Tag Archives: senses

A Handful of Fun: Why Sensory Play is Important for Preschoolers

(Please, please, feel free to print and share this article with parents and teachers! Simply cite the source as Amanda Morgan, www.notjustcute.com.)

 Think of your average preschooler.  How long has this child been proficient with language?  Depending on the age, the child may not really be too proficient yet!  Others seem to have been talking non-stop since 2 1/2, but that means they’ve been talking now for all of…..about a year!  Now think of how long these children have been seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting.  Their whole lives!  Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one.  This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance.  The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.

This is why we must allow young children to learn through experience, not just lecture.  These children need to use their senses and be engaged in meaningful experiences.  As we talk with them about what they are observing and sensing, we give them new language tools to connect with these more familiar sensory tools, building language as well as supporting cognitive concepts specific to the experience. 

Now, the flip side to this equation is important to remember as well.  Just as children learn through their senses, they also are developing the ability to use those senses and are building the neurological pathways associated with each one.  With added sensory experiences, combined with the scaffolding of adults and peers, children become more perceptive.  Their sensory intake and processing becomes more acute.  As they are better able to use their senses, they are then better able to learn through their senses.

Sensory play is really part of the scientific process.  Whether out loud or within the internal dialogue of the mind, children have developed a question, leading them to investigate– by grabbing, smelling, listening, rubbing, staring, licking , what have you!  They are using their senses to collect data and from that, attempt to answer their own questions.  Whether or not young children are always able to verbally communicate this process, it is still a valid exercise in scientific inquiry.

The sensory table is the usually the first place people think of for sensory play.  That’s logical, as the term “sensory” is shared by both.  The sensory table certainly stands as an open invitation for hands-on exploration, but it is not the only place where the senses come into play.  Throughout the preschool room and throughout the preschooler’s day, there are appeals being made to the five senses.  The sound of toppling towers in the block area, the feel of finger-paint sliding under their fingertips, the glow of the Light Brite at the small manip table, the smell of cinnamon playdough.  As teachers, the more we can attend to the sensory involvement of our planned activities, the more our children will be engaged and the more they will learn. 

For example, when discussing the need for warm clothes in the winter time, we can simply tell children about it, or we can have them hold ice cubes, one in a bare hand, and one in a gloved hand, let them really feel the difference and then meaningfully attach a verbal discussion to the sensory experience.

Back at the sensory table, we can find many more benefits to sensory play.  That bin of sand, or foam, or colorful rice is more than just another way to keep kids busy, it is a bustling factory of developmental growth.  In addition to honing sensory and science skills, sensory play builds language, social, and dramatic play skills as the children negotiate with one another to share tools, create stories, and build dialogues.  Both small and large motor skills get a boost as well, as the children manipulate the medium and tools of the day.  Creative, divergent thinking is displayed as the children are essentially invited to explore and come up with new ways to use the materials.  Cognitive skills are fostered as well as the children learn about specific concepts pertinent to the bin’s contents.  Things like gravity, parts of plants, states of matter, and color mixing are easily explored and understood through sensory play.  As you teach appropriate boundaries with sensory play, children develop more self-control and body awareness.

As one of the truest open-ended activities, sensory play provides an opportunity for every child to succeed.  No matter whether you are gifted or delayed, learning a new language or mastering your first, you can’t really fail with a bin full of beans or a ball of playdough.  Children who struggle to succeed or who are apprehensive about failure often find solace in sensory play.  The simple act of pouring water or running fingers through rice is often cathartic and calming to many children who may be struggling emotionally.  It can soothe the nervous child, distract the homesick child, and serve as an outlet for the angry child.  For children with special needs and sensory integration disorders, sensory play may be particularly therapeutic.  (Please note that we must also avoid over-stimulation in many sensitive children.  Special attention must also be paid to children with sensory integration disorder and properly recognizing their thresholds.)

We often think of the sensory table as being a tactile activity, which it largely is, but the other senses come into play as well!  The tapping sounds of popcorn kernels hitting the bin, the pungent smell of baking soda and vinegar at work, the sight of separating colors as tinted water, oil, and syrup are mixed together are all sensory experiences that can be tapped at the sensory table.  Taste sometimes finds less desirable ways to sneak in at the table as well, though taste-tests can also be properly planned as fantastic sensory experiences!

Find ways to optimize sensory play for your children.  Whether that’s providing a bin of sand to explore, giving your child a dish wand and plastic dishes to “wash” at the sink, or finding ways to integrate the senses into your other activities, provide space and time for sensory play!  It’s a natural and satisfying way to explore and learn!

