Sensory experiences are crucially important for early years development. From birth, babies learn through first hand experiences which are entirely dependent on the senses. As children get older, their brains allow them to develop new ideas but yet these are still largely dependent on first hand experiences. Sensory experiences will help children develop in the areas of Understanding of the World, Communication and Language, Expressive Arts and Design and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. Plus, our little ones get to have loads of fun!
Items found in sensory rooms can be very expensive – bubble tubes, plasma balls etc. But you don’t need to spend a vast amount of money – lots of sensory experiences can be created with a few simple ingredients. Some of these may get a little messy so if you can’t do them outdoors be prepared to cover the floor (and the children!). Parents tend to be particularly grateful that their child does messy play with you because they don’t feel so bad if they don’t do it at home.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Make gloop – mix cornflour and water until you get the consistency you want. Add food colouring if you like and then let the children get messy with it!
2. Spread paint or shaving foam on a table or in a builder’s tray and let the children go for it – great for early mark making! As an extension of this add other textures such as sand or sawdust. The children may not like this addition at first but that is the point - they need to experience these things to find out what they do and do not like.
3. Mud or sand – let children experiment with these both dry and wet. Then mix them up!
4. Use food stuffs – let children play with cooked spaghetti, jelly, semolina, anything really! Feeling brave? Sit them in it!
5. Water play - This is a great one for providing a variety of experiences within one little tray. Let children experiment with different temperatures; add bubble bath; add food colouring; let children hold an ice cube in their hand; put ice cubes in the water. Better still, put coloured ice cubes in clear water and let the children watch as the ice melts, releasing colour.
6. Create experiences with light – hang CDs in the garden to catch the light. Put torches in a dark area.
7. Allow children to taste – give extremes of both flavour and texture. Blindfold your children and let them taste lemon, sugar, something spicy, mint, chocolate etc.
8. Have fun with smells – Have smelly pots each holding a different smell – bit of lemon / orange / mint / curry powder. Put foil over the top of each and make a hole for the children to smell the items through.
9. Make smelly playdough - add mint / lavender / lemon / almond.
10. Help children develop their listening skills with sound – make shakers filled with a variety of different items – sugar, rice, beans etc. (Pringles pots are a great one for this!) Go on a listening walk – what can you hear? Make sure you include both making noise and listening in your sound activities as they are both equally important.
Obviously with some of these activities you’ll need to check for allergies etc. Most importantly though, don’t forget to use these invaluable experiences to extend a child’s learning by bringing in new language: How does that feel/taste/smell? Can you describe it? Do you like it? Why?
Now, get your camera ready, be prepared to get messy and most of all, have fun!