Touch, taste, smell, oh my! Sensory play to save the day


At Build & Imagine we believe in the power of the imagination to guide play and enhance learning. We also believe that with the right attitude (and maybe a few props) playtime can become much more than only a way to entertain: it can be creative, educational, memory facilitating, stimulating, and always fun!


A proud builder, excitedly showing her dad her Build & Imagine creation

A proud builder excitedly shows her dad her Build & Imagine creation

The Build & Imagine StoryWalls are the perfect tools to inspire young imaginations through both building and storytelling. Last year, we published the blog post New research shows cognitive benefits of Build & Imagine StoryWalls. It outlines a study done with our building sets that demonstrates how much Build & Imagine based playtime can help children with pre-literacy development and vocabulary expansion.

As lifelong learners, we recently sought to discover the specifics about how play can further emphasize these critically important skills. We explored how to layer additional sensory stimulations (touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing) to expand connections and deepen the imaginative world. Sensory activities facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to easily use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore using their own creativity.

To learn more we spoke with Dr. Leo Bialis-White, who earned his Master of Education and his PhD in School Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. He confirmed that sensory play can be powerful and can create a holistic and memorable experience. He also explained that appealing to different senses can activate additional parts of the brain (not typically used for traditional playtime), and encouraged parents and caregivers to provide multi-sensory playtime whenever they can (e.g., introducing smell, sound, and taste).

The approach was reinforced by Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, known as Dr. Toy and the author of Smart Play/Smart Toys. Dr. Auerbach identified the value of Build & Imagine building sets early with her awards, recognizing its many attributes as an innovative tool facilitating language, learning, and play.

We want to facilitate immersion into imaginative worlds, tie the experience into other aspects of life, and encourage your child to draw connections, particularly to reading and language development. See suggestions below on how to implement sensory play with each of our different building sets.

Build & Imagine Fairytale Theatre play-set

Children love reading storybooks about fantastic lands and adventurous heroes. They also love acting out fairytales and making up their own stories with the Fairytale Theatre Build & Imagine playset!

Enhance play experience with the following extension ideas:

  • Draw connections to fairytales you’ve read: Read the Little Red Riding Hood book together, and encourage your child to act out the scenes. You’ll be helping to build important early literacy skills and self-expression. Barnes and Noble has several additions you can find here
  • Dust off those Halloween decorations: the Fairytale Theatre StoryWalls have a spooky forest, evil and good
    Here we used additional magnets to describe some of the panels and a Halloween critter. It was so exciting, we had a surprise guest in the audience!

    Here we employed a Halloween critter and added word magnets to describe the emotions of each StoryWall. It was so exciting that we had a surprise guest in the audience!

    castles, and magnetic accessories such as a sorcerer’s wand and masks. Help kids get into the spirit of Halloween with masks, put on a princess costume, or have a plastic toy bat swoop through a theatre scene

  • Turn the lights out: Light up a scene with flashlights! The darkness lends itself to the characters Aubrey and Jack finding their way through the spooky forest
  • Turn your play into a story book: Have the child illustrate a scene from playtime as they dictate the story for you to write down. Staple it together into a memorable book
  • Transform your bathtub into a stage for a dramatic element: Have your child draw back the bathtub curtain to start the show, then re-enact one of the stories he or she developed while playing with Fairytale Theatre

The storytelling possibilities are endless. Just don’t forget to add real flowers to play with once Jack and Aubrey make their way to the beautiful castle.


Build & Imagine Pet Portrait Studio play-set

It is no secret: the Build & Imagine team loves animals and shares that love with children. Whether real or magnetic from the Pet Portrait Studio, we want to play with and draw animals!

Enhance the play experience with the following ideas:

  • Break out the drawing materials: This is a great time to paint some animal portraits. Animal-inspired coloring books or live portraits are great options. After a painting or drawing is complete, have your child write or dictate a short story based on the Pet Portrait Studio and their artistic creation. Create a book with drawings to
    Meow! Sounds related to playtime can help activate additional parts of the brain and create a more memorable experience.

