Home Lifestyle What is sensory play and why is it important for children?

What is sensory play and why is it important for children?

by Zahid Jadwat

One of the vital components of childhood development involves sensory play. Psychologists suggest that such activities be introduced to children from the moment they are born, and continue into their early years of primary school Photo readykids.com.au 

“Sensory play involves the engagement of the different senses. Most of the senses that are stimulated during sensory play are those of touch, sight, taste and hearing,” said educational psychologist Claudia Munyai.

Munyai elaborated that sensory play aids children’s cognitive development, particularly in the areas of motor skills, coordination and language.

“In essence,” she said, “sensory play stimulates the sensory inputs in the brain thus building the sensory nerve connections in the brain pathways. This promotes the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks as and when they develop,” she said.

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Benefits and types

Some of the key benefits of sensory play, as Munyai explained, encompass problem-solving skills, enhanced creativity and emotional development. “Sensory play has that calming effect for children,” she said.

“[Sensory play] is very important because we are looking at the different elements that need to tap on the different senses of of a child,” said Munyai.

Munyai advised that sensory play be used to stimulate all five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.

“We’re looking at touch – we want the child to explore different shapes, different textures. We use things like rice beans or even letters that are cut out in different shapes that they can touch and feel,” she said.

“For hearing,” she said, “we want the child to explore different sounds. Items like bells, crinkle cut paper – anything that makes a sound is very good for exploring the sense of hearing.”

She added: “When a child is still growing and they’re still crawling around, try to engage with the child by moving the sound in different directions and see if a child is able to respond.”

“Another thing that is important here is taste. We encourage play around various types of tastes, like using various types of fruit or any other edibles. The sense of smell can be developed while we’re exploring the sense of taste,” she said.

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Introducing sensory play

Munyai advised that it is best to start introducing sensory play “from the time the child is born”. This should go on until around the age of 10.

She explained that the first six months since birth should involve activities that focus on movement and stretching.

“This can take place during bath time, where you’d massage your child; stretch your child, rub your child. There, we are introducing the whole sense of touch,” she said.

Munyai said the senses of taste, smell and touch become more apparent to children between the ages of six and 18 months. At this point, she said, parents should introduce toys, but warned that they should be cautious about what they leave around the littluns.

“They are starting to move around and about, so parents can tie or sew different items. Look for different items that make different sounds, items that are bright [and] items of different textures. What is very important to be cautioned about there is that [you] look for items that will not harm or poison the child,” she said.

Munyai further emphasised the importance of promoting movement and speech in toddlers until they reach the age of 10. She advised parents to introduce children to activities such as gardening, letter dough and playing with “squishy substances” such as play-dough.

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