Sensory play is something that should be offered in the preschool lesson plan every day. When the sandbox and water table become stale and the children are ready for a change, try some of these simple upgrades to your sensory center.
Dry Beans and Rice: Add dry rice and beans to your sensory table at the same time. Give children measuring cups, funnels, and simple balance scales to use with the rice and beans. If you add several different kinds of dry beans, ask children to sort the different colors of beans or to collect ten of each color. This is not only a sensory activity, but can also be an important part of your math curriculum. Hide several small toy dinosaurs in the beans and rice and tell children that they will be paleontologists and dig for dinosaurs.
Cornmeal Writing: This activity is done best as an individual activity. Give each child a shallow tray, cafeteria trays work very well, and sprinkle a layer of cornmeal on the tray. Encourage children to use their fingers to create letters and pictures in the cornmeal. Ask them to practice writing their name or numbers. You can also use small cars and trucks and make tracks in the cornmeal, making patterns. If a child is tactile-sensitive, allow her to wear rubber gloves or give her a plastic drinking straw to draw in the cornmeal.
Ice and Water: In the warmer months, move your water table outdoors and add ice to the water. Or, just put shaved or cubed ice in the table and allow it to melt in the sunshine. If you just use ice cubes, add a few pinches of salt, and ask children to observe what happens.
Rough and Smooth: Create two separate buckets, label one "Rough" and one "Smooth". Place several classroom or household items in the sensory table and ask children to sort them into the buckets by touch. A few items you can use are sandpaper, an apple, a banana, an orange peel, a wooden block, fabric scraps, a dry sponge, a wet sponge and a few large marbles. To make this activity a bit more challenging, ask the children if they would like to wear a blindfold while exploring the objects.