I thought I’d share some sensory equipment, recipes and ideas with you, so that you can make the most of the summer, by doing some sensory activities at home. Equally you can create a sensory experience without using the products listed below, but they’re some of my favourites, so I thought I’d share the love!
Sensory Equipment, Recipes & Ideas
There is a big trend for baby sensory activities, messy play for babies and early years messy play, but sensory play is important toddlers and older children too. Sensory play is any activity that stimulates and develops your child’s sense of touch, smell, taste, hearing or sight. Whether they’re squidging their fingers into slime, sorting rainbow-coloured chickpeas, or tasting edible paint, sensory play is a really important part of your child’s development.
There are lots of fantastic sensory toys which you can buy, but equally there are lots of simple recipes, which you can make at home, which are also great for sensory play. So I’ve shared some of my top sensory play ideas below.
1. Tuff tray
If you’ve got space it’s great to have a tuff tray. Hide it under the bed when you don’t need it. They’re great for setting up invitations to create, small world play and messy play. A tuff tray is quick to clean up and helps to keep the mess contained within a specific area!
A plastic box is also a great piece of sensory equipment if you want to make a sensory bin. Take a look at my sensory bin ideas at the end of this blog post.
2. Water beads
Water beads are fantastic for sensory play. You just add some to water and watch them grow! They turn into these fantastically squidgy, colourful balls. Put them on your tuff tray, use them for colour sorting, add them to a small world scene. Or fill a bowl with water and pour them in for some scooping fun.
Water play is great for the summer when your child is hot and needs to cool down. You can add in some cups, spoons and a colander too. Or you could try freezing the water beads, for a different sensation.
What are the benefits of water play?
- Understanding Scientific Concepts and Teaching Mathematics – Water Play builds the foundation for understanding various scientific concepts. You can use it to teach basic mathematics, introducing Full, Empty, Half, Less. You can measure and compare volumes and observe motion.
- Developing Language – Ask your child to describe what they’re doing and what it feels like when they’re squirting, pouring, splashing, filling, draining the water. Ask them to describe the temperature of the water, what it sounds like when they pour, or splash the water. Add food colouring and turn it into a colour mixing activity, getting them to describe the colour changes.
- Gaining Problem Solving Skills – Your child will discover what happens when they overfill their cup, or pour water into a colander
- Building Fine Motor Skills and Hand Eye Coordination – through actions like pouring, squirting, scrubbing, stirring and squeezing.
3. Plastic droppers
We have a few different varieties of these as I love them so much! They’re great for little hands and building fine motor skills. We use them for water play, making magical potions, squirt painting, coffee filter painting and science experiments.
My youngest loves mixing magic potions, just made from coloured water and things she finds in the garden. You could also try some science experiments too.
Magic potion experiment
- Part fill some cups with baking powder, mixed with food colouring.
- Add a squirt of washing up liquid into some vinegar and mix it.
- Let your child add a spoonful of baking powder mix into an empty cup and then squirt some vinegar and washing up liquid mix into it using their dropper.
- The mixture will bubble up like a magic potion.
4. Tweezers, Scoops and more
This is a great little set as it also includes one of the droppers that I mentioned in the sensory equipment above. The tweezers are fantastic for picking up pom poms, or searching for hidden objects in rainbow spaghetti. Your child will be developing their pincer grasp, learning the vital skills for writing. Let your child have some fun scooping up rainbow rice, they’ll be building their scissor skills whilst they play.
You could create a summer taste sensation and use the tools to make a fruit smoothie, picking up sliced banana with the tweezers, blueberries with the scoops, squirting in some orange juice with the dropper etc.
Rainbow spaghetti recipe
- Cook spaghetti as per the instructions on the packet
- Spoon some of the spaghetti into a tupperware or plastic bag
- Add a few drops of food colouring
- Close and shake it until all the spaghetti is covered
- Tip it out onto a tray to dry
- Keep repeating with different colours
5. Bath slime
My kids got bath slime for Christmas one year and we’ve bought it for lots of their friends since. You simply pour the powder into the bath and it turns into slime! It’s an amazing whole body sensory experience! When the kids have finished, you add the dissolver and it just washes straight down the plug hole. No mess, just lots of fun!
Have you tried making oobleck? It’s super simple to make and is a brilliant science based sensory activity. Oobleck or gloop is a non-Newtonian fluid. It can be liquid when held loosely in your hand, but you can roll it in a ball and snap it in two! Combine it with music for an extra sensory experience. If you put a bowl of oobleck on top of a speaker and turn on some music it will jump up and down to the music.
- 2 cups of cornflour
- 1 cup of water
- Food colouring (optional)
- If you want it to be coloured, just add the food colouring to the water first so that it’s easier to mix.
- Gradually add the water to the cornflour, mixing it as you do. It should be runny if you lift it through your hands, but hard if you let it sit in the bowl.
7. Play dough tools
I make my own playdough, as it’s cheaper and stays soft for a long time. I often theme the playdough for the season, or activity that we’re doing. We might go on a nature walk and collect sticks, pine cones, conkers, leaves, feathers etc. to add to the play dough. Or we add pipecleaners, lolly sticks, googly eyes, sequins, buttons etc. Play dough is great for strengthening muscle tone in children’s hands. Rolling, squishing, squashing and flattening play dough all develop children’s muscles and encourage pre-writing skills.
