Did someone say PLAY? Check out these fine motor and sensory activities perfect for little brains and hands! Click on the images for a brief description of each activity. Enjoy!
Safari Sensory Play
Stuff you need: barley, different coloured lentils, oats, a container, safari animal figurines, rocks and little hands. *You could use anything in the container like sand, dirt, rice or beads! Totally up to you. 🖑
Tip the grains into the container in any way you like. I chose to put them side by side so Louie can see the different textures. Eventually they'll all get mixed up together anyway. Pop the animals in the container and invite your little one to explore.
Louis was slow to get his hands into the tray and started his exploration just with the animals. He cautiously avoided all the "safari dirt" to begin with. But before long, he started running his fingers through the safari dirt , picking them up, pouring them out of the container and really getting gritty and messy! He would use his little fingers to sprinkle oats all over our Spoodle, Henry. Oh no.
By manipulating all of the safari dirt he is working his fine motor skills and he's creatively moving the animals around (and I assist him with animal noises to make it more fun!)
BUT my fave part of this activity was integrating YouTube. I played background safari sounds while we were exploring. It really added in a whole new sensory experience for him. Lions roaring, birds chirping the occasional water trickle made for a more rich SAFARI experience! He was mesmerized.. . And so was I a bit! Ha!
Don't be shy to use YouTube in this way. It will help your child make sense of what they see and feel by adding in a 3rd sensory element. The amount of learning happening is huge!!
Has anyone made it before?? This was my first time making it and I have to thank my sweet friend over at @incy_wincy_fingers for the inspo!
Stuff you need: White rice, food colouring, zip lock bags, baking tray, baking paper
How to: Put white rice in a zip lock bag and add ALOT of food colouring. Zip up the bag and toss it all around so the rice gets covered with the food dye. Tip the rice onto a tray lined with baking paper and pop it into the sun to dry!
Coloured Rice is excellent for sensory play! It's fun for the little ones to dig their hands into and the colours make it a great treat for the eyes! You can mix up the rice so it's all multicolored or you can keep them separate so you can use them to help teach your little ones about the colours!
Tricky Basket Navigation
This activity is great for Louie's problem solving skills, fine motor, persistence and resilience!!
Stuff you need: craft twine, a small basket, toys/ figurines/small balls/ magnetic letters (literally anything will work!) and little hands.
Loop the twine through the holes in the basket to create little spaces. Drop in the toys (or whatever you choose to use) to the bottom of the basket. Then invite your little champion to navigate their way through the twine and collect the toys.
Watch them problem solve and build their persistence! L got very frustrated because the legs of the animals kept getting caught. Ergh! This challenge would be perfect for some kids, but L is not ready for it yet. So in future I would either make the spaces bigger, or swap the animals for balls to make it slightly easier for him. It's really important that we challenge our little ones, but its even more important that they experience some success. So by making it slightly easier for him we can achieve that!
Have you ever tried an activity only to realise your little one wasn't ready for it?? Tell me about it! Send me an email or message me on here, Instagram or Facebook!
Who knew that muffin trays could be used for more than just baking?? This activity is perfect for hand eye coordination.
Stuff you need: Muffin tray, assortment of balls, little hands
Invite your child to play by putting the equipment on the floor and modelling what to do. As you put a ball in each space say words like "inside" or "in" so they start to associate the motions they are performing with directional language. Tell them what your doing "I am putting the ball in."
Encourage your child to copy you. Every time they pick up a ball to put it in the spaces, point to a vacant space and say "in" or "inside" as a gentle prompt to help them out.
Lastly, and SO important is praise! Make sure you praise your child for their efforts. Try to make your feedback specific like "Great listening." or "Good hand skills." or "i love how you are trying your best." Providing positive feedback for the THINKING rather than the outcome will encourage your child to keep thinking! It's vital for a life of learning.
ICE CUBE PAINTING
AStuff you need: food colouring, ice cube trays, icypole sticks, paper and little hands
Fill your ice trays with water and drop in your fave colours! Be generous though because they will come out watery and transparent if you don't put enough. Carefully place an icypole stick in each compartment and freeze! When you're ready to use them pop them out of the trays and display them in a shallow container so your child can clearly see and choose the one they'd like to use.
L grabbed the sticks and blotted, swirled, tapped and scribbled on the paper. Such great practise for his fine motor skills and developing his creative thinking
Because the food dye is non toxic, him licking the "paints" wasn't a concern for me! His lips were very blue and green by the end! Cuteness!! Give it a try!
Whipped Cream Sensory play
I have seen sensory play with shaving cream done many times! But I'd like most of the things L plays with to be non toxic. So I made a little change!
