There is a huge amount of emphasis on the notion that young children “learn with all their senses”. The reality of our schooling system is that we don’t often provide opportunities for children to engage in free play, nor do we give them enough intentional opportunities to actively use their senses as they explore the world around them, especially our preschoolers.
From the moment of birth, a child learns about its world by moving, touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing. Their brains are wired to receive and use sensory input from the first day of their lives. As children continue to grow, their sensory systems become the most familiar and the most basic way in which to explore, process and understand new information. For this reason alone, we should and must allow young children to learn through experience. The more they do by using their senses and engaging in meaningful experiences, the more they develop the neurological pathways needed to develop higher learning abilities such as thinking, reasoning and attention.
Sensory play is a big part of this scientific process. Curiosity leads children to touch, taste, see, hear, smell and hear in order to answer the “why’s?” in their world. The more they spend moving and exploring their environment, the more they are learning.
Sensory play has a number of benefits:
- Play builds language and social skills
- Play allows for gross motor and fine motor skill development
- Free play allows for creativity and imagination to develop
- Play develops and enhances memory skills
- Play calms the anxious and frustrated child
- Play allows for the development of thinking and reasoning abilities
- Play is fun and allows for emotional well-being and positive self-esteem
The best part of sensory play is that it allows children to always succeed. The simple act of playing with water, sand, playdough or goop can lead to a sense of calmness and well being. Find ways to provide more sensory play – it’s a natural and satisfactory way in which to explore and learn.
Annabella Sequeira holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 22 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.