Why is Sensory Play Important?
A lot of parents ask me- 'What is Sensory Play?'
To put it in basic terms, sensory play involves any type of play that engages one or more of the senses in our body. These include:
- Sight - visuals such as shapes, shades, brightness, colours
- Touch - such as rough, smooth, wet, texture and temperature
- Hearing - such as sound, noise, pitch, volume and music
- Taste - on the taste buds such as sweet, sour, chilli, salty
- Smell - certain aromas, perfumes and environmental smells
Why is Sensory Play Important?
Using our senses helps us make sense of the world around us.
Providing opportunities for children to actively use these senses through ‘sensory play’ is crucial to brain development. Sensory play helps to build new neural pathways in the brain.
By supporting cognitive growth, children will develop an ability to complete more complex learning tasks including:
- Language development
- Fine motor and gross motor skills
- Social skills and emotional intelligence
- Problem solving skills
- Aid and enhance memory
- Helps calm and relax an anxious, frustrated or nervous child
Sensory Play with a Special Needs Child:
When you contemplate sensory play for a child with special needs, take into consideration not only what they’ll learn, but also how they’ll experience it —and then promote the areas that make the most sense for each child.
A child who is visually impaired - May not benefit much from a colouring in activity, but if this activity was done on paper with different textures such as bumpy and corrugated, they may benefit from it a whole lot more.
A child with hearing impairments - May not be able to hear all of the verses of a song, but may be able to feel the vibrations of the drum as they beat it.
A child with sensory processing issues such as Autism - Can depend on the child and whether they have low or high sensitivity thresholds. For example, You could add a scented extract to their play dough. They might prefer painting with their fingers rather than using a brush, or alternatively they may prefer to finger paint wearing gloves.
A child with physical limitations - Instead of trying to balance on a balance beam by themselves, they may enjoy an outdoor activity such as the momentum and equilibrium that a sensory cocoon swing provides.
The Developmental Benefits of using Sensory Stimuli from birth to teenage-hood
- Develop memory skills (the ability to use sensory experiences to understand and gain knowledge via observations skills & hands on experiences). Our Texture Memory Game combines texture identification and memory skills together, while our Sound Matching Gem Blocks combine sound recognition with memory skills.
- Development of mathematical concepts (such as classification, size, conservation, counting, timing, seriation, sorting). This is achieved as children manipulate objects in play-based learning experiences, such as weighing different objects in the Monster Math Scale or counting beads on the Wooden Abacus
- Increased concentration levels
- Encourages ‘scientific thinking’ by developing analysis and problem solving skills and decision making. For example, creating a new circuit on the Marbulous Marble Run encourages a child to problem solve and make decisions about where to place each section.
- Tactile based experiences assist children’s development with pre-writing skills. For example, our Miniland Pre-writing templates develop fine motor skills and pre-writing abilities. Our Jumbo Pencils encourage correct pencil grip and help develop hand strength.
- Increased vocabulary & use of descriptive words (e.g., smooth, rough, spiky, silky, sweet, sour, spicy etc.) via various sensory inputs. This is done through any sort of sensory or tactile play. For example, our Water Beads kit could be described as "wet" and "squishy" while our Thinking Putty might be described as "stretchy" and "bouncy."
- Multisensory experiences (dramatic play, active play, literacy experiences, cooking etc), enable children to develop imagination, role play, confidence, leading and following play themes with peers, social conversations, sharing of ideas and concepts, interact and engage with peers, learn prosocial behaviours, interpret peers verbal & nonverbal cues in play. Small world play is an important part of developing these skills. For example, our Rainbow peg dolls and the Lubulona mini town encourage role play skills, small world play and spark imagination.
- Older children will learn cooperative skills, such as turn taking and negotiation skills as they engage with various sensory based experiences. A great way to incorporate this into family time is by playing a game together, such as A Day in the Jungle or Monkey Expressions.
Motor Skill Development
- The development of fine motor and gross motor skills through various physically active experiences enables children to control their muscles, refine levels of coordination and balance. Active sensory play exposes children to new situations and also develops their spatial awareness and sense of equilibrium.
Emotional Skill Development
Children can use their senses to manage their emotions, self-regulate their behaviours and use sensory experiences to calm anxieties. Using fidget toys when stressed, agitated or bored has been show to help develop these skills. So has discussing and learning about our emotions. We have a range of tools to explore these, such as our wooden emotion faces discs and our range of books.
To sum up - no sensory activity is a waste of time. It will help your child see what they do and don't like and what excites them. Most of all - it provides them with opportunities to learn, explore and grow!
Always make sure you are actively supervising sensory play and ensure the activities are developmentally - age appropriate.
Happy sensory exploring!
The Sensory Specialist x
0451 347 047
Bentleigh VIC 3204
by appointment only