What is sensory play?
One of the ways in which children learn is through their senses. Through touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and watching, young children learn about their world and their place within it.
Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Sensory activities encourage children to explore the materials and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. Spending time stimulating their senses helps children develop their thinking skills, language skills, socially and emotionally, physically and creatively.
Play dough is a versatile sensory experience; a few simple additions can change it from smooth dough to textured dough, or scented dough or even light soft fluffy dough! Simple additions such as coloured sticks, seed pods etc., leads to endless creative fun!
The malleable properties of play dough make it fun for investigation and exploration as well as secretly building up strength in all the tiny hand muscles and tendons, making them ready for pencil and scissor control later on.
Play dough recipes
Play dough is clean to use and cheap and easy to make.
Uncooked Play dough
1 Cup plain flour
¼ cup salt
1 tablespoon cooking oil
A few drops of food colouring
½ cup water
Mix the flour and salt together. Add the oil. Add the food colouring to the water, and then add the coloured liquid, a little at a time, to the flour mixture. Knead until the mixture is smooth and has the consistency of scone dough.
Multiply the quantity by the number of children using the dough. Children can mix this themselves.
Cooked Play dough
*This play dough will keep for about three months in an airtight container. It has a smoother consistency than the uncooked dough.
4 cups flour
4 cups salt
1 small packet cream of tartar
1 tablespoon oil
4 cups water
Mix flour, salt and cream of tartar. Add oil and water, stirring. Cook slowly until mixture thickens, stirring continuously.
4 Cups cornflour
¾ tube toothpaste (Home Brand is good)
* make as for play dough mixing with hands. Add water as needed and add cornflour if too wet. Store in an air tight container.
2 cups plain flour
2 cups water
1 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream tartar
1 tablespoon oil
Blend ingredients, microwave on high 2 minutes. Stir Microwave one minute. Stir, microwave one minute (4 minutes total). Allow to cool. Knead well.
1 part cornflour
3 parts salt
1 part water
Combine water and salt in a saucepan. Stir over a low heat for a few minutes. Gradually add cornflour, stirring until well mixed. Knead. Add more water if necessary.
1 kg self-raising flour
600 mls water
Combine the ingredients and mix well. Add colour if desired.
1 part conditioner
2 parts corn flour/corn starch
Food colouring (optional)
• Pour your conditioner into a bowl (we used a home brand conditioner – note that not all conditioners are of the same consistency so you may need to add a little more or a little less corn flour to get the right consistency for you)
• Pour in the corn flour
• Give the mixture a good stir
• Add a few drops of food colouring
• Mix well using your hands. This part smells delicious!
2 cups corn flour
1/3 to 1/2 of a cup vegetable oil or baby oil
3-4 tablespoons silver glitter
[You can also use baby oil, which makes it smell and feel even nicer, but do NOT use with under 3s or any child who may put it in their mouth as it is dangerous if ingested. We stick to vegetable oil just in case!]
Tool kit for play dough play
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but all of these elements can be used to create plenty of exciting, open-ended play times:
Rolling pins, plastic knives, scissors, pizza cutters
Cupcake cases in different sizes
Coloured and natural feathers
Pine cones, sticks, bark, leaves
Muffin tins, egg cartons, chocolate boxes,
Small cups and shot glasses
Alphabet, number and shape cookie cutters
Wooden letters and numbers
Fabric, netting and ribbons
Match sticks and lolly sticks
Natural sensory additions