From birth to early childhood, children use their senses to explore and to make sense of the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing.
Before explaining what sensory play is, we must emphasise that it is not making a mess for the sake of making a mess. With multiple muscles being required to work, sensory play helps children to develop their physical skills and introduces actions such as shaping, scooping and moulding.
So, the importance of sensory play in your child’s development means it will improve your child’s fine motor skills and also help with the ability to think, reason and remember. Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses – touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing. Sensory activities allow exploration, and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore.
Here are a few sensory play ideas – there are many.
- Making ‘mud pies’ is an old favourite – the water and the earth provide an inviting sensual touch.
- Hand and foot painting offer pictures for your child’s bedroom wall – ensure you buy non-toxic, washable paint.
- A sandpit and a few toys (bucket, spade, cars, blocks, cups) promise to keep you child busy for hours.
- Everyone enjoys ‘sculpturing’ play dough – be creative.
- A variety of foods with diverse flavours and textures can develop into a joyful challenge – hot, cold, sticky, dry, sweet, sour, bitter.
- Sing and dance to your child’s favourite tunes.
- The carefree act of swinging will help your child’s balance and coordination.
Research shows that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways. This leads to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks. Sensory play also supports language development, intellectual growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction. This type of play helps to develop and enhance the memory and helps to calm an anxious or frustrated child.
Sensory activities allow children to improve their levels for different sensory information, thereby helping their brains to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information. For example, a child may find it difficult to play appropriately with a peer when there are other things going on. Through sensory play a child learns to adapt to blocking out the ‘other things’ which are not important, and to focus on the play that is happening with his/her playmate.