Sensory Play: What Is It?

Posted Friday, August 30, 2013

These days the topic of "Sensory Play" is all around us. There are pins about it on Pinterest, articles about it in child magazines, and even a plethora of information and activities about it on kid-blogs. But, what is Sensory Play? And is it really necessary?

What is Sensory Play: 

Sensory Play includes any activity that stimulate your child's senses: touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing. Sensory Play can facilitate exploration, and encourage the imagination of your child. The purpose of Sensory Play is to encourage children to play, create, explore, and imagine.

What experts and research say:
  • Children learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses
  • Sensory play contributes to brain development. Think of it as "food for the brain."
  • Sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain's pathways making it easier for the child to complete more complex tasks
  • Sensory play is a great tool for calming a frustrated or anxious child
  • Sensory play opportunities and a child's exposure to sensory play activities is declining in classrooms as well as the home
How can it help:

When babies first encounter the world, they don't have words to figure out what's going on, so they gather information through their senses. We see all kinds of toys on the market that babies can chew on, touch, hear it jingle, or even see because the patterns are black, white, and red. These toys are focused on building a baby's senses. As the babies grow older, they become toddlers. We all know how much toddlers love to explore with their hands, touching everything in sight. Ever have a toddler that loves to turn on the water and stick their hands in? They are exploring through their senses. It is through senses that babies, toddlers, and children make sense of the world around them. By giving children sensory play activities, you are building their cognitive, creative, social and emotional, physical, and linguistic skills. 

Sensory play sharpens problem solving and decision making skills. Hand a child a ball of play dough and let them decide what to make. Stick a toddler's hands in a bowl of water with cups to pour the water, and watch them figure out how to fill the cup up. These are some examples of ways that sensory play can build connections in the brain.

How children use the materials presented to them is much more important than you telling them what to do. We see so many sensory bins, sensory bowls, sensory foods all over the internet today, and these materials can really build the creativity spark in a child's mind. Will the rainbow rice be used as rain pouring down on the dinosaurs or will it be scooped into cups as ice cream? The imagination of a child is really allowed to flow independently during sensory play. 

These Eggs Crayons from the Childhood Store are a great way to get kids to be creative. I love crayons for creative play because there are no wrong ways to create with crayons. Crayons provide an open-ended opportunity to draw and create anything the child chooses. The shape and chunkiness of these crayons are perfect for grasping, and can be held by even the smallest of hands. 

Social and Emotional: 
Sensory play allows a child to be completely in control of the situation. Children are in complete control of their actions and decision making, allowing them to feel more independent. When playing side-by-side with another child during sensory play, children gain the necessary skills they need for cooperative play.

Sensory play is best known for sharpening those fine motor skills that kids will need later in life. Tying their shoes, using scissors, holding a pencil, and zipping zippers are just a few processes that require fine motor skills. Sensory play can help build fine motor by allowing the child to manipulate the materials, by mixing, measuring, pouring, scooping, and more! 

I love this Montessori set from Apples n Amos. It allows the child to fill the cups, stack them, sort the objects by color, and even use the clothespins to grab onto the cups--pinching those clothespins are a great way to build fine motor skills!

Sensory play encourages children to explore new language and vocabulary. If you hand a child some play dough, ask them to describe what it feels like. They may come up with words like "soft" or "gooey". I recently made my 5 year old some colored rice to play with and while I sat outside with him while he explored, he looked at me and said, "The rice is ice cream. You be the customer, and I be the chef." I didn't even know the words "customer" and "chef" were part of his vocabulary. Therefore, sensory play can encourage all kinds of linguistic skills!

As said before, babies use nothing but their senses to make connections about the world around them. I've gathered a few of my favorite baby sensory toys from the EtsyKids Team. 

This Wood Cotton Teether Ring from Little Tadpole Designs is perfect for babies to chew on, pull, and feel. It can stimulate a baby's senses of touch, sight, and sound.

This Tag Toy from Ohhhhhzaza is awesome because it stimulate a baby's sense of touch, sight, sound, and taste (if they choose to chew on it). This toy stimulates the sense of sight with all of the beautiful colors; stimulates the sense of touch with the soft cotton feel and the variety of ribbons; and stimulates the sense of sound because it comes with a crinkle noise inside! 

This Soft Quiet Busy Book from Caterpillar3 is a great book to share with your baby. It's interactive, soft, and colorful! Babies are easily able to grab the pieces or hug the caterpillar. 

Finally, here is a collection of some great Sensory Play materials that you can make at home! They are sure to please your little one, and provide them with hours of endless Sensory fun!

I hope this post gives you all a better idea of what sensory play is, the importance of sensory play activities, and how you can better incorporate it into your child's daily play! Of course, if you google "sensory play" or do a search for it on Pinterest, you'll find a boatload of ideas and activities! 

Until next time, 


Erica's shop eLeMeNO-P Kids offers toys for the learning child. 
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