Updated: Jul 31, 2022
Sensory play is a simple and exciting way for children to explore their different senses, movement, balance and more in an unstructured and relaxed setting.
Children naturally explore textures, tastes, sounds and smells through hands-on learning, which helps to build cognitive skills. By experimenting with different materials and manipulatives, children can practice observation skills and predict and draw conclusions about the natural and physical world around them.
Let's explore the benefits of sensory play for children.
Exploring our everyday world...
Squish, squelch, spin, splash, squeeze, bang, run, scoop, shake, drop, smear, toss, spray, and ooze – toddlers absolutely delight in exploring their world through their senses. It sounds (and can be!) messy, so you may often be inclined to cut this type of play short. But in fact, sensory play – play that stimulates any of a child’s senses – has an important role in a child’s health and development. Through it, your child builds cognitive skills and learns about their world.
Sensory play encourages learning through exploration, curiosity, problem solving and creativity. It helps to build nerve connections in the brain and encourages the development of language and motor skills. There are many benefits that may go unnoticed, such as the development of abilities to focus and block out distractions.
Sensory play is an important part of childhood and, within reason, there are really no limits to what you can use in sensory activities. Nature can often be your best friend when it comes to sensory play!
What are the Characteristics of Sensory Play?
The different characteristics of sensory play align to the five common senses, along with two additional senses related to balance and proprioception (the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body). 1. Tactile Play This is probably the type of play you’re most likely to think of when we talk about sensory play. Any time you see children exploring an object with their hands, they’re using tactile play. From tactile play, children can learn about pressure, temperature, vibrations, and so much more. 2. Vestibular Sensory Play Rolling around, hanging, swinging, and jumping can all contribute to your child’s development of balance. This is because the sense of balance and movement comes from the vestibular system, which is located in the inner ear. Getting a child’s head into as many different positions as possible helps strengthen the vestibular system by activating various receptors in the ear.
3. Proprioception Sensory Play Think of how you’re able to move your arms and legs freely without needing to look at them. That’s thanks to proprioception. Pushing, pulling, and jumping all help your child develop spatial awareness of their body. Through proprioception, children learn where they are physically in space and how their limbs relate to the rest of their bodies. 4. Auditory Sensory Play Bang, boom, clash! It might not be your favourite type of play, but auditory play helps your child differentiate sounds and develop their hearing. Give your child a wooden spoon and a saucepan and you’ll see how they explore sound through play. Disclaimer: this might not be so kind on your nerves.
5. Visual Sensory Play The Visual Sensory system is closely connected to the Auditory and Vestibular systems. Visual play helps to develop your child’s vision and sight. Think of how your child watches the “aeroplane spoon” as you fly it into their mouth. Playing with, and identifying, colours and patterns is a fun and engaging way to encourage Visual sensory play.
6. Olfactory and Taste Sensory Play
Olfactory relates to the sense of smell. It is also directly related to taste. It’s harder to gauge when a child is using their sense of smell and taste, but obvious examples include when they smell flowers or test the taste of their brand new building blocks. Children can develop these senses through games that encourage the exploration of smell and taste.
Here is a fun way to test all five senses with the five senses science experiment that you can do at home!
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