Are Sensory Activities Necessary?

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Are you a parent, caregiver, or educator who’s been wondering about the value of sensory activities for kids? Well, you’ve come to the right place! We all want the children in our lives to grow up healthy, happy, and well-rounded, right? That’s why it’s essential to give them opportunities for sensory play and exploration.

Sensory activities, also known as sensory play, are a fun and engaging way for kids to explore their senses, from feeling different textures to tasting new foods. But you might be wondering, are these activities really necessary? Do they actually make a difference in a child’s development? Well, let’s dive in and find out together!

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:

touch | sight | sound | taste | smell | vestibular | proprioceptive | interoception

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 there are plenty of ways to incorporate sensory play without mess. 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 completely unstructured?

How to Incorporate Sensory Play Into Daily Routines

Incorporating sensory activities into daily routines can be a fun and easy way to support children’s growth and development. Here are some ideas for incorporating sensory activities at home, school, and outdoors, as well as how to adapt them for children with special needs.

Ideas for sensory activities at home:

  • Playdough: Making and playing with homemade playdough is an excellent way to engage children’s senses, especially touch. Add play dough mats for additional fun!
  • Sensory bins: Fill a bin or container with various materials, such as rice, sand, or beans, and let children explore with their hands.
  • Bubble wrap: Popping bubble wrap provides both auditory and tactile sensory input.
  • Scented play: Use scented materials like essential oils or herbs to create a sensory-rich experience for children.
  • Messy play: Engage children in messy activities like finger painting, shaving cream play, or water play.

Ideas for sensory activities at school:

  • Sensory tables: Set up a designated sensory table in the classroom with different materials, such as water, sand, or shredded paper.
  • Sensory walks: Create a sensory path using materials like foam, pillows, or textured mats for children to walk on.
  • Music and movement: Use music and movement activities to engage children’s auditory and kinesthetic senses.
  • Sensory storytime: Read stories that incorporate sensory elements like sound effects, textures, and scents.

Ideas for sensory activities outside:

  • Nature walks: Take a walk around the neighborhood or local park, and encourage children to explore with their senses. Let them touch different textures like tree bark or leaves, smell flowers, and listen to birds.
  • Water play: Fill up a small pool or bucket with water and let children splash around. You can add in materials like cups, sponges, and water toys for more sensory input.
  • Outdoor art: Set up an outdoor art station with materials like chalk, paint, or clay. Children can use their senses to explore the different textures and colors of the materials.
  • Gardening: Let children help with gardening tasks like digging, planting, and watering. They can touch and smell different plants, and even taste some of the fruits or vegetables that they grow.
  • Obstacle courses: Create an obstacle course with different textures, such as a balance beam made of wood, a grassy area to jump over, and a path of stones to step on. This can help children develop balance, coordination, and spatial awareness.

How to adapt sensory activities for children with special needs:

  • Consider the individual needs and preferences of the child.
  • Use adaptive equipment, such as weighted vests, sensory balls, or therapy swings, to accommodate needs.
  • Modify the activity to meet the child’s abilities and interests.
  • Provide a safe and comfortable environment that supports the child’s sensory needs.

Sensory Activity Ideas

Follow the links below to find an array of different ideas!

Sensory Play Recipes | Sensory Bins | Fine Motor | Gross Motor | Play Dough Mats | Sensory Bottles

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