Have you ever wondered why kids are always so fascinated by squishy playdough, colorful paints, or the feel of sand slipping through their fingers? This is because sensory play allows them to actively use their senses and discover new things in a hands-on manner.
In this post, we're going to explore the importance of sensory play for kids and how it can positively impact their development in the early years. So, let's jump right in and see why sensory play is not just play, but an important part of their growth and development.
Let’s see what sensory play is.
Sensory play refers to any activity that engages a child's senses – as you can probably imagine - sight, hearing, smell, tase, touch, balance and body awareness.
It involves providing opportunities for children to actively use their senses to learn about the world around them.
When is the right time to start introducing sensory activities? The answer is, from birth. This is because vision and hearing develops from very early days. Human Brain development
Now that we know about sensory play, let's explore the amazing benefits it provides for our children.
Sensory play activates various parts of the brain as children explore different textures, colors, sounds, and scents.
This stimulation contributes to the development of neural pathways and enhances overall brain function.
Sensory activities often involve challenges and opportunities for problem-solving.
For example, if a child is building with blocks or molding with clay, they may face obstacles and will find creative solutions to overcome them. This process of trial and error helps develop problem-solving skills.
It’s crucial for the development of fine motor skills. Many sensory activities involve handling small objects, using tools, or engaging in precise movements.
This contributes to the development of fine motor skills.
It helps to understand the cause-and-effect relationships.
For instance, pouring water into a basket can create splashes or squeezing a soft ball can change its shape. Understanding these cause-and-effect relationships is foundational to understanding the world around them.
In sensory play, children make decisions about how to interact with materials, what tools to use, and how to organize or manipulate objects. Making choices in a sensory-rich environment contributes to the development of decision-making skills.
There are many activities that involve open-ended play that allow for imaginative and creative thinking. When children play with sensory materials to build something, they are exercising their creativity.
Through hands-on exploration of different textures, colors, and materials, kids can make connections. This will lead to innovative ideas.
Fine motor activities that involve threading beads or lacing cards develop hand-eye coordination.
Some children may not enjoy threading activities. You can introduce similar activities like pouring water from one container to another.
Does your child enjoy sensory activities like drawing in sand, shaving cream, or finger painting? This will benefit their writing and drawing skills in the future.
Squishing, rolling, and handling playdough or clay helps build finger strength and dexterity.
These activities improve the ability to use fingers independently and with precision.
Walking on uneven surfaces, balancing on one foot, or navigating obstacle courses are great ways for children to develop balance and coordination.
Now that we know all the benefits that sensory play will provide to our children, let’s see some fun and engaging sensory activities.
Tactile sensory activities involve the sense of touch. This can include activities such as playing with different textures like sand, water, or various fabrics.
Playdough and clay activities:
Engaging in playdough and clay sensory activities can be a fun activity for children of all ages.
Sand and water play:
Sand and water play is an excellent sensory activity for kids, allowing them to explore different textures, experiment with pouring and scooping, and engage in imaginative play.
Mud play can also be introduced if your child enjoys it. Even though it sounds messy, it is truly worth it because of the many benefits it brings.
Creating a sensory bin is a wonderful way to engage children in hands-on play that stimulates their senses
Sensory bins can be customized with various materials to provide a rich sensory experience.
Visual sensory activities target the sense of sight. These activities may include exploring colorful and visually stimulating materials, engaging in art projects, or playing with light and shadow.
It will contribute to the development of visual perception and observation skills.
Set up a variety of colorful objects, such as blocks, colorful popsicle sticks and pom-poms. Ask children to sort the objects.
Visual arts and crafts :
Art and craft are another open-ended sensory activity that helps to develop imagination skills.
Auditory sensory activities involve the sense of hearing. This can include listening to music, nature sounds, or engaging in activities that promote auditory discrimination. Sound-based activities can help with language development and auditory processing skills too.
Home-made musical instruments:
Music knows no limit. It can be as simple as creating melodies with everyday objects found in the kitchen. To take it a step further, different reusable items can be transformed into musical instruments.
Listening games and activities:
This is a fantastic way to engage children in an auditory sensory experience.
Some popular listening games are sound scavenger hunt and Simon Says.
Olfactory sensory activities focus on the sense of smell. These activities include exposure to various scents, such as smelling different flowers, spices, or scented playdough.
The olfactory system plays a significant role in memory and emotional responses.
Edible slime activities:
Slime is a fun and exciting STEM activity. There are many edible slime recipes you can find online to start with.
Taste testing can be done with simple ingredients found in your kitchen. For instance, you can blindfold your child and have them identify various powders like salt, sugar, and flour.
Proprioceptive activities involve a sense of body awareness.
These activities include actions like jumping, crawling, or other tasks that provide deep pressure to joints and muscles. Proprioceptive input helps with body coordination and spatial awareness.
Vestibular sensory play focuses on stimulating the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and spatial orientation.
This system is in the inner ear and plays a crucial role in coordinating movements and maintaining an individual's sense of equilibrium.
Vestibular sensory activities often involve movements that challenge and engage the vestibular system, contributing to overall sensory integration and development.
Some examples are swinging, spinning, rocking, or any motion that provides changes in head position and body movement.
Ever thought about sensory play right in nature's backyard? Exploring the natural world provides an amazingsensory experience for our kids. All for free!
You will see that they can engage their senses—touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste, balance and body awareness.
For example, touching dry leaves, looking at trees, listening to the sounds of birds, smelling flowers and tasting fresh water from leaves are all close to nature experiences that will appeal to their senses.
Next time you go for a bush walk or even a stroll in the park, be sure to turn it into a full sensory experience for your kids.
You don't need fancy toys or equipment to introduce sensory play into your daily routine. Simple household items can do the trick!
For example, you can introduce sensory play during bath time. Add some bubbles or bath toys with different textures to make it an exciting sensory experience. You can also introduce water beads or foam letters for them to play with and explore during their bath. It's a win-win situation - clean and sensory fun!
It’s also important to keep in mind to supervise your child during sensory play and choose age-appropriate materials. Things can get messy too. You can easily manage it by laying down a plastic sheet or using an easily washable play mat. It’s worth the mess!
Remember, sensory play is not just about fun - it's a valuable learning experience for your child. It promotes their cognitive and motor skills. So, embrace the mess and get creative with everyday activities.
Sensory play is crucial during early childhood as it helps in the development of range of skills in the early years.
Whether it's dedicated sensory playtime or incorporating sensory play into everyday tasks, such as mealtime or bath time, finding ways to engage a child's senses is important for their overall growth and development.
You can easily introduce simple activities such as finger painting, slime, sensory bins, and listening games. Remember to explore the natural world to enhance sensory play for childrens.
Udani is an early childhood educator and a former teacher with a heart for educating and inspiring young minds.
Drawing from her extensive years of experience in the field, she imparts valuable knowledge and guidance to both parents and educators through her blog, HomeMadeLegacy.