Sensory Activities for Preschoolers
As a teacher of preschoolers, you may be informed by a parent of a child’s special classroom needs. Obviously, if a child with a hearing disability is in your class, the parent may inform you of specific accommodations you must make. However, some learning challenges cannot be diagnosed in children during their preschool years.  So, to best address the needs of all your little students, incorporate learning experiences that stimulate all their senses. For children who learn in non-traditional ways, you are offering them a variety of paths to explore their world.

Look around the classroom to assess what you already provide. Make a list of each area (dramatic play space, shelves where puzzles, games, building toys are stored, art supplies, etc). Under each, list the five senses. Check off which senses are used to do these activities. For example, puzzles require sight.  Are they colorful? Are the pictures on them interesting to four year olds?  Puzzles also require touch. Do you have foam puzzles as well as wooden ones? How many textures do they provide (smooth, bumpy, fuzzy, etc.)?

Note that most puzzles do not stimulate hearing, taste and smell. After you completed this inventory, look over your list. The sense of sight will probably be well provided for in any classroom. Don’t worry about having an equal amount for each sense. However, do consider what you can add where your classroom is lacking.

It is likely that the sense of taste is one of these.  Do you serve snack? If so, how can you vary the taste experience? If not, are there science experiments with food you can introduce? Edible art projects? The sense of smell is closely related to that of taste, so you can encourage the children to smell as well as taste these projects.

Then encourage children to identify smells. Popcorn? The classroom gerbil cage? The paint at the easel? How many smells can they identify in a morning?

Hearing is a sense that can be easily over- stimulated in children in our noisy society.  With the children, take one minute to enjoy silence periodically. Also be choosy about what sounds you use. Introduce restful music when the children are painting and drawing. At group time, listen to short parts of famous pieces, such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or music from the “Nutcracker.”  If you can obtain a recording of bird calls, have children listen.  Provide pictures of these birds in books or online. Then listen again.

You may not need to add much for the sense of touch. Blocks, dolls, balls, plants, paint, books, and many dramatic play props offer a variety of textures. Art projects can easily provide additional ones. Paint with sponges, sliced potatoes and carrots, cotton balls, or combs.  Add cornmeal or uncooked rice to finger paint, or have children finger paint on aluminum foil, fine sand paper, waxed paper, etc.

When the children are with you, talk about your observations: I think I heard a blue jay outside; This orange feels cold on my teeth but tastes delicious; I like the way this satin cape feels. Enjoying your own senses will help children become more aware of their own, and this awareness will foster appreciation as well as learning.

Getting to Know Jesus
Pope Benedict wrote, “May Lent be for every Christian a renewal experience of God’s love given to us in Christ.”

For preschoolers, experiencing God’s love through Christ may be more of a first time event than a renewal. Many know the Nativity story well, but are less familiar with the loving adult Jesus.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the subject of love comes up. Use this to help children understand that Jesus himself is the ultimate example of love. Listed below are suggested Scriptures, and how each shows Jesus’ love. You can paraphrase them for young children to understand, or use a good children’s bible to read them.

Jesus shows his love by healing people:
  • Matthew 14:13-19, the miracle of the loaves and fishes: Jesus sees the crowd waiting for him, and ‘his heart was moved’.  First he cures the sick among them and then, concerned about hunger of everyone, performs a miracle to feed them.
  • Mark 1: 40-41, the cleansing of a leper: Jesus is ‘moved with pity’ when the man approaches him.
  • Mark 7: 53-56, Jesus goes to Gennesaret: there many sick people are brought to him and he heals them.

Jesus’ story that teaches us to love each other:
  • Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan: This is perhaps the easiest parable for young children to understand, and it is all about loving and not loving.

Jesus’ story about how God loves and watches over us:
  • Luke 15:3-6, the parable of the Lost Sheep: Children seem to intuitively understand Jesus’ analogy of people as sheep and God as the loving shepherd.

