Welcome to my house–don’t mind the tub of pinecones, collection of rocks, and the bowl brimming with water and toy frogs! It’s all part of play–which as you know, is where kiddos learn best! There’s a fancy term for letting our kids collect, pour, mix, sniff, and generally make a mess…It’s called Sensory Play! And so much more is going on than meets the eye! Let’s talk about what sensory play is and why sensory play is important for development!
What is Sensory Play?
Okay, Friends…This is ground breaking stuff:
Sensory play is any activity that engages our kids’ senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, & sound.
It’s playing in the dirt, sorting all the cars, and painting…It’s the magic of childhood!
We can be very intentional about providing these play opportunities–through structured activities like sensory bins, play dough, or sand trays. But it doesn’t have to be structured at all!
Sensory play is also fostered by creating a home that encourages exploration–and allows for some messes! It means letting little ones play tea party with real water…Or scoop the dog food…Or help bake the cookies…(even though it will take twice as long and is four times messier)! It certainly doesn’t have to be Pinterest or Instagram worthy–most often, it’s not!
Why Sensory Play is Important for Development
1. Supports Fine and Gross Motor Skills
Your sweet little one is using fine motor skills and gross motor skills while engaging in play!
All the picking up, pinching, squeezing, pouring, pounding, cutting, etc…Your child is strengthening those fingers and fine motor skills!
And don’t forget about all the gross motor skills that are used running, jumping, climbing, and exploring!
2. Enhances Memory & Promotes Understanding of Science
As your child learns more about the world through sensory play, they enhance their memory and focus skills. This is where they learn all the good stuff we take for granted–how objects react, how much pressure is applied, how gently to touch, how to create balance…All these experiences help create an understanding of how the world works!
Don’t be surprised if they become super focused on the task–my kids will sometimes play with fresh play dough for hours!
3. Supports Relaxation
Often you’ll find your child is really relaxed when they’re involved in sensory play–they get completely wrapped up in the experience!
So it’s a great idea to have some sensory activities prepared and on hand–ready to redirect your child during an emotional melt-down!
Sensory Play Ideas:
Here are some of my favorite ways to encourage sensory play–as you can see, most of these are just with simple items you already have!
- Play dough (I love to add “gems,” sticks, or other surprises to encourage creativity! There are great recipes to make it smell amazing!)
- Sand Trays
- Sensory Bins (Example: Fill large containers with bird seed, rice, or corn–add scoops, cars, toys, cups)
- Spread out a blanket and provide bowls of rice/bird seed/noodles with cups, scoops, and spoons
- Art Station–filled with markers, glue, crayons, & child-safe scissors
- Bubbles (the backyard variety or fill up the bathtub)
- Collect Backyard Nature Finds–let your child keep their treasures and organize them!
- Sort Sea Shells
- Pouring water–set out plastic measuring cups and containers of all sizes.
- Paint with water–set up on the sidewalk!
- Finger-paint (with paints or get creative and try something tasty like pudding)!
- Music Instruments
- Water Play–Fill bowl or shallow pan for playing with toys! (My kids love playing with ocean animals, toy frogs, Legos, Barbies, and action figures in water!)
- Bake together
- Felt story boards
(Here’s my Ultimate List of Toys for Preschoolers which encourage imaginative and sensory play!)
You’re Already Doing It–Embrace the Mess!
We know sensory play is important for child development. And most likely, you’re already encouraging and providing many sensory play opportunities for your child–you are amazing!
So yes–having littles is a messy business! But the mess is a good sign! Think of it as proof that they’re playing, learning, and growing! Embrace the mess…this too shall pass!
(I talk more about this in my post: Homeschooling With Toddlers…And also managing the everyday messiness of running a household in my post about the FlyLady!)
In addition, I LOVE Julie Bogart’s book, The Brave Learner! (It’s one of 3 books that I highly recommend to homeschool mommas!) It’s so encouraging in regards to creating a home and lifestyle that promotes learning…You will be inspired!!
Here’s to making sensory play an important part of your child’s day! Sending hugs from my mess to yours!
P.S. I LOVE all the sensory play ideas over at My Bored Toddler and Busy Toddler! Plus–get more ideas and lots of recipes for making play dough on my Active Learning Pinterest Board!
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