Sensory Play

InterACT run a Parent and Toddler Group called Play and Learn (PALs for short – you can find more info on our regular activities page).

Today, I thought I’d share with you one of the activities we did in our Messy Play Session. We put brightly coloured cooked spaghetti on extra-large disposable serving trays. They looked so attractive that it lured the children into an exciting sensory adventure.

From birth, a baby will explore the world through its senses. They are designed that way. They investigate by putting everything into their mouth and try out all sorts of sounds. As a parent, this is sometimes to our frustration! Children love to experience different sensations. My granddaughter (who is three) loves to spin round and round until she is dizzy and of course falls over, just to experience the sensations and reactions in her body.

Just like in any other area of development, children need help in learning how to use their senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. Providing play opportunities like the one we did at PALs is just one the wonderful ways for this to happen.

Sensory play is about exploration and discovery, it helps in the development of language acquisition, knowledge of basic science, aids the ability to categorise, experiment and make sense of the world. It also aids physical development as a child will use the small muscles in their hands through pinching, rolling and pouring whilst doing things like craft and messy play or large muscles when spinning and dancing. It can also play an important role in calming children down though listening to music or after a bath.

When we think of sensory play, we often think of ideas like play dough, clay, finger painting, sand, water, and collage, but enabling a child to appreciate nature and their surroundings is also a great way to use all the senses; like comparing textures of leaves and bark, listening to the various sounds that are around and pointing out different smells. This can be done during an outing, while walking along the road to the shops or driving in the car or taking a bus. Being busy is very much part of our lives these days, so to give a child the ability to ‘stop and stare’ is a valuable lesson, and even in the city we can find things to consider if we slow things down.

You can plan for a dull or rainy day by bringing the outside in.

How about making a sensory garden? You will need:

  • An extra-large disposable serving tray/ new cat litter tray
  • Muddy coloured and green rice (for the soil and grass). Or if you are brave and don’t mind the mess some soil or compost)
  • Small stones, shells and cones
  • Sticks
  • Flowers (which you could make with lolly sticks and coloured card)
  • Tree bark
  • Mini flower pots
  • Add your child’s favourite figures to the play

We often think that this type of play is only appreciated by under 5’s but in all my years of experience I have seen much older children get quite absorbed in this activity (especially if their favourite figures are added). Enjoy!

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