Improving Sensory Play for Early Development

Early development is one of the most important stages of growing up, and sensory play is a huge part of the journey. Sensory play is a big step in development as it not only helps children learn how to use their senses but also helps their blooming confidence and independence as they transform from an infant to a small child. There are lots of ways to improve sensory play in early development, and with the right products, the right information, and the right tools, you can make sensory play one of the best and most important parts of your centre. 

There are lots of ways to improve sensory play in early development, and with the right products, the right information, and the right tools, you can make sensory play one of the best and most important parts of your centre. 

Why sensory play? 

Sensory play helps progress many types of development, from hand-eye coordination to correlation. Sensory play isn’t just beneficial for children who have difficulty with sensory integration or are neurodivergent, sensory play is beneficial for every child. Sensory play is the beginning of children taking in the world around them and understanding the correlation between touching, feeling, playing and learning.  

Not only does sensory play help encourage senses and correlations, but it also benefits imagination, creativity, and independent thinking. It promotes brain and language development and encourages cognitive growth. Play through touch is a remarkable thing, and it helps to stimulate children as they become excited about learning. 

When it comes to sensory play, we usually think of the senses that are initially activated; taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. There are other equally important functions that we commonly miss; like body awareness and balance. Sensory play helps build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways which lead to the children’s ability to take on new tasks and skills. Safe to say, it’s a lot more than just play!  

a small child has sand on your hands from sensory play

Sensory play helps build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways which lead to the children’s ability to take on new tasks and skills.

Here are a few things that sensory play can help in early development: 

Imagination. Through sensory play, children create stories and ideas engaging their imagination. They may not be able to express it through words, but they can with screams, laughter, and movements. Sensory experiences help develop the ability to talk about what they are doing and the observations they are making with their hands-on learning. 

Hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination is the ability to move your hands while being guided by the eyes. This is a fairly important skill, as it is needed for many things such as making a cup of tea, grasping an object, or simply tying a shoelace to name a few. Using your hands for sensory play is great practice for other skills. 

Adaptability. Sensory play also teaches children the feelings they like and don’t like, and how to better adapt to situations. It focuses on problem-solving through analyzing experiments. It is a great process for little ones to discover new things and figure them out.  

Fine and gross motor skills. Gross motor skills focus on building lower-body muscles useful for things like jumping, running, and even riding a bike. Fine motor skills are more focused on the muscles in the hands and arms, like writing and colouring. Encouraging sensory play helps develop these muscles their growing bodies need to develop strongly. 

Child is using a pencil to write in class

How do I support sensory play?  

Offer children choices with different toys. For the younger ones, hold out two different choices of toys and allow them to pick which one they want to play with. This helps budding problem-solving skills as they start to figure out how to make decisions and manipulate the toys. 

Arrange a sensory station. Nothing beats a classic sand or water table! This allows an environment dedicated to sensory play. It is a perfect place to try both new activities and those tried and true – perfect for playable sand, clay, water, sensory stones, and basically anything under the sun. There are so many different options when it comes to sensory play and different tables and stations.  

small children playing with a sensory table

Sensory tables come in all different sizes and heights for different ages. Some sensory tables contain multiple tubs, which can allow two children to play side by side in different sensory environments simultaneously. See-through tables are a great option for being able to play with water since you can closely monitor the water level and it includes a see-through acrylic cover to prevent splashing. The tables are able to wheel and move around, which is perfect for a busy centre that is always changing. 

Another fun idea for a station is a light cube. This really stimulates the sense of sight and helps light up the imagination, but can encompass other senses as well. Recommended to be placed in a quiet location like a reading area or playtime corner, it can also be used as a piece of furniture. It comes with a battery and remote that can be charged, which prevents the need for keeping the cord around, preventing it from getting tangled or tripped on. It comes with an easy-to-clean surface, a long-lasting LED light source, and is very sturdy, perfect for enduring years of use! When it comes to light cube activities, the possibilities are endless.  

A light up cube with toys on top of it

Sensory play products by age: 

Earliest Steps. These products are for the earliest steps in children’s development, ages 1-3. These products help children learn skills like fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving skills, and sensory stimulation. Children at this age are focused on learning about the world around them, and sensory play is a perfect opportunity to let their earliest discoveries grow and flourish.  

Sensory balls. For the early years, sensory balls are the perfect start for early development. Children don’t need much guidance when it comes to sensory balls. You’ll find them often teething, squeezing, and holding these sensory balls as it helps soothe and comfort them. Enhancing sensory stimulation in both tactile and visual ways help develop children’s motor skills.  

Sensory tubs. Sensory play doesn’t need to be complicated! All you need are a few simple household items, like rice or beans, and let their small fingers take them on their own unique journey to discovering textures and patterns. Encourage tactile discovery, social interaction, and development of fine motor skills with this double sensory table. This lightweight low-profile play table features 2 roomy tubs so toddlers can explore multiple sensory items at once. 