Stuff you need: Whipped cream, small toys of your choice, shallow tray or lid, food colouring (optional)
Squirt the cream into a shallow tray. Then I pop a bunch of different things into the cream for your child to explore. Spoons, animals, shells, rocks, glitter, food dye... literally anything! The world is your oyster! Remember to watch the littlest guys very carefully in case they put some of the props in their mouth.
Louie explored the different textures and by using whipped cream we added in the sense of taste for him to explore too!
I gave him a squirt bottle with red water inside (food dye) and he even squirted the red water into the cream to change its colour and consistency!
This stimulated his senses (particularly taste, touch, sight) and his fine motor skills got a great workout too, manipulating the nic nacs.
I'd highly recommend this play for your little ones! But be quick... it can melt pretty quickly and end up being eaten even quicker!!
Stuff you need: bowl, water, small toys or nic nacs (get creative), cooking utensils, plastic pick or scavenger tools, watering can
Fill a bowl with water and pop in as many little toys or nic nacs that you can. Freeze overnight. Then put the ice block in a big plastic container and prepare the equipment you have to chip away at the ice. Give your child more water (in containers or watering cans) to pour over the ice block to hurry the excavation along if you need to. It takes a surprisingly long time to melt.
Encourage your child to chip away at the ice and tip more water over the giant blocks to make it melt quicker! As the toys inside break free encocurage your child to name them. They can make predictions of which animal they will free first!
An excellent sensory and oral language activity perfect for learning new words and practising our speaking skills, and or course, great for fine motor skills and hand eye coordination.
L spent most of his time throwing extra toys in and licking his wet fingers! ... He has his own agenda! Lol! Nonetheless, he was exposed to a new play experience and for that alone I'm so happy for him!
Pom Poms and Chopsticks
Stuff you need: Different sized and coloured pom poms, chopsticks, small tongs, small containers or bowls
To start I just popped the equipment on the floor and directed L to the activity and sat back and watched.
He tried hard to use both tools to transfer the pom poms from one container to the other, and back again! He used his hands too. I had to watch him though... He did sneak a couple in his mouth! Cheeky toddler!! He had never used tongs or chopsticks before so he spent most of the time curiously exploring the tools! It was very sweet watching the wonder in his eyes.
This is a quick and easy way to buy yourself 15 minutes to get dinner ready and it's amazing for their fine motor skills. You could even take it one step further and sort them by colour. Louie isn't quite ready for that, but we definitely will be trying it one day soon!
Icy Pole Stick Mailbox
Stuff you need: old baby wipe containers or tissue box, icy pol sticks, little hands
I always keep these containers because the lids can easily be popped open with a press of a button. Perfect for learning fingers!
Put the container and sticks on the floor or at a desk and invite your child to put the sticks inside. model it for them first and say words like "in" or "inside" as you are going. Tell them what you are doing. "I am putting the stick inside the box."
Louis takes a stick and pops it through the opening of the container. He practises opening and closing the lid. He picks up the container and shakes it like crazy, exploring the sounds it makes. I showed him how the sounds are different depending on how many sticks are inside! Wow! I LOVED how he grabbed a bunch of sticks and put them next to him as if he was organising his tools before starting. Truth! I did not guide that, but I sure am proud of his organisational thinking!
To increase the learning, add in a little Maths by getting your child to count the sticks inside! They can practise counting forward and backward! Ask them to guess how many before they count- nothing more exciting than hypothesising!
Older children can have a sibling use a timer to time how many they can put inside in 10, 20 or 30 seconds!
Stuff you need: matchsticks, spice shaker and little hands
L carefully and mindfully puts each matchstick through the holes. It requires alot of focus and concentration. It's quite tricky for his little fingers so it helps develop his fine motor skills in a big way! The feeling of the matchsticks and the cool metal of the shaker provide more sensory information to keep his brain and interest sparked! The colours of the matchsticks are exciting for his little eyes too!
I put him in the high chair so he doesn't wriggle about. He can be calm and relaxed and just focus on the activity at hand.
Try this one with your little ones at home. Be sure to remove other distractions to help provide a quiet and peaceful space!
Sensory Water and Nature Play
This water and Nature sensory play was probably one of L's favourites. It kept him mindfully engaged for a long while.
Stuff you need: Frozen ice with berries and mint leaves inside (or whatever you like really), leaves, twigs, rose petals and any other natural bits and pieces you feel like. A tray, water, spoons, cups and little hands
I put the tray on our decking and laid out the utensils. I invited L to play by showing him the goodies he had available to him and that's it!! He crept on over and started swishing the water and petals about and trying to break the berries out of the ice.
I guided him by asking him what it feels like? What it looks like? What it feels like? No, he doesn't speak yet. No, he didn't answer me. But I know that his brain is listening. Taking it all in because one day he will speak!
