The Benefits of Sensory Play

Sensory Play is Related to Trying New Foods

How cool is that?  Children who are encouraged to play with fruit and vegetables are more likely and willing to taste the food.  The play experience gives them a chance to explore the food without pressure to taste.  Since the majority of kids don’t eat as many fruits and veggies as they should, I can definitely get behind this.  Playing with food is good for them!  Who knew?  Similar results come from sensory play in general, the results are just not as significant.  The reason for this correlation is thought to be that kids get more familiar with the food itself or at least different textures. This then makes them more comfortable for future taste tests (Coulthard & Sealy, 2017).

Sensory Play is a Coping Mechanism

Say what?  Yep, sensory play helps kids emotionally.  Sensory play is calming and relaxing for many kids (heck, me too!).  Because they feel a little more relaxed playing in a sensory table, kids often open up and verbalize their emotions while playing (Maynard et al. 2009.)  This is a much healthier option than bottling emotions and blowing up later.

Sensory Play Meets Learning Objectives

Sensory play can be used to meet learning objectives in a multitude of categories.  Activities like picking up objects with tongs, pouring, and scooping encourage physical development of fine motor skills and measuring concepts.  Sensory bins provide context for learning to naturally occur.

Plus, sensory tables are typically a popular place to be.  So, kids have tons of opportunities to practice sharing and working together.  This builds social-emotional awareness and skills.  When kids play in a sensory bin, they learn to explore, they get creative in their stories and structures, they pose questions and experiment, they practice independence, and they learn about measuring, sizes, and shapes (Hunter, 2008).

Sensory Play is Child Directed and Memorable

Think of your own childhood.  Your favorite experiences probably have something to do with you making choices and/or the sense of touch.  Playing in mud puddles, building sand castles, climbing trees, etc. all fall into this category.  These kind of experiences tend to stick with kids and make the experience meaningful (James and Bixler, 2008).  Incorporating sensory play into any kind of lesson can help students remember and understand a concept.

sensory play

How to Set Up Sensory Play


Outside sensory play is easy!  Grass, dirt, rocks, bark, mulch, and sand all count as sensory materials.  Our sandbox is the most used outside toy we have, by far.  We also have an outdoor water table that the kids love during the warmer months.  Outside water and sand play is awesome because the clean up is so much easier!


Indoor sensory play can be more difficult and messy, for sure.  I generally don’t like mess – but I’ve learned that if kids can make a mess they can help clean it up too!  Play-doh and paint are sensory activities that are relatively easy to clean up when you’re looking for easy sensory play.

We have an awesome sensory tub like this (affiliate link disclosure):

The reason I like this tub is that it’s big enough for multiple kids to use at one time.  It’s also deep enough to hold quite a bit of materials – any bigger and I wouldn’t be able to carry it myself to change out the water.

Please keep in mind that all children need to be supervised while using sensory bins. Infants and toddlers need extra attention when using sensory materials because sensory materials are also usually choking hazards, and drowning can occur even in shallow water.

Some other ideas for sensory bin fillers are: rice, beans, moonsand, paper shreds, water beads, potting soil, cornstarch and water, or brownie mix and water to make mud!  I have a whole Pinterest board with sensory bin ideas, check it out!


What other materials do you like to use for sensory play?  Comment below!



Coulthard H. & Sealy A.-M., Play with your food! Sensory play is associated with tasting of fruits and vegetables in preschool children, Appetite (2017), doi: 10.1016/ j.appet.2017.02.003.

Hunter, D. (2008). What Happens When a Child Plays at the Sensory Table?. YC: Young Children, 63(6), 77-79.

J. Joy James & Robert D. Bixler (2008) Children’s Role in Meaning Making Through Their Participation in an Environmental Education Program, The Journal of Environmental Education, 39:4, 44-59, DOI: 10.3200/JOEE.39.4.44-59

Maynard, C. N., Adams, R. A., Lazo-Flores, T., & Warnock, K. (2009). An Examination of the Effects of Teacher Intervention During Sensory Play on the Emotional Development of Preschoolers. Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 38(1), 26-35. doi:10.1111/j.1552-3934.2009.00003.x