Category Archives: Sensory Play

Fun with Water Play

Pinterest is full of these – and ours is a humble effort.  But it only took an hour or so to put together, and gave us an afternoon of fun.  Plus it is a temporary fixture, so can be changed, adapted, and ultimately removed.


We used a variety of empty plastic bottles and containers, which I had made holes in with a craft knife to produce a variety of watery effects – big splashes, tiny trickles, and shower-head type effects:

  • an empty juice bottle with lots of small holes made in the bottom for a “shower” effect.
  • a bottle cut in half to make a long channel, like a drainpipe (I’ve seen guttering used to great effect in water play.
  • The neck of a bottle sliced off to make a funnel.
  • empty hummus and cream cheese pots with holes – some bigger, some smaller
  • a milk carton with a tiny hole in the bottom, to fill quickly and empty slowly
  • the lid of an ice cream tub to make a water slide.

I gave L, N and F some containers for pouring, catching and carrying water, filled the water table with coloured water (with a drop of food colouring added), then set them free!  N’s cry of “Wow, this is fantastic Mummy!” made me feel this was going to be a success – and it was.

L and N fetched and carried water, as part of a game involving feeding N’s very thirsty horses, in which she enlisted L’s help.  Whilst doing so, they were working out which containers carried the most water, pouring water from one to another and comparing capacity.  They were both surprised when the tallest container didn’t hold the most water.


They also experimented with how quickly the water would flow from different containers, and how to make it trickle from one to another, directing the flow of water in different directions, at different speeds – some very early physics was happening!  The great thing about using pipecleaners and trellis was that L and N could easily move things around the wall as they wished, allowing them to experiment more than would have been possible had the bottles been nailed to the wood.

We used coloured water in blue, red and yellow, which reinforced colour mixing and allowed them to experiment with making “magic potions”, which included some leaves and twigs from the garden too.

F enjoyed watching the water flowing, and also splashing in the coloured water in the water table (although I only managed to get a very grumpy looking picture!).


We also ended up “painting” with the water, which was hugely popular, and all three children could join in with – in fact, F loved it most of all and it was lovely not to have to mind where she “drew”!




Being “Brave” at Bathtime!

The Disney film, “Brave” has had a huge effect on L and N.  When they first saw it at the cinema, they were terrified.  Mainly of the bears, and the loud roaring.  But since then, they have become its greatest fans, perhaps in processing the story and coming to terms with watching it, they have asked for the story version again and again, re-enacted the story, and talked endlessly about it over a period of months.  I like the story because it has depth.  And so we have been doing some “Brave” themed play recently.

The latest was a “Brave” themed bath, which all three children loved.




To create a forest scene on the wall, we used craft foam to make some basic tree shapes, rocks, the “Ring of Stones”, The doorway to the ruined castle, and cut out some purple stars to represent “will o’ the wisps”.  The castle doorway, with its crossed axes, just like in the story, particularly delighted L and N – in fact, I think that if I’d just put this on the wall by itself they would have been delighted!

We used our Happylands Castles and knights from the Early Learning Centre as Merida’s home, and the Lords.  And a Happylands wizard to represent the witch in the story.

We had to be creative with Mor’du Bear and Elinor-Bear, using a polar bear and a friendlier-looking brown bear.

We put a magnetic fishing set I had picked up in a charity shop into the bath, which made the bath itself the river, from the scene where Merida and Elinor-Bear fish and play in the river – and added green food colouring to the bath for extra effect.

I also gave the children some plastic aida, safety needles and scooby strings, so that they could “mend the tapestry” like princess Merida.

L and N were delighted, and it gave an extra dimension to their usual “Brave” play.  it was lovely to be able to help them develop the game and give them props to enrich their understanding of the story.


F enjoyed playing with the large foam pieces, and catching fish with her hands.



