Sensory fun for pre-school children

Little girl and sunflower


Thinking of stimulating, entertaining activities that will keep pre-school children busy and promote sensory awareness can be tricky and expensive. But it doesn’t have to mean venturing off to a soft-play centre, buying pricey art and craft kits and attending music classes.

Just letting young children experience everyday life can be a great way for them to use their five senses to understand more about the world. Things like cooking, pottering around the garden/park and walking to the shops can all provide plenty of opportunities for your little one to explore and experiment with sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

So, for example, next time you’re in the garden or park, you might want to go on a sensory walk. Start off by standing still, closing your eyes and listening to all the sounds around you. Ask your child to describe all the things they can hear. Then go and feel the bark on a tree, some moss or leaves and twigs on the ground. What are they like to touch? Find some flowers and have a sniff. Do they smell of anything, and if they do, what is that smell like?

How CBeebies can help

Lots of CBeebies shows are great for promoting sensory awareness and thereby enhancing your child’s knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

‘Nina and the Neurons’ is all about the five senses and how they help us in everyday life. Scientist Nina demonstrates experiments and answers children’s questions in her lab. Why not click through to Nina’s web pages and select ‘Watch & Listen’ and take a look at some of her sensory experiments.

In ‘Mr Bloom’s Nursery’, children are encouraged to use their senses to find out more about plants as they watch Mr Bloom nurturing and tending the vegetables on his allotment.

And in ‘I Can Cook’, presenter Katie shows her young guests how to cook simple, healthy dishes and treats. She questions the children as they follow a recipe together, encouraging them to explain what they can feel, smell and taste.

Why not have your own baking and taste-testing session together and ask your child to describe what the ingredients look and feel like? Then, when the dish is cooked, let them sample their creation and see if they can describe the flavours and textures. (This activity is brilliant for developing your child’s vocabulary too.)

If your child prefers art and craft activities, then there are hundreds of fun makes to choose from in the ‘Make & Colour’ section of the CBeebies website. They are brilliant for stimulating the senses. Or why not get inspiration for some exciting, sensory things to do with your child by browsing our ‘Fun Activities’ section here on the Grown-Ups part of the CBeebies website?

How to make a magic moment

Why not allow your little one to follow in Mr Bloom’s footsteps and carry out a simple gardening task? You could give them the opportunity to nurture some plants which they can eventually eat. You could try growing herbs/salad leaves – they’re easy to grow in a pot from seed and relatively inexpensive.

A simple activity like pulling up weeds from the garden or along a grass verge could be equally as effective - encourage your child to feel and examine the roots, leaves and flowers, and compare similarities and differences with other plants.

Collecting and drying plants to create a textural collage for a scrapbook could be a good way of revisiting the activity and experiences and stimulating further conversation and enquiry.

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Top tips

  • Don’t ignore opportunities for sensory learning.
  • Let them experience different sensations. It can be as simple as picking up a
  • feather in the park and brushing it against their face, or smelling and tasting
  • different ingredients when you are preparing a meal.There is no substitute for hands-on
  • activities, e.g. water play (with buckets and watering cans), exploring the
  • garden (getting hands dirty digging in soil, examining plants, stones, leaves
  • and twigs), painting and sticking, playing with building bricks. Let them feel
  • and experience things for themselves.Get involved! Get down on the floor and
  • build bricks with your toddler or explore the garden/park together. Ask them to
  • tell you what they are doing, what something feels like or what they think will
  • happen next to help them make sense of the world around them.Encourage the questions – you can help
  • to develop your child’s methods of enquiry (which they will find useful in a
  • school setting) by leading by example. Help them to phrase questions by
  • modelling your own using the words who, when, where, what, why and how.

Expert opinion

Nurseries and Foundation Stage Units provide a wealth of different ways to stimulate your child’s enquiry skills. Simple, practical, hands-on activities such as construction can help to develop knowledge and understanding of the world.  Children are assessed on their ability to “...investigate places, objects, materials and living things by using all the senses as appropriate.

Early Years Foundation Stage profile, QCA (2008)

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