Indoor Activities For Toddlers: Sensory Activities For Preschoolers

Enhance your toddler's brain development with these sensory-rich activities you can do at home. They're inexpensive and fun.

From the day a baby is born, he explores his new world through his senses, which stretches his imagination and teaches him about his surroundings. As he experiences new and different textures, smells, sights, sounds, and textures, more neural connections are made in his brain, and his brain becomes a rich network of connections that will help his development for the rest of his life.

Early childhood is a very active time for a human brain. A three-year-old's brain is twice as active as an adult's brain. What makes a toddler's brain so active is his need for neural connections. Brain development consists of brain cells reaching out and making connections with other brain cells; these connections are called synapses.

This is a very dynamic time for children's brain development. Studies have been done that show that animals deprived of stimulation in their early days never develop as they ought to. For example, Nobel Prize winners David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel performed a study on newborn kittens. They covered one eye of each kitten and found that after several months, the kittens were essentially blind in one eye, not because there was anything physically wrong with the eye but because the kittens' brains had not made neural connections between the eyes and the brain.

Of course, your child is not deprived of everyday sensory information. But why not take advantage of this rich developmental time in your child's life. There are many fun and stimulating indoor activities you can do with your child to provide new sensory experience to enhance your toddler's brain development. I've labeled each of the following activities with the sense (or senses) most used during the activity.

If your child has sensory integration disorder or just seems to be overwhelmed easily, try one or two of these every day to help your child become more accustomed to the sensory experiences he'll be faced with throughout his life.

Grab bag (touch): Gather several objects (not more than three at first), and put them in a paper bag. Let your child reach into the bag without looking, and try to figure out what each one is. Try elbow macaroni (uncooked), a hard-boiled egg, a crayon, a grape, a square of sandpaper, a quarter.

Taste test (taste): Blindfold your child and spoon a surprise bite into his mouth. He'll only like this game if you try things that you think he'll like. He'll feel like he's being tricked if you spoon horseradish sauce into his mouth.

People watching (sight): Take your toddler to places where there are lots of people. Parks, zoos, airports, schools, and city streets are wonderful places to stimulate a toddler's sense of sight. He can see kids on skates zipping past, people jogging, dogs on leashes, little girls turning cartwheels. All of this kinesthetic activity really stimulates the brain.

Through the looking glass (sight): It would be vain for an adult to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, but it's quite stimulating and educational for a toddler to be a little Narcissus. If he brings his toys to the mirror, he can watch himself hold things and recognize his own motions as he plays.

Name that sound (sound): This game is similar to the taste test. Gather objects that make different noises (a bell, a ticking clock, music from a music box, a rattle, etc.) If your child doesn't mind being blindfolded, you can blindfold him and have him guess the sound. If blindfolding is scary, just hide your objects behind a propped up book or curtain.

Shaving cream painting (touch): This one is always a hit. Spread shaving cream all over your table or counter or, if you're really brave, your vinyl floor""don't try it on tile. Let your child paint in the shaving cream with his fingers. If he's learning the alphabet, this is a great way to practice letters. If he's way too young for writing, just let him enjoy feeling the cream in his fingers. An added bonus: after you clean it up, your counter will be as clean as it's ever been.

Homemade band (sound): Pull out the pots and pans and spoons and let your child bang to his heart's content. You can make a rhythm game out of it by demonstrating a bar of rhythm and then having him repeat it.

Sniffing tour (smell): Take a sniffing tour around your home. In every room, pull out the things that have a smell and let your little one take a whiff. In the laundry room, bring out the detergent, in the kitchen, pull out the onions and spices and vanilla, in the bathroom let him smell the shampoo and toothpaste.

Bath toys (touch and sound): Go through your kitchen cupboards with an eye for water toys. A colander or sieve can create the sound and feel of rain. Plastic measuring cups can be used for pouring water back and forth. A funnel can create a water-pressurized stream to pour on your child's back.

World music (sound): From the library, check out a variety of CDs. Choose types of music that your child hasn't heard before. Then spend a rainy afternoon listening and dancing to the new tunes.

Homemade play dough (touch): Your child can help make this dough, and then he can play with it. Give him plastic cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and objects to make indentations (forks, plastic knives, pie trimmer, etc.)

Recipe: Combine 4 cups flour, 1 ½ cups salt, and 2 cups water. Knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it's pliable. The dough will dry your hands out, so rub a little vegetable oil on them before you knead. When it's soft and smooth, divide the dough into sections, and add a drop or two of food coloring to each one. Knead again until the color is uniform. When you're done playing with it, put it in zippered plastic bags in the refrigerator.

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