Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity - Kay Redfield Jamison
From birth, babies use their senses to explore the environment around them. Sensory play for your little one is more than just a load of fun. It’s beneficial in so many ways, hence why it is so often used in educational settings such as kindergartens and schools. Although sensory play includes an endless number of activities that might include a nature walk, a trip to the beach, gardening and craft activities such as painting and playdough, this page is focussing mostly on the idea of sensory play in terms of sensory bin play or the use of a sensory table.
Many people will straight away think of the Ikea sensory table (Flisat table) when they think of sensory play. This table is not only affordable (99 AUD), but also very versatile given the tubs can be covered up for use as a regular table. That being said, you don’t need a fancy table or a sensory bin set up to create enriching sensory experiences for your little one. You can simply use items you already have at home. This might be a large kitchen container, or a bucket, or a deep baking tray or dish. The best option for you is the one that fits your needs and your budget!
Worried that sensory play is too messy? Here are some tips to help you.
Sensory play doesn’t have to be messy play. Even though it might be to start with. But if you sit with your child when you are introducing sensory play activities, and model to them the appropriate way to play with the sensory table or sensory bin, you might be amazed at how quickly your child learns what is and isn’t acceptable. Once you have put in the ground work and set the boundaries and expectations for your child, you will find you will be able to leave them to play independently and it won’t end in a chaotic mess. This can be a great tool to have up your sleeve when it’s time to get dinner ready or get some housework done. Set your child up with a sensory activity and whilst you can still monitor them, they will be so engaged that you’ll be grateful for the time to get some things done!
Some other tips to help keep sensory play ‘mess’ to a minimum:
Use a splat mat or a messy mat. These don’t cost a lot to purchase and many people love being able to shake off their messy mat outside or wipe them down, knowing their floors underneath have gotten away unscathed!
Have a hand towel, wet washer or some wipes handy. For that moment your child decides to head directly for your fabric couch and you don’t want to be caught out running to the laundry to grab a towel to clean up any messy hands.
Consider whether the activity is best suited for outside. If you’re planning on using a ‘wet’ texture such as cooked pasta, shaving cream, water, or something similar, you might be best to set your activity up outside.
Store reusable items in air-tight containers. This saves you having to repurchase items to fill up your sensory play space.
Will it cost me a lot to set up sensory play at home?
Sensory play also doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of household items you probably already have that you can use for sensory play, and many of these can even be reused. But it’s a good idea to store them safely in a container and label them so you don’t end up serving your guests rice that your toddler has been running their hands through for a week straight!
Here are some simple sensory play ideas you might like to try:
Dried chickpeas or other beans
Other things you might like to add when you’re creating a sensory play experience:
Different size containers
Vehicles such as dump trucks
What is a child learning when they are engaging in sensory play?
Although our children might not know it, sensory play is far more than just a fun time for them. When a child is engaging in sensory play, they are developing many of the following:
- Imaginative play
Fine motor skills
Life skills such as pouring and scooping
Developing self control
Practical math skills