If you have been a reader of this blog for any amount of time you probably would never guess this about me…I cannot stand messy play. Y’all, I seriously struggle in doing these activities with my kids. The first time I put a bin of rice in front of my daughter and she threw it EVERYWHERE it took everything I had not to yell and give up. I clearly remember scrubbing the wet rice off the floor that night thinking –Are Sensory Activites REALLY Necessary?!
Sensory play at home was a whole other level than what I had been used to in the classroom. Then I learned a secret — Sensory Play does not NEED to be messy! You would think that after a couple of years working in early childhood I would have put that together pretty quick, but nope, it took me quite some time to piece that together. And guess what? Over time, it does get easier.
What are Sensory Activities?
Simply put, sensory activities are any form of play that engages the senses. What play looks like for every child will be different, so it is important to note that as you try out different sensory play ideas with your child they might not respond how you expect them to. No matter how your child reacts to a sensory experience remember, it is important to encourage your child to try new things, do not force them to try new things. The sensory systems that sensory play engages are:
WHY IS SENSORY PLAY NECESSARY?
If you are a parent that is asking that, trust me I hear you! It seems like sensory play has become this huge trend with entire blogs devoted to fairly elaborate play ideas. And well trends come and go, right? No matter what happens to the trend of sensory play, kids will always need sensory experiences. If you read that and think to yourself I can’t do that or I HATE MESS rest assured that you can do this and you don’t have to do the messy play ideas with your kids. That said…
SENSORY EXPERIENCES ARE LIKE FOOD FOR YOUR LITTLE ONES BRAIN…
They provide an experience for your child that challenges them to engage with their environment, explore their creativity, and interact in ways that they might not explore otherwise.
Because children’s senses are still developing, each sensory experience builds new neural pathways that are what create the structure of your child’s brain. A healthy sensory system helps children in multiple ways such as:
Language Skills: As children discuss their experiences their vocabulary grows. As child explore new experiences they are introduced to new concepts and terms.
Social Skills: Social skills is a huge category. Sensory play does not have to happen with another person for a child to pick up social skills. For example, children might practice how to brush their teeth or other hygiene concepts through play. It also introduces children to concepts such as cause and effect and problem-solving. When played with another person sensory play can teach kids how to share, negotiate, plan, and interact.
Self-Control Skills: Sensory play needs boundaries and rules that need to be taught. As children learn that it isn’t ok to throw sensory materials such as rainbow spaghetti, or that we don’t rub toddler mud on to the person playing with us they are being taught how to respect others, rules, and boundaries.
Fine Motor Skills: Manipulating materials and small objects are great for strengthening little hands! It is also fantastic for teaching kids how to properly apply pressure to different textures with their fine motor muscles – ex: you need to squeeze play dough with more pressure than you would need to when playing with moon sand.
Gross Motor Skills: When a child engages in animated play with a sensory material they will scoop, pour, squat, bend, reach, and so much more that challenges their gross motor muscles. Sensory play is more than playing with a sensory bin though. One example of this is a child playing at the playground; as children play on playground equipment they are also engaging in a sensory activity. For instance, the child that is hanging from the monkey bars is exploring their proprioceptive system.
And so much more!
If you are still kicking over this and thinking My parents didn’t do sensory play with me think about this:
— How much time did you spend outside as a child?
— How much time did you spend in front of electronics as a child? Battery operated toys count in this!
— How much of your day as a child was unstructured?
If you can HONESTLY answer that your child is getting daily outdoor, unstructured, interactive play with you then no, sensory play is not necessary. As a stay at home mom of four, I cannot say that. Between academics, after school activities, therapy/doctor appointments, family events, and more, getting outside with my kids every single day is something that I struggle with. On top of that, we live somewhere where the weather isn’t always nice. So for us, sensory play is necessary. It is the time that my kids get with me where academics aren’t the focus, exploration and creativity are. It is a time when electronics are off and play is front and center. It is our time.
Sensory Activity Ideas
Follow the links below to find an array of different ideas!