L enjoyed playing with the castles best, and it was a real novelty having them in the bath.  He hasnlt played with his castles for a little while so it was lovely to see how a fresh set-up could re-ignite his interest and develop the way he used the toys.


At the end of the bath, I added some glowsticks to the water as extra “will o’ the wisps”, and turned the lights out to follow them through the dark forest.


Ithe effect was extra special as I happened to break a glowstick, spraying glow in the dark spots all over the bathroom, which delighted L and N!  I’ll let you know whether it comes out!!


This was all a success, and we have kept the play scene in the bath to play with for a while.  We also have a few more “Brave” activities planned, so watch out for them soon!

The Big Birdwatch, Feeding the Birds, and a Five Senses Box

This is the weekend of the Big Garden Birdwatch, where anybody, anywhere in the country is invited to count the birds in their garden, or ion a local park, for one hour, and send the results off to the RSPB.  You don;t have to be a member of the RSPB to take part.  It’s fun and it’s free, and an opportunity to learn about the birds that live in our garden – so when we heard about this from Grandma we decided to sign up.

We got ready for the birdwatch this week by reading about garden birds – there are so many lovely books suitable for very little children, but we used the RSPB’s My First Book of Garden Birds, which has a very sweet “who is hiding?” concept that kept the children nicely engaged since they loved guessing which bird was being described, and learnt a bit about each bird too.  The RSPB Garden Birds Sticker Book was a nice matching activity and helped L (5) and N(3) get to grips with identifying some common garden birds.

We also made some snacks for the birds, to attract them to our bird table.  We made fat balls by heating vegetable fat in a pan and adding bird seed and meal worms.  Rather than rolling them into balls, Grandma told us it works better to make them in plastic cups and place them in a net bag, so this is what we did.

We also made two kinds of bird feeder.  One very easy if slightly sticky method was brilliant for L and N to make independently.  They each spread a toilet roll tube with peanut butter, then rolled it in bird seed.  We hung these from the bird table and the birds loved them.  It was very entertaining to watch them investigate the new food, check it out, keep coming back to it, getting closer each time, before one brave coal tit tried some, and the rest then tucked in.

Here are L and N making their bird feeders:


Meanwhile, F got involved by exploring some bird nuts inside a ziplock bag:


We also began making a bird feeder out of an empty juice carton.  It would have been easy enough to make one like this from No Time for Flash Cards, except that I decided I liked the look of this pretty one, so ours are still wet with paint and unfinished, and daddy says they will scare away the birds, since N painted hers bright orange.  Sometimes simplicity is best!

So the time came to count our birds!  F loved looking out of the window and watching them.  L and N were very excited and probably scared away a fair few birds!  But they did enjoy keeping a simple tally.

L's tally chart

L’s tally chart

...And N's

…And N’s

The plan is to use these to make a pictogram of the birds in our garden.

Afterwards, we put together a garden birds sensory box, and had fun playing with that whilst learning a little bit about birds.  So many of our sensory boxes are thrown together in five minutes, and work wonderfully well – this one took a little more thought and preparation, but I think it was worth it.  Here we have a sensory box that gave the children the scope to use all five senses in bird-related play.  I especially like this idea for F, since pretty much all her interaction with the world is sensory and it makes a lot of sense (no pun intended there) to stimulate all her senses.  L and N seemed to appreciate it too, and it made things a bit more exciting and different.

Garden BIirds Sensory Box

Garden Birds Sensory Box

My first idea had been to make some garden birds for a felt storyboard.  But whilst searching for ideas on that theme, I came across some garden bird finger puppets and just had to have a go at making some.
It was actually quite achievable, and involved cutting the pieces out of felt and sticking them together with PVA glue – no sewing involved, although I may sew around the edges to strengthen the puppets against the children’s robust treatment of them.

Blackbird and Robin

Blackbird and Robin

Thrush and Bluetit

Thrush and Bluetit

This feels like such a fun and interactive way to  teach L and N to recognise a few birds, and seems to be working already, since they were calling the birds by their correct names as they played.