Links you might love:

Creating a Sensory Table on a Budget

Setting Boundaries with Sensory Play

How to Find Sensory Materials on the Cheap

Messy Play: Bubbles, Sand, Dough, and Water  (Great Sensory Play Ideas from lekotek)

Find more ideas for sensory activities by clicking on the sensory tags and categories at the right, or by entering “sensory” into the blog search engine!


Top photo by osmar01.

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Filed under Article, sensory activity

Shaky Egg Sound Match


Here’s a quick, easy, and inexpensive way (music to a teacher’s ears, right?)  to create a great tool for incorporating music and auditory discernment.  Whoa, back up the truck, what was that?  “Auditory discernment” is the ability to hear the differences and similarities between two sounds.  It can be as simple as hearing the difference between a bell ringing and a horn honking, but it’s also the groundwork for hearing the difference between the sounds in words, like the short e sound and the short i sound.  Phonemic awareness is a critical reading skill, and it is completely auditory.  So building auditory skills actually paves the way for reading skills.  OK, so back to the project at hand!

You’ll be making a set of shaky eggs with different sounds to be matched by the children.  If you haven’t made shaky eggs before, you really should- they’re so easy.  I explained the process way back here.  For this little project, make six different sets of eggs by using six different fillers.  You might want bells, coins, rice, popcorn, salt, and beads – just to name six off the top of my head.  Keep in mind that the amount in the egg affects the sound as well, so make pairs exactly the same, and consider differentiating pairs by having disparate amounts (one set with just one bead each, and another set with ten, for example).  To simplify, you may want to use just two colors of eggs, so that each pair has one of each color.  That just makes it easier for the children to match the sets, knowing they only have to check against six other eggs, not eleven. 

Now that you have six sets, you have an even dozen and can use a clean egg carton for your case.  Line up one color in one row and the other color in the other row.  Have the children pick one egg, give it a shake, and listen.  Then help the children shake the eggs in the other row, one at a time, until they find the other egg with the same sound.  Once a pair is found, they can put them side by side in the same carton, or in a second egg carton to keep confusion down!

There you have it!  I told you it was easy!  It’s a great sensory matching exercise, and you can always use the eggs for music time as well!

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!


Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, music and movement activity, sensory activity

Fruity Scented Kool-Aid Playdough

I love cinnamon scented playdough, which I listed here, but I also love the fruity scent of Kool-Aid scented playdough!  Adding an extra appeal to the senses could hardly be easier!  Start with the Classic Playdough Recipe.  Add a packet of Kool-Aid to the water before adding it to the pan.  Ta-da!  Simple, right?  Now, if you already have a batch of playdough made up, you can also knead the powder right into the dough.  It takes a bit of time to get it mixed through, but because it hasn’t been cooked, the scent may actually be stronger that way.  Just be sure that the powder has been worked in completely.  You may even want to let it sit overnight to be sure that the powder has been fully absorbed. 

I recently kneaded some grape Kool-Aid (OK, it was Flavor-Aid, I’m a cheap skate!) into some leftover glitter playdough.  The color intensified and the smell was fantastic!  Some of the children even watched the transformation and were excited by it, asking for more Kool-Aid to mix into other playdough batches.

Adding a scent to your playdough takes a tactile sensory activity and adds another sense, making it multi-sensory.  It is appealing to the children, literally inviting the children to come explore as the scent wafts across the room!  It is also a great way to extend a familiar activity.  In addition to sensory development, playdough play enhances creativity and fine motor strength.

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

For more food-themed activities, click here!


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity

Introducing the Five Senses!

My Five Senses Big Book

As I mentioned before, the purpose of teaching about the five senses in preschool is not for the children to be able to recite the five senses, but to build sensory awareness.  Whenever I introduce the five senses, I like to start out with the book, My Five Senses by Aliki.  It does a great job of simply introducing each of the senses, and then pointing out how we may use several of them at the same time, and that we use them to be aware of what’s around us.  It’s very brief, very simple, and right to the point.

After reading the book and discussing the senses a bit, I teach the Five Senses Song.  I start out with the Five Senses Song Cards  I have scanned in here.  (You are welcome to use them as long as you have already tried to draw some of your own and are absolutely sure you couldn’t do much, much better!)  I have five representing the five senses, and five representing the things we might experience with those senses (hopefully you can recognize what they are).  Using a pocket chart, I first set out the five senses cards, one at a time, and talk about what each one is.  Then I spread out the five object cards out of order and ask the children to try to match the sense to the object.  Now, of course this can create a bit of a debate as more than one sense could be used for each object, but debates can be good!  Once the senses and the objects are matched up, we sing the song.  (The verses don’t necessarily have to follow in this order.)

