Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Sensory play is one of a pediatric occupational therapist's favorite tools. Sensory play can address a variety of skills such as fine motor, bilateral coordination, visual motor, sensory processing, language, play, social, and the list goes on. Sensory play is a type of play that activates and stimulates a child’s senses. These are fun and interactive activities that can be adapted to meet the needs of every child. In this post we will discuss different types of sensory play, provide some strategies, and learn more about why OT's love sensory play!
Play dough is a great activity for your child starting around 18 months. Below I share a recipe that is taste safe but I strongly encourage you to be an active participant in this activity (and in all of these sensory activities) to ensure your child is not only safe, but also learning new skills by watching you. Play dough provides a great sensory experience and with the motions of pressing, pulling, and rolling the dough your child is also receiving proprioceptive input which can be calming for a child. Play dough is versatile, meaning it can address a wide range of skills that include fine motor skills, hand strength, cutting skills, handwriting, pretend play, and following directions. Below are a few different ways to play with your child using play dough:
Cookie cutters - rolling dough flat with a rolling pin or with the side of a small cup. Make different items or shapes with your cookie cutters
Pictionary - use your dough to build an object, animal, or thing and take turns guessing what the other made
Letters - roll out the dough to form long lines and curves to build letters. Or roll flat and use a toothpick to draw letters in the dough
Pretend play - make different food like pizza, spaghetti, cookies, hot dogs, etc
Cutting - play dough is a great way to introduce scissors. Utilize child safe scissors or play dough specific scissors to practice snipping
Sensory bins are one of my favorite activities to do with a child. Sensory bins address many skills that include: fine motor, bilateral coordination, sensory processing, visual motor, and play skills. But how do you make a sensory bin? Simply grab a small tote or tray, fill it with media, and add manipulative (spoons, cups, funnels, tongs, puzzle pieces, letters, etc.). Below I share some of my favorite sensory media. Make sure to be with your child during this activity especially if they are young to prevent choking.
Homemade play dough
Obstacle courses can be a great indoor or outdoor sensory activity that provide input to children to improve attention and regulation. Obstacle courses involve the tactile system, visual system, vestibular system, and proprioceptive system. This activity can be adapted to fit the needs and skill level of any child older than two. Start with just 2-3 steps and add as you see fit. This activity can include tasks that address gross motor skills such as balance, coordination, bilateral coordination, strength and endurance. You can also include fun fine motor tasks that improve in hand manipulation, hand strength, and fine motor coordination. Obstacle courses allow children to understand sequencing, turn taking if playing with others, and problem solving. Below I list common steps I like to include in obstacle courses. Choose between 2 and 5 steps and allow your child to help with the set up process. Add a puzzle or other manipulative for them to complete during each round.
Obstacle Course Steps
Balance beam (put painters tape on floor if you don't have a beam)
Walk on pillows or cushions
Tunnel (use a blanket and chairs if you don't have a tunnel)
Push a laundry basket filled with books
Jump over objects (rolled up towels or shirts)
Targeting (throw rolled up socks in a laundry basket)
Put on a button up shirt and take off (time them as a motivator and see if they can beat their time each round. Can replace shirt with a pair of pants, socks, or regular shirt)
Ball skills (kick a ball to knock down a tower, bounce and catch a ball, bounce and catch to a partner)
Practice writing one letter/word each round on a whiteboard, chalkboard, or paper
Sensory play activities do not have to take much time or effort to set up for your child. Keep it simple and use items you already have around the house. Demonstrate actions for your child and allow their imagination to guide the activity. Engaging your child's senses will allow them to grow, develop, and interact with the world around them.