The Benefits of Sensory Play: It’s not just about making a mess!

27th February 2018

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By Marie-Louise Cadagan

From the very moment a newborn baby enters into the world, they begin to use their senses to explore their new environment. As an Early Years Practitioner, I am more than used to seeing babies and toddlers putting just about everything they see into their mouths. This is just one way a child will use their senses to gain new information and engage with their surroundings.

Many well known early years pioneers such as Montessori, Froebel and Goldschmid recognised the importance of sensory play as a fundamental experience from a child’s growth and development. Such benefits include;

  • Experimentation skills and recognition of the sense used during the exploration of different items.
  • Attention and concentration by focussing on the given stimuli, such as exploring a lightbox or torches with coloured cellophane.
  • Increased hand/eye co-ordination and both gross and fine motor skills.

Some practitioners shy away from the idea of sensory play, as it can be thought of as messy and sometimes can get out of hand. It doesn’t necessarily have to be wet or food based play though. Dry materials can also be used to aid children to use their senses, such as bubble wrap, wood shavings, rolls of wallpaper to paint on just to name a few. The important thing to remember is that by using their senses, children are more likely to engage with an activity and gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

Sensory/Messy play is any activity that stimulates the five senses of touch, taste, sound, sight and smell as well as the rather less known senses balance (vestibular) and a sense of where each body part is in relation to the rest (proprioception). In addition to this is allows children the freedom to choose materials and develop their imagination. It can also aid language and communication as a child explains what something may feel like or how it tastes or smells.

Sensory play can be embraced in both a classroom environment and in the outdoors. Some ideas are:

  • Making instruments (shakers using rice/pasta)
  • Mud kitchen
  • Nature walks – collecting leaves, nuts etc
  • Painting hands/feet
  • Mark making in sand, paint etc
  • Sand and Water play
  • Baking

The important thing to remember is that children like to get messy! Join in with them, dip your toes in paint, help in the mud kitchen. The children will love that you are joining in. Set boundaries though, let the children know when its ok to make a mess and when it isn’t.

Most importantly…….HAVE FUN!

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