Sensory play: Why is it so important?

Many people assume sensory play is all about touch but actually it’s about much more than that.

We often talk about the five senses:  taste, touch, sight, smell and sound but there’s also body awareness and balance.

  • Taste – the stimulation that comes when our taste receptors react to chemicals in our mouth.
  • Touch – the stimulation that comes from touch receptors in our skin that react to pressure, heat/cold, or vibration.
  • Smell – the stimulation of chemical receptors in the upper airways (nose).
  • Sight – the stimulation of light receptors in our eyes, which our brains then interpret into visual images.
  • Hearing – the reception of sound, via mechanics in our inner ear.
  • Body awareness (also known as proprioception) – the feedback our brains receive from stretch receptors in our muscles and pressure receptors in joints, which enable us to gain a sense where our bodies are in space.
  • Balance – the stimulation of the vestibular system of the inner ear to tell us our body position in relation to gravity.

importance of sensory play for childre

Children and even adults learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses. If you think of some of your favourite memories they involve our senses.  The smell of your favourite food cooking, the sound of the sea or of a particular song.  They all trigger flashbacks to those special times in your life.

importance of sensory play for childre

From the moment of birth a child is exploring the world through their senses.  Babies and toddlers put things in their mouths and explore objects by taste and touch.  They listen to others around them, copying the sounds – the basics of communication.  They track adults with sight and respond using their senses.

Developing a child’s sensors is crucial in a child’s overall development. Senses are how we explore; make meaning of and process new information, building new nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, leading to a child’s increased ability to complete more difficult tasks.

Sensory play is beneficial for language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, emotions and social interactions. It helps with the development and enhancement of memory and for an anxious child it can help calm them.

importance of sensory play for childreWith sensory activities we plan to stimulate all of the senses.  It helps the child be curious, explore and understand new concepts.  For instance sand can be dry and can be poured, or wet and can be made into shapes.  It feels different and even sounds different.  If you listen carefully sand feels cooler if wet.

A child may find it difficult to play alongside a peer if there are other things going on around them with other noises.  Learning to adapt their hearing to block out the background sounds that aren’t as important but knowing some noise, i.e. an adult direction that it’s time for lunch is a great developmental skill, that aids them to focus on the task they are doing.

Some children who are fussy eaters might find learning to play with foods, i.e spaghetti, can help the child learn by touch that it’s safe to engage with this food.  This in turn develops new pathways in the brain, aiding development and possibly the trust to taste it when it is offered at a mealtime.

There are certain children, such as those with autism, that have specific difficulty with making sense of and organising all the stimuli that comes at them via their senses. All children however, need to learn how to use their senses and that is why sensory play is crucial to their development.

If you have any questions regarding the benefits of sensory play for your child then please contact me on 01636 378130.

Karen O’Connell