Engaging your child in sensory play helps prepare them for life ahead. Let’s review the benefits of sensory play and its role in brain development.
Sensory toys can be beneficial for the development of children’s brains for a few reasons. First, they can help with the development of fine motor skills, as many sensory toys require the use of small muscles in the hands and fingers to manipulate them. Second, they can help with cognitive development by providing children with sensory experiences that can help them learn about the world around them. For example, a child might build, and scoop with a toy or make sounds with them to learn about cause and effect, or they might use a texture-based toy to learn about different textures and how they feel. Additionally, sensory toys can be a great way to help children with sensory processing disorders, as they can provide a safe and controlled way for them to explore and process sensory information.
What Is Sensory Play
When we refer to sensory toys, we refer to toys that engage with the different ways we perceive the world through the five senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, and sound. Most sensory plays focus on stimulating the touch, sight, and hearing senses because they are more accessible. Sensory toys can be beneficial for the development of kids because they provide opportunities for children to explore and engage with their senses, which can help to improve their fine and gross motor skills, cognitive abilities, and overall development. Sensory toys can also help to stimulate the brain and encourage problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Additionally, sensory toys can promote sensory integration, which is the ability to process and interpret sensory information from the environment. This can help children to better understand and navigate their surroundings, leading to improved social skills and emotional regulation.
Why Is Sensory Play Important To Brain Development
Sensory play is important for brain development because it helps children to explore and engage with their environment in a way that stimulates their senses. This type of play allows children to learn about the world around them, and it helps to develop their cognitive, language, and motor skills. Sensory play also helps to develop children’s social and emotional skills, as they learn to interact with others and regulate their emotions. Additionally, sensory play can help to promote creativity and problem-solving skills, as children learn to manipulate objects and materials in different ways. Overall, sensory play is a crucial part of early childhood development, and it can have a lasting impact on children’s learning and development. Most critical periods are found to exist within the early years postnatal, and this is why sensory play is essential for young children1.
Sensory play is not only important for babies and toddlers, who often have the time to play and explore at home, but also for preschoolers and elementary children. When your child is allowed to use multiple senses to accomplish a task, they will learn more from the experience and retain more information. For example, if a child is learning their letters or alphabet, a sensory kit can help. With a sensory kit, the child can practice their letters and numbers in the rice, or create them with different toys to use multiple senses and help them retain the information.
(This idea does not change as you get older, even adults retain more information when multiple senses are engaged!)
Benefits of Sensory Play
Besides sensory development, sensory activities are also important to other aspects of brain growth because playing, whether sensory-centered or not, is beneficial to child development.
Children become more creative simply by playing. They also build their linguistic, cognitive, visual-spatial, social, and emotional skills2–6.
Sensory Activities And Play Ideas
Some sensory and play activities that children can enjoy include:
- Playing with sand, water, or other tactile materials, such as play dough or kinetic sand. These items can be bought separately or can be found ready to go in sensory play sets.
- Exploring different textures, smells, and tastes, such as with a “taste safe” sensory bin filled with edible items.
- Playing with light and shadows, such as with a flashlight or lightbox.
- Listening to music and moving to the beat.
- Playing with bubbles or other items that move in interesting ways, such as marbles or cars.
- Hiding objects and searching for them, such as with a treasure hunt or a game of hide and seek.
- Playing with different shapes and sizes of objects, such as blocks, peg doll sets, or sorting sets.
These activities can be adapted for children of different ages and abilities, and they can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors. The key is to provide children with a range of stimulating experiences that engage their senses and encourage them to explore and learn.
Creating time for your child, of any age, to engage in sensory play is imperative for their long-time learning and health.
So how do you start integrating sensory play into your everyday life? The good news is it is simple! Take any of the ideas from above and complete the puzzle by making observations and conversations.
Making Observations and Conversations During Sensory Play
Invoke your children’s curiosity and encourage conversation with descriptive words by asking questions as they play.
Some questions that can be asked during sensory play include:
- What do you notice about the way this material feels?
- Can you describe the color, shape, or texture of this object?
- What does this smell like?
- How does this sound when you shake it or move it?
- Can you find something that is the same color, shape, or size as this object?
- What would happen if you mixed these two materials together?
- Can you build something using these blocks or other objects?
These questions can help to encourage children to think more deeply about the sensory experiences they are having and to make connections between different objects and materials. Asking questions during sensory play can also help to develop children’s language and cognitive skills, as they learn to express their ideas and make observations about their environment.
Final Thoughts on Sensory Play
Sensory play helps kids develop in many ways and can easily be incorporated into our daily lives. We hope this article has given you many ideas to start your journey to sensory play with your kids.
- Hensch TK. Critical period plasticity in local cortical circuits. Nat Rev Neurosci. November 2005:877-888. doi:10.1038/nrn1787
- Falkenberg T, Mohammed AK, Henriksson B, Persson H, Winblad B, Lindefors N. Increased expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor mRNA in rat hippocampus is associated with improved spatial memory and enriched environment. Neuroscience Letters. April 1992:153-156. doi:10.1016/0304-3940(92)90494-r
- Diamond M. Response of the brain to enrichment. An Acad Bras Cienc. 2001;73(2):211-220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11404783.
- Howard-Jones P, Taylor J, Sutton L. The Effect of Play on the Creativity of Young Children During Subsequent Activity. Early Child Development and Care. August 2002:323-328. doi:10.1080/03004430212722
- Elardo R, Bradley R, Caldwell BM. The Relation of Infants’ Home Environments to Mental Test Performance from Six to Thirty-Six Months: A Longitudinal Analysis. Child Development. March 1975:71. doi:10.2307/1128835
- Pellegrini AD. The relationship between kindergartners’ play and achievement in prereading, language, and writing. Psychol Schs. October 1980:530-535. doi: