Sensory play is an important aspect of childhood development. It is considered as any activity that stimulates the senses, such as hearing, sight, touch, taste or smell. When children participate in activities that utilize scientific processes, such as investigation, creation and exploration, their sensory development strengthens.
Not only does sensory play engage a child’s senses, but it also prepares them for entrance into school. Outdoor sensory play teaches children how to better control their actions, unlike some forms of indoor play. When children play outside with friends, coming back home in time for dinner or even playing with animals, that is outdoor sensory stimulation. When involved primarily with television, video games and computers, children tend to have less developed impulse control, which can lead to behavioral issues.
Scientists have found that it is the fast-paced nature of certain types of indoor play that prohibits the development of self-regulation, or the ability to monitor and control our own behaviors. For kids, this is a particularly important step to learn appropriate behaviors and actions. Video games, TV and computers can overwhelm the senses with sounds and sights but do not allow children adequate time to process what is occurring. Because of this, a child could suffer when it comes time for them to enter formalized school.
Outdoor sensory play also helps to establish a child’s independence. By playing outside, children map their geographical surroundings, explore new areas and develop physical and emotional boundaries. With these experiences, kids learn a safe degree of self-reliance, which aids them in regulating behaviors and actions.
Often, parents or caregivers fear that their children could be met with unexpected dangers when they play outside on their own. There are supervised forms of sensory play that allows children to develop their senses while also protecting them from external risks. Some examples of these include dance and art classes.
There are many other ways to help foster sensory play, indoors and outdoors. Child development specialists and scientists alike stress how important it is for adults to encourage sensory development in children, and recommend putting together a sensory table (made from a baby tub your child has outgrown) for activities.
This sensory table can hold outdoor items, like stones, plants, even sticks. It is good to use natural materials like sand, dirt, snow, leaves and bark. Because kids naturally want to touch, taste and smell things, these types of materials are easy for them to engage and have fun with.
To encourage auditory senses, have fun and create sound effects with household items like pots and pans. For sight, painting or drawing on different materials like paper or even aluminum foil is a great activity. You can get even more creative, and put drops of food coloring dye into water, watching the colors swirl around. Remember how fun it was to pop bubble wrap when a package came? Letting your child do that or even walk on it helps to fine-tune kinesthetic, or the touch-based sense. Another fun game idea is to play “guess the smell” with different products, like soaps, lotions, even foods. Doing this or letting children create “potions” with different spices and foods will have them using smell and taste.
All of these activities are different forms of sensory play, and allow children to create, explore and discover things about their own abilities and the space around them. Even better, it has been documented that when kids are encouraged to play in these ways, behaviors you may want to wean out begin to naturally fall away. Sensory play teaches children how to communicate ideas, control actions and learn new things. It also teaches them that learning is fun, helping to instill excitement for school and new experiences. Next time your child asks if he or she can play a video game, consider some sensory play activities instead to help prepare them for their future and to spend time together as a family.
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