When I became a mum, everyone seemed to want to talk to me about ‘sensory play.’ ‘Oh that’s great for sensory play,’ they’d say, or ‘have you taken him to a sensory room yet?’ One kind-hearted person even gifted me a small piece of fabric that I now know to be a sensory toy, but at the time thought was a weird kind of multi-textured duvet for a doll I didn’t own. Motherhood is a whole new world, and sensory play is something no-one thought to ever mention to me pre-baby, but that I was expected to have full knowledge of as soon as he no longer lived inside me.
To save you the confusion I myself felt upon entering this whole new language that everyone understood but me, I have put together a bit of a run down on what sensory play actually is. Trust me, this will save you a lot of bluffing when meeting more experienced mums. (And also gives you a good excuse to claim almost anything as a ‘great sensory experience.’ Makes you feel less guilty about their main activity for the day being a trip to ASDA.)
SO, WHAT IS SENSORY PLAY?
Sensory play is, quite simply, playtime that stimulates the senses. Using touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing during an activity helps babies to explore their world, and can be an important step in helping them to develop and learn, whilst fine-tuning their understanding of day to day life. Not all senses have to be engaged to be classed as a sensory activity, either. Your baby could quietly play with sand one minute, and be experiencing sensory play through touch, and enjoy listening to music the next, and experience it through hearing. There are no hard and fast rules on what counts as sensory play, which is part of what makes it so great.
HOW IS IT BENEFICIAL?
People – young and old – retain information best when engaging their senses. As such, it makes sense that sensory play is held in such high regard by those wishing to help children to develop and grow.
According to educationalplaycare.com, ‘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. Sensory play literally helps shape what children believe to be positive and safe in the brain. Ultimately, shaping the choices children make and impacting behaviour.’
Sensory play also helps children to become more adventurous. A child that takes a strong dislike to bathtime, for example, may be persuaded to change their mind through the use of other activities that involve water. Once the positive association starts to be built, any issues they had before may begin to dissipate. The same goes for trying new foods. Certain textures may at first be unappealing, but if play is engaged using materials that feel similar, the child may be more inclined to try a meal again.
Sensory play is shown to build nerve connections in the brain, can soothe an irate child, and aids in various important developmental milestones.
Basically, there are no downsides. And it’s kind of understandable that mum’s mention it so much.