Engaging the Senses: The Importance of Sensory Play for Children’s Development

Children come equipped with five senses—sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. When a child engages their senses, they learn about the world, make connections, develop memories, and form opinions about the items they interact with. 

Sensory play involves using all five senses while playing. It helps children navigate the big world around them and has gained attention through the explosion of fidget toys in recent years. Sensory play can be crucial for children with sensory processing deficits but is beneficial for the development of every child—and even fun and calming for adults! 

Here are just a few of the benefits of sensory play:

  • Promotes independent thinking, recollection, observation, and memory skills: When children use their senses to explore objects and their environment, they create sensory memories, helping them understand and gain knowledge they can draw upon in new experiences and situations. 
  • Regulates emotions: Sensory play can help children self-soothe and manage their emotions appropriately. 
  • Encourages the development of fine motor skills: Fine motor skills require the use and coordination of small muscle groups. Kids practice these skills when pinching, tying, pouring, scooping, and tracing. 
  • Boosts cognitive skills: Many types of play help children discover cause and effect and develop reasoning skills by observing how things work and learning what to expect. 
  • Promotes language development: Encouraging children to talk about what they are experiencing helps them learn new vocabulary and practice descriptive word choices by adding adjectives to describe texture, appearance, or taste. 
  • Encourages creativity and exploration: Experiencing a variety of environments is stimulating and beneficial by engaging multiple senses at the same time. 
  • Has a calming effect: Activities like bath time or high-energy play can help children regulate feelings of boredom, restlessness, or frustration. 
  • Builds social skills: Playing with others can help children practice engagement and communication, problem-solving, negotiation, cooperation, teamwork, and taking turns. 

According to Parents.com, there are many ways to add sensory opportunities through everyday activities.  Here are just a few.

Indoor playtime: 

  • Playing with toys of various textures 
  • Stacking blocks 
  • Creating a sensory tray – filled with rice, dry pasta, or beans and filled with toys to drive, scoop, and hide 
  • Sculpting with dough or clay 
  • Painting with fingers, a paintbrush, or with items found in nature 
  • Playing in a ball pit 
  • Bouncing, rolling, and dropping balls 

 In the kitchen: 

  • Playing music on pots and pans  
  • Baking together 
  • Guessing foods by smell or taste with closed eyes 
  • Playing with foods of various textures – squishy noodles, smooth apples, and rough raisins 
  • Filling a bottle with water, food coloring, and glitter 

 Outdoor playtime: 

  • Crawling over and under things 
  • Jumping rope  
  • Playing Hide & Seek 
  • Taking nature walks and investigating what you discover 
  • Creating an outdoor scavenger hunt of various textures and colors

 Sensory play is fun, educational, and is a crucial part of a child’s growth and development. Join in the play—it’s a lot of fun and can be calming for both kids and grown-ups!