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, problem solving skills and more. And they are just fun! Here are the benefits of sensory play and simple no-prep activities to try.
What's In This Post?
- What Is Sensory Play?
- What Are the Benefits of Sensory Play?
- Sensory Play Can Be Easy
- Easy No-Prep Sensory Activities
- Ask Questions and Let Your Children Lead
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.
What Are the Benefits of Sensory Play?
The big question is, why should children do sensory play? What is the importance of sensory play? What do children learn from this? There are more important reasons 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 nerve connections. Seriously, you are helping your children get smarter by encouraging this sort of activity. Sensory play helps with cognitive growth and development, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. It encourages independent thinking and problem-solving.
Sensory play opens up a whole new world of language development 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 tables, 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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Sensory experiences are how children learn. Sensory play is anything that engages the senses: sight, touch, taste, sound, smell, and proprioception. Engaging the senses encourages children to learn about the world and lays the foundation for the scientific method through observation and exploration.
Sensory activities are anything that encourages children to play and learn while utilizing their senses. They can touch a sensory bin, smell flowers, taste spices, see colors, and listen to music for example. Sensory activities also include encouraging your child to work on understanding how their bodies move and balance in space. This includes things like jumping, standing on one foot, and walking on a balance beam. All these can be done by simply playing at the playground.
Sensory play is for all ages! Babies can enjoy simple sensory play, toddlers and preschoolers thrive on it, and older children can benefit from it as well. As children get older, you can utilize sensory activities as a way to destress or improve focus.
Even adults can benefit from sensory activities as they can help them to destress and work on mindfulness.
Sensory activities can be as simple or involved as you like. You can create sensory bins by putting simple materials like sand or uncooked pasta or rice into a container. Your children can feel it, practice scooping and pouring, and engage in imaginative play. Or you can keep it simple by just taking a walk and asking what sounds your child hears.
Asking questions and drawing attention to the senses can turn any activity into sensory play. Encourage your children to smell while you are cooking a meal. Have them listen to leaves crunching while they walk. Try finger painting and see how the paint feels on their hands. All of these things encourage learning through the senses.
While not every sensory activity needs to be messy, it is important to let your children engage in messy play from time to time. Messy play lets kids really use their whole bodies to experience the activity. Being free to make a mess means they don’t have to hold back. Messy play boosts language development, fine and gross motor skills, and provides valuable tactile experiences.
Having the freedom to get messy also reminds kids that they don’t have to be perfect or do everything right. They can make mistakes, try again, and just be themselves.
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