kids. If I can find an elf in time I think I’m going to have a go as well. Donna kindly posted a list of places where she is going to hide her elf.

Day 1: arrives with advent calendar & Christmas cards
Day 2: letters to Santa
DAy 3: underwear on Xmas tree
Day 4: eats chocolates
Day 5: make Xmas snow globes
Day 6: playing with toys
Day 7: hide and seek
Day 8: reading books
Day 9: plant tic-tacs
Day 10: tic tacs grow into candy canes
Day 11: make own Xmas crackers
Day 12: hide and seek
Day 13: tries to wear kids school uniform
Day 14: brings sweets
Day 15: gone to visit Santa for two days (North Pole emergency)
Day 16: still at North Pole
Day 17: toilet roll on Xmas tree
Day 18: Xmas cupcakes
Day 19: Xmas colouring set
Day 20: hide and seek
Day 21: make mince pies
Day 22: draw a picture of elves
Day 23: snowman soup and reindeer food
Day 24: North Pole breakfast and final report

I’m going to ask Donna to take photos and let me publish them on here. Keep your eyes peeled for the elf on the shelf!!!


Gift boxes

I’m not a natural photographer so apologies for the poor photographs!
My mum, knowing how I collect random
junk for the kids have me a set of plain
black cardboard gift boxes. Nothing special. There were six of them in different sizes and all sat nicely in each other. For over a week they’ve sat in our lounge where the kids have had great fun stacking them up in towers (motor skills) ordering them from biggest to smallest (numeracy skills) & trying to find out which lid went on which box (problem
solving skills). They were starting to look a bit battered by this afternoon though so out came the good old pva glue (of which we get through tonnes!). I kept some travel and gardening magazines and we decided on a blue sea theme. We ripped up the magazines and found lots of blue – sky, sea etc. We covered the box in pva glue mixed with a drop of water and then collaged it with the scraps of
Blue paper. Once the whole box and lid were completely covered, we gave it another coat of pva glue to seal it and give it a gloss and left it to dry. It looks fab and we’re using it to store all our seashells and blue glass stones as it has a seaside feel to it. Much prettier to look at than an old ice cream tub!! We’ve started on another one, using a green theme now, but any box could be used with
any theme – great ideas for presents for Christmas or to store craft items in!