You can engage the sense of smell with play dough too, by adding in spices like cinammon, nutmeg, cloves or ginger. Or you could add in herbs like rosemary or thyme.
- Plain flour – 2 cups
- Salt – 1 cup
- Sunflower oil – 2 tbsp
- Water – 2 cups
- Cream of tartar – 2 tsp
- Food colouring
- Add all of the ingredients to a saucepan and stir over a low heat
- When the mixture starts to pull away from the edges and form a dough, tip it onto a chopping board and knead it
- Store in an airtight container
It’s good to have some play dough tools and cutters which you can use to extend the play time too. Your child will be learning hand eye co-ordination and developing their fine motor skills whilst using them.
8. Kinetic Sand
You can have a day at the beach with this kinetic sand set, without having to sit in the traffic to get there! Kinetic sand is mould-able sand that sticks to itself but not you. It never dries out so you can re-use it again and again. There are many different product ranges, but this is one of our favourites. It includes shovels, rakes and moulds so that you can create the sandcastle of your dreams!
9. Silicone cupcake moulds
These cupcake moulds are great for cooking, which is a sensory experience in itself. Feeling the texture of the ingredients, the sound of mixing them, the smell of baking, the taste of the food. They’re also great for colour sorting pom poms, rainbow chickpeas etc. and making play dough cakes with sprinkles, buttons, pipe cleaners, or maybe some googly eyes!
Use playfoam to cover an object, or just mould shapes and sculptures with it. I love watching kids use playfoam. Some of them pick the tiniest amount and carefully spread it out across an object. Others grab great handfuls of it and blob it on. It’s great for tactile and sensory learning, developing fine motor skills. It doesn’t stick to hands, clothes or carpet, just to itself.
11. Paint and sand scrapers
These brightly coloured, durable scrapers are great for sensory play and process art. Use them with kinetic sand, flour, or shaving foam on your tuff tray. Or set them out with some paint and a large piece of paper and let your child discover the patterns and textures they can make.
12. Pom poms, pipe-cleaners and googly eyes
I often create themed sensory bins for my kids to play with. They’re a great option for the ‘witching hour’ when the kids are tired, but it’s not time for bed. You can put pretty much anything in a sensory bin, but pom poms, pipe-cleaners and googly eyes are always good to have available as you can combine them with most themes. I also use them with play dough and as craft materials. You can engage the sense of hearing with sensory bins by adding in bells, fabrics or foil to scrunch up and bubble wrap to pop.
Here are some sensory bin ideas:
Rainbow sensory bin
Add different coloured pom poms, pipe cleaners (if you wrap them around a pencil first they make cool springs), plastic bottle tops, buttons, bouncy balls, foam shapes/letters, fabric scraps etc to a large plastic box. You could give your child the silicone cake cases and tweezers mentioned in the sensory equipment above and get them to sort the rainbow colours into the correct cake cases.
Spooky sensory bin
Fill surgical gloves with water and food colouring. Add googly eyes, spooky sprinkles and green, orange or black pom poms. Put them in the freezer. Once the hands are frozen, remove them and carefully cut the surgical gloves off. Put the frozen hands in a plastic box, filled with water, for your child to play with. You could give them salt to sprinkle on the ice to help melt it, a toy hammer, jugs of warm water, the droppers and tweezers mentioned in the sensory equipment above.
Note: Ice can burn you if it is in contact with skin for a prolonged period. Please always make sure that when children are playing with ice appropriate care is taken. Provide surgical gloves for the children to wear and ensure that the ice is in water. Please note this guidance on ice burns.
Beach themed sensory bin
For a super tactile experience create a sand foam beach in a box! Sand foam is really easy to make. Add a children’s bucket, spade, sand moulds, rake, or the sand scrapers mentioned in the sensory equipment above. You could also add shells, dinosaurs, trucks etc. or hide things in the sand for your child to find, like plastic alphabet letters, or small toys. You can draw or write in the sand with your fingers to develop mark-making skills. Encourage your child to describe what it feels like, to develop their language skills.
Sand foam recipe
- Add 3 cups of sand to a plastic box.
- Gradually add shaving foam and combine using hands.
- Add more shaving cream until desired consistency is made.
Food can also work well for a sensory bin. Especially if you have very little ones in the house who are likely to taste things. Use cloud dough for dirt, mini Weetabix for building bricks, cocoa pops for rocks. Add some diggers and trucks. This kind of sensory bin is called small world play.
Cloud dough recipe (taste safe)
- 8 cups of flour
- 1 cup of vegetable oil
- Food colouring or chocolate powder
- Mix the ingredients together using your hands. You rub the flour and oil together in the same way as you would to make breadcrumbs. This combines the flour and oil. It should be mould-able if squeezed together, but flour like if raked out.
Benefits of small world play
- Increases Imagination and Creativity
- Develops Language Skills – specifically taking on different characters and developing story-telling skills
- Promotes Problem Solving Skills – working out problems within the scene or issues between characters
- Encourages Independent Play Skills
- Fosters Cause and Effect – as your child has control over the small world they begin to see what happens when certain actions are taken
I hope you like my round-up of sensory equipment, recipes and ideas. If you have any recommendations of sensory equipment you love, or sensory activities which your child enjoys, I’d love to know about them, so please comment below.
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