Dimpl Digits. Dimpl Digits is the perfect early learning sensory toy. All children have to do is touch, push, pop, and learn! It features squishy, silicone bubbles that captivate the fingers in a way that makes it impossible to want to put them down, while simultaneously opening a unique new avenue for learning. On one side, the bubbles are embossed with numbers 1 through 10, each accompanied by its matching word in English. Flip it over and you’ll find the words written in Spanish, plus dots to feel and count! 

a child playing with a colourful sensory toy

Later learning. These products are great for the next stage in children’s early development, ages 3-5. This stage is heavily focused on awareness, language development, and adaptability. This is a great time to integrate social interaction with sensory play, as it helps children develop conversation skills and interpersonal skills. It helps them become team players and work better with others. 

Sensory Play Set. The Sensory Play set comes with tons of basics for simple sensory play. It includes sorting trays that are perfect to hold different sensory stones and toys. It features 12 tactile stones for sorting, 12 sensory stones, 6 speckled sound-making eggs, 16 threading pebbles with laces, and a set of 8 sensory play animals. 

Jumbo Eye Dropper.  The Primary Science Jumbo Eyedroppers are a wonderful addition to sensory play. Children can use it to experiment with cause and effect while building fine motor skills! Plus, it comes with a convenient stand. 

The perfect add-ons for sensory fun:  

Coloured sand. Not only is coloured sand super fun and aesthetically pleasing, it’s also super mesmerizing and keeps children entertained with it for hours. It features eight different colours so children will have lots of fun switching things up and rotating new colours. You don’t need anything special; simple objects like shovels or cups are more than enough to get their imagination going! 

Transparent Tactile Shells. These are wonderful for early development sensory play, as it engages multiple senses and parts of the brain. Children can use three of their five senses (sight, sound, and touch) to explore these shells and engage in sensory play. It is ideal for light box play. It features 6 different tactile surfaces in 6 different colours (red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple). 

Water beads. These are beautiful for sensory exploration. Soak these multicolored water beads in water and watch them expand to become bouncy, squishy sensory beads! Once expanded, let children play with the beads to feel their texture for a sensory experience that encourages quiet focus. This sparks creativity and builds fine motor skills as children count and sort the multicolor beads. These nontoxic beads expand in water and then shrink in the sun so they can be used over and over again. 

hands holding water beads

Sensory Play for Everyone with EduShape 

EduShape is the perfect place to start when it comes to sensory play. Throughout the years, Edushape toys have consistently incorporated high educational values while supporting a child’s healthy social and emotional development. 

Young Brix. Young Brix is a fun way to start a STEAM approach to sensory play. Now young architects can enhance their creativity from an early age. The soft, flexible and oversized brix are ideal for open-ended and constructive play. Young Brix are flexible soft and easy to hold and work with. It comes with 9 shapes, including triangle, circle, trapezoid and more. 

Shake, Listen and Match. This is a super fun sound-based memory game. Help children discover pairs of tones and find out how good their sensory perception is by finding the pair of bells that sound the same. Linking, matching, and connecting pieces encourage the growth of logic, and reasoning skills are just a few of the helpful lessons learned through the game. Easy-grip pieces assist in the development of fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It’s a perfect activity to play alone or together, working together to create a race track or other scenes. 

Sensory Snap Beads. These multicolour soft texture plastic beads. It includes reusable storage jar, and comes with 14 beads. Each safe-to-wash and easy-to-clean bead measures approx. 9 cm x 5.5 cm. 

a small girl plays with a long sensory toy

Sensory Play Activities:  

Playing music. Did you know that infants can recognize the melody of a song long before they understand words? Playing any kind of background music or sounds is great for little ones to start to familiarize themselves with their sense of hearing. Encourage them to reciprocate rhythms by clapping or tapping objects. 

Pouring from container to container. This is a perfect example of practicing real-life skills in sensory play! Fill up a large bucket and fill it with small cups, bottles, and containers. Using these containers, guide children to practice pouring one cup of water into another cup of water. Bring out a funnel to assist in pouring. This is a fun way to introduce children to pouring, and it is a wonderful example of how sensory and hands-on play can assist in learning new life skills.  

Beading. Perfect for developing fine motor skills, beading offers children the chance to run their fingers through a collection of various beads with unique textures, colours, and patterns. For older children, the bead treasure box is a perfect option as it comes with beading thread and over 3,500 assorted coloured beads. For smaller children, it’s better to start with larger things to thread, such as the count and lace stones. In addition to fine motor skills, these are also designed for shape and number recognition. Children sort the stones by colour and shape (circle, square, hexagon), then count, order and thread them together. 

Children can learn and experience so many different things through sensory play, but the things they learn to go beyond tangible and measurable skills. Children develop a stronger sense of confidence, strength, and essentially discover the world around them on their own. Sensory play is an important part of creating milestones and memories in early development, and helping children embrace their brave new world. 

a small child with braids in her hair smells a flower

Sensory play is an important part of creating milestones and memories in early development, and helping children embrace their brave new world. 

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