42. The Importance of Sensory Play for Young Children
As soon as children are born, they are absorbing information from the world around them. Every sound, movement, and feeling helps them make sense of their new world; they use their senses to understand how things work, and to learn about their own bodies and capabilities.
As they continue to grow, parents can expand their children's knowledge and exploration by encouraging sensory play at home. Sensory play helps to prepare them for the learning activities and experiences they will have in their early childhood classrooms.
What is sensory play?
Sensory play is any activity that encourages children to explore and learn by engaging with their sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing.
Through sensory play, children can explore materials and objects in an age appropriate way that allows them to be autonomous.
Providing children with thoughtful sensory activities allows children to investigate their environment in a “scientific” way. When children are engaged in sensory play, they are more likely to stay engaged and enjoy their learning.
The benefits of sensory play
• Supports language development – Through sensory play, children’s language skills are developed. As they play with the various objects in their sensory bins, they learn to label the items. For example, in their water sensory bin there might be “sharks”, “seals”, or “balls”, etc. The adult that is supervising the activity will help them learn the words by labeling what they are feeling as well: “Oh! The water is wet! Look at my hands, they are wet!” “The sand is squishy. Look at me squishing the sand in my hands.”
• Helps develop social-emotional skills – As children get older, their sensory play becomes increasingly collaborative. As they play alongside their peers, they improve their communication skills. They learn to share and take turns. Social-emotional development is a skill that is crucial to school readiness.
• Encourages “scientific exploration” and problem solving – Sensory activities help children investigate and explore materials in a way that mimics the “scientific method”: they observe, form a hypothesis (by making guesses and assumptions), experiment, and form conclusions. This helps them develop problem solving skills.
• Improves fine motor skills – Children practice their fine motor skills by picking up various objects during sensory play. Playing with materials like crayons, blocks, and playdoh are great ways to improve fine motor skills. This also helps to improve their hand-eye coordination.
• Strengthens brain development – Sensory play helps children stay engaged with what they are learning. When they are engaged in learning, their brain builds neural pathways that strengthen with time. Additionally, they are better able to retain the information they learn.
• Provides children the space to be calm – Short attention spans are expected with young children, but when they engage in sensory play they are often able to focus for longer spurts of time. The material they are exploring is engaging their senses allowing them to calm down and take their time.
Sensory play is an exciting, hands-on, and fun experience that helps children develop the skills they will need as they grow. Children learn problem-solving skills, improve their fine motor skills, and establish social-emotional skills that will prepare them for success. Encouraging sensory play is a great way to help your child build a positive attitude about learning!