From birth through to early childhood, children use their senses to explore and try to make sense of the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing.
Children learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses. Many of our favourite memories are associated with one or more of our senses: for example, the smell of a fresh red rose or a song you remember the lyrics to with a friend. Now, when your nostrils and eardrums are stimulated with those familiar smells and sounds respectively, your brain triggers a memory to those special times.
Providing opportunities for children to actively use their senses as they explore their world through ‘sensory play’ is crucial to brain development – it helps to build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways.
This leads to a child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks and supports cognitive growth, language development, gross motor skills, social interaction and problem-solving skills.
Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing.
Sensory activities facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. The sensory activities allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information helping their brain to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information.
For example, initially a child may find it difficult to play appropriately with a peer when there are other things going on in the environment with conflicting noise. However, through sensory play exploring sounds and tasks a child learns to adapt to being able to block out the noise which is not important and focus on the play which is occurring with their peer.
Another example is a child who is particularly fussy with eating foods with a wet texture such as spaghetti, the use of sensory play can assist the child in touching, smelling and playing with the texture in an environment with little expectation.
As the child develops trust and understanding of this texture it helps build positive pathways in the brain to say it is safe to engage with this food. Sensory play literally helps shape what children to believe to be positive and safe in the brain. Ultimately, shaping the choices children make and impacting behaviour.