10+ sensory play benefits by age

Does the idea of sensory play stress you out or make you excited? Confession – it does both for me. But did you know all of the sensory play benefits for your infant, toddler and preschooler? I’m going to break it all down for you in this ultimate sensory play benefit guide!

Top view of toddler playing in a sensory bin of fake fall leaves

Disclaimer: When I wrote this post in 2020, I was really trying to keep it together during a pandemic, being stuck at home with 4 kids. After a few months of this, I burned out, fast.Over the next few months, I found joy in helping moms find their self-care routine that works for them, because I did. You can find my 6 step self-care assessment post here.

When I taught preschool, sensory play was one of my absolute favorite ways to do learning through play. Rarely did I come across a kid who didn’t enjoy sensory play. Even now, as a parent, it’s a strategy I like to use with my own kids – 8, 5, 2 and 2. Is it messy? Hell yes! But I try to remember the benefits of sensory play while I set up and clean up the play and mess.

For clarification purposes, here is what I define the age groups as – infants: 0-12 months, toddler 12-24 months, preschooler 2 years – 4 years.

Sensory play benefits for infants

  • Fine motor skills: Sensory play for infants really helps strengthen fine motor skills. Babies learn about hand-eye coordination early and handing them an interesting toy that makes noise and moves really helps foster that!
  • Large motor skills: Just the position you put baby in will help strengthen large motor skills. Sitting up, tummy time, standing at a door with the object taped to the door, etc.
  • Problem solving skills: Babies on the older side can be given sensory activities that require problem solving skills. Even little babies can benefit in this way by picking up a fallen toy. You solved a problem!
  • Body awareness: Sensory play can help babies become aware of their bodies. around 2 months, babies begin to try to move their body parts more and discover them. Sensory play really helps with that!
  • Language: Yes, babies who don’t speak words have language! Listening to you and repeating your sounds helps tremendously with language development!
  • Brain development: Stimulation and play in general really helps babies build nerve connections. Foster this!
top view of baby playing with a sensory water bag with pink tape around the edges and green baby oil in the water.
Baby Sensory Water Bag

Sensory play ideas for infants

Benefits of sensory play for toddlers

  • Fine motor skills: Did you know that any fine motor work helps strengthen pre-writing skills? It also helps with using utensils during meal time which leads to toddlers being more independent. The small movements also keep toddlers busy which is a HUGE plus for me!
  • Cognitive: As a toddler, we start to shift from basic survival skills (crawling, looking, grasping) to cognitive skills. Colors, animals, animal sounds, etc. These are big things you can work on with sensory play.
  • Self-Regulation: Toddlers start to experience sensory play and start to understand that sometimes sensory play is needed to regulate emotions. It’s a great pre-bed or pre-nap activity when you’re trying to limit screen time.
  • Body Awareness: Toddler still need a little help with hand-eye coordination and sensory play keeps them busy with activities that focus on hand eye coordination.
  • Problem Solving Skills: In the toddler age, problem solving skills go beyond shape sorters. While shape sorters are a great way to work on problem solving skills, sensory play is a great way to work on this skill as well. How much water fits in this cup? Does this truck fit through this tunnel? How many pom poms can go through this tube?
  • Social Development: Play side by side with your toddler or set him up with a sibling. See how he plays with or next to his sibling. This is some serious social work!
photo of toddler playing with a dinosaur frozen in ice

Sensory play ideas for toddlers

Benefits of sensory play for preschoolers

  • Fine motor skills: So much fine motor work happens with sensory play! Scooping, pouring, picking up, using tongs/tweezers, etc. As I said from toddlers, these are ALL pre writing skills and are so important to practice before writing. It helps kids understand how to control their hands and fingers for when it’s time to focus on writing.
  • Cognitive: Again, we’re focusing a little less on physical skills and more on colors, numbers, animals, community helpers, etc. They are learning new things EVERY SINGLE DAY!
  • Self regulation: As a preschooler, they start to be more aware of their surroundings and what they need for self regulation. A lot of times, this is sensory play for kids. You will start to see a change in their mood with sensory play and it’s a great activity for pre-nap, quiet time and before bed.
  • Problem solving: Just like toddlers, sensory play offers problem solving opportunities. What letter is this? Where does it go? Will all the blocks fit in this bucket? What does this animal eat? Etc
  • Social development: Again, have your preschooler do sensory activities with you or a sibling and watch them go from parallel (next to each other) play to cooperative (playing together) play. This translates to real life in so many ways!
Photo of young boy playing in cloud dough with 3 spoons

Sensory play ideas for preschoolers

My blog has tons of sensory bin ideas and they’re linked above! Check out these other posts: Sensory bin tools to keep on hand, Tons of sensory bin filler ideas, What is a sensory bin?

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