Benefits of sensory play for toddlers and preschoolers
If you look around at activities for kids only, and especially on Pinterest, you will see a ton that talk about sensory play. Why do sensory activities matter? We all use our senses all the time. Don’t kids just use them naturally? Children, like the rest of us, do use their senses all the time. But there are many reasons to use specific activities to really focus in on them. Sensory activities help children with brain development, vocabulary growth, and more. And they are just fun! Here are the benefits of sensory play and simple no-prep activities to try.
What Is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is any activity that helps children focus on their senses. Seriously, that’s the basic idea of it. More specifically though, sensory play is play designed to encourage kids to really dive into their senses. It can work really well if you focus on one at a time, but you can, of course, do more than one.
We are of course talking about seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling. But don’t forget balance and body awareness. These things matter too. When it comes to sensory activities we want to take into account how the entire body experiences the world.
Why Are the Benefits of Sensory Play?
The big question is, why should children do sensory play? What are the benefits of sensory play? There are more than you might think.
Better Learning and Information Retention
We know kids learn by playing, and this is true for sensory activities too. Children are very engaged when they can dive in and really experience what they are playing with. They retain the information better too.
Sensory play helps the brain make connections. Seriously, you are helping your children get smarter by encouraging this sort of activity. Sensory play helps with cognitive development, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. It encourages independent thinking and problem-solving.
Sensory play opens up a whole new world of vocabulary for children. Are things hard or soft? Is the sound high-pitched or low? Does that taste sweet or sour? These are all new words that describe things in our world. You are teaching your children the words of the senses. This helps them with building a descriptive vocabulary.
We all know there are certain sensations that just soothe us. The same is true for children. Sensory activities can be quite calming for kids. Learning what calms them down can help kids learn to deal with difficult situations.
Have you ever had the experience of smelling something and suddenly you remember a whole different place and time? The senses are heavily tied to our memories. Sensory activities help enhance this development in the brain.
Exposure Can Help Sensitivities
Sensory play can help children with some sensory sensitivities. If your child is hesitant about or bothered by loud noises then slow exposure to them in safe environments can build up tolerances. Picky eaters often dislike the textures of foods. Being able to touch and explore these textures without the pressure to eat can help them work through these aversions. These are just a few examples. But exposure to things that cause us discomfort in a way that we still feel safe can help us overcome some of these obstacles.
Sensory Play Can Be Easy
My favorite part of sensory play is how easy it can be! Yes, you can put together complex sensory bins and experiences. That is fun and a great way to share with your children. But they can be super simple too! Any activity can take on a sensory component if you just draw your child’s attention to it.
Easy No-Prep Sensory Activities
You can get do some super simple sensory activities with little to no prep. Here are some of my favorite examples.
Take a walk. Point out what you see. Seriously, that’s all it takes. You can even take a walk around your own house if it is bad weather. Point out what you see. Colors, shapes, objects. Try getting onto a different level. Crawl and point out how tables look taller. Stand on a chair and see how your perspective changes. Listen to your child when they tell you how they see the world. (Colors are a great way to practice sight observations. Try these activities—> Color Chemistry for Kids)
Use your voice to talk in a high pitch then a low pitch. Try tapping on different objects. Make some instruments at home. Stomp your feet. Make animal noises. Kids are naturally good at making noise, so embrace it! (Learn fun ways to explore sound—> Simple Sound STEM Activities)
Talk about how things taste at meal times. Are foods bitter or sweet? Salty or savory? Does your child like foods that are crunchy or soft? If mealtimes are a bit tense (or just busy) organize a tasting game. You can be super simple just by having your child taste sugar and then salt and talk about the differences.
Head to the kitchen for this one. Grab some spices and start smelling. (Teach your child to waft scents towards them as opposed to taking a deep sniff over top of something. That isn’t safe.) How do the smells make them feel? What does it make them think of?
Kids are good at this one. Touch stuff. You can pull out different fabrics from your closet to try. Compare extreme textures like a soft blanket and sandpaper. Squeeze things to see if they are hard or soft. Play with water when you wash your hands and see how the soap makes your hands feel slippery. Let your kids just feel their world. (Here are some fun touch activities to try—> Simple Sensory STEM Activities)
Balance and Body Awareness
Have your child stand on one foot. Then the other. Try walking on a balance beam. (If you don’t have anything that will work for this try putting painters tape on the floor to make a line or use chalk outside.) Spin in circles. Try walking backward. Just encourage your child to be aware of their surroundings. (Challenge body awareness and balance with these fun games—> Body Perception Activities for Kids)
Ask Questions and Let Your Children Lead
Anything can be a sensory activity if you bring your child’s attention to what they are experiencing. Ask some questions about what your child sees, hears, or feels. Really listen to their answer. You might be surprised at how they can teach you a new way to experience the world. Then let your children be the guide. Let them explore their world and use those senses. They are learning so much just by being present and sensing.
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