Sensory play is a critical component of early child development. It can include any activity that helps stimulate a child’s senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. The biggest advantage of sensory play is that it encourages the child to explore, learn and create.
Sensory play also helps children develop their senses creatively, cognitively, linguistically, emotionally and physically. Engaging children in activities that utilize their senses help facilitate the learning process. For example, if you want the child to understand the concept of melting, give the child an ice cube. When they will see for themselves how it melts in their hand, they will forever retain it. The fact that they were able to experience it themselves, investigate it and explore it with their senses maximizes the learning process in many cases.
Skill-Development Through Sensory Play
Broadly speaking, sensory play helps develop a child’s cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, physical and creative skillset. Specifically, the following skills that can be improved with sensory play:
- Problem Solving and Decision Making Skills – helps a child make connections and find a solution.
- Math Skills – helps build a child’s math skills by comparing sizes, counting, matching, timing, sorting and classifying.
- Science Skills – helps them learn about cause and effect, gravity, states of matter, predicting, observing and analyzing.
- Language Skills – helps a child better express themselves, convey their thoughts by using descriptive language and learn the use of words in specific situations.
- Confidence & Self-Esteem – by helping the child gain more control of his/her surrounding and boost their confidence as they share ideas, work with other children and improve at expressing their thoughts and feelings.
- Motor Skills – helps in improving the coordination of small muscle movements through simple activities such as flipping the pages of a book, zipping a Ziploc bag and so on. In addition, sensory play helps develop gross motor skills that involve large muscles through activities such as walking, running, throwing etc. Even activities like pouring, measuring, mixing, scooping help develop motor skills.
- Creative skills – helps the child develop their creative side by enabling them to engage in activities that help them express their ideas and thoughts more creatively.
The sensory table can be considered the primary place for sensory play. It represents an area where children are invited to dig in and explore. This exploration could involve building blocks and then toppling them; finger-painting, creating with play dough, fiddle around with sand, explore colorful rice, paint a picture with foam etc. The goal is to enable the child to use the available materials in different way so that they use their senses to develop different skills.
Making the Most of Sensory Play
Sensory play can be incorporated into many daily activities. These include:
- Bath Time – use bath toys to stimulate the child’s senses; help them explore scrubbing with washcloths or bath brushes; enhance their sense of smell by using a variety of soaps and lotions; let them explore with bathing foam, body lotions etc.
- Baking – baking is another fun activity where children can develop sensory skills. Allow the child to mix ingredients; let them mix and roll dough, carry pots and pans, pour water and ingredients etc.
- Chores – Household chores can also develop a child’s skillset. Let them experience with the vacuum cleaner, carry the laundry basket, help you plant seeds etc.
- Grocery shopping – this is another fun activity that most kids enjoy. Let them push the grocery cart if they want to, carry groceries, pick items from shelves etc.
- Errands – Encourage them to do simple errands such as putting books in their backpacks, packing their lunch, making their bed etc.