Sensory Play is play that appeals to one or more of the senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Many children love sensory play but some cannot tolerate specific senses being stimulated, so work sensitively with your child when setting up this kind of play. Sensory Play does not have to be messy! All the bits that I use in the play below can be bought from my Amazon shop (excluding food products). Sensory play has endless possibilities so I have linked the pictures below to other activites of a similar nature.
My tips for reducing mess, and minimising (adult) stress are:
Play outside or in the bath when possible.
Use a tray, or tub to contain mess - children love to play within a contained area, it allows them to understand the boundaries in a literal and visual way.
Run a bath before you play, or a have a bowl of warm soapy water and a towel to hand, in case things do get messy.
Hold you values, tell you child where they can play and if they deviate from the instructions, take the play set-up away, but, and this is important:
Do not set them up to fail! Do not expect a toddler not to drop some of the base outside of the tray - it won't happen and neither of you will enjoy playing. Fully expect to have to mop sweep up a little spillage.
Smell - This is the easiest of the senses to overlook, but i find that it is one of the most effective when incorporated into play. In the picture above I made some cloud-dough (1:8 oil to flour) and provided some jars of spices for the children to explore, and to add to the mixture leading to a wonderful, aromatic experience. Cloud-dough will keep well in an airtight container.
Taste - You can do many things to entice the sense of taste, but my boys love to bake - so that's why I chose it to demonstrate. Sometimes, it's useful to see how everyday activities are actually more than initially meets the eye. Another idea could be a blind taste-test!
Sound - You can make this as loud or as quiet as you like - my eldest is very sensitive to noise, so we usually keep to the quiet side here, but you know your child best, do what works for you! In the picture above is a sensory bin (tub or box) with bird seed as the sensory base. The seed makes a lovely sound when it's dropped from a height, sprinkled or shaken in the tub. Any spillages of seeds will be gratefully received by birds!
Touch - This is what most people think of when they hear 'sensory play'. We use it as a way to get the most from what we already have in the house, to reduce waste and increase uses. In the picture above my youngest was 8months and we had carved our Halloween pumpkin. I didn't want to waste the guts so scooped them out into a tray and let my son explore them with his feet.
Sight - another beautifully simple concept, make something appealing to look at, make it inviting. Bright colours are a sure win, interesting looking textures, or something with novelty value. In the picture above I tied some rainbow coloured sensory scarves onto a coat hanger, and hung them in the window (an idea from @play.hooray. Baby watched them dance and move in the gentle breeze and it was a lovely sensory experience for him.