Magic Wishes for Preschool/Kindergarten #3: Lots of Hands-on Sensory Play Activities

Question for you: what do parents wish for in early learning programs for kids? Mom Nicolle answers, “Lots of hands-on sensory play activities.

This month, we’re pretending that April Fool’s left us with a magic wand or a St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun granted us one wish, but we have to use these for playschools or kindergartens. Parents and caregivers have such great suggestions. Hands-on sensory play activities nourish children’s brains and encourage creativity and problem-solving in addition to other brain connections. In a way, we could say children have brains in their fingers.

These suggestions and inspirations for sensory and hands-on play are from a post earlier this year.

helping children develop creativity

When you look at a picture of the brain, it’s only the outline shape. What are too small to see, are the billions and trillions of brain connections. In a way, these are like tiny fingers stretching out in all directions. For kids, hands and fingers are a powerful connection with the world. Through their sense of touch, children take in information, explore, and interact with the world.

before kindergarten puzzle play

Hands-on play activities don’t need to be complicated. Toys like puzzles, blocks, construction sets, and cars and trucks do not require batteries, but do need hands. Set out some play-dough, paper, paints, or crayons for hands to create all kinds of art.

pi day fun for kids

From the time kids get dressed in the morning, until they cuddle a stuffie at bedtime, hands are busy. Little hands like to mix and stir as kids cook alongside adults. Finger foods combine both eating and touching. A few toys in some water in the sink or bathtub are the only ingredients for another recipe for hands-on fun and learning.

cooking with kids roll-ups

Hands, eyes, and ears coordinate as children interact with a book. Early books for young children often have different textures for fingers to feel or a puppet to animate the story.


Kids do not divide activities into work and play like grownups do. To a child, work can be as much fun as play and this also gives lots more hands-on opportunities. Involve kids in folding and putting away clean, dry laundry or helping in the kitchen. A duster or broom is like an extra-long hand. Hands can unload spoons from the dishwasher and put groceries away.

including kids in chores for learning and fun

Many children’s songs include actions, such as the Itsy Bitsy Spider, Hokey Pokey, and Wheels on the Bus. These start with the hands and get the whole body moving. Hands can clap or drum along or make up a new tune.

Christmas songs music for kids

We see evidence of children’s busy hands and fingers all over the house. But that’s not a surprise at all considering how much happens for them.

Do you remember the movie Apollo 13 where the scientists discover the problem with toxic air? What to they do? They dump all the material on a big table and everybody gets hands-on as they come up with a solution. Even adults need hands-on for thinking. In a way, you can grant a wish today with some hands-on sensory play activities for kids. What might be the play-of-the-day?


P.S. 1 2 3 Kindergarten school has videos with more hands-on and sensory play ideas.

Dragon Water Play – A Sinkful of Sensory and Imaginative Fun

While water puts out a dragon’s fire, dragons sometimes live in castles which have moats and drawbridges so dragon water play is a possibility. Besides, even dragons must have sometimes needed a bath.

dragon water play

Dragon water play can happen in the bath or with clothes on at the sink. We found some colorful, plastic dragons at the store. These needed a wash before playing with them and the washing turned into a play activity. With some water and the dragons in the sink, Little Sister washed them off. The dragons splashed and swam. A small container became a boat. They couldn’t all fit so another one was needed. The dragons needed some friends, so out came a few dinosaurs. As she played, Little Sister talked to herself and created stories about what was happening. Sometimes, she paid little attention to them and seemed to be more interested in watching the swirls in the water. She was directing her dragon water play at various levels.

dragon water play

Water play is a simple activity for kids but tremendously appealing. The water both stimulates and calms the senses. Certainly water appeals to the sense of touch, but the small sounds and moving shapes involve hearing and seeing too. Because the water is so fluid, children’s play can be fluid too. The possible ways to play with water are unlimited so kids can play with it to suit their own ideas and needs. This could be on a sensory level or an imaginative one or a combination, depending on what kids want at any particular time. Water play is a sort of spa for kids. Tension and stress seem to flow out of the body and mind, leaving behind relaxation and a renewal of energy.

dragon water play

Inevitably, water play means some water on the floor too. However, it’s small price to pay for such deep and enjoyable play, isn’t it?

Digging for Treasure: Dragon Sensory Imaginative Play

Treasure, whether dragon or pirate, sometimes gets buried and digging for treasure is fun for kids with some dragon sensory imaginative play. Adults too; think of gold digging or excavating.

sensory play digging

With their huge claws, digging is pretty easy for dragons. It’s harder for kids. If you live somewhere warm enough so the yard isn’t covered in rain or snow, kids can play in the sandbox. If not, this can be done inside too. For indoor play, fill a large bowl or other container with kinetic sand. You can find recipes to make your own at home using sand, cornstarch, liquid soap, and water. There are lots of recipes on line.

Either inside or outside, the first thing is to find some small items to be treasure. Some suggestions are small stones, plastic figurines, spools from thread, beads, and play coins. For outside sand boxes these can be larger than for play inside. Since all the sand will be in a container, it’s possible to put in some real coins, like a quarter or two and smaller things like marbles and plastic colored gems. With your child, count the treasure so you know when it’s all found. You can also use a cupcake tin or an egg carton. Before burying, put one treasure in each section. If there’s an empty space later something is still hiding in the sand.

sensory play sand

Kids like to both bury the treasure and then find it. Shovels are great for sand boxes and spoons will do for bowls. Fingers can also dig and sift through the sand. If you have an old strainer, kids can pour in shovelfuls or spoonfuls of sand. A few shakes, the sand sifts out, and all that’s left is the treasure.

This dragon sensory imaginative play activity combines sensory play and make-believe. Skin gets to feel the sand, eyes both see the the treasure and get to seek it. There’s some stimulation for hearing but not much for smell and none for taste—we hope. Kids can imagine they are looking for dragon treasure or they might want to be the dragon who is burying it. Plus, thinking skills like problem-solving and concentration come into play. Kids are communicating and working to achieve a goal, that of finding the treasure. For kid-dragons, isn’t the best treasure the play itself?

Halloween Water Sensory Play and Magic Potion

Halloween water sensory play and magic potions isn’t just child’s play, it’s a child’s suggestion for a play-of-the-day. It’s simple and proven to be fun. After scooping out a pumpkin, we had to clean up the kitchen. There were a few seeds on the counter and even the floor. There were spoons and other tools … Continue reading Halloween Water Sensory Play and Magic Potion

Scooping out a Pumpkin: Sensory and Science Play

Ooey, gooey, it’s time to look, listen, smell, feel (and maybe taste?) when scooping out a pumpkin. This is sensory fun, science play, and learning all at once. First, prepare the table or counter with some newspaper. Find a container to save the seeds and strings from the inside. Before cutting, look at the pumpkin … Continue reading Scooping out a Pumpkin: Sensory and Science Play

Space Activities #13: Space Sensory Bin with Soap Foam

A space sensory bin invites children to engage and explore. There are wonderful materials and items to use. We chose soap foam, bright colors, and stars. It was sensory for both touch and visual. In photos, the Milky Way looks like white swirls. When doing the dishes, Big Sister thought the soap foam looked like … Continue reading Space Activities #13: Space Sensory Bin with Soap Foam

Transportation Play Activities #10: Transportation Sensory Play

The weather finally gave us some sunny breaks, making it warm and dry enough for a car wash and  other transportation sensory play outside. Kids can certainly play outdoors in any weather, but we needed some sun to dry newly washed cars and trucks and other toys and for new discoveries. Cars and trucks and … Continue reading Transportation Play Activities #10: Transportation Sensory Play