When it comes to sensory play, there seems to be two types of people. There are the ones who cringe at the mere mention – envisioning glitter, flour and water caked in hard-to-reach crannies for days. And there are those who see an endless possibility to explore and create alongside their kids.
I’m here to tell you, you can be the latter without the experience of the former. This is why you shouldn’t rule out sensory play!
While digging in dirt or molding cloud dough may seem relatively mundane, it is a form of play-based learning, loaded with benefits. For instance, it develops:
- Scientific discovery: While a child transfers water from one cup to another, he is testing hypotheses and replicating his findings. He observes that if he does the same action repeatedly, it will yield the same results. However, if he alters what he does slightly, it will create different results. When a child plays with a water table, she witnesses the properties of water. She develops a rudimentary understanding of density (which items sink and float) and gravity.
- Memory retention: When more than one of the five senses is engaged, humans learn and retain more information.
- Neural pathways: Research on Alzheimer’s has shown that sensory play creates new neural pathways in children and adults.
- Skills needed for printing: During sensory play, children rely on hand-eye coordination and often use a pincer grasp to manipulate playdough or pick up dried lentils.
- Creativity: Molding clay requires the ability to have an abstract thought and materialize that idea.
The opportunities to engage in sensory play are abundant. Here are 6 of of my favorite ways to enjoy sensory play with what the environment has to offer:
1. Splashing in the bath.
There is no bigger sensory sink than a bathtub itself. Sometimes we add some essential oils or an all-natural bath bomb and the experience becomes that much more exciting. Other times, I mix shaving cream with natural food coloring to make simple bath paints.
2. Digging in the garden.
While I weed or plant, I encourage the kids to grab some toys and run them through the dirt. We just throw the toys in some soapy water afterwards and use a scrub brush to clean the crevices and the kids’ dirty nails.
3. Playing with sand or wood chips at the park.
Lately, my daughter and son have been selling bark mulch ‘pizza’ to any parents on the sidelines at the park. Again, the only cleanup is soapy water to clean their hands.
4. Raking leaves and allowing the kids to play in them.
Sometimes we gather enough leaves to fill a plastic container – also adding in diggers and farm animals. My children love comparing the different colors and styles of the leaves, as well as crunching them up when they’re brittle. Here are even more fun activities your children can do with fall leaves.
5. Scooping up snow and making a sensory bin.
We have used natural food coloring, water, and pippets to color snow. Another great idea is to make a snow volcano. When we do activities like this, I throw a big beach towel underneath the snow and then let them have a blast.
6. Jumping in rain puddles.
If the weather isn’t too cold, we’ve even added a toy or two! All you need is rain gear and the willingness to run a load of laundry once done.
Fortunately, sensory play doesn’t have to involve days of cleaning splattered cloud dough. Children can procure the benefits and parents needn’t do more cleaning than washing hands and/or laundry!