10 Mess-Free Sensory Learning Ideas To Try At Home

Stimulate their senses through play, without decorating your walls.

31/10/2016 10:31 | Updated 31 October 2016
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

Sensory play activities are a great way to keep your toddler amused without resorting to the lure of the TV. And more than that, they can play an important role in your child’s learning journey.

With kids’ TV available on-demand 24/7, it can be all-too-tempting to plonk your toddler on the rug and leave Mr Tumble et al in charge of the entertaining. But while there are plenty of shows that have some educational value, they don’t take account of one important factor: children learn through doing and exploring first-hand.

As such, sensory play can be considered an antidote to today’s passive screen-driven culture – focusing on the experiential aspect of play and sparking curiosity.

And don’t worry – if images of the post-play carnage are putting you off, there are plenty of activities that can stimulate the senses without decorating your walls (and child) in flour and paint.

  • Smell: Herb garden
    Jorn Georg Tomter via Getty Images
    Help them grow their own fragrant herb garden and allow them to pick, rub and smell the different scents. Choose bold, contrasting scents such as mint, rosemary, basil and lemon thyme. Take out a bowl of water and a wooden spoon and they can even create their own ‘magic potion’ by selecting the herbs and adding them to the mix.
  • Sound: Shoebox guitar
    Mike Dunning via Getty Images
    Cut a circular hole in the lid of a shoebox then wrap and fix six large elastic bands around the box as strings to create a DIY guitar for your pint-sized rock star. If you want to take things to the next level, you could even cut holes at either end of the box and push through an empty kitchen foil roll for the neck.
  • Touch: Spaghetti worms
    VeselovaElena via Getty Images
    Cooked spaghetti has a fascinating texture for children. It can represent anything from wiggly worms to seaweed. To ramp up the visual appeal as well as the tactile experience of squishing the spaghetti through their little fingers, you could consider adding a little natural food colouring to the cooking water. Or why not hide toys inside and have your little one rummage around for the ‘treasure’.
  • Taste: Sweet, sour or salty
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    Encourage your child to explore their taste buds by tasting sweet, sour and salty flavours, which will bring different areas of their mouth alive. Put honey, salt and lemon juice in different bowls and discover the concepts of sweet, salty and sour. Don’t go overboard - just a tiny amount is needed on a fingertip for your little one to experience the flavour. Steer clear of the raw chillies, though!
  • Touch: Sensory balloons
    Martin Child via Getty Images
    Create super-squeezy rubber stress balls by filling balloons with different materials, such as sand, dried beans or polystyrene balls, and have them explore the different textures. Make sure the balloons are sealed and knotted tight and that your toddler is supervised at all times as the contents of the balloons are potential choking hazards.
  • Sound: DIY musical shakers
    Lisa Stokes via Getty Images
    Create your own DIY musical shakers by filling plastic jars or containers with different objects, such as beads, buttons, sequins, pebbles and coins. Encourage them to listen to carefully to the different sounds the objects make. Remember to tape up the lids securely as these small objects can be a choking hazard.
  • Touch: Water play
    sodapix sodapix via Getty Images
    Kids love playing with water and bubbles - but winter doesn’t have to mean the end of wet play activities. Have playtime in the bath. No hair-washing or cleaning behind the ears - just lots of bubbles, toys and good, clean fun. Toddlers should never be left unsupervised in the bath.
  • Smell: What’s that smell?
    Larry Washburn via Getty Images
    Fill a number of plastic containers with strong-smelling items from the kitchen, such as coffee, cinnamon, and cumin, or rose petals and lavender from the garden, and have them guess the different aromas.
  • Sound: Tin can phone
    PIXTA via Getty Images
    It’s an oldie but a goodie: Connect two clean, empty tin cans with a long piece of string (ensure the cans have no sharp edges) and enjoy the acoustic effect of talking to one another on the ‘telephone’.
  • Touch: Rough with the smooth
    IvanJekic via Getty Images
    Create a texture board by cutting up scraps of different textured materials, such as sandpaper, corrugated cardboard, shiny plastic and fake fur, and have your toddler compare them.

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