Sensory Play: More Fun Than It Sounds And A Great Way To Learn
We all learn through our senses. Babies, toddlers and children are still developing their understanding of the world, so need to experience and compare a wide range of sensory attributes (hot, cold, sticky, salty, sweet, squishy, wobbly...)
La-la-llama sensory toys and games are designed to help children, from babies to teens, develop their skills through play. As part of our ‘Behind the Buzzwords’ series, we’ll explain what sensory toys are, what sensory play involves, and how it can help your child
What are sensory toys?
We have 5 senses, right? Vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. But there are other senses, too – you know when you’re moving or not (vestibular), and you can also touch your face with your eyes shut (proprioception – knowing where the parts of the body are in relation to each other). You’ll also have a sense of whether you’re hungry, thirsty, tired, nauseated or in pain (interoception).
Sensory play is a game or activity that is designed to stimulate all these senses. Typically sensory toys will be used together to create an environment or play table that engages several senses at once. There are so many ways to put together sensory activities, from a basket of little things to fiddle with to an obstacle course outdoors.
Sensory play helps develop essential skills
From infancy through adulthood, we learn best through direct experiences. Sensory play, where children can directly manipulate their environment in an open-ended way, helps kids learn essential skills, including fine and gross motor skills, problem solving, and language development.
Research shows that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks. Babies’ brains are packed with neural pathways – ready to learn any language, for example. Over the first few years of life, ones that aren’t used are ignored, while ones that are used remain active.
Sensory play is great for calm moments
While some sensory play is designed to be stimulating and exciting, other activities are designed to sooth, calm or help a child focus. These mindful activities are beneficial for all children, and can be particularly good for children who struggle to focus in a busy environment as the absorbing play helps them learn to tune out unwanted stimuli.
With adult guidance, sensory play can also be used to encourage children with sensory processing differences or sensory sensitivities to explore new situations and acclimatize to new sensations (textures, sounds, etc).
Sensory play is a great experiment
Kids engage in open-ended play, creating their own worlds as they go and using their senses to explore. Watch two or more children happily sharing a resource – the sandpit may become a dinosaur forest, a cake making kitchen and a building site in rapid succession, or the kids may settle down to a long and complex construction project or simply scoop and stir as they chat.
You don’t need a test tube and microscope to encourage scientific thinking. As kids scoop, pour, tip, splat, squash, pull, push, climb and slide they learn about the world and how it works. Sensory play gives kids the green light to experiment with a large variety of materials in new and creative ways.
Sensory play is great fun for adults too
Get a little messy, taste something new, walk on a balancing beam or paint with your toes. Getting out of your comfort zone, getting down to a child’s level and playing together is a great way to learn something new at any age – and you may find it boosts your creativity, too.
This article is part of the La-la-llama ‘Behind the Buzzwords’ series which gives a short, clear explanation of modern parenting phrases and trends. La-la-llama toys are made by parents with parents and kids in mind. Our goal is to help you find the right toys and activities so your kids will learn while they play at every age.