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Want to know how playing with squishy textures can help your child’s development?

Find out how sensory play encourages discovery and independent thinking, and helps toddlers or preschoolers learn about their senses.

There are lots of really simple sensory activities you can try, like encouraging your child to touch varied textures and shapes. You can also play different types of music and sounds. Here are some suggestions you can make at home with things you’ve probably already got lying around, and they can be adapted to suit your child’s age and stage too.

1. Sensory bowls

Filling bowls with a selection of cold foods is a great way for your little one to explore different textures – just keep a close eye in case anything sneaks into their mouth. You can cover the bowls with a cloth if you like, let your child dip their hands in and rummage around, and have them guess what each food is just by touching it. No peeking!

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Jelly
  • Sliced bananas
  • Cooked, cold spaghetti
  • Carrot sticks
  • Marshmallows
  • Cold baked beans
  • Dry rice

2. Textured playdough

Soft, squidgy playdough has long been a sensory play favourite with little ones, helping them develop fine motor skills, build strength in their hands, and increase coordination. Make your own playdough or buy it ready-made and get creative with different objects to poke and prod the dough – and be sure they know playdough is not for eating!

Playdough ideas to try:

  • If you’re making your own dough, try adding cinnamon or spices for a scented sensory element
  • Use plastic alphabet and shape cutters
  • Prod soft feathers or straws into the dough – pipe cleaners work well for making mini creepy crawlies
  • Googly eyes – perfect for creating playdough friends

3. Water basin

This is another brilliant, simple sensory play idea that can be adapted for your child’s age and stage. Fill a washing-up tub with water and add fun tools and toys, then encourage your toddler to explore and experiment. With your help, older babies will also enjoy tools like scoops and funnels for open-ended, imaginative play – but make sure you never leave any child unattended with water, even for a moment.

Ideas to try:

  • Rubber ducks and other plastic toys
  • Funnels, scoops, spoons and buckets
  • Food colouring – add drops of colour in front of your little one, and watch their amazement as it slowly seeps into the water
  • Brave the mess and swap water for coloured jelly to add an extra touchy-feely element

4. Sensory bin

Just fill a washing-up bowl or plastic box with plenty of cotton wool (pulled-apart cotton wool pleats work especially well for this), and add in props like plastic insects, shells, ribbon, sticks – little ones of all ages will love feeling the soft wool, and finding all the hidden surprises in it! You can even swap cotton wool for other fillers like sand, rice and feathers to encourage their discovery of different textures. Make this into a game for older children by encouraging them to count how many of an object they can find in the bin!

It’s worth remembering that sensory play is meant to be messy, so try not to tell your child off for making a mess! Putting a plastic tablecloth down beforehand can help keep things clean.

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