Sensory play is essential for all children during their development. When a child engages in sensory play it stimulates different parts of the brain which strengthens neural pathways in the brain. Sensory play also can help children learn to adapt and deal with unpleasant experiences in their world around them.
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s or adult’s senses. The more commonly known senses are touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. There are two additional senses that most people don’t think about; body awareness and balance.
The more senses you combine during an activity, it strengthens their connections in the brain of how to process and respond to sensory input. It also strengthens, increases and enhances retention of information.
Who Benefits from Sensory Play?
During the first few years of life, children are rapidly gaining more synapses in the brain. These are the connections in the brain that increases learning and understanding. When babies are born they have 50 trillion synapses, by age three that number increases to 1,000 trillion. The window to create meaningful learning experiences is during the first three years of life.
However, all people can benefit from sensory play, including children and adults with or without a disability.
Benefits of Sensory Play
Besides increasing connections in the brain and increasing the ability to retain information, there are several other benefits of sensory play.
Sensory play provides an avenue for inclusivity. There is no right or wrong way to play when engaging in sensory play. This can help break down barriers and provide a way for children with and without disabilities to interact together.
Sensory play helps with gross and fine motor skills. The best kind of therapy is when your child doesn’t even know they are working! Combining therapy and play is a great way to increase your child’s willingness to work.
Sensory play can help with certain behaviors. Many children struggle with sensory overstimulation. This can make everyday activities a struggle and extremely difficult. By introducing a sound, taste, smell, texture, or movement into a desired activity can help your child build up a tolerance to that sensory input.
Sensory Activities at Home
While all of the information about sensory play sounds great, how do you put it into practice in your home? Life is very busy and most parents of children with disabilities don’t have time to add another thing to their list.
Here are several simple activities that you can do at home with all of your children.
- Play-doh, slime or homemade fluff – these activities already hit many marks for therapy. For an added sensory bonus, try adding a smell your child is trying to get used to, or add beads or glitter for different textures.
- Colander and pipe cleaners – this is a great use of everyday household items. Encourage your child to thread the pipe cleaners through the holes of the colander. This is also a great fine motor skill activity.
- Storage bags and paint – this activity involves putting paint into a zip-loc bag seal, and tape to the table. Then let your child squish the colors together. This is great for children who have a hard time with soft and squishy textures.
- Bubbles in the sink – kids love water, add soap and a whisk in a sink and let your child go crazy.
- Ripping paper – so simple but be prepared for a royal mess.
- Baking – any baking is a great way to incorporate multiple senses, plus is a great bonding experience.
- Pouring water – give your kid a bucket or water and a couple of cups for them to pour water back and forth. Put your child in a tub or shower for less clean up!
- Musical instruments – either homemade or store bought, children love music!