Jesus shows how to forgive:
  • Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus: Preschoolers love the story about the short man who was bad sometimes! Help them understand that Jesus loved him and forgave him.

Jesus loves children:
  • Matthew 19:13-15, the blessing of the children: Perhaps the Scripture that most reaches children is the one in which Jesus himself reached out to little ones.

Lent Through Symbols and Activities
While preschoolers have little concept of death and resurrection on a cognitive level, they can understand things symbolically. During Lent, offer them symbols and the words through activities.

Lent comes from the word lencten, meaning spring. What better way to symbolically understand Jesus, the Light of the World, than to observe spring, with its increasing light? What better way to observe death and resurrection than through the death of a seed resulting in a plant?

Light: This requires a bit of ‘homework’ for the teacher. At least once a week over the course of Lent, record the hours of daylight. This information can be found in the daily weather report in many newspapers.
1. Create a visual prop to help children understand the increasing daylight. It can be very simple and need not be scientific: Make several small, construction paper suns (or have children make them). Hang up a dark-colored piece of paper on the wall or bulletin board. Tell the children that each sun represents 1 minute of daylight. Explain that as we get closer to Easter, we get to see the sun a little more each day. To give them a better understanding of the amount of time you are speaking of, you may want to have children try to sit quietly for one whole minute.
Once a week, calculate how many minutes have been gained during that week. Tell the children, have them pick out the appropriate number of suns and hang them on the dark paper.

2. As you near Easter, the number of suns should create a bright color over the dark colored background. Talk about this. Then tell children that one of our names for Jesus is “the Light of the World”. Together, create a large sun. Make it ‘fancy’—use glitter and glittery ribbons, metallic streamers, etc. Soon after Easter, replace the small chart with the large, beautiful sun. Tell children it is there to help you all remember that Jesus is the Light of the World.

3. If you have some children who understand numbers and their values, you can work with them on this in a more detailed way: make a simple bar chart where they record the increased minutes by coloring sections in yellow to represent the minutes of sunlight.

Death and New Life: A very common activity in preschools is watching a bean seed grow. Use this to symbolize the words of ‘dying’ and ‘new life.’
1. Place 3 or 4 bean seeds on a wet paper towel in a pie plate. Keep moistened. As the seeds begin to sprout, have children observe that the seed diminishes and dies, so that the ‘new life’ of the bean plant can begin.

2. Then take this one step further into a Lenten theme. Provide a container that is like a window box. Fill it with potting soil and place in a warm and sunny place. Near it, leave a bowl of bean seeds. Tell the children that every time they do a good deed, they can plant a seed.

3. As beans tend to grow quickly, you will soon have a garden of ‘good deed seeds’ growing into new life. The children are bringing ‘new life’ to the classroom by their kindnesses. And of course, this is how Jesus teaches us  to treat one another!

4. When the children are not present make certain to keep the seeds moist but not too wet. If a seed is not totally immersed into the soil, poke it further in. If some plants appear to be dying, pull them up and replant another seed. You do not want common gardening problems ruining your symbolism!

Art time
Another way to help children equate new life with Lent is by creating a paper garden. Explain to children that the word Lent means spring, and the class will take the days of Lent to create a spring time scene which will result in a wonderful Easter decoration.

Provide construction or other colored paper, scissors, glue, glitter, ribbons, etc. Encourage children to create large (2-4 feet tall) flowers. On an open wall, hang these flowers, adding to the ‘garden’ each week.

Story time
During Advent and Christmas, young children hear the wonderful stories of Jesus as an infant. Lent is good time to now offer them stories of the adult Jesus, his healings and teachings. Some suggestions:
  • Jesus heals the blind man (Luke 18:35-43)
  • The catch of the fishes (Luke 5:1-11)
  • Calming the storm (Luke 8: 22-25)
  • The lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7)
  • The sower (Matt. 13:3-8)
  • Jesus and the children (Luke 18:15-17)