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the cutest little reader of them all??
Here's a tip! Try adding a mirror to your little one's day to day play! Mr L loves playing with the mirror. It adds another depth and perspective to his experience.
He looks at his face, makes funny expressions and is always surprised when I pop my head in too!! He plays with his toys alongside the mirror and always looks so intrigued when he realises theres only 1 of his toy even though he sees 2!
Mud and Animal Play
Stuff you need: A tray, dirt, water, animal figures and little hands
Let your little one get dirty and explore what mud and dirt feels like. Pretend like animals are on the farm, and they are rolling around in the mud!
Talk about what they feel and see. Show excitement when you uncover a new word they haven't used or heard of before!
Next, you could wash the animals which provides another wonderful sensory and language experience.
Stuff you need: Soapy water, animal figurines and a scrubbing brush
Give your play animals a little scrub a dub dub!! Playing with the soapy water is a great way to talk about temperature, bubbles, dirty, clean, wet or dry! The language exploration in this experience is amazing! And the sensory stuff is just as good too!!
This is so easy!! Use the bathroom sink indoors if it's too cold outside!!
Our #bookishplay idea for the book Wombat Stew was obviously to make our very own wombat stew! Delicious!!
We weren't able to source the same ingredients as the book version, but part of our imaginative play means we use what we can find and that's OK.
Stuff you need: a tray or bowl, water, bits and bobs from nature and little hands. We used pasta, sultanas, dirt, leaves, lentils, debris from trees and rocks.
We have read the book a few times over the past few days, just to set the scene for relevant and associative play. Then I popped all the "ingredients" on the floor and let L go for it.
He needed a little bit of help to out the ingredients in at times, but he mostly independently just dumped, swirled, swished and tasted #toddlerlife Haha!
Stuff you need: plastic cups and little hands
That's it!! How easy is this?! Perfect for rainy days, this fine and gross motor experience is great for building cognitive and motor skills at once!
The building and manipulating helps develop problem solving skills and creativity.
See how high or wide your little one's tower can be! And be sure to talk about it with them so you can expose them to a bunch of new language!
Salt and Wooden Letters sensory #invitationtoplay
Stuff you need: A shallow tray, wooden letters, salt, a drop cloth and little hands
In this #mindfulplay set up I included only the letters in L's name. At this early stage of his life, recognising his name is absolutely not the goal. He's far too little. But, exposing him to the letters in his name can help organically imprint them in his mind over time. No rush in our house!
The salt provided great sensory feedback for L and the wooden letters were a hard and pointy contrast to the grainy salt. L searched for the letters and sifted through the salt to find them. The salt ran through his fingers and created small mounds which he then squashed with open palms! Very cute!
There was a bit of mess, as always, but nothing a quick stick vacuum can't fix!
If your little readers are a bit older you could collect and sort the letters. Ask questions like "what are the letters in your name?" "Which letters can you see?" "Can you put all of the same letters together?" Etc
Sensory Nature Play
Stuff you need: a tray, bits and bobs from nature and playdough
I love this simple activity because it's so easy! I just set up a bunch of things that L and I have collected from our outings together. Included some playdoh so the sensory experience was just that little bit more diverse.
He pushed, prodded, pulled and squished all the parts, making it for lots of fun and valuable skill building for his fingers and mind.
We set this up both inside and outside so it's great in warm or cool weather!
Blocks are a SUPER TOY! They provide so many wonderful benefits for our kiddos and their learning! Fine motor skills, problem solving, creative thinking and persistence are just some of them!
Something else to consider... next time your child plays with blocks, take the time to talk about the colours! Name them, describe them and encourage some pattern making! Why not use this play experience to squeeze in some Maths learning!
Colour Sensory Basket
Stuff you need: Collection of bits and bobs of one colour, a book or You Tube clip as a point of reference
I set up this sensory basket for L so we can start learning the colours. It's a super easy way of engaging him in one colour at a time and making it fun as we go!
If you have slightly older children, you could give them the basket empty and send them off on a colour hunt so they can do the collecting!
Great indoors or outdoors! Yesss!!
Scented Cloud Dough Play
Stuff you need: 1 cup of hair conditioner (I get an organic brand that smells like essential oils), 2 cups of cornflour, small toys and little hands. *optional lentils and grains to squish inside for extra texture.
* you can add your own essential oils or even go scent free by using a conditioner with no scent.
I mixed it all together into a dough and plonked it onto the table. I put the animals near by and even put the lentils in a container nearby just to see what L would do!
He totally loved it!! He pushed and prodded the dough. Squished in the lentils, and manipulated the animals! It also smelt delicious!!
It bought us a good 30 minutes of play! Win all round!