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What Is Sensory Play? Is it Important?

Posted: September 15, 2022

Children use their senses to explore and try to make sense of the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving, and hearing.

Sensory play focuses on any activity that engages your child’s sense of touch, taste, smell, sight, or sound. Each new sensory opportunity children experience helps to build nerve connections in the brain and encourages the development of language and motor skills.

Sensory play is an important part of every child’s development and, there are no limits to what you can use in sensory activities.

Here are some examples to help enhance your child’s sensory experiences:

Tactile – When exploring an object with their hands, they’re using tactile play, children can learn about pressure, temperature, and vibrations.

  • Allow your child to feed themselves
  • Play with shaving cream
  • Make a sensory tray using rice, salt, or sand
  • Cotton balls
  • Feathers
  • Play in different temperatures of water (for example washing dishes or dolls)
  • Sensory bags- clear zip lock bags filled with hair gel or shaving cream
  • Explore Oobleck with hands– Mix together 2 cups of corn starch, and 1 cup of water in a small bowl.

Auditory – auditory play helps your child differentiate sounds and develop their hearing as they explore sound through play.

  • Use rattles
  • Musical instruments
  • Knock on different materials to hear different sounds (examples metal, wood, plastic)
  • Provide pots, pans, spoons, and plastic containers, allow children to bang them together
  • Water bottles filled with rice or pasta
  • Sing simple songs and rhymes

 

Visual – The Visual Sensory system is closely connected to the Auditory system. Visual play helps to develop your child’s vision and sight.

  • bottles filled with water and glitter for shaking and watching
  • finger-paint using different colours; like red, yellow and blue.
  • scavenger hunts
  • read books
  • hang mobiles
  • show your child photo albums or hang pictures of family members around your home and talk about the people in the photos

 

Olfactory and Taste – Olfactory relates to the sense of smell. It is also directly related to taste. It’s harder to gauge when a child is using their sense of smell and taste.

  • Provide opportunities to try new foods
  • Try a tasting game: smell the food with their eyes closed and use their sense of smell to guess what they are eating. You can also have them try with their noses pinched to show the close connection between smell and taste; examples could be:
  • sweet – apple, muffin
  • sour – orange, lemon
  • salty – pasta
  • bitter – kale
  • Offer Scented playdough/ paint, slime, scented markers or bingo dabbers, paint with fruit tea or flowers.
  • Go on a smell walk- allow and encourage your child to smell different plants, flowers, and grass. Talk about good smells and questionable odours.
  • Smell bottles – gather small plastic bottles, cotton balls, and items to smell like spices (cinnamon, mint, nutmeg) coffee (ground or beans) cocoa, and dried fruits.

 

Vestibular – Rolling around, hanging, swinging, and jumping can all contribute to your child’s development of balance.  The sense of balance and movement comes from the vestibular system, which is located in the inner ear.

  • Encourage your child to stimulate their vestibular system by providing playful ways that promote movement, by trying things like;

Using rocking horses, swings, seesaws, playing catch, waking on curbs or lines (like a balance beam)

Proprioception – Pushing, pulling, and jumping all help your child develop spatial awareness of their body. Through proprioception, children learn where they are physically in space and how their limbs relate to the rest of their body.

Some activities that can help your child develop proprioception skills:

  • Jumping – on trampolines, bed, or floor
  • Running
  • Climbing – stairs, trees, rock wall, up the slide, jungle gym
  • Hanging- rope swing, monkey bars, trees, from the side of the bed
  • Stomping
  • Bouncing on top of a large ball
  • Pushing a scooter board
  • Crab walking
  • Crawling – through tunnels
  • Squeezing – stress ball, playdough
  • Rolling