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Three Ideas for Inclusive Sensory Play

Not every learner likes to get messy when learning; offering some alternatives can make more children feel included.

Written by: Jo Harris - Educational Advisor  

Some children do not enjoy sensory experiences, which can include water play activities made available in the early learning program. There are many reasons why, which could include the experience of physical or emotional discomfort from feeling water on their skin from wet clothing, a fear of getting water splashed in their eyes, or the texture of waterproof clothing.    

However, it is possible to offer children other ways to explore the properties of water without even having to get wet! 

   Create Small World Play Spaces That Don’t Need Water

Creating the illusion of water using a few simple resources is very simple. Mosaic stones in different colours give the impression of bubbles when grouped and placed in smaller containers, such as shells, little baskets, or bowls. Including different textures and shades of blue can further encourage children’s imagination and perception of water, while staying completely dry.  

Rolling out Plasticine or Play Dough, children could be encouraged to roll, press, and make shapes to represent bodies of water including the ocean or beach. Children can learn more about the marine life that inhabits the sea by printing out their shapes and features with Ocean or Seashore Stones.  Adding a nonfiction book to the play space can encourage children and educators to deepen their understanding through conversation and play. 

Consider a Choice of Protective Clothing Options

It is often an expectation that children are required to wear protective clothing during messy or sensory play experiences. Putting on an apron can be a reason why some children do not choose to participate in water play experiences.  

If the aprons provided are ill-fitting, children can feel uncomfortable and block their ability to enjoy the experience. Long-sleeved aprons can feel restrictive for children who like to feel the water on their skin or bulky if they are wearing thicker layers underneath. Sleeveless aprons are an excellent option as they allow children to be able to move freely as they explore and are simple to put on or take off.

Providing a choice of both and preferably in more than one size gives children some autonomy to decide what feels comfortable and may inspire a reluctant child to change their mind and join in the play. 

Think Beyond the Water Tray

Children’s curiosity leads them to discover places where water exists throughout their learning environment. Puddles of water appearing after rain, condensation on windows or outdoor play equipment, or watering plants with a watering can are all examples of how children can explore water outside of a tray or tub.

Attaching thick paintbrushes to buckets of water is ideal for painting pavers, bricks, and footpaths during outdoor play. Children can observe what happens when the moisture is dried out by the wind and sun. Soaking and squeezing the water out of table sponges as they are wiped on a placemat or tabletop is a source of mystery that may warrant some further exploration.  


Whether children are guided by their natural fascination with water when carrying out daily routine tasks such as washing their hands, studying the way it gurgles as it travels down the sink drain at speed, or flushing the toilet in a quest to understand how it moves from one place to another - there are many ways children learn about this precious resource in ways that are comfortable and enjoyable.

For more ideas and inspiration to enhance water play learning experiences, visit 


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