If you have a preschooler at home, you’re always looking for ways to engage them like teamwork activities for kids. Ultimately, we’re always finding new ways to help your little one learn about the world around them. One of the most effective ways to do that is through sensory play.
Sensory activities for preschoolers are a type of play that engages any or all of the senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell.
Preschool sensory activities aren’t just a blast for you and your little one—they’re also a way to help them develop motor and cognitive skills while also boosting creativity and curiosity. There are endless options for at-home sensory activities using simple materials.
Keep reading for six of our favorite easy sensory activities, along with tips on how to make the most of sensory playtime.
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses. But which senses exactly? That question can vary a bit depending on how you think of sensory exploration. We all know the basic five:
These are the senses that go with our most obvious sense organs: the skin, nose, tongue, ears, and eyes. But humans have many other sensory systems throughout our brains and bodies that let us perceive things like:
- Hot and cold
- Movement and position (proprioception)
So sensory play can also include movement, dance, balance activities, and much more. Anything that helps young children learn about their body and how it relates to the world around them can be a sensory activity.
Why Is Sensory Play Important?
Sensory play supports your child’s development in a variety of ways. When children are young, their brains are building connections rapidly—up to one million new connections every second. The senses play a big part in forming these pathways.
Sensory play can build:
- Language skills – New experiences help kids stretch their vocabulary to describe what they’re sensing and thinking.
- Motor skills – Sensory activities can build both fine motor skills (grasping, pinching, pouring, stirring, cutting), and gross motor skills (balance, coordination, jumping, lifting).
- Cognitive skills – Problem-solving, experimentation, cause and effect, and logic can all be included in sensory play. You can suggest sorting (“Pull out all the soft toys”), measuring (“Which piece is biggest?”), matching (“Let’s find everything red”), and much more.
6 Sensory Activities for Preschoolers
You don’t need expensive toys or equipment to create a sensory-rich environment for your preschooler—just a little creativity and supplies around the house. And once you get started, you’ll think of more and more ways to create things such as fun outdoor learning activities to build sensory playtime into everyday life for young children.
To fire your imagination, here are our top six preschool sensory activity ideas.
#1 Kinspiration Kits
Not sure where to get started with sensory activities that fit your child’s age and developmental stage? We’ve taken the guesswork out with Kinspiration Kits.
Each kit is packed with items to kick off creative sensory play while building important emotional skills like mindfulness, social play, and overcoming setbacks. Choose from your favorite characters like Yeti, Bigfoot, and Dragon, and read the included social emotional growth books together to set the stage. Then let your child explore supplies for imaginative play, artwork and crafts, building, and more.
#2 Homemade Instruments
Making musical instruments out of household items is a tried-and-true sensory play favorite. Music is a sensory exploration that stimulates hearing and helps build a rhythm, practice counting, and develop cognitive skills.
Easy rhythm instruments you can create at home include:
- Shakers – Fill a variety of empty containers with beans, rice, or pebbles. Tape on the lid, and let your child experiment with shaking softly, shaking hard, slow, fast, etc.
- Drums – Any hollow item around the house can make a satisfying drum sound. Collect pots and pans, bowls, and cans, and let your child try tapping with fingers, wooden spoons, sticks, and so on. Talk about how different shapes, sizes, and materials make different sounds.
- Rainsticks – You’ll need the cardboard tube from paper towels or wrapping paper for this one. Use duct tape or paper to cover one end of the tube, then pour in a handful of rice or beans. Traditional rainsticks have sharp thorns inside to make the rain sound. For a preschooler-friendly version, crumple a long piece of aluminum foil into a spiral and place it inside the tube. Tape the other end shut, and enjoy the sound of rain indoors.
#3 Flour Sensory Trays
A flour sensory tray is a sensory material that is quick and easy to make. You’ll only need a baking tray or other large, flat container and some flour. Spread flour on the tray, and add food coloring or glitter for extra interest in the different textures if you like.
- Provide spoons, forks, brushes, and cookie cutters to make different shapes and marks in the flour
- Try writing letters or numbers in the flour for your child and have them trace the shape with their finger or a tool
- Talk about how the flour feels and smells (avoid taste, since flour can be contaminated)
- Ask questions – What do you notice about the flour? What color is it? What else is that color?
