Why Sensory Play is Important for Your Child's Development

4 minute read

Written by

Rita Sverdlova, OTR/L

While formal education and structured activities are essential to a child’s development, there's another key aspect of learning to be aware of, and that’s sensory play. Engaging in activities that stimulate the senses not only brings joy and fun but also plays a pivotal role in your child's cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Any activity that engages a child's senses is considered sensory play. This includes the classic five senses (touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing), as well as three additional senses (proprioception, vestibular sense, and interoception). These activities can include things like playing with play-dough, water and sand, as well as swinging or walking on a balance beam. Sensory play is a lot of fun and comes with plenty of developmental benefits, too!

Developing Cognitive Skills

Sensory play usually involves activities that engage multiple senses at once. When children explore various textures, colors, and sounds, their brains process this information, strengthening neural connections. It encourages children to explore and discover new things, which helps to foster curiosity and creativity. Additionally, sensory play allows children to experiment with cause and effect, as they learn how different materials react to different actions.

Through sensory activities, children engage in problem-solving, critical thinking, and memory retention. For instance, molding clay strengthens hand muscles and hones fine motor skills. Playing with building blocks can boost spatial awareness and foster creativity. By actively using their senses, children become more attentive, curious, and adaptable learners.

Enhancing Motor Skills

Sensory play often involves physical activities, like pouring, scooping, and manipulating objects. These actions contribute to the development of both fine motor and gross motor skills. Pouring water from one container to another or using scissors to cut paper helps refine hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity, which is important for writing and buttoning clothes. As children engage in such activities, they gain more control over their body movements, leading to improved writing skills and overall physical coordination.

Encouraging Social Interaction

When sensory play is a group activity, it creates opportunities for children to interact and learn to cooperate. Whether it's playing with sand in a sandbox or participating in water play, children learn to share, take turns, and collaborate. These experiences foster social skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence. As children engage with others, they develop communication skills and learn to express themselves, building the foundation for healthy relationships in the future.

Managing Emotions

Activities like squishing playdough or squeezing stress balls can serve as outlets for emotional expression. Play that engages the five senses (and more!) allows children to release tension and stress in a constructive manner, promoting emotional regulation and self-soothing abilities. As they become more aware of their emotions during sensory play, they also develop a better understanding of their feelings in everyday situations.

Stimulating Language Development

Engaging in sensory play exposes children to new vocabulary and language experiences. As children explore and experiment with different materials, they are learning new words and concepts. For example, when playing with water, children learn words like "wet" and "flow." Moreover, parents and caregivers can actively participate in sensory play, engaging in conversations and asking open-ended questions. This dialogue strengthens the child's language comprehension and expression, setting the stage for effective communication in the future.

Fostering Imagination and Creativity

Activities that engage a variety of senses stimulate a child's imagination. These games encourage creative thinking — making up stories, pretending to cook in a play kitchen, and crafting a collage of colorful paper are all sensory activities that promote creativity. This uninhibited exploration fosters a sense of wonder and curiosity, essential traits for lifelong learners.

Another great aspect of sensory play is that it can be tailored to a child's individual needs. If a child is shy or reserved, sensory activities can provide a safe and non-threatening way to explore and express themselves. Additionally, for children with sensory processing disorders, sensory play can help to desensitize them to certain textures or smells and help them process and regulate sensory input.

Sensory play is a powerful tool for nurturing a child's holistic development. By engaging in activities that stimulate their senses, children can enhance their cognitive, motor, social, and emotional skills. Playful activities that engage all the senses provide a safe and enjoyable environment for children to learn, explore, and express themselves. This lays a solid foundation for their future growth and success. As parents and caregivers, embracing sensory play as an integral part of your child's early years will undoubtedly contribute to their overall well-being and development. So, let the play begin!

PlayWell Brooklyn is an inclusive playspace located in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. We are open everyday of the week and offer open-play, classes, private events, and more. Please check out our schedule and offerings to learn more.