    Meow! Sounds related to playtime can help activate additional parts of the brain and create a more memorable experience

    read aloud

  • Tap into your child’s inner-photographer: This building set includes a photo room. Teach your child how to take photos with a disposable or digital camera. Bonus points if you get a nice shot of the family pup! If your home is pet-free, stuffed animals are a fantastic substitute
  • Do you hear that? To stimulate aural senses, YouTube has great sound effects for cats and dogs. This video has several hours of barking dog sounds, and this video has several hours of meowing cat sounds. Caution: These aren’t relaxing sounds so keep volume low so everyone can hear each other (and so mom and dad don’t go crazy!)
  • Bake cookies between photo shoots: Bake animal-inspired cookies as a family. From cat shapes to doggie treat shapes, baking cookies can be a fun activity to do together. And who doesn’t love enjoying a cookie with playtime?

Build & Imagine Day at the Beach play-set

We’ve never been on a beach we didn’t love. This Build & Imagine set has StoryWalls that offer a sandy beach, a surf shop, and a café. Characters Emily and Lucas can easily switch from running their own restaurant to catching some waves on their surfboards. In fact, Emily is a surfboard designer!

Enhance the play experience with the following ideas:

  • Storytime: Scholastic has this list of 10 great books for the beach to help inspire storytelling. Encourage your child to act out scenes after they read the stories, or expand on the stories after reading and then decide what happens next to the characters
  • Set the scene: Nothing is more fun, or more relaxing, than hanging at the beach. Lay a beach towel on your
    living room floor to sit on, set down a bucket to collect shells, and sip lemonade. Maybe do all of this while you

    Our Day at the Beach set is complete with a pitcher for beverages, a beach towel to sit on, and cool sunglasses!

    Our Day at the Beach set is complete with a pitcher for beverages, a beach towel to sit on, and cool sunglasses!

    read a book from the Scholastic list mentioned above. What fun!

  • Play the part: Bring sunglasses to the party because Emily and Lucas wear them often (the set comes with magnetic sunglasses accessories)
  • Use imagery: Play this great video that features beautiful imagery and sounds of crashing waves. We expect adults will also love this relaxing scene!

Lucas is ready to take orders at the cafe! Lemonade, anyone?

Build & Imagine Malia’s House play-set

Malia’s House is one to envy. This Build & Imagine set  features a pool, a garden, and a music room where she and Skyler can make music videos.

Enhance the play experience with the following ideas:

  • Belt out some tunes: The music room in Malia’s house lends itself to karaoke. Karaoke is fun, and it is also a great way to practice reading. YouTube has almost any song you can think of in a karaoke version. Your youngsters may already know all the words to Frozen’s Let It Go, but here are a few options that can get the party started:
  • Enjoy a healthy snack: Malia’s beach house has a vegetable garden. Enjoy playtime with carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and sugar snap peas
  • Plant your own garden: If you didn’t catch our last blog on educational activities, we shared a fun gardening activity to get your kids engaged in growing fresh veggies at home
  • Copy floorplans: Malia’s Beach House has 16 double-sided building panels—encourage children to simulate their own home with our flexible StoryWalls

Build & Imagine Marine Rescue Center play-set

Marine Rescue Center features Thea, an aspiring marine biologist and volunteer who inspires children to be to kind and to learn more about science. She spends her time tracking and rehabilitating injured animals.

Enhance the play experience with the following ideas:

  • Use art to learn about sea turtles: This art project will help your young marine biologist to role play and better understand the lifecycle of a sea turtle. It also has many interesting facts that your children can read
  • Put on your veterinarian hat: Get out the first aid kit – there is some animal nurturing to do! If you have plastic animals (turtles, dolphins, fish, which can be found here if you need to stock up), they are a great addition to this building set and will most likely not be damaged should they come into contact with a band aid
  • Set the tone with video: For an educational spin, this Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release video will help kiddos understand some of the tasks that are required to rehabilitate animals and the importance of taking care of our oceans
  • Marine-theme snacks: We are inspired by Parent Magazine’s Cool School Snacks, featuring goldfish crackers in a homemade nautical scene!


We always love to hear from you!

  • What sensory activities have you tried and are willing to share and add to our expanding Build & Imagine list?
  • Please send along photos of your children engaging with play and suggested extensions to inspire other parents and children to build and learn

About Build & Imagine: We are an award-winning toy company founded by Laurie Peterson, a mom and Rising Star Toy Inventor of the Year. Laurie noticed that even though girls love to build with toys, most building and construction toys were geared toward boys. She set out to engage and excite little girls with building toys, and created magnetic StoryWalls that are bright and rich with illustrations and storytelling possibilities – and it turns out, girls and boys alike enjoy playing with Build & Imagine! Please visit us on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to keep in touch or stop by our homepage to sign up for our newsletter. We look forward to hearing from you!



Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *