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Benefits of Sensory Play

From almost the moment babies are born, their lifelong process of learning begins. Using their innate senses, the familiar five: sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell, plus body awareness and balance, children absorb and process a fantastic wealth of information from their world. With all of these built-in and active sensory tools, there’s no reason to wait until kids are seated in a classroom to start their education. Sensory play is a fun and enlightening way to enhance child development and jump-start learning!

What is sensory play?

Sensory play involves using the senses to explore one’s surroundings. Activities are designed to stimulate and make the most of a child’s senses. Hands-on activities encourage children to experiment with genuine scientific processes through clever play, creation and investigation.

How can children benefit from sensory play?

Early education specialists categorise the benefits of sensory play into these main areas:

  • Brain Development: sensory activities build strong nerve connections within the neural pathways of the brain. These strong neural connections expand brain power and help smooth the way for more complex learning in the future.
  • Language Development: by touching new textures, tasting new flavours, hearing new sounds, and seeing new objects, children must find new words to describe their world. For example, a ball is not just a ball; it is a bright purple ball with pointy bumps and a squishy feel. Or instead of just asking for a snack, kids request a sweet, crunchy, juicy, or tangy snack.
  • Social Interaction: as children experience the thrill of discovery through their senses, they rush to share their feelings with a friend or family member. Sensory play prompts kids to use both verbal and non-verbal communication to interact with peers.
  • Fine Motor Skills: sensory play involves coordinating small muscle groups in the body, such as the hands and fingers. It helps kids to manage dexterous tasks better, such as writing, snapping, tying, pouring, and grasping.
  • Memory Function: children use all of their senses to investigate the world and then build the discovered information into memories. These sensory memories are the basis of their knowledge about the way the world works, which also helps with problem-solving.
  • Calm Emotions: parents and teachers often notice that children calm down after a session of sensory play. This phenomenon happens because using their senses helps kids to regulate emotions, such as anxiety or restlessness. That’s why sensory play can be an excellent pre-bedtime activity.

What are some examples of sensory play activities?

When you hear the term “sensory play,” your brain probably conjures up images of little kids gathering around a table with lumps of play dough, boxes of sand, or a colourful variety of water containers. Yet this is not a full picture because sensory play is about much more than touch. The trick is to appeal to a child’s senses with amusing ways to examine and make sense of our wondrous world. Here are some tried-and-true suggestions for sensory play activities:

Play Bins

Fill a bin with objects that a child can move their hands through and wiggle their fingers around, without the filler falling out. For example, dye a few kilos of uncooked white northern beans with different hues of food colouring and scent the beans with essential oils to engage the sense of smell too. You can also use a play bin to teach sorting and problem-solving skills by filling it with grey or black gravel and then mixing in other objects, such as bright buttons in a rainbow of shapes and colours, which must be found and sorted.

Clay, Slime, Foam and Goop

All of these substances allow kids to stretch, mould, drip, and shape with their hands. Along with developing the sense of touch, these activities strengthen hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, creativity and imagination. You can purchase ready-made materials, or make the substances at home using many pantry ingredients. There are plenty of recipes for messy sensory play online.

Fidget Toys

These nifty gadgets offer gentle sensory input that keeps a child’s hands busy but doesn’t pull their attention away from where they need to focus. Silly putty can accomplish the same thing.

Crash Mats

Enhance the child’s spatial and body awareness with safe sensory crash mats. These zones must be large enough to fall on and stretch out on and deep enough so that no part of the child’s body touches the floor. Crash mats help kids figure out and feel secure about how their body fits into the space around them. A giant bean bag pillow or sofa will do the job.
Use your imagination, and you’ll discover there is no end to the list of examples for sensory play activities! Just remember – whether you encourage the child to squish, smell, taste, get wet or jump around, the most important criteria for sensory play are to make it fun, safe and enjoyable.