Why is Sensory Play Important?

Are you someone who can’t handle sand between your toes? Or are you like me, getting goosebumps all over just thinking about picking up some chalk and writing with it? Does jello gross you out? Or have you never been able to eat mashed potatoes because of the texture?

Sensory play helps kids overcome sensory sensitivity
Image by Danielle Macinnes – Unsplash

All these emotions and reaction we have, are based on our sensory perception of the world. Some people, like my husband and youngest daughter, are just way more comfortable with many different textures.

Some babies can only wear cotton clothes because their skin is so sensitive. Other kids are terrible eaters because of the textures of food. And some children don’t have any problems with texture at all. My youngest has no problem dealing with sensory experiences. She gladly tries new foods, kisses slimy snails, plays with bugs and writes with chalk. I am certain that she has superpowers!

So what does this have to do with sensory play? Sensory play is a fun way to introduce sensory experiences and help children and adults alike, to learn to cope with new sensory information. Sensory play is any play that engages the senses, touch, smell, sight. This can be, playing with water, baking mud cakes, building castles in the sand pit, scooping up rice or playing with cooked spaghetti.

Here are the 5 most important reasons you should do sensory play with your children:

1. It helps children learn.
Research shows that sensory play creates an incredible amount of neural pathways in your brain. Everything a child experiences gets documented in their brain. This either creates new pathways or enforces old paths, think first learning to kick a ball and then later kicking it for fun. When adding more than one of the senses during play activities, it creates stronger connections.

Our sense of smell is directly linked to our emotional brain. It is the only sense that doesn’t get filtered before it gets to the emotional part of our brain. Quickly tell me, what memory pops up when you think about the smell of cinnamon? Probably pancakes, or Christmas? I am certain that the memory is a strong and pleasant one. This is because the memory was created based on the smell.

Creating environments where our children can learn through sensory play by using multiple senses at once will help activate their brain and strengthen learning experiences.

2. Sensory play is great for calming down an overwhelmed or frustrated child.
Does your child also have a soothing blanky or a bunny. It’s the teddy that may NEVER go missing, that we as parents protect for dear life! Heaven forbid it disappears.

I once traveled alone with my oldest and stupidly allowed her to carry her special teddy around in the airport. I am generally not late, but this day we were LATE! We ran through security and ran to the plane, only to realize teddy was still stuck at security…!

It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make: Run back and maybe miss our flight, or deal with the loss of teddy. Needless to say, I ran back like a crazy person to fetch an irreplaceable teddy.

What’s the point? The point is that our kids are quite reliant on sensory soothers. These soothers that our kids use have a lot to do with sensory perception. There are some sensory triggers that calm us like rubbing or cuddling something soft. Don’t you like to cuddle up in your pajamas or gown under a soft blanket at the end of the day? I know I do!

The same thing happens when we squeeze play dough, or watch the rice pour from one container to the next, or wriggle our toes in the sand. These type of sensory activities reduces stress and anxiety.

Child doing sensory play is helping her learn fine motor skills
All the scooping and moving and pouring builds the fine motor skills of our kids.

3. Sensory play develops fine motor skills.
Sensory play for kids can be as easy as filling a bowl with materials like rice, pasta, beans, sand or water and allowing them to just have fun. They can scoop or pour with cups, bottles, spoons and funnels. All these actions are great for little fingers to learn new skills.

Fine motor development is crucial for kids as it is the basis for scissor skills, writing skills and even kitchen skills. The more kids handle utensils during sensory play, the quicker their fine motor skills will develop.

Once we were playing with some play dough and my 4 year old was struggling to cut the dough the way she wanted. She was using a little plastic knife, and the more I tried to help her, the more frustrated she got. So I left the room for a moment to give her some space. And when I got back she had decided to solve the problem herself. She was happily cutting the clay with her plastic scissors.

It was such an ingenious idea that scissors have now become part of our clay play set.

4. Sensory play encourages social interaction
This is the part where I encourage you as a mom to participate in the sensory play. Even if you have more than one child that can play together, I still urge you to play along with them.

Not only will you enjoy all the wonderful benefits of the sensory play experience, you will also have the opportunity to model good behavior and social skills that your children can learn from.

Children doing sensory play together encourages social interaction and communication

Playing at a sand or water table is a great sensory activity for kids to learn the skill of social interaction. Everyone needs to work together. It is wonderful to see how play activities become joyful once kids get over the idea that everything belongs to them.

5. Sensory play improves eating habits
I was intrigued by sensory play since my first daughter was born, but I didn’t apply many of the things I read about sensory play. I let her play with water and she played in the garden, but I didn’t make a concerted effort to introduce sensory play into our play activities until she turned 2.

By the time she turned 2, she had become an incredibly picky eater and she was also having a lot of trouble sleeping. I had become a walking zombie and I needed answers! So I turned to books and blogs to save this sleep deprived mama!

I came across the concept of sensory play again, and it seemed that many moms were having success with their kid’s eating habits when they started introducing sensory play. Let me just tell you, sensory play SAVED us. Because it is so much fun, it kept my little one busy long enough so that I could take a moment to breath and it helped my daughter get comfortable with trying new foods.

Because kids get more used to feeling different textures in their fingers, their brains can mark those new textures as good, and they become more tolerant of foods with new textures too. Gradually her eating habits changed for the better. She still doesn’t eat everything, but who does, right?

The question I actually want to ask you is why NOT? Sensory play is fun and kids LOVE it. Isn’t that enough?

Try it today!

A sensory bin has many benefits and can be filled rice and tools to play with
Quick sensory box put together in 2 minutes. It’s as easy as that.

Get a plastic container and add some rice to it. Throw in a couple of plastic spoons, measuring cups and a funnel if you have one and have fun with your little one! Remember to play along and connect with your kids.

After all, if we don’t make memories today, when will we?

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