Feeding the senses

The toy that does it all — helps grow a healthy brain; teaches language development, motor skills, independence and self-confidence; and promotes curiosity and self-regulation — has been around since the beginning of time

Dino Toddler Moon Sand Kit. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

A few years ago, Caroline Sutherland was looking at safe options to entertain her two-and-half-year-old son while she was working from home. The Arnprior resident began experimenting with sensory play — water, moon sand and a sensory bottle for “calm-down time.”

Sensory toys remain a hit with Samuel, now six, and his two-year-old sister, Emily. “My kids love sensory look-and-find bags that are perfect for long car trips,” Sutherland says. “They love water play and colourful rice.” For home, they have a homemade sensory table constructed from PVC piping and a dollar store container.

“Every month, we make themed sensory bins using different filler — rice, fake snow, popcorn kernels, shredded paper and more,” she says. “We have rice look-and-find bottles, sensory bags for the car and in the summer, we use our water table daily for outdoor play.”

Sensory play, Sutherland says, helps her children self-regulate, and allows them to explore different textures and smells. Sutherland also believes it improves their concentration and engagement. “They have more time to explore and they can be as messy as they want to be,” she says. “It incorporates so many learning skills like language, self-regulation, and supports brain development by enhancing memory and problem solving.”

The creative mind behind Kai’s Sensory Kreations, Kai Foster, knows this to be true.

“All children benefit from sensory play,” says Foster, a Gloucester resident who founded the small business with their spouse, Jen Naples. A registered early childhood educator with a masters of social work and B.A. in child studies and 25 years of experience working with children in various childcare settings, Foster’s own love of sensory play began as a young child.

According to Foster, sensory play — activities that stimulate the five senses — is an important part of early childhood brain development. “[It] literally helps to build nerve connections in the brain as children explore and learn through their senses,” they say. It also helps develop children’s language development, motor skills, eye-hand coordination, cognitive growth, social skills, learning about scientific processes and promotes curiosity.

Ottawa resident Justyne Smiley offers sensory play opportunities to son Benjamin, 5, and daughter Scarlett, 3. “It fosters independent play [and] helps them use their brains in different ways.”

It also helps children to self-regulate and alert or calm the sensory system, and can benefit children with special needs. “It is very inclusive and can be adapted to most needs,” says Foster.

Although Kai’s Sensory Kreations offers a range of products including sensory gel bags and bottles, calming boxes and kits, busy boxes and learning boxes, there is no wrong way to do sensory activities. “Children can explore sensory the way that it makes sense to them,” Foster says.

“Every child can benefit from sensory play because it’s creative, soothing, educational, and open-ended,” says Alexandra St-Jean. As a behaviour consultant supporting childcare centres, the Rockland resident has witnessed numerous children enjoy and learn through sensory activities. St-Jean also brings out the sensory toys with her own children Maveryk, 7, and Ivory, 5, while she’s making dinner or when she needs to get work done. “It’s been a game-changer,” she says.

Unicorn Busy Box. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Sparkle Sensory Bottle. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Space Sensory Kit. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Space Calm Box. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Salt Sensory Kit. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Ocean Calming Box. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Moon Sand. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Mini sensory gel bag. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Ice Cream Moon Sand. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Dino Learning Box. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Bug Sensory Kit. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Alphabet Learning Box. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Dino Toddler Moon Sand Kit. Photo Courtesy Kai’s Sensory Kreations

Despite the popularity of sensory play now — “with increased research, awareness and knowledge over the years of how children learn, how to create healthy brains and an increased understanding of sensory needs, the importance of sensory play has grown and has become more accessible,” Foster says — it isn’t a new concept.

“We were always exposed to sensory — rain falling on our faces, playing in the snow or sandbox, collecting leaves or sticks,” says Foster. “We recently had an older gentleman come to one of our booths at a craft sale and he laughed and said, ‘when I was a kid, we used to get our sensory play outside,’ and he is exactly right.”

It’s not just children that can benefit. “We all have sensory needs,” says Foster. “There is research that supports the use of calming tools to reduce anxiety and even support people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Sensory play has no age limit.”




Set up your own sensory play

“Sensory play is so accessible,” says Kai Foster. You don’t need expensive toys and equipment. Foster shares their top tips:

  • Have towels or a sink available
  • Place sensory play in bottles and Ziplock bags to minimize mess
  • A bin from the dollar store is a good alternative to an expensive sensory table
  • Go for a nature walk and collect rocks, sticks, leaves, pine cones, and grass to explore. Items can be placed in a recycled bottled for younger children to observe or shake, or into a sensory bin for older children
  • Rocks can be painted or decorated
  • Water play is inexpensive and accessible
  • Adding a new tool (tongs, eye droppers, scoops) to sensory play can offer a whole new learning experience
  • Everyday activities — bath time, cooking and baking — can involve sensory exploration


Safety tips

  • Sensory play requires adult supervision. Closed bottles or bags can open
  • Be aware of a children’s development age
  • Be aware of small pieces that can be choking hazards
  • Check materials often for cracks, signs of damage or mold. Allergies are something to consider as well
  • Parents who have children who put things in their mouths should consider taste-safe sensory options (water, ground-up Cheerios, cornmeal, oats and coloured salt)


“One of my favourite things about sensory play is watching a person light up when they see, touch, or hear something that they weren’t expecting.” - Kai Foster


Get in touch

Facebook @kaissensorykreations

Email kaissensorykreations@gmail.com