Parents- This Is What Your Child Wants! An Introduction to Sensory Play #TeachMeTuesday

Slippery, gooey, fluffy, bumpy, sticky…that’s what sensory experiences are made of! Learning and retention improve depending upon how many of our senses are engaged. Many of our favourite memories involve multiple senses. When thinking about my grandmother, for example, I remember the smell of her skin; I can see her rocking in her old chair; I remember how her strawberry rhubarb pie tasted; and even how hard the sofa felt.

Sensory tubs (or large Tupperware bins) are worthwhile investments for hours of learning, exploration and fun. As most of us already know, children learn best by having “hands on” experiences with materials. I would like to provide some insight into all of the learning that occurs while your child is getting messy during sensory experiences.

Toys and sea

Cognitive Development
As children experiment with different sized containers in cornmeal or sand, they develop math skills such as size, counting, timing, matching, classifying and sorting. As they manipulate the materials, they learn to understand concepts such as more/less, full/empty and heavy/light. Scientific concepts such as cause and effect, gravity, and solid to liquid are also explored. Children have the opportunity to work on their problem-solving and decision-making skills as they determine how they are going to use the materials. For example, children decide how to build a boat that will float or how to make the sand stick together.

Language Development
For children to appreciate and fully utilize their language skills, they must have experiences interesting enough to talk about. Sensory experiences are exciting because each child can use the materials differently. Children also develop pre-writing skills as they pour, spoon, grasp, and work on eye-hand coordination tasks as they use the materials.

Children's hands playing with playdough.

Social and Emotional Development
Sensory experiences provide children with the opportunity to feel good about their decision-making skills. They control their actions and their experience. Self-discovery occurs as children become eager scientists. They take pride in their predictions, make observations, and respond to their findings. Children also need appropriate outlets for relieving tension. Pounding and squishing play dough or feeling water through their hands are all ways of staying in contact with controlled feelings and emotions.

Child playing with garden sprinkler. Kid in bathing suit running and jumping. Kids gardening. Summer outdoor water fun. Children play with gardening hose watering flowers.

Physical Development
Children reinforce and practice their fine motor skills while pouring, measuring, stirring, whisking, and manipulating different materials. They learn to give their bodies directions to accomplish tasks as they explore increasing control and co-ordination. Gross motor skills are refined as children explore, usually outside, with running through a sprinkler or examining surfaces with hands and feet.

Creative Development
Sensory experiences provide open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product. How children use the materials is much more important than what they make. Using creative thinking skills and expressing one’s creativity are important self-esteem builders.

There are many different types of mediums and materials which can be used for sensory exploration. They are usually easy to gather and inexpensive. Use your imagination and be creative in recycling and reusing everyday items, but most importantly, have fun and get messy!

Mary_HeadshotMary Wolff

As R.E.C.E, Executive Director and Co-founder of Smart Cookie Club, Mary provides a positive perception, a sense of understanding and unique ideas to support and educate children, parents and caregivers.


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