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:
- To make sense of the world around them, and
- How to regulate their emotions when facing challenges.
From the time that a baby is born, it’s body and brain is 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 was 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. The smiles on their faces at the end of the day was 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?
ALSO READ HOW LESS PLAY LEADS TO INCREASED ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
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 desk top 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. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/24/how-twisted-early-childhood-education-has-become-from-a-child-development-expert/?utm_term=.be661d3fa508).
Annabella Sequeira is a Specialist Sensory Intelligence® Facilitator for Parents and Teachers.
She holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 23 years’ experience in both the public and private sector. 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.
She is also part of our Gauteng-based Senses in Education team that regularly facilitates various Teacher Training and Parenting Workshops as part of the Sensory Intelligence® offering.