If we want to help our children develop into the best versions of themselves, then we have to be ready for messes–and not just the messes of sibling quarrels and navigating “firsts,” but dirty hands and soppy-wet toy messes (some of you are cringing). Enter sensory play!
Domino & Juliette created an entire toy line centered around sensory play. Whether it’s bending, squishing, playing in water bins or making mud pies, there is no sensory play activity left behind and almost no mess too large that our toy placemats can’t handle! Even our toy manipulatives are easy-clean and meant to get messy. Sensory play involves activities that stimulate the senses of touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste, helping our children develop their cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills. I bet when you bought your first Domino & Juliette toy, you didn’t think you’d be naturally diving into the world of sensory play and gaining all these benefits! Pretty sweet deal, right?
Understanding Sensory Play
The science behind sensory play
It’s science! Did you know when children engage in sensory play activities, their brains are stimulated and connections between neurons are strengthened? This helps to develop important cognitive skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity. Sensory play also provides opportunities for children to develop their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, language and communication skills all while reducing stress and anxiety. All right, all right, let’s get to it! Here’s a little list we put together to further explain all the fun and senses involved in sensory play:
Touch: Tactile Sensory Play
Think slime, finger painting, building a sand castle at the beach, playing with a hose and buckets and exploring different textures through sensory bins – we can hear the mom chorus now: KEEP THE RICE IN THE BIN, PLEASE! Tactile sensory play involves activities that stimulate the sense of touch and includes different textures, shapes, and temperatures through their hands, fingers, and sometimes even their feet!
So many benefits! Did you know tactile sensory play promotes improved fine motor skills, increased creativity, enhanced cognitive development all while reducing stress and anxiety?
Sight: Visual Sensory Play
I spy with my little eye–colors, shapes and patterns! Visual sensory play involves activities that stimulate the sense of sight and improve visual perception, including playing with light tables, colorful scarves, sensory bottles and creating art using different materials.
Sound: Auditory Sensory Play
The raspberries your child is blowing over the baby monitor, the bowl of cereal that just spilled all over the kitchen floor and a chair squeaking as it’s pushed out of the way for clean-up. Noises are everywhere, all the time–and often happening all at once! Children engage with different sounds, pitches and volumes all through their ears, just like us. Think playing with musical instruments, exploring sounds through a sensory bin, playing with sound puzzles and listening to music on the radio. Auditory sensory play involves activities that stimulate the sense of hearing and improve auditory processing.
Smell: Olfactory Sensory Play
Grandma’s perfume–either a pleasant or a not-so-pleasant aroma depending on the scent and the nose smelling it! Olfactory (or “relating to the sense of smell”) sensory play involves activities that stimulate the sense of smell and improve olfactory perception. Children engage with different scents and odors through their noses in activities such as playing with scented playdough, the smell of the leather of their baseball gloves when they’re playing catch, and even the smells of dinner being cooked while they add in the spices!
Taste: Gustatory Sensory Play
A favorite sense of ours (and probably many of yours, too!)! Gustatory sensory play involves activities that stimulate the sense of taste by means of the tongue where all the taste buds can be found. Examples of activities include trying different tastes through sensory bins, playing with edible materials, and trying different foods. Any adventurous foodies out there? This sense is a fun one to explore!
How to Encourage Safe Sensory Play at Home
Are you interested in incorporating more sensory play into your child's routine? We find it best to create a safe and stimulating environment for your child to explore. This can be a certain corner in the house or even an extra play space in the basement filled with a variety of age-appropriate, safe materials that encompass the senses!
What does your child already like to do? Touch, look at, listen to, taste and/or smell? Start there! Provide easy access to things that will peak their interest and gradually introduce a variety of novel activities–just be sure to supervise your child during sensory play activities and be aware of any potential allergens or choking hazards.
Sensory Play for Kids with Disabilities
Let’s chat terminology for a second! It should be noted we at Domino & Juliette use the word “disabled” or “disability” because we do not see disability as something that is wrong nor as a dirty word. We believe by using the terms “disabled” and “disability” we are normalizing a different way of experiencing life. Please know we would always accommodate someone who would wish to be called “a person with special needs.” It’s all about respect and positive change for us!
Now back to the sensory play fun! Sensory play can be especially beneficial for disabled children. It can help with sensory processing issues, fine motor skills, social skills, and emotional regulation. In fact, sensory play is often recommended as a therapeutic activity for autistic children, ADHD, and other developmental disorders. It’s important to seek out an evaluation from a developmental pediatrician or an occupational therapist if you suspect your child has a specific sensory processing difference. They’re gurus at helping navigate sensory goals and approaches!
Some children with disabilities may have sensory sensitivities or challenges that make certain activities difficult or uncomfortable. For example, children with tactile sensitivities may prefer to play with materials that are less sticky or slimy, while children with visual processing difficulties may benefit from activities that involve high-contrast colors or clear boundaries. It's also important to consider safety and supervision when choosing sensory play activities for children with disabilities..
By adapting sensory play activities to meet the unique needs of each child, parents and caregivers can create a positive and engaging sensory play experience that supports their child's development and well-being.
