Sensory Play from a Preschool Pro (How to Encourage Development while Gaining More “Me” Time)

Meet Emily Lawson, Your New Preschool Ally and Playtime Inspiration

Pop quiz! Are you:

  1. A parent
  2. A teacher
  3. Both! – Anyone who has ever been either knows that to be a parent is to be a teacher, and vice versa!

If you answered 1, 2, or 3, you have to meet Emily Lawson from Sandbox Academy!

Meet Emily Lawson from the Sandbox Academy - Playing with Play Dough
Meet Emily Lawson from the Sandbox Academy!

Sandbox Academy is dedicated to sharing exciting and engaging hands-on learning, sensory play, art projects, practical advice, and educational ideas with parents and teachers.

And Emily is the teacher-turned-mom behind it all. Her experiences in the classroom and at home combine for a rich, relatable approach to teaching children from toddlerhood to Kindergarten and beyond.

At the heart of it all is her focus on building confidence, creating a solid foundation for fundamentals, and instilling a love of learning. Play is sacred and the most important skill to be taught, cultivated, and celebrated in early childhood. Philosophies I can happily get behind!

Because of her dedication to developmentally appropriate activities and hands-on learning, sensory play (or play that stimulates a child’s senses of touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing, movement, and balance) is a huge component of Emily’s Sandbox Academy lessons.

I recently quizzed Emily on all things sensory, play, and -of course- play dough.

If you’re considering adding more sensory play into your daily routine, need some inspiration, or could use a motivational refresh, read on for all the valuable insight this preschool pro has to offer!

Sensory Play: Who, What, Where, When, Why, AND How

You’re amazing at sensory play ideas and activities! How did you get started with it?

Emily: Ha! It isn’t a success story. I primarily taught fourth grade. So, when I saw all the sensory bins on Pinterest, I decided my one-year-old was ready for it. I gave her the bin and let her do her thing without teaching her how to use the bin and what the guidelines were.

It was a disaster. There were beans everywhere. The vacuum wouldn’t pick them up, so I picked them up by hand for MONTHS.

Fast forward 1.5 years, and I decided to start a preschool blog. I knew I needed to try sensory bins out again. But this time I did my homework and taught my daughter the guidelines for a bin.

Elephant Toothpaste Sensory Play from Sandbox Academy
Elephant Toothpaste Sensory Play from the Sandbox Academy

Why is it important for toddlers, preschoolers, and even early elementary-aged kids to have sensory play opportunities?

Emily: Oh my goodness, the list goes on and on. My top five benefits to sensory play are:

  1. Sensory play can have a huge calming effect on our kids.
  2. Sensory play allows kids to practice real world skills in a low risk environment (pouring, scooping, mixing).
  3. Sensory play benefits our kids’ language and motor skills.
  4. Sensory play allows kids to engage in problem solving skills.
  5. Sensory play knows no age limit. It is as engaging to a 12 month old as it is to a 10 year old. Heck, even at 30 I enjoy playing with them!

What do you enjoy about sensory playtime as a mom?

Emily: Peace and quiet. Ha! This is an activity that I can set up for my kids and know that they will be engaged for 30 minutes at a minimum and all the way up to an hour or two of play. Their favorite sensory play is play dough, and they can play with play dough for hours upon hours.

I also love knowing all the benefits they get from sensory play. But 100% transparency, I love the peace and quiet sensory play brings to my home.

How do you feel about play dough? Any particular favorite recipe?

Emily: I know play dough gets a bad rap because it is messy and the mixing of colors bugs people. Personally, I don’t really care if the colors mix. As far as mess, we are only allowed to play dough on tile or hardwood floors. That way, the pieces that fall will simply harden after a few hours and I just vacuum them up.

We love play dough around here. My kids can literally play with play dough for hours and never grow tired of it. We have all the fun, cute little accessories for it and tons of cookie cutters, but my kids are also happy with just plain old dough.

I think my favorite is my apple pie dough. It just smells so yummy.

Activities from @SandboxAcademy
Check out Emily’s Instagram account!

Any favorite tips or best practices for parents looking to add more sensory time to their child’s day?

  • Know that it is going to be a little messy and be okay with that. You can put a large sheet under the kids to catch a mess. Think about the benefits vs. the mess and know that your kitchen floors probably needed to be vacuumed or mopped anyway. 
  • Start with water. It is easy, everyone has it, kids love it, and clean up ends up cleaning your kitchen floors anyway.
  • Teach them the do’s and don’ts of a sensory bin. At first you will have to watch them like a hawk. After a while they will know the expectations and you can use the time to catch up on a good book.

Any final words of encouragement for moms handling the chaos of all-of-the-things these days?

At the end of the day your kids need conversations, books, independent play, and time with you. If you have met all four of those criteria in a day, the rest is the cherry on top.

Activities and all that jazz are tools to use to foster conversations, independent play, and time together. Activities are just one way to meet those needs, but if they aren’t your jam you can still meet your child’s needs and be an amazing mom without ever doing an activity. 

Ready for more? You Have to See the Preschool Playbook!

Talking with Emily reignited my own passion for sensory play and reminded me of how beneficial it is for both my kiddos AND for me. If you feel like it’s an attainable goal and are ready for a little extra push, you have to check out Sandbox Academy’s Preschool Playbook.

The Preschool Playbook and the equally amazing companion Seasonal Playbook are curriculums designed to keep sensory play and engaging activities at the center of early learning. They are divided into weekly themed units with daily activities that provide a consistent structure without being repetitive.

And none of what I just said is sponsored or even suggested! I’m telling you this because it’s the curriculum I use with my three children, and I love it that much!

Final Thoughts on Encouraging Sensory Play

Now that you know Emily, go check out Sandbox Academy and all of its brilliance! I also highly recommend following her on Instagram!

If you’re ready for an easy and unique play dough recipe to get playtime started, check out this Sugar Cookie Play Dough! I paired it with a simple cookie cutting and decorating activity for Valentine’s Day, but it’s perfect to use again and again all year long!

Sensory Play from a Preschool Pro (How to Encourage Development while Gaining More "Me" Time) - Playing with Play Dough + Sandbox Academy


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