4 Surprising Benefits of Sensory Play for Your Preschooler
From scooping and sifting to splashing and squishing, preschoolers love experiencing the world through their senses. Whether touching, smelling, tasting, seeing, or hearing, children use their senses to gain a better understanding of the world and their place in it, and sensory play is crucial in helping children learn for a variety of reasons.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss 4 benefits that come from sensory play…and some of them just might surprise you!
1. Improves motor skills
You might be surprised to learn that sensory play can help develop fine motor skills or build the small muscles of the hands, wrists, and fingers that children will need to successfully learn to tie shoelaces, write, button shirt buttons, and zip up their pants.
Scooping and pouring water into a container, stringing dried pasta, and playing with play dough are all examples of tactile play that strengthen fine motor skills.
But don’t forget about gross motor skills. Sensory play can also benefit the large muscle groups found in the arms, legs, and torso. Walking through a wading pool of water and crawling over sand engage the senses while strengthening the large muscles of the body. And tossing bean bags that are covered in a variety of materials and textures or playing parachute games using a large educational parachute can both improve gross motor skills.
And if you’re looking for sensory play that engages both muscle groups, look no further than music. You can strengthen fine muscle groups by letting your child hold and smash cymbals, plink along to the music on a guitar or piano, or lay down an enthusiastic beat on the drums. And dancing is a wonderful way to build large muscle groups while the auditory senses are engaged.
2. Boosts cognition
Cognitive development includes problem-solving, reasoning, thinking, and memory, and research shows that sensory play helps build important pathways in a child’s brain which, in turn, allows them to learn more complex tasks.
Science and math activities are perfect for combining sensory play and cognitive development. Math activities can include building two towers and comparing their size, creating a pattern using a set of beads or colored blocks, sorting items according to size, shape, or color, and playing a matching card game.
Sand and water tables were made for scientific discoveries while enjoying the tactile experience of sand or water play. Exploring the differences between regular sand and moon, or sticky, sand is great fun, as is a rousing game of Sink or Float wherein children predict whether certain items tossed into the water table will sink to the bottom or float on the surface.
3. Encourages creativity
Children are naturally creative (how many times has your child tossed a new toy aside only to play with the box for hours?) and sensory play provides an open-ended outlet for all that creative energy without breaking the bank.
Some fun and economical versions of sensory play that your child will love include:
Turning a run-of-the-mill paper bag into a hand puppet – you provide the markers, glue sticks, feathers, and googly eyes and your child will be occupied for hours!
Foam painting – spray shaving cream on a tabletop or counter and let your child smear the foam out and draw a picture within the margins.
Cardboard box creations – give your child the largest cardboard box you can find (appliance boxes are particularly fun) and let them turn that humble box into a car, boat, rocket ship, or fortress.
4. Improves self-awareness
You may not be familiar with the term proprioception, but the truth is it is just a fancy word for the concept of body awareness or understanding your position in relation to an object. And there’s no better place to improve body awareness than on playground equipment. You can use equipment you have in your own backyard or the playscapes found at a local park.
Some sensory activities that promote body awareness include:
Climbing ladders and moving across monkey bars
Learning to walk on a balance beam without looking down at the beam (this one takes some practice!)
Scooting or crawling through tunnels
Going down slides
But it’s important to know that playgrounds aren’t the only way to improve self-awareness. Children can also reap self-awareness benefits by bouncing on a trampoline, jumping rope, or playing hopscotch.
As is the case with any play-based learning, it’s always best to let your child take the lead. Offer your child a handful of sensory play options and allow them to choose how to spend their time. As they play, you’ll find their confidence begins to grow!
And, while independent play is important, you may want to check in with your child so you can answer questions or gently lead them to their natural conclusion. We think you’ll find sensory play so engaging for your child, you may want to join in on the fun!
Thanks for reading,
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