The Importance of Play for Children

Stimulate Your Little Ones Senses With Sensory Play

hands sensesI must admit, I (thought I) knew nothing about sensory play before I had my son. It wasn’t on my radar and I didn’t really know it was a thing.

So, imagine my surprise when I was pregnant to hear people going on about sensory play, sensory tables/ boards, baby sensory, toddler sense, and many of the other sensory things out there.

What is sensory play?

Sensory play is a term used for activities which allow a child the opportunity to explore and discover using their senses. This can help children understand things which cannot be easily explained to a child such as what something feels, taste, smell, look, or sound like.


Sensory play allows a child to get fully immersed in the whole experience of learning and is considered a key element of a child’s early development.


It has been proven that even older children and adults learn best and retain information easier from experiences which stimulate their senses. If you think back to an early memory, it may be difficult at first to recall all the information, however a smell or a sound can suddenly bring a lot of information and memories back.


We use our senses to gain/ process information

Sensory play is considered crucial for brain development, babies and young children have an advantage as sensory play is like second nature to them. They instinctively explore the world using their senses to help them understand and process information. However, older children and adults gain just as much from sensory processing as infants.


In all honesty, you will use your senses all the time without really thinking about it, you will use your taste to inform yourself if you like a new food, you will use your smell to decide if something is safe to eat or drink, you will use your hearing to alert you if someone is talking to you, you will use your sight in order to read a book, and you will use touch in order to find something buried at the bottom of your bag.


Sensory play can help build connection in the brain, support development of language and motor skills, as well as assist with problem solving.


Sensory play assists with sensory processing

The more a child engages in sensory play, the better they will become at processing sensory information, using the information that is useful and filtering out what is not important.


Imagine yourself in a busy restaurant, you are with a friend trying to have an important conversation. There is a lot of sensory information being sent to you in a restaurant, there is the sound of the staff and other diners, the smell of the food, lots of people/ food/ décor to look at. Still, with all that going on you are still able to hold a conversation and eat your food without getting overloaded by everything else going on.


This is a scenario that often younger children will struggle with as they will not yet have the ability to filter out information that is not important or relevant.


Sensory play can help build trust and familiarity

Children can often become suspicious about things they are unsure of, this can make them reluctant to try new things. This can make children appear to be fussy or awkward, when in fact they are just unsure/ worried/ scared.


Sensory play can give a child the space to explore things in a safe and fun environment. It can help a child who does not like to get messy have fun doing an activity like painting or playing with sand, or a child who is a ‘fussy’ eater try a new food.


Being allowed to look at paint or a pineapple, to feel the paint or pineapple, etc (NOTE: I don’t recommend letting a child eat paint, or even smell paint. In fact, I strongly advise against it). However, letting a child explore, discover, and experience paint can help them overcome aversions to food, being messy, or most things.


Sensory play and SEN

Sensory play can have a lot of benefits for children who have special education needs. Children who struggle to learn using conventional learning methods, sensory play can help them learn in an environment that is safe, calming, and fun.


Sensory play can assist children with special education needs with their social development, stress management, physical development, and overall happiness.


Sensory play can also help children strengthen senses when one of their senses are impaired, for example in a child who cannot hear, sensory play can help a child experience sound using other senses, for example you can feel the vibrations of sounds.


Ideas for sensory play

Sensory play can take many forms, for example you can give children the opportunity to play with water/ sand/ mud/ etc. You can also give a child a variety of different household objects or food and allow them to explore. You can set up paints/ messy food such as jelly or cream/ slime and allow children to get stuck in. You can set up a jungle/ farm/ mystical theme using resources from outside and around the house.


These are just a few ideas, but there are thousands of them, not all the ideas are as elaborate or messy as the above. To be honest, even simple ideas such as letting your child help with cooking or taking a child out for a walk with stimulate their senses, it does not have to be anything complicated.


Sensory play is also highly featured in baby or toddler groups. Personally, I left the big elaborate sensory activities to baby and toddler groups and I tackled the simpler, easier, and less messy activities.


It’s all meant to be fun!

I cannot stress this point enough during my posts, everything when it comes to your child should be fun and stress free. Yes, it can be hard, and you will always worry about your child’s development, however, as I said before our senses often get stimulated without us really thinking about it.


At this very moment I can still taste what I just ate for lunch, I can still smell my cooking, I am listening to the keys on my keyboard and my neighbours talking, I can feel the keys on my keyboard, and I can see what I am typing and things on my desk.


Now, take my easy examples above about cooking or going for a walk, and think about how you can take simple every day tasks and highlight the senses to your child. The smell of the food, the feel of grass between their fingers.


Do not stress and have fun!


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