Kendal News and Blog

The Importance of Sensory Play

Kendal at Oberlin - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Early childhood educators like to emphasize that young children learn with all their senses. From the time they are born children learn about their world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing. Which is why it is important to have many sensory experiences available at school and also at home.

  • As children play in the sensory table they are enhancing their sense of touch which in turn leads to developing their fine-motor muscles.
  • Materials that can be put in a sensory table can be rough or smooth, wet or dry, warm or cold, etc. By working with these materials children are learning classification or sorting skills.
  • Math skills are learned by such activities as: comparing who has the biggest pile of sand or how many cups of rice it takes to fill up a container.
  • Problem solving techniques such as how to retrieve a small car stuck in a paper towel tube, or what materials to use to build a ramp from one end of the sensory table to the other are practiced.
  • Language and literacy skills are used constantly as children talk with one another and use descriptive words about what they are doing.
  • Sand and water tables offer many opportunities for creative art and imaginary play, as children pretend to make “cookies”, and wash their babies.

Too often we find reasons why we don’t offer this type of play to our children; such as not enough room or too messy. But with a little imagination, time and tolerance we can overcome these reasons and provide this important type of play to our young children.

In order to protect floors could you use plastic office chair mats? If space is a consideration maybe plastic dish tubs could be filled with your sensory material, then they could be put away when your child is done playing. If having a mess is holding you back, remember having your child help clean up when the playtime is done is an opportunity for creative problem solving. Enlist their ideas on how to clean up the messes.

While we all instantly think of sand and water as the stock materials for sensory tables try to think “out of the box”. Mediums such as dried beans, bird seed, shaving cream, potting soil, snow, dried field corn fallen leaves, and yes, MUD, are just some of the many different sensory items you can use. (But remember the age of the child who will be using the sensory table as some of these may be a choking hazard.)

To keep your sensory table appealing, interesting and to promote different learning experiences don’t forget to vary the add-ins you put in these different mediums. Along with the various tools such as: spoons, cups etc., other ideas could be tweezers, sponges, PVC tubes, turkey basters, alphabet letters, sea shells, egg beaters etc.
But above all, remember, that although sensory play provides an opportunity for our children to engage in active learning, it also provides us another opportunity to play with our children and for us to have an excuse to get a little messy!