We all experience the world around us through our senses. The more sensory play we get as a child, the better awareness children have of their self and their environment. Today I’ll be discussing why it is important and some fun sensory activities you can do with your little one, and possibly are already doing. I bet if I ask you what some of your favorite things (food, place, movie, etc.) are, I would guess that 9/10 reasons it is your favorite would be because of a sense, how it tastes, looks, feels (temperature), even smells. Even our preferences are determined by our senses. Now when discussing sensory play, and development these are the different areas I want to touch on:
Oral: How things taste, the texture of foods in our mouth
Auditory: How things sound, volume of what we hear (do we prefer loud or soft music)
Tactile: How things may feel, do we prefer tight clothing or loose clothing, the feeling of grass on our toes
Visual: How things look, what colors are stimulating or not
Olfactory: How things smell, or the intensity of the smell
Proprioception: (this one is really important, but not commonly used as a sense) this is your bodies ability to know where body parts are on yourself and in relation to your environment. The best way to describe it is if you put your hands in the air and close your eyes, then with your eyes still closed touch your nose. The sense of knowing where your nose is without feeling around or seeing it is called Proprioception.
Vestibular: This sensory system can be a little technical, but it is basically your balance and originates in your inner ear. This sense helps you find balance and equilibrium in daily activities such as walking, jumping, running, even sitting. For most this a very innate sense and one learned before we are born.
Considering that all of us have these senses and that we all learn through our senses, especially during those first three years of life, it is very important to create a sensory rich environment for our children. It can help them enjoy life and be more self aware, even more athletic when you consider the last two senses. All of us have different learning styles and they are all tied to a sense (tactile, kinesthetic, visual, auditory). Incorporating sensory play in your day is very simple and something that you are already doing.
Meal time alone is a sensory experience, encouraging different textures and flavors frequently can help with a varied pallet. Letting your child feed themselves has all sorts of senses involved, especially the sense of touch when handling food. We all know that feeding a toddler is way too messy, but it is great for children, not only to explore different textures, but for them to know where their mouth is in relation to their hands. Getting the food into their mouth seems to be the majority of the battle, am I right?
Bouncing and singing with your little one can really help with their vestibular system. Engaging their inner ear, while also providing a balancing activity. This is great from a small age and will even help them walk when they get there.
Knowing how different sensory systems work can help with calming a child. Have you noticed that you try to rock your child a certain way and it seems to alert them instead of calm them down? This is because non linear movements tend to alert children, while linear movements calm, such as rocking or swinging. By linear I mean moving in a straight line, so not rotating. Spinning or rotating a child can be awakening, and definitely opposite of what you want when you are trying to calm.
Lastly I wanted to talk about messy play. It is so important for your little ones to get messy. Let them play in the dirt, finger paint, play in the water. This really helps with tactile learning and you can always throw in the the importance of cleaning up when you are done 😉 Some children hate it when they are dirty (raise your hand if this is your child, can’t handle the sand in their toes) and that is definitely okay. We all have preferences when it comes to our senses and creating a positive experience is key! We never want to associate negativity with sensory play, even though naturally it will happen.
I have so many more ideas for sensory play, so if you need more don’t be afraid to ask… I’m hoping to do some more tutorials for sensory play next week.
What kind of sensory play does your little one enjoy??