What is sensory play and why is it important? (2024)

Thursday 10 February 2022

What is sensory play and why is it important? (1)

From the moment they're born, children use their senses to discover the world around them. Find out how to use sensory play to aid their development

What is sensory play?

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates our senses – touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. It helps children interact with and make sense of the world that surrounds them.

Why is sensory play important?

Sensory play plays an important role in a child’s learning and development. Much of our learning comes through our ability to use our senses to retain information.

Sensory play is a lot of fun. It also offers many benefits for child development, including:

  • Helping children understand how their actions affect what’s around them.
  • Supporting brain development, enhancing memory, complex tasks and problem solving.
  • Developing fine motor skills through tactile play (useful when children want to hold a pen or use scissors for example).
  • Supporting language development, communication and social skills.
  • Enhancing memory and observational skills.
  • Encouraging creative and independent thinking.
  • Emotional regulation by providing a calming effect on children’s angry or anxious feelings.

Some children may have a sensory sensitivity or need. Every child who has a sensory sensitivity is different, and their needs may change over time. We have information on how to support a child with sensory needs.

What is sensory play and why is it important? (2)

When can you start sensory play?

From birth, children are ready for sensory play. Children are natural explorers – they’re constantly learning and taking in what’s around them.

Sensory activities can be adapted for different ages, needs and abilities.

You can easily adapt a simple sensory activity like blowing bubbles for different children at different stages and abilities, for example:

  • Babies might enjoy feeling the bubbles pop on their skin.
  • Toddlers can chase after bubbles and pop them on themselves, the floor, and surfaces around them.
  • For older children, try a project where they creating their own bubble mixture and blow bubbles using a wand or their hands.

What is sensory play and why is it important? (3)

What sensory play activities can parents do at home?

Sensory play activities can be as simple or complex as you’d like. They can often be set up with items you already have at home. There’s something to explore and wonder at in every home.

Here are some activities to try:

Fill any box with sand or water, and add different toys too.

You could use multiple boxes and encourage children to move the contents between boxes.

Encourage play through squishing, smearing, and tasting food.

This allows children to become comfortable with a variety of textures and flavours.

Create a variety of sounds and songs using pots/pans/spoons.

You could fill a bottle with rice or dried pasta/beans to create maracas.

Children can paint with their hands or feet.

Create a mess-free alternative by placing a piece of paper and some paint in a food storage bag.

Fill a bottle with water, oil and food colouring for an exciting visual effect.

Use pillows, cushions, blankets – whatever you can find.

As well as the five senses, we also interact with the world through body awareness, movement and balance.

Children manipulate playdough with their hands to pinch, squeeze and pull it into different shapes.

You can make your own or buy some premade. Add scents or toys to help them build imagination.

In a box, or container, place various objects with a variety of textures for a hands-on experience for children. This could be beads, paper, kinetic sand and water or leaves, rocks and sand.

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What is sensory play and why is it important? (2024)


What is sensory play and why is it important? ›

It sounds (and can be!) messy, so you may often be inclined to cut this type of play short. But in fact, sensory play – play that stimulates any of a child's senses – has an important role in a child's health and development. Through it, your child builds cognitive skills and learns about their world.

Why is sensory play so important? ›

Sensory play has an important role in your child's development. Not only does it help your child engage their five senses—sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste—but it also boosts their language skills and motor skills. Sensory play also promotes exploration, creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving.

What is the meaning of sensory play? ›

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates our senses – touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. It helps children interact with and make sense of the world that surrounds them.

How does sensory play help a child's emotional development? ›

Allowing children to control their sensory experiences empowers them to manage their emotions and reactions. Exploration: Sensory play provides a safe space for exploration. Children can investigate new textures, smells, and sounds, building their curiosity and expanding their understanding of the world.

What learning outcome is sensory play? ›

Sensory play supports language development.

Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling are all ways children learn to think, feel and compare their environment and the objects within it. Using multiple senses at the same time stimulates learning and language development, especially descriptive words.

What are the five sensory plays? ›

Typically, we'd think of sensory play as any kind of play-based activity that engages at least one of the five senses – touch, taste, sight, sound and smell.

Why is it important to meet sensory needs? ›

Sensory experiences can help children understand their environments and support them to feel safe and secure. A well-developed sensory system is essential for both cognitive and social intelligence and is therefore required for children to become successful learners.

How does sensory play help children with special needs? ›

The sensory stimulation and hands-on approach is great for brain and memory development, gross and fine motor skills and strength. With no right or wrong ways of playing, they can appeal to children with different learning styles and abilities.

What is the purpose of sensory toys? ›

Sensory toys encourage children to think critically and solve problems as they interact with various elements. By manipulating objects, fitting pieces together, and experimenting with cause and effect, children develop their problem-solving skills and learn to think independently.

How does sensory play help problem-solving skills? ›

Through play, toddlers can practice interpreting the world using their senses to solve small challenges such as building a block tower that doesn't fall or sorting items with different shapes or colors. As they develop a knack for solving minor problems, they enhance their ability to solve problems of great difficulty.

What age to start sensory play? ›

In general, most children will be able to start engaging in sensory play from around 6 months old. As they get older, they will be able to explore more complex sensory experiences.

What does sensory learning do? ›

Sensory education involves engaging children in activities that stimulate their senses: touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing. Through sensory experiences, children explore the world around them, develop fine motor skills, and enhance their cognitive abilities.

What are the sensory skills of development? ›

Sensory development relates to our senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell) which allow us to explore the world around us. Social skills refer to our interactions with other people.

Why is sensory stimulation important for learning? ›

Sensory play activities stimulate your child's senses which supports their brain and language development, gross motor skills, social interaction and problem-solving skills. With sensory play, there's always much more going on than meets the eye.

What is multisensory learning and why is it effective? ›

Multisensory learning is all about encouraging learners to use more than one of their senses when taking in new information. This learning style promotes using activities that appeal to our visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and tactile senses.

Why are senses so important to the developing child? ›

The outside world shapes children's development through experiences that they have, which include using their five senses—hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Drawing a child's attention to the five senses and discussing them increases understanding of and communication about the world around us.

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