Sensational Sensory Play

by Dana Smith Bader
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When my eldest daughter was little, I hated messes.  I was always washing her hands, changing her clothes, and, of course, doing everything for her instead of allowing her the freedom to explore, just so she wouldn’t make a mess.  Nine years after she was born my second daughter came along, and, by then, not only had I changed my mind about messes, but I actually encouraged my children to make messes to fully experience the joy and value of sensory play.  It was a good thing, because my youngest daughter turned out to be the ‘Queen of Messes.”

Fortunately for my children, I had become educated in the nine years from my first born to my second and third children.  I had learned that, although sensory play can sometimes be messy, it also has many benefits.  According to research, sensory play helps young children learn about their environment and become more creative.  It also promotes skills such as hand-eye co-ordination, fine motor skills, language development, problem solving, cognitive, and social skills.  Essentially, through sensory play neural connections are built in the brain that support learning, thinking, and creativity.  More specifically, sensory play can:

Build Self-Esteem and Problem-Solving Skills – Sensory play engages the child and sets challenges.  Learning to set and achieve goals, overcoming challenges through their interactions and building self-esteem increases their confidence to approach future challenges.

Increase Self-Control – Sensory-stimulating activities help children calm themselves and organize their thoughts, which help them manage their feelings and social responses.

Enhance Creativity and Imagination – Sensory play can encourage creativity by engaging the whole child in utilizing all their resources.

Grow Relationships and Confidence – By sharing common play space, children learn how to transition from independent play to interaction and engagement with others, increasing verbal and physical communication skills.

Move with Courage – Physical activities like climbing and reaching will encourage children to move in new ways, as well as test their endurance, stability, and motor skills.

To incorporate messy, sensory play with educational value, it is important to use a variety of materials (under supervision, of course).  Some of the best sensory materials include ordinary things you can find in your kitchen, home, or garden:

  • Dry rice
  • Dry beans
  • Dry and cooked pasta
  • Shaving cream
  • Water
  • Ice
  • Mud
  • Jello
  • Wood Chips
  • Leaves, twigs & flowers
  • Playdough
  • Paper mush
  • Polystyrene
  • Sand
  • Cotton wool
  • Dry corn
  • Bird seed

In sensory play, your children will get dirty clothes, nails, and maybe even hair, but, luckily, your children and the clothes will wash.  What’s more important than the mess is the fun they will have and the learning and development they will gain.  What’s even more fun is when you take the time to make a mess with them, so put on some old clothes and get messy. You may have more laundry to do, but your children will never forget the time you take to play freely with them without worry.


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