Boosting early childhood development – Innovative sensory activities for home and classroom

Sensory play is vital to early childhood development, offering young children a unique opportunity to explore their world through touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell. This type of play is enjoyable and crucial in developing sensory-related abilities. It helps toddlers and preschoolers build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which leads to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks and supports cognitive growth, language development, gross motor skills, social interaction, and problem-solving skills.

When children engage in sensory play, they learn more than just how to use their senses. They discover how to use the learning process itself. Sensory activities encourage children to experiment and investigate. Whether squishing playdough, sorting buttons by size and colour, or playing in a sandpit, each activity is designed to support your child’s education and personal development engagingly and enjoyably.

early childhood development - baby playing

What Is Sensory Play and How Does It Help Children

Sensory play involves stimulating your child’s senses—touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight, and hearing with toys and games. This form of play is crucial in helping children develop their sensory systems, which are the foundations of all future learning. By engaging in sensory play, children learn to evaluate, classify, and attribute properties to new experiences; they learn to categorise, which is a key educational process. This ability is critical as they progress in their learning journey, enabling them to make sense of complex and varied sensory information.

The benefits of sensory play are broad and impactful. It supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving skills, and social interaction. It can also aid in calming anxious or frustrated children. In essence, it lays the groundwork for a successful educational experience by enhancing their perceptual abilities, which are necessary for reading and writing, as well as math and science learning later on.


Top Sensory Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

When considering sensory activities for your child, the possibilities are endless and can be tailored to your child’s interests and developmental stage. Simple activities like playing with rice or pasta, water play, and finger painting provide tactile feedback and the opportunity to practice fine motor skills. These activities help toddlers learn concepts like volume, cause and effect, and basic counting.

For older preschoolers, more structured activities such as sensory walks, where children describe what they feel underfoot, or using items like playdough to form letters and shapes, can be particularly beneficial. These activities reinforce their sensory skills and help develop early literacy and numeracy. Parents can easily set up these activities with items found at home, ensuring that learning continues outside the classroom in a fun and engaging way.


Essential Sensory Tools Every Classroom Should Have

Every classroom should be equipped with tools that enhance sensory experiences for children. These tools include textured mats, sound tubes, light tables, and scent jars to help develop the senses in a structured environment. Sensory bins filled with materials like sand, water beads, or even dry beans encourage exploration. They can be themed to enhance learning about different subjects such as nature, the seasons, or even outer space.

Sensory equipment for classrooms provides more than fun activities. These toys and tools enhance educational outcomes for children. By integrating sensory tools into daily routines, educators can offer a more inclusive learning environment that caters to various learning styles and needs. This approach supports individual learning and fosters a greater sense of community as students explore these experiences together. By providing these sensory-rich environments, schools can ensure that all children have the tools they need to succeed from an early age.


Sensory Schooling Starts at Home

Having a sensory-safe environment at home means designing spaces that can help your child feel secure and engaged. This is especially important for children who are sensitive to sensory overload. Start using calming colours in your child’s room, such as soft blues, greens, or neutral tones. Soft furnishings and minimising clutter can also create a serene environment that lessens anxiety and fosters concentration. Consider the acoustics as well; soft rugs and curtains can help dampen overwhelming noises that might distract or unsettle your child.

Lighting is another crucial element—natural light is best, but if that’s insufficient, opt for adjustable, soft artificial lights that don’t flicker. Creating distinct zones for different activities can also help your child transition between play and quiet time. A tent or a small enclosed area with cushions can serve as a retreat for when they feel overwhelmed and need a break from sensory stimulation. This way, your home becomes a sanctuary that supports their development rather than a challenge they must constantly adapt to.


Incorporating Sensory Play into Daily Routines

Sensory play can become a part of many daily routines. Bath time can be a time for sensory experiences with floating toys or foam that changes colour with water temperature. Similarly, mealtime can include foods with different textures and temperatures, encouraging your child to explore their senses while eating.

Even chores can be sensory-rich experiences; let your child help with gardening to feel the soil and plants or assist in baking to smell and touch various ingredients. These activities engage their senses and help them understand the world around them through direct, hands-on experiences. By integrating sensory play into the every day, you provide your child with continuous opportunities to learn and grow, all within the comfort of your daily schedule.


Sensory Play Guidance for Parents

Monitoring your child’s progress in sensory play can give valuable insights into their developmental strides and areas needing attention. Keep an eye on how your child interacts with different sensory activities. Do they show a preference for certain textures or activities? Are there sensations they avoid? Observing these patterns can help you tailor future sensory play to suit their needs and preferences better, ensuring they are both challenged and comfortable.

It’s also helpful to communicate regularly with your child’s educators about their sensory play activities at school. This communication ensures that your child receives a consistent approach to sensory learning both at home and in school. By actively engaging with and adjusting your child’s sensory play experiences based on their reactions and preferences, you support their overall development in a responsive and informed manner.


What Educators Say About Sensory Learning

Educators widely recognise the importance of sensory learning in early education. They see first-hand how sensory play supports a variety of developmental areas, including cognitive growth and language skills. Many teachers recommend integrating sensory activities into daily classroom routines to cater to various learning styles and needs. Taking this approach helps children with special educational needs and enhances the learning experience for all students by providing diverse ways to engage with the material.

Feedback from educators also highlights the importance of adapting sensory activities to suit individual learners’ stages and preferences. They suggest that sensory play should be as much about discovery as it is about instruction. By allowing children to lead their learning through sensory exploration, educators observe increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning. This method fosters a natural curiosity and drive to understand the world, key components of effective education at any level.


Sensory play is a cornerstone of early childhood development, providing your child with the tools they need to explore and understand their world. The goal is to provide rich experiences that prepare your child for future educational challenges and enrich their current state of being, making learning a constant, enjoyable part of everyday life.

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