What is sensory play and why is it important for toddler aged children?
Aside from being the messiest and most fun way to play, Goodstart Early Learning defines sensory play to be any activity that stimulates the senses and engages the child in movement and balance exercises. Opportunities to engage children’s senses and movements allow them to independently explore the natural and physical world around them in an unstructured setting, providing numerous benefits to their development!
Most people are familiar with the 5 main senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. Two that are commonly overlooked are body awareness and balance, both which play a major role in the healthy development of toddlers. Playzone-fit aims to engage each and every one of these with products that are not only fantastic for their physical, mental and emotional well-being, but are so much fun!
Let’s break down each sense, how we can target them through sensory play and the beneficial effects they have on our little ones.
Taste: Blind tasting tests are a great way to introduce children to new foods! Sometimes, the color or consistency of a food may be off putting to a child, but blindly trying a new food and trying to guess what it is could be an exciting adventure, making a positive connection to the food and therefore creating a likeness for it.
Touch: Touch is one of the easiest senses to access because we are already doing it all day, every day! Kids are in a constant state of exploration, touching, grabbing and feeling all around them. A fun way to implement an activity that activates the touch sensitive areas while also providing an opportunity to educate are with the Playzone-fit Sensory Steps! The set of 5 steps allow children to explore textures of the ecosystem including textures from the forest, fields, river, desert and ocean.
Smell: Did you know that children begin using their sense of smell inside of the womb? That’s why they are able to recognize their mothers after they are born! Most parents focus heavily on certain senses like touch and sight but less on smell. It’s important to incorporate smelling activities because being able to recognize a good sniff will help them navigate and understand their surroundings! An example of a fun way to challenge their sense of smell is with mystery scented play dough!
Sight: Some may consider sight to be one of the most crucial senses to focus on. Being able to quickly identify a person, place, food, color, vehicle, etc will be essential to the well being of our children. Playing interactive games that require the children to use their sight and other senses will allow them to build stronger sensory connections. Playing with items like the Playzone-fit Sensory Steps, Bell Stones and Stepping Stones are a great way to associate colors with actions, textures, and sounds!
Hearing: Sitting spots are a simple and fun way for children to practice their listening skills while also working on maintaining a calm and quiet body. It’s a popular activity in Montessori programs to find a comfy spot at school to just sit, listen and identify the sounds heard. The next day, the teachers will pick a new spot with new sounds. If you’re wanting a more challenging and exciting hearing activity, the Playzone-fit Musical Bell Stones are the perfect mix of a physical challenge in combination with colors and sounds! Each stone rings a different tone, challenging kids to focus and be able to identify which stone makes each sound!
Body Awareness: Body awareness, also known as proprioception, is the unconscious awareness of body position. Where your feet and hands sit and being able to feed yourself with your eyes closed are examples of unconscious body awareness. Signs that a child might be experiencing body awareness difficulties could look like awkward movements, physical weakness, using too little or too much force and using physical force with others.
This is where active play becomes incredibly vital to the development of our little ones. The entire Playzone-fit collection is designed to create a fun and safe space for children to move, gain strength, practice balance, and improve their motor skills for better body control. Building an active play zone will help kids become more familiar with their abilities, learn to work through challenges in a healthy manner and practice using their body to navigate various obstacles.
Balance: Most parents do not recognize that trouble with balance can effect a child’s ability to learn. In order for a child to sit quietly, prop themselves upward in a chair and focus on their work, they must be able to master balancing activities. Setting up a balancing course for your kids can be as easy as using objects from around the house such as step stools, couch cushions, chairs or a wooden plank. Playzone-fit also offers a variety of kids toys that aid in the enhancement of balance such as the Stepping Stones, Bell Stones, Wiggle Walkers, Balance Blox and the Balance Board!
As kids explore the world around them, they will naturally gravitate towards activities that challenge them to ask questions, draw conclusions and utilize innate skills like playing, creating and investigating.
Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch a toddler hard at work digging through the pots and pans, rolling around in the mud or unfolding all of the clean laundry. Remind yourself that they are natural explorers and there is a long, long list of benefits to getting a little messy once in a while! So the next time your little one is creating a huge mess, remember these benefits that are unfolding right before your eyes:
- Making nerve connections that will lead to more complex tasks
- Supporting language development, cognitive growth, motor skills, problem solving, social interaction, self management
- Enhancing memory
- Calming an anxious or frustrated child
- Learn sensory attributes (hot, cold, sticky, dry)
- Encourages inclusion
- Having fun!