The Five Senses Song (Tune: The Farmer in the Dell)

Oh, I use my eyes to see, I use my eyes to see,

When I want to see the blue, blue sky, I use my eyes to see!

Oh, I use my ears to hear, I use my ears to hear,

When I want to hear the robin’s song, I use my ears to hear!

Oh, I use my tongue to taste, I use my tongue to taste,

When I want to taste a lollipop, I use my tongue to taste!

Oh, I use my nose to smell, I use my nose to smell,

When I want to smell the sweetest rose, I use my nose to smell!

Oh, I use my hands to touch, I use my hands to touch,

When I want to touch my dog’s soft fur, I use my hands to touch!

Remember that when you are teaching a new song, start at a natural pitch for the children, for most adults (especially altos like myself) that is probably just above your comfortable starting pitch.  Also, start out very slowly.  You can add speed as the children become more familiar with the song!

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

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Filed under Fingerplay, Learning through Play and Experience, music and movement activity, sensory activity

Unit Theme: Exploring the Arts through Our Senses

Introducing the new unit theme! Dat-da-da-dah!  “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses”! 

I know I may start every unit theme post this way, but I LOVE this theme!  Really, you could spend a whole year exploring the arts and the senses.  In my opinion, they are two key elements to any preschool program.  No matter what your theme is, it should rely heavily on exploration through as many senses as possible, and it should encourage expression through the arts.  So in this unit, I focus heavily on the interconnection of the two.  You could do a similar unit, or use some of these activities to bolster the arts/sensory components of another unit.

I start off, of course, by talking about the 5 senses.  Not so much with the purpose that the children can then recite the five senses, but so that they are aware of them as tools they can use to learn and explore.  We will use these senses (as well as other senses, such as the way we feel inside) as we explore the concept of art!

We also (probably a day or so after the 5 senses discussion) try to define the concept of “art”.  I ask the children what art is.  They typically start out their responses with “painting”, “drawing”, and “coloring”.  All great answers!  Then we expand the concept to include music, dance, writing, even clothing and food.  The definition of art is something that is constantly debated.  For preschool purposes, the basic, working definition I use (though you’re more than welcome to share your definitions here as well) is that art is anything we create using our own ideas.  It’s one way we share our ideas with others.  So when we have an idea about something we can build out of blocks, and we do it, that’s art!  When we have an idea for a new story and we tell it, or write it, that’s art!  When we hear beautiful music and we want to move our bodies and dance to show our ideas about what the music is about, that’s art too!  There are plenty of examples to give.  Use both famous art examples and examples that your children have experienced so that they can see that they are artists too!

Throughout the unit, we use our senses to really get into art!  We use paint we can see, but also feel and smell.  We make music we can hear, but also feel in our bodies and see as a vibration.  We even make art we can eat and art we can wear!  It’s so much fun!  So full of expression and experience, two ingredients that are vital to the preschool years!

Of course, with me, there are also objectives for this fun theme!  Here are just a few:

Concepts / Objectives

Subject Areas/Skills

  • Sensory Awareness & Development

Observation skills, Science Skills

  • Using Descriptive Words


  • Sound as a Vibration


  • Experimenting Creatively

Small Motor, Sensory, Divergent thinking

  • Exploring Music and Visual Art

Language, Sensory, Small & Large Motor, Creativity

  • Visual Perception

Observation skills, Prereading skills

  • Shapes, Colors, & Color-Mixing

Creative, Cognitive, Science, Math

Here is a list of the activities I’ll be posting on this topic.  As usual, they’ll all be linked back to this unit post.  (All unit themes to date, can be found by clicking the “Unit Themes” category heading.)

Large Group Activities:

Five Senses Song

Crayons in the Box

Examining Visual Art

Reality and Fantasy in Art

Art Table Activities:

Glitter Playdough

Scented Playdoughhere and here

Dot Art  – Check out these great tools from Discount School Supply!

Colored Salt and Paint Prints (combine these two activities here and here)

Stringing Jingle Jangle Bracelets – String beads and bells for a multi-sensory, wearable art project!

Shake Painting (You can use rocks as in the post, or bells, marbles, anything that will give a great sound!)

Wax Paper and Water Colors – Similar to white crayons and water colors.  Lay a piece of wax paper on the art paper and draw several designs (which will be imprinted in wax) before painting!

Easel Activities:

Salt Paint

Scented Paint

Markers and Water – Have the children draw with washable markers and then paint over with water for a water-color effect!

