Sensory Play

What is sensory play?

 Sensory play, also called “messy play”, is play which stimulates a child’s senses; sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and also their physical development.  Some examples of sensory play include dry rice, dry pasta, cereal and jelly…. the list is endless!  


How does sensory play build language? 

Playing with different textures, tasting and smelling objects will allow your child will build up new ways of talking about the world around them.  For example water doesn’t have to be just wet, talk to your child about how it feels – is it slippery?  Is it bubbly?  Is it hot or cold?  What does it smell like?​

Talk to your child about what you are doing during sensory play and keep language simple for example when playing with dried rice say ‘rice in’ when putting rice into a bowl, ‘round and round’ when stirring the rice, ‘all gone’ when the rice has been emptied out of the bowl.

Some children take a while to get used to different textures. Introduce new textures gradually and never force your child to explore them.

Top Tips for sensory play at home

  • Keep it simple! You don’t have to go out and buy expensive items for sensory play.  Look in your kitchen cupboards – rice, pasta, cereals, washing up liquid in water and baked beans are great items to use!

  • Use items in your kitchen e.g. spoons and bowls to fill, scoop, empty and stir. 

  • Allow your child to freely explore the items you have put out using their senses; touch, smell, taste etc, but don’t pressure them if they aren’t ready to do this yet. 

  • Why not try incorporating this into your child’s bath time with plastic cups and bowls for pouring and emptying.

  • Manage the mess by using an old shower curtain, plastic table cloth or even a small paddling pool.

  • Smile and enjoy the experience with your child; if your child sees you are relaxed and enjoying it, they will want to join in the fun too.

  • Talk to your child about what you are doing, and what they are doing too – most of all enjoy! 

Download our Sensory Play guidance here.

How to follow your child's play

All children play- it is an instinct they are born with. Play can take on various forms from simple passing of toys to acting out fantasy play. Play is important for language development. You can help your child’s play develop by joining in, offering appropriate toys and reacting when he wants to involve you.

Watch what your child is doing for a few minutes. Sit alongside them and get down to their level. Try to join in with what they are playing with or imitate their play alongside them to show you are interested.


For example if your child is playing with cars:  start playing with them by getting another car and driving it alongside whilst making funny sounds (e.g. weee, vroom, beep beep, eek.)

Respond to talking attempts even if they are not clear- Always model the correct word back but don't force your child to say it.

If your child does not have words yet respond to their gestures and sounds they make and again model the real words to them.


If your child is using some words already try expanding on these words. For example, if they say “car” whilst rolling the car down the ramp, you can comment by saying “ car rolling “  try and keep language simple and relevant.

  • It is ok to add to their play. So after the they have rolled the car down the ramp a few more times move their play on for them for example; Introduce rolling cars in the paint to make marks, add blocks to make bridges for the car

  • However, if your child decides she would rather continue to roll it down the ramp or move onto another activity this okay too.

Other examples if you child is interest in…

  • Farm animals – Model the sounds the different animal makes, add the animals in a tray with  hay, straw, oats etc. for a sensory experience

  • Dolls - Add props to support pretend play e.g. bowl, cup, spoon, blanket or take  the doll with you to the park or the shop to extend their interest outside the home

  • Some children take a while to ‘let you in’ to their play. Continue to play alongside and show that you enjoy the play too- eventually they will start to join you, it might just take time.


Download our Play guidance here.


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