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March 1, 2023

What is Sensory Play?

Do you know that sensory play is crucial for child development? Research shows that providing children with numerous sensory play activities helps strengthen their brain development, which lays the foundation for future learning and healthy growth. In this article, we will dive into the benefits of sensory play and an inspiring list of play ideas that will put a smile on your little one every day!


What Is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is hands-on activities that stimulate a toddler’s senses, including sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. From birth, children have the ability to explore their senses as they process new information. They begin to understand and make sense of the world by exploring different materials, feeling, and touching various textures. Sensory activities such as these provide them with opportunities to enrich their learning, creativity, and independent thinking.

Sensory play also develops two sensory systems that are often overlooked: proprioceptive sense and vestibular sense. Proprioceptive sense allows infants to determine where the body parts are in space during movement and action, strengthening body awareness and coordination skills. The vestibular sense is responsible for the sensations of body rotation, gravitation, and constant motion to maintain proper balance and body posture. As such, children can stay upright when sitting and standing.


Why Is Sensory Play Important for Child Development?


1. Stimulate Brain Development

Newborns come into the world with sensory systems functioning to some degree and requiring constant stimuli to develop their full capacities. Through sensory play, infants take in a spontaneous flow of information that awakens various sensory receptors in the brain and sensory organs such as eyes, ears, and tongue. They interpret and organize this sensory information to understand different objects, events, and spatial layouts of the world. In the meantime, millions of neural connections take place in the toddler’s brain for information processing, connecting the brain cells in a vast network that forms the basis for cognitive development, problem-solving, and language learning.


children engaging in sensory play


2. Promote Sensory Integration

Sensory play also plays a pivotal role in promoting sensory integration. Most activities you experience involve simultaneous stimulation through multiple sensory modalities. For example, when a basketball bounces, you perceive its up-and-down motion in tandem with recurrent loud thumps. This ability to connect two or more sensory experiences is crucial for piecing sensory information together to interpret unitary, coherent events in the external world. Newborns, however, fail to coordinate these sensory modalities initially; only after months can they form associations between how objects look, sound, taste, feel, etc. Hence, learning through play is essential for developing their sensory processing capabilities and integration.


3. Boost Cognitive Growth

In the first two years of life, infants develop and expand their intelligence through sensory and motor abilities. They explore and experience the outer world, gain basic information on things and people around them and construct rudimentary forms of fundamental concepts such as space and time. Living here and now, newborns attend to immediate actions and perceptions. When a toy moves above their heads, they focus on it as it moves across their field of vision; when an object is put on their palms, they clench it; when they hear sounds, they turn their heads toward it; when a pacifier is placed in their mouths, they suck it, and so on. Every instance of sensory play constitutes new sensory information and experiences that toddlers assimilate into their existing schemata. Their cognitive schemata expand as they construct new knowledge in learning through play. For instance, as they come into contact with toys of varying sizes and textures, they become aware of the force required to grasp them firmly. No doubt, sensory play is paramount to infants’ perceptual abilities and intelligence.


4. Improve Gross and Fine Motor Skills

Toddlers enjoy a variety of movements which are well achieved by sensory play. Many play activities, such as hand painting and clay modeling, require muscle coordination, postural control, and sensory processing capabilities. Through touching objects of varying sizes and dimensions, children learn to control the small muscles in their fingers and wrists and adjust their hands to the orientation of the desired toy. They also become adept at tracking a moving object with their eyes by anticipating its trajectory and walking to reach it. Sensory play activities help infants hit the motor developmental milestones, from precise movements like buttoning clothes and closing zippers to large movements such as walking and running. Every motor stimulation allows infants to move a step further in their expanding world to perceive, discover and experience more of it — that’s also where learning takes place.


5. Support Language Development

Early childhood is a critical period for language acquisition. Infants expand their vocabulary readily and achieve a word burst at 18-24 months — reaching more than 50 words. A language-rich environment benefits their language development owing to constant exposure to vocabulary, phrases, sentences, grammatical structures, and how people communicate. Sensory play activities allow parents to introduce new words, ask questions related to the object or event, and respond to toddlers’ reactions, whether it be a gesture, smile, or babble. Parents’ words are paramount to developing children’s language resources and encouraging them to produce the language in reciprocal dialogue. Some scholars also stated that toddlers learn a language best through meaningful interactions. Aside from language comprehension and production, children can also learn different ways to communicate their emotions, needs, and desires in learning through play.


