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5 Toddler Sensory Games

Your toddler is at a key development phase in her life as she explores the five senses. She sees bright colors, feels the need to touch just about everything she can reach and is beginning to recognize distinct smells. One of the best ways to further her development is to embark on games that focus on the senses. From tasty trivia to touchy-feely games with fabrics, teach your child how to further recognize her senses while bonding with you.

Touchy Feely Poster Play

Sensory play doesn’t have to be messy. Parents can build a simple no-mess sensory mat or poster for their children to explore, says Richard Peterson, early childhood educator and vice president of education at Kiddie Academy, based in Abingdon, Md. “Gather a variety of textures, such as faux fur, embossed foam sheets, felt, macaroni noodles, sandpaper, rocks or other kid-safe items and securely hot glue them to a piece of poster board,” suggests Peterson. “Label each item with a descriptive adjective such as smooth, scratchy or bumpy to add a literacy component to this easy project.”

What's That Sound?

Toddlers are often engaged by different sounds. Help develop your child’s language skills and sense of sound by helping her identify common sounds within your home, suggests Kim Lyons, California-based child development expert and author of “Homemade Play: Creative Ways to Be With Your Baby.”

While preparing your child for a bath, ask, “Do you hear the water running?” and respond with “You are going to take a bath.” While driving the car, ask your little one about the sounds she hears, by saying “I hear the sound of a motorcycle—where is it? There it is. See the red motorcycle go by.” While playing outside, point out the sounds of nature by saying “Hear the bird singing? Where is the bird? There it is—it’s a robin.”

Fabricating a Game

Scarves are open-ended toys, meaning they can be anything your imagination can dream up, says Lyons. “Toddlers will love to play peek-a-boo, tugging games, hide their favorite object in the scarf, parachute the fabric up and down or make it disappear altogether,” says Lyons. Playing with scarves helps your child visualize and recognize colors as you expose her to different shades and patterns while playing peek-a-boo and parachute games. “Eyesight impacts all aspects of development, and games that enhance this skill are important for your toddler,” she adds.

Scratch 'n Sniff Cooking

To develop your child's sense of smell, Lyons recommends having him nearby when you are preparing meals. “Hand over a bunch of cilantro or parsley or even a couple of oranges and see how your toddler plays with them,” she says. Prompt your child to scratch and sniff fruits and veggies as you add them to the meal. Give your child a bowl, wooden spoons and measuring cups and let him pretend to cook. This will help not only to develop his sense of smell but also his memory and brain function. By smelling spices and foods, your child will begin to associate odors with objects and foods. According to Lyons, your child's happy emotions can be associated with smells during play. “The olfactory bulb where odors are processed in the brain is connected to systems for memory and emotions,” says Lyons. “Odors are associated with the emotions and events that co-occurred with them.”

Tasty Games

As your toddler’s palate evolves, she may be hesitant to try new tastes. Expose her to different textures and tastes with an ice cube tray game, suggests Christina Dorando, early childhood educator with Hillcrest Preschool and Daycare in Lyndhurst, N.J.

"Take an empty ice tray and fill each compartment with different textures and tastes," she says. "Then, have the child take one from each and figure out what they taste." Ask your child to identify tastes that are sour, sweet, salty or even have no taste at all.

"Then, talk about the texture of the food in their mouth and how it changes as the food is in their mouth and on their tongue," says Dorando. Once your toddler is exposed to a variety of tastes during games that encourage taste, she may be less likely to refuse these foods at mealtime.

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