From birth through to early childhood, children use their senses to explore and try to make sense of the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing. Sensory activities facilitate
exploration and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. The sensory activities allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information helping their brain to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information.
WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?
Sensory play is simply a 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.
The sensory integration theory focuses on the idea that through changing your experiences you can change the way your brain works. So, through sensory experiences, a person can gain a better ability to learn and function. Therapists practice sensory therapy through the use of play, designed to change a child’s brain when reacting to touch, sight, texture and sound.
For example, initially, a child may find it difficult to play appropriately with a peer when there are other things going on in the environment with conflicting noise. However, through sensory play exploring sounds and tasks a child learns to adapt to being able to block out the noise which is not important and focus on the play which is occurring with their peer.
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.
Toys such as stress balls can help a child develop their senses as this helps them practice gripping their hands, along with catching and throwing the ball which adds motor skills and coordination, which requires an increase of concentration and attention. Sensory socks or eggs are also a useful form of sensory therapy as this gives the child a space to become aware of their surroundings, gives them alone time for relaxation and most importantly helps them grow their imagination.
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.