Sensory Play Activities and Ideas


1. Visual Sensory Play

Introduce various new colours, shapes, patterns, and sights to stimulate your infants’ visual senses. Visual sensory play develops their perception of contrast, size, distance, and depth while enhancing eye-hand coordination.

Some visual sensory play ideas and activities include:


    • exploring bright objects like reflector balls
    • shaking and watching sensory bottles filled with water and glitter
    • observing bubbles blown in various shapes and sizes
    • dancing or playing musical instruments with lights on
    • looking at books with colourful illustrations
    • playing shadow puppets against a light source
    • identifying objects through binoculars
    • scavenger hunt



2. Tactile Play

These sensory play activities involve touching, exploring, and feeling materials or items with hands or feet. Toddlers refine their sense of touch by experiencing different textures, temperatures, pressures, vibrations, etc.

Some tactile play ideas and activities include:


    • finger painting
    • playing with dough
    • running fingers in sand or water
    • playing with feathers, fur, velcro strips, and bubble wrap
    • petting animals like dogs or cats at a pet store
    • playing with objects like balls of various sizes and shapes



3. Auditory Sensory Play

Stimulate your children’s auditory senses with sounds of varying volumes, pitches, tones, and rhythms. Through continuous sensory exploration, your toddlers will learn to differentiate types of sounds and integrate them with other sensory experiences to make sense of the world.

Some auditory sensory play ideas and activities include:


    • listening to stories while playing finger puppets
    • singing songs and nursery rhymes
    • listening to calming music or nature sounds
    • banging on drums and shaking tambourines
    • playing sound matching games (e.g. guessing the object that produces a particular sound)



4. Olfactory and Taste Sensory Play

Smell and taste are powerful senses that can revoke memories and experiences. Engage your children in sensory exploration activities to introduce new scents and flavors. Since the substances might be edible, you should ensure their safety during the play activities.

Some olfactory and taste sensory play ideas and activities include:


    • smelling different fruits or spices
    • tasting dishes from different cultures (ensuring they are age-appropriate)
    • exploring textures of food, like jello and yogurt
    • slicing open a ripe fruit and exploring its scent
    • tasting different types of snacks, like crackers or chips
    • making homemade playdough with scented oil



kindergarten children engaging in sensory play


5. Vestibular Sensory Play

Toddlers stimulate their inner ear balance organs and establish a sense of equilibrium in vestibular sensory play activities. They also learn to control their body movements more accurately in terms of speed and direction.

Some vestibular sensory play ideas and activities include:


    • swinging in a hammock
    • spinning around on a chair or trolley
    • rolling down hills or ramps
    • jumping on a trampoline, bed, or couch
    • climbing up and down stairs
    • hopping over obstacles.



6. Proprioception Sensory Play

Proprioception sensory play activities stimulate your body through movement, pressure, and weight-bearing. Young children can improve their coordination, physical strength, and awareness of their body’s position in space.

Some proprioceptive sensory play ideas and activities include:


    • jumping on a trampoline
    • having a massage or body brushing
    • playing tug-of-war
    • riding a bike or scooter
    • building with blocks and other construction toys



Get a Taste of Sensory Play Learning with Woodland Pre-schools

To conclude, sensory play benefits your child’s brain development and cognitive growth, which build a foundation for holistic development and future learning. At Woodlands, we are committed to providing a firm platform for your little ones to develop a love for learning. It is our mission to make your children’s learning journey fun, exciting, and enjoyable and to create a lasting thirst for knowledge. We offer sensory play activities in our unaccompanied Under 2’s classes — which are currently in full swing at Woodland Pre-Schools. If you’re interested in enrolling your child in the course or got have any questions, contact us for more details. Free trial classes are also available if you wish to experience our syllabus before making a decision. Join us now!