Getting Started with Sensory Play

Getting Started with Sensory Play

Sensory play is an easy way to provide rich, at-home learning that sparks cognitive growth, creativity and physical development. But where to begin? Getting started with sensory play doesn't have to be as complicated (or messy!) as it may seem.

What is sensory play?

Sensory play is simply play-based activities that stimulate a child's senses. Sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste can all be activated through various types of activities. While sight, hearing and touch are most accessible for the majority of activities, practical life activities like snack preparation, cooking or baking can easily engage smell and taste senses as well. 

Benefits of sensory play

You've heard the term "firing on all cylinders" right? Essentially that's what happens in a child's brain when they're engaged in sensory play. Engaging the senses creates an experience that makes a connection that the brain will remember. A child's cognitive development thrives through sensory play because it gives their growing minds experiences that stimulate neuron development. This is how cognitive connections are made and learning happens. 

Sensory play ignites a child's creativity, giving room for their imaginations to run wild. As they bring their ideas to life, you'll observe their language, cognitive, social-emotional and motor skills at work.

How to embrace sensory play as a Type A grownup

Choose one medium to start, and be prepared. 

Whether it's a tub of rice, a water activity or the dreaded P word - paint -  having the right materials on hand will make it a lot easier to say yes and embrace those activities. 


Set clear expectations and boundaries. 

Affirmatively explain how the materials are to be used (i.e. We use paint on paper only.) Give reminders to keep the materials in the appropriate place. When digging into sensory bins, remind them to keep the materials inside the bin. When those boundaries are crossed, it may be helpful to take a break or switch activities so they know your expectations aren't to be shrugged off.

Sensory play setups that contain the mess without restricting the fun

A clear under-bed style storage bin is the perfect vessel for contained sensory play and quick clean-up. Put a washable, nonslip splat mat underneath, your materials inside, and breathe a little easier. Here are a few setup ideas:

Water play:

  1. Sponging: Inside your storage (now sensory) bin, put a bowl of water on the left and an empty bowl on the right. Add a sponge, and model soaking the sponge with the water on the left and squeezing it out into the empty bowl on the right. The squeezing motion is great fine motor practice that strengthens hand muscles for writing. The left to right motion also reinforces the direction for reading and writing.
  2. Pouring: Grab different size cups, pitchers or other containers and let them practice pouring the water back and forth. This mix and measure set is a favorite of ours. This enhances gross motor skills, body control and hand-eye coordination while also exploring concepts of capacity and volume.

Kinetic sand play:

  1. Kinetic sand sticks to itself and doesn't get all over everything, so it's a great sensory medium to shape and build with. Use beach toys, cookie cutters, play doh molds or even measuring cups to make different shapes.
  2. Add mini construction trucks to practice digging, scooping and transferring.



  1. For our littlest ones just flexing their creative muscles, taste-safe natural finger paint made from, and you wont' believe this, vegetable powder wins the day. Just add water!
  2. Spill-proof paint cups save us from the part we all dread! Fill them with some actually washable paint inside your storage sensory bin and your little artist is ready to go!
  3. When you really don't want to be bothered, these Do-A-Dot markers are the perfect compromise!

These are just a few starter ideas to get you going on your sensory play journey. There are so many variations, the possibilities truly are endless. But if you're just starting out, don't feel overwhelmed or afraid of the mess. With just a few reusable setup supplies (that you may already have at home!) and clear communication with your child, you'll be ready to engage in sensory play at home any day of the week.


This post contains affiliate links, which means Rightly Instructed may earn a commission if you choose to purchase through any of the links provided. It doesn't change the cost for you. It does enable us to provide free content and resources like this to families in all phases of their early learning journey.

Back to blog