All of us learn through our senses and for young children, using their senses is most familiar and basic way to explore, process, and understand new information. Sensory play is play that involves one or more of the five senses- touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Children learn best when they can experience new things in a multi-sensory way as they are accessing the materials through several channels, therefore making learning richer and more varied. Sensory play is an open ended activity and rarely has a finished product or predetermined outcome – therefore it is process driven, providing an opportunity for every child to succeed.
Through sensory play children can develop: Fine and gross motor skills through the manipulation of materials e.g pouring, moulding, lifting, carrying and sorting; creativity; self confidence; social skills; vocabulary; self expression; mathematical concepts; investigative skills; cognitive skills - by observation, experimentation, the formulation of solutions to problems and manipulation of the sensory materials.
Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute has a great blog post on sensory play.There are also some nice ideas at Nursery Activity Ideas.