'Focus on' Friday: Sensory Play

I once worked with a boy who was a little challenging, let's say. He would come to our room every morning straddled by his mum so he didn’t run into traffic. When she let go of him, he would run around the room, messing up what the other children were playing with and generally causing havoc and unsettling everyone.

I set up a big trough full of warm soapy water and added some plastic dishes, a dishcloth and a scrubbing brush. That little boy loved it. He stopped running and spent over an hour at the trough every morning. He’d wash the dishes and dry them and then wash them again. He wouldn’t let any one else play with him. It was his little space.

He came from a busy family and had a young baby brother. I think the water was extremely soothing for him and for me, this is the biggest benefit of sensory play. It’s soothing and fun and nice and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, it just is.

Of course, sensory play has a lot of other great benefits too:

Pouring, scooping, digging, squelching and scraping is great for fine motor skills

Answering questions like how does that feel, smell, taste or sound? encourages descriptive language and encourages your child to reflect on what she is experiencing.

Experiencing the world through her senses helps brain development as each new experience builds new neural pathways. Providing a great foundation for all future learning.

And getting messy is fun, fun, fun!

(By the way, if you'd like to read more about brain development, there's a great article by the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities called "Brain Development in Early Childhood". You can read it here)

So what are some great sensory play ideas?

Sensory play is not always messy of course. Playing games where you guess a smell or a sound or a taste are fun and no mess is needed.

Dancing and moving and playing instruments uses many of the senses and doesn’t get too messy either.

Having a bowl on a table with different objects form nature to look at and feel and smell is pretty contained too.

But my favourite sensory play experiences do involve a little bit of mess. Things like:

Water Play

Sand Play




Goop (cornflour and water)

Slime (soap flakes and water)

Shaving cream and


Or letting babies loose in their high chair with yoghurt, fruit and vegetable purees or simple spreads (like Vegemite here in Australia) on toast. Here are some photos of my messy babies in times gone by

For Toddlers and Preschoolers you can add the following for extra messy play fun:














Plastic animals


Wash cloths

Don’t forget bath time is a great time for sensory play and cooking provides some great sensory experiences too.

We like to get messy and make schnitzels, meatballs, gingerbread, chocolate chip cookies, cakes, pizza dough and this tasty bread and blueberry pudding together. To name just a few.

What are your favourite sensory play moments?

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