Sensory Play: Its Importance and Benefits

Ever noticed your toddler or preschooler actively touch, feel, and sense different objects around them, if yes, then it is their way of identifying and understanding the surrounding world. 

Toddlers and preschoolers are always on their tiny toes, exploring new and unique sensory stimuli in their surrounding environment. 

In fact, children for the initial six years of their lives rely heavily on their senses to develop an understanding of the world that surrounds them. 

Sensory Play is among the most crucial parts of early childhood development stages as it not only provides children with new and unique stimuli but it also introduces them to new concepts and develops a firm foundation for future prospects. 

For vigilant parents who like to keep track of their child’s development process and strive to provide their children with tools and activities for their optimum holistic development, learning about the importance of sensory play is imperative.

If you are a parent or an immediate caregiver who wants to incorporate sensory play activities into your child’s learning environment but are apprehensive of its benefits, we’ve got you covered. 

Here is all you need to know about Sensory Play to understand its effects, importance, and benefits during the early childhood development process. 

What is Sensory Play?

Before jumping on to learning about the benefits and importance of sensory play, it is essential to know what sensory play exactly is. 

Sensory Play activities are any form of activities that provide the child with isolated and appropriate stimuli to stimulate the child’s senses. 

Sensory Play activities generally focus on the development of the main five senses: 

  • Visual Sense (sight)
  • Tactile Sense (touch)
  • Auditory Sense (hearing)
  • Gustatory Sense (taste)
  • Olfactory  Sense (smell)

These sensory play activities also promote the development of the other two senses vestibular and proprioceptive senses. 

Sensory play is a unique way of allowing your child to safely and autonomously explore different sensorial stimuli and develop an understanding of the world that surrounds them. 

Furthermore, sensory play is also a great way of allowing children to utilize their energy on valuable, meaningful, and beneficial activities that allow children to develop as they play.

What is the Aim of incorporating Sensory Play?

The chief aim of incorporating sensory play into the early childhood curriculum is to help toddlers and infants recognize and understand the world that surrounds them. 

Sensory play activities integrate age-appropriate, meaningful, and valuable stimuli that help isolate and develop each sense one at a time. 

Sensory play activities not only aim to stimulate all the seven senses in children, but they also promote physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development in children. 

Sensory play or activities provide children with the right opportunities that prepare them for performing different tasks such as self-care activities. Sensory Play activities also promote the development and enhancement of gross motor skills as well as fine motor skills in children.

Sensory Play: As Explained by Theorists

In the contemporary world, sensory play activities being an integral part of the early childhood developmental process is common knowledge for most vigilant parents and immediate caregivers. 

But have you ever wondered how exactly this notion came to be true? Sensory Play has come under rigorous investigation for the past few decades, with several theorists proving how important sensory play can be for early childhood development. 

Here are some theorists of Sensory Play Activities that consider such form of open-ended play to be crucial for the development process:

Jean Piaget

Jean William Fritz Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist famous for his contribution to the study of child development. 

In his Theory of Cognitive Development, he mentions that children as young as two years of age reach the sensorimotor stage and learn a great deal about cause and effect through open-ended sensory play activities.

Fredrich Froebel

Fredrich Wilhelm Froebel (1782-1825) was a German pedagogue who laid down the foundation of the modern education system based on the unique needs and capabilities possessed by children. 

According to Froebel in his Theory of Human Development, effective education is facilitated when children are given the opportunity to learn and understand the world through hands-on play.

Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori (1870- 1925) was an Italian Physician whose pedagogical method revolutionized the education system for young minds. 

Her pedagogical tool, The Montessori Method of education, integrates a wide array of materials and apparatus that not only facilitate sensory development but also promote the development of cognitive, physical, social, emotional, fine motor, and gross motor skills. 

These Montessori materials provide children with systematically arranged stimuli that help them identify, recognize, distinguish, and categorize elements present in their surrounding environment based on their senses.

Lev Vygotsky

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Soviet Psychologist who was celebrated for his work on the psychological development of children and for developing a framework for Cultural and Historical Activity of theory. 

