Exploring the Benefits of Sensory Play
Our senses guide us through the world, teaching us about how it works. In the pre-reasoning, early development stage of childhood, our five senses lead.
For this reason, sensory play is a crucial educational support, allowing children to explore the world around them, using their senses.
In adulthood, we use our senses to obtain key information without really thinking about it. We gather the information they provide and then incorporate it into our highly developed reasoning ability, allowing our intellects to sort it all out.
Sensory play is a means of heightening the role of the senses in education and development.
How does it work?
Sensory play implies centering our sense of touch but in truth, this educational support engages all the senses.
Only limited by imagination, sensory play is anything which highlights the information we glean from sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Sensory play also encompasses enhancing movement and balance skills.
As with any type of play, though, sensory play should be tailored to the developmental level of the children you’re engaging. The materials and games employed should take into consideration both ability and age.
- Babies: Bubbles, paper which can be torn and scrunched, toys which make a variety of sounds and offer a tactile experience
- Toddlers: Painting (finger and sponge), the effects of light and shadow on familiar shapes, musical toys
- Pre-school: Kinetic sand, musical instruments (especially percussion), molding clays, collaging
Nature is also a teacher in which the senses rule. The touch of the breeze, the sound of the leaves rustling, the colors, textures and smells – these all instruct our senses in nature, the ideal sensory play environment.
Benefits of sensory play
Sensory play encourages children to look more deeply into what they’re experiencing. They confront sensory experiences with a natural need to explore and investigate. Why do these things behave as they do? Why do they make this sound?
Engaging with their senses, children test their hypotheses and draw conclusions about the information being transmitted to their brains by their senses.
Children also learn to categorize sensory information, as their brains absorb and learn which information is important and which, less so.
Children who struggle with hypersensitivity, for example, may be overwhelmed by everything going on around them as they try to play with others. By experiencing their senses in sensory play, children learn which information to focus on (playing with children) and which to ignore (cars and trucks passing, other distracting noises and sensory information).
Texture is a challenge for many children with sensory processing disorder, especially with respect to certain foods. Sensory play can help children with sensory processing, as the play environment is intended to be exploratory. They’re not expected to respond to sensory information in a specific way.
This allows children to foster trust and understanding of textures they may have “blacklisted” by creating pathways in the brain that signal the food texture they’re struggling with is safe and non-threatening.
Sensory play serves to strengthen neural connections in the brain, making way for more robust development of motor skills and stronger development of spoken language.
At the same time, sensory play develops childhood problem solving and encourages them to approach questions from a standpoint of empiricism (observed evidence of the nature of things).
A natural fit
The age of reason comes soon enough but until that age arrives, children use their senses to find out what they want to know about the world they’re experiencing, as they grow.
Sensory play allows children to “do what comes naturally”, enacting their ability to gather information from their senses to draw conclusions about what they’re experiencing. And while all this is going on, children are playing in a way that’s supporting their intellectual and physical development.
Our senses guide us in many ways we rarely think about. Sensory play provides children with a controlled experience of those senses in early development. For children with SPD and other developmental challenges, this style of play is tremendously successful.
Fun Factory Sensory Gym
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We bring you tailored play environments that bring the smiles. Contact us to find out more.