Sensory Learning Activities: An A-Z.

Why sensory Learning?

Sensory learning – Sensory activities are those designed by educators to facilitate exploration encouraging children to use all their senses while they, create, investigate and explore. This is usually conducted through play although in the settings I have worked in also through structured planned learning activities. The sensory activities allow children to repeatedly process a range of sensory stimuli which in turn helps their brain to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information. According to the Independent review of the teaching of early reading (Rose Report 2006) multisensory learning is effective because it keeps children more engaged and focussed on their learning (Thompson 2011). This allows the development of core skills that can then be built on through sequenced planned learning.

Using sensory learning effectively

Sensory learning activities have the flexibility to be used in a range of settings and can be used to meet a range of learning needs from providing calming stimuli, reducing stress, stimulating proprioceptive activities to structuring in-depth experiential learning. Setting up meaningful sensory activities is not an easy option and takes a lot of planning and experience of using these techniques to create motivating progressive activities. When using sensory learning strategies we need to ensure we choose the right resources and present them in a way to ensure they are accessible to our learners.

This A-Z of Sensory Learning Activities will hopefully give you some ideas of what to do and how to maximize the potential of these simple classroom activities.

Sensory learning resources for special education

Great Sensory Learning Resources

I owe a big thank you to the following contributors to this post. All experienced practitioners in the field of sensory learning check out the links below for a vast array of resources linked to meeting the needs of sensory learners.

The A-Z of Sensory Learning Activities.

A – Arm¬†Pushes: Often referred to as “heavy work” these exercises help provide children with sensory information about body awareness and positions. They may also act to calm and regulate a child. Proprioceptive activities wake up muscles getting our bodies in an alert state to be ready to learn. Pushing against a wall is a really easy activity/exercise. Use the free Wall Push Up Hand Placement Poster to show the child where to place their hands. Extend the activity by introducing counting or fast and slow.

B – Bubbles: A super sensory science activity. Can your child make smelly, scented, slimy bubble mixes using different dish soap? In maths linked work – Which size or shape wand works best. Use everlasting bubbles to count or cover a target. (I was going to have balloon- So I could post this picture.)daschund balloon animal

C – Cooking: what better than a sensory activity that you can eat afterward! This can be made fully age and stage appropriate. This image is of my Key stage 4 class using all their senses to make some cookies.

cooking sensory activity

D – Dough: Squash it, stretch it. Enhance it with essential oils. Stamp letters into it.

E – Eggs: These are great sensory food items, you can experiment with all the different feels and textures of eggs as you cook them in different ways.

F – Foil: This is a foil river that you can see my daughter using to explore water flow, capacity, gravity, floating sinking. Such a useful cheap and simple tool. Use it to enhance sensory stories.

foil river sensory activity

G – Gong: Gongs are fantastic for creating waves of sound that you can feel and hear. Read about a Gong Bath here.

H – Heated Toys these are available in a range of animals perfect for enhancing sensory stories. Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson would be a great story to enhance using heated animal toys.

I – Ice: Many children really like playing with Ice. It is also a great sensory activity to use when it is hot outside and children are trying to regulate their temperature. You can freeze items in ice or even water beads to smash them.

J – Jumping: A sensory life has a great post outlining “10 Incredible benefits of jumping“. Many children just enjoy it, it burns off energy and can help regulate stress levels. You can easily incorporate maths – counting the bounces etc.

A-Z of sensory resources

K – Kinetic sand: This stuff is so unique in texture. It is very calming to watch if you pile it up and watch it crumble. Being hydrophobic it has an interesting effect when you put it in water. The Imagination Tree has a great simple recipe for making your own.

L – Lighting: Lights can be highly effective for multiple activities (See U – Umbrella). In this example, I have put lights under a clear plastic tray filled with Jelli Bath for an underwater sensory tray.

sensory learning resources

M – Material: One of my Son’s favourite books is “That’s not my Monkey“. For our “All creatures great and small topic we made tactile “That’s not my Lemur!” books. The best thing is multi-sensory material is often easy to find.

lemur tactile book sensory activity

N – Noodles or spaghetti are great for dyeing, colour recognition, and sensory play.

O – Olfactory: The Inspired treehouse has a huge list of smell related sensory activities to use here.

P – Putty

Q – Quiet: Do not underestimate the power of quiet reflection time to help reduce stress and process the day. Multiple quiet periods in a safe area can work wonders for focussing sensory learners on subsequent work tasks.

R – Rice

S – Signed Singing. Singing is a really simple way to engage sensory learners. Why not sign along to some favourite songs to add that kinaesthetic element?

T – The Tough Tray: The tough tray is now a classroom essential. So flexible and adaptable. Read this post to see how I adapted the tough tray to meet the needs of my classroom.

autumn sensory tray

U – Umbrellas: Sensory umbrellas or Storytelling umbrellas are a really effective way of creating immersive environments on a small scale. No need to decorate a room just fill create a storytelling umbrella – Read this post to learn more.

Sensory umbrella flo longhorn learning.jpg

V –¬† Vibration: Use vibration and massage to add a sensory element to the storytelling. Use as a calm down activity. This has been used effectively at my school as it can be used on the whole body and has a heating element.

W – Water beads: These are now used widely and come in a range of colours and sizes. My class used to like smashing them. My daughter likes running her hands through them. If you are making a beach tough tray they can stand in for water. Parenting Choas has a brilliant guide on using water beads.

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X – Xyst: These trees or shrub lined pathways create a feeling of calmness and seclusion from the stresses and distractions of life outside. relatively easy to create with willow or saplings. A worthwhile addition to any sensory garden. zyst trees garden sensory.jpg

Y – Yoga: Great for centering, self-regulation, etc. The benefits of yoga are well known so I will just post an image of my dog with a yoga ball. sesnory self regulation yoga puppy

Z – Zipline, as with swings a zip line is a very engaging proprioceptive activity that children and adults alike can enjoy. Why not design a sensory circuit that encompasses the activities at your local park?

Thank you for reading. Many of the resources on this page can be bought from Amazon using this affiliate link.

Here is our Pinterest board: https://pin.it/jc4dscc5o6xuvv

A-Z of sensory learning activities

References

Thompson, Carla J, (2011) Multi-Sensory Intervention Observational Research
International Journal of Special Education, v26 n1 p202-214
Nicola Martin, Damian Elgin Maclean Milton, Joanna Krupa, Sally Brett, Kim Bulman, Danielle Callow, Fiona Copeland, Laura Cunningham, Wendy Ellis, Tina Harvey, Monika Moranska, Rebecca Roach, Seanne Wilmot, (2019) “The sensory school: working with teachers, parents and pupils to create good sensory conditions”, Advances in Autism, Vol. 5 Issue: 2, pp.131-140, https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-09-2018-0034

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