Everyday sensory play in preschool

Inspiration for sensory exploration in your classroom!

Sensory play is an important part of early childhood development. It lets children explore and learn about their world through what they do best – play.  We do lots of different kind of sensory play in preschool and I thought I would show some of the materials we have used this year so far…

Embrace the Mess

As much as children love sensory play – adults tend to dread it.   Sensory play can be messy and a daunting task for adults to keep up with.  So the key is to approach sensory play with the right mindset. First, it is important to remember that children learn best when they can actually touch, see, smell, taste, hear, and manipulate the materials in their world…

Scooping and Pouring

As children scoop up seeds or rice or other small items and fill up a container, they are discovering how much that container can hold before it overflows.. Sensory play promotes spacial awareness, mathematical thinking, and scientific exploration and discovery…

A Relaxing Experience

Sometimes sensory play is simply a great way for children to relieve their stress. Sensory play can be very soothing and relaxing to a young child…

Building Fine Motor Skills

Sensory play is also a great way to foster fine motor development. Rolling and cutting up play dough or scooping and pouring water and beans all involve eye -hand coordination and fine motor control.  In the process of playing with these materials, children are building the skills and muscles they will need for handwriting and other more formal educational processes down the road…

Using a Variety of Materials

Sensory play can involved just about any kind of material you can think of from sticks and leaves to water, playdough, goop, beans, rice, pasta, paper, straws, and the list goes on. If it can be put in a tub along with a few tools for play and the freedom to explore and manipulate, then it can be used for sensory play…

Adding to the Sensory Experience

Adding tools for sensory play is always a must. We have an entire shelf of baskets filled with cups, laundry lids, shovels, measuring spoons, tweezers, magnifiers, and other items. We rotate the items frequently and the children use those items in the sensory tubs. It is more fun to scoop up pasta and pour it from one container to another than just to have a container of pasta. Tools for play help make sensory play more interesting and engaging…

Offering a Variety of Sensory Experiences

We have some sort of sensory play out for the children just about every day.  There is rarely a day that we don’t have a sensory tub or some kind of sensory activity out for the children to explore.  On most days, we even have more than one kind of sensory activity for the children to choose from…

I set out materials and tools for sensory play in a variety of ways. Sometimes, I set the materials out in trays and other times I use tubs. By giving the children a tray or tub, they have their working space to explore…

Exploring Sand and Water

I also have a water and sand table that we rotate items for sensory play in…

Using their Imagination

Just because you use a material once, doesn’t mean you can’t use it again. Children don’t mind playing with the same materials many times over. Each time they use the materials, they will invent new ideas for play and imagination…

By |2019-01-10T14:57:42+00:00November 6th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Janice @ learning4kids November 6, 2011 at 9:20 am - Reply

    What a fabulous post….and linky! It makes my heart sing to read your post as I share the passion! 🙂
    I am very new to the blogosphere and hope to share this paasion the same way you do. You are an inspiration and I look forward to reading more….
    Thanks xx

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 6, 2011 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Janice – I LOVED your jelly sensory! I already shared it on Facebook too! I am now following that blog of yours!

  2. John Bowman November 6, 2011 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Lots of fun here, great post Deborah! Shared on T & FB.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 6, 2011 at 10:43 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing:) So very sweet of you!

  3. Heidi Butkus November 6, 2011 at 10:37 am - Reply

    I love looking at the pictures and reading about all of your wonderful ideas. Thanks so much for posting so regularly with quality information!
    Heidi Butkus

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 6, 2011 at 10:44 am - Reply

      Heidi – I appreciate you stopping by and keeping in touch. You are an amazing educator with wonderful resources. It is my honor to have you here sharing with me.

  4. Kristina November 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    These are so many great ideas!! My little baby is older now, so I have being doing more sensory activities with her too. I need to start documenting them since otherwise I tend to forget them. The pom pom magnet one is one of my favorites that you shared I need to try that still!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      How old is she now Kristina? I love the pom pom magnets too. We use them in all kinds of ways.

  5. artsy_momma November 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Great idea! I love linkys that are different than the norm…. look forward to seeing everyone’s ideas every month 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      Let’s just hope I can keep up with this idea. I have a tendency to change my mind:)

  6. jackie November 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    Great link-up, Deborah! I love all the ideas I’ve seen! Sorry my November bin posted twice!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm - Reply

      No worries – it is easy to fix:)

  7. Andrea November 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Last year we did a little unit on farming and the grain chain, so I put out bowls of flour, farro wheat, rice and I think I even threw some popcorn kernels in there, too. My kiddos had so much fun mixing and stirring – we had flour everywhere! The best was my one class who decided they wanted to take some of it home, so I sent little ziploc bags filled for each of them at the end of the day. Their moms were more than confused until I explained that no, they weren’t for eating! 🙂

    This past week we learned about dinosaurs, so I hid dog biscuits in the sandbox for them to dig out. They loved it!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 7, 2011 at 1:42 am - Reply

      I love the dog biscuits! And I love that you sent some home. I have been saving plastic bottles and my students take home some of whatever we play with in the bottles just about every time.

  8. crittersandcrayons November 7, 2011 at 12:50 am - Reply

    This is such an awesome post! Shared it in several places!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 7, 2011 at 12:57 am - Reply

      Thank you for that!

  9. Deb @ Living Montessori Now November 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    Great activities, Deborah! I’ve been busy pinning your post and others to my Pinterest boards – especially my Any-Season Sensory Tubs board: http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/any-season-sensory-tubs/.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 8, 2011 at 8:58 pm - Reply

      I will have to remember your pinterest next time I am in need of another sensory idea!

  10. katepickle November 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    What a fabulous resource! We try not to use food items in play so it was great to see so many non-food sensory play ideas in your list!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 8, 2011 at 8:57 pm - Reply

      There are definitely lots of ideas for both food and nonfood sensory play!

  11. Mrs. Myra November 8, 2011 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Whoooaaaa! Over 80 Sensory Ideas! We’ll be set for the entire year! Thanks Deb and everyone who contributed:)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      Isn’t it wonderful Myra – there really are enough ideas for sensory play every day!!

  12. Tom November 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    I love your post on the sensory table. Thanks for all the great ideas that we can share with the teachers at our preschool!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 8, 2011 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      You are welcome Tom – thanks for stopping by today:)

  13. Cathy@pre-schoolplay November 10, 2011 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Fantastic! This resource is going to save me so much time:) Do you mind me asking how you coloured the popcorn?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm - Reply

      We tried several methods but in the end we ended up adding dry powdered jello to the popcorn after it was popped and shook it in bags to coat all the popcorn. It was an unusual mix of sweet and salty (and buttery) but the kids liked it anyway:)

      • Cathy@pre-schoolplay November 11, 2011 at 11:22 am

        Ah thank you, I’ve tried food colouring and paint but keep ending up with a soggy mess!

  14. Oh, love this post. I’m always looking for more sensory stuff to do!
    Can’t believe I missed this linky! I’ll be here next month!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      Be sure to join us!

  15. Eleanor November 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Interesting how some of this is almost word for word identical to the Level 3 Childcare and Education textbook by Carolyn Meggit (2015 edition). Page 262-263 to be exact. Also interesting to see that there are no sources mentioned. Just an observation

    • Deborah Stewart December 6, 2017 at 1:18 am - Reply

      That is Interesting!!! I will have to check that out since this post was written in 2011:)

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