What Are The Benefits Of Sensory Play, And Why Sensory Play Is Important
If you’ve been trying to find different activities for your kids to do, you might have come across a term called sensory play.
As adults, it’s easy to take using our senses for granted. But children are new to exploring their surroundings. Sensory play can help children do this, as they experience using their senses through different activities.
You might be wondering: what are the benefits of sensory play, and why is it so important?
In this article, we’ll cover what sensory play is, why it’s good for your child, and some sensory activity ideas.
What are our main senses?
Senses are the different ways in which people experience the world around them. Our brains use these to help us navigate our environment. Everyone remembers the five senses from kindergarten.
These are sound, smell, sight, taste, and touch. However, nobody talks about the other two senses, balance and body awareness.
Balance helps us stand, walk, and move around our surroundings without falling over. Our vestibular system is responsible for this. Located in the inner ear, it tells our brain where our body is in relation to our surroundings.
Body awareness is knowing where our bodies are in space. Stretch receptors in our muscles and joints give our brains information, so we can plan and coordinate our movements. This is how we know where our body parts are, even when our eyes are closed.
What does sensory play mean?
Sensory play is just like it sounds, play activities that activate children’s senses. You might first think that it’s just picking objects up and putting them down.
This is partly true, but sensory play is more than touch. It involves any activity that activates a child’s senses: sound, smell, sight, taste, touch, balance, and body awareness.
Sensory play activities are great for kids, as they encourage children to explore their surroundings. These activities change according to a child’s age and ability, so these will look different whether your child is a baby, toddler, or in pre-school.
Most sensory play activities engage sight, touch, and hearing senses, as these are used the most. However, it’s just as important to stimulate the other senses, even if it’s a little tricky to do so.
You might think that sensory play needs planning, but this isn’t the case. Do you often go for walks outside with your child? Without even thinking about it, you’ve engaged your child in a sensory play activity already! Just being outside is a great example, the natural world is packed full of colors, smells, and movement.
How does sensory play help brain development?
Engaging a baby’s senses is crucial for brain development. Sensory play makes sense-related synapses stronger.
For example, if your child doesn’t like eating foods that are wet, like carrots, sensory play can help. Your child can play with other wet objects through poking, smelling, or just looking at them.
This helps the child to understand the texture. Their brain starts to build positive pathways, telling the child that the carrots, or any other similar textures, are perfectly safe.
What are some other benefits of sensory play?
Language Skills: As children explore, they discover new words and ideas. Wooden blocks are hard, plush toys are soft. Berries are sweet, lemons are sour.
It’s important for kids to pick up these words, as these describe our senses. As your child learns more words, they will start to build a wide vocabulary.
Motor Skills: Motor skills are divided into two categories, gross and fine. Gross motor skills involve tasks that need larger muscles, like our legs and arms.
As a child plays, they will need to reach for things further away, squat to pick up objects that fall down, and twist around to find things behind them. This engages their muscles, activating their gross motor skills.
Fine motor skills use smaller muscles in our hands. They tell us how to make movements using these muscles. Sensory play can help your child develop fine motor skills.
Picking up small objects, letting sand run through their fingers, or squeezing soft toys can all make your child’s hands stronger over time.
Your child also learns that different textures need to be handled differently. Solid blocks can be held tightly, but bubbles pop with one touch.
Self Control: Sensory play also teaches children rules and boundaries. Kids don’t know that you shouldn’t throw paint onto others, or take another child’s toys that aren’t theirs.
Through sensory activities, children learn self-control, how to respect others, and right from wrong.
Does sensory play have to be messy?
You might think that sensory play needs a lot of preparation and that you’ll have to clean up a lot of mess. This isn’t the case! There are loads of things for you and your child to do to engage their senses, that involve a little or no planning whatsoever. Here are some ideas.
Body Awareness and Balance
Draw a line with some chalk outside, then ask your child to walk in a straight line. Ask them to close their eyes and point to their nose. Have them hop on one foot, then the other one. Any activity that makes your child aware of their environment will do!
This sense is the easiest one to engage. Go outside and point out different colors, lines, and shapes or use a flashlight. Show them how objects further away look smaller than closer ones. Depending on their age, playing ‘I Spy with your child is a great way to activate their sight sense.
Talk in a higher voice, then a lower voice. Ask your child what different animals sound like. Clap your hands, pour some rice into a jar to make a shaker, or use a sound machine. There are loads of ways to make noise with no preparation at all!
When you’re next having food with your child, ask them how things taste. Are apples sweet or sour? Are peas juicy or bland?
Ask your child what foods they like, paying attention to the descriptive words they use. If you’re short on time, you can have your child tell you the difference between salt and sugar.
When you’re next baking or cooking, ask your child if they like the smell. Do they like the smell of cookies? What about soup? If you don’t bake much, take some strong-smelling items from the kitchen, like coffee, vanilla, or herbs. Do these smells remind them of anything? What does it make them think of?
Make sure your child doesn’t take large whiffs over these items, as these could get trapped in their nose. Instead, tell them to wave their hand so the smell drifts towards them.
This is another easy one. Your child can touch anything around them. What does a blanket feel like compared to a tv remote? How do your child’s hands feel after washing them, then drying?
Have them squeeze different objects so they know what hard and soft feels like. There are endless options for kids to touch, just be sure these objects don’t have sharp edges or rough areas.