{Exploration Sensation} Sensory play enhances learning

What is sensory play? Sensory experiences are those that engage the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement. Sensory play, therefore, is an activity that encourages children to utilize, sharpen and expand one or more of the senses. We’ve all heard that play is important for young children. It is important for them to engage in all kinds of play from dress up, to Legos, to being able to let off steam with their friends outside. Another type of play that gets overlooked, but is just as essential to a child, is sensory play. This type of play often gets overlooked because sometimes an activity is messy or loud or just feels like too much clean up. My experience has shown that any mess created in the process most likely is modest and assuredly worth the effort. The impression and impact on a child’s young brain are priceless for enhancing development. Sensory play is one of the most enjoyable and beneficial ways for a child to learn about the world around them.

There are sensory learning opportunities everywhere, and these can be shared spontaneously at any moment from the smell of the doctor office to the smell of the garden to the smell, taste, and texture of fresh edible produce. Take time to stop and appreciate the feeling of the warm summer breeze compared to a crisp winter freeze. Plan ahead and create bring along do-it-yourself aromatherapy sachets of essential oil-scented cotton balls to encourage the practice of identifying fragrances. Experiment with various kinds of music and instruments for hearing and to promote rhythmic movement. Include simple listening games like naming and describing the source of a particular sound. For touch, different types of textured materials (fuzzy blanket, sandpaper, silky lens cloths, embroidered handkerchiefs and so on) to feel and experience. A favorite activity of many children is playing in water enhanced by adding color for sight or a drop of essential oils to add scent and taste of cinnamon, peppermint, lemon, lavender or lime. Teach about color mixing by demonstrating how pink water and blue water flow together and mix into purple. On sunny days, show how light makes a rainbow through a prism. Then on cloudy days, look into a kaleidoscope to see the patterns change. Allow safe tastes with yummy finger paints using instant pudding or building with jello blocks. For playdates, have everyone bring in fruit to make a fruit salad.

Benefits of sensory activities for children 

Sensory play helps accentuate the senses children have already been using since they were born. Think about it for a 

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minute. Before a child can talk, how do they explore the world? Through sights they see, noises they hear and things they touch and put into their mouth. They arrive wired with the ability to use these senses from the first day of life. This inherent ability helps explain why kids will dive into sensory experiences with all they’ve got.

One benefit of sensory play is that the intake of information and the processing of that information becomes more acute. There were many times outside on the playground when one of my kids would tell me they heard a plane before it even came into sight. They would notice the sounds of the tractor at the nearby park and line up against the fence to watch. Recognizing these sensory moments and engaging them as learning moments helps enhances a child’s development. Even watching Spiderman could lead to an exploration of super-sensory abilities. During play, take the time to notice when the senses are heightened and tune into subtle changes in the atmosphere.

Children are full of questions. By participating in sensory play, children can independently learn to discern answers to some of their questions. For example, a child may see a water table and discover whether it contains warm or cold water. 

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They can determine the answer by dipping their hands in and feeling the temperature against their skin. Then they might learn to associate it with the temperature outside or that the location is in sun or shade. Another way may be to hear a different sound across the room and wonder what it is to discover the source of a new noise. He or she can go over and investigate where the noise is coming from, perhaps from a toy. Sensory play is a fun way for children to be detectives and learn valuable information about the environment around them. By helping them build their sensory competence, it will lead to greater confidence and foster healthy independence.

Another benefit of sensory play is the building of social and dramatic play skills and language. In a group activity, children have to use their language skills to express ideas. They build social skills by learning to cooperate and get along with each other. Dramatic play skills also enter the equation in deciding on a collective imagination whether they agree together about playing in a presumed castle or desert environment. These experiences strengthen relationship building skills and help them define imaginary group outcomes.

These play activities are also good for children in that no one

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 can fail in doing them. From the brightest of children to those with disabilities or learning differences, all children can benefit from sensory activities. Sensory play activities help children who are struggling with their emotions find different ways to express themselves more constructively. Children can find comfort in gentle water running through their fingers or discover what frustration looks like by stomping on the sand to release strong emotions, presenting an opportunity to name those feelings and better understand, alter and navigate them.

Neuroscience studies suggest that what ‘fires together, wires together.’ These early connections link together to last a lifetime and can be a big support in developing healthy coping skills. The firing and wiring of neurotransmitters in the brain and a boost in memory are important outcomes to sensory play activities. As well as, the growth and refinement of switching between gross and fine motor skills. For example, the feeling of holding a ball of sand or dough without crushing it. Children use all kinds of fine motor skills from pouring water out of a cup to using a lacing card building their dexterity and preparing them for activities like writing. Pinching is mastered by playing with rice or corn kernels in a bin or eating Cheerios placed on a high chair tray, all of which will someday help with learning to button clothing.

Sensory activities are a feast for the senses and provide benefits galore. It is rewarding for both parents and teachers to watch their children grow and become more aware of the world around them. From experiencing the delight of popping bubbles to witnessing the tallest of block towers go down with a crashing boom, you can be confident that there is a benefit in expanding sensory vocabulary and understanding. These activities are essential for children to practice and develop all their senses. With all these benefits, it is safe to say that sensory play is a win-win.

The next time you have inclement weather and have to stay in with the kids, or you just have a planned day with the family, try some sensory activities. By using what’s around your house or even digging deeper into sensory play ideas using natural ingredients, you are bound to mix growth and play for a memorable and inspiring day. The doTERRA Introduction to Essential Oils Kit is a fantastic sensory tool to have on hand. It includes 5 ml bottle(s) of dōTERRA CPTG Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade® Lavender, Lemon, and Peppermint essential oils. The convenient storage box also includes suggested uses of the essential oils to deliver an immediate experience of the life-changing benefits of essential oils. A drop of lavender will soothe insect bites and calm a child to rest. Lemon is fantastic for cleansing countertops or freshening linens. A single drop of peppermint diluted in a full tub of water will provide a tingling, sensation to the body reducing pain, creating an invigorating feel. Order securely online at www.mydoterra.com/essentialenthusiast

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