Why Sensory Play Is Important For Child Development

You are currently viewing Why Sensory Play Is Important For Child Development

Sensory play is one of the first ways children begin to interact with the world in order to understand it. It is a crucial part of their development that begins in infancy and continues into toddlerhood and beyond.

Many parents think of sensory play as a messy activity which can be off putting for some. However there is so much more to sensory play than just a mess. If you don’t like the mess, not to worry, there are many other ways to engage in sensory play in order to support your child’s growth.

What Is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is any type of play that engages the senses. Most commonly through touch but it also includes visual (sight), auditory (hearing), taste and olfactory (smell). Children are sensory learners and will engage their senses to better understand the world around them. That is why it is so common for young children to put objects into their mouth. They do this to explore and learn about the object through their senses.

Learning through play

There are 5 areas of development; social, emotional, language, cognitive and physical. Development of the senses falls under the area of physical development. However, all areas of development are interconnected and support each other.

Therefore, while physical development is the main area supported through sensory play, all areas of development can be engaged and supported.

As stated above, children are sensory learners. Children also learn best through play. Sensory play is an engaging way to stimulate learning in all areas of development and build upon a child’s skills. Remember that all children learn and develop differently. Some children may enjoy sensory play more than others and that is okay. Messy sensory play can especially be overstimulating for some children.

How Sensory Play Supports Development

We know sensory play is beneficial for a child’s development but what exactly are they learning from it? Here is a list of skills that can be supported during sensory play.

1. Sensory Skills

Any time a child uses their eyes, ears, mouth, nose, or hands they are engaging their senses. Sensory play often focuses on tactile skills which is using touch to explore and learn but most if not all of their senses are usually engaged during play.

Initially children will use their senses to explore the world around them. As they build upon these foundational skills they will start use their senses to identify and discriminate different properties and materials. Some examples are bumpy and smooth, loud and quiet, wet and dry, or identifying colours.

This is why young children love to put things into their mouth. It helps them learn about an object. Be sure to have some toys that are safe for infants and toddlers to put in their mouth, this is especially helpful when they are teething.

One of the most popular activities for sensory play is a sensory bin. They are versatile, engage multiple senses and can be messy or not depending on your preferences.

sensory play

2. Motor Skills

Children can move a lot during sensory play and it all contributes to strengthening their motor skills. They grasp objects and move them around as well as use hand-eye coordination for their movements.

Finger and hand movements during play will strengthen their muscles and build their coordination for more refined movements. Grasping, scooping, pouring, and transferring are some ways children will move their muscles and increase hand-eye coordination.

Its not just fine motor skills that children engage but gross motor skills as well. Dancing is an activity that contributes to auditory senses and helps with large muscle movements.

3. Language Skills

Sensory play can help expand a child’s vocabulary and contribute to story telling skills as well as imaginative play. As children play they will learn more about their world and begin to learn and use descriptive language to explain what they are discovering. Children can also use the tools and materials to explore their experiences, ideas, and feelings in order to better understand them.

4. Cognitive Growth

Children will explore, think, ask questions and problem solve. There is so much potential for cognitive growth in sensory play. Children can engage in early science through cause and effect and exploring transformations. They can use early math skills for measuring, comparing, sorting, or sequencing. Representation is another way children can use a variety of tools and materials to build with and express their ideas. Spatial exploration and awareness (understanding an object/person in relation to another) is yet another skill that they build.

5. Social Skills

Engaging in sensory play with others is an opportunity to increase social skills. Young children will learn to imitate our actions during play and will then use these skills when interacting with other children. It can be a chance for turn taking, working together, or learning to help others.

6. Emotional Skills

Children increase their ability to self-regulate during sensory play through following rules/directions, increasing attention span, and strengthening impulse control. Sensory play can allow children to understand and express their feelings as well as contribute to their self-esteem and creativity.

Sensory play is full of opportunities for learning. The specific skills that children engage and build upon during sensory play may differ depending on the type of sensory play and the age of the child.

gardening sensory play

Sensory Play Doesn’t Need To Be Messy

Although messy sensory bins are often the first thing that comes to mind remember that it can be any type of play that engages the senses.

Making music or dancing is an auditory sensory activity where you can make and listen to sounds as well as move your body to sounds. Exploring foods uses sense of taste and smell; let your child help make a meal or snack. Play a game of eye-spy for a visual sensory activity or try a matching game. Provide different types of fabrics for your child to touch and explore for a tactile sensory activity.

Not only can there be no mess sensory activities but also ways to reduce the mess if your child enjoys the messy ones. Try having water play in the tub. Bring sensory play outside. Instead of paints, paint with water. Use natural materials from outdoors such as twigs, rocks, and leaves to bring inside for sensory play.

Tips For Safe Sensory Play

  • For infants and younger children that are still exploring by putting items in their mouths be sure items are taste safe. Flour is a simple way to engage in sensory play but it can be toxic to eat raw. To make it safe just bake it at 350F for 5 minutes and let it cool before giving to your child for play
  • Make sure any item is not a choking hazard
  • Be sure to supervise children at all times, especially during water play
  • You know your child best and what their capabilities are. Activities listed may not be developmentally appropriate for all children.

Sensory play is a fundamental part of a child’s development. It is important that we as parents provide ample opportunity for play that engage the senses, especially during the early years. Young children learn with their senses during play and this will lay the foundations of later learning. Remember it isn’t just about sensory bins. Anytime children engage one of their senses it is sensory play and the opportunities to engage in learning are endless.

Further Reading:

This Post Has 5 Comments

Leave a Reply