When you drop your preschoolers off at Ecole Des Petits Amis, you may notice them heading straight to our sand table or water bin. At home, they might describe playing with kinetic sand, the bean table, or – a favorite – visiting our ‘smelling station’. Although these activities might sound a little unique – not to mention messy! – they form a strategic and fun part of our time with your littles. That’s because one of our favorite things to do with our preschoolers is to engage them in different forms of sensory play.
What Is Sensory Play?
“What is sensory play?” you might ask.
Simply put, sensory play is any activity which engages and stimulates any of the eight senses. Wait a minute, Jackie: did you just say eight senses? That’s right: in addition to the standard five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste), the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorders (www.spdstar.org) signifies three additional senses: vestibular (balance and orientation in space), proprioceptive (sense of position, location and movement of body parts), and interoceptive (physiological and physical sensations: for example, hunger, thirst, and needing to use the bathroom).
The Benefits of Sensory Play
So why is engaging these eight senses so important? Between the ages of newborn – five, a child’s brain is developing rapidly, and this development is predicated on the input that it receives from the inner and outer world. How does the brain receive this input? Through the senses! When your child molds a lump of playdough studded with jewels or rocks; when she threads beads onto pipe cleaners or paints with feathers; when he breathes in the warm aroma of freshly-baked cookies or watches a bird in flight, your child is doing more than merely playing and observing: he is developing a vast wealth of cognitive, social and linguistic skills.
Many of these sensory-play-based skills are buzzwords we’ve learned as parents and educators: development of fine and gross motor skills, attention span, hand-eye coordination, social skills, imagination, language acquisition, and other forms of cognitive development. There really is no limit to the physical, cognitive, and social development initiated and nurtured through sensory engagement.
Sensory Play in The Classroom
As educators, we love that sensory play is also really fun. At Ecole Des Petits Amis, we incorporate all kinds of sensory engagement in our classroom, and we love watching your children giggle over the water table, the smelling station, or fistfuls of shaving cream. Some of the methods and activities we use to supplement and specifically incorporate sensory play include:
water bin (pouring, funnels, eye droppers)
playdough (rolling, squeezing
science experiments (baking soda and vinegar)
painting with feathers, cars, fruit
calm down bottles
bean table (popcorn, etc)
beads and pipecleaners
real or pretend snow
Sensory Play Ideas at Home
Children naturally engage the world with all of their senses. If your preschooler has ever told you that the dog’s food is crunchy like granola or that the kitchen floor smells like lemons, you know what we’re talking about! However, there are many simple ways to intentionally supplement and nurture this natural sensory curiosity as well. If you’re looking for ways to engage your child’s senses at home, here are a few simple ideas you can easily add to your routine (and a recipe, too!)
-Try new foods and textures. Encourage your child to try a new food and have her note the colour, smell and feel of the food. When she takes a bite, have her close her eyes and describe the texture and flavour. This is fun to do at the dinner table (and can be a great way to build your child’s food repertoire)!
-Make playdough, blow bubbles, or write with sidewalk chalk! All of these activities engage many of the senses – and you can add colours or scents for extra sensory involvement.
-Make cloud dough. Follow the recipe below to whip up your own sense-stimulating batch. Everything is likely already in your pantry! All you need is 2 cups of cornstarch and 1 cup of hair conditioner et voila!
Whether at home or at preschool, your kids are busy absorbing the world with their senses. Together, we can encourage and nurture their growing awareness through fostering sensory play. So whether your preschooler is biting into a ‘croquante’ (crunchy) cracker at the dinner table, or running their fingers through some ‘visqueaux’ (slimy) water beads at Ecole Des Petits Amis, vivent les sens!