3 top tips for ‘at home’ sensory play ideas for young children and children with additional needs

Egg Box Theatre shares their 3 top tips for sensory play ideas for young children and children with additional needs that  you can do at home.

1. Less is more

Sometimes the thought of bringing sensory playtime into your home can be off putting, especially if you’ve only just got the place looking ship-shape. And while we at Egg Box Theatre are advocates for the joys of making a big old mess, we understand that it’s not always an appealing prospect.

One of the things we have come to learn though our time creating sensory experiences for children is that it’s not all about having as many different sensory items as possible. Actually, the imagination can be stimulated even more if you stick to a couple of materials, or maybe even just one, and experiment with how much play can be inspired by finding different ways to use them.

Take the simple scarf: This colourful item is versatile and affordable. You can have fun with just one, or break out dozens and still have an easy tidy away at the end the session. These little gems also take up next to no storage space.

Here’s some scarf playtime suggestions for younger and less mobile children

  • It can be draped over their heads, changing the colour of their view.
  • Drawn slowly over faces repeatedly, giving a calming and relaxing effect. You could do this in time with your favourite music, making it a nice experience for both of you.
  • Wafted to create a wind effect.
  • Thrown up over the child for an exciting visual effect and anticipation about where it will fall.
  • Brought into bath time creating, new textures and colours in the water.
  • Attached to elastic and held by a grown-up, or attached to a surface, will create an exciting catapult effect and dancing after effect when pulled.

For older and more mobile children

  • Scarves can be places inside a scarf ball with holes for children to practice pulling them out. This could also be achieved by pushing scarves into an empty toilet roll or a cardboard box with holes cut out.
  • Throw scarves up in the air and challenge your child to catch them before they hit the ground.
  • Practice moving the scarf by blowing it.
  • Have a dance together and enhance these dance moves by incorporating scarfs.
  • Holding the scarf at the edge with their fingertips, challenge your child to write their name in the air with the scarf.
  • Scarf treasure hunt – Hide your scarf(s) (in plain sight) around your house and garden and invite your child to find them.

The same principle can be applied to any sensory item. Choose an item for the day, then think up as many different ways to play with it as possible. You can play all day long, and still only have one thing to pack away at the end of it. Also remember that repetition is good, playing the same game over and over can still bring joy, new learning and fresh ideas for your child, so if they’re still enjoying something there’s no need to move on from it right away. Relax into it and enjoy the repetition.


2. Play together

Playing with your child can have immense benefits for both of you. Taking time out for mindfulness can be difficult but adjusting how you see playtime could help.

This doesn’t just have to be an activity solely for you child. As adults, we often overlook the importance of play, but as theatre makers, play is an integral part of our practice and so we can vouch firsthand for the benefits of inviting play back into your adult life. So, whilst you are taking the time to invest in your child’s development and your bond with them, you can also invest in your own mental health.

Benefits for your child

  • By taking on roles such as narrator, instructor and supporter, you are encouraging language development as you play. Asking them to describe what they are doing as they play will also support language development and encourage autonomy.
  • Playing with others build cooperation and helps us to see things in a different way.
  • Playing develops creativity and problem-solving.
  • Playing promotes physical fitness .

Benefits for you

  • You are stimulating your own creativity as you think up new offerings to bring to the play session. Demonstrating new things can also ease your child’s anxiety at trying new experiences.
  • Play improves relationships. Whether in the context of sensory play with your child or playing games with other adults, the act of play helps us build bonds with each other and enjoy our time together.
  • Focusing on the play and fully immersing yourself in the activity can quiet those constant nagging thoughts and give your brain a well-deserved rest. Don’t spend this time just facilitating the play and continuing to worry. Let yourself into the world of play, reap its restorative rewards and enjoy a genuine shared experience with your child.

3. All reactions are valid

When experimenting with sensory stimulation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only seeing smiles and laughter as a cause for celebration. Of course, it’s always heartwarming to share an experience in which everyone is smiling and having a good time. But don’t be afraid of the moments when your child experiences something they’re not sure about, or even something they don’t like. All types of experiences with sensory play have value. Learning comes in many forms, and processing negative emotions is just as essential to development as positive ones.

Things you can do to help your child process the negative experience

  • Give them control over what happens next. Now they have discovered that they didn’t enjoy something, let them decide whether to remove the item form the play session or not, or whether the repeat the activity or not.
  • If the reaction is strong and tears or tantrums occur, give lots of positive attention and affection. Keep your cool and remember that negative reactions are ok. Let them process the feeling then move on from it with a new activity.
  • Give your child plenty of praise when they manage to regain composure and are ready to continue playing.

Other easy sensory play activities to try at home

  • Guessing sounds
  • Chasing torch light
  • Sensory scavenger hunt – find 5 items around your environment, one for each sense.
  • Blindfold tasting – guess the taste
  • Word board texture hunt – write down some words to describe texture. Go on a hunt with your child to touch and discover items around the home that fit the description. Eg. Smooth – The bath. Spikey – A broom. Slimy – Yoghurt. Bobbly – Knitwear ect.

Whatever you decide to do in your play session, the most important thing to remember is to do it together and do it wholeheartedly. It’s the best way to have fun!