WRITTEN BY ZARA DEMERIS, PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER AND MUMMA BEHIND @zaras_play_tribe
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play has a very important role in child development. To put it simply it is any activity that stimulates the senses. This includes the five well known senses, sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch, as well as the two lesser known senses vestibular and proprioception.
Sight: The ability to locate, focus and perceive objects and images.
Smell: The ability to notice an odor
Taste: The ability to detect flavour.
Hearing: The ability to perceive sound.
Touch: The ability to feel specific stimulus and locate their location on our body.
Vestibular: The ability to balance and coordinate our body.
Proprioception: The ability to understand where our body parts are and plan our
Theories and research behind it.
When Evie (Miss 10 months) came along I was determined to do as much sensory play with her as possible. This was largely because of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) who was a key contributor to the development and understanding of sensory play. He believed that intelligence was a process which occurs due to biological maturations and interaction with the environment. His theory suggests that children move through four stages of development, the one I was interested in was the Sensorimotor stage (birth – 2 years). During this stage of development, Piaget believes that children use their senses to learn more about the world and themselves. So what better way to encourage Aidan & Evie’s learning than through sensory play!
Application of sensory play in a multi-age environment.
With two under two it has been challenging to keep Evie (10 months) out of Aidan’s (2.5 years) sensory tubs. I know how important it is for her to experience it too but it is tricky engaging in meaningful conversations with Aidan whilst playing goalie between objects and Evie’s mouth!
After (another) trip to IKEA we came home with the KLIPSK bed tray. I placed it on the floor with the intention of using it as an art station for Aidan but Evie immediately crawled over and stood up on it. With that small action an idea was born!
I grabbed a handful of pom poms, secured them in the tray with clear contact and let her at it. It was an immediate success!
While she is still so young I have made it her independent sensory tray which will allow her to explore different textures, colours, sounds and sensations. Of course I will still be there, just not playing goalie between the objects and her mouth - because they can't get to her mouth!
So far, she has been able to explore and discover so much more about the things I put in the tray as she is not interrupted by me. Evie has been able to explore different colours and listen to the rattling sound that the objects make. Larger objects push against the clear contact making it easier for her to feel their texture. Her vestibular and proprioception skills are also challenged as she stands and balances on the tray, having to coordinate her arms and legs when the tray begins to slip on the floor boards.
Doing science based activities together has also been made easier. When I placed ice in the tray the cold sensation radiated through the contact making her hands very cold. During this session, I spoke to her about temperature and showed her familiar objects that are also cold. The ice cubes didn’t stick to the contact so she had great fun trying to catch them. By simply trapping small objects under clear contact Evie can engage in these sessions safely and uninterrupted. Don’t worry if you don’t have one of these trays, a simple baking dish will work just as well!
Leading educators say that sensory play helps build nerve connections in the brains pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning task – how cool is that! It also supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, social interaction and can enhance memory….no big deal! Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better it can also help calm a frustrated or anxious child! I would love you to share, or ask me any questions about safe sensory play ideas, head over to my Instagram page @play.learn.laugh.