The birds formed the basis of the sensory box, along with some basic features of their habitat:

A nest (made of sparkly gift packaging)


Some stones, under which some worms (pipecleaners cut to different lengths), ladybirds (card toppers), and squidgy insects (from L’s nature explorer kit) were hiding, ready for the birds to eat.  We also included a tub of pom poms to represent berries.


Some water – we used a zip-lock bag filled with hair gel and blue glitter to form a cool, squishy pond.  It also smelt lovely!

Some toilet roll tubes, since we used these to make bird feeders, and I thought they would be great for pouring.  I put some cups in the box for a bird-feeding scooping and pouring activity.  We used bird seed as a filler for the box, and added pinecones to represent trees.  L and N were involved in putting the box together and were very good at telling me what the birds would need.

Lastly, I put together a “bird table” that the children could eat from, to go alongside the box.  The snacks were slices of apple topped with peanut butter, topped with raisins, cranberries, blueberries, and muesli.  This was the tasting element, and LI and N devoured their bird snacks – I wasn’t sure how adventurous they would be, and they did seem concerned that I was going to give them bird food!  F mainly tipped hers on the floor and ate a bit of apple.

For really adventurous eaters it might be fun to try this blindfolded, and see if they can identify different berries, fruit, nuts etc.  I also plan to make jelly worms this week, by pouring jelly into drinking straws, allowing it to set, then running under warm water to release the “worms”.  L and N love eating spaghetti “wormsI” so I think this just might appeal to them.


When L and N began to play with the box, I gave them some tweezers and tongs to move objects around, like a bird in its beak.  This was very popular, and I was surprised how easy they found it (I had included big tongs as well as little tweezers because I wasn’t sure if they would be able to manipulate the tweezers.  next time I plan to give them tiny craft beads to move around (the kind even I find fiddly), to challenge them a bit more and really practise that pincer movement.

moving "berries" in a "beak"

moving “berries” in a “beak”

All three loved the squishy bag, which has inspired me to give them a range of different ones to play with.


A lot of creative play went on, with much feeding of baby birds.  There is also a lot of scope with this box for sorting activities.  I deliberately included pom poms of different sizes, and pipecleaners cut to different lengths, to allow for sorting of biggest to smallest etc.



White Play Dough and Snowy Playdough Mats

The snow here has melted, apart from the occasional pile of sludgy grey mess and all the snowmen are at best droopy and folorn, but it’s looking brighter inside as we are still going with our snow-themed activities.

The other day we made some of The Imagination Tree’s white play dough, made with cornflour instead of flour, which gives a really gleaming white rather than the off-white you get with flour.  We scented ours with peppermint extract, which seemed a fittingly cool scent.  We also added some tiny faux gems as we had run out of silver glitter, and I love these – they really remind me of the light reflecting on crisp white snow.



This afternoon seemed like the ideal time to bring out the playdough.  The days when both L and N are tired after school and playgroup seem to call for activites that keep them focused, occupied and channel their energy whist allowing them the freedom to do their own thing and relax at the end of the day.  Play dough seems to fit the bill very well, and I hoped that moulding the silky dough might be a relaxing activity.

This is how I set up a snowy play scene for them to come home to:


paw prints in the snow

paw prints in the snow

I also made some play dough mats especially to go with the snow-themed play dough.  We loved the alphabet play mats from Twinkl Resources which we reviewed last year, and so I decided to make our own variation on these with a wintry theme.


I used some leftover Christmas wrapping paper with a snowy design to cut out the shapes I needed.  Since L and N enjoyed making dough letters so much last time, I decided to make two playmats with snow related words.  I had an ulterior motive here too – L is becoming reluctant to write, and rather than force him I wanted to think up some activities that would build his writing muscles and stamina, and get him thinking about the process, without actually realising it!  Play dough is perfect for strengthening the hand muscles used to write, and developing co-ordination.

