Parents are scrambling for things to do with their children. Sensory activities are important for children, especially during the summer.

Don’t worry! I am all about simple and easy. These activities are seriously effortless, using materials that you have in your house. And it’s not just for kids! Arts and crafts can be relaxing and fun for adults to.

What is Sensory Play?

Children use their senses to explore, learn and make sense of the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing. Children (and adults) learn best and retain information when they engage all their senses.

Since children today are more sedentary and learning is often provided through media or in school, it is important to find opportunities for ‘sensory play’.

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing. It is crucial to brain development – it helps to build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways. When children engage in sensory play, they are better able to learn complex tasks, show cognitive growth, as well as improved language, motor, social and problem-solving skills.

Sensory play is also great for calming stressed and anxious children. Perhaps we can all use a little extra calm this summer.

Sensory (or Squishy) Bag

These sensory – or squishy bags as my students like to call them – are fun to make and use.

It helps kids get the sensory input they need while they are making them and also when they are playing with them. They are very calming for kids (and adults).

You need:

  • 1 gallon ziplock freezer bags
  • Hair gel
  • Little gems, sequins or pom poms, glitter
  • Food coloring
  • Colorful duct tape

This is a great activity to do outside, so you don't have to worry about the mess.

It's important to use freezer bags because they are a little thicker than the regular storage bags.

Squeeze the hair gel into the bag. Then add food coloring, gems, sequins, glitter and pom poms (your choice). Place duct tape all around the edges of the bag to make sure the seams don’t leak.

You are done. Have fun with it. If you’re an adult reading this; feel like a kid again! Make your own alongside your child. As mentioned above, doing arts and crafts is relaxing and there is a real calming feeling when you squish the bag.

Sensory Bag: Version 2:

Another variation of this is to use ¼ cup of baby oil or any other oil, and ¼ water in place of the hair gel.

Playdoh:

I love this activity. I used to do this with my children when they were little and I also make it often with my students. It’s very calming to mix and knead and play with playdoh. Again, it’s a great activity to do outside.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • Food coloring

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. It’s best to put the food coloring in with the water. However, if each child wants to make their own color, you can give them a piece of the uncolored dough and they can add the color of their choice.

Calming Jars or Glitter Jars:

I make these jars with my students at school. We call them calming jars or glitter jars. For children who need some help regulating their emotions, this can help. Watching the swirling patterns of glitter in the jars can help soothe and relax a child that is all wound up (Adults too!).

Kids love to shake them and watch the glitter settle to the bottom. It helps them to focus and destress.

What you need:

  • A jar or plastic bottle, a used water bottle will do
  • Warm water (I have done this with cold water as well, but the glitter glue dissolves a little bit better if the water is warm.)
  • Glitter glue
  • 3 drops of gel or regular food coloring
  • Glitter- different textures
  • Sequins

Add warm water to about ½ of your bottle. Add the glitter glue and stir until it combined with the water. Add around 3 drops of the food coloring and stir. You don’t want to put too much in or it gets too dark and you might not be able to see the glitter. Although, then it becomes a good opportunity to talk about mistakes (see below).

Pour in the glitter and sequins. Mix it well until combined with the existing mixture. Add the rest of the water. Leave a little gap at the top so the water can move. I like to put some glue in the cap so that the bottle stays closed.

Foam:

Kids love this activity. Bonus: Children’s hands are really clean after this one.

  • 2 tablespoons of dish washing liquid
  • 2/3 a cup of warm water
  • 2 drops of food coloring
  • Mixer or hand mixer

Add all ingredients to a bowl. Put on the mixer at the highest speed and let it whip the mixture for about 2-3 minutes. Kids love watching the foam develop in the mixing bowl. You can make a few batches in different colors.

I like to use this activity to teach children how they can manage their own sensory input and to respect other people’s sensory needs. I tell them: “I am going to put on the mixer in a minute. It sounds really loud! Some children don’t care about loud sounds they are okay with them. For some other kids it can be scary or just really hurt their ears. If it scares you or hurts your ears, make sure to cover your ears with your hands.

Other Simple Sensory Activities:

Some sensory activities that require minimum effort include:

  • water play
  • finger painting
  • rice boxes – put some rice in a bin with some small shovels and measuring cups and let your child play!
  • shaving cream – same as rice – put some shaving cream in a bin.
  • silly putty
  • stress balls/squishy balls

Kick it up a notch:

If you want to make this even more educational you can do the following as you play:

To help develop language skills:

Make sure to comment throughout your activity.

You can use action words like:

squeeze, pour,mush, smooth, turn, mix, stir, knead

You can work on describing words: names of colors, smooth, sticky, wet, dry, shiny, sparkly, big, little, warm, hot, cold

Help your children think:

I love getting kids use their critical thinking skills. You can put out all the craft materials and ask:

Can you guess what we are making today? What do you think?

I also like to use the opportunity to help them develop problem solving skills. You can ask:

What do you think is the best way to do this? What should we do first?

Oh no! We spilled! What should we do? How can we avoid this the next time we try?

Mistakes are good:

It is also a great time to reinforce that mistakes are opportunities to learn:

Oh boy, we made a mistake, that's too bad. I bet you if we try again, we will do a better job!

Mistakes happen! Let's clean up and start again!

Science anyone?:

You can add some science concepts into your play, especially when making the sensory bag with oil and water:

Can you shake the bag and get the oil and water to mix? Why not?

What happens if you leave it alone? I wonder why the oil rise to the top of the water?

Reading:

You can also use this to help children learn their letters – if you have mini letters or even alphabet pasta you can add it to the sensory bag or calming jar. Similarly, you can find small tiny items in the house, that start with a specific letter (Today we are making a sensory bag, celebrating the letter “R”).

Playdoh can be shaped into different letters as well. Depending on how old they are they can practice learning, how to spell their names or other simple words.

Just have fun:

Don't worry about teaching your child anything! Just let it go, enjoy, and have fun with your child. Not everything has to be turned into a lesson. It is the summer after all!