The benefits of sensory play

"Seeing stars it dreams of eternity. Hearing birds it makes music. Smelling flowers it is enraptured. Touching tools it transforms the earth. But deprived of these sensory experiences, the human brain withers and dies." 
 Kotulak 1997

Sensory play is always a huge success at our house but something that I don't get around to more than once every couple of weeks. I had mentally put sensory play into the category of 'nice to do' alongside visits to the zoo and playing music rather than 'essential to do' like playing outside and coffee dates. So I was surprised when I was researching my evidence based routines post to see sensory (or as they called it 'messy') play featuring as a recommended activity. I didn't think that the experts would recommend it as much as mothers trying to find a desperate way to entertain a toddler.

So why is it important?
Many suggest that sensory play is important as it allows all children to use all of their senses and freely explore 1.  Too much of play nowdays is focused on preset outcomes or on producing something whereas sensory play allows a child to be free to explore and be creative. In sensory play, children will combine materials, test hypotheses and make discoveries that are new to them so learning more about the world  2.  In doing sensory play a child should be unstructured allowing them to  make choices and show preferences so increasing their creativity and confidence.
Sensory play can also help to expand a child's world. Through sensory play a child may learn about how colours mix, different textures or rhythm. Parents can also use this opportunity to improve a childs language and communication by describing what they are feeling, smelling or tasting. Many of the words for these sensations can not be fully understood until it is experinced, for example no matter how hard you try how can you really understand slimy until you put your hand into mud.
Other benefits depend widely on the activity being performed. Many sensory activities may help in the development of hand-eye coordination through pouring, measuring or mixing while others can help them in the developing of muscles in their hands and fine motor skills. Still others activities help them provide opportunities for the release of emotion, for example squeezing playdough can help in the release of tension.

The benefits of sensory play are so many that it does fall more into the 'essential to do' category but what is important about this is that  sensory play is not about providing your child with unique, pretty experiences rather it is about providing them with opportunities to experience different textures in a creative and unstructured way.
I held a party for MissC's birthday where I provided lots of different sensory activities and every child instantly took things from one sensory tub and put it into another one. That is not an annoying habit of children to ruin things we have beautifully created - that is the point of sensory play. They should be unstructured and free to explore.


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