I also made a snowflake mat, by tracing a snowflake template onto the paper, and one larger snowflake made in the same way as our paper snowflake Christmas decorations.  I thought this one would be good for making more intricate patterns and shapes.

I stuck these onto plain white A4 paper, drew an outline in purple felt-tip to define them (and cover any imperfections in the cutting out) – and laminated the paper.  Easy, but effective, and can be used again and again.

All three children enjoyed the play-dough.  Because of the tiny gems we had used, I kept a closer than usual watch on baby F.  But she was a full participant in the game, sitting on the floor with her own play dough, strengthening her own little hand muscles and exploring the material by pulling it apart.


N was the busiest of all.  Despite all the snow-themed props, she reverted to her default setting of play-dough cookery, and I reminded myself this is a child-led activity and accepted the cakes and sandwiches she carefully prepared.  She did go on to make a snowy pine cone and cut out some snowmen, although they were snowman biscuits, she told me 🙂

cutting with scissors

cutting with scissors

using a knife

using a knife

snowy pine cone

snowy pine cone

L stuck to the snow idea, and made more animal footprints in the snow, with the animals, his fingers, and then the end of a pencil.  He made tracks in the snow, and told a part of The Gruffalo’s Child story.


A "Logpile House"

A “Logpile House”

Tractor tyre marks, printed with a pine cone

Tractor tyre marks, printed with a pine cone

Again, it is wonderful finding an activity that all three can join in at their own level, and thoroughly enjoy.  Here they are, all absorbed in what they are doing.

Three Cihildren Hard at Play

Three Children Hard at Play



A Snow-Themed Sensory Box for Baby

I often find that the children play with toys they haven’t touched for ages when they are presented in a new way.  I always intend to rotate their toys but I am not very good at it – so I am experimenting with organising them by theme.

This morning F (now 9 months) and I had some time to ourselves 🙂 so we made the most of it by putting together and playing with a  snow-themed sensory box just for her.

It couldn’t have been easier – collecting a few things we already had was all it took to set up a lovely, special playtime that F loved.  Here is what we put in:


  • A tactile book – “That’s Not My Snowman”
  • A plastic snowman biscuit cutter
  • A wooden (snowy) christmas tree
  • A white and sparkly woollen teddy, hand knitted by a friend.
  • A snowman peg doll (hand painted by another friend – what clever friends I have!)
  • The Snow Queen’s glittery crown
  • A large “snowflake” (some kind of shower sponge, the kind that comes free with shower gel)
  • A light-up battery powered snow globe
  • A snow globe bottle that L and N made at a friend’s birthday party recently, using water, glycerine, glitter and plastic snowflakes inside an empty plastic bottle.
  • A crinkly, rattly penguin from a set of soft skittles.

The first thing F took out was the wooden tree – in fact she kept going back to this and found it really interesting to explore.  She spent quite a while showing it to me proudly and trying to work out how to collapse the tree.  She also enjoyed banging the tree against the side of the box to make a noise.


Next she took out the knitted teddy, and whilst I took the penguin to demonstrate cuddling, F preferred shaking teddy vigorously up and down.


She went on to explore all the toys in this way, feeling them, shaking them, finding out what noise they made.  Her expression of surprise at some of them was just brilliant!  I love seeing her so delighted at discovering something new, and it made me so glad I had sat down to play instead of seeing our free time as time for a cup of tea or to tidy the kitchen.

Usually I let the children discover and play with a sensory box independently, stepping back so as not to influence their play – at least, that is the case with L and N, who I want to encourage to enjoy the process of open-ended play without a set objective.  But with F, I’m conscious that she gets a lot of time to explore independently and not as much one to one interaction as I wish she could have – so whilst this was still led by F, I sat down with her and talked to her pretty much the whole time she was playing.  I asked her “what have you got?” and “what does it do?” and described the colours and feel for her.  But equally, she was in charge of deciding what we played with, and allowed to explore it however she liked.

