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What is sensory play and why do it?

What is Sensory Play?

Babies and young children explore and learn about the world using their whole body and all their senses. As adults, we tend to rely on just one or two senses at a time but for babies, the more senses that are being used and stimulated, the easier it is for them to integrate the information the senses are receiving and start to understand the world around them.

Research shows that babies learn much more from interacting with their environments than they do from passive observation, and sensory play encourages the development and integration of the senses through exploration.

Sensory play is the exploration of the world through any of the 5 senses: touch; smell; sight; hearing and taste. It doesn't require expensive toys but can be enjoyed using what can be found around the house, while out and about, or with items that can be easily and inexpensively made.

Anything that provides your child with stimulation for their senses, whether focusing on one sense or several, and the chance to explore those things in their own way, can be considered sensory play. The idea is to give them experiences they may not get through other toys and play things, providing a safe and enriching environment for your baby or toddler to discover their little universe for themselves.

Read on to learn about just a few of the benefits you can expect from incorporating sensory play into your child's daily life.

Sensory Play is Good for the Brain

Every day, your baby is experiencing things for the first time and each of these experiences aid brain development. When these new experiences are repeated, the new connections in the brain are strengthened, and this is how learning happens.

Initially, you would think that brain development centres around physical skills such as holding up their heads and sitting unaided, but there is the emotional aspect to consider too. Your child’s brain is taking information in from their entire experience of life and using it to inform their interpretation of the world. This learning has a profound physical impact for example, your baby’s brain will actually double in size in the first 12 months. This is why providing good quality opportunities for discovery is beneficial for brain development. Supervised and safe sensory play is a fabulous means to do this.

Sensory Play Makes it Physical

There are clear physical benefits of sensory play as it facilitates both the improvement of gross and fine motor skills. Sensory play supports the natural flow of development by improving strength, flexibility, coordination and dexterity.

Consider for example the strength a small child requires to squeeze dough and the hand movements required to manipulate it. The more they practise (through play), the stronger and more controlled their hands and arms become - it’s the equivalent to a baby gym!

Also, sensory play encourages older infants and toddlers to pick up objects with the desire to see, smell or taste them (a reminder to ensure sensory play is supervised and items used are not small enough to be swallowed). During this process, they are continuing to refine their fine motor skills, along with developing and refining their senses.

Sensory Play Encourages a Love of Learning

As human beings, we are wired to learn and explore. Sensory play provides the opportunity to foster this natural curiosity about the world and channel it early on. Your child gets to learn about different materials, smells and tastes but they also get to explore the possibilities of their own bodies too, along with the confidence to do so.

This natural exploration and self-discovery promotes a love of learning and critical thinking; by gifting your child with sensory play you are simultaneously gifting them with a firm foundation on which to build all their learning experiences on.

Sensory Play Can Be a Positive Emotional Experience

Consider where the opportunity for sensory play takes place and who is present. Sensory play, when experienced with a parent or caregiver, can be a fantastic chance to share the play together and bond.

The same applies when children have sensory play opportunities with others their age. The process of sharing an experience promotes social-emotional development and awareness. When part of a group, your little one will show interest in others as well as his own experiences which encourages communication and curiosity.

Infants and toddlers have a lot to learn regarding social interaction, and the learning process continues throughout childhood, but these early experiences form the bedrock from which new interactions can be based and are therefore beneficial to overall social development.

Sensory Play at Tots Play

At Tots Play baby and toddler classes, you will find lots of inspiration and opportunity to explore the benefits of sensory play for yourself alongside other parents and children on the same journey, with sensory experiences forming part of almost all our sessions. You will also find lots more stimulation for your little one's development when you join a class as our programme includes a range of activities such as massage, yoga, sign language, music and physical play, all designed to give those bodies and senses a good work-out!

Click HERE to find a class near you, and come and give it a try for yourself.

We also share lots of simple sensory play ideas for you to try at home here on our blog, so make sure to click HERE and subscribe to the Blog for regular updates and activity ideas. We also stock a range of sensory resources in our online store, or you can pick them up at class.

Sensory play has so many benefits and is so easy to bring into your baby or toddler's play times, so why not get started today?

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