Sensory play and child development

What is sensory play? Sensory play is all about using the senses: smell, taste, touch, balance, sight, hearing and movement.

It is play that is all about exploration and encourages children to use scientific processes - all in the name of play. The children play, create, investigate and explore. 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.

From birth through to early childhood, children use their senses to explore and try to make sense of the world around them: babies put objects in their mouths exploring what they taste like, toddlers will twirl round and round until they are dizzy, children will make noises and then put their fingers in their ears to see how the sound changes, they will pull and stretch playdough or run their fingers through gloop, they will listen intently as you read stories and make different voices for the different characters, they will sit quiet and watch what is going on around them.

All of these things are not only fun - they are learning experiences.

As parents we need to encourage this. Yes, I agree, some of these activities might be a little messy. But as the children get older, think of that as a great way of getting them to help with the clearing up.

The Role of Sensory Play

There are groups of children, such as those who have autism or those who have sensory integration dysfunction disorder who have specific difficulty making sense of and organising all the stimuli that come at them via their senses.

The truth is, all children need help learning how to use their senses.

In play experiences, combining the sense of touch with the senses of vision, hearing, taste and smell helps build cognitive skills.

Cognitive skills are those skills we use when we solve problems. The process of solving problems begins with observation. Young children use all their senses to explore objects and they file it away in their memories. Also, when children have sensory experiences, they store their whole body experiences in their sensory memory. We use our sensory memory to begin the process of understanding and gaining knowledge.

The importance of sensory play cannot be overstated for the development of the educational process. It is the foundation of all the skills children will use in school learning to read, write and solve math and science problems.

What kind of materials will you need: Supplies for sensory exploration are usually easy to gather and inexpensive. The following lists provide suggestions for items to fill your sensory table or tubs with and materials to add to the experience. Select items that are of interest to the child, and are safe for the age of the child involved.

Water -Sand (dry and/or wet) -Dirt (dry and/or wet) -Rice - Pasta - Sawdust - Dried beans -Fingerpaint with additives (sand, glycerin, sawdust) - Homemade sieves (poke holes in foam trays) -Fingerpaint in sealed plastic bags - Scents (almond or mint extract) -Shaving foam Playdough - Clay - Whipped Cream - Foam pieces - Materials - Basters Whisks - Waterwheels - Ice cubes (add food coloring) - Tongs Shaped sponges - Food colouring - Wooden blocks Cooking utensils (measuring cups, spoons, funnels, etc) - Combs -Vehicles Funnels and sifters - Different kinds of bowls and containers - Cardboard tubes - Plastic eggs - Buttons - Spools - Dollhouse furniture Rocks and pebbles - Ping-pong balls - Straws - Pump and squeeze bottles Corks - Wind-up bath toys - Buckets and pails ----- and many more, you just need to follow the lead of your child.

Here is just one sensory activity to start with.

It is great fun and children just love it. I bet you will not be able to resist playing yourself. Give it a go........

Magic Goop 1. Mix 1 part cold water and 3 parts cornstarch with hands in the sensory table or tub. 2. If the mixture doesn't dissolve in your hands, then add more water. If the mixture is too runny, add more cornstarch. 3. Store in an open container and leave to dry; the mixture will solidify. To use again, add water and mix to the desired consistency. It will last indefinitely when stored properly.

Sensory play is what children do naturally - Let's help them out. I will be adding some ideas and recipes as soon as I can to help you and your child enjoy their sensory play. Check in often to see the updates or sign up on the website to the mailing list so I can let you know.

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