Free choice, Center Time, Choice Time… there are a lot of names for the time at preschool when children lead their learning, moving from one activity to the next and explore. In my classroom, independent activities make up the majority of the day, and every day I would purposefully put out materials in invitations to learn that would work on various areas of development while being fun and engaging. Here are some of my favorite independent activities that engage children’s senses, and in many cases also worked as a wonderful tool of self-regulation as their senses helped their mind and emotions calm.
These activities using warm water and ice aren’t just great for exploring with your senses they are also great for fine motor and hand eye coordination as children work to get the water into the pipette and release it on to the ice. Here are a few ideas for ice melts:
Sensory Tables and Sensory Tubs
Sensory tables ( or tubs if you are teaching at home) can be filled with simple things like unpopped popcorn, dyed beans, or even cut up pool noodles. There is no limit to what you put into the table except for the safety of your students and the rules of the school or state licensing board. As children run their hands through the materials they feel the texture, as they pick it up and release they hear it fall back into the table, as they dig for specific pieces they use fine motor skills and engage their memory and as they scoop and fill they develop hand eye coordination and basic measurement skills. All that said my favorite thing about sensory tables in a preschool classroom is that they become places where children talk to each other. Trust me, go watch your students and you’ll see! Here are some of my favorite sensory table ideas:
Playdough is a classic preschool sensory activity because children dig in and create almost instinctively. You don’t need complicated tools to go with the dough, a few knives and cookie cutters will do but if you want to go fancier or with a fun theme here are some ideas:
Sensory Bottles allow children to explore cause and effect, science concepts, and in so many cases help them focus and calm. I usually put them out in my science center in my classroom but sometimes they’d end up for sale in my pretend play store, or as a part of block play. Here are some of my favorite sensory bottles:
Play with water is the simplest sensory activity because it doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun. The biggest thing is to find novel tools to play with at the water table. Here are my favorites:
Slime… depending on the class. I am not including slime here because I have had only a very few classes that could explore slime independently. Many children FLING their hands when the slime doesn’t come off right away and you end up with slime bits every where. I prefer to do slime in a small group with a teacher.