As a parent or caregiver of a young child, you’ve probably heard the phrase “sensory play” thrown around quite a bit. But what exactly is sensory play, and what are the actual benefits of sensory play for toddlers and children?
Sensory play involves engaging a child’s senses – touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing – through play-based activities that stimulate their natural curiosity and creativity. From squishing playdough between their fingers to exploring different textures and colours, sensory play helps children develop important cognitive, motor, and social skills that lay the foundation for future learning and growth.
What is sensory play?
Sensory play is a type of play that engages a child’s senses – touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing – in order to promote exploration, creativity, and learning. Sensory play can involve a wide range of materials and activities, such as sand, water, play dough, mud, bubbles, musical instruments, and more.
The goal of sensory play is not necessarily to achieve a specific outcome or product, but rather to allow children to freely explore and experiment with different materials and textures.
Sensory play can be done alone or with others, and can be adapted to suit the developmental needs and interests of children at various ages and stages.
Benefits of sensory play
Develops cognitive skills
One of the main benefits of sensory play for preschoolers is that it encourages them to use their senses to explore their environment and discover new things. This then helps them develop their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as they learn to make connections and identify patterns.
Sensory play also enhances memory and attention span, as children need to remember and recall information about the different textures, colours, and materials they are interacting with.
Develops fine motor skills
During sensory play, children use their hands and fingers to manipulate and explore different materials, such as squeezing, pinching, and rolling play dough, or pouring and scooping water or sand. These actions require precision and control, which helps children improve their hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
Sensory play can also help children develop the muscles in their hands and fingers, which are essential for activities such as writing, drawing, and using utensils.
Stimulates sensory integration
Sensory play is a powerful tool for promoting physical development in children, specifically by stimulating sensory integration. Sensory integration refers to the brain’s ability to receive and process sensory information from the environment and make appropriate responses. Sensory play allows children to engage with a variety of textures, sounds, smells, and sights, which helps them develop their sensory processing skills.
For example, children can explore different scents and textures of play dough, or listen to different sounds made by musical instruments, all of which contribute to the development of their sensory integration skills.
As children learn to integrate sensory information from their environment, they become better equipped to respond to everyday situations and challenges, setting the foundation for future success and wellbeing.
Encourages language development
Sensory play is an excellent way to encourage language development in young children.
When children engage in sensory play, they are exposed to new vocabulary and language, which they can use to describe their experiences and observations. They may use words like “smooth,” “rough,” “sticky,” and “soft” to describe the different textures they are feeling.
Sensory play also provides opportunities for children to engage in conversation and social interaction, which are essential for language development. When children play with others, they may engage in conversations about what they are doing, sharing their observations and discoveries with their peers. This not only helps build language skills but also supports social-emotional development.
Boosts creativity and imagination
Sensory play is a fantastic way to boost creativity and imagination in young children. Sensory play encourages children to explore their environment and engage with a variety of materials in a free and unstructured way. This type of open-ended play allows children to use their imagination and creativity, as they experiment with different textures, shapes, and colours, and create their own unique experiences.
How to encourage sensory play at home
Encouraging sensory play at home is a great way to support your child’s development and provide them with fun and engaging learning opportunities.
Here are some tips for incorporating sensory play into your home environment:
- Set up a sensory bin or table: A sensory bin or table can be filled with a variety of materials, such as rice, beans, sand, or water. Children can use their hands and fingers to explore and manipulate the materials, stimulating their senses and promoting fine motor skills.
- Provide a variety of textures and materials: Children love to explore different textures and materials, so provide a variety of options for them to play with, such as play dough, slime, and sensory bottles filled with glitter and water.
- Create a sensory garden: Planting a sensory garden with a variety of herbs, flowers, and plants can provide a rich sensory experience for children, as they explore different scents and textures. As an added bonus, sensory gardens also encourage children to enjoy the many benefits of outdoor play.
- Engage in sensory activities: Encourage your child to engage in sensory activities, such as finger painting, playing with bubbles, or making sensory bags filled with different materials.
Allow for unstructured play: Sensory play is most effective when it is open-ended and unstructured, allowing children to use their imagination and creativity to explore and learn. Avoid giving specific instructions or rules, and allow your child to lead the play.
Sensory play in childcare
At Aurrum Kids, our childcare curriculum is designed to incorporate sensory play into daily activities, providing children with rich learning experiences that stimulate their senses and support their cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development.
In addition to organised sensory activities, Aurrum Kids provides children with an exciting, sensory-rich environment to explore and interact with. From the outdoor kitchen gardens and climbing equipment to the water play areas and all-weather playground surfaces, children have endless opportunities to engage their senses and develop their gross motor skills.
If you’re interested in providing your child with the enriching experience of Aurrum Kids, don’t hesitate to enquire now. We also offer funded kindergarten places in Victoria, making quality early childhood education accessible to all families.
Book a tour today to see firsthand how Aurrum Kids can support your child’s learning journey.