Toddlers and preschoolers take in the world around them by using their five senses. Nearly every new experience they have involves something new to taste, hear, smell, feel, or see. Learning how these individual senses are constantly affected by the world around us, and how they can interact with each other can be both fascinating and a little overwhelming for young children. For this reason, most young children love playing games or doing activities that involve one or all of these senses and help them to understand how each sense works. Here are a few ideas to help your child develop his understanding of his senses while having fun at the same time.
Scent Bottles: For this activity you need plastic water bottles with sports tops (the ones that pop open without taking the whole top off) and some cotton balls. Wet each cotton ball in a liquid with a very specific scent (vanilla, vinegar, perfume, tea, soap, essential oils, cooking extracts, etc.) and place each one in a separate bottle. Glue the lids onto the bottles. Let your kids pop open the bottle and guess what scent is inside.
Goop: Pour one cup of cornstarch into a bowl. Slowly add a small amount of water until the mixture will drip slowly from a spoon. It should harden as you apply pressure to it, but turn more liquid as you stop applying pressure. You don’t need any tools to play with it, but simply let your children use their hands to explore the unique texture.
Ice Painting: Put a few drops of food coloring or tempera paint into each ice cube before you freeze them. When frozen, let your children use the ice cubes to paint on paper or cloth. Children especially love watching the ice melt outside on a hot day and feeling the difference between cold ice and the warm sun.
Grab Bag: Gather up a few toys or objects that are both familiar to your child and have a specific shape or texture. Put each object into a brown paper bag. Have your child reach into the bag, and, without looking, guess what object is inside. You can make the game more challenging by using unfamiliar objects and asking your child to describe them, or by putting more than one object into one bag.
Leading the Blind: Blindfold one child, and let the other lead them around the house. You can either have them tell the other child what to do, or have them hold hands to guide the “blind” child around the house. You can also do this game with an adult and a child. Make sure to take turns being the leader.
Pudding Painting: Mix up a batch of instant pudding. Separate the pudding into a few small bowls, and use food coloring to tint each bowl a different color. Let your child paint either on paper or on a plastic tablecloth. This activity is especially great for younger toddlers who always put paint into their mouths whether it’s edible or not.
Shaving Cream Painting: Spread shaving cream all over a smooth table or countertop (or linoleum floor if you don’t mind mopping when you’re done). Let your child spread the cream around and use their finger to draw shapes in it. For older preschoolers, this can be a great way to practice writing letters and numbers.
Taste Testing: Blindfold your child and feed them some familiar sauces or condiments, and ask your child to guess what they are tasting. Use some flavors that they will be very familiar with, but also use some that they may not even know. If they can’t tell you what something is, you can just ask them if they like it or if they can think of anything that they think it tastes like.
Follow that Sound: Find a small object in your house that makes a noise (a ticking clock, a music box, etc.). Hide that object somewhere that it is difficult to see, but easy to hear. Have your child search the house using their ears to try to find the object. Be sure to let your child listen to the sounds the object makes before you hide it so that they know what they are listening for.