All About Sensory Play by Ingrid
At least once a week you’ll find me in the kitchen colouring rice, pearl barley, chickpeas, dried pasta, cooked pasta!
In fact, name a legume, I’ve coloured it!
Or at least it’s made an appearance in a play tray of ours and the kids have engaged with it using scoops, funnels, tweezers,
recycled cardboard creations, small world materials, toys… and the list goes on. I do it all in the name of sensory play.
I HEAR YOU ASKING WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, WHY IS IT BENEFICIAL FOR CHILDREN FROM A YOUNG AGE?
Originally, I started off including sensory play in our daily play because as a former Kindergarten teacher I know just how vital fine motor skills are for little ones.
I taught Kindergarten for five years and saw children come in and out of my classroom that possessed phenomenal skills
in holding a pencil, manipulating craft materials, glue, scissors, and I saw many, many others that struggled. Before having my own kids,
I had in mind that I wanted to give them the best start, and use my knowledge and experiences as a teacher to give them
opportunities to develop these skills in a fun environment with engaging invitations to play.
Since then, for me it has become a lot more than just tapping into fine motor development when creating play experiences and here’s why.
Sensory play stimulates the five senses, as well as movement and balance. It is much more than just scooping dried coloured legumes.
IT IS ABOUT MAKING LASTING NERVE CONNECTIONS IN THE BRAIN, DEVELOPING BOTH FINE AND GROSS MOTOR SKILLS, THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING, LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT AND MINDFULNESS.
These days you’ll find us with play trays and invitations of many varieties that are filled with water and citrus fruits that invigorate the sense of smell, or lights and mirrors with coloured perspex blocks to explore mixing colours. You’ll find us outdoors on adventures exploring.
Or with coloured water and tubs. We’ll be using the mud kitchen to cook up a delicious pompom soup, often accompanied with the sensory barley from a play experience earlier that day. The opportunities are endless. The stimulation of the essentially seven senses is invaluable.
Another factor of sensory play that I want to promote is the social interaction skills developed when engaging in this kind of play. This has only recently changed for us since the beginning of life with my first, as in the last year or so I had my second child. She is now 16 months old and engages in most sensory play that is appropriate for her age, and as a child who still mouths from time to time, will not cause any risk to her wellbeing. Both children have learned
important social interaction skills. They share tools and materials. They negotiate on how to tackle a task. They work together to complete a task. They observe and learn from the other. And it’s not always the younger one learning from the older one. It’s also my son seeing a new perspective through the eyes and ideas that my daughter brings to the play as well.
All in all, sensory play is more purposeful than you may realise, as you set up your child’s play experiences. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It is not unattainable. If you have a backyard and some bowls and a ladle, let your child’s imagination run wild. If you cook dinner, there are opportunities for your child to smell herbs and spices, cut veggies, taste the sourness of citrus fruits and roll dough. If you have a craft box, get out some cellophane, hold it up to the light, put layers of different colour on top of each other and see what new colours your child can create. There are no-cook playdough recipes and safe household items you can use as musical instruments. Whilst having all that fun, your child will be learning a lot more than we can comprehend. I have yet to reap the reward as neither of my kids are in primary school yet, but in so many ways, in our own daily interactions and those with the outside world, I can see the positive impact these experiences have had on their development and the people they are growing up to be.