Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

Youthrive Integrated Therapy Services

By Madison Birmili Occupational Therapist at Youthrive

The human body consists of 7 sensory systems each play a critical role in the development of a child into adulthood. The 7 senses consist of touch, smell, taste, sight, sound, movement (vestibular) and body awareness (proprioception). Children begin developing these senses prior to birth from within their mother’s womb. Sensory play can be described as play which engages a child’s sensory system. Sensory play is a great way for children to begin developing positive relationships about themselves and the environment around them.

When does sensory development begin?

Sensory development commences during utero. A child develops their sense of smell first, during the first few weeks of life a child’s sense of smell and touch begin to develop most.

What age should you start sensory play?

Infants engage in sensory learning from birth and sensory play will begin from day one. Activities during the first few weeks of life can include, singing or talking to your baby, bathing, swaddling them and rocking you baby back and forth. As your baby continues to grow their sensory systems develop and will allow them to expand their sensory play opportunities.

What are the benefits to sensory play?


New brain connections are formed in their brain through play. A baby will begin learning more about the world which is around them and develop language as they respond to various information around them.


Toddlers are typically expanding their thinking abilities and will begin attempting to do things for themselves. They are discovering and learning new concepts such as time and opposites, soon they will begin comparing light to dark, and learning the differences between colours. Sensory play will encourage toddlers to form positive connections and exploring these concepts.


Pre-schoolers are often exploring autonomously and continuously expanding their language. Engaging them with sensory musical instruments or creating and building different shapes with various objects and materials is a great way to support language development. It can also support emotional regulation for children allowing them to become calm when anxious or frustrated. It can also help children to develop cognitive skills for focusing and paying attention.

How does sensory play help a child later in life?

Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills and social interaction to aid in lifelong learning.

What do I need for sensory play?

The options are endless…you can use everyday items within your home to engage your child in sensory play and many of these can be incorporated into your child’s daily routine.

Tactile Play: Children can learn about pressure, temperature, vibrations, and so much more so finding objects with various functions and surface materials will support this system.

  • Daily Routine Activities:
    • Rub lotion onto the body
    • Dress up – costumes or other clothes
    • Patting animals
    • Barefoot backyard walks
  • Other messy play ideas:
    • Slime, Water, Play doh, sand, rice play, whipped cream, edible paints, oats/cereal play, spaghetti/pasta play
  • Other non-messy tactile activities:
    • Sensory bag (Ziplock bag, food colouring, hair gel and good little trinkets to go inside)

Vestibular/Proprioceptive: Think of how you’re able to move your arms and legs freely without needing to look at them. That is thanks to proprioception.

  • Crawling/push ups
  • Pushing/pulling
  • Running/jumping on the trampoline
  • Blowing bubbles/chewing
  • Big hugs
  • Balloon fun
  • Back rubs
  • Rolling and curling up in blankets

Auditory Play:

  • Music – listening and making music with objects and instruments wooden spoon and a saucepan
  • Singing – sing favourite songs together; make some up as you go
  • Whistling, making different sounds, whispering
  • Reading Books – read with animation, vary pitch and tone (sit close)
  • Dancing and Singing – make noises with your feet as you move and sing

Visual Play:  Visual play helps to develop your child’s sight. Think of how your child watches the “airplane spoon” as you fly it into their mouth. Playing with, and identifying, colours and patterns is a fun and engaging way to encourage visual sensory play, you could tie this in with touch tactile play activities.

  • Playing catch
  • Drawing/painting
  • Stacking game (Lego/blocks)
  • Collage
  • Flashlight fun
  • Dot to dot

Olfactory and Taste Play: Children can develop these senses through games that encourage the exploration of smell and taste.

  • Food – smelling, tasting, mixing and cooking
  • Fruit and juices – colours, shapes, smells and tastes
  • Smell/taste and tell game
  • Scratch and sniff books/cards/pens
  • Other ideas
    • Scented edible paint
    • Spice painting (mix spices with paint then smell!)
    • Essential oils and water sensory bin

Please note that it is important to consult an occupational therapist if you have concerns for your child’s sensory processing needs and require appropriately recommended interventions.