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Benefits of Sensory Play and 21 Sensory Activities for Preschoolers

What Is Sensory Play | Sensory Play and Brain Development | Sensory Activities Ideas

What Is Sensory Play

Sensory play is the type of activity that stimulates children’s senses which are the different ways we perceive the world. Our brains use senses to help us maneuver in our surroundings and sensory play helps children develop them.

The five most commonly known senses are taste, smell, sight, touch, and sound.

Most sensory plays focus on stimulating the touch, sight, and hearing senses because they are more accessible. Activities that can provide a sensory experience to stimulate other senses are also important although less common when people talk about sensory play.

sight taste smell touch hearing surround a brain - what are the senses

Sensory Play Benefits and Brain Development

Why is sensory play important?

Sensory play in early childhood plays an important role in brain development because sensory stimulation is essential for sensory integration ​1​ and cognitive development ​2​.

Human brains are made up of trillions of brain cells (neurons) and nerve connections (synapses). Sensory activity can strengthen sensory-related synapses and functions in the brain.

Exposing children to various sensory experiences is necessary for a young brain to develop the proper sensory processing capabilities​3​.

Sensory play activity is especially important to children with sensory processing problems such as sensory processing disorder. These children tend to have difficulty engaging in sensory play activities​4​.

Play is also essential to a child’s development, such as language development, besides sensory development. Children become more creative by playing. They also build their linguistic, cognitive, visual spatial, social, and emotional skills​5–9​.

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parent and child make dough on table importance of sensory play

Sensory Activities Ideas

Kids of all ages can benefit from activities that stimulate their different senses.

It is easy to create sensory activities using different objects at home.

There is no need to buy expensive sensory toys. Use ordinary objects in your house as sensory materials.

Here are some of the best sensory activities and fun ideas for busy parents.

girl in messy shirt paints with several color

Tactile play

These objects provide sensory input to stimulate children’s touch senses.

Don’t be afraid to try something new and have messy play activities. That’s sensory learning! This is also a great time to bond with your child and create fun memories that will last a lifetime.

  • food
  • shaving cream
  • hair gel
  • baking flour
  • play dough
  • cotton balls
  • water play with different temperatures
Child playing with colorful clay why sensory toys important but not necessarily expensive

Visual play

  • sensory bottles filled with water and glitter for shaking and watching
  • finger-painting using art material
  • scavenger hunt

Scented play

  • fruit
  • flowers
  • spices
Freshly cooked spaghetti in stainless strainer provides sensory stimulation great sensory activities for toddlers

Audio play

  • baby rattles
  • musical instruments
  • knocking on different types of materials to hear the different sounds, e.g. metal, wood, plastic, paper, etc.

Taste play

  • sweet – apple, muffin
  • sour – orange, lemon
  • salty – pasta
  • bitter – kale

Sensory tub

Fill a large container or table with new things that children can touch, smell, or hear to give them new sensory information.

Different materials with different textures can be used in themed sensory bins for variety.

Ask your kid relevant questions about their sensory exploration to build their language skills at the same time. Create a conversation that encourages your child to use descriptive words.

For example, ask these questions:

  • How does it feel?
  • What does it look like?
  • Does it smell good?
  • Do you like the sound it makes?

Also See: 10 Types of Play Essential to Your Child’s Development

Final Thoughts On The Importance of Sensory Play

So, the next time you see your child play with random items like paper towel rolls, pots, straws, and toys; encourage them. Babies and toddlers can use anything and everything to explore the world. And by allowing them to follow their instincts, you help nurture their senses.


References

  1. 1.
    Bundy AC, Shia S, Qi L, Miller LJ. How Does Sensory Processing Dysfunction Affect Play? The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. Published online March 1, 2007:201-208. doi:10.5014/ajot.61.2.201
  2. 2.
    Davis EP, Stout SA, Molet J, et al. Exposure to unpredictable maternal sensory signals influences cognitive development across species. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Published online September 11, 2017:10390-10395. doi:10.1073/pnas.1703444114
  3. 3.
    Hensch TK. Critical period plasticity in local cortical circuits. Nat Rev Neurosci. Published online November 2005:877-888. doi:10.1038/nrn1787
  4. 4.
    Watts T, Stagnitti K, Brown T. Relationship Between Play and Sensory Processing: A Systematic Review. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. Published online March 1, 2014:e37-e46. doi:10.5014/ajot.2014.009787
  5. 5.
    Falkenberg T, Mohammed AK, Henriksson B, Persson H, Winblad B, Lindefors N. Increased expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor mRNA in rat hippocampus is associated with improved spatial memory and enriched environment. Neuroscience Letters. Published online April 1992:153-156. doi:10.1016/0304-3940(92)90494-r
  6. 6.
    Diamond M. Response of the brain to enrichment. An Acad Bras Cienc. 2001;73(2):211-220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11404783
  7. 7.
    Howard-Jones P, Taylor J, Sutton L. The Effect of Play on the Creativity of Young Children During Subsequent Activity. Early Child Development and Care. Published online August 2002:323-328. doi:10.1080/03004430212722
  8. 8.
    Elardo R, Bradley R, Caldwell BM. The Relation of Infants’ Home Environments to Mental Test Performance from Six to Thirty-Six Months: A Longitudinal Analysis. Child Development. Published online March 1975:71. doi:10.2307/1128835
  9. 9.
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