#4 Sensory Water Bottles
Kids love playing with water, but when you want to keep the house dry, or it’s too cold for outdoor water play, a sensory water bottle is a perfect solution.
You’ll need a clear plastic bottle with a lid and items to put inside. You can use items that float or sink (glitter, beads, sequins, pom poms, buttons, and so on).
- Fill the sensory bottle with water and the items you choose, leaving some air space at the top
- Cap tightly, and use glue or wrap the lid with tape to prevent leaks
- Add food coloring for colorful water
- Add oil or glycerin to make the water more viscous and change how the items move
Once the bottle is done, let your child roll it, tilt it, shake it, and turn it. Talk about the sensory activity by asking them what they can see and feel:
- How do different items move?
- How does the water sound?
- What do you see when the light goes through the water?
#5 Freeze Toys in Ice
Freezing toys is one of many effective sensory play activities for exploring hot and cold, hard and soft, melting, and more. All you need is a few small toys that can fit in ice cube trays, or a larger container for bigger toys like cars or dinosaurs.
As you play with the frozen toys together, talk about how ice melts, what can make it melt faster, and so on. Try melting the ice faster with salt for a mini science experiment.
#6 Do a Taste Test
Taste tests are an exciting sensory experience that introduces young children to different flavors and textures. The best part? They’re a perfect strategy to encourage young kids to try new foods.
To do a taste test:
- Prep your foods – Choose foods with different textures (crunchy, soft, smooth) and tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, etc.). Cut into small pieces.
- Close or cover their eyes – If your child doesn’t like being blindfolded, just have them close their eyes while you put the food in their mouth. You can also use deep cups or bowls to keep food out of sight.
- Talk about taste – If you used dough, ask them to describe how it feels and tastes in their mouth, then ask them to guess what it is. If you’re trying to discourage picky eating, you may want to avoid discussing “yuck” and “yum” and stick with descriptive words instead.
- Mix it up – You can either show them the foods first and then have them guess what they’re tasting, or keep the foods a surprise. Younger kids may need to see the foods first to guess successfully.
Tips to Remember While Playing With Your Kid
Sensory play is one of the best ways for your child to experience new sensations, but it can also lead to messy play. Here are some tips to keep sensory activities fun, safe, and enjoyable for everyone:
- Supervise at all times – Many sensory materials can be choking hazards if ingested or may not be appropriate to eat, like slime and playdough. Adult supervision is essential during sensory play.
- Prep beforehand – Make cleanup less of a headache by choosing an area that’s easy to clean and free of clutter. Gather your supplies before you start, and make sure you and your child have room to move around. A plastic tablecloth under your child’s chair makes cleanup quick and easy.
- Ask open-ended questions – Stimulate your child’s language and thinking skills by asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Instead of “Does it feel cold?” try, “How does it feel?” Ask questions that encourage creative thinking and exploring. “What does it remind you of?” or “What else could we do with it?” or “What would happen if you…”
- Get involved – Don’t let your child have all the fun! Model curiosity and engagement by actively joining in. Show different ways to use the materials, then let them try. Be sure to watch their actions and try it their way too—it’s a great way to model learning from each other.
- Talk about what you’re doing – As you try sensory activities together, try to incorporate lots of new words while associating them with the experience: smooth, cool, slippery, rough, bumpy, and so on.
Explore the World of Sensory Play With Slumberkins
Sensory activities are a key part of your preschooler’s cognitive and motor development. Plus, activities that link the senses with emotions are powerful ways to build skills like mindfulness and self-regulation. This makes each fun sensory activity the perfect opportunity for you and your child to bond and learn together.
For more sensory play ideas and resources, visit the Slumberkins Caregiver Resources collection today.
We have a world of books, activities, affirmations, and cuddly characters designed to help your child get to know their senses and feelings. With Slumberkins, your child can play and grow in every way.
- Cleveland Clinic. What is sensory play? The benefits for your child and sensory play ideas. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/benefits-of-sensory-play-ideas/
- Johns Hopkins University Press. How many senses do we have? https://www.press.jhu.edu/newsroom/how-many-senses-do-we-have
- Harvard University Center for the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/