As humans, we rely on our senses for everything. They keep us alive and protect us from danger, but they also help us enjoy life and navigate the world more fruitfully. It seems second nature to us now that we forgot we had to learn these sensory skills at some point, and in fact, we developed them before we could even realise we were doing so.

The importance of sensory play in the development of babies, toddlers, and children is immense. It helps them to build cognitive connections and build the essential skills that help them through the rest of their lives. Luckily, babies and toddlers love learning about their senses, which is one of the many benefits of sensory play. Let’s explore what sensory play is and why it’s crucial to early development.

What is sensory play?

Sensory play refers to any activities that encourage the use of children’s senses. Now, that might sound like most things, but these activities involve actions that specifically work to engage their senses and create links to the brain. Senses, of course, include sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, but they also include the more developed knowledge of movement, balance, and spatial awareness.

Types of sensory play

There are various types of sensory play used to help children explore their different senses and make more nuanced, cognitive connections. These include:

Tactile play

If you have any familiarity with sensory play, tactile play probably comes to mind first. It involves children exploring objects with their hands. They’re figuring out what a corner is, and what a smooth surface feels like, but it also helps them explore heat and temperature, vibrations and pressure among others.

Auditory play

Children learn about sounds and their hearing through auditory play. They may learn the various sounds that different materials make and how to differentiate between auditory input. While it’s not always the most pleasant experience for parents, just remember it’s all in the name of sensory development!

Visual play

Developing vision through visual play is a significant part of the importance of sensory play. Our vision deals with colours, movement, speed, patterns and so much more, so there’s a lot to learn from the right visual play toys. You’ll notice your child get increasingly better at trying to catch the dog’s tail as their visual senses build stronger connections.

Taste play

It’s relieving to know you don’t need to encourage your child to lick all the new items they find to develop their sense of taste. Olfactory and taste sensory play helps them develop their taste through safe games encouraging the exploration and connection of taste and smell. These games also help distinguish between different smells and relate them to the real world.

Vestibular play

Trying to move in new ways – crawling, falling and getting back up – all contribute to your child learning about balance. Vestibular play, which engages the vestibular system, encourages them to develop their sense of movement and balance. This play aims to place them into different positions and movements to increasingly gain sensory knowledge to refine their balance over time.

Proprioception play

The ability to move your body without giving it much thought is owed to proprioception. Connecting movement and spatial awareness with cognitive patterns are explored through proprioception play. Children learn about the boundaries of their physical bodies and where it’s located relative to space, as well as how their body parts relate to each other.

The Importance Of Sensory Play

Babies and toddlers have the capacity to make cognitive relationships, but they need to learn how to make these connections to develop sensory skills. Sensory play is a way to still let them do what they love doing, while also supporting their development at the appropriate level.

Below we discuss some of the benefits of sensory play:

Builds sensory skills and strong cognitive connections

Sensory play activities allow for exploration and children will find themselves naturally using scientific processes while they play and investigate. Children will find the relationship between sensory information and their minds and build on these connections which are a major part of the importance of sensory play.

Encourages consistency and repetition

Consistent and regular sensory play builds these nerve connections because children need to learn over time with repetition to help patterns stick. One of the best benefits of sensory play is that the activities are fun with the right toys and tools. This means it won’t take much encouragement as children will want to play and develop these skills in the process.

Teaches focus and how to block out distractions

Blocking distractions to focus attention is one of the many great benefits of sensory play. The sensory play introduces children to many different stimuli and information, so they quickly learn how to block out conflicting information so they can focus and understand what it is their attention is on.

Builds positive pathways through understanding

When we don’t understand something, we’re reluctant to engage with it, no matter our size or age. Sensory play offers children an opportunity to explore different items, sights, smells, and tastes without expectation. They’re free to learn about the world themselves so they can build trust through understanding. This creates strong pathways to information and encourages a positive relationship with the world throughout their lives.

Pairing the Importance & Benefits of Sensory Play with the Right Tools For Positive Development

The benefits of sensory play rely on appropriate toys and activities to encourage children to engage their senses sensibly. Craftercise has many sensory toys that are well-established to help your child explore the world around them and build strong cognitive patterns. Browse our collections to help your child start developing their sense today!

December 17, 2021 — Aleisha Dakin