Sensory Engagement Activities for Early Childhood

Hands-on materials give students opportunities to learn by engaging their senses.

Preschoolers examine the world using all five of their senses. Their senses are the most familiar ways for them to process and understand new information, because they have been doing so since birth. Teachers can help hone each sense by introducing sensory activities to young children.

1 Sensory Table

Most early childhood classrooms contain a sensory table, or a place where students can explore using their hands and other senses. Materials such as rice, beans, sand and water fill these tables. Provide students with cups, buckets, small shovels and spoons to allow the children opportunities to dig, pour and dump. Activities involving messy materials such as finger paint, cornstarch and water goop can also be done at the sensory table.

2 Modeling Dough

Using modeling dough with young children can enhance many of their developmental skills. As they squeeze and roll the dough, the children are using the small muscles in their hands to develop fine motor skills. As they mold their dough into different shapes, the children are practicing creative exploration. When teachers talk about what the students are creating, it helps to develop language skills in the students that connect to the sensory experience. Teachers can also enhance the sensory experience by adding scented oils or flavored drink mix to the modeling dough, so that preschoolers can smell it as they play with it.

3 Exploring Colors

Young children are often still learning about colors, so teachers can engage their senses as they study this concept. Give preschoolers water colored with food coloring in the primary colors of red, yellow and blue. Allow them to pour a little from two of the containers into another cup and watch as the colors mix to create a new color. Teachers can also provide students with finger paints in two colors, and ask them to mix the colors together to find out what color it makes. Students can look through sheets of colored cellophane or place two sheets of colored cellophane over each other to explore those colors.

4 Taste Tests

Sense of taste is often the least-explored sense in a classroom, but teachers can plan activities for children to get an opportunity to engage their taste buds. For example, when studying apples, children can taste several types of apples and decide which flavor they like best. When studying pumpkins, teachers can toast the pumpkin seeds and allow students to taste them. Children often need to be introduced to a new flavor several times before accepting it, so providing opportunities to engage preschoolers' sense of taste helps to develop this.

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.