What’s the importance of sensory play for kids?
We hear about sensory play for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and adults. But why is allowing opportunities to play in a water bin or kinetic sand sensory bin important? What exactly is the importance of sensory play?
I’ve been there. Sometimes with topics like this, we tend to fall upon books written for educators and blog posts that leave us with more questions than answers.
With my education and parenting background, I hope to take the importance of sensory play and leave you with a roadmap to get started. (A roadmap that doesn’t leave you with grains of rice between your couch cushions).
Here is why sensory play is essential for kids and how to implement sensory play into your home.
What is sensory play?
Let’s start with the basics. Sensory play engages the senses. This means a child may be smelling, touching, tasting, listening, and looking in a single play prompt.
Engaging the senses invites more thinking. And more thinking means nourishing and building upon prior knowledge.
Often, the sensory play uses something called loose parts.
Loose parts are open-ended materials that do not have a predetermined purpose. The child takes the lead in how the tools are used and played with. Loose parts have many ways to play.
For example, we may set up a sensory bin with small rocks. The child may spend time scooping, pouring, touching, or stacking. Maybe the early learner does all four!
Since the child is visiting the sensory play with interest, they will be more likely to attach meaning to what they decide to do.
Sensory play is exploring objects through our senses, and here are our favorite outdoor sensory bin supplies.
Why is sensory play important?
Children are researchers of their environment.
New brain pathways are formed for every new stimulation, and old ideas are strengthened. Repeated experiences and sensory play enhance cognitive development and intelligence.
Sensory play takes the five senses and elevates learning with:
- connecting and disconnecting
- discovering textures
- engaging self-control
- exploring colors
- increasing focus
- increasing vocabulary
- making predictions
- offering opportunities to work out frustrations
What can you fill a sensory bin with?
Turn around! There is no need to head to Target. Creating a sensory bin often begins with items we already have in our home.
When picking sensory fillers, we want to consider the stage of our child. If something may be a choking hazard, do not use it. There are alternatives to just about any idea on this list.
Ten of my favorite sensory play fillers:
I picked these sensory fillers with a few important variables in mind. – How easier they are to clean up and how likely a child will extend the play for longer amounts of time.
- cloud dough
- colored water
- kinetic sand
- shaving cream
- sticky paper (contact paper)
- small rocks
Remember we talked about loose parts? This means items such as colored scarves and small tiles. lights, sand, seashells, funnels, wheels, wood rounds, and pom poms also make a fun sensory bin.
The best news? We have two (or 40) ideas for sensory play to help you get started.
3 Steps to implement Sensory play (today!)
Great! We now better understand sensory play and why it is essential for child development. Our more extensive guide on implementing sensory play is another great read.
Here are three steps to implement sensory play into your home.
1. Start simple
You do not, I repeat, you do not have to make your first sensory bin with colored rice.
I have found that rice is the most difficult to clean up. The tiny grains seem to linger longer than were invited on my back deck.
Start with a simple sensory bin.
Water, a few funnels, measuring cups, and a few drops of food coloring are simple for me.
For you, simple may be adding a few toys and water in a muffin tin and allowing your child to watch it break apart.
Start with a sensory bin that is within your comfort zone.
2. Use a mat to catch overflow
No one wants to chase beans around or peel playdough from the carpet.
Let’s set us up for success. I enjoy using an indoor cycling mat for my children to sit on because it is comfortable for them, and we can wipe it clean. We even use this mat when painting with kids!
Alternative ideas for sensory play mats:
- beach towel
- plastic table cloth
- shower curtain
Again, keep the setup simple. Find something that works and give it a name. “This is our sensory mat, and we use it when you want to make a sensory bin.”
3. Pick an idea and run with it
As adults, we tend to overthink a lot more than needed.
Kids dive all in and let their imagination be the guide.
After picking a sensory bin activity, allow your child to take the lead.
It may take a few reminders that the sensory bin stays in the container, but with practice, your child will understand your expectations. – This is another reason the sensory mat comes in handy. It acts as a border for the play.
Importance of sensory play Takeaways
- Sensory play stimulates and creates new brain paths.
- Most sensory materials are already in your home.
- There is a multitude of sensory play fillers or loose parts. Pick what feels right.
- Start simple, use a sensory mat for overflow, and allow your child to guide the play.