It was also lovely to take the time to see what F was really learning, and watch how she approaches the world.  I noticed that she is very focused on the noises different objects make (banging, crinkling, squeezing, shaking) and on the way they move (rolling, throwing, pushing, pulling – at one point she even used one object to push another along).  This will help me tailor her play to her stage and interests, and to make suitable toys and materials available to her.


working hard to reach the next object

working hard to reach the next object

handling a smaller object

handling a smaller object

pushing one object with another

pushing one object with another

And as I expected, big brother and sister also played with the box when they got home – toys they would otherwise have ignored took on new interest when grouped together like this, and again we had an activity that all three children enjoyed together.


Snow Themed Sensory Bath

A warmer kind of snow play!!

Today, we have been in the only part of the country not to be deep in snow.  We also seem to be a minority in really, really wanting it to snow.  We can’t wait to play in the snow and have an unexpected day off to fill with snow-themed activities… so when a few token flakes fell this afternoon, it wasn’t enough to build a snowman, go sledging, paint the snow or have a snowball fight – but it was enough to get excited!

L and N enjoying our sprinkling of The White Stuff

L and N enjoying our sprinkling of The White Stuff

We did go outside to experience the snow, but without enough on the ground to play with, and with more bitter wind than crisp snow, we found another way to channel our snowman-making enthusiasm…

Snow bath

It has been a while since we have had a sensory bath.  We do often play with different colours in the water, and a coloured bath is a regular Friday night treat.  But today we went one better.

We used snowmen cut out of craft foam to decorate the walls (the foam sticks to the walls when wet, opening up endless possibilities for bathtime play).  Our dress-up snowmen were inspired by this Christmas themed bath from Growing a Jewelled Rose (the veritable Queen of sensory baths, which I thought I’d invented until I discovered her beautiful blog).  We adapted the Christmas tree decorating idea, and I prepared some snowmen for L and N to dress up, with hats, scarves, gloves and buttons in different colours.

L and N played beautifully and creatively.  I like the fact that the bath keeps them focused on the activity, in one place with no distractions, they stay creative and engaged for longer.

Rudolph with Snowman

Rudolph with Snowman


Rudolph with Snowman

Rudolph with Snowman

There was imaginary play happening, with a snow people’s picnic.  There was a re-enacting of the Snowman and the Snowdog film we watched at Christmas.  Fine motor skills were being developed (I purposely made some of the pieces tiny, with instructions not to give the little pieces to baby F).  There was sorting by shape and by colour, there was ordering of pieces from big to small.  It struck me how much hidden learning is happening in an open-ended playful activity like this.

For an added sensory element, I added blue food colouring to the water, and topped it with shaving foam.  We haven’t played with shaving foam before, so it was a completely new material to play with.  Initially, L and N were suspicious of it, and L was scared to get into the bath!  But he soon learned to love it.


They used the shaving foam as paint, and as a material to mould – L called it “pudding oil”, and served it to everyone for supper, whilst N used it to further decorate her snowy wall-art.

Little F is now fully involved in bathtime fun.  She enjoyed watching the other two playing, and also explored the shaving foam, felt the foam shapes, and was fascinated by watching them float.  She spent some time taking a piece of foam in and out of a plastic cup.  She was thoroughly enjoying exploring these new and interesting materials, as well as having fun playing with her brother and sister.

F explores the shaving foam

F explores the shaving foam

Investigating foam shapes

Investigating foam shapes

Another activity enjoyed by three children of different ages, with different personalities and interests – and a lovely warm-up and wind-down activity before bed.

Snow bath2

Involving Baby in our Playtimes

This is the thing I always find the most challenging with any of our playtimes – how to involve little baby F whilst still challenging the older two?  L and N are old enough to enjoy the same activities and even (shh, don’t jinx it!) co-operate on occasion.  I don’t want little F to be watching from the sidelines – she is 8 months old now, and old enough to want a part of the action.  And she is so delighted to be included.

