Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates a young child’s senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing, as well as anything which engages movement and balance. (goodstart.org)
Children need to engage in activities that stimulate the senses in order to make sense of their world and to develop the necessary skills to function in society.
In this blog post, we will cover 5 reasons why sensory play is important for your child, especially for children that fall on the autism spectrum, have anxiety and/or ADHD.
Learning Through Experience
We are all experientially based learners when it comes down to it. The best way to learn new skills is often to jump in and experience the mechanism of what it is we are trying to learn.
Sensory play allows children to play creatively and explore new things. Doing this, allows the brain to build connections to process and respond to sensory information.Sensory play enhances fine motor skills that may be required for necessary tasks such as writing, art, dressing, eating, playing and more. It also enhances gross motor and language skills.
Repetitive sensory play can build new nerve connections and neural pathways in the brain that will lock in muscle memory so children can build the “habit” of being able to perform certain tasks without really thinking about it.
An example of this would be writing your name. Once a child learns how to write their own name and does so repeatedly, it becomes “second nature” so to speak. The building of fine motor skills is essential for tasks like this.
Boost Cognitive Skills
Because sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain, it is no surprise that sensory play is a great way to boosts cognitive skills!
Some examples of cognitive skills would include memory, attention, reasoning, and visual processing. All of these skills are crucial for a full and rich life.
Certain types of sensory play will enhance and stimulate different cognitive skills in children.
Children often learn best through multisensory learning, that is using multiple senses at the same time. For example, when learning to write the alphabet, a child can hear the ABC song, move and dance using gross motor movement to make the letters out of their bodies or write the letters in the air, see the letters in different media such as in a book, on the whiteboard or on a flashcard, and write the letters in different media such as salt, sand, chalk, or shaving cream. Using all of these senses for one task really enhances cognition!
No matter how you spin it, sensory play is good for the brain!
Builds Muscle Memory
In addition to the boosting and building of cognitive skills, repetitive sensory play builds “muscle memory”.
We briefly covered this in the first section of the post, but let’s go deeper.
Children are able to start building muscle memory pretty much as soon as they experience activities that stimulate the senses (i.e. sensory play).
Let’s use the example of throwing a ball.
To start, the child will experience what it is like to pick up the ball. In relation to where the ball is on the ground, they will need to use visual/spatial skills to coordinate their hand to the ball and fine motor skills to grip the ball and pick it up.
Next, they will need to position their body in the correct stance to throw the ball in a particular direction (should they choose to aim). This will take some gross motor skills and attention.
Finally, they will need to move their body and their arm in the direction in which they want to throw the ball, releasing their grip at the right moment to get the ball to go in the direction they choose.
This entire process is built up of several, interconnected mechanisms.
Once muscle memory is developed, the child is able to perform this (and other tasks) without “thinking” about what they are doing, it comes almost automatically.
The social aspect of sensory play is also important to take into account.
In a classroom setting, children are encouraged to play together.
By engaging in sensory play together, they are able to build social skills and strong relationships with one another on top of gaining the benefits from sensory play alone.
Working together and being social is another foundational life skill that all humans need at some point in their lives.
Children drawing together, building puzzles or lego towers, pretend play using playdoh, playing games like Jenga, etc. are all good examples of cooperative sensory motor play that can build relationships and social skills.
Benefits Children with Autism, Anxiety, and ADHD
Children with autism, anxiety, and ADHD may have sensitivities to sensory stimulation. Others may greatly benefit from certain sensory activities that can help to calm them down when dysregulated or upset.
The DeveloPLAY box was designed specifically with these children in mind.
Each month, we have an occupational therapist hand-select the sensory toys and tools that go into each DeveloPLAY box.
We then ship the box right to your door!
Our toys are designed to stimulate and promote healthy sensory development in children with Autism, anxiety, and ADHD and we would LOVE for you to give us a try!
Sign-up below! It’s easy!