Looking for fresh ideas for exploring The Five Senses with your class? Then this list is the #1 place to start! Over 50 playful ideas for exploring the senses, sorted into categories for each of the senses – smell, touch, sight, sound and taste! These ideas are also perfect as invitations or provocations for sensory play at home or school!
But first, what is so important about exploring with the senses anyway?
From the moment a baby is born (and even before birth), they are absorbing information about world through the five senses – what they see, hear, touch, smell and taste. What adults often don’t realise is how important this sensory learning continues to be – through toddlerhood and the early years of school. It has to do with brain development!
Put simply – babies are born with a brain full of neurons and learning about the world through the five senses develops pathways between these neurons. The more of one type of activity stimulating the senses that the baby (and child) experiences, the stronger the pathway becomes. The stronger the pathway, the easier it is for a child to learn more about that part of the world, not just for now but for life. Pathways which are not used often, will eventually disappear.
Let me give you an example. A baby is born into a bilingual home, one parent speaks English and the other French, and the child grows up learning both of these languages . This child has developed brain pathways which a child who only speaks English has not. Once both of these children have grown to adulthood, which will find it easier to learn a new language? The first one. For the second child, these pathways have not been reinforced so by around the age of 10 years of age, the pathway disappears. It does not mean the second child cannot learn a new language as an adult, it may just be more challenging for him to do so.
By providing babies, toddlers and young children with a wide range of experiences which involve their five senses, you develop these strong brain pathways. Pathways which will help them to learn at preschool, through formal schooling and onto adulthood.
A GIANT List of Sensory Play Ideas
1. Scent a batch of homemade playdough. You can add vanilla, peppermint or other cooking essences, spices such as cinnamon, or even a little dissolved, instant coffee. Try our Best Ever Scented Playdough Recipe or our Lemon & Rosemary Scented Playdough.
2. Grow a garden or small world together. Growing herbs is a great place to start as they offer a fabulous range of smells. You will also find more great suggestions in our list of playful plants for children’s garden spaces.
3. Visit a fish market or a florist.
4. Play a simple smelling game by stretching the leg of a pair of opaque tights over the top of a plastic cup in which you have hidden a smelly surprise. Cut onion, peanut butter, coffee, vinegar, lemon and peppermint are all great smells to explore.
5. Head outdoors to collect flowers, interesting leaves, nuts and seed pods to use to create your very own colourful, nature collage.
6. While you are having fun outside, why not make some magical potions too!
8. Have fun scooping and pouring with rice play.
9. Make daisy chains or floral crowns.
10. Cover the windows of the room in sheets of coloured cellophane. As the sun shines through, have fun watching your room (and everything within it) change colour.
11. Try bubble blower painting.
12. Fill clear plastic water bottles with water, a little food colouring and glitter for a delightful sensory bottle for toddlers.
13. Create a treasure hunt in a bottle, using rice, small buttons or beads, popcorn kernels, lentils or coffee beans, with small objects from around your home.
14. Play ‘What’s missing?’ with your preschooler.
15. Give your toddler a large plastic bowl with a little water in the bottom, a squeeze of dishwashing liquid and a whisk for bubble making fun.
16. Try plastic bag colour mixing.
17. Make folded paint monsters.
19. Head outdoors for a nature walk. Add this simple scavenger hunt for natural elements for toddlers and preschoolers.
20. Create your own scratch art drawing sheets for a colourful drawing activity.
21. During tummy time, prop a mirror in front of your baby. Make faces representing a range of emotions in front of the mirror with your toddler or preschooler.
22. Everything looks better with a touch of sparkle, including this Edible Glitter Finger Paint.
23. Make your own Silly Putty and try one of these great play ideas – they’re great for finger strengthening and co-ordination.
24. Fingerpainting on bubble wrap is lumps and bumps of fun!
25. Fill a child’s paddle pool with shredded paper to dive into. Hide animal figurines amongst the paper for treasure hunt fun.
26. Make a sensory treasure basket, choosing household items representing a range of textures. Check out these ideas: Shiny & Reflective Basket, Treasure Baskets & Discovery Boxes for kids of all ages.
27. Have fun with these five touch games.
28. Brrrr! Ice painting is super cool!
29. Have fun exploring Funfetti Playdough with coloured rice.
30. Make a textured fabric ‘scarf’ for your baby to explore.
31. Make Rainbow Snake Pots from plasticine.
32. Set up a toy washing station for your favourite cars or figurines.
33. Water play has to be the ultimate in sensory play for kids! Check out these 10 ideas for extending water play.
35. This ‘Don’t Ring the Bells’ obstacle course is oodles of fun!
36. Play a listening guessing game. Pop a box between you and your child and hiding the objects, make a sound with a household item for them to guess what it is. Try crinkling a plastic cup, shaking a container of rice, scrunching up a piece of paper or playing a percussion instrument. Then check out this collection of 5 more fun listening games.
37. Play simple percussion instruments together. Play fast and slow, loud and soft, make a long sound and then a short sound. Find more ideas for playing with sound in this post.
39. Listen to audio stories in the car or at rest time.
40. Put on some music and dance with these ideas for creative movement with preschoolers.
41. Play hide and seek and gently shake a bell or shaker as a clue to where in the house you are.
42. Make tin can telephones and phone a friend!
43. Search your home or classroom for threading treasures and make your own wind chimes.
44. Host a Blind Taste Test next time your children are helping in the kitchen.
45. Taste sour lemons and then make them sweet with this fabulous recipe for homemade lemonade.
46. Cooking with a toddler or preschooler is a great way to introduce them to a range of taste sensations. Remember to cook both savoury and sweet recipes. Start with these 10 ideas for easy things to cook with kids or this one here.
47. Finger paint with custard, mousse, jelly or instant pudding.
48. Taste wedges of a range of citrus fruits – lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, mandarin/clementine – or melon – watermelon, honeydew melon, canteloupe. Older children can rate them according to sweetness or graph the favourites for the class.
49. Make a tasting plate of water crackers and dips – hommus, french onion dip, guacamole, tomato salsa, basil pesto and cream cheese are all easy and child friendly. You can even turn your taste testing into a matching game!
50. Visit a local farmer’s market. Taste fruits and vegetables on offer, fresh juice, an organic bacon roll, fresh baguettes or croissants.
51. Does sight affect your sense of taste? This Jelly Bean Taste Test Experiment will keep you guessing!