Sensory Table Activities:

Color Mixing

Pom Pom Grab

Colored Water, Tubes and Funnels

Colored Rice

Working Tables

Color Puzzles – Montessori Style

Magnetic Texture Collage

Geoshape pictures

Field Trips & Visitors 

Check out your local venues for museums, art shows, and concerts.  Some programs offer special viewings for classes.  Don’t overlook your parents either!  Many have great artistic talents they can share in a very kid-friendly way.  Bring in a painter, a musician, a seamstress, or a cake decorator!

Dramatic Play Ideas 

Create a museum with art pictures, magnifiers, clipboards, and of course a ticket booth.  Consider a stage set-up for some drama performers or a band!


Pretzels and Colored Cream Cheese

Fruit Art – Check out these fruity flowers, and come up with your own ideas too!

Cupcake Art-  Try this link for instructions on fondant-covered cupcakes.  Keep in mind you are working with young children here.  Just help them frost and cover the cupcakes and then set them loose with the edible playdough known as fondant.  Try this marshmallow fondant recipe for a cheaper, better-tasting alternative to those found in stores.  You can make it in the primary colors and then knead secondary colors!  Use cookie-cutters or mold and shape a sculpture topping.  Art and the sense of taste combined!

Book Activities:

Look! Look! Look! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (Paper cutting art)

The Dot by Peter H Reynolds (Dot Art)

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh (Wearable Art!)

My Crayons Talk by Patricia Hubbard (Story Art)

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora or Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! by Lloyd Moss (Kazoo Making)

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney (Rhythm Sticks)

 I may add to this list as time goes on, so check back!  And be sure to express yourselves and comment with your great ideas as well!

Top photo by flaivoloka.


Filed under Create, Unit Themes

Scented Playdough–Cinnamon Spice!


If you want great scented playdough, that smells like an actual, natural food scent, try this one out!  It’s probably my favorite scented playdough, in large part because it makes your whole room smell like a bakery!  In fact, you’ll have to remind your children that in spite of the great scent, it is still not for eating! 

Incorporating scented playdough engages the sense of smell along with the tactile experience of traditional playdough, making it a multi-sensory activity.  The added scent also enhances the dramatic play themes that often work their way into playdough activities, as children may begin making apple pie, cinnamon rolls, or their favorite cake.  Additionally, playdough enhances creative and small motor skills.

Cinnamon Spice Playdough

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

4 tsp cream of tartar or alum

5 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cloves

2 cups water

2 Tbsp. oil

(Food coloring if desired.  I like to leave it a natural cinnamon color.)

Combine the dry ingredients in a saucepan.  Add the water and oil and mix well.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture begins to thicken and form a stiff ball.  Remove from heat and knead when cooled enough to handle.  Store in a ziplock bag when cooled to keep from drying. 

Feel free to play with this recipe and make it your own!  In fact, please let us know here how you were able to make it better!

For more food-themed activities, click here!

Here are other playdough posts you may be interested in:

Glitter Playdough

Classic Playdough Recipe

Playing Around with Playdough


Photo courtesy of YappsCotta.


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity

Make a Texture Collage for Pictures They Can Feel!


 Many young children aren’t trying to make something when they do an art project.  They are trying to experience something.  They enjoy being in control of their project, making the choices about what to use and how to use it.  They enjoy the process of manipulating materials and watching their “canvas” change.  A texture collage is a great activity for those experiential artists, because it adds a tactile aspect to the activity.  Provide a wide array of materials with a variety of textures.  I usually just cut them in random, geometrical shapes, and provide scissors in case the children want to alter them.  Some favorite materials:  sandpaper (cutting it actually sharpens your scissors!), feathers, fuzzy fleece, tulle, corrugated cardboard (with one side peeled off, exposing the bumpy ridges), foil, tissue paper, silky fabrics, ribbons, acetate (overhead paper).  As the children glue the pieces on to their papers, you can ask them about which textures they like, and how they feel, exposing them to new vocabulary like rough, smooth, silky, bumpy, ridges, wrinkly, and more!  In addition to language skills, this activity promotes creativity, small motor skills, and sensory awareness.

Some children will turn this project into “something”, and that’s great too, but avoid asking them what they’re making, just ask them to tell you about what they’re making.  That way you’re not imposing an expectation that it be something, and they can simply explore and create in an open-ended way.


 Here’s a quick tip for gluing, particularly with collages, that I picked up while working at the university.  Young children are notorious for leaving glue stick caps off, and often can’t get enough glue from them to hold heavier collage objects anyway.  Expecting them to be able to squeeze and control a bottle of glue rarely works out well.  Instead, put the glue in the lid of a baby food jar, and allow them to paint it onto the paper using small watercolor brushes.  It’s much easier for them to control where the glue goes and to get enough to hold their objects.


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, sensory activity