Playing Together: The Importance of Sensory Play (Guest Post Featured on Rookie Parenting)

As a parent helping your child learn is one of the most important things to you, and sensory play is a fun and engaging way for your child to excel in many different areas. Sensory play encourages scientific processes because problems are solved using the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. By stimulating your child’s senses, you are helping them develop creatively, socially and emotionally, cognitively, linguistically and physically through simply playing with them.

You have probably seen your child play with the most inexpensive “toys” like a paper towel roll, a pot and a spoon, or straws. Your child is using anything and everything to explore the world around them and encouraging this behavior will benefit you and your child by letting your child explore and create and giving you the opportunity to discuss what is happening in any given project.

boy-958457_1280By stimulating your child’s senses you are helping their brain develop because when a sense is engaged neural pathways are being created to assist with further learning in later years.

Sensory play is not only important for babies and toddlers, who often have the time to play and explore at home, but also for preschoolers and elementary children. When your child is allowed to use multiple senses to accomplish a task, they will learn more from the experience and retain more information. This ideal does not change as you get older, even adults retain more information when multiple senses are engaged! Even you are creating new neural pathways in your brain when engaging in sensory play, which can help negate Alzheimer’s(1), assist in creative thinking, problem solving, and time needed to respond to a catastrophic situation (2). Creating time for your child, of any age, to engage in sensory play is imperative for their long-time learning and health.

Creating time for your child, of any age, to engage in sensory play is imperative for their long-time learning and health. Click To Tweet

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So how do you start integrating sensory play into your everyday life? The good news is it is simple! By taking objects that you already have in the house you can create many fun experiences for you and your child. For example, take a colander and spaghetti noodles (or pipe cleaner) and challenge your child to put the noodles in the holes. They will be drawn to this experience and will start to develop basic motor skills as well as problem solving skills when they break IMG_20160824_210528the spaghetti noodles.

 

For older children play-doh and fondant are great ways to teach sensory play, as well as skills that your child can

use in the future such as baking a cake. Fondant can be used to make beautiful designs, but it takes time and patience to get the results wanted, both are needed skills in everyday decision-making and life.

 

 

Don’t be afraid to try something new and make a mess! This is a great time to bond with your child and create fun memories that will last a lifetime!

For tips on handling the mess, more sensory ideas, and using American Sign Language with your child (also great for sensory play!) visit imaginationsigning.comis designReferences:

(1) How to Help the Ones We Love Symptoms and Strategies for:. (2016). Retrieved August 25,
2016, from http://www.alzheimershope.com/stop_delay.php

(2) Center for Brain Health. (2013, September 9). Retrieved August 25, 2016, from
http://www.brainhealth.utdallas.edu/blog_page/study-finds-brain-training-enhances-brain-health-of-adults-over-50

Other Resources:

Good Habits Make You Feel Like You’re Gonna Die. Published on May 31, 2012 by Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. in Your Neurochemical Self

Getting Messy: Childs Play, the Mess It Creates, and How to Handle It

What is Sensory Play?

What is Sensory Play?

 

Sensory play is a very simple concept that has been all but forgotten as parent, early childhood educators, and preschools have started to focus more on academic work than sensory exploration. In September 2015, the Washington Post wrote a great story talking about the decline in play in young children saying

 

 

Research continues to point out that young children learn best through meaningful play experiences, yet many preschools are transitioning from play-based learning to becoming more academic in nature…In fact, it is before the age of 7 years — ages traditionally known as “pre-academic” — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain. (Strauss, 2015)

So, what exactly is Sensory Play and how can you make sure your child is getting what they need? Sensory Play is any activity that stimulates the senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, or hearing and engages your child. This play can be very simple, such as playing with a rain stick, or more complex, such as sensory bins and “messy play” involving sand, water, or paint. PBS explains Sensory Play as something that facilitates, “…exploration and naturally encourage(s) children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. Spending time stimulating their senses helps children develop cognitively, linguistically, socially and emotionally, physically and creatively.” (PBS, 2016) Let’s go ahead and pull the ways your child will benefit from Sensory Play as well.

Cognitively

Cognitive development consists of developing problem solving skills, being able to process information, reasoning, language development, memory, and decision making. When your child is playing there are many times that problem solving, decision making, or memory will come into play. For example let’s say your child is playing with Play-Doh and has the choice to use several different colors as well as objects to create a picture that is on the table (such as a butterfly). They have to decide what material they need to do that as well as figure out how each piece goes together using a considerable amount of their cerebrum, the largest part of the brain.

Linguistically

In this same scenario, your child can ask for help either verbally, in Sign Language, or through pointing and gesturing. The great part about language development is everyone is different and, “Recent studies have shown that in around 97% of people, language is represented in the left hemisphere. However, in about 19% of left-handed people, the areas responsible for language are in the right hemisphere and as many as 68% of them have some language abilities in both the left and the right hemispheres.” (Mandal, 2013) That means working on sensory language skills such as American Sign Language, reading to your child, and continually talking with your child is helping their brain develop in many different areas at one time.

Socially and Emotionally

Social and Emotional Intelligence is a fairly new field within the last 20 years. Many studies have found that IQ is important, however, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is more important in everyday success such as communication and leadership skills. In a study entitled Trait Emotional Intelligence as a Predictor of Socioemotional Outcomes in Early Adolescence, researcher Norah Frederickson f, found that Emotional Intelligence is a better indicator of socioemotional competence (ability to act effectively and appropriately in social situations) than IQ. (2012)

Physically

Children can use many different physical activities to learn such as running in a relay with mom and dad, climbing on blocks or rocks, and determining how to get on and off the bed or couch at home.

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This is my favorite part of Sensory Play because you never know what your child will be inclined towards. Doing many different types of creative play will be able to help you figure out if your child likes drawing and painting or playing music. I have had countless parents tell colleagues and myself how they never would have guessed their 7, 12, or 18 month old would like a certain activity until they stepped out of their comfort zone and introduced it and the learning flourished! These are all important areas that should be taken into account when starting your child on the path to learning. I will be the first to tell you that reading to your child and teaching them numbers and letters is fantastic, however, just like many things in life, everything has to be done in proportion. We want our children to succeed in every area, but we do not want to burn them out and have them in so many activities that they are worn thin and run ragged either. 

Take some time to Make a Mess, Play in Water, or Find Fishes to get those creative juices going! You may find you enjoy it just as much as they do!

 If you have any questions please get in contact with me and comment below with things that have worked for your children in Sensory Play as well as academically.

      

Sources for this Article

Frederickson, N. (2012, February). Trait emotional intelligence as a predictor of socioemotional outcomes in early adolescence. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886911004892

Mandal, D. (2013, November 4). Language and the Human Brain. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.news-medical.net/health/Language-and-the-Human-Brain.aspx Sensory Play and Early Child Development. (2016). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/parents/child-development/sensory-play/ Strauss, V. (2015, September 1).

The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/09/01/the-decline- of-play-in-preschoolers-and-the-rise-in-sensory-issues/

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