If you are a parent or caregiver looking for activities for young children, you’ve probably noticed that “sensory play” is all the rage on kid blogs and Pinterest. There are even entire websites devoted to sensory play for little ones, and while they are full of creative ideas, you may find yourself asking, “Does my child REALLY need sensory play for development?”
To answer this question, let’s look at what we know about sensory play.
WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?
Sensory play is simply play that encourages children to use one or more of the senses. Often called “messy play,” sensory play experiences focus on stimulating children’s senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement.
Research tells us…
- Young children rely on sensory input to learn about their environment.
- Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.
- Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.
- Children’s exposure to sensory play opportunities is declining.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?
The first three points on the list above are pretty self-explanatory. In a nutshell, sensory experiences are like food for the brain…they provide valuable input that allows the brain to build new pathways that in turn support growth in crucial areas of development.
The fourth point, however, is what sheds some light on the answer to our original question, “Is all this REALLY necessary?” You may be thinking, “My parents didn’t do sensory play with me, and I turned out ok!” The fact is, our little ones spend much less time outdoors than their parents and certainly grandparents did as children. Since the outdoors is naturally full of sensory play opportunities, this has definitely had a part in the decline of sensory play. Secondly, although children can definitely fulfill their need for sensory play indoors when given periods of unstructured playtime with stimulating materials, the truth is that indoor time is often monopolized by television, battery operated toys, or toddler/preschool programs that focus on drilling academics rather than fostering important play skills. This has resulted in a generation of children who may not even know how to play when given the opportunity…how sad is that?
So in short, the answer to your question is yes, sensory play is crucial for your child’s development. And since children today are no longer given ample opportunities for naturally occurring sensory play, it is up to us as parents to be sure their needs are met.
Before you rush out and buy the materials to recreate every zany sensory activity you ever pinned on Pinterest, here are some much less time-intensive activities that you can do to enrich your child’s “sensory diet” without losing your sanity as well.
- Play with sand, mud, water, shaving cream, cornmeal, water beads, dried or cooked pasta, dried beans or lentils, etc. Provide a variety of containers, kitchen tools, and small toys for your child to explore with.
- Sing and dance to music. Use child-sized instruments, scarves, ribbon wands, etc. to encourage participation and engage multiple senses.
- Build with blocks, empty cardboard boxes, or canned goods. Knock down your towers and talk about the loud noises.
- Add essential oils or extracts to play dough and compare all the different scents as you play.
- Pick out a variety of fruits and vegetables at your local market (try to choose some that are new to your child). Have a “sensory picnic” where you encourage your child to touch, smell, taste, and play with all the different produce.
- Go for a walk in your neighborhood or in a wooded park. Let your child stop and pick up leaves, sticks, rocks, or whatever else interests him/her. If you want, bring a bag to fill with your “treasures” to bring home and make a collage with, or just simply to show to another family member.
MORE GREAT STUFF JUST FOR YOU:
To learn how to use fun sensory play activities to help get your toddler talking, check out Building Language with Sensory Play. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/sensory-play-and-language/)
For an entire gallery of sensory play ideas, click HERE. (Link to- http://www.two-daloo.com/category/play/sensory-play-little-minds-tot-school/)
—Stephanie Haass, Little Pnuts Early Childhood Activities Expert & Blogger, founder of www.two-daloo.com
Life is great. You have your Little Pnut and all you want to do is stare into his beautiful eyes, glance longingly at his face as he sleeps and cuddle with him when he’s awake. He is the ultimate of perfection and you know it.
His first year is for achieving all of those wonderful and magical milestones that you read about and each of those milestones will guide your Little Pnut into becoming an amazing young man or woman one day. You as his parent, have all the tools to set your Little Pnut up for a lifetime of success, simply by being there for him and helping him learn about his world and how to experience it to the fullest. Right now is the perfect time to start getting him excited about learning, teaching him how to use his imagination and inspire his creativity. All of this wonderful learning can be done through your interaction with him at playtime.
The first 3 months of your Little Pnuts life is truly all about learning about the senses. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. He is developing each of these five senses every minute of each day. Strengthening his eye muscles as he stares lovingly into your eyes, listening as you whisper his name softly and feeling your hands gently caressing that baby soft skin of his. The world he knows gets bigger and brighter every day through each of these senses.
Months 3-6 are all about experiencing the senses. Your Little Pnut is seeing things up close and in color, hearing and being able to distinguish sounds, smelling new things more closely, tasting different flavors by putting things in their mouth and touching everything around them. It is through these senses that they experience and learn about the world around them.
Months 6-9 are all about interacting with the senses. Your Little Pnut is now able to hold onto things and bring them closer to look at them more inquisitively, shaking things to see if they make noise. He can now touch the textures and feel the curves and straight edges of an object putting them in their mouths to interact with them more intimately. He may even have started crawling and getting into everything. You may start introducing solid foods now with even more tastes and textures. His little world is expanding and his experiences within his world are only making it more fun to discover.
Months 9-12 are about further perfecting your Little Pnuts interaction with his senses. Crawling around pulling on things pushing things, trying to pull himself up. His gross motor skills and fine motor skills are being further perfected allowing his senses to control how he observes and interacts with the world. He is loving the learning and growing that his little body and mind is allowing. He is beginning to push the limits, trying everything, experimenting with everything and investigating everything. Each day his environment further blossoms, allowing him to continue on a journey to learn something new.
It’s a bright and beautiful world for your Little Pnut, introduce it to him!