In his Sociocultural theory on play, Vygotsky explains that through sensory stimulation and pretend play during the sensorimotor stage, children are able to easily transition to higher forms of symbolic thought.

Why is Sensory Play Important?

While common play activities contribute significantly to the child’s overall physical development, sensory play takes a different approach to holistic development. 

Sensorial stimulation is integral for cognitive, physical, and motor development during the early stages of development. 

The Human Brain relies heavily on the senses to coordinate movements of the body and categorize appropriate information.

Sensory Play activities help develop the nerve pathways in the brain that help children complete complex tasks. 

Sensory Play activities provide children with systematically arranged sensorial stimuli that allow children to develop one skill at a time. 

Sensory play allows children to recognize, identify, differentiate, and comprehend the objects present in the world that surrounds them.

These activities integrate unique stimuli that not only stimulate different senses but also promote children to develop cognitive skills that are required for abstract thinking. 

Furthermore, early visual and motor stimulation has proven to facilitate the development of language and mathematics skills.

What are the Benefits of Sensory Play?

Sensory play activities play an important role in the early childhood development process.

While all children, in general, can benefit from sensory play activities for children with special needs like Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD these activities come as significant aid. 

To help you intimately understand how Sensory can help your child, here is all you need to know about the benefits of sensory play:

1. Sensory development

Sensory play allows children to naturally and willingly engage all five senses while performing interactive activities. 

Sensory play activities not only cater to the child’s natural curiosity but also facilitate the development of all seven senses.

Each element and material integrated into the sensory play activity provides meticulously arranged sensory stimuli that isolate each skill and promote the development of each skill at a time.

2. Language Development

While most traditional means of education opt for the method of rote memorization to facilitate language learning, sensory play provides children with visual and tangible representations of objects.

When given the opportunity to physically interact with specific sensorial stimuli, children are able to quickly grasp and learn new vocabulary to broaden their horizons. 

Sensory play activities integrate effective sensory stimuli that provide a visual representation of objects to help children effectively recognize, identify, and enhance their vocabulary. 

Furthermore, sensory play can be a great way to introduce imaginative pretend play to children. 

By partaking in pretend play activities, children with autism can easily develop their communication skills.

3. Fine motor development

Fine motor skills are capabilities that involve the refined movements of smaller muscles present that are in the hands, wrists, and fingers. These abilities involve writing, holding, gripping, and gasping. 

Sensory play is a great way of facilitating fine motor development in children as these activities often incorporate smaller components that are to be manipulated, moved, or maneuvered. 

Tangibly interacting and manipulating such components can help facilitate the development of fine motor skills in children and strengthen their refined muscles.

4. Gross motor development

Gross motor skills are abilities that involve larger muscles in the body present in the torso, legs, arms, and torso. 

These muscles govern the movement of the entire body and often promote the tasks such as balance, bending, walking, jumping, running, throwing, holding, swimming, etc. 

Sensory play is a form of open-ended play that provides children with ample opportunities to move around freely and develop their gross motor skills by partaking in activities involving balance boards and outdoor toys.

Furthermore, sensory play involving outdoor activities can also improve the child’s vestibular strength and proprioception.

5. Emotional Development

You may be wondering how sensory play activities promote the development of emotional skills in children.

If you are a parent of a toddler or a preschooler dealing with emotional outbursts would be a daily routine for you. 

Emotional resilience is the ability to regulate one’s emotions during stressful and unexpected moments of crisis. 

Sensory play is a great way of developing emotional resilience in children by allowing them to independently comprehend the concept of cause and effect.

Sensory play activities integrate effective sensory stimuli that not only stimulate and develop each sense at a time but also help bring tranquility and peace.

These activities are exceptionally effective to develop the child’s self-control and indulge self-regulated behaviors.

6. Development of Social skills

The development of Social skills during the early childhood development stages is integral to building the child’s self-confidence. 

Sensory play can be a great opportunity to indulge in collaborative pretend play with their peers. 

These activities allow children to develop their social skills by collaborating, cooperating, and sharing their toys and other materials with their peers. 

These activities also help children develop the qualities of sportsmanship and turn-taking.