Worried about what to do with your kids during this lockdown period? Try sensory play: fun activities that engage all five of our key senses and help develop a child’s motor skills and critical thinking.
All you need are some common household items – and a dash of imagination!
Here are some age-specific sensory play ideas from mum and sensory play enthusiast, Shobana Segran to keep your kids entertained.
6 to 12-month-olds
Sensory play activities at this early stage are often the first step towards fostering a child’s innate curiosity and investigative skills.
1. The Moon Crawl
To help babies hone their sense of touch, sight and sound, place items of varying textures (such as cut-outs of aluminium foil or bubble wrap) or materials with a distinct feel to them (like a fuzzy blanket or artificial grass) on the floor.
Then, just let the little ones crawl freely over them, testing out the differences with their hands and feet.
2. Shake, Rattle & Roll
Make rattles by filling three or four empty milk bottles with items of different colour, weight or textures. Try rice, beans or marbles.
Get your would-be percussionists to visually and aurally explore their new instruments. Moving the bottles to produce new sounds develops their understanding of cause and effect.
3. Treasure Box
Ideal for babies who are able to sit themselves up already, fill an empty basket up with a variety of interesting props from around the house. Think chew toys, clothes pegs, plastic keys, purses, and even pieces of fruit.
What is ordinary to you might be extraordinary to your little learner.
Try working with a helpful theme (such as items of a similar colour), which enables bubs to begin identifying objects within a common category.
1 to 2-year-olds
Activities for kids in this age range are increasingly kinesthetic to fine-tune their gross and fine motor skills. As kids this age still have a limited attention span, think “minimal effort but maximum effect” for stirring interest.
4. Ribbon Sensory Wall
This is a great activity to try out, once your child starts standing and taking their first steps.
Using long strips of different coloured ribbons, affix them high up on the wall, but within your child’s grasp. Stretching and reaching for those ribbons will help to train their hand-eye coordination and sense of balance.
5. Scoop & Dump
Everyday items, such as baking tools, can be worked into play; for example, a muffin tin. Take different coloured mini pom-pom balls (from a craft or stationery shop) and fill one end of the muffin tray with the balls.
Give your little chef a spoon and ask them to fill up other holes in the tray with the balls. The activity naturally appeals to a child’s inherent love for digging and pouring and hones their hand-eye coordination and motor skills too.
6. Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are fun-filled containers with tactile objects and materials. Fill a few shallow plastic bins or tubs with a variety of different materials for your little ones to explore. Do set up the bins outdoors, to make clean-up easier. Or if you do set them up indoors, have old newspapers or towels on hand to soak or clean up spills.
Filler suggestions include rice (you can also dye this), dried lentils, water beads, shredded paper, ice, oatmeal and aquarium rocks. Include some small household items (such as ladles, funnels, or small containers) as well to encourage them to explore the material with their tools, and experiment with scooping and filling.
Bonus: Hide several small toys in the mix for the kids to uncover them.
Sensory bins are not just developmental aids for motor skills but also have a calming effect on children (not unlike a mini Bonsai garden for adults), since the exploratory motions are repetitive. The possibilities for sensory bins are endless and they often remain a favourite activity even as the kids increase in age.
2 to 4-year-olds
Tap into your toddler’s increased cognitive skills at this stage with sensory activities that encourage their growing ability to identify colours and recognise numbers. Shobana uses the ever-versatile playdough as the common base for the following activities.
7. Playdough Hedgehogs
This decorating activity is a simple but effective way to boost your child’s creativity. Roll some playdough into little balls, and let the kids practice their pincer grip and work their imagination as they craft their pokey pals, using bits of uncooked pasta, buttons, or straws as embellishments.
8. Learning to Count
For this activity, you’ll need some playdough (rolled once again into small balls), number magnets and pipe cleaners. Assign a number magnet to each ball of playdough, and encourage your budding mathematician to correctly identify the number specified by sticking the corresponding amount of pipe cleaners into the dough.
9. Animal Footprints Puzzle
Put your child’s toy animal collection to good use with this fun puzzle. Create imprints of the animals’ feet in flattened playdough, and get your little one to match the imprints to the correct animal. Kids will love this mini rumble in the jungle, which in turn, hones their hand-eye coordination and ability to problem-solve.
As an alternative, you could also run the same activity using number magnets instead. This helps to build the little ones’ numbers recognition skills as they match the magnets to their respective imprints.
4 to 6-year-olds
Ideal for preschoolers, these sensory play activities incorporate an educational Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) approach that hone critical thinking, encourage dialogue, and fine-tune growing motor abilities.
10. Connect-the-Dots Mask
Draw a face-sized outline of your child’s favourite cartoon or movie character on a piece of art card. Leave some portions empty, save for marked dots, so that junior can exercise his drawing ability by connecting the dots to sketch out the rest of the mask. Tip: try marking the dots using sequential numbers or alphabets to sharpen your child’s numeracy or literacy skills.
Once the dots have been connected, get your child to assist you in cutting out the mask and colouring it in to further refine their motor skills. To finish, make a small hole at each end the mask and affix some string across, so the mask can be worn.
11. Salt Tray Tracing
Help to shape your child’s penmanship skills with this easy activity. All you need is a shallow tray, such as a baking dish, and tons of salt.
Ensure that the tray is in a contrasting colour to the salt for maximum effect. Fill the tray up with enough salt to cover the bottom and get the kids to practice writing their letters in the salt using their fingers.
Accompanying alphabet flashcards also make helpful reference points as the little ones try to replicate the same shapes in the salt.
12. My First Volcano
As your child begins to learn more about the natural world through the wonders of science, this little experiment will prove to be a blast.
Start first with a medium-sized tub, which will act as the base for your science project. Place a small-sized jar at its centre, covering its sides and the base of the tub with enough play dough to form a makeshift volcano. As a bonus, get the kids to creatively decorate the volcano with little figurines, such as toy dinosaurs.
Pour approximately two tablespoons of baking soda into the small jar, and fill up an empty squirt bottle with some vinegar. Once the kids are ready, get them to squirt the vinegar into the mouth of their mini Vesuvius, and watch as it combines with the baking soda to create an explosive chemical effect!
Photos used with the permission of Shobana Segran.