Importance of sensory play: Why I allow messy play

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sensory play. 

A type of play that is as important and beneficial to our children as teaching them A-B-C. Children, as young as a newborn, receive a lot of sensory input every day. The sounds, lights, smells, surfaces they lie on, and tastes from everything they put into their mouths provide sensory input. The sensory input stimulates electrical signals and travel along neurones to the brain. The child processes the new information and develop his brain to understand the input. When a newborn hears his parent's voice, it stimulates his neurodevelopment - he gets all excited, and starts waving and kicking in the air. For a toddler or preschooler, the action of pouring, splashing and scooping materials allows him to learn pre-math concepts, language and even writing. Even as an adult, I find myself drawn to the calming effect when I run the material (be it sand, water, or something more icky) through my fingers. 

However, I was brought up in a traditional way where the concept of sensory play is not widely known to our Asian parents. Hence, I did not know much about sensory play when I became a mom. My sister and I did have our share of sensory play when we were allowed to run around the sandy beach, or lie on the ground full of cow's grass. Those activities provided the sensory play we needed. But in today's context, such play has become a precious commodity and many parents would prefer to pass an electronic device to the child to entertain them. Hence, it is even more important to create such play time intentionally. 

Water beads sensory play by Simply Lambchops
Playing with water beads

What is sensory play?
It is any type of activity which stimulates the senses. And sometimes, it means messy play - and is probably the reason why many parents avoid sensory play altogether. 

Why is sensory play important to children?
Sensory play encourages the development of fine motor skills which are essential for writing when the child is ready. The rotating of the wrist while scooping materials, and the use of pincer grip to pick up small items, are skills that strengthen the fingers and prepare them for writing activities. In K's case, this is even more important as her muscle tone is low, and her fine motor skills are not as developed as a typical child. 

It also encourages language development. The conversations that the children and adults have while playing together make words more meaningful. You can talk about the cold mushrooms that the child touches and describe the nice aroma of the food wafting from the kitchen. 

There are many more reasons for sensory play in our young children's development. You can read them here.

Sensory Play ideas by Simply Lambchops
Clockwise from top left: (1) Picking mushrooms in the supermarket (2) Scooping muffin batter into
muffin tins (3) Arranging pizza toppings using hand (4) Playing at the sand table

Sensory play does not have to come in the form of a sensory table or box. Inexpensive and creative ways through daily activities work equally well in allowing your child to explore and discover through his sense of touch, smell, sight, taste and hearing. 

I was fortunate that L came from a kindy that believes in sensory play and gives the children a lot of opportunities and time to do so. Through the pictures posted by his teachers on the school blog, I learn and get ideas from them to plan my own sensory play with the children when they are at home.  

Over the years as a mom, I struggle with the mess and clean-up that comes along with sensory play. Sensory play using food was not allowed for Ch and L. Hubby and I would scold them whenever they played with their food (handled food with their fingers instead of using cutlery) as we could not stand the sight of food on the table or floor. Till now, I am still trying to let go and embrace the true principle of sensory play. Especially more so now, as sensory play is so important for K. Having feeding issues since the time we tried to move her to semi-solids, sensory play using food is one of the best ways to encourage her to accept new textures and tastes. 

Sensory play ideas by Simply Lambchops
Clockwise from top left: (1) Smelling the coffee aroma from my cup (2) Picking bread tags from
 a bowl of uncooked rice and slotting them into a container (3) Sitting and playing with uncooked
rice grains  (4) Stepping on some uncooked rice grains (5) Fiddling with the textured surfaces of a toy
(6) Painting with peanut butter (7) Scooping uncooked rice into a cup (8) Making music with a bucket

I am still learning from kind parents who share their amazing sensory play ideas on the internet. Looking at my pictures, I think I'm getting there. My perseverance has paid off a little. K used to give that facial expression to tell me sand and uncooked rice are yucky stuff on her hands. Now she is able to sit on them, and touch them with her bare hands. 

As for myself, I'll still need some time to get used to wet and sticky materials like sauce, peanut butter or mud for a sensory play. Learning from K's example, I am sure I'll be able to overcome my own fears of the mess some day. 

If you would like to try out some sensory play with your child, there are plenty of ideas on Google and Pinterest. And if you need more articles to be convinced of the importance of sensory play, read the following:

So tell me, how do you do sensory play with your young ones? I'll love to learn from you!

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  1. I have found that this site is very informative, interesting and very well written. keep up the nice high quality writing. Messy Play Importance


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