Sensory play refers to any sort of activity that stimulates at least one of the five senses – touch, smell, hearing, taste, and sight. There’s a wide range of activities that fall under this umbrella term. It can be as simple as building a block tower, or as creative as putting together a themed sensory bin.
This type of activity can benefit children of all ages, but it’s especially important for babies and toddlers. Sensory play can help your young child develop a wide range of skills in a fun, engaging way. And, given how many different sensory activities there are, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to put one together for your child.
Below, we look at the benefits that sensory play can have for toddlers to inspire you to introduce your child to activities that engage the senses.
Improves Language Skills
Most babies can say simple words between 12-18 months, and they may be talking in full sentences by 2-years-old. Sensory play is a great way to help your child practice their language skills.
Cleveland Clinic explains that It offers kids a way to learn through different experiences and environments, which encourages them to identify and express their emotions. It’s a stepping stone to helping your child say how they feel, which will include bigger, more descriptive words as your toddler gets older.
Develops Fine & Gross Motor Skills
The development of fine and gross motor skills is essential to a toddler’s development, and one easy way to do it is through sensory play. Gross motor skills refer to actions that involve large muscles, like running or jumping, while fine motor skills are those involving small muscles, like grabbing an object or drawing.
During sensory play, your child is going to be exposed to a variety of different objects with varying textures and shapes. It allows your toddler to practice grabbing and holding objects in addition to a variety of different actions as they explore and play, thereby helping them practice motor skills in a fun way.
It’s A Calming Activity
Sensory play is great because it’s stimulating but also calming, which means it can work for a wide variety of children with different needs.
- For a child that’s bored or sluggish, it’s an easy way to pique their curiosity and get them to engage in an activity that will benefit them.
- It’s also a way to help hyperactive children struggling with their attention span by giving them something to focus on.
Problem- skills allowing a person to identify why an issue is happening and come up with a solution as well as evaluating its effectiveness. Problem-solving skills start developing in early childhood.
During sensory play, toddlers are able to use their senses to solve small challenges in front of them – like building a block tower or sorting toys based on their colors. This type of play builds creativity, resourcefulness, and confidence. It also helps develop your child’s independence since they’ll see their ability to solve problems on their own.
It’s An Educational Opportunity
Sensory play isn’t only a chance to help your toddler develop different physical and cognitive skills, it’s also a learning opportunity. Depending on what sort of sensory activities or toys you use, it’s possible to expose your child to different textures and items.
For example, Learn Play Imagine describes a few ways that parents can put together a nature sensory bin.
- Throw in a bunch of items from the outdoors – leaves, twigs, flowers etc. – and then let your toddler explore the different sizes and textures.
- Each time they pick up something new, tell them the name of the object and help them describe its qualities.
Good For Information Retention
Information retention refers to a person’s ability to recall specific information. It’s a function of our long-term memory. While some people naturally have a strong memory, there are also techniques that can be used to improve our retention, and these skills can start being developed in toddlerhood.
Team Cartwright explains that sensory play helps children become better at learning as well as information retention. By helping them focus on a task or activity, the child is more likely to be aware of their environment. Paying close attention allows them to retain the information they’re soaking up and build a strong memory going forward.
Encourages Social Interaction
If your toddler is engaged in sensory play with other children, it’s a great opportunity for social interactions. It allows kids to engage and work together to solve problems. This helps promote good communication skills and adaptability to new environments.
Dr. Emily King, a child psychologist in North Carolina, told Good Housekeeping It’s imperative that toddlers get as much social interactions as they can while young, especially if they’re an only child. It doesn’t just benefit them in the now but well into the future, as kids with strong social skills from a young age are better at listening to instructions, staying focused, and solving disputes with words.
Can Help Improve Sensitivities
Some children (and adults) suffer from hypersensitivity. This is a sensory processing disorder that makes the individual more sensitive to sensory inputs, like light, sound, and tough. Not only can these sensations be a discomfort, but it can greatly distract the person or even make them irritable.
However, engaging in sensory play can help toddlers that have hypersensitivity. It allows them to be exposed to different sensations in a safe space without being overwhelmed.
For example, a picky eater can explore the different textures of foods they’re wary of without being in a pressure-filled situation.
It’s An Easy Activity
Finally, one of the simplest benefits of sensory play is that it’s so easy to do. For example, to make a sensory bin, parents just need some sort of container to throw a variety of objects lying around the house into that their child can then safely explore (with adult supervision, of course).
You can go with different themes, like a water sensory bin filled with water, dish soap, and bath toys. Or consider a beach one filled with sand, seashells, and sandcastle-making equipment. You can always head to your dollar store for fun, inexpensive items to add to the sensory bin if you’re running out of ideas at home.
Be sure to check out our resources on how to introduce your baby or toddler to sensory play, including our guides on sensory activities for 1-year-olds as well as ideas for 2-year-olds. Don’t hesitate to speak to your child’s doctor for more information on the benefits of sensory play and ideas for your child.
Sources: Always Keep Progressing, Educational Playcare, Learn Play Imagine, Cleveland Clinic, Good Housekeeping, Team Cartwright, Healthline,
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