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Explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with these sensory play ideas and easy activities for kids that combine fun and learning.
Babies use their senses to explore the world around them, that’s why they’re always sticking things into their little mouths! As they grow into toddlers and then young children, sensory play remains vital – it stimulates brain development, assists with motor skills, and encourages problem solving and scientific thinking. Here are five fun STEM activities for kids that little ones will love.
It might be messy, but sand is a wonderful medium for sensory exploration. At the beach or sand pit, kids love to run it through their fingers and dig in with their toes. The beauty of sand is it inspires creativity and imaginative and tactile play, as children make up their own games, hiding their toys, or digging with trucks and tools.
There are so many ways to learn and play with sand – try setting up a sand station or table and provide plenty of accessories like spades, forks, buckets and sieves. Coloured sand can be used for mixing, pouring, layering and making sand art; this engages the sense of sight too.
Kinetic or sensory sand is an amazing sand/playdough hybrid: it’s stretchy and mouldable for creating shapes and building structures. Kids absolutely love it – and parents will too as it doesn’t dry out and has a slightly sticky texture which means clean up is a breeze. Check out the new range of Educational Colours kinetic sand – their Sensory Magic Sand is super-duper mouldable and their Sensory Cotton Sand has a really unique texture and can be pinched, pulled apart, stretched and squeezed.
The whole family can get involved in this fun STEM learning activity, which will hopefully inspire a lifelong interest in science. All you need is a blindfold and some simple food items from your kitchen. Set up some small bowls with salt, sugar, lemon juice, chili sauce, cocoa powder, Nutella, honey, mustard, soy sauce etc. Take it in turns to blindfold each other and “taste test” the items in each bowl – without your sense of sight. Encourage discussion and descriptions of what they’re tasting: is it sweet? Salty? Bitter? Sour? Spicy?
Now repeat the whole experiment and this time tasters have to pinch their noses closed while tasting. Does this affect the way things taste? Take it to the next level by conducting a blind chocolate taste test – buy a few blocks of chocolate made by various brands and get each family member to test the chocolate and rate it for qualities like creaminess, sweetness and meltability. The kids can help present their findings in a table – sensory play activities like these are an ideal way for them to learn scientific methods while still keeping the fun factor high.
Here’s an easy-peasy activity for kids that you can set up with items from around the house. When it comes to sensory play, this one ticks a few different boxes because it’s hands-on and tactile but also relies on colour recognition and sorting and motor skills. Fill a bucket or tub with some water. Add coloured matchsticks, pom poms or you can even use drinking straws cut into 3cm long pieces. The aim of the game is to scoop up the pieces with a slotted spoon or strainer and sort them into a corresponding coloured cup or bowl. Once all the items have been sorted, ask your little ones to count them and record how many of each colour there are – again, a savvy way to introduce concepts around scientific method, while also practising numeracy and literacy.
Deceptively simple, this is another hands-on project that’s as creative as it is inviting. Before you begin this sensory activity you will need to make some frames for your kids. Cut clear contact into various sized rectangles. Make a frame or border for each piece of contact using coloured cardboard and scissors. Stick the frame onto the contact and then trim any excess contact around the edges. Adhere them to a wall or window using sticky tape.
Make sure the sticky side of the contact is facing out towards you. Now get your kids to rip and cut coloured paper into strips and shapes. The ripping is actually a crucial part of this sensory play – the sound and feel of paper ripping provides aural and tactile feedback. Invite the kids to cover the sticky contact with their pieces of ripped and cut paper, creating a beautiful collage.
HOT TIP Save up coloured wrapping paper after a birthday party to use in this activity.
We love this STEM learning activity because it’s an easy process to follow, perfect for kid participation. And once your stress balls are made, there are endless ways for kids to play and develop their sense of touch with them: practise rolling, catching and throwing, learn to juggle or simply pinch, squeeze and pull them. Parents may find they need a stress ball during isolation every now and again, too.
To create these squishy stress balls, grab a pack of balloons, a funnel, some water and cornstarch. Stretch the mouth of the balloon over the end of the funnel (or you could also use the chopped-off top of a plastic soft drink bottle). Now add a little bit of water to give the balloon some weight. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into the funnel and work it into the balloon. Massage the water and cornstarch together inside the balloon. Continue in this way, carefully adding a little bit of water and tablespoons of cornstarch until your balloon is full. Slip the funnel out and carefully tie a knot in your balloon. You’re ready for squishy sensory play!
HOT TIP: Prefer a kit to guide you? Try these bouncy balls.