Rolling cookie dough into little balls. Making a sandcastle. Dancing to a silly song. Gluing macaroni noodles onto construction paper. Sound like fun? Of course it does! But in addition to being entertaining pastimes, all of these activities involve sensory play and offer incredible learning opportunities for your toddler.
Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Toddler Books, describes sensory play as any kind of play that stimulates a child's senses. "Toddlers learn by doing," Douglas says. "They are drinking in information using every tool at their disposal, including their sense of taste, touch, and smell."
Sensory play is educational fun and it doesn't require a lot of planning from adults. "The great thing about sensory play is that it allows a child to learn in a natural fashion," says Douglas. "It feels like fun to children, but they are learning." Both children and adults are encouraged to "have fun in the moment."
Douglas says that toddlers usually learn best through tactual and kinesthetic activities, or those that are based on touch and movement. As children get older, their learning styles often shift to auditory and visual activities. To take advantage of your toddler's learning style, let your child try exploration through some of the following sensory play activities:
One of the easiest (and cleanest!) ways to incorporate sensory play into your toddler's daily routine is through water play while your child is taking a bath or splashing in a baby pool. Water toys can be store bought, or you can use extra items from your kitchen. Things like measuring cups, funnels, empty squirt bottles, sponges, and eye droppers all double as great tub toys. When toddlers are pouring water from one container to another, they are learning more about the world around them. Be sure to supervise your toddler closely during all water play activities.