Monday, February 3, 2014

Sensory Play 101

What is sensory play?
          Sensory play may also be referred to as “messy play” or “hands on learning”. It is anything that engages your child’s senses, most often touch or smell. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers interact with their world mainly through touch to gain knowledge and feel confident in their environment. At the earliest stages of learning, children process information through direct interaction, observation, and exploration.

What is purpose of sensory play?
Children are hard wired to learn through sensory input from day one. By providing frequent opportunities for sensory play you are helping their brain build neural pathways that will support later learning. At its core, sensory play is the earliest form of the scientific process your child will encounter. They have formulated a question, hypothesized an outcome, experimented, and made conclusions all without being able to verbally communicate it to you.

Sensory play promotes and supports fine and gross motor skills, cognitive development, social interactions, builds self esteem, pre math concepts, problem solving and reasoning skills, imaginative play, language development, and so much more. In a single activity, sensory play can be hugely beneficial to your child crossing multiple early learning objectives. The same sensory play materials can be used with various age children meeting each child where he or she is in the learning process.  Consequently each child will explore, learn, investigate, and form conclusions appropriate to their individual needs.

Creating sensory play opportunities
          Sensory play is a process driven activity. It is about your child’s interactions and explorations with the materials rather than a final product or outcome. Sensory play should be a child lead activity start to finish.  There is NO right or wrong way for sensory play. It can be as simple as rice or beans in a bin to explore or in depth small world play and themed set ups. It can be extremely messy with shaving cream, goop, or Jell-o to no mess at all with sensory bottles, textured fabrics, or glow sticks. Going for a walk to observe nature is sensory play in a simplistic form that requires no set up or clean up and is free.

          As I present the activity or materials to my child, I let him take the lead. I may verbally illustrate what he is doing or feeling. I copy his movements and ideas (within reason!) I may demonstrate a different way to play or ask questions to further the activity. I often pick a few new vocabulary words or phrases to repeat frequently throughout the activity.  This has been a critical learning step for my speech delayed toddler. We verbally label everything!
Wrapping paper runway- encourage them to run, walk, crawl like a cat, jump like a frog, bear crawl, etc. We’ve now incorporated different movements with animals and sounds.

Set up
Where, when, and how you include sensory play into your child’s daily routine is up to you. Keep in mind your space restrictions as well as you and your child’s comfort level with play materials. Sand/water tables are great inside and out. Under the bed storage containers, baby pools, and my personal favorite – the bath tub, are all great options for containing messes. You may also want to use a sheet, plastic table cloth, or shower curtain to aid in the clean up process. Play materials such as rice, small beans, oatmeal, and lentils all vacuum up easily and quickly for inside play. Get your children involved in the clean up process. My tot loves to use a washcloth to clean the shower walls or the vacuum hose to get the last beans from the play room floor.

Sensory play extensions
          Sensory play can be used to introduce or reinforce other learning concepts and objectives such as color or letter recognition, cultural celebrations, animal habitats, and other areas of scientific study. A favorite at our house is extending a favorite story with a sensory play activity.

·       Letter I-Spy: ABC beads in a water bottle with rice
·       Color themed sensory bins, bottles or tub play
·       Holiday themed sensory bins or tub play
·       Ice and arctic animals
·       Mixing colored vinegar with baking soda
·       Mixing paint or colored water

Sensory Play for Babies & Toddlers
          With a little careful consideration and preparation, the littlest of children can participate in sensory play. If you think, many baby toys are in fact geared towards sensory stimulation. Bright or contrasting colors, various textures, toys that crinkle, rattle, or squeak.
I am a huge fan of edible materials for babies and young toddlers. This allows them to freely explore while ensuring their safety. Baby food, yogurt, cooked pasta, oatmeal flakes, bread crumbs, rice, cornmeal or flour – plain or mixed with oil to make moldable dough.
For my son, the more sensory play we did the better he became at keeping things out of his mouth as even with edible materials our sensory play rule is always “no mouth”.

Material Suggestions
          Most sensory play items can be purchased at the grocery store or Target. You can find great accessories or add ins at the dollar store, craft store, or thrift shops.

Food Items: Beans, lentils, pasta, rice, cous cous, oatmeal, cornmeal, flour, bread crumbs, cereal, jell-o, pudding, yogurt, baby food, cooked spaghetti, coffee grounds, popcorn kernels, popcorn, salt, sugar/sugar cubes, coconut, whole nuts (walnuts, pecans, peanuts) dried fruit slices (orange, lemon, apple) Apple peels, marshmallows, sprinkles,
·       root veggies with the leafy tops (carrots, beets, radish)
·       Investigate, then cut open fresh fruit or veggie – bell peppers, squash, watermelon, apples, pumpkins, etc.

Paper: wrapping paper, tissue paper, toilet paper, shredded paper, butcher paper, streamers, Easter grass

Natural Items: acorns, pinecones, grass, leaves, rocks/gravel, dirt, hay, fresh or dried flowers, planting seeds, vegetation - (ferns, moss, grasses), sea shells, drift wood, natural sand, snow, water, ice,

Fabric: Ribbon, felt, tulle, various fabric scraps, yarn

Misc: packing peanuts, bird seed, deer corn, aquarium gravel, glass decorator beads, Epsom salts, shaving cream, glow sticks, paint, pom poms, pipe cleaners, feathers, bubble wrap, cotton balls,

Accessories & Add ins:
Food coloring, essential oils or extracts for scents, kool-aid (to dye and scent), spoons, kitchen utensils, measuring scoops and spoons, funnels, colander, cups, tweezers/tongs, turkey baster, eye droppers, small garden tools, muffin tins, pie plates, tin cups, ice cube trays, small animals or figures, foam shapes, glitter, confetti

What you put into sensory play and get out of it is completely up to you; from super messy, to dry and clean, and everywhere in between. Sensory play provides opportunities to learn, grow, and create magical childhood memories. 

No comments:

Post a Comment