The Purpose of Sensory Play | Still Playing School

The Purpose of Sensory Play

By Devany | Labels: ,

If you're a regular reader, you know that we've been doing sensory bins since E was a year and a half old.

With D, we started a bit younger at 4 months old!  Baby's first sensory bin (With close supervision, of course, but he wasn't successfully getting things to his mouth yet!):

When I posted a picture of this corn sensory bin recently, I had a friend ask for an explanation.  Invite me to talk about the importance of early childhood sensory play?  How long do you have to listen?!!  

Incorporating as many senses as you can into any play or learning is always the best way to retain information.  The more senses that are engaged, the more connections are made in the brain to help us retrieve information later.  For example, scents have always brought back some of my strongest memories of Violet.

Sensory play is built around this same concept.  Let's look at how we can engage all senses.

Sight - All sensory bins seem to be visually appealing!  They can be hard to resist for both children and adults!  We frequently add magnifying lenses to our bins so we can investigate our materials extra closely.  Mixing colors, transparent or reflective objects, and light tables are all great ways to engage and vary sight experiences for sensory play.  

Sound - The sound of pouring and dumping can be so soothing!  Sensory bins can also be loud (E likes to put the corn in a container, put the lid on it, and shake it up to make "popcorn!"), whisper quiet (cotton balls) or crunchy (breaking pasta).  

Touch - The textures of sensory materials are one of the biggest motivations for kids to dig in (literally)!  We love running our hands through water beads, uncooked lentils, and sand.  We've also played with both warm (water, water beads) and cold (snow, ice) sensory bins.

Taste - Especially with little ones, it is important to occasionally fill sensory bins with items that can or should be tasted!  We've played with pudding and jello and tasted clean snow!

Smell - Some materials smell great themselves (cake mix) but you can also add essential oils or spices to other sensory play experiences (gingerbread play dough).  

One of the most valuable parts of engaging children in sensory play is the multiple ways they will be using the small muscles in their hands and wrists.  This fine motor practice gets them ready to use their hands for other specific tasks like eating with utensils, writing, cutting, dressing themselves, and using a computer.   Every time they pinch, pour, stir, twist, fill, dump, and use tweezers they are working these valuable muscles!

Sensory play is messy by nature which is part of what makes it so great!  If this bothers you (like it sometimes worries Mr. Still Playing School in our house) just remind yourself (or him) that there is so! much! learning going on!  It's a worth while mess, I promise.  We also have done tons of modeling desired behavior (another great excuse to play WITH kids) and talking about sensory bin rules.  If materials spill out, we put them back before continuing our play.  If we throw or spill on purpose (and we are indoors) after being asked not to do so, that means it's time for the bin to take a break.

We've used sensory play to learn about holidays, sorting, patterns, vocabulary (think of all the words you say as you describe everything your senses are taking in), measuring, counting, and colors. We'll be creating several bins this summer to learn about specific themes as we continue to home school preschool.  I am grateful that sensory play has been large portion of E's education so far.  I look forward to continuing these bins that we all love and watching D grow with them as well.

What sensory bins have you created with your kids?   Which ones have been their favorites and yours?


  1. I love this post! Sometimes I forget how beneficial sensory play is because it's also just so much fun!

  2. I look after an autistic boy and his favourite sensory bin has uncooked macaroni mixed in with old buttons, glass pebbles, odds and ends like counters and old dice, bottle tops and small containers he can fill up as he likes to then pour the contents over his other hand from a height and watch the pieces fall through his fingers.
    Thanks for so many other great ideas we can now try too!!