Sensory Play: What is it?

Learning never stops for human beings. Soaking in information about the environment and learning starts at the womb, as a fetus, as the ears start developing. From birth to early childhood, learn the world around them using their five senses. Through sensory stimuli gathered by the ears, nose, eyes, tongue, and skin, kids’ young minds start recognizing patterns, associations, and similarities between the things that surround them as they start making sense of the world.

As children progress in their development, it’s important that they be thrust into circumstances where they’re given the chance to explore and discover the world through their senses. This is the very essence of sensory play.

Sensory Play, in a nutshell, is the active use of senses to navigate the world through exercises and playtime optimized for visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and textile experiences. Such experiences are vital and essential to children’s growth and development.

Fortunately, for children, especially babies, and younger kids, exploration through the senses comes naturally. The primary concern, then, for parents is to ensure that they provide a positive learning environment that fosters a healthy routine that nurtures children in their daily sensory adventures. This is important due to the fact that children, young as they are, will start building their understanding of objects, spaces, people, and interactions as they grow.

The benefits of sensory play stick with people even as they grow. Even as adults, your senses provide you with essential information every day. You use this information to make important decisions several times a day. Oftentimes, this connection between decision-making and sensory play is taken for granted and happens unnoticed. It is, however, one of the most important reasons why sensory play is essential to child development.

What Activities Qualify as Sensory Play?

The most common misconception on sensory play is the notion that all it is is picking things up and feeling their texture. Quite frankly, however, there is more to sensory play than meets the eye.

Sensory Play covers any exercise and activity that provides stimulation to a child’s senses. Stimuli to the sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing, as well as anything that engages movement and balance are all considered to be part of a healthy sensory experience.

Essentially, sensory play is limited only by the imagination. Most things, given due synthesis and briefing can be a sensory learning experience for your children, allowing them to connect certain stimuli to objects and materials that become involved in the playtime.

But of course, certain types of play and materials are more appropriate for varying age groups. In this way, sensory play becomes just a bit different as children grow.

For one, sensory play for babies is observing how cartoons move or feeling the cold of ice touch their skin, or hearing flutes as the wind passes through its mechanisms. Sensory play for toddlers, on the other hand, is things like the observation of light and shadow as they are produced by a candle in the dark. Watching colors mix on canvasses and water as they mingle in artworks. For pre-school-aged children, sensory play manifests itself in crafting shapes and playing with kinetic sand, learning, and strumming on guitars.

But generally speaking, the most fundamental way to help most children enjoy sensory experiences is by playing outside with nature, enjoying its colors, seeing the way things move, feeling the textures, hearing the sounds, and smelling all sorts of scents.

Benefits of Sensory Play

Sensory play, through years of research, has been proven to aid child development as the kids grow. This sensory adventure helps kids develop several critical facets that are integral in becoming the best people they can be.

Generally, sensory activities empower children in refining the boundaries of the variety of information that they can process and recognize. It helps them create and fortify connections and associations to sensory information and how the world’s creations interact with one another, allowing them to filter things that are useful and familiarize themselves with cause and effect.

Further, sensory play allows children to become acclimated with what can be considered
‘Normal’ in this world. For example, the gustatory texture of spaghetti may seem odd to kids at first, but through a repetitive sensory experience, they would soon recognize it as ‘normal’ or even preferable. One more instance would be their acclamation to common scents at home, like when they recognize that milk had spoilt or when food had gone bad. These are all aftereffects of sensory play.

The use of sensory play assists children by setting expectations for them. As the child nurtures trust and comprehension of certain scents, flavors, textures, sounds, and sceneries and helps build positive and negative pathways in the brain to say it is safe to engage with this certain.

Here are some other benefits of sensory play:

– Helps build connections in the brain and nervous systems
– Guides exercises that help improve fine motor skills
– Serves as a conduit for linguistic learning
– Empowers ‘scientific thinking’ and that helps enhance problem-solving
– Improves critical thinking by developing logical prowess

Sensory Experiences

People, young or old, retain information at optimal levels when they engage their senses. Starting from birth and through to early childhood, children utilize the senses to discover the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving, hearing, and many other seemingly basic activities that have a great impact.

These activities provide opportunities for children to actively use their senses to explore their environment through ‘sensory play,’ which is crucial to brain development. Effective and nurturing sensory play, according to studies around the globe, may lead to a child’s capability to understand and process complex learning tasks that guide cognitive growth, language development, gross motor skills, social interaction, and problem-solving skills.

More than just the five senses, sensory play stimulates aspects of cognition that go beyond just the basic sensory experiences. Here are the bodily stimuli that sensory play seeks to enhance: 

  • Taste – stimulation of the chemical receptors on the tongue
  • Touch – stimulation of the sensory receptors in the skin
  • Smell – stimulation of chemical receptors in the nose and the body’s upper airways.
  • Sight – stimulation of light receptors in the eyes, which the brain interprets into visual objects
  • Hearing – the reception of sound through auditory nerves in our ears
  • Body Awareness – information that brains gather from stretch receptors inside the muscles and pressure receptors found in joints that enable the body to gain a sense and awareness of where bodies are in certain spaces.
  • Balance – stimulation of the vestibular system in the inner ear to inform the body position itself in relation to gravity.

Sensory Play is the active pursuit of consistent stimulation of the body’s senses. There are many studies in existence that would recommend every parent to explore routines that would incorporate the concepts of sensory play to your kids’ early education as they have proven to be helpful and beneficial to child development.

Elena Jones

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