The holidays might be over, but for many, wintery weather is here to stay for quite a while! It’s a great opportunity to pause and explore the season with all of our senses. Our toddler knows that winter often feels cold, for instance, but what does winter sound and smell like? By pairing Learning Resources tools with a sensory table/bin and items around the home, you too can help your little one examine and discover the many characteristics of winter — with or without traveling outdoors! 

Materials we used:

Before we dove into our visual and tactile sensory exploration, we read several books that describe various aspects of winter with rich, new vocabulary unfamiliar to our toddler. Great examples included Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper (picture book), Snow Song by A. K. Riley (picture book), Winter is Here by Kevin Henkes (picture book), Touch & Feel Winter by Scholastic Early Learners (board book) and The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (board book). Our toddler loved discussing the “crunch” sound boots make in the snow, the “scrape, scrip” of a shovel on a sidewalk, the “drip, drip” of melting snow, and the “plop” or “ploompf” of snow falling off a tree! 

Next, we explored our Learning Resources Primary Science Sensory Tubes, which come with two types of lids: one solid and one with vent holes, so you can smell what’s inside! We set up three tubes with vented lids, all with different items that evoke the smells and sights of wintertime, including (1) peppermint candies and marshmallows, (2) rosemary and fir tree stems, and (3) acorns, pinecones, and cinnamon sticks. 

Our little scientist safely examined the items in the sunlight through the clear tubes, rolled and turned each tube to hear their sounds, and used her nose to sniff out the items inside. This is a great way to expose young children to small (choking hazard) or messy items you may not want them to play with freely, especially if they’re still tempted to use their sense of taste

Next, we dove into our sensory table to build our fine motor skills and embrace some wintery textures. In this particular setup, we had both a wet and dry component, as well as some loose parts and tools to explore. 

In a medium bowl, we added sweet-smelling orange slices and deep-red cranberries that floated and bobbed in the water. 

In a larger bin, we set up our snow. One could easily scoop up real snow and bring it inside, but the day we did this activity, it had already melted outside our home, so we improvised with a ‘cloud dough’ alternative. We added plain flour (1 cup), vegetable oil (¼ cup), and a few drops of peppermint oil (for some subtle winter aroma) and mixed them together with our fingers to create a snow-like cloud dough that (bonus) wouldn’t freeze our toddler’s little fingers. 

The result? A happy mess and lots of open-ended, tactile play! The addition of the snow-like cloud dough allowed her to make ‘tracks’ and trace shapes/patterns like the characters in her books. By adding tools like the Learning Resources Handy Scooper and Squeezy Tweezers, we could move and manipulate the oranges, cranberries, and other loose parts from water to ‘snow’ and back again — building those strong, pre-writing hand muscles — all while exploring the senses of touch, smell, and sound. 

Looking to adapt or extend your winter sensory play even further? 

  • Turn your snowy sensory bin into small world play by adding your child’s favorite miniature animal or other figurines. Act out ‘crunching’ through the snow or ‘slipping’ across some ice. 
  • Transform your sensory bin into a winter-themed kitchen! Add some cooking utensils, cookie cutters, and other available loose parts (cinnamon sticks, candy canes, marshmallows, etc.) and let their culinary imaginations run wild.
  • Practice color recognition and color mixing in the sensory bin snow by adding some water and food coloring to Learning Resources Primary Science Jumbo Test Tubes and Eye Droppers.