The Benefits of Sensory Play
Hi! As a former kindergarten teacher and mom of four small kiddos, it’s pretty safe to say I know a thing or two about play! Sensory play in particular is a favorite at our house and something all four of my kids (even baby Everly!) enjoy and love. It’s fascinating to watch them explore through this very *simple* form of play: no batteries required.
What I love most about this type of play is that it can pretty much be anything and everything. Any activity that stimulates one or more of your child’s five senses- touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. You can turn almost anything into a sensory experience: digging in the sand, eating an ice cream, and even taking a bath! Our senses allow us to gain information across multiple body channels, increasing our ability to learn, problem solve, create and imagine. When you expose your little one to different sights, sounds, smells, textures and colors, they naturally learn about the world around them.
What Are the Benefits of Sensory Play?
When you think about early learning and brain development, the very first thing that should come to mind is PLAY! Now, more than ever, we need to take *some* of the pressure off ourselves and breathe in the simple nature of *sensory* play and all that it has to offer:
- Enhances creativity, imagination and self-guided exploration
- Provides cognitive growth and higher order thinking while strengthening sensory related brain synapses and functions
- Promotes speech/language development with the use of descriptive words (wet, dry, soft, bumpy, smooth, shiny, sticky, etc.)
- Develops social interactions – children work together, play together, solve tasks and problem solve
- Strengthens fine motor skills with the use of playful (and often non-conventional) sensory tools – pinching, grasping, pouring, scooping
- Can regulate emotions/behaviors/anxiety and bring a sense of calm to a child experiencing big emotions
Sensory Play for Preschoolers and Beyond
If you’re ready to expose your little one to the many therapeutic and developmental benefits of sensory play, setting up your very own sensory experience at home doesn’t need to be overwhelming. In fact, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3! First, find a bin, a box (or even a tray!). It can be more elaborate – similar in size to a water table – or something more simple like a shoe box.
Next, choose a theme and go with it! Change up the textures, materials and colors. The possibilities are endless. Think about anything (and everything) that might appeal to your child’s senses and start gathering materials. Lots of everyday items can be reimagined and thrown into the mix (some of which you may even have on hand). A few of our favorite non-food sensory fillers include rainbow rice, dried beans, felt balls, colored sand and cooked spaghetti. You may think it all sounds silly, but everything is a treasure in the eyes of a child. You can step up the sensory experience a bit more by adding a pop of color with food coloring, themed toys, trinkets/loose parts, containers for collecting, and tools for scooping and mixing (our silicone sensory brush is a fun and playful tool to swirl the day away!).
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Remember, before you let your child dive in, it’s always a good idea to set up a few rules and guidelines. Use this opportunity to teach, model and practice appropriate sensory bin use and your little one will be on track for more advanced sensory play down the road. You should be prepared for (and okay with!) a little mess but rules are helpful when explaining what’s acceptable and what’s not: keep materials inside the sensory area, pick up anything that falls, clean up when finished. Simple and to the point!
Now, we must not forget about baby! All children, regardless of age, are naturally curious about the world around them. While sensory exploration at this age (0-3) looks a little different from that of an older child, it still shares all of the same benefits. Babies and young toddlers are naturally curious about the world around them and learn by doing and seeing. Once you provide the activity, it’s time to play, interact and engage with them! This is where the magic of sensory play really starts. Creating a safe, sensory experience for your baby or toddler can seem like a daunting or scary task, but it doesn’t need to be! Here are a few tips and tricks for introducing baby to the wonderful world of sensory play:
- Use safe/age-appropriate materials
- No small/loose parts- We use the toilet paper roll method. If it falls through the hole, it's a no go!
- Teach, model and practice appropriate sensory bin use and play- for more advanced sensory play down the road
- Supervise, interact & engage with your child during playtime
When in doubt, you can always throw everything into a sealed bottle! Plastic sensory bottles are a great option for safe & mess-free exploration. They can be used for basic discovery or as a sensory tool to soothe and bring a sense of calm to a child experiencing big emotions. Different shapes, textures and colors to look at and the perfect size for busy, little hands to shake, rattle and roll.
Want to take ALL the guess work out? Our baby/toddler friendly sensory kits are available in a variety of playful themes your little one will love. Shop the full collection HERE.