When I had my first baby I had no idea what sensory play was, but I already knew it was important. After her birth, I wanted her to experience as much as she could whether it was feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, or even tasting. In my mind the more she experienced, the more connections her brain made. So when I learned about sensory play it just made sense!
What exactly is Sensory Play?
Sensory Play is an activity that evokes the senses. Not all sensory play will evoke all the senses, but generally it will involve at least two. This can be as simple as playing with water and feeling the temperature as well as hearing the splashes and seeing the ripples.
Why do kids need Sensory Play?
All people, even adults, learn best when their senses are engaged. This explains why many of our memories may be triggered by just a smell. When a baby is born it knows little of the world around it and (like all of us) uses its senses to learn. As it experiences different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch the brain will connect them, so sensory play enhances learning. Sensory play also gives kids the chance to practice fine motor skills like pouring or pincher grasp. It gives them a chance to experience cause and effect when given things they can interact with like water, shaving cream, or food coloring. It gives them a chance to boost their creativity with free play and exploration of the world around them. And as long as you are there discussing what is going on (which supervision is needed especially with young children), it gives them a chance to develop a larger vocabulary and make connections to what words really mean. How can you know what a splash looks like or sounds like until you experience it and are given the words to go along with it.
I am sure you can see why Sensory Play is valuable to the young child. Honestly even my early elementary kids still love it, and they can start to learn even more from it. That vinegar and baking soda eruption is more than some stinky bubbles now; they can begin to learn the science behind it and think of ways to alter it. They are still learning vocabulary from it as well!
Another benefit I have seen in my own kids is that it can calm them down. If they are having an overly energetic day, a sensory bin can help them refocus and keep them entertained for a while. Usually after some time in sensory play they can come back to school work or house work or just quieter play! This may not be true for all kids or even all sensory activities, but I have noticed it with mine.
Want to start some sensory play with your kids?
Here is how you can! There is really no right or wrong way to put together a sensory bin. Sometimes I use a plastic bin, sometimes the water table or bathtub, sometimes our homemade light table or just a table depending on what we have. Think of some things you can include in your sensory play. You can use play dough, rice, beans, soap bubbles, marshmallows, shredded paper, and on and on; really there is no end to what you use. You do need to think about your own child and if they are likely to taste whatever you put in it. If you have young children who still stick everything in their mouths (which they do for sensory input) you may want to stick with edible sensory fun like pudding, yogurt, jello, or homemade edible play dough. You can keep it simple or add a fun theme. if you do choose to add thematic components make sure you organize them aesthetically in the bin! If it is pretty and looks like fun, our child is much more likely to dive in!
- do as much as you can outside (not possible in bad weather),
- if you are inside, make sure the bin is on a easy to clean surface (not carpet),
- or go one step further and place a large plastic tablecloth under the bin
- or even let your child explore the bin in the bathtub where clean up is easy!
Sensory play really doesn’t have to be intimidating and most all children really enjoy it. You may find specific materials your child doesn’t care for, but don’t give up if a bin or two get rejected! If you need some ideas to get you started check out my Sensory page where I have listed some of the bins we have used.