If you have a baby or toddler right now, you’ve probably come across the term ‘sensory play’. It’s a growing trend amongst parents and carers of young children thanks to its multiple developmental benefits.
It is quite a complicated sounding concept, but in reality, it’s super simple, easy to set up and fabulous fun, not just for your children but for you as well. In this post we’re going to explain further what sensory play means, what are sensory plays and ways you can incorporate this important style of play in to your child’s development.
What is Sensory Play?
Essentially, sensory play is about exploring the world through any of the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste or touch).
Babies and young children are drawn to doing this anyway. Taking that dangerous yet somehow adorable tendency to stick everything in their mouth that they have. With sensory play, you harness this curiosity safely, through set games or activities that stimulate multiple or less used senses.
Anything that employs the senses counts, but sensory play is particularly great for engaging the lesser used senses such as taste, touch and smell. It’s always fun and can be as cheap, easy, or expensive and complicated as you want to make it. In fact, the only real limitation is your own imagination!
Why is Sensory Play Important?
Babies and toddlers learn through exploring. With very young minds, no amount of ‘teaching’ or ‘telling’ is going to sink in. The only way to learn is to discover the world themselves, through their own experience.
Sensory play is a massively important learning tool because by using it, you are able to widen the range of experiences they have. It also adds a new dimension which helps them absorb the information.
How sensory play supports development:
- Sensory play and brain development: it has been shown to help build nerve connections in the brain.
- Sensory play and fine motor skills: actions such as squeezing things like dough don’t just increase strength but help with flexibility and coordination as well.
- Sensory play and social development: there’s the obvious advantage that sensory play can be shared, even between you and your children. But there’s also the fact that you can help.
- Sensory play and language development: if kids are thinking about the world in new ways, it follows that they will need to learn new ways to describe it too.
Other reasons why sensory play is beneficial to babies and young children:
- It has a calming effect: being a young child can be scary, and sensory play can seriously soothe away anxiety. It’s fully immersive and focuses them entirely on their immediate experience.
- Build confidence: some young children can be intimidated by too many different flavours, sounds and textures all at once. Sensory play will help them familiarise on their own terms and build their confidence gradually.
- It’s a bonding experience: sensory play isn’t as much fun on your own, which is a great excuse for you to be involved too. Ask questions, make suggestions and even get hands on and try the activities yourself. You might even get your own mindfulness-based benefits from this immersive source of fun!
Adding an extra sensory dimension to learning can even help with older kids.
By making the learning experience more rounded, or fun, you’ll make it more engaging and help them remember it.
When to Introduce Sensory Play
It is never too early to start with sensory play. In fact, even without your intervention your baby will almost immediately start learning about the world through their senses.
In the beginning, you won’t even have to work to include it. Something as simple as talking to a newborn while you change their nappy or bathe them will help stimulate their senses. Also aim to get toys that have a range of textures, sounds and bring different safe smells into the house. All of this will help acclimatise your little one to layers of stimulus.
As they get older, you might want to try more tailored tactics, specifically designed to appeal to each of the five senses. As we said, before the only limitation is your imagination but you can follow our suggestions to get the ball rolling.
How to Get Started With Sensory Play
Now you know when to start sensory play, it’s time to look at how to introduce sensory play.
You’d be forgiven for thinking something that technical sounding would require specific ‘sensory play tools’ or ‘sensory play toys’
. Actually, one of the most wonderful things about it is that you can use a whole range of everyday household objects.
One of the best ways to manage sensory play is through a collection of sensory play bins or a table. Again, this can be done entirely using things you will probably already have knocking around the house.
Here are some ideas for how to do sensory play in your everyday life:
- Dye household food stuffs, like rice, spaghetti and make brightly coloured ‘feel’ trays or tubs. Bury blocks or other objects inside and get kids to dig around to find them.
- Mix baby oil and flour to make ‘cloud dough’, a grainy sand-like malleable dough.
- Pop flour, food colouring and water into zip-lock bags to make squashable ‘squishy’ bags.
- Stir up some cornstarch, condensed milk and food colouring to make edible slime for kids who won’t quit trying to taste everything.
- Deliberately tempt them to scoff with a tempting taste platter. Try mixing strong flavours with milder ones, to give their taste buds time to adjust.
- Try getting older kids to write out sums or difficult vocabulary in shaving foam, sand or fingerpaint. Turning learning into something fun and tactile doesn’t just help the younger ones!
When looking for ideas you can even theme the play options. Make things festive at Christmas, gross at Halloween or sugar-sweet for Easter. Seasons, colours, pirates, farmyards; get as creative as you can, or just search the internet for suggestions.
All in all, sensory play is a wonderful way to get your kids learning new things. We hope this post has convinced you of the benefits as well as given you some ideas for incorporating it for your own family.
How can you go wrong, helping them develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime by making the experience as enjoyable for them as possible? Sensory play is definitely something you have to try!