Sensory play is one of my favorite after school activities for kids, and it ranks high on my list of calming activities for a new school year! I have learned that our afternoons go much more smoothly if I have something planned for the kids when school gets out that helps them decompress. Sensory play instantly helps my kids relax, and we add small toys to inspire pretend play as well as to provide props if they want to work through confusing or intense scenarios from their school day.
I will often set activities like this up before Lily, Anna, and I head out to pick up the two oldest kids (Lily gets home a few hours before them, as a kindergartner). The kids love coming home to a ready-made activity like this, even if we decide to stay at the playground for a few minutes (or an hour) before continuing on home. I will start off with a few basics, and they add whatever else they like.
On this particular day, I had set out colored sand and florist gems (affiliate links); they added the small plastic toys.
Anna doesn’t do a lot of plot work so far (her guys will say hi to each other), but she really enjoys this as a sensory experience as well as an opportunity to be one of the kids.
They are all sitting around the same table, with the same materials, but they each play so differently! I love seeing both how their own personalities come out in their play, as well as how they influence each other’s play.
The kids play together while I watch and get things of my own done that have been waiting for doing. When it is time to clean up the kids are refreshed and ready to face homework and chores.
How do you help your kids ease back into home life at the end of the school day?
MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.
14 thoughts on “Calming Activities for a New School Year: Sensory Play”
What a fun activity! Seeing them all at the table looks so peaceful.
I love watching them play like this.
What fun!! Have you all tried kinetic sand? Micheal’s carries it for about 13 bucks and it comes in varied colors. Thanks for encouraging sensory play.
Yes! I bought some this summer, and my 5yo, 6yo, and 8yo all love it! The 2yo doesn’t understand why it won’t act like normal sand :)
You are so fearless – I can only imagine what my husband would say to sand inside. We usually decompress through a snack and some reading time for my 7 year old before she is able to face the rest of the day.
What a great idea to set up sensory play before heading out for the pick up! My kids need to eat immediately upon coming home. We seem to be in food mode for the first half hour after school and then I have to usually take one of them to something or we will have a friend in tow from the pick up.
I noticed that my son needs to do physical play directly after school (and before eating) at the playground with the boys. They wrestle, pig pile, throw a foot ball, kick a soccer ball or play in puddles and/or mud. They are crazy and the moms look on concerned to make sure no one gets hurt, but surprisingly, no one seems to.
My girls were more focused on getting home to eat. They decompress through the act of making food and eating it; usually with a friend. Sometimes, they will make more elaborate food like baking brownies but usually it’s something hearty like pizza or pasta or a bagel with cream cheese and lox.
I totally agree that having everything set out when the kiddos walk in the door makes the transition from school to home SO MUCH easier. I rarely do sensory play, but I can tell from the photos of your kids that my boys would both absolutely LOVE this!
Great idea. I’d love to try this and I am sure you are right that sensory play helps to decompress. We usually stay and play at the school playground too, then there is lots of conversion and always something to share in the backpacks.
Fantastic idea! I think I’d quite like to do that myself to defrazzle from a confusing day ;)
Completely agree that sensory play has a very calming effect. Love that photo of all the kids concentrating on their play!
If only my kids could get through a sensory activity without dumping the tray in the first 3 minutes.
Beautiful children and orchid! What a great, wise idea to help your kids decompress.
That sounds like a good way to let them ease back in. I remember my Mom letting me eat a bowl of cereal and watch 1 cartoon or TV show before heading out to play. I don’t remember having lots of homework in elementary school.
My kids get lots of decompress time during the day, but they always seem to think they don’t get that much.
What a great idea, MaryAnne! I would like to set up something like that for my two children. What are your suggestions for the tray? What would be the best size and material? Thank you!
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