Babies love, and need to investigate new materials.  they need to explore them with their senses, find out what they do, how they feel, as a part of working out how the world around them works.

So this is how we have helped F to join in some of our playtimes recently.  Some of these ideas have been included in previous posts but I still thought it might be worth putting them all together in one post.


While big brother and sister made paper snowflakes, F played with paper.  We started with the offcuts of the snowflakes, then gave her crepe paper and card for some different textures.  She enjoyed crinkling, ripping, banging, rubbing, and generally exploring.


To involve F in our Christmas preparations, we have put together a collection of Christmas things which act as a very basic sensory tub for her to explore.  It includes:

  • a felt stocking with a textured snowman
  • our winter themed discovery bottle
  • Some shiny baubles
  • A length of tinsel
  • A plastic Christmas mug
  • A wooden spoon (for Christmas baking)
  • A ribbon from our wrapping box
  • Some wrapping paper

She has also played with pom-poms, coloured sparkly pasta beads, and glittery pipecleaners.

practising that pincer grasp with pom-poms!

practising that pincer grasp with pom-poms!


F has very recently enjoyed being given a lump of play dough to investigate, whilst big brother and sister are busy using it in their own play.  Here, she is exploring play dough whilst N plays tea parties.  F enjoyed the tools as much as the dough – we gave her cutters (plastic, not sharp), a small wooden rolling pin, and a chef’s hat to make her part of the game.


Sometimes, it pays to be creative, and since F doesn’t like playing with ice (brother and sister have spent a lot of time investigating ice this winter), she has preferred exploring winter hats and scarves.


Plenty of “touch and feel” type books in our Christmas book box have ensured that it is just as much for F as the other two.  Our favourites are That’s Not My Snowman and The Usborne Touchy Feely Nativity.


It’s worth mentioning that babies are never too young to enjoy a good story.  Even when they can’t follow the story, they still seem to love the attention and the rhythm of the words.  By now, F is old enough to explore and investigate books, and enjoy pictures too, so board books with bold or textured illustrations are perfect – but she still enjoys listening to longer stories, even though she will not understand the content for a while.  L and N enjoy reading to her too, and I think it is a great way of involving her, to involve the older ones in looking after her and teaching her.11112012(035)


Nature walks are another activity that can be enjoyed by all ages – F just loves being out in the fresh air, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, but I especially like getting her out of her pushchair to play, letting her explore the surroundings freely just like the others can (which is why a warm, waterproof suit is a must!)

Autumn leaf play

Autumn leaf play

exploring the frosty grass

exploring the frosty grass

Exploring with brother ans sister

Exploring with brother and sister

Indoors, whilst we played and learned about the Autumn, F played with leaves, and investigated her own pumpkin:


While we read Flat Stanley and made our own Stanleys to send off around the country, F investigated a range of flat objects:


While we painted, she made handprints:


While we made music, she joined in with rattles, bottles of dried pasta, jingle bells, and a xylophone:


L, N and F's band!

L, N and F’s band!


When we learned about the water cycle, F played with some coloured water:


And she loves to get in on the action with themed sensory baths – the bath is another great leveller in terms of play, with all three children being entertained and playing at their own level.


I think the golden rule with babies is that doing something is better than doing nothing – getting them out of their pram or sling, encouraging them to get active and interact with their environment, including them in the family’s activities rather than carrying them around as a passive observer – well, that is the valuable thing, and all experience is a learning one when you’re this tiny.  A tiny bit of extra thought to including F in our playtimes has made the whole juggling act much easier and meant that we are all focused on the same thing rather than my having t6o divide my attention between different activities.  I also think it is better for the older children to see F as a playmate rather than an unwelcome interruption to their activities, and better for her self esteem too!  And also, we’ve all had a lot of fun!