The social media world is full of sensory play set ups. Have you ever wondered why it is so prevalent and what is the big deal about sensory play? I’m so pleased to share my insight with you as a special education teacher of 10 years and a Mum of a two year old, Ted!
I first started using sensory experiences in my special education classroom ten years ago. Teaching children at all different levels on their own pathways meant that I had to get creative in the way instruction happened in my classroom. I used the sensory experiences in two main ways.
Firstly as a tool for emotional regulation; in particular my students found any transitions difficult so we would stop at the sandpit on the way back from lunch, or I would have a sensory tray set up to use between activities. It was always amazing to see the change in moods as we all (me included!) played and calmed.
Secondly, I used a lot of sensory tools in our everyday learning. You may have heard the term ‘multi-sensory learning’ before. Multi-sensory learning normally includes combining auditory, tactile, visual and kinesthetic learning activities. For example instead of just saying the letters in new words as we were learning them we would be writing them in a sand tray at the same time. These learning opportunities were the ones my students were most engaged in and where the lightbulb moments happened!
When I became a Mum two years ago I found that my teacher's brain still constantly ticked along in the background. Along with that I had the influence of my own Mum who I like to refer to as the original crafty play Mum. I have such fond memories of messy play days playing with oobleck, painting and getting muddy that I knew I wanted to pass these experiences down to my child!
Sensory play has so many amazing benefits. It helps to build nerve connections in the brain, it helps with language development, encourages the development of motor skills, aids emotional regulation and so much more!!
Sensory play is the greatest tool in my arsenal for managing days of big emotions. Our top three would be water play, playdough and a simple dry sensory base such as rainbow rice. On days with big emotions I keep things really simple with just the sensory base, a few loose parts and some scoops. I let Ted play and am always amazed to see him relax and unwind as he plays and runs his hands through the water or rice or squishes the playdough!
For children, the learning happens through the exploration of sensory trays. Wet, dry, rough, smooth, bumpy, slimy, smelly, sour. By incorporating different things into sensory trays we are allowing our children to explore using all of their senses. Where the magic absolutely happens!
If play trays and sensory set ups aren’t your thing, never fear. Nature is the biggest and one of the best sensory experiences you can provide for your child. Go on a toddler-led walk and let them jump in puddles and crunch through the autumn leaves. Visit the beach and dig in the sand and play in the rock pools! Let them touch, smell, listen, feel and explore the world around them, I promise it’s worth it.
“The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge”
- Maria Montessori -