Three children engage in sensory play by exploring sand and toys in a sensory bin.

The Importance of Providing Your Child with Rich Sensory Experiences

In the early stages of life, the five senses are the most important tools that our little ones have to gather information about the world around them.

As your child feels textures, absorbs shapes, and takes in new sounds, they are engaging in discovery, exercising their memories, and making connections. Because of this, providing your young child with rich and varied “sensory” experiences is crucial for their brain development.

What is Sensory Play?

Although sensory exploration happens naturally, providing enriching experiences are a great way to encourage your young child’s development. Sensory play is when children engage in intentional activities that encourage exploration and stimulate sight, touch, sound, smell, taste, movement, and balance.

Why is Sensory Play Important?

Exposure to things that stimulate the senses does wonders for brain development, cognitive thinking, and the child’s general awareness of the world.

  • Research shows that exploration through the senses builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways. The result is the child’s ability to complete more and more complex tasks.
  • It develops and enhances memory and imagination.
  • It helps strengthen motor skills as they manipulate items.
  • Because of the way it fosters mindfulness, sensory play is often used in school settings to help settle anxious or frustrated children.
  • It helps young children understand cause and effect.
  • It aids children in learning about sensory attributes like temperature, texture, and shape.

Simple Sensory Activities to Try Out

  • Create sensory bins. Essentially, sensory bins are clear bins full of stuff dumped into them. The key here is to include a variety of shapes, textures, smells, and tools. A clear container filled with oats, cinnamon sticks, small toys, and little cups to scoop and pour will provide a toddler with endless entertainment. Another variation could be a bin filled with colored sand, seashells, mini-shovels, and even a small spray bottle of water so they can experiment with what happens to sand when it gets wet.
  • Play with your food. Babies and toddlers love to put things in their mouth because it provides them with a wealth of information about an item’s taste, texture, and size. Encourage this exploration safely with edible sensory play. Cookie dough that they can shape and manipulate or a bowl of pasta that includes a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors are great examples.
  • Play in the tub. Bathtime is a time of great discovery. Water is fascinating for children as they find out what floats, what sinks, what causes splashes and bubbles, and how wetness affects different objects. Aside from the usual rubber ducky, include other items like sponges, plastic measuring cups, shaving cream, and bubbles.
  • Incorporate beading and lacing. A box of wooden beads, rigatoni pasta, buttons, and a few shoe laces of differing lengths does wonders for practicing motor skills, pattern recognition, and creativity. Kids will enjoy feeling around with their hands, listening to the sound the beads make as they clink together, and creating patterns with their homemade jewelry.

Sensory Overload Through Technology

Although engaging with the senses is important, it is essential to not overstimulate our children. Noisy toys with all the bells and whistles, iPads, and video games that just feed stimulus rather than allow the child to discover it can be detrimental to brain development when overused, as it doesn't allow for creativity or playful investigation. Be sure to give your child the opportunity to be alone with their thoughts as they explore and watch them reap the rewards of mindfulness.

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