The Value of Sensory Play and Experiences in Early Childhood

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Smelling, tasting, feeling, mouthing, touching… From birth children begin to explore the world around them via their senses.

Even adults have much to gain from sensory experiences. Many of our strongest or favourite memories are attached to our senses. The warm sand on our toes at the beach, a favourite childhood meal, music we love, a beloved relative’s perfume or the smell of birthday candles. These sensory-based memories demonstrate the power of sensory experiences for children.

Beyond memory, sensory play is a crucial part of the brain’s development and helps build neural pathways and nerve connections. Research shows that interaction and engagement with a child’s environment support their ability to complete increasingly complex tasks. Sensory play can enhance children’s language skills, gross and fine motor skills, social skills, problem-solving skills and more! On the flip side, a lack of exposure to sensory experiences can result in underdevelopment in all of these areas.

As early childhood educators, it’s so important to provide children with the opportunity to engage the senses through sensory play experiences in childcare settings.

Sensory experiences are ‘of the senses’ and while we typically think of the senses as taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing, it also includes balance and body awareness. Here are a few ways to bring sensory play into your service:

Taste: Herb gardens and vegetable gardens, fruit tasting, discussing food tastes (salty, sweet, sour, etc), cooking.

Hearing: Making music with instruments (real ones and being imaginative with sticks or utensils), singing, making animal sounds, listening to environmental sounds (leaves crunching, waves crashing, birds chirping), reading poems and books.

Sight: Pattern making, glitter, lights, mixing coloured paints, mirrors, natural light, artificial light sources such as torches.

Smell: Smelling the herbs and vegetables in the garden, cooking, nature exploration, scented play-dough.

Touch: Mud kitchen, sandpit, paints, nature play, play dough, exploring warm and cold materials, rough and soft surfaces.

Balance: Yoga, jumping, hopping, swinging, crawling, climbing.

Body awareness: Yoga, getting down low to the ground, reaching up high, making shapes with the body, pushing, pulling and exploring the space around the body.

Many of these prompts for your sensory exploration can go hand in hand with one another, and each one will certainly help children to learn more about themselves and the world around them.

Technology has its role and value in today’s society. Screens became an even bigger part of many of our lives over the last year or so as we relied on them through the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, now technology and devices are used in some centres as well as at homes more frequently. Many parents and educators need to understand there are many negative impacts for children, especially those under 5yrs. 

Life is all about diversity and balance, so now that we can get out and about again safely, let’s help children discover new things after all they missed out on. This includes social and emotional skills, communication, independence, resilience and more. To learn more about the danger and negative impacts of technology on children, read here. 

Incorporate more sensory play experiences in your childcare service and at homes and watch children flourish! 

We would love to hear about the amazing sensory experiences you are getting up to in your services – share with us on social media!

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