I think we can all agree on the fact that toddlers have pretty short attention spans and as such, setting up an activity that takes heaps of time and effort can seem like an absolute waste! My main motto is, ‘Play doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.’ I see it as a common-sense approach to learning in the early years. The sensory play activities featured here are ones that we repeat (in slightly varied forms) week in week out. They work well because they are activities that are minimum prep for maximum play – just the way I like it!
I hope that the activities themselves are pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t have the exact materials we have used in the photo, simply substitute for something different – i’m a big believer in using what you have already at home.
As with any activity with the under threes, please supervise carefully and don’t use items that could pose a choking hazard.
The humble sandpit is our favourite sensory ‘go-to.’ In fact, most days involved a visit to the local park for a play in the sand – the children play with the toys that have been left there so there is zero effort on my behalf. The sandpit can sometimes be overlooked in favour of more showy play, but this more than counts as sensory exploration.
If you get worried about messy, wet clothes, opt for coveralls or waterproof trousers so that they can play without there being any stress about getting wet or muddy.
2. Scoop and Pour
This is a great way to use up foods that have been left ignored in the pantry for too long – cereals or rainbow rice make a really good option because they are still taste-safe. Add in a few scoops and cardboard tubes to help work on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
3. Feed the Farm Animals
Same base, different theme! Most little ones seem to go through the farm animal obsessed stage and mine are no exception! Just add in some scoops and animals, then you’re good to go! As well as working on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, this activity is great for language development and early math skills.
4. Water scoop and pour
We end up doing some description of water play every day, although most of the time, they are in the bath! Just adding a few items, like the small watering cans featured here, and some food colouring make the world of difference.
5. Mud Kitchen
Every afternoon, my youngest two cook up a storm in the ‘mud kitchen.’ Sometimes they make sand-pies and other times a pinecone stew – mmmm delicious! Whatever the children decide to put on the menu, they benefit hugely just from spending some time outdoors.
If you don’t have a mud-kitchen, I would highly recommend one. It needn’t be a store bought one like ours – there are plenty of tutorials online for making mud kitchens from wooden palettes for you handy types out there!
6. Play dough tracks
Play dough has so many benefits – most weeks we have a homemade batch that is being used in play. One of the easiest options for the very young is to provide some vehicles or animal figurines so that they can make tracks in the dough.
7. Wash the Baby
This was one of Z’s favourite sensory play activities when she was very young – we kept her baby bath and used it so she could wash her dollies instead. If you don’t have dolls, just use animal figurines (or even cars) instead.
8. Paint Squish Bags
These bags are great for those days when you just can’t deal with a huge painty mess! Use them for colour recognition or to explore colour theory. If you’re concerned about plastic waste, try washing out the bags after use and reusing them for similar activities on another day – that’s what we do!
9. Dinosaur Swamp
A simple mix of food colouring and shaving foam is huge amounts of fun! Try this activity in the sink or bath to minimise the tidy-up time afterwards. We’ve never had a problem washing the food colouring off of skin or the bath afterwards, but if you’re worried. try using a smaller amount of dye.
10. Jelly Pond
Jelly is such a fun, sensory, sticky activity for little learners – plus it doesn’t matter at all if they eat some of it too! Try opting for food colouring + gelatin rather than the sugar-laden packs to avoid a massive sugar rush afterwards.
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