Sensory play is a wonderful strategy to engage your little one. From vision to movement, to touch and taste, we are constantly receiving sensory information. When you introduce sensory play to your child, do not become discouraged if they are not receptive to it initially; consistent exposure to sensory play is key to helping your little one become more comfortable!
Below I have provided a few sensory play activities for infants, toddlers, and young children. Incorporating these activities and sensory components during play will facilitate gross motor development! Feel free to read through the entire activity list or scroll down to find your child’s age.
Zero to six months. Vision and movement.
- Use any red, white, or black item (infants can see those colors best) and move the item slowly back and forth during floor play to help them visually track. Eventually, move the items a bit out of reach to encourage your little one to roll!
- Try tummy time on a therapy ball to make the task a bit easier, especially if tummy time is not preferred. Carefully position the therapy ball close to you, place them on their belly, and support them at their hips. Position yourself in front of your little one and sing a song or talk to them, so they are more comfortable!
Six to twelve months. Balance, movement, and vision.
- Use a yoga ball for supported sitting! Your little one should be able to sit unsupported before you try this activity. Support them at their hips and sing songs like “row your boat” while gently moving them forward, backward, and side to side.
- Use a tunnel to promote crawling. Place some of your child’s favorite items inside the tunnel to encourage them to crawl through.
- Blow bubbles while your little one is standing to play on the couch! As they become more confident, blow bubbles just out of reach to encourage cruising.
One to two years old. Movement, vision, and balance.
- Blanket swing! Place a blanket on the floor and have your little one sit down in the center of the blanket. You and another adult should take either end of the blanket, slowly lift, and swing back and forth!
- Using a ride-on toy, have your kiddo practice standing on one leg while bringing their other leg around and over the ride-on toy. This is a great way to practice balancing on one leg!
- Throwing a ball forward, I love to use different texture balls during this activity for more tactile input (touch). You can have your toddler practice throwing balls into an empty bin.
Two to three years old. Motor planning (the ability to move our bodies the way we want to complete a motor task), vision, touch, and balance.
- Practice jumping with your little one! Use painter’s tape to make a circle on the floor inside or make a circle with sidewalk chalk outside!
- Play catch with a large ball! You can bounce the ball or toss it to them. Adding in a phrase like “1,2,3” or “ready, set, go” can help your child anticipate when to bring their hands in front of their bodies to catch the ball.
- Practice walking on balance pods or outside on an uneven surface. The more opportunities they have to practice using their movement and visual systems together- the better!
Three to four years old. Motor planning, vision, and self-regulation.
- Climbing on a jungle gym or up and down a ladder at the playground is a fun activity that strengthens those little muscles!
- Animal walks are a great option if your kiddo seems to have an abundance of energy. Demonstrate how to jump like a frog, walk like a crab, or hop like a bunny! Then, have your little one try to imitate the movements!
- Stack a few dixie cups or blocks into a pyramid. Have your kiddo stand a few feet away and toss a ball or bean bag at the pyramid to knock it down! Make this more challenging by balancing on one foot or standing on an unstable surface like a pillow.
Four to five years old. Balance, visual, auditory, and motor planning.
- Pedaling on a bike or tricycle is a very involved sensory-motor experience and a great opportunity to practice multisensory processing!
- Create an obstacle course indoors or outdoors! Use a tunnel, balance beam, walk over cushions, crawl under a table, run in between cones or pillows, jump on certain spots on the rug or a designated spot outside, pick up a ball or bean bag along the way, and toss it into a bucket!
- Gross motor Simon Says! Try different movements like skipping, walking in a straight line, hopping on one foot, and jumping over an object. You can also incorporate the animal walks into this game!
Annmarie is a pediatric occupational therapist providing in-home services throughout Fairfield County and New Haven County. She is passionate about improving independence for the pediatric population by focusing on sensory processing, gross motor, and fine motor development through sensory play! Annmarie promotes development by the use of therapeutic play during occupational therapy sessions. She helps children transfer the skills they have acquired to their everyday activities – diaper changes, potty training, dressing, bathing, feeding, sleeping, and of course – play! Follow Annmarie on Instagram @annmarie_ot and on Facebook Annmarie DeMarco OT and annmarieot.com.