The wonder of Sensory Play
Picking things up and feeling their texture is what people often associate with sensory play, but it’s about much more than touch. Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates a young child's senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing, as well as anything which engages movement and balance. The best part about sensory play is that it is only really limited by your own imagination, with of course some common sense being used around the materials and types of play appropriate for your child’s age and ability.
With sensory play, there’s always much more going on than meets the eye. Sensory activities, in addition to being fun and interesting for babies and young children, encourage children to explore and investigate. Furthermore, these activities support children to use the ‘scientific method’ of observing, forming a hypothesis, experimenting and making conclusions.
Sensory activities also allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information, helping their brain to create stronger connections to sensory information and learn which are useful and which can be filtered out. For example, a child may find it difficult to play with other children when there is too much going on in their environment with conflicting noises or sights. Through sensory play, the child can learn to block out the noise which is not important and focus on the play which is occurring with their peer. Another example is a child who is particularly fussy with eating foods with a wet texture such as spaghetti.
The use of sensory play can assist the child with touching, smelling, and playing with the texture in an environment with little expectation. As the child develops trust and understanding of this texture it helps build positive pathways in the brain to say it is safe to engage with this food.
Other reasons sensory play is beneficial for children to include:
It helps to build nerve connections in the brain
It encourages the development of motor skills
It supports language development
It encourages ‘scientific thinking and problem solving
It can involve mindful activities which are beneficial for all children
The desire to engage with sensory play comes naturally for children and should be encouraged and supported both at home and in early learning environments.