Is Sensory Play Really Important For Learning?



Yes… Babies, toddlers, preteens, teens, and adults can benefit from sensory play all the while having fun. It can assist with the awareness of one’s senses, opening the mind to new ways of learning, organized play, and understanding not everyone enjoys the same product or activities. Read on and I will explain to you the many ways you can use sensory play for learning.

Ready To Explore? Let’s Go!


Rainbow water beads, neon green sand, vanilla scented flour, colorful glue paint, and more!!!! There are so many sensory products that can be used to explore the senses.

What’s so great about sensory products?


Well, you can create your own edible slime! You’ve made slime, so what? It is all about the process. Sometimes it may be a few steps and other times more to create slime. Marshmallow slime for example is a few steps and one would be partaking in two or more step directions when creating the item. It can help understand the basics of science- cause and effect.

Don’t Be Afraid To Get Messy

I am not a parent, but I’ve seen parents exhibit some level of concern when their child gets paint all over the place when finger painting. A three-year old will not understand why they should keep their hands confined to a sheet of paper. They see colors and feel the thickness on the paint. Oh yes he did! He surely just dunked his hand into the bowl of yellow paint after using brown, and you know what? He just made a discovery of a new color.

One thing I really enjoy when watching children and even adults engage in organized play, is that when finger painting, you’ll find the artist placing their entire hand in the paint. They may also lick the paint or smell the paint. They may also get a glob of paint and squeeze it in her tiny little hands and consider their face or clothing as a canvas. Just know it’s all part of the process.

During this paint session they just learned if: paint is tasty or not, paint is a solid, different colored paint can transform into another color, as well as what the consequences of missing the actual sheet of paper are. They also get an understanding of how they feel after getting a thick substance like paint on their skin or clothing, all the while getting a whiff of it. Dive in. It’s okay, the paint will wash away.

Work Hard Play Harder

Organized play is the best! The person or persons engaged in organized play are given an activity with specific items to utilize. They are not told to just go into the playground and play with whatever item, however they want. They are in a room where there may be several stations with different products of various textures or scents.

One station may have a bin of cornmeal. Another bin may have a variety of balls: squishy, spiky, hard, soft, or bumpy. There may also be bins with lavender scented water beads. All the stations above can be created with the teacher and the student, which would allow the student to understand the process of creating any given station. Some stations would be faster than the other. My personal favorite is the process of creating the lavender scented water beads, which are very fun and messy while being very calm with the lavender scent. They can be used as autism sensory products as well and help with exposure to different textures and scents.

Now the stations are complete! Let’s find all the buried treasure in the cornmeal.

Use You Imagination

The best example of organized play for me, can me can be pretend play. So, what is preted play? Pretend play if a form of play that involves using items and incorporating a story line to promote functional communication. Let me give you an example. So, you have a lego set and you and your child is building it once it’s done, you imagine the lego person is climbing up into a truck, then you take that action. You have the lego person walk to the vehicle and climb in, all the while nararating your actions, and then say: “let’s go”. Check out my review for lego city jungle review and learn other ways to use pretend play when playing with legos. Another example can be using play food. You should be able to ask the questions: what, how, why, and so on to get open communication while playing.

Little chefs out there, this is for you! When engaging in pretend play with a play kitchen and play food you can open up for constant communication. The example is seen below.

A: What are you making?

B: I’m making a fruit salad.

A: How are you making it?

B: First I, using a knife to cut up the lettuce and strawberries, and then I’m going to mix them up in a big bowl

A: Why are you going to but it in a big bowl?

B: I have to put them in a big bowl because they can’t all fit on the cutting board.

A: Ooh…

Now if a child is too young and/or haven’t reached the level of communication as seen above, you can provide verbal prompts to help you child accomplish functional communication during pretend play with: full verbal prompts, partial verbal prompts, or 2 second delay partial verbal prompts. The example as seen below.

A: What are you doing? (Says: “Cooking”)

B: Cooking (Child repeats)

A: Where is the pot? (Delevers the full verbal prompt: “On top” if child has a greater vocabulary- say: “On top of the stove”)

B: (Child repeats)

A: Do this. (Stirs the pot and then gives the child a full physical prompt to do the same if needed) What arre you doing? (Say: “Stirring”)

B: (Repeats)

All of these are example of functional communication. Keep in mind that even if you delever a full verbal prompt, your child may not repond to it and may not repeat. It may have to do with the child not being ready to answer questions on that level and that’s okay. You can always work on the action and process of cooking as well as cutting up play food. Also, pretend serveing and eating play food can be really fun too! There are so many thing you can do with pretend play.


Something For Everyone

Autistic children and adults may have challenges with some sensory products. Not everyone will enjoy the same activity. One person may love being wet, where another person may be terrified to immerse their hand in a bin of wet action figures. For this reason know what you like and try to explore what works for: you, your child, your friend, or other family members. With time, even items that you may fear, you may come to enjoy. The great thing about sensory play is that it can transfer into the real world. It can lead to one being able to finally not fear taking a bath or touching a food item that is rough.

