Sensory play is any activity that engages your child’s senses. This includes the classic 5 senses (sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch) plus body awareness and balance. You’ve probably seen your momma and teacher friends post sensory play ideas on Pinterest, but how can your child benefit from sensory play? And how can you engage your child in sensory play without breaking the bank?

On a surface level, sensory play can be used to learn different attributes about the senses (i.e. hot, hold, slimy, bright, loud, quiet). Sensory play also begins to develop memory and recall about these particular attributes. Play that engages multiple senses helps to build new pathways and connections in the brain, which will let your child complete more and more complex learning tasks as she grows. Exposure to different sensations in safe, supportive, and fun environment can help children with sensory processing disorders become more comfortable integrating these sensations into real life. For example, sensory play involving sound can make sound sensitive kids more likely to be able to tune out distracting, scary, or frustrating sounds while they’re doing things like interacting with peers or completing schoolwork. Sensory play involving textures may help problem feeders be more accepting of a wider variety of foods and textures since she’ll have previous experience with that texture. Finally, sensory play can calm anxiety and reduce frustration that might otherwise come out as rage.

There are tons of cool sensory toys available and lots of schools create elaborate and creative sensory play experiences for students, but you can DIY some sensory play experiences at home with things you have on hand. Here are 4 of my favorites:

1.Scented Rice — If you have an herb garden, this is a great way to use extra herbs. You can also make a large batch of scented rice and store what you don’t use now for use in the future. Lavender and rosemary are two favorites for making sensory rice. Ask your child to help you make the rice before she uses it to play with. The rice can be colored with liquid paint if you’d like. Then pull the buds off of the flowers or the leaves off of the stems of your herb of choice and mix into the rice. The rice can be placed onto a tray or into a bin. Provide scoops, spoons, bowls, etc. for playing with the rice. You can also provide whole stalks of the herb, too.

2.Rain Sticks — Rain sticks are a cool way to play with sound. It’s fun to make these together as a family. You’ll need cardboard tubes, paper grocery bags, rubber bands, paint, and things to fill the tubes with. Start by painting the cardboard tubes if you’d like. Then, cut out two circles each (larger than the opening of the tubes) from the paper bags. Use a rubber band to fasten the paper circle over one end of the tube. Filler options include beans, rice, pennies, differently shaped pipe cleaners, etc. it’s fun to experiment with how different combinations sound. Once your tube is partially filled (you’ll want room for the contents to shift and make rain sounds), cover the other end with the other paper circle and fasten with a rubber band.

3.Slime — Slime is so awesome for tactile sensory play and can be made colorful and sparkly. Again, slime is so fun to make together. You’ll need borax, school glue, and water. You can use food coloring and glitter if you want. Mix 1/4 of the school glue and 1/4 cup of water. If you want to add color or glitter, mix these in next. Add 1/4 cup of borax and mix. You’ll probably want to use your hands to mix so that you can make sure the borax is able to penetrate the water/glue mixture.

4.Themed Bins — These require a little more work, but if your child is older, she can help, you set them up and create/gather materials for them. These are also great to go along with school themes if you’re homeschooling. One of the best parts of sensory bins is that your child can be messy while she plays, but the mess will be contained in the bin. The possibilities are endless. You can do a beach theme with shells, water, and sand; add in plastic sea creatures for extra fun. You can do a farm theme with hay, corn, farm toys, and even homemade buildings. You can use items that relate to a favorite book or a school theme. Depending on the age of your child, she may just want to touch the components, watch what happens when she mixes them, and listen to the sounds they make or she may want to engage in pretend play.

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The views expressed in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition and should not be substituted for medical or nutritional advice.