Submitted by Tracy Walter
My sister sends me pictures of my niece who will be two years old very soon. It is great getting messages and pictures of her enjoying the new sensory bin her mom carefully thought out for her, activities at a play group that she participated in, or activities at their local library they were able to attend. The learning and excitement from these activities radiates through the pictures. As an educator, seeing the pictures and knowing that my niece is enjoying the activities and really has no clue of the brain development that is happening in her little head warms my heart. From the pictures, one would think she is just having fun and enjoying time with her mom and her friends; however, knowing the nerve pathways in her brain are being built at a rapid pace from the learning and development happening each second is an exciting thought.
Sensory play does not just mean “touchy feely” toys and activities. Sensory play involves all five of the senses. Using all the senses during play helps children develop language skills, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. It provides a calming effect for children and fosters social interaction. There are two other areas that are easily overlooked when discussing sensory play. One is the proprioception sense which refers to the awareness of one’s body and the vestibular sense which is known as the movement or balance sense (Cleveland Clinic, 2022).
When creating sensory play opportunities, the ideas are endless. Be creative! Activities such as water play, finger painting, playing outside, listening to music, using cotton balls, and sand exploration are some good examples of sensory activities. If you are at a loss of what to do, one of your best friends naturally is nature! Getting the children outside and allowing for natural discovery is a great way to engage children in sensory play. Sensory play of all kinds will allow children to explore the world around them and use the senses which they are comfortable using.