Here are different senses you can target using sensory play and a few of the product that you can use:

  • Vestibular- Being aware of motion and one’s balance
  • Proprioception- The sense on one’s ability to grasp items or the feel of something like a hug
    • Paint Brushes
    • Crayons
    • Tool Kit
  • Visual- The ability to see
    • Liquid Motion Bubbler
    • Liquid Light Projector
    • Melissa & Doug Switch Spin Magnetic Gear Board
  • Oral- The taste or feel of an item in one’s mouth
  • Olfactory- Sense of smell
    • Scented putty
    • Essential oils
    • Scentco Smanimals Cotton Candy Bunny
  • Auditory- The sense of hearing
    • Edushape Animal Shape Shakers
    • Xylophone
    • Whistle
  • Tactile- The sense of touch
    • Shape Fiddle Cushions
    • Connect And Create Tub
    • Slime
    • Legos 

You can use one specific product to target all five senses. You can use a light up musical instrument toy set where one can: touch, see the item light up, listen to what you play, experience the hand motion, feel the strength of your grip, and feel their mouth on a flute.

Give Into Sensory Play

Dish Soap Bubbles

There are so many more products one can purchase or even create on their own to stimulate the behaviors above. There are so many options and tons of possibilities. Using sensory products can help in: problem solving, creating sharing opportunities, being responsible, courage, and being flexible among many other things. I just want to bring up that people sensory processing disorder will find some of the activities discussed above difficult to handle. Just remember, ease into the activitiy and if it is too challenging, move on to something else. You can always go back to it again! I want you to try it out and explore with sensory play. If you are struggling with space in your home to accommodate some products, just take your child or entire family on day trips!  Feel free to share your experience(s)! If you have any questions, concerns, and/or suggestions, please comment.



8 thoughts on “Is Sensory Play Really Important For Learning?”

  1. Well, Orama, I am very happy I stumbled upon your article. My opinion is that you should never stop playing and all these suggestions sound very fun. Especially, immersing your whole hands in paint…and finger painting.
    I like the idea of using scented flour.

    Do you have any more examples of items satisfying more than one sense, other than musical instruments that light up? 🙂

    Thanks for writing this article, it really made my day.


    1. Yes, there are many examples of items and activities that can target many senses. One item can be edible homemade slime. You can: stretch it and feel the sensation of squeezing it, taste it and name the flavor, experience the look of it, and determine if it is sticky or not.

      Now, for activities- it get’s better. You can have a race in a small kiddie pool for children or for adults in a large pool. Instead of swimming across, one would be attempting to run across. This activity would bring awareness to: balance, how far another person would be from you, the sound the of splashing water, and the tension on your body from the water. These are just a few examples and I can go on and on. I suppose I will save that for another post. 

      Thank you for your comment Stella!

  2. Hello Orama,

    I truly enjoyed your article. The one thing that I’ve always felt is that a person should never stop playing…as you stated… “work hard, play harder”.

    Your variety of ways you show that one can immerse themselves in things is awesome. I would never have thought of at least half of them if not more.

    You have so many examples for each of our individual senses…

    Do you any additional articles planned that are related to one’s senses?

    Thank you for sharing…


    1. Thank you for your comment Ted! I will surely be writing on more ways to explore all of one’s senses soon, but I will be incorporating specific products. Have a good one!


  3. Hi Rama,

    Yes, I do agree with you! Sensory play is massively important for learning – but also so enjoyable!!

    Edible slims sounds great! Have you got a recipe?

    You also mention essentials oils – I know that normally you only need a tiny bit. Can you put too much in when mixing with other things and does it matter?

    I was just wondering about any health and safety issues.

    1. Hello Julia,

      Essential oils are great for calming purposes as well as exposing one to several scents. You can do so much with it. There are concerns with them as well. Before topical use on children or adults, you must first test for allergies. The best way to do this is by diluting the oil as follows 3 – 5 drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil. The carrier oil can be: olive oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, ext. Then from that mixture you place a cotton swab into it and you gently rub it on the person’s arm. It should just be a very tiny bit. If they are not allergic to it, then you can move on to using it. One doesn’t know they are allergic until they try it. Unfortunately, that’s how it goes.

      For babies the recommended amount of oil is 3 – 5 drops per 1 ounce of a carrier oil

      Children: about 20 drops of essential oil per 1 ounce of the carrier oil

      Adults: can use up to 60 drops per 1 once of carrier oil

      Now as for the edible slime, I will be posting a recipe soon! 

      Those were great questions. 



  4. Very good article! You got some great ideas here that I could introduce to my 4-year old nephews. I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles in the future!

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