Sensory play is learning

Posted: 18 July, 2018

By: Annabella Sequeira

Section: Education, Parenting


Play is the universal language of all children. Play is essential to human and brain development, creativity and it is the foundation to all learning in life. All areas of a child’s growth – social, emotional, cognitive and physical –  are influenced by play. Through sensory play, children learn:

  1. To make sense of the world around them, and
  2. How to regulate their emotions when facing challenges.

From the time that a baby is born, its body and brain are designed to discover the world through the senses. Think of that child playing in the sandpit, not only getting the sand into every part of his body but eating it too. Think of the horror on the mom’s face! Now, think about how much that child is learning through using all his senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching the sand. Think of all the ways that moving through the sand is leading to the development of emotions, language, gross- and fine motor skills.

Sensory play is important for all children, not only those who have sensory processing difficulties. Sensory play is not only about touch. It is also about using the other senses. Add colour or texture to water, paint and sand, and you have introduced a different experience for the child during play. The opportunity to describe what one sees, feels or tastes helps with the development of language and feelings of “likes and dislikes”. It helps them to think of the world around them in a different way. Water is not only wet, but it is warm or cold, it is ice, it is slippery when bubbles are added and it can be rough like waves are at the beach.

Sensory play should involve the space around the child, encourage the child to move while using the senses. Movement allows for children to explore their world without restriction. As adults we may not find any interest in small space between our couches, but for a child that is a universe waiting to be discovered, without having any preconceived ideas about what lays ahead for him.

It is also fascinating to watch how children discover ways to play when there are no technological devices available.  One of my fondest memories of my older children while visiting in the Karoo, was watching them sulk for about 10 minutes when they realised there were no internet services in the middle of the beautiful farm we were on. The next thing, they had the younger kids playing in the dry river bed, making up new games as they went along and looking for any branch, stone or whatever else they could find to play with. The smiles on their faces at the end of the day were priceless.

All aspects of a child’s daily life should allow for the opportunity to learn from the senses, whether it is at feeding time, dressing, bathing or free play.  Our lives are described by the memories that we have, based on how we reacted to what we saw, heard, tasted, smelled and touched. We live in a world where technology is “king” and where we want to protect our children from getting hurt or dirty, but the reality is that we are doing more harm than good by discouraging them from learning from experience. Our sensory likes and dislikes should not be imposed on our own children or those that we teach. As adults, we too would benefit from pure and simple sensory play.

When last have you done so?

Valerie Strauss, a columnist for the Washington Post, brought attention to a speech about how schools are putting play aside in order to focus on more cognitive and desktop activities leading to more anxious and overwhelmed children in the foundation years of schooling. It states how important hands-on learning is for the development of the child. (Read it here).

Discover your sensory wiring by completing your Sensory Matrix™.

Who has benefited

Sensory Quiz™
Sensory Matrix™
Senses on Call™
Social media
Sensory Intelligence®