What is Sensory Play?
I’m a big fan of sensory play at Squidgydoodle. I’m going to tell you a bit about what it is and what the benefits of sensory play are.
From the day that you’re born you explore the world by using your senses of taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. It’s why babies and toddlers put everything into their mouths. You may have seen a child spin around in circles, until they’re dizzy, to see what it feels like. Or your child might try making funny noises with their mouth, to see what happens.
If you search the internet for sensory play activities you’ll find lots of sensory bins full of water beads, cloud dough, coloured rice and sand. These are all great sensory activities. Sensory play isn’t all about touch though, it’s about the other senses too. For example; the smell of ginger when cooking gingerbread men, the sight of paint colours mixing, the sound of leaves crunching underfoot all appeal to your child’s senses.
Benefits of Sensory Play
Sensory play encourages learning through hands-on activities that stimulate the child’s senses of taste, touch, smell, sight or hearing.
Sensory play is crucial to brain development. It helps to build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways. This leads to a child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.
Playing with different types of textures and objects help your child develop the language they need to describe the world around them. Grass becomes more than just grass; it’s soft and tickly under their feet, crunchy and sparkly after a frost and they begin to recognise the smell of freshly cut grass. A sensory bin can be themed to a particular topic or season and you can encourage your child to describe items within the bin. You could also use sensory experiences to help narrate a story. For example, stories like, ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ really lend themselves to sensory activities.
Sensory activities encourage exploration. They naturally encourage children to use scientific processes when playing, creating and investigating, developing problem solving skills. For example, seeing what happens when they mix cornflour and water to make oobleck. The child will notice how the water changes the consistency of the cornflour. The child is learning when scooping the oobleck into their hands, seeing it ooze out between their fingers, then settle into a more solid state which they can crack with a spoon.
When a child makes their own slime they see the ingredients transform from their current state to a different state. When playing with the slime they learn about it’s elasticity, stretching it and squelching it between their fingers. Little Bins for Little Hands shares some great slime recipes and the science behind slime.
Fine motor skills
Many sensory activities also develop fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are those that require the ability to use and coordinate small muscle groups. For example, when you make pastry and rub the flour and butter together, or give a child a sensory bin full of water beads, cotton wool balls, rice or pom poms to pick up, pinch or pour. Fine motor skills are important for writing, getting dressed etc.
Sensory play is also great for calming an anxious or frustrated child. Sensory bottles are often used as a tool to help calm a child. Lots of children find it difficult to self regulate their emotional, or physical response to situations. Sensory activities can help to give the child a focus when everything seems overwhelming. For example a sensory bottle can be shaken as hard as the child likes, giving them a physical outlet for their feelings. As they watch the liquid swirl inside, or the glitter gently fall it can help the child to unconsciously slow their heart rate and breathing.
So in summary, sensory exploration is a child’s way of examining, discovering and making sense of the world. Keep reading to find out my top 5 tips for limiting the mess.
If you want to make a sensory bin Little Bins for Little Hands has some great ideas for sensory bin fillers. They also explain how to set them up.
Isn’t sensory play really messy?
Some sensory play activities can be messy, but there are some simple ways to reduce the mess, by limiting your child’s play space. Here are my top 5 tips:
- Play outdoors where the mess won’t matter so much.
- Put a matt down on the floor. I use a PVC tablecloth, but you can just put a towel or old sheet down.
- Fill a washing up bowl with water and an old towel, or have wet wipes nearby.
- Have a dustpan and brush or cloth nearby.
- Set the activity up in a limited space e.g.
- Sensory bin – this is just a large plastic tub
- Tuff tray – see this post for details
- Paddling pool
- Sand table
- Household tray
- Large saucepan
- Your bath!
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