What is Sensory Play, and What are the Benefits?

What is sensory play and what are the benefits of this for children? This is a basic introduction with suggestions of materials to explore for children aged 0-3, 3-5 and 5-10.


Sensory play is a topic that really interests me. My 4 year old Mr T has Autism and as with most children on the Autism Spectrum, that comes along with sensory issues. Mr T tends to be hyposensitive to sensory input, meaning that he is under sensitive to it and can be sensory seeking. Whether children are hypersensitive (over sensitive), hyposensitive, or neurotypical children with no sensory issues – sensory play is beneficial to every child to help them to understand the world around them.

Sensory play is often thought of just as messy play, and although lots of sensory play ideas can be messy – it is not just all about messy play but any play involving the senses.

  • Tactile – Touch, like exploring textures
  • Gustatory – Exploring Taste
  • Visual – Sight which could be exploring colours and light
  • Auditory – Exploring Sound
  • Olfactory – Exploring Smell and Scent
  • Vestibular – Exploring Balance
  • Proprioceptive – Exploring the relative position of your own body

All of this sensory play helps with creativity, problem solving, and supports children’s brain development!

Here’s a quick list some of ideas to get some inspiration at a glance, if stuck for something to do!


Ideas for 0-3

  • Treasure Baskets
  • Exploring textures with their hands – paint, shaving foam, jelly, spaghetti etc
  • Light boxes
  • Nature walk to feel the wind on their face and explore the grass and trees
  • Edible paint (recipe is on the imagination tree)
  • Playdo
  • Exploring different textured balls
  • Foam pieces stuck on a window with water
  • Nature hunts, and make a collage
  • Popping pom poms through holes in containers
  • Baby massage
  • Listening to music

Ideas for 3-5

  • Treasure Baskets
  • Making instruments from Pea shingles, Lentils or Dried rice to explore cause and effect
  • Burying treasure in a sand box
  • Exploring light with torches and different coloured cellophane
  • Gloop from soap flakes and boiled water – left to cool over night
  • Spagetti as paint brushes
  • Hands in paint or finger printing
  • Painting with frozen paint ice cubes
  • Bringing stories to life with props or musical instruments
  • Experimenting with different flavoured and coloured drinks
  • Mark making in sand (even better with shiny card underneath, exposed when marks are made)
  • Making crayons (from broken crayon pieces, shape them and then bake)
  • Removing objects from science putty
  • Experimenting with moving sand on a sheet
  • Colour spotting walk with paint cards – to find the matching colours in nature

Ideas for 5-10

For this age group, the idea is more about adding a sensory focus to an idea or experience. I find my almost 5 year old often likes to use the textures or different sensory items as a background for his imaginary play rather than just experiencing the senses for its own sake. Sensory play can be incorporated into a lot of science and learning for this age group. Play can be linked to an idea or topic, or special interest of the child and then sensory elements incorporated into that.

  • Spellings in shaving foam
  • Fill containers with spices or herbs and identify the smells. You can make 2 of each and challenge them to find the pairs.
  • Make fossils by imprinting shells, bits of plant or plastic dinosaurs into Playdo. You can then bake and hide in sand.
  • Any form of cooking or baking
  • Making elf or fairy doors from wood or any natural items you can find
  • Building bridges with wood or bricks
  • Floating or sinking activities, with different items in water
  • Making a lego boat to float on water
  • Lay coloured paper on the floor outside and put objects on it to explore the shadows and silhouettes
  • Make a sensory car track, driving through mud, sand, leaves, dried rice, slime or any other texture
  • Blindfold taste test games
  • Making gloop or borax
  • Colour mixing with paint
  • Making dens
  • Cinnamon sticks for number bonds
  • Excavating frozen dinosaurs or other toys from blocks of ice
  • Growing crystals
  • Large scale junk play, or loose parts play

For even more ideas, Sue Gascoyne of Play to Z has a book on Treasure Baskets and Beyond – Realizing the Potential of Sensory-rich Play (Buy on Amazon UK / US)

Ideas for things to use or explore

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Ice
  • Pinecones
  • Conkers
  • Glass cubes or beads
  • Water beads (use with care these are dangerous to babies if put in their mouth)
  • Sticks
  • Torches
  • Underwater lights
  • Fairy lights
  • Natural Wood
  • Cotton Wool
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Playdo
  • Shells
  • Mud
  • Pea shingles, Lentils or Dried rice
  • Coloured foil or cellophane
  • Soap flakes
  • Shaving foam
  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Oats
  • Spices
  • Lemon or lime
  • Fabric
  • Silk
  • Glitter or sequins
  • Stones
  • Seedpods
  • Matchsticks
  • Metallic surfaces
  • Fibre optic lights
  • Pom Poms
  • Organza and streamers
  • Crazy Soap

For more in depth examples, check out our sensory play resource post where I share many sensory activities that I’ve enjoyed with my kids.

The ideas and activities are endless really and this is just a taste, but hopefully it will help you out if you are ever stuck for a sensory activity to occupy your little ones! If anyone has any ideas that I have forgotten, which you would love to recommend – please share it in the comments, and feel free to tell me which ones you and your children enjoy!

If you have blog posts or pictures of sensory play ideas that you have done with your kids, why not share them with us on the In The Playroom Facebook page, by posting them on the wall. 


34 thoughts on “What is Sensory Play, and What are the Benefits?”

  1. Really great post. Sometimes I forget as my kids are getting older (11 and 7) that they still need this kind of focused play exploring the various senses. I think we tend to focus on sensory play when the kids are little and just beginning to explore the world, but we forget with the older ones! I’m visiting from the Way Back Wednesday Linky Party and I’m now following you.


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