Sensory play is any activity that stimulates at least one of your child’s senses. This could be hearing, sight, touch, smell or taste. It also includes play that involves movement or balance.
Why not visit our newly refurbished sensory play room at the Pod softplay, YMCA Hawker. Full details and booking links can be found on our Pod webpage: https://ymcastpaulsgroup.org/pod
It doesn’t even have to be something that you need to think about too much. “Babies, from when they are very little, are already using all of their senses to investigate and explore their environment.
“So it’s something that children naturally do without parents having to set it up. What we can do, is make sure we allow and encourage our children to keep exploring using all their senses.”
What age can you start sensory play?
From the moment they’re born, your baby is ready for sensory play.
Even in the womb, your baby uses their senses to understand the world. By the time they are born, they’ll already be able to recognise your voice and your smell.
With a new born, sensory play can be as simple as blowing raspberries on their tummy, gently tickling or massaging them, or just chatting about the world when you’re out for a walk. As babies get older, you will find that these activities develop naturally.
The more they grow, the more their sensory play will adapt.
Maybe you’ve been playing peek-a-boo with your baby, and they’ve enjoyed feeling the cloth on their face. But now they’ve got a bit too old for that, so they might start doing something different with the cloth.
They might start putting it over both of you at once, and you can change up the activity by letting different amounts of light in, lifting or lowering the cloth, so they experience dark and light.”
The more they grow, the more their sensory play will adapt. “So you want to keep following your child’s lead in the play. If they get bored of a certain type of sensory play, they’ll soon start exploring it differently.”
What are the benefits of sensory play?
“It’s through all of our senses that we make links between what we see, what we feel and what we hear. And this, ultimately, helps our children to make sense of the world.
Exploring the world through their senses can help children understand lots of different things, such as “cause and effect” (how their actions affect the world) and to develop their emotional awareness.
Through sensory play, some children will discover which senses are more calming for them. For some, it’s music. For some, it’s a more tactile feeling, like being wrapped in a blanket. Then for others, it’s having certain smells around them. Understanding what soothes you is a really useful skill for children to have as they grow up.
Sensory play also helps your little one’s attention span. When a child is hands-on with an experience, they’ll stay engaged with it for longer than if they just listen to someone talking.
How does it help with language learning?
Sensory play helps your child’s language learning too, as linking experiences with their senses helps children to remember the words that went with them.
“If you were asked to think of a swimming pool, you would probably think about the smell of the chlorine, the heat of the room and the sounds reverberating around you.
The sensory room – a sensory “main meal”
The sensory room is an all-singing, all-dancing sensory environment with much to offer children with SEN. The coloured lights, dark and calm environment, sounds and sights of bubbles and water all have a key role to play and can be controlled to make a real difference to children’s lives, providing a respite form constant sensory overload.
Although multi-sensory by name, the resources in a typical sensory room can be predominantly plastic or fabric, offering little in the way of sensory stimulation to the tactile sense, so this may be something to consider if the children who will be accessing the room benefit from tactile stimulation.
Treasure baskets – a “sensory snack”
A treasure basket is an example of a sensory-rich and highly portable resource, making it a perfect “sensory snack”. Within an enabling environment children can investigate objects, experiment, or be guided with activities. The sensory stimulation and hands-on approach is great for brain and memory development, gross and fine motor skills and strength. With no right or wrong ways of playing, they can appeal to children with different learning styles and abilities.
To avoid sensory overload some children may need to be offered the “treasures” individually or just a few at a time. Other children may need heavy items to be removed (to avoid potential danger from throwing) or more robust alternatives to be provided instead. Still others may need to be supported in moving play on to avoid overly repetitious play.