Sensory Play and Education
Just when you thought sensory play couldn’t possibly get any better, enter improved academic achievement! Research has shown that sensory play has a positive impact particularly in areas such as literacy, math, and science. This is because sensory play activities help children to better understand and retain new concepts, and develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Teachers who homeschool or who work in a classroom in a school setting can create sensory-friendly classrooms by designating various areas to sensory play and ensuring all materials used are safe and appropriate for children.
Saving the best for last:
So why’d we go through all that detail about sensory play and its effect on child development and academic achievement? For one, we wanted to establish we value science and we are always on the hunt for new information to guide us in our toy company vision, and two, we wanted to let you know that you can expect every purchase made at Domino & Juliette to be a smart purchase! Our sensory toys and games are carefully designed to provide a multi-sensory experience that encourages exploration and learning all while benefiting their development.
Whether you're looking for tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, or gustatory sensory play, we've got you covered (though you’re in charge of the meals and snacks for the full gustatory experience! We tried to include a personal chef with each purchase, but it was out of budget!). Be it our On The Farm Placemat or our Walk In the Woods Placemat, your child will be able to explore the various sights, notice nature’s patterns, and play with animal and letter sounds that will ignite their inner ears, all while having a snack. Have you explored the D&J Bag of Chip yet? These little discs are more than just counters! How about our Squeeze ‘n Stack Blocks? Our silicone ABC Letters are visual and tactile delight! Find one of our favorite ways to play with them here! Our range of products are full of sensory play possibilities and QR code to assist in the sensory fun.
When we dreamed up Domino & Juliette, we SENSED our families wanted beautiful, smart, safe, and affordable toys perfect for sensory play across the ages!
What ages are appropriate for sensory play?
There is no specific age range for sensory play! Sensory play is suitable and beneficial for infants as young as a few months old and up. Even adults participate and benefit from sensory play be it with the use of pop-its and fidget tools, gardening, lighting candles or an evening spent watching the sunset.
How do I know if my child is sensitive to certain sensory experiences?
If your child seems to be bothered by certain textures, smells, sounds, or visual stimuli, they may be sensitive to certain sensory experiences. We recommend consulting with a developmental pediatrician or an occupational therapist for further evaluation and guidance to support your child and their specific sensory needs.
What are the benefits of sensory play for autistic children?
Sensory play can be especially beneficial for children with autism as it can help them maintain or improve overall emotional and physical regulation and can carry over into everyday life skills such as taking a bath or shower and brushing teeth–activities that ignite many of the senses and can be overwhelming! An autistic child might benefit from tools to reduce sensory input or to internally ground them. For example, a weighted vest or blanket can be used to bring the child comfort and back to a state of regulation. Similarly, noise reducing headphones can also provide assistance in achieving regulation by eliminating too much noise. Other times, they might need more sensory input to meet their needs: squeezing, rolling, chewing, or repetitive body movements are often ways in which equilibrium can be achieved or an emotion can be adequately expressed. As mentioned above, it is important to consult with a developmental pediatrician and occupational therapist to determine the best sensory accommodations. Likewise, similar to a neurotypical child, or a child with common neurology, an autistic or neurodivergent child benefits from sensory play to improve their sensory processing skills, communication, social skills, and overall development.
How do I keep sensory play from turning into a massive mess?
We’ll be honest–you won’t be able to stop this at all times. Messes will happen! We do, however, recommend designating specific areas for sensory play and considering floor mats you can easily wipe off or fold to funnel extraneous dried beans, rice, and D&J Bingo Chips in an easy manner. Is the weather nice? Take it outside!
What are sensory play activities that can be done outdoors?
So glad you asked! There are many sensory play activities that can be done outdoors including playing in sand, water, or mud, exploring nature, and playing with bubbles or balls! You can even simply bring your D&J toys outside and continue the sensory play fun on a blanket, table or all-weather mat. Isn’t everything better outside? We think so!
What are some easy sensory play activities to do at home?
There are so many, and lots of the materials needed you already own! Some easy sensory play activities to do at home include playing with playdough, finger painting, exploring with sensory bins, and playing with different textures like rice or beans.
Life is busy! How can I incorporate sensory play into my child's daily routine?
If you set up a designated sensory play area in your home, this provides free access for independent play when you are not able to guide and/or join the play and for moments when you are able to engage with your child uninterrupted. We love our placemats because they so easily fold into snack and mealtimes and many of our toys can be played with during bathtime or outside while you’re doing yard work–-always look for those moments where you can add some sensory fun without having to carve out additional time!
What are the safety measures to consider for sensory play activities?
All of our D&J toys are non-toxic and easy to clean. That was a priority when developing all of the toys! What we still need you to do is monitor your child when small parts are involved or when a snack is provided. The key is making sure the materials and toys being played with are age-appropriate.
Can sensory play activities be done with a group of children?
Of course! We encourage this, too! Simply make sure each child has enough space and materials for the full sensory play experience. Pay attention if one of the kids in the group is disrupting the other’s experience and consider spacing out even further (we’re looking at you, toddlers!).
Are there any sensory play activities that can be done without any materials or toys?
Yep! There are plenty of sensory play activities that can be done without any materials or toys. Examples include exploring different textures with your hands or feet, smelling different scents, or listening to music.